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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 2 hours 53 min ago

USAF Launches Final GPS IIF | Italian Made F-35A First to Complete Transatlantic Xing | S. Korea to Talk THAAD System With US

9 hours 9 min ago

  • The final block of the USAF’s Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF satellite has been launched, finally paving the way for the start of the next generation’s long overdue GPS III. The GPS IIF-12 satellite will join dozens of other satellites launched over the last 27 years as part of the GPS Block II program. News of the launch follows days after Lockheed Martin was awarded a $94 million contract modification, providing contingency operations for GPS III satellites, ahead of the USAF’s Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) program being put in place. With no announced schedule to have GPS III satellites launched in the near future, air force officials have said the GPS IIF-12 is expected to bridge gaps and improve on existing capabilities. Back in December, Air Force Space Commander Gen. John Hyten called the OCX program “a disaster” after reports of cyber-security concerns, ballooning costs and constant delays.

  • Testing of the Q-53 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar System in June 2015 has shown the radar is having difficulty detecting volley-fired mortars. While the second initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) found the system effective against single-fired rockets, artillery, and mortar munitions, it was unable to handle the detection of more than one munition fired at the same time, according to Michael Gilmore’s annual Operational Test & Evaluation report. The radar also struggled to identify the difference between a mortar, a rocket, and artillery. The Army, however, has stated that the radars have been working well in operational environments, and plans are to increase performance in high clutter environments with development and integration of software upgrades in 2019, with more testing planned for 240 mm and 122 mm munitions not assessed in previous tests.

Middle East North Africa

  • Turkish officials have announced the maiden flight of its Anka medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV. The UAV has been in development by Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) since 2013 and is their first indigenous design in aerospace. The drone took part in a four-hour exploration and observation flight over Turkey’s eastern Elazig province. The choice of flying over Turkey’s east is said to be strategic, as the Turkish military takes on the forces of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PPK) in the eastern and southeastern border regions. Violence restarted in July after the break down of peace talks, and most recently has seen Turkish military operations around the Kurdish majority town of Cizre.


  • Polish media outlets have fueled rumors that the government has seemingly scrapped the $3 billion to purchase 50 Caracel EC725 from Airbus. Rzeczpospolita daily reported that the government’s right-wing Euro-sceptic Law & Justice (PiS) party would only buy a handful of EC725s. Instead, they would look towards buying the bulk of the new procurement from the preferred choice of either Black Hawks from Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky or AugustaWestland’s AW149. Both Sikorsky and AugustaWestland have Polish subsidiaries capable of manufacturing their subsequent helicopters. Airbus Helicopters have denied the claims, however, stating “The only true information is that talks with the Economy Ministry continue and that we are ready to support our Polish partners”.

  • The first Italian-made, flown and supported F-35A has become the first in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to complete a transatlantic crossing. The AL-1 took off from Portugal’s Azores islands and reached Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland seven hours later after flying 2,000nm. The fighter was flown by former Panavia Tornado pilot, Maj Gianmarco who has accumulated over 80 hours of flight time in the aircraft since graduating to fly the F-35A type in November. Refueling of the jet also took place supported by an Italian crew manning a KC-767 tanker with Gianmarco noting a 100% success rate on all occasions.

Asia Pacific

  • Following some initial reservations over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, South Korea is to begin talks with the US over installing the system. Fears held by some in Seoul that a THAAD system on the Korean peninsula would anger China seem to have been alleviated by Sunday’s rocket launch by North Korea. The rocket was apparently launched to send a satellite into orbit and follows last month’s nuclear test which has garnered condemnation from the international community. This combination of testing has increased fears of Pyongyang’s development of inter-continental ballistic missile technology. Any THAAD system would be paid for by the US, with one battery costing around $1.3 billion.

  • China’s $2 billion deal with Russia to purchase 24 of the latest Su-35 Super-Flankers have apparently been bought to compare with their own J-11. The Carnegie Moscow Center says the purchase, which will help the Chinese drive for more power in the Taiwan Strait, will also be looked at to assess the progress and development of J-11. China’s J-11 fighter program has hit some problems affecting potential exports. It is likely the Su-35 will act as a guide, showing the Russian approach to problem solving in stealth technology, making it easier to further enhance the capabilities of Chinese aviation. While fears of reverse engineering and theft of intellectual property by China was a potential roadblock to the deal, it’s believed the sale will improve exports to foreign markets with Indonesia expected to be the next buyer.

  • Another milestone was made last Friday for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas fighter. The Indian jet successfully test fired a Derby Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) for the first time in a non-intercept mode, as part of a series of weapons trials needed to gain Final Operational Clearance (FOC). The trials will also see the Close Combat Missile (CCM) Python-5 missile tested. The Tejas’ weapons system will also include Paveway and Griffin Laser Guided Bombs (LBGs), the Russian made R-73 missile and Gsh-23 gun.

Today’s Video

  • The AL-1 arrival at NAS Patuxent River Naval Air Station:

Categories: News

THAAD: Reach Out and Touch Ballistic Missiles

9 hours 9 min ago
THAAD: In flight
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The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is a long-range, land-based theater defense weapon that acts as the upper tier of a basic 2-tiered defense against ballistic missiles. It’s designed to intercept missiles during late mid-course or final stage flight, flying at high altitudes within and even outside the atmosphere. This allows it to provide broad area coverage against threats to critical assets such as population centers and industrial resources as well as military forces, hence its previous “theater (of operations) high altitude area defense” designation.

This capability makes THAAD different from a Patriot PAC-3 or the future MEADS system, which are point defense options with limited range that are designed to hit a missile or warhead just before impact. The SM-3 Standard missile is a far better comparison, and land-based SM-3 programs will make it a direct THAAD competitor. So far, both programs remain underway.

The THAAD System THAAD operations concept
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An ideal multi-layered anti-ballistic missile system should have both land and naval options, as well as theater-level and point defenses backed by a 3rd tier of longer ranged midcourse-defense missiles (q.v. GBI) and/or space-based weapons that can hit the missile during its boost phase. THAAD is a land-based, theater-level, terminal phase defense.

THAAD consists of 4 segments defined as (1) Missile round, (2) Launcher (3) Battle Management/Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence – BM/C3I, and (4) Radar. The THAAD system can work in centralized mode, in a decentralized group, or fully autonomous launcher mode.

THAAD is designed to be mobile on the ground, in order to react quickly to emerging threats and priorities. This also makes the system much more difficult to take out with preemptive attacks. A THAAD battery will typically operate 3-6 Oshkosh HEMTT-ALS heavy trucks as launch vehicles, each carrying 8 missiles (TL 24-48), complete with an automatic Load Handling System that lifts the missile packs onto the truck. The rest of the system involves Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 Ground-Based Radar (GBR) for long-range scans, and a mobile Tactical Operations Center (TOC/TFFC) developed by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

The size of the HEMTT trucks means that the full THAAD system requires C-17 Globemaster III or C-5 Galaxy aircraft for air transport. It can also be sent aboard ship, of course.

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The THAAD Ground-Based Radar (GBR), now known as the AN/TPY-2, is an X-Band, phased array, solid-state radar developed and built by Raytheon at its Andover, MA Integrated Air Defense Facility. The TPY-2 is employed for surveillance at ranges of up to 1,000 km (600 miles) as well as target identification and target tracking, thanks to its high power output and beam/waveform agility. Targeting information is uploaded to the missile immediately before launch, and continuously updated during the flight.

The TPY-2 is deployed with THAAD, but it’s its own system, with modules for the radar, power, cooling, electronics, and operator control. It can also be used independently as part of a ballistic missile defense infrastructure, and is steadily carving out a wider role beyond THAAD.

THAAD components
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Lockheed Martin’s THAAD missile is powered by a single stage solid-propellant rocket motor with thrust vectoring. After burnout, the booster is separated from the kill vehicle, which continues to the interception point. For exo-atmospheric (outside the atmosphere) maneuvering, the kill vehicle is equipped with a Boeing-developed liquid Divert and Attitude Control System. In the terminal intercept phase, the kill vehicle is guided by a BAE Systems staring focal plane array infrared seeker made with iridium antimonide, whose window is protected in the initial flight phase by a clamshell protection shroud. Once it reaches its target, the THAAD missile uses “hit to kill” technology, as opposed to blowing up a warhead nearby and sending clouds of shrapnel at a target to disable it.

THAAD missiles have an estimated range of 125 miles/ 200 km, and can reach a maximum altitude of 93 miles/ 150 km. By comparison, the Patriot PAC-3 has an estimated range of 12 miles/ 20 km, while the Boeing-Israeli Arrow 2 has an estimated range of 54 miles/ 90 km and can reach a maximum altitude of 30 miles/ 50 km. The naval SM-3 Standard missile, chosen as the theater defense weapon for the US-Japan ABM research program, has an estimated 300 statute mile/ 500 km range, but is believed to have a lower altitude maximum than THAAD.

THAAD 1.0 is deployed as the initial system, with 2 batteries active. THAAD 2.0 development work continues, with a projected finish date of 2018. The Army wants to improve THAAD performance in a high debris environment, add advanced discrimination algorithms, improve engagement coordination with Patriot and Aegis BMD, initiate THAAD engagements using sensor data from other BMDS sources like C2BMC, and perform other upgrades. Unfortunately, delays to the back-end theater-level C2BMC command system mean that some THAAD 2.0 capabilities won’t be fully operational until after 2020.

There have been proposals to more than double THAAD’s range by adding a 21″ diameter booster stage to the current 14.5″ missile, turning it into a 2-stage weapon with increased velocity and maneuverability. Tests were undertaken in 2006, and Lockheed Martin submitted a funding proposal for the FY 2011 budget. Nothing came of that, and the FY 2014 cancellation of the Navy’s next-generation “Next-Generation Aegis Missile” competition appears to have closed that door.

The THAAD Program THAAD: Schedules and Tests

THAAD has been around for a long time, and was originally envisaged as a system that could be fielded on an emergency contingency basis by 1999. Problems with the system made initial fielding over a decade late, but demand from theater commanders remains high.

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Between April 1995 and August 1999, there were a total of 11 THAAD flight tests that validated propulsion and seeker systems, and even attempted missile interceptions. The first attempt occurred during the 4th flight on December 13, 1995, but tests 4-9 all failed for mechanical/quality reasons and the first successful intercept did not occur before the 10th flight (FT-10) on June, 10 1999. See this CDI table for further details. In response, notes

“Studies done by the military and independent sources cited the following problems in the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Program: First, the program’s compressed flight-test schedule did not allow for adequate ground testing, and officials could not spot problems before flight tests. The schedule also left too little time for preflight testing, postflight analysis, and corrective measures. Second, the requirement that an early prototype system be deployed quickly has diverted attention from the normal interceptor development process and resulted in interceptors that were not equipped with sufficient instruments to provide optimum test data. Third, quality assurance received too little emphasis and resources during component production, resulting in unreliable components. Fourth, the contract to develop the interceptor was a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, which placed all of the financial risk on the government and did not hold the contractor accountable for less than optimum performance.”

THAAD recorded one more positive test (FT-11) in August 1999. There were no further flight tests before June 2000, when Lockheed Martin received a $3.97 billion Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract. Testing would eventually resume in November 2005. It was conducted cautiously, and went well.

The most common opponent for the THAAD in tests is the Hera, which marries the 2nd and 3rd stages of the Minuteman II ICBM, with the guidance section of the exceptionally accurate Pershing II medium range ballistic missile.

Early THAAD missile
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In December 2006, Lockheed Martin received a $619.2 million contract for initial THAAD fire units that could be usable in an emergency as the upper-tier complement to the Patriot PAC-3 in the Army’s TBMD (Theater Ballistic Missile Defense) system. The expected fielding date for Initial Operational Capability was 2008-2009, fully 10 years after initial hopes for this capability. In the end, technical issues have forced formal IOC back to 2013.

Full acceptance by the US Army and Full Operational Capability is expected in 2017.

THAAD: Budgets and Exports

The US Army was eventually expected to acquire 80-100 THAAD launchers, 18 ground-based radars, and a total of 1,422 THAAD missiles. Two THAAD battalions were planned, each with 4 batteries, plus an additional battery to make 9. Issues with missile production cut order number sharply in 2012 and 2013, and by the time they were resolved, the 2014 budget’s response to spending reductions was to cut the program total to 6 batteries and 11 TPY-2 radars.

Those order cuts may be replaced by THAAD exports.

In September 2008, the UAE requested permission to buy 9 THAAD launchers and associated radars and communications equipment, 147 missiles, etc., in order to field 3 THAAD fire units. A scaled-down contract was agreed at the end of December 2011. In November 2012, Qatar requested 2 fire units of its own.

THAAD’s role in the UAE ansd Qatar will mirror its role in the USA, alongside the Patriot PAC-3 as the UAE’s lower-tier ABM-capable complement.

The beneficiaries of all these orders include:

Contracts and Key Events

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the THAAD system, and the US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL manages the contracts. Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 radar system contracts are sometimes covered here, but these radars are also deployed without THAAD, so they’ve been given their own Spotlight article.

FY 2016

THAAD production delayed

February 9/16: Following some initial reservations over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, South Korea is to begin talks with the US over installing the system. Fears held by some in Seoul that a THAAD system on the Korean peninsula would anger China seem to have been alleviated by Sunday’s rocket launch by North Korea. The rocket was apparently launched to send a satellite into orbit and follows last month’s nuclear test which has garnered condemnation from the international community. This combination of testing has increased fears of Pyongyang’s development of inter-continental ballistic missile technology. Any THAAD system would be paid for by the US, with one battery costing around $1.3 billion.

January 15/16: A proposal to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems in South Korea is being reviewed by the government. A plan sent by the US forces based in the country is something Washington has wanted to do for some time as a wider ballistic missile defense plan for the region. Seoul has been reluctant to have it deployed as it may effect the often tentative relations with China, but recent nuclear tests by North Korea have put the idea back on the table.

December 30/15: Lockheed Martin has been given an additional order to provide an undisclosed number of production lots 7 and 8 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors, one-shot weapons and related support services to the Missile Defense Agency. The $528.5 million contract modification sees an extra $144.6 million added to a pre-existing contract and will be completed by September 30 2019. The THAAD system protects the US and allied customers from short, medium and intermediate ballistic missile threats, and is operated and developed under the umbrella of the Missile Defense Agency.

December 1/15: South Korea may not need to install the THAAD missile defense just yet after the most recent failure of North Korea’s missile tests. It had been apparent that Pyongyang had been planning to test off the east coast of the peninsula after announcing a no-sail zone earlier this month. The failure will be a setback to North Korean plans to equip its submarines with below surface ballistic launching capabilities. Observers noted that the missile broke up underwater and failed to break the waters surface. Initial photographs of leader Kim Jong-un watching a successful test were quickly dismissed as state propaganda.

November 27/15: Japanese defence minister Gen Nakatani has raised the possibility of installing the THAAD missile defense system in the country. The system would be installed to protect against any threat that may come potentially from North Korea, who have raised the possibility of testing missiles. Pyongyang announced a no sail zone off the east coast of the peninsula earlier this month between November 11 and December 7. Nakatani’s comments come along with speculation that South Korea and the US have been discussing the installation of THAAD by Seoul during talks over deterrence methods to threats from the North. These rumors have been downplayed by both countries.

November 24/15: Task Force Talon, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in Guam have completed their replacement of missiles. The exercise took place between September and November and involved a total replacement of its existing Interceptor stock to help maintain combat readiness. With a force of 200 soldiers, Task Force Talon is about a third of the size of the traditional air defense Patriot battalion. The exercise comes at a time of increased activity in the Pacific region and talks of installing further THAAD systems in South Korea which may be seen as a threat to an increasingly aggressive China.

November 3/15: A Standard Missile-3 Block IB (SM-3) interceptor failed to shoot down an extended medium-range ballistic missile (EMRBM) on Saturday following a malfunction, with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor system instead being used to take out the target. The SM-3 was used successfully earlier in October to shoot down a similar target off the north-west coast of Scotland, with this latest test part of a multiple-threat scenario test conducted in the western Pacific.

In addition to the interception of the EMRBM, an SM-2 Block IIIA was also used to simultaneously defend against a target drone aircraft, with the THAAD system also taking down a Short Range Air Launch Target (SRALT). The $230 million interception tests also involved the Aegis BMD system, including AN/SPY-1 radar system, as well as transportable AN/TPY-2 missile defense radars.

October 13/15: Lockheed Martin’s production of THAAD interceptors has been delayed owing to computer glitches. Only three out of 44 systems – destined for use by the Missile Defense Agency – have been delivered, with a revised delivery schedule now in place.

FY 2015

THAAD into South Korea?

March 19/15: Pentagon review. A major review has been launched by the Pentagon to assess the current state of play of missile defense systems, capabilities and programs, seeking to update a previous review from 2011. The Patriot is likely to come under scrutiny, as well as the THAAD system.

Feb 6/15: China allegedly warns South Korea on THAAD. For all of the questions that surfaced last May about whether South Korea would get THAAD (or wants it), or U.S. troops in R.O.K. would deploy one for themselves, or if South Korea’s on indigenous efforts would be up to snuff, the Chinese appear to be most worried about the U.S.’s system. Yonhap reports that Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign minister, warned South Korea a day after an exchange took place between the two countries’ defense ministers.

FY 2014

Purchases: USA, UAE; GAO and DOT&E report on THAAD performance and testing; THAAD and Air-Sea Battle; THAAD into South Korea? THAAD TFCC
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Sept 25/14: UAE. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Dallas, TX receives an $11.1 million firm-fixed-price modification to the UAE’s THAAD contract, covering delivery of single missile round transportation containers, peculiar support equipment, THAAD fire control and communication spares, and launcher spares. All funds are committed immediately, and the modification brings the contract’s total cumulative face value to $349.7 million.

Work will be performed at, Dallas, TX; Lufkin, TX; Ocala, FL; and Camden, AR, with an expected completion date of June 30/15. The US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL (HQ0147-12-G-9000, 0001, 0069).

Sept 24/14: Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, CA receives a $274.8 million ceiling modification to previously awarded sole-source, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract.

The announcement doesn’t say what for, but it’s THAAD’s contract, and just $2.7 million in FY 2014 USAF RDT&E budgets are committed immediately. The ordering period runs through January 2017. Work will be performed at Sunnyvale, CA and Huntsville, AL. The US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL manages the contract (HQ0147-12-D-0001).

Aug 7/14: USA. A $124.6 million sole-sourced fixed-price contract from the US government for THAAD ground components: launchers, launcher spares, fire control and communication spares, and support equipment. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 MDA procurement budgets.

Work will be performed at Dallas, TX; Lufkin, TX; Huntsville, AL; Sunnyvale, CA; and Camden, AR, with an expected completion date of Aug 7/17 (HQ0147-14-C-0011). See also Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin Awarded $124.6 Million THAAD Contract”.

May 27/14: Korea. The US government is considering THAAD as an option to protect American forces in South Korea, and has conducted a site survey for possible South Korean locations. The issue is that the ROK is developing its own national KAMD missile defense system, and continues to reiterate that it won’t be part of a joint system with the USA and Japan. Which means that interoperability with systems like THAAD is a potential issue.

The Americans are thinking in geo-political terms, as a visible response to North Korea, and there’s also that standard underlying flavor of “of course they want to do it our way”:

“The U.S. could deploy its own Thaad system to South Korea temporarily, and then, in time, replace it with a [THAAD] system purchased by Seoul, a defense official said. Or it could allow South Korea to purchase its own, and jump ahead in the queue for the system, the official said.”

Very American. The thought that perhaps South Korea is happy with its Green Pine radars that sit in the TPY-2’s niche, frequently says that terminal defense is all it can use, and would rather deploy its own Cheolmae 4-H missile developed in conjunction with Russia, never enters the picture. On the other hand, the Americans might reply that their own forces would rather have THAAD’s protection, that more than 2 long-range radars might be a good idea against an enemy whose war plan includes in-depth terrorist attacks, and that a common equipment roster of PATRIOT PAC-3 and THAAD systems could create a basis for independent command and control systems that can still cooperate. Sources: Wall St. Journal, “Washington Considers Missile-Defense System in South Korea”.

April 11/14: GAO Report. The Pentagon has been reluctant to develop a life-cycle cost estimate for BMD in Europe, on the dubious grounds that it isn’t a separate program. that’s why GAO-14-314 concerns itself with EPAA’s costs and implementation issues. THAAD batteries are an important ancillary part of that defense, but their role isn’t clear yet. The 6 batteries have an estimated O&M cost of $6.5 billion over 20 years, but that $54.17 million per battery per year involves basing in the USA. Costs for basing in Europe are expected to be higher. How much higher? We don’t know, because the US MDA and US Army can’t agree on how to do the analysis. How confused are things?

“DOD officials stated that they are examining options for forward-stationing some THAAD batteries overseas. Doing so would likely increase operating and support costs due to higher operational tempo, contractors that are deployed with the system, additional needed security, life-support facilities such as barracks and a mess hall, and site preparation for the equipment. For example, MDA recently estimated that operating and support costs for one THAAD battery in Guam could be $11 million higher annually than if the battery was located in the continental United States. However, this estimate does not include costs for military personnel, fuel, site activation, transportation, or some contractor costs. Further, costs could be even higher if an element is located at an austere location due to additional costs for site preparation, security, transportation, and some contractor costs. This estimate also assumes continued contractor support… [but] DOD has not yet completed a business-case analysis as part of determining the long-term support strategy…. the THAAD business-case analysis remains incomplete as of December 2013, and there is no firm deadline to complete the analysis.”

Meanwhile, the TPY-2 radar deployments to Turkey (2011) and CENTCOM (2013), still can’t share information and work together, because that hasn’t been worked out. That will hurt all EPAA systems, but THAAD in particular would have benefited.

March 14/14: GAO report. The GAO releases GAO-14-248R, regarding the USA’s EPAA plans for defending Europe from ballistic missiles. THAAD is included in passing.

THAAD was scheduled to get upgrades by 2015 that would help it distinguish real warheads within debris fields. Part of that has been implemented, but the full version won’t be ready until 2017. A 2nd set of upgrades scheduled for 2018 would have improved interoperability with other missile defense systems, and allowed launches using the C2BMC system’s composite tracking from multiple sources. Those interoperability software upgrades will be late, leaving very little time to ensure that they work during Phase 3 testing for the European EPAA project. In addition, the C2BMC capability in question has been pushed off until 2020 “or later”.

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). THAAD is included, and the overall report is fairly positive.

The FTI-01 test saw THAAD hit 1 incoming missile, and go into the debris field of an intercepted target by design. DOT&E describes the test as “performance in a significantly different portion of the battlespace than previous missions with increased ground range, interceptor flight time, and closing velocity, as well as new target re-entry vehicle characteristics.”

On the flip side, THAAD experienced data latency with Aegis BMD messages when the primary network connection was unavailable, and there were track correlation concerns with the AN/TPY-2 (TM) radar. Mission software reporting was sometimes incorrect, and some critical faults during testing weren’t relayed through the system at all. Overall, the 39 equipment & organizational conditions around Conditional Materiel Release of the first 2 THAAD batteries in February 2012 are down to 31, with 4 closed in FY13 (verification of technical manuals, procedures for a post-launch launcher inspection, verifying capability against medium-range targets, and procedures and equipment to measure soil density for emplacement). In addition, the classified DOT&E February 2012 THAAD and AN/TPY-2 Radar Operational and Live Fire Test and Evaluation Report contained 7 more recommendations. Fixes and testing of remaining conditions are scheduled through 2017.

Oct 22/13: Air-Sea Battle. The US Army would rather not become irrelevant to the Pacific Pivot, and they have some useful ideas to that end. acquired a copy of a Sept 25/13 paper, called “The Army’s Role in Countering Anti-Access and Area Denial: Support to Air-Sea Battle.” The paper reportedly proposes a combination of advanced air defense and short-range strike missiles, as a potential response that’s less overtly aggressive than naval battlegroups and less expensive to maintain on station, but still raises the bar for any aggressor. If Navy or Air Force units have to escalate afterward, they’d do so with a defensive umbrella in place that helps cover their entry.

Systems targeted for this approach include THAAD, as well as the short-range PATRIOT and even land-based EPAA-type SM-3 missiles for air and missile defense. Striking power would come from MLRS or HIMARS units firing 300 km ATACMS missiles, and the paper also contemplates the development of additional land-based missiles. They would include anti-ship versions of ballistic missiles, and a 1,000 km class deep precision strike ballistic missile. If this looks like a deployable lite-brand mirror of A2/AD (Anti-Access/ Area Denial) strategies being pursued by China et. al., well, it sort of is. Sources: Defense Tech, “Army Pushes To Upgrade Missile Defense Systems || Additional background from: Breaking Defense, “Army Shows Cheek, Elbows Its Way Into AirSea Battle Hearing” (Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, Army point for Air-Sea Battle) | Eaglespeak, “The Anti-Access/Area Denial U.S. Army and the Air/Sea Battle” | Midrats podcast, “Episode 195: The Pacific Pivot Ground Element”.

FY 2013

Purchases: US, UAE; Requests: Qatar, UAE; FTO-1. FTO-1 launch
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Sept 20/13: US/ UAE. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Sunnyvale, CA receives a $3.92 billion fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification for THAAD interceptors from the USA and United Arab Emirates, and associated ground hardware for the UAE.

The UAE’s $2.706 billion order is a continuation of purchases (q.v. Dec 30/11, June 5/12) under the Sept 9/08 and Nov 5/12 Foreign Military Sales cases, which encompass 3+ Fire Units and up to 195 missiles. Under this order, they’ll receive 192 THAAD interceptor missiles, 16 Single missile round containers, and 16 Active leak sensor systems. Their total THAAD missile orders now stand at 288, and a priced option (Letter of Offer and Acceptance Amendment 01) could create additional orders. Production will run into Lot 6.

The US Army’s $862.4 million portion finalizes the production Lot 4 contract, and the order could rise to $1.215 billion and 110 interceptor missiles if next year’s $352.7 million FY 2014/ Lot 5 option is exercised by Dec 31/13. Current contracts involve 5 US Army THAAD batteries, with final Battery 3 & 4 deliveries expected by the end of the calendar year. These missiles are part of Battery 5.

Deliveries under these orders will take place from FY 2015 – FY 2019. Work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with performance at Lockheed Martin’s Pike County facility in Troy, AL (missiles); Huntsville, AL (US MDA); and Camden, AR (launchers and control units). The Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL acts as the Army’s contracting agent, and performs the same role for the UAE (HQ0147-07-C-0196). See also Lockheed Martin, Sept 23/13 release.

US & UAE order

Sept 10/13: FTO-1 Test. A successful joint test of AEGIS BMD and land-based THAAD missiles from the Pacific Kwajalein Atoll/Reagan Test Site destroys 2 medium range target missiles.

The test involved full inter-operation. A land-based TPY-2 radar was positioned forward as the warning radar. It acquired the targets, and passed that onto the joint C2BMC (Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications) system. C2BMC cued DDG 74 USS Decatur, outfitted with AEGIS BMD 3.6.1 and the SM-3 Block IA missile. Decatur acquired the track, then launched its SM-3 and killed its target.

C2BMC also passed the track to a land-based THAAD battery’s own TPY-2 radar, which provided the intercept guidance for a successful pair of THAAD missile shots. The 2nd THAAD missile was actually aimed at the SM-3’s MRBM, in case it had failed to achieve intercept, but that turned out not to be necessary this time. Sources: US MDA, Sept 10/13 release | Lockheed Martin, Sept 11/13 release | Raytheon, Sept 10/13 release.

July 17/13: UAE. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, Woburn, MA receives an $83.8 million sole-source, cost-plus-incentive-fee, and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They’ll provide software updates, contractor logistic support, radar repair and return, and technical services for the AN/TPY-2 radars in the UAE’s THAAD missile defense batteries.

Work will be performed in Woburn, MA, White Sands Missile Range, NM, and the UAE through Sept 30/18. The US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL acts as the UAE’s FMS agent (HQ0147-12-C-0005).

June 18/13: UAE upgrade. Raytheon touts improvements to “a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) AN/TPY-2 radar”. So far, the only publicly-announced sale has been to the UAE, who will get a TPY-2 radar with 8 redesigned circuit card assemblies that improve the radar’s capabilities, while incorporating technologies and processes that weren’t available when Raytheon delivered the first AN/TPY-2 in 2004.

The new cards will be inserted into all new AN/TPY-2 radars Raytheon produces, but the USA is just about done with planned orders. The good news is, a swap-in upgrade shouldn’t be too expensive. Raytheon.

THAAD slips
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April 26/13: The GAO looks at the Missile Defense Agency’s full array of programs in report #GAO-13-342, “Missile Defense: Opportunity To Refocus On Strengthening Acquisition Management.” The good news is that the remainder of the missiles for the first 2 THAAD batteries have now been fixed and delivered. The bad news is that despite strong demand from theater commanders, the overall program has been reduced from a planned 9 batteries to 6, owing to budget constraints. In tandem, the planned number of AN/TPY-2 radars was cut from 18 to 11.

FY 2012 saw production resume with a July contract, but production is 4 months behind after faulty memory devices were found in some missile mission computers. To recover those delays, production will be ramped up from 3/month to 4/month – which is still well below the 6/month planned at this stage of the program. Missile batteries 3 & 4 will also incorporate a new “Thermally Initiated Venting System,” which keeps the missiles from launching or blowing up if overheated. It was redesigned in 2011, and is performing better, but the standards have never been applied to a missile this size. This part of the system may ultimately need a “best we can reasonably do” waiver before full acceptance of THAAD by the US Army in 2017. Another 320 interceptors will be produced from FY 2013 – 2017.

April 3/13: To Guam. The Pentagon announces that:

“The Department of Defense will deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) ballistic missile defense system to Guam in the coming weeks as a precautionary move to strengthen our regional defense posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat.”

North Korean missiles may have a questionable ability to reach the USA, but Guam is another matter. It’s a US territory, so protecting its citizens matters as much as protecting its strategic harbor and airfield.

Nov 5/12: Qatar. The US DSCA announces [PDF] that Qatar wants to join its neighbor the UAE, and field 2 THAAD batteries of its own.

Their request is worth up to $6.5 billion, and includes up to 12 THAAD Launchers, 150 THAAD missiles, 2 THAAD Fire Control and Communications units, 2 AN/TPY-2 THAAD Radars, and 1 Early Warning Radar (EWR). The USA would also sell them the required trucks, generators, electrical power units, trailers, communications equipment, fire unit test & maintenance equipment, system integration and checkout, repair and return, training, and other support.

The principal contractor is Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corporation in Sunnyvale, CaA, and the sub-contractor is Raytheon Corporation in Andover, MA. Implementation of this proposed sale will require undetermined but periodic travel of up to 13 U.S. Government and contractor representatives for delivery, system checkout, and training.

Qatar request

Nov 5/12: UAE. The US DSCA announces [PDF] the United Arab Emirates official request to expand its THAAD purchases. They’re interested in another 9 THAAD launchers and 48 missiles, plus the accompanying test components, repair and return, training, and support.

The estimated cost is up to $1.135 billion, and the principal contractors would be Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corporation in Sunnyvale, CA and Raytheon Corporation in Andover, MA. Raytheon is an odd mention, since the DSCA request doesn’t include another AN/TPY-2 radar. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale, and implementation won’t require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the UAE. See Sept 9/08 for their previous request, which was only partially fulfilled in the Dec 30/11 contract.

UAE request

Oct 25/12: FIT-01. Pacific Chimera (aka. Flight Test Integrated-01) features a combination of land and sea missile defense systems, who go 4/5 against a combination of ballistic missile and cruise missile targets. The USA’s Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system acted as FIT-01’s command and control backbone.

The Medium Range Ballistic Missile E-LRALT (Extended Long Range Air Launch Target) was launched out of a C-17, tracked by a US Army AN/TPY-2 radar on Meck Island, and destroyed by its companion THAAD missile.

A pair of Short Range Ballistic Missile targets were launched from a platform in the ocean. One was destroyed by a US Army PATRIOT PAC-3 system, but the USS Fitzgerald’s [DDG 62] attempt to intercept the 2nd SRBM target with a long-range SM-3 Block 1A missile failed. The problem turned out to be a faulty IMU chip.

The USS Fitzgerald had better luck with an SM-2 missile against a low flying cruise missile target, and the Army’s PATRIOT PAC-3 battery racked up a cruise missile kill of its own. US MDA | Lockheed Martin | Raytheon.

FY 2012

UAE. State of tests. THAAD test launch
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July 17/12: A $150 million contract modification covers a combination of support equipment and additional launchers for Batteries 1 and 2; continuing production of missile Lots 3 & 4; and the manufacturing and delivery of Battery 5 launchers, THAAD fire control and communications.

It’s funded with FY 2010, 2011, and 2012 procurement dollars; and $10 million in FY 2010 funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. Deliveries will begin in FY 2014, and complete in FY 2016. This work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with performance in Huntsville, AL, and Camden, AR (HQ0147-07-C-0196).

June 5/12: US/UAE missiles. The US MDA awards Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, CA an unfinalized, not-to-exceed $2.024 billion contract for a minimum of 138 THAAD interceptor missiles. The buy includes at least 42 American missiles under Lots 3 and 4, plus the United Arab Emirates’ unfinalized buy of 96 interceptors (HQ0147-12-G-9000, q.v. Dec 30/11 entry). It’s done as a joint purchase, in order to save money. Finalization of both contracts is expected by Nov 30/12.

Work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with final assembly performed in Troy, AL. The performance period extends from June 4/12 through July 31/18. This action was synopsized as a sole-source requirement to LMSSC in, and 1 response was received. The US Missile Defense Agency’s THAAD Program Office at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (HQ0147-07-C-0196).


April 20/12: The US GAO releases “Opportunity Exists to Strengthen Acquisitions by Reducing Concurrency.” That bland-sounding title masks critical coverage of THAAD’s acquisition approach, which won’t be fielding operational missile batteries until July 2012:

“Production issues forced MDA to slow production of the THAAD interceptors… A flight test originally scheduled for the second quarter of fiscal year 2011 was delayed until fiscal year 2012 due to the availability of air-launched targets and then subsequently was canceled altogether. This cancellation has delayed verification of THAAD’s capability against a medium-range target.

MDA awarded a contract to produce THAAD’s first two operational batteries in December 2006 before its design was stable… At that time, MDA’s first THAAD battery, consisting of 24 interceptors, 3 launchers, and other associated assets, was to be delivered to the Army as early as 2009. In response to pressure to accelerate fielding the capability, THAAD adopted a highly concurrent development, testing, and production effort that has increased program costs and delayed fielding of the first THAAD battery until early fiscal year 2012… During fiscal year 2011, after several production start-up issues, 11 of the expected 50 operational interceptors were delivered.[Footnote 18] Consequently, the first battery of 24 interceptors was not complete and available for fielding until the first quarter of fiscal year 2012 – more than 2 years later than originally planned. The same issues have delayed the second battery as well. Although the launchers and other components for the second battery were completed in 2010, the full 50 interceptors necessary for both batteries are not expected to be delivered until July 2012.”

March 27/12: Lockheed Martin announces a $66 million contract to continue THAAD development. Consultation with the firm reveals that this is part of the $515.4 million contract announced on Feb 3/12.

Feb 3/12: A maximum $515.4 million sole-source, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. in Sunnyvale, CA, for 5 years of THAAD upgrade development, integration, and testing. Examples of task orders include, but are not limited to, communications upgrades, obsolescence mitigation, flight and ground testing; and spiral development to further integrate THAAD in the broader Ballistic Missile Defense System architecture on land, sea and air.

Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, CA, and Huntsville, AL from Feb 1/12 through Jan 31/17. FY 2012 RDT&E (research, development, test and evaluation) funds will be used to incrementally fund the initial orders (HQ0147-12-D-0001).

Jan 17/12: DOT&E. The Pentagon releases the FY2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). THAAD was included, and the results can be described as measured good news.

Test FTT-12 demonstrated THAAD’s ability to intercept 2 simultaneous short-range targets, while demonstrating the full battle sequences from planning to intercept, and collecting “technical data on intercepts far off the radar boresight and on performance against unique threat characteristics.” Reliability has improved from 2010, and THAAD also completed Phase 1 of its ground test program. There’s a bit more testing to go, but that was a necessary step toward an expected FY 2012 material readiness release, and transfer of the first 2 fire units from the US MDA to active service in the US Army.

The flip side is that THAAD’s lethality testing still has some gaps that need to be resolved, and some of that testing will have to take place after THAAD is released to the Army. Fortunately, the MDA targets program returned Coleman air-launched targets to flight in July 2011, removing a big barrier to testing. Target development and testing for the longer-range THAAD flight tests against medium-range missiles are set to start in FY 2012.

Dec 30/11: APY-2. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA receives a sole-source, maximum $363.9 million letter contract for 2 AN/TPY-2 radars. The contract will be finalized later. Work will be performed in Woburn, MA, and the period of performance is Dec 30/11 through March 30/15 (HQ0147-12-C-0006).

Raytheon’s release specifically identifies them as going “…to the U.S. Army as the radar component to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system”. Some TPY-2 radars have also been deployed independently.

Dec 30/11: UAE order. A series of contracts kick off the UAE’s THAAD deal (q.v. Sept 9/08 entry), which is estimated at $3.48 billion. It’s the 1st export sale for the THAAD system.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, CA receives a sole-source letter contract at a total not-to-exceed price of $1.96 billion to supply the United Arab Emirates with 2 full THAAD Systems, and provide support services. Work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with final assembly performed in Troy, AL. Performance extends from Dec 30/11 through June 30/16. The US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL manages the contract, on behalf of its FMS client.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA receives a sole-source letter contract, with a not-to-exceed value of $582.5 million, as an undefinitized contract action (UCA) to provide 2 AN/TPY-2 radars, spares, and training services to the United Arab Emirates. Work will be performed in Woburn, MA, and the period of performance is Dec 30/11 through Sept 30/18. This contract will be finalized in June 2012. The US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL manages the contract, on behalf of its FMS client (HQ0147-12-C-0005). See also Lockheed Martin | Raytheon | Bloomberg | AP | Reuters | Voice of America.TEXT

UAE order

Nov 1/11: The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awards Raytheon IDS of Woburn, MA a maximum $307.6 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract. Under this new contract, Raytheon will maintain software required to operate “the X-band family of radars,” and perform and Ballistic Missile Defense System test planning, execution and analysis. Discussions with Raytheon personnel confirmed that the funding applies to the XBR radar on the SBX naval platform, as well as their AN/TPY-2 radars (THAAD, European missile defense, deployed in Israel & Japan), and a “Ground Based Radar Prototype” that they’re working on as a technology demonstrator.

Work will be performed in Woburn, MA from Nov 1/11 through Oct 31/13, and the MDA’s FY 2012 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used to fund initial orders. The MDA at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (HQ0147-12-D-0005).

FY 2011

NGAM Phase 1. TPY-2.

May 9/11: Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, CA receives a $60 million fixed-price-incentive, firm target contract modification to deliver 6 HEMMT transporters, 6 missile round pallets, and associated spares to support THAAD batteries 3 & 4. This order raises the total contract value to date to $1.64 billion.

Work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with final assembly performed in Troy, AL; the performance period is extended from April 2011 to August 2013. $60 million in FY 2010 procurement funds will be used to fund this contract modification in its entirety (HQ0147-07-C-0196, #P00054).

April 7/11: TPY-2. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA receives a $14 million sole-source cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to maintain and improve the AN/TPY-2 radar’s software. Work will be performed in Woburn, MA from April 2011 through June 2011, and $4 million in FY 2011 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used to incrementally fund this effort.

This award beings total contract awards so far under (HQ0006-03-C-0047) to $1.936 billion.

April 7/11: NGAM Phase 1. The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announces a trio of Phase 1 cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon to work on the Next Generation AEGIS Missile/ SM-3 Block IIB. The firms will perform concept definition and program planning for their offerings, and the competition will winnow down as the MDA picks which concept(s) to develop further.

Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, MD wins a $43.3 million contract, which could allow the firm to build on previous talk of expanding THAAD to the same 21″ diameter as SM-3 Block II missiles, in order to increase its speed and range.

March 24/11: The US GAO issues report #GAO-11-372: “Missile Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Transparency and Accountability.” Key excerpts:

“However, the agency was unable to meet all of its goals for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a system used to defend against targets in their last phases of flight… MDA finalized a new process in which detailed baselines were set for several missile defense systems… [but] GAO found its unit and life-cycle cost baselines had unexplained inconsistencies and documentation for six baselines had insufficient evidence to be a high-quality cost estimate… GAO makes 10 recommendations for MDA to strengthen its resource, schedule and test baselines, facilitate baseline reviews, and further improve transparency and accountability. GAO is also making a recommendation to improve MDA’s ability to carry out its test plan. In response, DOD fully concurred with 7 recommendations. It partially concurred with 3…”

March 18/11: US order. A $695 million fixed-price incentive and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for 48 interceptors, 6 launchers, 4 fire control units, and other ground equipment required to support THAAD batteries 3 & 4.

This finalizes the Sept 15/10 contract. $144.8 million in FY 2010 procurement funds are added to $119.2 million in FY 2010 funds used for the initial allocation (TL: $264 million), then another $430.9 million in FY 2011 funds brings us to the $695 million grand total. A $94.8 million option for additional launchers could bring the total to $789.8 million.

Work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with final assembly performed in Troy, AL through December 2013 (HQ0147-07-C-0196). See also Lockheed Martin.

Feb 20/11: UAE. Reuters quotes Lockheed Martin VP of International Air & Missile Defence Strategic Initiatives Dennis Cavin, who says that “We are very close to finalising documentation necessary to have a successful [THAAD contract] for the UAE. This spring, the U.S. government will make an announcement…”

That announcement is expected to be a government-to-government deal worth up to $7 billion [vid. Sept 9/08 entry], making the UAE THAAD’s 1st export customer. The US government is expected to send a letter of agreement in the next few months, after which the UAE could start negotiations with contractors on production schedules, and support agreements with Lockheed and Raytheon.

Feb 18/11: A sole-source $8.9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA. Raytheon will perform superdome obsolescence redesign, including system enhancements, technological improvements, and new products supporting “the X-band radars.”

Work will be performed in Woburn, MA from February 2011 through June 2011, and $2.5 million in FY 2011 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will be used to incrementally fund this effort (HQ0006-03-C-0047, HQ0147).

Nov 10/10: TPY-2. A sole-source $25.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA, to refurbish AN/TPY-2 radar #4.

Work will be performed in Woburn, MA through August 2011, funded by FY 2010 – 2011 Research, Development, Test & Evaluation funds (HQ0006-03-C-0047).

Oct 4/10: An $18 million contract modification to Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, CA, who will begin manufacturing 49 “redesigned mid-body heat shields for incorporation into THAAD interceptors” on mid-body substrate assemblies. Asked for details, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said that this wasn’t an immediate concern, but:

“The redesign will eliminate microcracking which was identified during ground testing as a potential risk over a long period of time. This contract implements the heat shields on the 49 interceptors now in production. Lockheed Martin remains focused on ensuring THAAD is reliable, affordable and effective.”

Work will be managed by LMSSC in Sunnyvale, CA, with final assembly performed at Lockheed Martin’s Pike County Operations interceptor production facility in Troy, AL. Work is projected through February 2012 (HQ0147-07-C-0196).

FY 2010

7 TPY-2 radars delivered to date. Tests. Production delays. Test launch
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Sept 24/10: TPY-2. A sole-source fixed-price-incentive-fee modification to Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA for AN/TPY-2 radar #8. The target price is $189.8 million. Work will take place from September 2010 through October 2012, and FY 2010 procurement funds will be used to fund it (HQ0006-03-C-0047).

Raytheon’s release adds that the firm delivered the 7th radar earlier in 2010, on cost and ahead of schedule.

Sept 15/10: US order. A not to exceed $298 million contract modification to Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. (LMSSC) in Sunnyvale, CA to manufacture and deliver 26 THAAD interceptor missiles, representing the first lot buy of interceptors in support of the Battery 3 and 4 procurement (total of 48 missiles). the remainder of Battery 3 & 4’s missiles will be ordered in a future production lot.

Aviation Week confirms that Pentagon procurement chief Ashton Carter has approved THAAD production. The 48 missiles to equip Batteries 1 & 2 can now have optical block switches integrated, moving their delivery date from June 2010 to May 2012. A production interceptor will be flight tested with the optical block switch in spring 2011.

Work will be managed in Sunnyvale, CA, with final assembly performed at Lockheed Martin’s Pike County Operations in Troy, AL, and will continue through June 2013 (HQ0147-07-C-0196). Looks like the optical block switch problems are resolved.

Sept 1/10: TPY-2. A $22.6 million sole-source cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA will continue support services for the AN/TPY-2 radar’s flight and ground testing.

Work will be performed in Woburn, MA from September 2010 through June 2011. $1,443,793 in FY 2010 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used to incrementally fund this effort (HQ0006-03-C-0047).

Aug 24/10: TPY-2. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Woburn, MA received a sole-source contract modification for $43 million continue software maintenance in support of the AN/TYP-2 radar. The modification includes both fixed-price and cost-plus-award-fee line items, and work will be performed in Woburn, MA. The performance period is through March 2011. FY 2010 & 2011 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will be used, and the US Missile Defense Agency manages the contract (HQ0006-03-C-0047). See also Raytheon release.

Aug 17/10: Frozen. Reuters reports that the problems with Moog’s optical block switch have frozen a pending $419 million production contract for 26 missiles. As the issue drags on, Lockheed Martin has offered to take financial responsibility for costs related to any further production delays. The firm reportedly has a solution that could get clearance in September, with interceptor missile deliveries beginning again by the end of 2010.

Army Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly adds that the Missile Defense Agency is eyeing potential competitive bids worth as much as $37 billion over the next 5 years, as it moves away from sole-source contracts. That could prove difficult when it comes to proprietary technologies like missiles, unless it’s a harbinger of more competition between missile types. With the advent of land-based SM-3s from Raytheon, that’s a very real possibility for THAAD. Reuters.

July 29/10: Delay. Bloomberg News reports that a combination of newly-added requirements and sub-contractor issue will delay delivery of the first 24 THAAD missiles by up to a year, and may delay the 2nd batch of 24 by 10 months or more. Lockheed Missiles and Fire Control was supposed to hand over the first THAAD missiles by Sept 30/10, but that is now expected to happen only by 2011. The next lot of 24 is due by June 2011, but may not arrive until April 2012.

The problem has several causes. In the middle of flight testing, the US Missile Defense Agency decided it wanted a safety switch to prevent accidental launches. Moog, Inc. in East Aurora, NY was the subcontractor, but its switches failed testing. The result is a set of missiles waiting for a final critical part that wasn’t in the initial specifications, a contractor who can’t finalize delivery, and an initial American THAAD battery at Fort Bliss, TX who is restricted to training.

Moog reportedly shut down its production line from March to May 2010 to fix the design, and delivered the first improved switch for testing in July 2010. Lockheed Martin also stepped in, assigning engineers to oversee all design and manufacturing process improvements at Moog.

July 29/10: Test. A THAAD system successfully intercepts its target during a low-endo-atmospheric MDA test at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii. Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade of Fort Bliss, Texas, conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations, and were not informed of the exact launch time for the unitary missile target. The AN/TPY-2 radar, achieved all test objectives: acquiring the target, discriminating the lethal object, providing track and discrimination data to the fire control, and communicating with the in-flight THAAD interceptor. The fire control software, jointly developed by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, also performed successfully. This was the 7th successful intercept in 7 attempts for the operationally-configured THAAD system.

Several missile defense assets and emerging technologies observed the launch and gathered data for future analysis. Participants included the Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system, and elements of the U.S. Army’s PATRIOT system which conducted engagement coordination with THAAD, and conducted upper tier debris mitigation exercises during the intercept engagement. US MDA: release | MDA photos and video | Raytheon.

June 30/10: R&D. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, CA receives a $67 million “obsolescence mitigation” contract for THAAD system electronics. If a 6 year old computer is ancient, what kinds of performance and supplier issues would you expect for a program that began in the late 1990s? This sole-source, cost-plus-fixed-fee modification will cover obsolescence mitigation efforts for THAAD defense batteries 3 and 4, including completion of ongoing FY 2009 obsolescence efforts, and similar work required to support FY 2010 buys. Efforts will also include qualification of identified replacement components, required software updates to accommodate those new components, offering a test environment, and regression testing for the changes.

Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, CA from June 2010 through March 2011. FY 2010 procurement funds will be used to commit $27.8 million for this effort (HQ0147-07-C-0196).

June 29/10: Test. Endoatmospheric THAAD intercept test successful. A THAAD interceptor missile intercepts an incoming target missile at the lowest altitude to date, in a test off of Hawaii that was to simulate an endoatmospheric (inside the atmosphere), short range ballistic missile. This kind of scenario is more difficult than it appears; Lockheed Martin describes it as a “highly stressing angle,” due to the density and friction that a very high speed object encounters in the atmosphere.

Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade of Fort Bliss, Texas, conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations during this test, using tactics, techniques, and procedures developed by the U.S. Army Air Defense School. Test personnel also used the Simulation-Over-Live Driver (SOLD) software system to inject multiple simulated threat scenarios into the THAAD radar, in order to simulate performance against a mass salvo. Other participants included the Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system, and elements of the U.S. Army’s PATRIOT system. According to the US MDA, “Preliminary indications are that planned flight test objectives were achieved.” This makes the fully up to date, “operationally configured” THAAD system 7/7 in intercept tests so far (11 total tests so far since 2005). US MDA | Photos & Video | Lockheed Martin.

April 1/10: Support. Lockheed Martin Corporation of Sunnyvale, CA received a 5-year, sole-source, indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity THAAD Field Support Contract, with a ceiling value of $434.7 million. Lockheed Martin will provide logistics, maintenance, software, training, and engineering services to fielded THAAD fire units through March 2015.

Work will be carried out in Sunnyvale, CA; Huntsville, AL; and Fort Bliss, TX. Fiscal year (FY) 2010 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will be utilized for Task Orders issued in FY 2010 (HQ0147-10-D-0001). See also Lockheed Martin release.

March 30/10: GAO. The US GAO audit office delivers its 8th annual “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs report. Its assessment of THAAD is mostly positive:

“The program’s critical technologies are mature and its design appears stable. However, it is still qualifying components and conducting flight tests, so additional design work may be necessary. Target issues continue to affect the program as it was unable to conduct two planned fiscal year 2009 flight tests or its first fiscal year 2010 flight test because of target issues. Although one successful intercept test during fiscal year 2009 could not demonstrate a major knowledge point because of target availability, as THAAD’s first developmental and operational test it demonstrated THAAD’s ability to launch two interceptors against a single target. The program is on schedule to deliver two THAAD batteries to the Army in 2010 and 2011.”

…[due to problems with the target missiles it intercepts] The program will not attempt a medium-range ballistic missile intercept until fiscal year 2011 – nearly 3 years later than planned. In its fiscal year 2010 budget, DOD requested procurement funding for THAAD for the first time. DOD requested $420 million in procurement funding to buy interceptors, launchers, and a fire control and communication system for a future THAAD battery, as well as to procure tooling and equipment to increase THAAD interceptor production capacity. Program officials told us that they plan to award a procurement contract for a future THAAD battery by the end of fiscal year 2010. These batteries will be fully funded using procurement funds [rather than] incrementally funded using research, development, test and evaluation funds as authorized by Congress.”

March 26/10: Walbridge in Detroit, MI won a $40.7 million firm-fixed-price contract to design & build 3 tactical equipment maintenance facilities (TEMFS) at 3 close but separate sites in Fort Bliss, TX. Supported projects will include a sustainment bridge, a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) aerostat battery, and a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile battery.

Each TEMFS will provide a complex with repair and maintenance bays, equipment and parts storage, administrative offices, secure vaults, oil storage buildings, hazardous material storage, and other supporting facilities such as organizational storage buildings. Work is to be performed in Fort Bliss, TX, with an estimated completion date of Dec 30/11. Bids were solicited via World Wide Web, with 4 bids received.

March 16/10: TPY-2. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Woburn, MA receives a $17.4 million sole-source contract modification that includes both fixed-price and cost-plus-award-fee line items. Under this contract modification, Raytheon will continue Phase II of concurrent test, training, and operations support unit integration for AN/TYP-2 X-Band radar.

Work will be performed in Woburn, MA through November 2010. Fiscal year 2010 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used for this effort (HQ0006-03-C-0047).

Oct 16/09: The U.S. Army activates its 2nd THAAD battery during a ceremony at Fort Bliss, TX. It’s the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command’s 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, A Battery of 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment. US MDA [PDF].

FY 2009

Tests. SM-3.

Sept 17/09: SM-3s for Europe. The Obama administration announces revised plans for its European missile defense architecture. Instead of positioning Boeing’s GMD and Ground-Based Interceptors at silos in Poland and/or the Czech Republic, which could intercept even the longest-range ballistic missiles, they choose an architecture based around Raytheon’s SM-3, at sea and on land.

Gen. Cartwright does say that the US military will deploy a THAAD battery to Europe in 2009, as part of operational testing, and will continue to roll out the system as the Army’s wide-area air defense system. Its AN/TPY-2 radar is certainly secure, as it appears to be set as the land-based radar for SM-3s as well. Whether THAAD would remain secure in a significant budget crunch, or be “rationalized” away in favor of planned SM-3 deployments that offer much less mobility but much longer range, remains to be seen. Read “Land-Based SM-3s for Israel – and Others” for more.

Aug 17/09: THAAD II? Aviation Week reports that the USA is examining a number of possible changes to THAAD. The most significant change would add a 21″ booster and turn THAAD into a 2-stage weapon that could offer 3-4 times the existing system coverage (i.e. about 1.75 – 2 times existing range). That size would match the Navy’s planned SM-3 Block II missiles, and would force a redesign of the THAAD launcher to handle 5 of the new 21″ missiles instead of 8 of the current 14.5″ missiles.

The report quotes the US MDA’s THAAD project manager, U.S. Army Col. William Lamb, who says they are reviewing a concept from Lockheed Martin for possible inclusion in the Fiscal 2011 budget. Lockheed Martin Vice President Tom McGrath is quoted as saying that THAAD rocket motor manufacturer Aerojet conducted static-fire trials of a 21″ prototype and a second “kick stage” in 2006, as part of a privately funded R&D effort.

The news comes just before Raytheon announces their intent to develop a land-based variant of their naval SM-3 missile that will work with their AN/TPY-2 radar, and Boeing proposed a mobile version of their even longer-range GMD interceptors for use in Europe.

July 9/09: TPY-2. Raytheon announces successful integration and acceptance testing the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar’s Prime Power Unit (PPU), a trailer-mounted 1.3 megawatt Generator Set. Following this success at White Sands Missile Range, NM, the PPU will undergo extensive user evaluations as the next stage in its fielding process.

June 29/09: Test. The US Missile Defense Agency uses a routine flight test of the USA’s nuclear ICBM rockets to save money, by conducting some tests on the other end. After the Glory Trip 199 missile was launched from Vandenberg AFB, CA to ensure that all Minuteman elements continue to work properly, the MDA used it to test the AN/TPY-2 in Forward Base Mode, the Upgraded BMEWS Early Warning Radar at Beale AFB, CA, and items from its External Sensors Laboratory. Data collected during the exercise will be used to improve sensor capabilities and as risk reduction for future BMDS tests. MDA release [PDF]

Apr 13/09: Rollout. Lockheed Martin officially rolls out the first THAAD ground segment vehicles to come off the production line in Camden, AR. The THAAD Weapon System launcher and the Fire Control and Communications unit will be delivered to Soldiers at Fort Bliss, TX, which is expected to have a fully operational THAAD battery of equipment and personnel by the end of 2009.

April 6/09: THAAD comes out a winner in Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ proposed FY 2010 budget. While other missile defense programs are being cut, Gates proposes to spend $700 million to field naval SM-3 and land-based THAAD missiles. Presidential and Congressional approval are still required, before the final funding totals can become a reality.

March 18/09: Test. A THAAD missile completes a successful intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Soldiers of the US Army’s 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations, using tactics, techniques and procedures developed by the U.S. Army Air Defense School. MDA release [PDF]

FY 2008

1st battery. UAE request. A THAAD Engagement
(click to view full)

Sept 17/08: Test cancelled. The US Missile Defense Agency has to cancel a THAAD test when the target missile malfunctions, leaving the THAAD system nothing to intercept within the Pacific Missile Range Facility’s designated “safe area” off of Kauai.

Interception outside of that safe area would certainly be possible, but might not be appreciated by any ship, aircraft, or other traffic that found itself under the falling debris. MDA release [PDF].

Sept 9/08: UAE request. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] the United Arab Emirates’ request for 3 Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) Fire Units with 147 THAAD anti-ballistic missiles, 4 THAAD Radar Sets (3 tactical and one maintenance float), 6 THAAD Fire and Control Communication stations, and 9 THAAD Launchers. This would represent the first foreign sale of the THAAD system.

The UAE is also requesting fire unit maintenance equipment, the heavy trucks that carry the THAAD components, generators, electrical power units, trailers, communications equipment, tools, test and maintenance equipment, repair and return, system integration and checkout, spare/repair parts, publications, documentation, personnel training, training equipment, contractor technical and logistics personnel services, and other related support elements. The estimated cost is $6.95 billion.

The principal contractor is Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corporation in Sunnyvale, CA (THAAD), and the sub-contractor is Raytheon Corporation in Andover, MA (radar).

The UAE will be requesting industrial offsets, which will be negotiated with these contractors. On the other hand, the UAE “does not desire a government support presence in its country on an extended basis.” A total of 66 contractor logistic support personnel could be stationed in United Arab Emirates for extended periods, and additional training and major defense equipment personnel may be in the United Arab Emirates for short periods of time, not to exceed 24 months.

UAE request

June 25/08: Test. A successful THAAD test involving a separating target (mock warhead separated from the booster rockets) inside the earth’s atmosphere. The target was launched from a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft flying over the Pacific Ocean, and about 6 minutes later the interceptor missile was launched from a mobile THAAD launcher on the range facility. This was the 29th of 30 successful tests conducted since September 2005, of which 6 have been intercept tests.

The primary objective of this intercept test was to demonstrate target acquisition, tracking and aimpoint selection by the avionics software contained in the THAAD interceptor, and to intercept a separating target. Secondary objectives included observing launch effects on the THAAD vehicle, and verifying soldier performance in the system’s semiautomatic mode using current tactics, techniques and procedures developed by the US Army Air Defense School.

The U.S. Navy cruiser USS Lake Erie [CG-70] also received a tracking cue from THAAD, and used its SPY-1 radar to successfully track the target and conduct a simulated SM-3 missile launch to engage the target. MDA release [PDF] | Video [Windows Media].

June 13/08: Test. A non-firing test involves THAAD TPY-2 X-band radars in conjunction with the SPY-1 Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system aboard the USS Lake Erie [CG 70], as 2 medium-range target missiles are launched near-simultaneously from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) at Barking Sands, Hawaii. Lake Erie’s crew used their own radars, and also received data from 2 THAAD radars at PMRF via secure links. All equipment performed as designed, and the cruiser was able to get launch solutions on both targets. MDA release [PDF].

May 28/08: Battery 1. The U.S. Army activates Alpha Battery/4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 32nd Army Air & Missile Defense Command as the first THAAD battery, in a ceremony at Fort Bliss, TX.

The battery will receive 24 THAAD interceptors, 3 THAAD launchers, a THAAD Fire Control and a THAAD radar as part of the initial fielding. That will be backed by support from the Battery Support Center and Integrated Contractor Support System, as well as the necessary spares for a fielded unit. Unit training began in April 2008, in preparation for full-system fielding beginning in 2009.

Dec 17/07: Test. A THAAD test battery is a participant in the first shoot-down of a ballistic missile by a ship of the Japanese Navy, receiving data from the USS Lake Erie [CG 70] and participating in tracking. Read “Japanese Destroyer JS Kongo Intercepts Ballistic Missile” for full details.

Nov 15/07: Award. Lockheed announces that the THAAD program received Aviation Week’s 2007 Program Excellence Award for Research and Systems Design and Development. The program was praised for best practices including systems engineering, a process of “test as you fly, fly as you test”; and the application of pit-stop technology used in car racing to reduce maintenance, diagnostic, and repair times to seconds.

Oct 27/07: Test. At 3:15 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, a THAAD missile succeeded in the exo-atmospheric destruction of a non-separating target representing a SCUD-type ballistic missile, which was launched from a mobile platform positioned off Kauai in the Pacific Ocean. The interceptor was launched from the THAAD launch complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. This was the 4th successful intercept for the current THAAD program over the last 4 tests, and the 3rd test of the THAAD system at Pacific Missile Range Facility.

The primary objective of this test was to demonstrate integrated operations of the system, including radar, launcher, fire control equipment and procedures, and the interceptor’s ability to detect, track and destroy the target missile using only the force of a direct collision. Other objectives included demonstrating performance of an interceptor that had been “hot conditioned,” or heated to a certain temperature before launching; and demonstrating the ability of the interceptor to perform correctly in the final seconds before target intercept. Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas operated all THAAD equipment during all tests, conducting operations of the launcher, fire control and communications and radar. MDA release [PDF] | Lockheed Martin release | Raytheon release re: radar | BAE release re: IR tracking.

FY 2007

Tests. Orders begin.

Aug 22/07: Lockheed announces that it has selected its manufacturing facility in Camden, AR, to build the THAAD launcher and Fire Control and Communications (TFCC) unit. The Camden plant already produces MLRS/HIMARS 227mm battlefield artillery rockets, and the Patriot PAC-3 missile.

Initially, 35 new jobs will be created to support the program with production taking place in the 200,000 square-foot Launcher Integration Complex. Camden Operations currently has an employment population of 450. Employment at the facility could grow to more than 500 by 2010. Lockheed Martin release.

Aug 6/07: Israel. Jane’s Defence Weekly:

“Israel is leaning towards upgrading its own anti-ballistic missile Arrow Weapon System (AWS) rather than acquiring the US Theatre High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system. While no formal decision has yet been taken, Jane’s has learned that officials from the Israel Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation (BMDO) have informed the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) about potential complications with integrating THAAD into the country’s missile-defence alignment.”

Israel does end up opting for its Arrow-3 co-development with Boeing.

July 11/07: TPY-2. Raytheon announces a $304 million contract from the US Missile Defense Agency to develop advanced tracking and discrimination capabilities for the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) forward based AN/TPY-2 radar. As noted above, the TPY-2 is also the THAAD system’s component radar.

Under the contract, Raytheon is responsible for the development and test of radar software, various engineering tasks, maintenance and support, infrastructure upgrades, and deployment mission planning. Work will be performed at the company’s Missile Defense Center in Woburn, MA and the Warfighter Protection Center in Huntsville, AL.

The first forward-based capability spiral was released on schedule in October 2006 and is operational. Raytheon IDS is developing the second forward-based capability spiral, with release planned in early 2008. As the prime contractor for this program, Raytheon IDS has delivered the first 2 of 5 planned AN/TPY-2 radars to the Missile Defense Agency. The first radar, delivered in November 2004, is currently deployed in Japan. The second AN/TPY-2 radar recently completed acceptance testing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. Raytheon is also responsible for whole-life engineering support for AN/TPY-2 radars under a contract awarded in June 2005. Raytheon release.

July 11/07: BAE Systems announces a $62.3 million contract from Lockheed Martin to begin production of the THAAD Interceptor’s infrared seeker. Assembly, integration, and testing of production equipment will take place at BAE Systems facilities in Nashua, NH; Lexington, MA; and Johnson City, NY.

BAE Systems began work on seekers for missile defense in the late 1970s and achieved the first hit-to-kill intercept of a ballistic missile target in 1984. The company started work on the THAAD seeker demonstration and validation contract in 1991 and achieved two hit-to-kill intercepts in 1999. The seeker development program was begun in 2000, and is scheduled to conclude in 2007.

June 26/07: Test. The US Missile Defense Agency announces a successful THAAD test flight entirely inside the low atmosphere, which features higher pressures and friction heating. This was the lowest altitude fly-out of a THAAD interceptor to date, and was strictly an aerodynamics & durability test. All test objectives were met, including interceptor launch, booster and kill vehicle separation, shroud separation in a low endo-flight environment, kill vehicle control, and evaluation of the heating effects on the interceptor mid-body.

When used in “low endo-atmospheric” mode like this, THAAD can serve as a 3rd layer between the mobile ground-based Patriot PAC-3 or MEADS system, and the longer range AEGIS BMD/Standard Missile-3 sea-based missile defense. This was the last planned missile test at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico; all future tests will take place at the Pacific Missile Range Facility near Kauai, Hawaii. MDA release [PDF format] | Lockheed release.

June 26/07: TPY-2. Raytheon announces completion of all factory acceptance testing on its 2nd THAAD radar, which was shipped ahead of schedule and under budget to the Missile Defense Agency at White Sands Missile Range, NM, for final testing and acceptance. Raytheon release.

June 22/07: Test. Missile defense Flight Test Maritime-12 took place, launching an SM-3 Block 1A missile from the destroyer USS Decatur [DDG 73]. The Spanish Navy’s Alvaro de Bazan Class AEGIS frigate Mendez Nunez [F-104] also participated in the test “as a training event to assess the future capabilities of the F-100 Class.” So, too, did the US Navy’s Ticonderoga Class AEGIS cruiser USS Port Royal [CG 73], which successfully used its SPY-1B radar augmented by a prototype AEGIS BMD Signal Processor (BSP) to detect and track the separating warhead in real time, and to tell the difference between the simulated warhead and the rest of the missile. The final variant of that processor is expected to be deployed in 2010.

USS Port Royal also exchanged tracking data with a ground-based Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system ashore, in order to verify compatibility. Video from the test | US MDA release [PDF] | Raytheon release | Boeing release | Lockheed Martin release.

April 5/07: Test. THAAD was successful in the second integrated flight test conducted by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii. The test resulted in the successful intercept of a “mid-endoatmospheric” (inside Earth’s atmosphere) unitary (non-separating) target over the Pacific Ocean and demonstrated fully integrated radar, launcher, fire control, missile and engagement functions of the THAAD weapon system.

This was the first THAAD interceptor mission that was considered a Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) test, meaning that more than one element of the defensive system participated. Successful beyond-line-of-sight communications with a U.S. Navy AEGIS sensor, as well as communications links with the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system and the U.S. Air Force Space-Based Infrared Sensors (SBIRS) system, were both part of the test. In addition, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed at Fort Bliss, TX operated all THAAD equipment including the launcher, fire control, communications, and radar.

Other flight test objectives included demonstrating successful missile launch from the PMRF launch site; interceptor “kill vehicle” target identification, object discrimination and intercept; collection of data and hit assessment algorithms; and evaluation of the missile launching procedures and equipment. While post-test analysis will take place over several weeks, MDA reports that initial indications are that the test objectives were achieved. This was the 26th successful “hit to kill” intercept for elements of the Ballistic Missile Defense System since 2001, and the 3rd successful THAAD intercept in the current program phase. MDA release [PDF format]. BAE release | Raytheon release.

March 5/07: Test. March 5/07: A THAAD radar test involves the launch of a short-range target missile from a C-17A aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, which deploys by parachute before its rocket motor ignites. The missile was launched at approximately 2:30 p.m. Hawaii Time (7:30 p.m. EST) approximately 400 miles west of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, and its flight was successfully tracked by the ground based X-band radar, now known as the AN/TPY-2 (Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance). Preliminary indications are that all radar data collection objectives were met.

The MDA release [PDF] says that “air-launched targets provide the capability to structure target missile trajectories during flight tests so that they are able to better replicate potential trajectories hostile ballistic missiles could use during an attack of our homeland, our deployed forces and our allies and friends.” A C-17 gives off a large radar profile, however, and at 400 miles it would have been well within the TPY-2’s surveillance range before the missile was dropped.

Feb 9/07: TPY-2. Raytheon Company in Woburn, MA received a $20 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification contract that could soar to $212.2 million to manufacture, deliver, and integrate the AN/TPY-2 radar component of the THAAD ABM system. Fiscal Year 2007 R&D funds worth $20 million will be used. Work will be performed at Woburn, MA and is expected to be complete by May 2010. The Missile Defense Agency in Washington, DC issued the contract (HQ0006-03-C-0047). See also Raytheon release.

Jan 26/07: Test. Test #15. An intercept test is successfully conducted at 7:20 p.m. Hawaii Time) at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off the island of Kauai in Hawaii, with the MDA and Lockheed Martin both claiming success. This test involved a single-warhead target representing a SCUD-type ballistic missile, traveling just inside earth’s atmosphere following launch from a mobile platform positioned off Kauai in the Pacific Ocean. Primary flight test objectives included demonstrating the integration of the radar, launcher, fire control and communications and interceptor operations; demonstrating radar and interceptor discrimination; and target acquisition and tracking by the interceptor’s seeker. See MDA release [PDF] | Raytheon release.

Jan 2/07: Israel. Israel to choose THAAD over Arrow? SpaceWar relays a report from the left-leaning Ha’aretz newspaper that Israel is considering halting the development of a new generation of its Boeing/IAI Arrow theater defense system due to the high costs involved, in favor of THAAD. Negotiations have reportedly been ongoing in recent months, and it is said that Israeli leaders will make a final decision on whether to phase out the Arrow some time in 2007.

While the USA has paid half of the Arrow system’s development costs since 1991 (and derived all technology access and lessons), it’s worth noting that THAAD could be paid for via 100% commitment of “soft” US aid budget dollars rather than requiring 50% hard currency outlays. On the other hand, the Arrow’s tests have been generally successful, and THAAD is not yet seen as reliable.

UPDATE: The Israeli Ministry of Defence has strongly denied these reports.

Dec 22/06: US order. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Sunnyvale, CA received a $619.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee/ cost-plus-award-fee contract for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) fire unit fielding, support equipment and initial spares. A January 3, 2007 Lockheed release adds that the contract is for the first 2 THAAD fire units, which includes 48 interceptors (missiles), 6 launchers, and 2 fire control and communications units. The system is scheduled for fielding in FY 2009.

Work will be performed at Sunnyvale, CA, though final assembly, integration and testing of production equipment will take place at Lockheed Martin’s award-winning manufacturing facilities in Troy, AL, and Camden, AR. The contract is expected to be completed in February 2011. This is a sole source contract award from the Missile Defense Agency, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Project Office in Huntsville, AL (HQ0147-07-C-0196).

“This is a major milestone for the THAAD program,” said Tom McGrath, Lockheed Martin vice president and THAAD program manager. Which it is, following a number of tests in which THAAD has performed reasonably well.

Orders begin

FY 2006 and Earlier

EMD. Manufacturing begins. Launcher on HEMTT truck
(click to view full)

July 12/06: Test. Successful test launch of a THAAD interceptor missile. The primary test objective was to demonstrate the interceptor seeker’s ability to accurately identify a ballistic missile target in the high-endoatmosphere, i.e. just inside the earth’s atmosphere. A non-separating Hera target missile was launched for the test, and (although it was not a primary objective) a successful THAAD intercept of the target occurred. See also Lockheed Martin MFC release.

May 11/06: Test. Successful launch was achieved of a THAAD interceptor missile. This was intended as a fully integrated flight test (not intercept test) of all THAAD components, including the mobile launcher, radar, fire control and communications element, and the interceptor missile.

A Raytheon release touts the performance of its THAAD Ground-Based Radar in the test. The THAAD radar, developed by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems (IDS), accomplished all test objectives, including communicating with the in-flight THAAD missile. Track and discrimination reports were successfully transmitted between the THAAD radar and fire control. Performance of the fire control software, jointly developed by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, was also successful. See also Lockheed Martin MFC release.

Nov 22/05: Test. New round of testing begins for THAAD with a non-intercept launch. All components work. See Lockheed Martin MFC release.

May 26/04: Lockheed Martin begins manufacturing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile at its Pike County Operations facility in Troy, AL. One “pathfinder” missile and 16 developmental test missiles will be manufactured. See Lockheed Martin MFC release.

Manufacturing begins

May 29/02: Infrastructure. Lockheed Martin breaks ground in Troy, AL on a new production facility for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Weapon System. The investment was reportedly about $13 million, and part of that will be used to optimize the THAAD facility for lean production and Six-Sigma programs. The Pike County site has won several independent awards for its quality and performance, and is considered a Lockheed Martin Center of Excellence for strike weapons. It already performs final assembly, test and storage of the Hellfire II and Longbow Hellfire anti-armor missiles; the Javelin man-portable anti-armor missile; the Israeli-designed AGM-142 ‘Popeye’ air-to-surface missile, and (in future) the JASSM air-surface missile. The plant currently employs about 230 employees, and will assemble and test the THAAD missile in a field-deployable canister. See Lockheed Martin MFC release.

Jan 24/01: Infrastructure. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control selects its production facility in Pike County (Troy), AL as the missile final assembly and test site for the THAAD weapon system. Work will happen in two phases, starting with the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase beginning in 2003, and the construction of a 39,000-square-foot, $8.6 million state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the THAAD program. Personnel staffing and training will ramp up at the Pike County facility beginning in calendar year 2004, with the first early development unit work beginning in 2004. An additional 15,500 square feet of administration and storage space will be added in 2004.

The second phase, Full Rate Production, will begin in 2007, with the construction of a 20,600-square-foot, $5 million addition to the Assembly and Test building, and 18,500 additional square feet for administration and storage. See Lockheed Martin MFC release.

June 28/2000: EMD contract. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Missiles & Space Operations in Sunnyvale, CA received a $77.5 million increment as part of a $3.97 billion (cumulative total includes options) cost-plus-award-fee contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) of the initial Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) tactical ballistic missile defense system. “During the EMD program, the system design will evolve to satisfy the Army’s key operational requirements while developing weapon system components that are not only effective but are affordable, ready for production, and available to the U.S. Army soldiers for a first unit equipped in FY 2007.”

Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, CA (68%); Huntsville, AL (30%), and Courtland, AL (2%), and is expected to be complete by May 3, 2008. This is a sole source contract initiated on Oct. 29, 1999 by the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-00-C-0072).

EMD contract

Jan 30/98: Small business qualifier Tec-Masters Inc. in Huntsville, AL received a $2.2 million increment as part of a $27.8 million cost-plus-award-fee/ level-of-effort contract for Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Simulation and Hardware-in-the-Loop development. The estimated cumulative total value of this contract will be $43 million if all options are exercised. Work will be performed in Huntsville, AL and is expected to be complete by Sept. 30, 2002. This is a sole source contract initiated on Aug. 22, 1997 by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0044).

Nov 21/96: Silverton Construction in El Paso, TX received a $10.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for construction of 2 standard design tactical equipment shops, an organizational maintenance shop and direct support maintenance shop, a fuel dispensing facility, oil storage building, sentry station, pavement, site improvements, utilities, physical security, and information systems for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Work will be performed at Fort Bliss, TX and is expected to be complete by Jan. 20, 1998. There were 31 bids solicited on Sep. 22, 1996, and 7 bids received by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth, TX (DACA63-96-C-0004).

Sept 24/96: Small business qualifier Dynetics, Incorporated in Huntsville, AL received a $3.4 million increment as part of a $35 million cost-plus-award-fee/ level-of-effort contract for systems engineering and technical assistance (SETA) for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). Work will be performed in Huntsville, AL and is expected to be complete by September 23, 2001. There were 39 bids solicited on March 29, 1996, and 3 bids were received by the U.S. Army Strategic Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-96-C-0193).

Additional Readings & Sources Background: THAAD System

Official Reports

Background: Other National/ Regional Systems

Competitive Technologies

  • DID – Israel’s Arrow Theater Missile Defense. Coverage from 2000 – 2011. IAI and Boeing are currently working on the Arrow 3, which is competitive with THAAD.

  • IMINT & Analysis – S-300P tag items. Articles give a very detailed overview of S-300/S-400 versions and deployment, backed by imagery intelligence of Russian sites. Also adds some S-500 related information. These Russian missiles also have BMD capabilities, but unlike THAAD, they’re also meant for long-range air defense within the atmosphere.

  • DID FOCUS Article – Raytheon’s Standard Missile Naval Defense Family. Includes information and links related to the SM-3.

Testing, Testing…

Categories: News

LCA Tejas: An Indian Fighter – With Foreign Help

9 hours 10 min ago
Tejas LCA
(click to view full)

India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.

In response, some MiG-21s have been modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, and other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs of their own. The IAF’s hope is that they can maintain an adequate force until the multi-billion dollar 126+ plane MMRCA competition delivers replacements, and more SU-30MKIs arrive from HAL. Which still leaves India without an affordable fighter solution. MMRCA can replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but what about the MiG-21s? The MiG-21 Bison program adds years of life to those airframes, but even so, they’re likely to be gone by 2020.

That’s why India’s own Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is so important to the IAF’s future prospects. It’s also why India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft. Even with that help, the program’s delays are a growing problem for the IAF. Meanwhile, the west’s near-abandonment of the global lightweight fighter market opens a global opportunity, if India can seize it with a compelling and timely product.

LCA Tejas: India’s Lightweight Fighter Tejas, side view
(click to view full)

Within India’s force structure, the LCA is largely expected to replace its 400 or so MiG-21 aircraft with a more versatile and capable performer. The MiGs are being retired as age claims them, and even India’s 125 or so upgraded MiG-21 ‘Bisons’ are only scheduled to remain in service until 2018. The LCA’s overall performance is expected to be somewhat similar to India’s Mirage 2000s, with lower top speed but more modern electronics.

The Tejas LCA design uses a tailless compound delta plan that’s designed to be unstable, but controllable over an 8g / -3.5g flight range thanks to advanced flight software and quadruplex fly-by-wire technology. Composites are used heavily in order to to save weight, and proper placement can also lower the plane’s radar profile. Japan’s F-16-derived F-2 fighters also made heavy use of composite technologies, but Japanese issues with delamination and cracking required repairs and changes. ADA has conducted Static and fatigue strength studies on finite element models, and aeroservoelastic studies have been performed on the Tejas design; nevertheless, only full testing and actual service will reveal how it fares. So far, composites haven’t become a public problem for the aircraft.

Unfortunately, reports indicate that the lack of early pilot input has compromised several aspects of the design, while a failure to consider maintenance up front has made key components difficult to reach. Barring published comparisons from experienced pilots or evaluating countries, it’s very difficult to pin down the extent or seriousness of these issues, but Tejas has certainly spent a very long time in testing.

The following sub-sections go into more detail about the fighter’s equipment rationales, and that equipment’s specific capabilities. The above list seems straightforward, but getting there has been anything but.


The plane’s avionics architecture is configured around a 3 bus, distributed MIL-STD-1553B system, using a 32-bit Mission Computer (MC) and software written in Ada. A “glass cockpit” of colour Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Displays (AMLCDs) provides the pilot with information, and is supplemented by Elbit’s DASH helmet-mounted display for commonality with other IAF aircraft.

The Mk.II is slated to use a more advanced glass cockpit with better computing and graphics processors behind it, full-duplex cross-Switched Ethernet (AFDX) based back up avionics, and digital maps. Elsewhere on the plane, a Universal Pylon Interface Computer (UPIC) will replace the Pylon Interface Boxes.

Radar Love: Weapons & Fire Control Radar Failure & Replacement EL/M-2032
(click to view full)

The Tejas project’s original radar, like its original engine choice, very nearly sank the project. The state-run Aeronautical Development Agency had originally intended to use Ericsson Microwave Systems’ PS-05/A radar, until they changed their mind and decided to develop their own. India’s Multi Mode Radar (MMR) program was started in June 1991, with a “Probable Date of Completion” of 6.5 years. More than 15 years later, development was still plodding away as a joint effort between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Hyderabad, India’s Electronics and Radar Development Laboratory in Bangalore, and the Centre for Airborne Studies. Even worse, test results for the radar were poor.

By August 2007, over 16 years into the project, even India’s MoD finally had to admit that the MMR faced serious problems. Radar co-development has now been initiated with Israel’s IAI Elta, with the EL/M-2032 as the radar base and interim solution. The EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar was originally developed for Israel’s Lavi fighter, and already equips India’s Sea Harrier fleet and Jaguar IM strike aircraft, and is popular around the world. M-2032s can be found on some F-16s in Israel and elsewhere, Kfir C10s flown by some Latin American customers, Chile’s upgraded F-5s, Romania’s MiG-21 Lancer upgrades, and South Korea’s FA-50 lightweight fighter. The radar features modular hardware design, with software control and flexible avionic interfaces, and a TWT coherent transmitter with a low-sidelobe planar antenna. The M-2032 functions in several air-to-air modes, as well as the air-to-ground, air-to-sea, ground-mapping in RBS, DBM, SAR with moving target tracking, and terrain avoidance modes.

Detection and classification ranges will vary depending on the aperture size. A radar adapted to fit in an F-5’s narrow nose will have lower performance than one that fits into a larger F-16. The Tejas’ dimensions suggest that performance may be near the radar’s claimed 80 nautical mile maximums for detection of fighter-sized objects.

There have been reports that the Tejas Mk.II and operational LCA Naval will fly with IAI’s EL/M-2052 AESA radar instead. That change would roughly double performance, while drastically reducing radar maintenance costs. These reports are unconfirmed, however, and other accounts cite American pressure to prevent Israeli AESA radar exports.

Other Sensors & Defensive LITENING pod

RAFAEL’s LITENING advanced surveillance and targeting pod will give Tejas long-range looks at ground targets, independent laser designation capability, and (rumored) fleet commonality with India’s Jaguars, MiG-27s, Mirage 2000s, and SU-30MKIs. The Mk.II will reportedly be adapted for a more advanced variant of the LITENING pod, but that means the pods would have to be bought and given to the Tejas fleet, rather than the SU-30MKI fleet for example.

The defensive system will be designed in India. Late testing means that it won’t be fully effective in the Mk.I aircraft, which must depend on an external Israel Aerospace Elta ELL/8-2222 jamming pod. The Mk.II is supposed to have a fully effective system of warning receivers, automated decoy dispensing, etc. In advanced western aircraft, these systems can even feed geolocation data from pinpointed threats into the plane’s targeting computers. Time will tell whether the Mk.II also has those capabilities.

Weapons LCA Tejas, armed
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Unsurprisingly, RAFAEL’s Derby radar-guided fire-and-forget missile will serve as the Tejas’ initial medium range air-air armament. It lacks the range and datalink of Raytheon’s AMRAAM or Russia’s R-77/AA-12, but in practice, positive identification requirements have kept most aerial fights within Derby range. Derby reportedly has good seeker cone coverage, which improves performance. It has already been integrated with the EL/M-2032 on India’s own Sea Harriers, and equips the country’s new SPYDER mobile anti-aircraft missile systems. If India’s own Astra MRAAM continues to progress, it will be integrated later.

For shorter-range engagements, Derby will be complemented by TMC’s infrared-guided Vympel R-73/AA-11 “Archer,” giving Tejas partial weapon commonality with India’s large MiG fleets. The R-73 is known for its exceptional maneuverability and a “wide boresight” seeker cone, a combination that inaugurated the era of 4th generation missiles. There’s even a rear-facing version, which offers enemies a nasty surprise. The jets will also carry RAFAEL’s Python 4/5, which can face forward and still hit targets behind their fighter.

Tejas planes are expected to carry a range of ground attack weapons, from ordinary bombs and unguided Russian S-8 80mm rockets, to precision munitions. Tests for unspecified laser-guided bombs and cluster bombs are expected, though they’re expected to be Russian KAB-1500L and RBK-500 weapons, along with Russian Kh-31/35/59 anti-ship and precision strike missiles. Specifications don’t mention a MIL-STD-1760 electrical interface with carriage stores, which is very helpful when integrating GPS-guided munitions. Time will tell, but the Tejas Mk.I’s initial weapons don’t include GPS guidance.

Engines & Alternatives F414-GE-400 engine
(click to see in sections)

With its radar issue solved by a foreign partnership, the fighter’s indigenous Kaveri engine (vid. Appendix B) was left as the project’s biggest unresolved issue. That was resolved with a stopgap, followed by a competition to field a working engine; even so, India’s DRDO continues to pour dollars and time into Kaveri development.

The removal of American arms trade sanctions allowed smooth incorporation of a slightly modified F404-GE-IN20 turbofan in initial Tejas Mk.I production models. Over the longer term, an international competition for the Tejas Mk.II’s engines had 2 shortlisted competitors, 1 unofficial competitor, and 1 winner in GE’s F414.

The winner: F414. GE’s F414 is that company’s more advanced alternative to the F404 family that equips the Tejas Mk.I; it currently equips Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet family. India’s F414-GE-INS6 engines will include the same single-engine FADEC modifications as the Gripen’s F414Gs, and may include some components of the F414-EPE research program for enhanced thrust. Standard F414 engines can reportedly produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust on afterburners.

GE has been remarkably coy about its thrust in normal operation, but the figures it supplied to India were obviously good enough to beat Eurojet’s EJ200, which reportedly revised its bid too close to the deadline to change its fortunes.

Slow fade: Kaveri. This was supposed to be the fighter’s main engine, but India couldn’t develop a world-leading jet engine from a base of no experience. Kaveri was sidelined in 2008 by GE’s F404, in order to allow flight testing to go forward. DRDO finally admitted defeat in 2013 and stopped advocating Kaveri for the Tejas, after around 6 fruitless years of negotiations with French engine maker Snecma. A global re-tender for assistance was proposed, but late 2014 saw DRDO finally admit the obvious and file the paperwork to end the program.

In the Navy… Naval LCA 2011 briefing
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Indian officials were interested in an improved engine for 2 reasons. One is simply better performance, thanks to an improved thrust:weight ratio. Another is the need for additional thrust, in order to operate the Tejas successfully as a naval aircraft.

India will induct the 40,000t INS Vikramaditya in 2013, after extensive modifications to Russia’s former Admiral Gorshkov carrier. The navy is also proceeding with construction of 2 more 35,000t “air defence ship” Vikrant Class carriers, designed in collaboration with Fincantieri and built in India. Orders have been signed for 46 Russian MiG-29Ks, but India also wants to operate navalized LCA fighters from their decks.

These fighters are actually being designed in a trainer variant first, which will then be converted into a naval fighter. Key changes to the Naval LCA include:

  • Dropped nose, for better visibility in high angle-of-attack (nose pointed up) landings.
  • Leading edge vortex controls that can extend from the edges of the main wing. They help the aircraft safely sink faster to land in smaller spaces, and can also improve takeoff response.
  • Arrester hook to catch landing wires.
  • Strengthened spine and related systems, to absorb the high impact of carrier landings (7.1 m/s descent vs. 3m/s for IAF).
  • Longer, strengthened undercarriage. That actually ended up being a bit overdesigned.
  • Powered nose wheel steering for better maneuverability on deck.
  • Fuel dump system that can shed 1,000 kg of fuel from the fighter’s wing tanks, in case of an emergency just after take-off. Fuel weighs a lot, and that added weight can imperil attempted emergency landings.

Naval LCA rollout
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The other change will be the engine. India’s military and designers believe that the naval Mk.I derivative, powered by the same F404-GE-IN20 engine in the IAF variant, can be used for training and testing. At the same time, they believe that only the a Tejas Mk.II derivative with its more powerful F414-GE-INS6 engine will be capable of loaded carrier operations from the Vikrant Class’ “ski jump” ramp, in just 200m of takeoff space.

The naval Tejas program began in 2003. Variant paper designs were produced, and an initial order placed in 2009 began turning those designs into prototypes. April 2012 saw the 1st flight of NP-1, and a 2012 decision gave the go-ahead for initial production of 8 planes. The naval variant is expected to receive a different designation than “Tejas.”

LCA Tejas: Program, Prospects, and Future The Program India’s LCA Programs
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The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft program began in 1983, and is currently in Full-Scale Engineering Development (FSED) Phase-II, under which India’s DRDO was trying to deliver production fighters to the IAF by December 2010. Initial Operational Clearance wasn’t granted until January 2011, and then only with significant waivers. Limited Series Production aircraft in final configuration have arrived, but IOC wasn’t declared until November 2013, and even that was done under pressure from the ministry. The plane’s core self-protection systems were only installed in October 2013, most weapons haven’t been tested yet, and neither has aerial refueling. The ministry is pushing for Final Operational Clearance as a day/night, all-weather platform, and the official induction of a Tejas squadron at Sulur Air Base in Tamil Nadu near Sri Lanka, by the end of 2014. It isn’t clear that the fighter can actually achieve those performance goals in time.

So far, 40 Tejas Mk.I fighters have been ordered. Current plans call for another 100 aircraft (mostly Mk.II) for the air force, and up to 60 naval variants for the Navy.

When it was originally approved in 1983, the Tejas program’s cost was set at Rs 560 crore (5.6 billion rupees). The cost had risen to over 3,300 crore by the late 1980s, and has continued to rise since. The Times of India places the 2011 program total at 17,269 crore/ $3.77 billion for all variants. As shown above, subsequent reports show continued cost increases.

LCA Tejas Mk.II: Delhi, we have a problem… MiG-21bis: Hanging on
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The first test-flight of the improved and re-engined Tejas Mark-II is currently scheduled for December 2014, with production beginning in June 2016. Unfortunately for the air force, those markers are looking less and less likely, and switching in a new engine adds design and testing changes that will complicate matters. Engineers must rebalance the aircraft’s weight, adjust fuel capacity for changed consumption rates, etc. It’s already known that the LCA will need to add 0.5m in length to fit the F414, and its air intakes offer inadequate airflow and will have to be redesigned.

One also expects that an LCA Mk.II will add newer technologies in some areas, and there are reports that India intends to upgrade from IAI’s ELM-2032 phased-array radar to the ELM-2052 AESA. India’s avionics industry also continues to advance, leading to potential component swaps and re-testing. Finally, Tejas Mk.I has placed many key components in inaccessible places. Unless significant redesigns are forthcoming in Mk.II, maintenance costs will be high, and readiness will be low.

Redesign processes usually takes several years, even in a best-case scenario. China’s shift to a Russian RD-33 engine for its J-10 fighter was the centerpiece of a redesign that took more than a decade. Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen made a similar shift from Volvo’s F404-derived RM12 in the JAS-39 A-D models, to GE’s F414 for its new JAS-39E/F, over a few years. There was a standing offer to have Saab adopt a significant role in Mk.2 development, with strong support from DRDO, but that offer remains in limbo.

Major delays to Tejas Mk.I production mean that activity probably won’t end until 2018. The delays will buy time for Mk.II testing, at the cost of IAF readiness and force strength. If the Mk.II also runs into testing problems, the LCA program will face a hard choice: produce more than 40 Tejas Mk.Is, or buy Mk.IIs before testing is done, with the accompanying risk of expensive rework and fielding delays.

Meanwhile, India’s MiG-21 fleet continues to age out.

Industrial Team

The Tejas industrial team is weighted toward government participation, which is one of the reasons for its long development cycle. Instead of buying finished and tested equipment from abroad, new designs had to be invented by government research agencies, then tested by themselves until they were ready, followed by integration testing with other elements. These choices were driven by India’s desire for long-term self-sufficiency in many aircraft sub-systems, in order to reduce their dependence of foreign suppliers.

There have also been a wide variety of sub-contracts to Indian firms for Tier 3 or Tier 4 participation to supply tooling, testing equipment, software development, or sub-assemblies. They are not covered in our list.

In late 2013, HAL told India’s Business Standard that it aimed to roll out the first 2 Tejas IOC fighters by March 2014, and deliver 8 more by the end of 2014. The next step after that will be to enhance to production line to 16 fighters per year, a task that might prove challenging without outside aid (q.v. Dec 9/12). That would leave 10 Tejas Mk.I IOC fighters to be built in 2015, whereupon HAL would be able to begin production of 20 Tejas Mk.I Full Operational Capability variants.

Required FOC upgrades to the IOC fleet, and initial naval production orders, will also compete for production space. An early 2013 interview with ADA director Shri PS Subramanyam saw 2018 as a realistic date for Mk.I production to end.

Tejas Prospects: Think Globally, Begin Locally Tejas: 2 views
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Exports are important to fighter programs. The added buys keep production lines open at no cost to the home country, and drop prices per plane. A combination of profits and paid-for modifications would help keep the design current, allowing the plane to add new technology and remain relevant. On the industrial front, if ADA can move the plane from the current 55% Indian content to around 80% without creating more problems, it would help to insulate prices from currency exchange swings.

The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft’s exact per-plane flyaway price point isn’t known yet, but the goal is an inexpensive fighter in the $20-25 million range, with performance that compares well to early model F-16s and Mirage 2000s. Historically, the low end of the market is where the largest volume of global fighter buys have taken place. In recent years, however, pressure from home-country buyers has pushed the West into a niche of high-end platforms like the F-15, F-35, Eurofighter, and Rafale. Some mid-tier options exist, like new F-16s, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and JAS-39 Gripens, but even those are fairly pricey for emerging economies. As regional tensions rise, it remains to be seen whether the last decade has seen a permanent shift toward mid-level and high-end platforms, or whether traditional buying patterns will reassert themselves through emerging economies.

Long-term Tejas competitors in the $20 – 40 million range include the market for second-hand F-16s, the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17, and Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle family of supersonic trainers and light fighters. RAC MiG has received enough work from India and others to retain the MiG-29M family as a viable platform in this bracket; Russia’s chosen pricing approach will determine whether the thrust-vectoring MiG-35 multi-role fighter also becomes a competitor.

click for video

India’s growing geopolitical influence, and the ability to price toward this bracket’s low end, offers the Tejas decent prospects, even in this crowded field. HAL’s problem is that the Tejas must first achieve success in India.

Delays have taken their toll. Bangalore-based Aeronautics Development Agency (MoD ADA) chief R K Ramanathan promised a 2010 in-service date, while touting a reduction from over 30,000 components to around 7,000. Even that was a late milestone, fully 27 years after the program began, but it didn’t come close to happening. Plans to field 40-48 interim aircraft in the first 2 operational air force squadrons won’t take place until 2015 (32 years), and the final “Tejas Mk.II” version will be very hard-pressed to become operational before 2018 (35 years).

A lot can change in 35 years. Official plans still call for 100+ fighters, but the IAF has embarked on a wide set of upgrade and purchase commitments for existing MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s, the new mid-tier MMRCA fighter, and a high-end FGFA stealth fighter joint venture with Russia.

Meanwhile, the IAF is now taking something of a “wait and see” approach to a longer term commitment, until the final aircraft is delivered with working systems and the “Tejas Mark II” design has shown what it can do. One the one hand, the project’s long development period, and DRDO’s past performance on defense projects, tend to justify that wait-and-see approach. On the other hand, the project can easily run into danger without adequate military and political backing. On Feb 6/06, The Telegraph in Calcutta reported that:

“Though air headquarters has not said so in public, it is weighing whether it should commit funds because it is anticipating a resource crunch for the big ticket purchases of multi-role combat aircraft – that could cost the exchequer more than $5 billion over 10 years – and other equipment that it has projected as an immediate need.”

The rumored growth of the MRCA foreign fighter program to 170-200 aircraft, naval plans for 32 more ships in the next 10-15 years, submarine construction imperatives, and other planned capital purchases do indeed have the potential to squeeze the Tejas. The reality of limited funds and budget cuts began to hit home in 2013, and another global economic slowdown will press India into harder choices still. Confidence in the Tejas, or the lack of it, will influence India’s choices.

So will other negotiations. India’s choices mean that the MMRCA program will deliver fewer aircraft at a flyaway price tag of $100+ million each. That makes $25-35 million Tejas LCA fighters look more attractive, in order to plus up numbers. Just as long as the LCA can in fact be produced to that cost level, be delivered in time to replace the MiG-21s, and perform at an adequate level.

Unfortunately, every one of those variables is currently in question.

At present, the worst-case scenario for the Tejas program is truncated production at about 40 operational aircraft, which would doom exports. In that scenario, Tejas Mk.I is built, but other expenditures grab priority. The plane’s role is then divided among upgraded MiG-29UPGs, new naval MiG-29Ks, upgraded Mirage 2000s, and possibly even Hawk Mk.132 trainers that are armed in a backup role.

The generally accepted goal for Tejas is 5 IAF squadrons plus 2 Navy squadrons, or about 140-150 planes. Even that is a relatively short production run at full capacity, which is the rate India must use in order to field new lightweight fighters in time.

The best-case scenario would involve full production for the IAF that raises planned order totals beyond 120, a serving STOBAR (Short Take Off via ramps, But Assisted Recovery via arrester gear and wires) naval variant in service by 2020, and export successes that drive up production totals and help finance future upgrades.

Contracts and Key Events 2014-2016

ADA Tejas video

February 9/16: Another milestone was made last Friday for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas fighter. The Indian jet successfully test fired a Derby Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) for the first time in a non-intercept mode, as part of a series of weapons trials needed to gain Final Operational Clearance (FOC). The trials will also see the Close Combat Missile (CCM) Python-5 missile tested. The Tejas’ weapons system will also include Paveway and Griffin Laser Guided Bombs (LBGs), the Russian made R-73 missile and Gsh-23 gun.

January 13/16: Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is making final preparations for their HAL Tejas lightweight fighter debut at the Bahrain Air Show next week. With plans to impress the experts and pick up a few potential customers along the way, HAL’s display apparently “significantly surpasses any aerobatics display the fighter has presented earlier”. The company plans to have gained final operating clearance (FOC) by mid-2016, and has also annouced that it is to test fire the Rafael Derby beyond-visual-range missile (BVRAAM) in March. The Israeli made missile has been bought as a stopgap arrangement as India grapples to make BVR missile Astra, which is still in development, operational.

October 27/15: India has offered Sri Lanka the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft as an alternative to the JF-17 Thunder, co-developed by China and Pakistan. Previous reports in June by the Pakistani press indicated that the Sri Lankans had signed for an undisclosed number of JF-17s, with this subsequently denied by the Sri Lankan Air Force which stated that it was still evaluating possible fighter options. However, Sri Lankan and Pakistani officials are due to meet in November to discuss the possible acquisition of the JF-17, with India likely looking to export the problematic Tejas LCA in an attempt to undermine strategic rival Pakistan.

October 8/15: The Indian government’s recent decision to procure seven squadrons of the heavily-criticized indigenous Tejas Mk.1A was pushed on the Indian Air Force by the Modi administration, according to a report by Reuters on Wednesday. The Indian Air Force had reportedly requested 44 additional Rafale fighters on top of the 36 announced in April turned down by the government, instead the Modi government pushed the Tejas on the IAF despite concern over the aircraft’s performance.

October 1/15: India will induct seven squadrons (112 to 126 aircraft) of Tejas Mk.I-A light combat aircraft, despite the aircraft’s Final Operating Clearance delayed in July until next year. Despite improvements to the heavily-criticized original indigenous Tejas Mk.I design, the Mk.I-A still has a fair share of problems, including issues with the aircraft’s radar and weapon payload. The fighters are slated for delivery from next year and are intended to provide the Indian Air Force with a much-needed air defense capability.

July 22/15: In a characteristic set-back, India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) will see its Final Operating Clearance delayed until next year. The schedule has slipped consistently for the indigenous fighter, with FOC previously pushed back to December this year. The Indian Defense Ministry has blamed the delays on late delivery of components from foreign manufacturers; however the program also came under severe criticism from the Indian government’s principal oversight body in May, with the aircraft’s performance in question after over three decades of development. The new FOC for the aircraft is now reported to be timetabled for March 2016.

May 11/15: India’s indigenously-developed Tejas Mk I light combat aircraft has come under serious criticism from the country’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), with 53 deficiencies cited in a recent report. A major concern is the lack of defensive countermeasure capability, with the jet reportedly failing to meet Indian Air Force (IAF) survivability standards. The LCA achieved initial operating clearance in December 2013, with the project severely delayed from its original scheduled induction date of 1994. The CAG report to Parliament also highlighted how the IAF will likely be forced to induct the aircraft without a trainer variant available for pilot training, with a repair and overhaul facility also yet to be established at manufacturer HAL’s facilities, a requirement previously set out by the IAF.

Nov 18/14: Kaveri. The DRDO is doing something unusual: submitting documents to cancel a major research project, after INR 21.06 billion has been spent by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) in Bangalore. The request to end the GTX-35VS Kaveri program must now be approved by the Ministry of Finance, and receive clearance from the top-level Cabinet Committee on Security. Which also helps explain why so few projects are canceled, but the biggest change required still involves the DRDO’s mentality. Director-General (Aero) Dr. K. Tamilmani indicates that elections do have consequences:

“These are part of the bold stand being taken by DRDO. Whereever we have found bottlenecks for long time, with no realistic solutions, it’s better to move on. It is an honest stand we are taking…. If you are fit to run only for 50 km, why attempt 100 km? DRDO has realized its mistakes of the past and we have no hesitation in taking some bold steps.”

It is an honest stand, and DRDO can take it without giving up on India’s strategic industrial policy to become more self-sufficient in jet engine technologies. The project delays created by Kaveri remain a total waste, but the research itself can be harvested. DRDO intends to press on with jet engine research, and it’s possible to undertake projects that are militarily useful but much less ambitious. INR 3 billion has reportedly been earmarked for such work, and DRDO wants to make progress is 12 identified technical areas. Sources: OneIndia, “OneIndia Exclusive: DRDO to abandon indigenous fighter jet engine Kaveri project”.

All Kaveri research to end

Oct 4/14: Industrial. Defense News quotes an unnamed source, who says that the Indian government has been talking to major private sector industrial players about setting up a full production line for up to 250 Tejas Mk.2s. That would certainly justify the investment.

If carried out, that move would sidestep HAL’s production difficulties (q.v. Dec 9/12) by partly or wholly removing Tejas from HAL’s purview, create a full competitor to HAL in the aerospace sector, and turn the winner into India’s 1st major private sector defense firm. It would also double planned Tejas Mk.2/naval buys, based on past reports (q.v. Jan 11/14).

Since it seems apparent that the Indian government would have to fund a new production line for HAL anyway, funding the line elsewhere and reaping the benefits of diversification and competition is a logical policy option. Especially since the resulting competitor would also be a potential source for programs like India’s light transport competition, which stalled out because the private sector can’t afford to set up a full production facility for just 40 planes.

The challenge is that setting up a production line for modern combat jets isn’t simple, and major problems could really mess with already chancy schedules for Tejas Mk.2 and the planned naval variant. One obvious way to reduce this risk would be to bring in a foreign firm like Boeing, Saab, Dassault, et. al. to help set up the plant, and assist with management for the first few years. If done in conjunction with Mk.2 design assistance (q.v. June 17/14), the Tejas program as a whole could get a substantial boost.

Tata Group, Mahindra & Mahindra and Larsen and Toubro have been mentioned, and L&T Heavy Engineering President Madhukar Vinayak Kotwal has confirmed that discussions are taking place, but that’s all he is prepared to say. Watch this space. Sources: Defense News, “India Offers To Spend $12B To Break Monopoly”.

Aug 17/14: Industrial. HAL and DRDO’s ADA are trying to encourage more small and mid-size manufacturers to make parts for the aircraft:

“They aim to raise the LCA’s indigenous content to 80 per cent in three years, up from the present 50 to 55 per cent…. HAL Chairman R.K. Tyagi told them that starting 2015–16, “we aim to roll out 16 LCAs every year, [increasing] from the initial target of eight a year”.

Currently, 168 of the 344 LCA components are made in the country.

A key defence scientist involved in the programme said HAL and ADA would help manufacturers to pick up at least 10 more simple components and offer the use of government-owned manufacturing and test facilities.”

If they can do that while maintaining quality, and pick manufacturers who are capable of further innovation, they would make future upgrades easier. More local content would also reduce cost shifts based on currency exchange rates, and create a wider base for future programs like the Su-50/FGFA. The bad news? This policy falls into the “simple, but not easy” category. Sources: The Hindu, “A few small production pushes for LCA”.

June 17/14: Saab for Mk.2? As M-MRCA negotiations to buy advanced Rafale fighters stall, and projected costs rise sharply, Saab remains in position with a different offer. Instead of touting their superior JAS-39E/F Gripen, they’ve proposed to take a 51% share of a joint venture company, then leverage their expertise to create the LCA Mk.2. DRDO chief Dr V K Saraswat was enthusiastic, and they issued an RFI in 2012 and an RFP in 2013.

It isn’t a crazy idea. The Indo-Russian BrahMos missile has been very successful using a similar structure, and a 51% share plus freedom from Indian government strictures would remove many of the program’s decision-making and organizational issues. Saab is the only aircraft major with single-engine fighter conversion experience from the F404 to the F414 engine, so tasks like stretching the fuselage 0.5m, changing the air intakes, etc. have already been thought through in another context. Their Gripen has also achieved low operating costs, in part due to maintenance-friendly design. That’s another Tejas weakness, thanks to very maintenance-unfriendly placement of key components.

Since LCA Mk.2 is also expected as a carrier fighter, success already matters to India. they need to complete development successfully. From the IAF’s perspective, replacing M-MRCA with Tejas Mk.2 would simplify their future high-medium-low mix by avoiding a 2nd fighter in the same class as the SU-30MKI, while allowing them to field more squadrons. The flip side is that their high-end capability becomes irretrievably Russian-dependent: SU-30MKIs now, and FGFA/SU-50s later. For Saab, a JV would give them a major new niche in the global marketplace, providing a low-end fighter in a class below the Gripen and its Western competitors.

The catch? Incoming DRDO chief Dr Avinash Chander is more focused on developing the Mk.2 alone, and believed that any foreign partnership would require a global tender. In India, that would take years. Re-opening the opportunity would depend on a failure of M-MRCA negotiations, and continued failure to field Tejas, pushing the new BJP government to take a second look at all of its options. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful”.

Feb 12/14: Costs. India’s MoD releases another set of official cost figures for the program, leaving out the Kaveri engine but adding a “Phase-III” development period. LCA development costs have now risen from an original INR 71.16 billion to INR 140.33 billion (+97.2%), or INR 168.72 billion (+137.1%) if one properly counts the Kaveri engine. Expected production line investments would push those figures even higher. India’s MoD was savvy enough to compare development costs to Saab’s more advanced Gripen NG:

“Developmental cost of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas is Rs.7965.56 Crore ($1.09 Billion) including building of 15 aircraft and creation of infrastructure for production of 08 aircraft per annum. This compares with the developmental cost of JAS 39 NG Grippen is $1.80 Billion for developing 5 Proto Vehicles.”

That’s actually just the current predicted cost of the IAF’s MK.I/II development, minus the Kaveri engine, and arguably without creating infrastructure that could actually deliver 8 aircraft per year. The Gripen NG figure would need to be checked carefully, to see what it included and excluded. Even so, the simple act of making the comparison shows a greater sense of external awareness than we’re used to seeing from India’s MoD. Source: India MoD/ PIB, “Developmental Cost of LCA Project”.

Feb 10/14: A written reply from Minister of State for Defence Shri Jitendra Singh to Lok Sabha parliamentarians triggers stories about the IAF raising their planned LCA buys from 200 to 300. Unfortunately for the media reporting that story, it rests entirely on an error of logic. Here’s the exact quote, which can’t be linked anymore thanks to MoD web site changes:

“The MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircrafts of the IAF have already been upgraded and currently equip 14 combat squadrons. These aircraft, however, are planned for being phased out over the next few years and will be replaced by the LCA. Steps have been initiated for upgradation of other fighter aircrafts like MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage-2000; transport aircraft like AN-32 and Mi-17/Mi-17 IV helicopters.”

What this statement does not say is that the replacement will happen on an equal basis. It’s perfectly possible to replace existing squadrons with fewer squadrons and fewer planes, if one is so inclined. The Americans have been doing so for decades, and they’re hardly alone. So far, firm IAF commitments involve 126 LCA Tejas planes: 6 squadrons of 21 planes each, with only 96 (16 x 6) as front-line fighters. Each squadron also has 3 rotation aircraft to cover maintenance absences or loss replacement, and 2 twin-seat trainers, to make 21. Beyond those 2 Tejas Mk.I squadrons and 4 Tejas Mk.II squadrons, we’ll have to see. Sources: India MoD, “Modernisation of IAF” | India’s Business Standard, “IAF will buy 14 Tejas squadrons, lowering costs”

Jan 12/14: Budgets. India’s defense budget will drop by INR 78 billion in 2013-14, after a drop of INR 100 billion in 2012-13. A more sluggish economy, and a weakened ruling Congress Party that’s trying to shore up its electoral base, are the issues. At the same time, India is negotiating the MMRCA deal for 126 Rafales, the FGFA deal with Russia for their future high-end stealth fighter, the Project 75i submarine buy that’s becoming an emergency, and attack and heavy-lift helicopter buys with Boeing. They also want to add to their fleet of P-8i long-range maritime patrol planes, buy AWACS early warning jets as a priority, and improve their aerial tanker fleet as a priority. Among other priorities.

That explains why the MoD asked for INR 400 billion more, instead of 78 billion less. Unless this gap changes, future Tejas production will find itself caught in an environment where everything can’t be funded, but big air force commitments have already been made. Sources: Times of India, “Despite budget cut, defence ministry continues with modernization drive”.

Jan 11/14: Pricing. Sources tell India’s Business Standard that HAL has quoted the Ministry a price of INR 1.62 billion (about $26.5 million) per plane for the first 20 Tejas Mk.I fighters. The Ministry wants to know why its 40% higher than the INR 1.165 billion quoted in 2006, and HAL has a good answer. One, inflation over the past 8 years takes a toll. Two, 45% of the plane’s cost involves imported parts, and the Indian rupee is sinking. Three, Tejas is still about half the $45.8 million price of a Mirage 2000 upgrade ({EUR 1.4 billion is now INR 118.3 billion + INR 2.02 billion to HAL}/ 49 jets = INR 2.8 billion or $45.8 million per), and those upgrades are even more dependent on currency rates.

HAL sees eventual purchases of 40 Mk.Is, 84 Mk.IIs, 11 naval trainers, and 46 naval variants (TL: 181), and recent government declaration have used 200 aircraft as a possible figure. Now that Tejas is on surer ground, and the opportunity is clearer, HAL is trying to control costs using longer-term commitments of its own. Step one reportedly involves Long Time Business Agreements (LTBAs) of 3-5 years and 40-50 aircraft sets with key sub-contractors, including clauses that let it vary annual production rates to some extent, a feature also seen in many of the US military’s multi-year purchase agreements. Long lead time components have been identified, and industrial improvements are underway. Practices like having 5-axis CNC machines on hand, and using computerized drilling of 8,000 holes or so in the composite wing skin, are more or less assumed in North America. They’re a step forward for HAL, which needs that kind of long-term investment in its industrial capacity.

Will that investment, and higher production, improve costs enough? Pakistan’s JF-17, which has already delivered 50 planes, is reportedly priced around $23-24 million per plane. If the Tejas Mk.II comes in around $30 million in current dollars, pointing to composite construction and supposedly better avionics isn’t going to cut it in export competitions as a reason for the 25% price difference. An AESA radar might, depending on what Pakistan does for the coming JF-17 Block II, and how much it costs. Sources: Business Standard, “HAL pegs price of Tejas fighter at Rs 162 crore”.


GE F414 engine contract; No Kaveris for Tejas fleet; AESA radar?; Why the multi-year delay for self-protection EW?; IOC at last, but is the plane ready? LCA Naval
(click to view full)

Dec 20/13: IOC-2. the LCA program achieves Initial Operational Clearance II. This is closer to the F-35’s IOC than traditional American IOC designations: limited capabilities with some initial weapons, and more testing required, but regular air force pilots can now fly it. Sources: Economic Times of India, “Indigenous fighter aircraft LCA-Tejas gets Initial Operational Clearance”.

Dec 19/13: What’s next? Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification Director-General Dr K Tamil Mani explains what’s next for Tejas, whose remaining testing and certification needs show the IOC-2 designation’s limits. The fighter needs to pass 6 milestones in the next 15 months, on the way to G=Final Operational Clearance. They include:

  • Integrating the Russian GSH 23mm gun, which also requires certifying the surrounding LRU electronics boxes for much higher vibration levels.
  • Integration of additional weapons, incl. Python 4/5 short-range air-to-air missiles and Derby medium range air-to-air missiles.
  • Integrating Cobham’s air refueling probe.
  • Increasing sustained Angle of Attack parameters from 22 – 24 degrees.
  • Improved braking system with higher heat tolerance. They might even need to add fans, as they did for some of their MiGs.
  • Change the nosecone from composite materials to a quartz-based material, in order to remove the current 45-50 km limit on the radar and bring it to its design level of 80+ km.

Sources: Indian Express, “Tejas Needs to Cross 6 Milestones in 15 Months”.

Dec 18/13: IOC process. India’s Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) explains what IOC-2 certification involved to the Indian Express. The bureaucracy takes credit for the plane’s accident-free history, of course, and proudly notes their “concurrent participation in all development activities,” without discussing Tejas’ developmental delays.

The did have a lot to do between the incomplete Initial Operational Clearance on Dec 10/11, and IOC-2 about 2 years later. Full integration and testing of IAI’s ELM-2032 radar, testing of stores integration and release, flight envelope expansion from 17 degrees Angle of Attack to 22 degrees. Maximum flight parameters are now 6gs maneuvering, with a maximum speed of Mac 1.4 and a service ceiling to 50,000 feet. Safety-related work included safe emergency jettisoning of all stores, engine relight, wake penetration, night flying and all weather clearance. Sources: Indian Express, “Clearing Flight Test Parameters was a Challenge, Says Airworthiness Centre”.

Dec 17/13: Updates. India’s MoD summarizes the state of the LCA program. The key takeaways? As on Nov 30/13, they’ve conducted 2,415 flight tests using 15 Tejas Aircraft. A lot of reviews are riding herd on the program, which can add urgency or slow down actual work, depending on how that’s handled. Structurally, the Phased Development Approach has been changed to Concurrent Development Approach, which adds development risk but can cut time if it works, and Quick Reaction Teams have been formed to address design and production issues as they arise.

IOC-2 is still expected on Dec 20/13, but another release makes it clear that the Mk.II project continues to slip. The Probable Date of Completion for LCA Phase-II full-scale engineering design work is now December 2015: 9 months later than the previous March 2015 goal, and 7 years later than the original plan. Sources: India MoD, “LCA project” and DRDO projects“.

Dec 17/13: MiG-21 update. India’s MoD summarizes the state of the IAF’s MiG-21 fleet. The MiG-21FLs are retired now, but the answer shows that the remaining MiGs may have to serve longer than intended:

“254 MiG-21 aircraft are still in service with the Indian Air Force. During the last ten years (2003-2004 to 2012-2013) and the current year (upto 30.11.2013), a total of 38 MiG-21 aircraft have crashed.

Phasing out of aircraft and their replacement with new generation aircraft depends upon national security / strategic objectives and operational requirements of the defence forces and are reviewed by the Government from time to time. This is a continuous process.”

On Dec 12/13, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne confirmed that the LCA Tejas would replace the MiG-21 in the IAF fleet. That may appear to have been obvious, but official confirmation indicates a greater degree of confidence in the program. Sources: India MoD, “MIG-21 Aircraft” | Indian Express, “Tejas to Officially Replace MiG-21 FL”.

Dec 9/13: Defence Minister A K Antony is scheduled to give the Tejas its Initial Operational Certificate (IOC) on Dec 20/13, which would allow Tejas to be flown by regular IAF personnel outside of the test pilot community. Note that IOC doesn’t include key performance parameters like qualification with many of the fighter’s weapons, basic self-protection systems, air-to-air refueling, or finalization of the Tejas Mk.I’s design. Those will have to wait for Final Operation Clearance (FOC), and an increasingly-impatient defense minister has reportedly ordered DRDO to ensure that FOC takes place before 2014 ends.

The first Tejas squadron of 18-20 fighters will be built to IOC standard, and based at Sulur AB in Tamil Nadu, near Sri Lanka. They should be able to handle the minimal threats from that quarter, and one hopes that reported problems (q.v. April 21/13) were either untrue, or have been fixed.

On the industrial front, HAL has told India’s Business Standard that it aims to roll out the first 2 Tejas IOC fighters by March 2014, and deliver 8 more by the end of 2014. The next step after that will be to enhance to production line to 16 fighters per year, a task that might prove challenging without outside aid (q.v. Dec 9/12). That would leave 10 Tejas Mk.I IOC fighters to be built in 2015, whereupon HAL would be able to begin production of 20 Tejas Mk.I FOC variants. Required FOC upgrades to the IOC fleet, and initial naval production orders, could probably keep HAL at a minimum activity level through 2017; but an early 2013 interview with ADA director Shri PS Subramanyam saw 2018 as a more realistic date for Mk.I production to end. That might actually be helpful. If Tejas Mk.II isn’t ready to begin production by time Mk.I is done, India will have an industrial problem on its hands. Sources: Business Standard, “Tejas LCA sprints towards IAF’s frontline squadron” | AeroMag Asia, Jan-Feb 2013 issue.

Dec 7/13: Testing. The LCA’s 1st firing of an AA-11 short range air-to-air missile is successful, as the missile hits a target that was towed by a drone. The demonstration was conducted off the coast of Goa, in the Arabian Sea. Sources: The Hindu Business Line, “Light combat aircraft Tejas fires missile on target”.

Dec 7/13: MiG-21FL retires. After 50 years of service, the IAF is about to phase out its MiG-21FL variant, which is prepping to fly its last sortie on Dec 11/ 13 over Kalaikunda AFS in Bengal. Other MiG-21 variants will remain in service, and current expectations will extend the most modern MiG-21 Bison variants to at least 2018. Sources: The Calcutta Telegraph, “Supersonic jet set for last sortie”.

Aug 7/13: Costs. A Parliamentary reply to Shri S. Thangavelu in Rajya Sabha sets out the costs for each phase of the Tejas program in slightly more detail. Our chart above has been amended to reflect the current figures.

India is still in Full Scale Engineering Development Phase II, which aims to build 3 prototypes and 8 Limited Series Production (LSP) aircraft, and establish infrastructure for producing 8 aircraft per year. LSP-8 made its maiden flight on March 31/13, but reports to date suggest that meeting the infrastructure goal will require a significant increase in development costs (q.v. Dec 9/12). India MoD.

BEL on EW, 2011
click for video

Oct 16/13: Why no EW? The DRDO has finally fitted a Tejas fighter (PV-1) with electronic warfare/ self-protection systems, and intends to begin flight tests in November and December. Why has this key development been delayed for 5 years? Believe it or not, they thought it was more important to preserve the plane’s flight safety record:

“For almost eight years, a section of the aeronautical community has been resisting its fitment, anxious that the add-ons may cause a first crash…. They have been very keen on securing the operational clearance, initial as well as final from the Indian Air Force, even if the LCA did not have the electronic system…. no one wished to risk an add-on on the LCA that had not been tried. The idea was to defend the ‘zero crash’ record. This was made known sometimes explicitly to engineers and scientists working on the electronic systems, who, however, had been pressing for very long that the systems ought to be fitted and trials conducted to be able to fine-tune them.”

Unfortunately, PV-1 hasn’t been flying recently, so they may end up introducing risk that way. Tejas Mk.Is will have an Israeli IAI Elta jamming pod available as an external store, with the full RWJ system slated for the Mk.II. Sources: Deccan Herald, “Finally, Tejas gets electronic warfare systems”.

DRDO’s problems, in a nutshell

June 1/13: Excuses. DRDO chief V K Saraswat tries to deflect criticism of Tejas’ continuing delays, by citing the effects of sanctions that ended 13 years ago. Lack of cooperation and foreign help might explain why Tejas was slow to develop from the early 1980s to 2000. It doesn’t explain why DRDO didn’t follow professional practice by working with experienced pilots and the IAF, which created a multitude of poor design decisions that required years of delay to produce only partial fixes. Or the reason DRDO has wasted so much time with engine and radar choices that were obviously inadequate, all well after sanctions had ended. Or why, 13 years after sanctions had ended, Tejas isn’t ready for service yet, while Pakistan’s JF-17 equips 3 squadrons.

Weak excuses do not inspire future confidence. Brahmand Defence & Aerospace.

April 21/13: Tejas a lemon? The Sunday Standard reports that the Tejas is much farther away from viability than anyone is admitting, and says that DRDO’s notional stealth AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) has been put on hold until the LCA project can be made to work. A stealth FGFA/SU-50 is already in co-development with Russia, so AMCA’s value is unclear anyway. With respect to the Tejas LCA, the Sunday Standard’s unnamed sources say:

“The plane cannot fly on its own. It needs a lifeline in the form of support and monitoring of its systems from the ground by technicians…. The common man thinks the plane is doing fine, its engine sounds great and the manoeuvres are perfect. But those flying and weapons firing displays are done with ground monitoring and support. The plane is still not ready to flying on its own”…. the sources noted that LCA was grounded for three months between September and December 2012 following problems with its landing gear. “Normally, a combat plane is ready for its next sortie following a 30-minute [servicing]. In the case of LCA, after a single sortie of about an hour or so, it needs three days of servicing before it can go for its next sortie,” they said.”

These revelations come against a backdrop of pressure from India’s defense minister Antony and India’s government to buy designed-in-India items unless there’s no other choice. He’s selling changes to India’s Defence Procurement Policy as an anti-corruption effort – but what do you call spending billions of dollars on politically-allied state organizations, who don’t deliver on the critical defense projects assigned to them, and never pay any serious penalties for it? Their competitors in China and Pakistan are consistently faster and often better – while doing a better job developing their industries. See also India PIB.

March 20/13: More delays. A Parliamentary reply confirms the obvious, formally extending the scheduled end of the LCA’s Phase 2 Full Scale Engineering Development from December 2012 to March 2015.

The IAF has ordered 20 fighters in “Initial Operational Clearance” (January 2011) status, and another 20 in “Full Operational Clearance” (i.e. combat-ready) configuration. Full Operational Clearance is now expected in December 2014. PTI, via Zee News | India MoD.

Feb 6/13: AESA Radar? At Aero India 2013, Defense Update files a report that adds the short-range Python 5 air-to-air missile to the Tejas’ list of integrated weapons, alongside the Russian R-73/AA-11. It adds:

“The LCA will also carry the EL/M-2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar developed by IAI Elta. Originally, the EL/M-2032 was selected but the new 2052 now available with a more compact antenna is best designed to fit the nose cones of LCA and Jaguar, offering enhanced capabilities for both fighters.”

If the Defense Update report is true, it would roughly double the Mk.II fighter’s radar performance, and sharply lower its maintenance costs. DID has been unable to confirm this report, and there have been previous reports (q.v. Jan 14/11 entry) that said M-2052 sales for the Tejas Mk.II had been barred by American pressure. Indeed, the Americans managed to pressure the Israelis not to install the M-2052 in their own F-16i fighters.

Feb 5/13: On the eve of Aero India 2013, Indian defense minister AK Antony tells DRDO that:

“I am happy for your achievements of DRDO but not fully happy. Delay in delivery is a real problem… Try to speed up your process and reduce time for research, development and production. [DRDO is getting ready for a 2nd initial clearance for Tejas, but] I am impatient for the Final Operational Clearance (FOC)….. Antony also expressed his disappointment over reported lack of cohesion between the aircraft development agencies under DRDO and aircraft maker HAL.”

In India, FOC means “ready for combat operations”, which is closer to the US military’s idea of “Initial Operational Capability.” The Pioneer.

Jan 20/13: F414 deal. India Strategic quotes DRDO Director General V.K. Saraswat, who says that India’s government has finalized the terms of GE’s F414 contract, including the difficult issues surrounding Indian production. That process took over 2 years, as the engine was picked in September 2010.

The deal is reportedly a Rs 3,000 crore (about $560 million) contract for 99 of the Tejas Mk.II’s F414-GE-INS6 engines, with an option to buy another 100 at fixed terms. IANS via Silicon India | Times of India.

F414 engine deal finalized

Jan 4/13: Kaveri. India’s Business Standard reports that India’s Ministry of Defence has failed in its 6 years of sole-source negotiations with Snecma, and will try a global tender to secure cooperation in developing the Kaveri engine. The engine’s development has hit a technical dead-end, and cannot incorporate key alloys, single-crystal blades, and other manufacturing and design technologies without foreign help. The DRDO’s GTRE department has also conceded defeat with respect to the LCA, according to its chief Dr. C.P. Ramnarayanan:

“We were planning to re-engine first 40 Tejas fighters with the Kaveri. But now they will continue to fly with the F-404 engine.”

DRDO swill use Kaveri for its UCAV, and still holds out hope that a redesigned Kaveri can power a locally designed AMCA twin-engined medium fighter. To power AMCA, the engine would need to improve afterburner performance of about 15,825 pounds thrust. That means foreign help, but DRDO has made global solicitations before, and had no takers beyond Snecma.


Cert & program delays; Naval prototype flies; Kaveri for UCAV; Shaping up HAL – which clearly needs it. IUSAV: News report
(click for video)

Dec 26/12: Kaveri. India wants to develop a long-range, jet-powered armed drone, powered by a modified Kaveri engine (vid. March 21/12 entry). These are commonly called UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles), but India refers to their project as IUSAV (Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle). Note that most of the video and pictures in the video are of other countries’ efforts, since India is at a very early stage.

Now DRDO’s GTRE has asked the Ministry for another Rs 595 crore (about $93 million), covering a 48-month program to develop 2 prototypes of a modified Kaveri engine with no afterburner. This includes removing the base design flaws detecting during 2010-11 testing in Russia, ground testing in Bangalore, and confirmatory tests in Russia at the Gromov Flight Research Institute. The program would be capped by flight testing of the 2 no-afterburner prototypes in LCA prototype PV-1.

This idea actually makes sense. The Missile Technology Control Regime makes it problematic for countries to sell India a USAV jet engine, since a cruise missile is also an armed unmanned aircraft. On the Indian side, the Kaveri engine has the most problems adding enough thrust in afterburner, but “dry” statistics of 11,060 pounds thrust are close to the project’s goal of 11,500. Dropping the afterburner sheds engine weight, which has been an issue for Kaveri, and UCAV engines to date don’t have afterburners anyway. Other countries’ UCAV designs have all been sub-sonic drones that rely on stealth or low-threat environments to survive. Business Standard.

UCAV: a good use for Kaveri

Dec 12/12: Naval LCA. India’s Navy is upset by the fact that only 1 naval LCA has been built, and need aircraft to train with. Media reports say they’re about to issue a an Rs 1,000 crore (about $185 million) RFP to produce the first 8 Limited Series Production Tejas naval fighters, which would include both single-seat test aircraft and 2-seat trainers. This would turn the Feb 27/12 approval into a contract after negotiations with HAL, and work is expected to begin in 2013. Whether HAL’s production capacity can handle it (vid. Dec 9/12) is another question.

Business Standard reports the Indian military’s current belief that the navalized Tejas Mk.I can be used for training, and the state-owned ADA is touting a 1st representative takeoff by mid-2013 and a 1st representative landing by the end of 2013. At the same time, they believe that only the Tejas Mk.II will be capable of loaded carrier operations, using just 200m of space and a “ski-jump” ramp. The design has also turned out to be harder than expected. Commodore CD Balaji, who directs the Naval LCA project at ADA told India’s Business Standard that:

“In the paper design it looked feasible [to convert the IAF’s Tejas], similar to what Eurofighter proposed for a navalised Typhoon; or what Gripen proposed for the Sea Gripen [DID: both of which are higher end designs, with better base performance]. But when we started the detailed design and the actual build… we realised the benefits of what Dassault had done with the Rafale. They designed and built the naval variant first, the Rafale Marine. The air force Rafale is just a subset of Rafale Marine. That is the easiest path.”

Dec 9/12: Industrial fail, more $. India’s Business Standard offers a scathing portrait of incompetence at HAL, which has been unable to set up and operate a production line for the LCA, even though many of its projects involve assembling foreign designs on production lines in India. On the other hand, see the March 24/11 entry, where HAL executives point out that it doesn’t make much sense to establish a full modern production line for a program that has only featured limited production orders and an uncertain future.

As a result, Tejas fighters built to date have been custom-built limited-production and prototype aircraft. The immediate consequence is that the Ministry of Defence has to budget another Rs 1,500 crore (about $277 million) to try and set up a modern production line. Air Marshal (ret.) Pranab K Barbora:

“HAL’s assembly line expertise is outdated by at least three decades. They have done nothing to upgrade their technology. Setting up a modern assembly line for the Tejas is far beyond HAL’s capabilities.”

The paper points out that HAL’s new CEO RK Tyagi has “no experience in aeronautical development or manufacture,” and openly doubts the government ADA’s program manager, P. Subramanyam. He promises that HAL will build 20 Tejas Mk.I fighters in 2.5 – 3 years, with production of the next 20 in just over 2 more years, by 2018. That might be possible if an experienced foreign manufacturer is contracted quickly to help set up production, and the MoD is reportedly studying that idea. By itself, however, HAL hasn’t been able to build even 2 Tejas fighters per year over a prolonged reference period, and India has no operational squadrons. Meanwhile, Pakistan has already fielded almost 3 squadrons of their JF-17 Thunder fighter, which began its design cycle after Tejas.

Note that the Business Standard’s figure of INR 155.470 billion (Rs 14,047 + 1,500 crore) for the entire LCA Tejas program is almost exactly double the Indian government’s official March 2012 figures. The math indicates that they’re probably including the Kaveri engine. DID considers the 2 programs to be separate, and pegs unofficial total Tejas development costs at INR 131.015 billion (Rs 13,101.5 crore, currently about $2.15 billion), including current and forecast costs for the naval variant, and the expected Rs 1500 crore for production line help. With Kaveri included, our figures rise to INR 144.405 billion, and are probably slightly behind actual Kaveri spending. Business Standard.

HAL: Industrial fail

Dec 3/12: Kaveri. India’s state-owned Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) aims to integrate the Kaveri powerplant with a Tejas fighter operated by India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), with the aim of flying it by the end of 2013. Whether it can perform to standard won’t change DRDO’s advocacy, but it may matter to the IAF. As of May 14/12 (q.v.), India’s Minister of Defence said that it couldn’t meet India’s 90kN/ 20,200 pound thrust requirement.

A March 21/12 answer to Parliament (q.v.) pegged the Kaveri’s development cost at INR 28.39 billion ($520 million), nearly 10 times greater than the original INR 3.83 billion. Flight International.

Aug. – Nov. 2012: Testing halted. The Tejas encounters a DASH of trouble, as India discovers that the top of the pilot’s DASH-III integrated helmet display can end up above the top of the Martin-Baker ejection seat. That’s a serious problem, because it means the helmet could hit the canopy as the seat rockets out of the cockpit, killing the ejecting pilot. India had to halt testing for 3 1/2 months before the problem was fixed. Their response was to modify the seat, and to provide a backup mechanism that they calculate will blow the canopy off before the pilot’s head can hit it. They had better be right.

DRDO chief V. K. Saraswat has confirmed to India’s Business Standard that the fixes are done, adding that ADA used the down time to make other modifications as a result of flight test feedback. Even so, a string of setbacks has shifted Tejas’ Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) from a re-baselined end-2010 to mid-2013 – if nothing else goes seriously wrong. Final Operational Clearance (FOC) for combat operations was scheduled for end-2012, and now looks unlikely until 2014-2015.

To the west, Pakistan has already inducted 3 squadrons of its comparable JF-17 fighters, whose joint development with China began 16 years after Tejas. India’s Business Standard.

A DASH of trouble

Oct 18/12: Lessons Learned. Air Commodore Muthanna’s “Challenges In Design To Deployment: Critical Lessons From the D&D of LCA” [PDF] has some interesting bits in it. The Commodore believes that the fighter deserves to enter service. Unfortunately, Indian officials and firms didn’t involve aviators in the initial design process, either by teaming with the IAF or by the widespread practice of embedding aviators in the design teams. The IAF had to get involved after the 2006 contract, and a lot of the time and cost slippage from then until now has involved RFAs aimed at fixing deficiencies that should have been addressed in design. Beyond that, he cites serious issues in management, manufacturing, and training:

“A fundamental challenge has been the structure of the Indian higher defense management. Broadly speaking, there are three verticals within the Indian Ministry of Defense that steer this program…. In this totally State funded and State managed program, interdepartmental oversight has been lacking. It is necessary that a single political entity take charge….

….[Transitioning from design to manufacture,] the necessity to convert frozen design drawings into production drawings…. [is] an elaborate process…. Other shortcomings are; inability to meet manufacturing tolerances; non availability of correct jigs, fixtures and tooling to mee t DAL requirements; non availability of suitable calibrating equipment; and, lack of trained manpower.

….With the flight simulators, however, it was a strange story. While the ASR did envisage the requirement of a simulator before deployment, no such development was undertaken…. there would be no representative flight simulator available for use by the customer aircrew. The situation will be aggravated by the non availability of a trainer variant of the aircraft in the required time frame.”

Lessons learned report

May 14/12: Kaveri. Minister of Defence Shri A K Antony replies to Shri Bal Kumar Patel in Lok Sabha. No, DRDO still has no time frame to fully develop its Kaveri engine. Antony reiterates that the engine does not meet requirements for the Tejas, but will be used in UAVs and marine applications. A technology demonstrator may fly in a Tejas Mk.I fighter around 2015. The operative word here is “may”.

April 27/12: Naval LCA. NP-1, the 1st Tejas naval prototype, has its maiden flight. The plane is piloted by chief test pilot of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) national flight test centre (NFTC) Commodore TA Maolankar and co-piloted by the centre’s flight test engineer, Wing Commander Maltesh Prabhu. NP-2 will be the single-seat naval variant. Zee News.

Naval variant flies

March 21/12: Costs. Defence minister Antony answers a Parliamentary question, and provides cost and schedule slips for the LCA Tejas, LCA Naval, and Kaveri engine. Those are reproduced above along with other information. Antony also discusses what’s being done about these slips, which amounts to more oversight and monitoring. That won’t cure a system whose main problem is a lack of accountability or consequences for the state-run development agencies, and whose secondary problem is the system’s own red tape. On the other hand, the answer makes it sound like the government is doing something. Antony adds that:

“Tacit knowledge acquired by the DRDO scientists during this project will also be applied for further aerospace technology. Kaveri spin-off engine can be used as propulsion system for Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle (USAV).”

Readers may note that he is not referring to the LCA Tejas program as a destination for Kaveri, despite DRDO’s wishes in the matter. See also Indian government PIB | Flight International.

March 14/12: Goal – 6 squadrons. Indian minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju tels the Rajya Sabha upper chamber that the IAF plans to induct 6 LCA squadrons over the next decade or so, including 4 squadrons of Tejas Mk.II fighters. Given current schedules, past performance, and the extent of the redesign and testing involved, India may be lucky to induct any Mk.II fighters by 2022. Deccan Herald.

March 11/12: Naval LCA. India’s Sunday Guardian reports that India’s Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) has refused flight certification for the Naval LCA, until the new landing gear’s weight is reduced, and its wing leading-edge vortex controls are redesigned. The US Navy and EADS are reportedly being consulted to help fix the problems.

CEMILAC’s decision will add further delays to a program that is already late, and effectively ends hopes for a March 2012 flight. The naval variant’s initial flight was initially slated to happen by the end of 2010, following a July 2010 roll-out. As of Sept 26/11, it had managed only an Engine Ground Run.

March 10/12: Testing. While Tejas continues to make test flights, and has been granted initial certification, final certification and full production continues to face delays, and will not come until late 2013 or even 2014 now.

New test aircraft LSP-7 had a maiden flight, without a chase plane, “to test many indigenously-developed instruments,” as well as the M-2032 radar and DASH helmet. It’s close enough to the final standard that it will be one of the planes offered for IAF user-evaluation trials, but the final-configuration LSP-8 won’t be ready until later in 2012. LSP-8 will be the version presented to CEMILAC for full certification and flight clearance, a necessary step before full production can begin for the two 20-plane orders. The Hindu.

Feb 29/12: HAL, shape up. India’s MoD explains that changes are coming to HAL, and cites the Tejas program as one reason behind the push:

“The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony today asked the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to realign its business processes for strategic alliances and joint ventures, as also, to step up R&D efforts to remain globally competitive… Keeping in mind the mammoth role that the HAL would assume in the coming years in the aerospace industry and the challenges that it would face, the government has set up an expert group under the chairmanship of Shri BK Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission to suggest measures to strengthen and restructure HAL… the Group will suggest how best the spin offs from HAL order book can be earnest to ensure better involvement of the private industry in the defence sector. It will also suggest measures to enhance the synergies between HAL, the private defence sector and the civilian industry.

“Taking part in the discussion the Members of Parliament appreciated the role played by HAL in the defence arena of the country over the years. They, however, pointed out certain shortcomings such as the delay in the induction of the Light Combat Aircraft in the Indian Air Force, delay in the development of Kaveri Engine, delay in phasing out of Mig-21 aircraft and lack of an aggressive strategy to export HAL products.”

See also March 24/11 entry, The Pioneer | Flight International | IN FOCUS: India advances air force modernisation.

Feb 27/12: Naval LCA. The Indian Ministry of Defence’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has sanctioned the building of 8 Naval LCA aircraft by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), and reportedly allocated the necessary funds for a contract. That does not mean a contract has been signed yet.

The 8 planes will be built as a mix of single-seat test fighters and twin-seat trainers, and would begin to add production fighters on top of the ordered fleet of 6 test aircraft. The first flight is announced for sometime in March, though talks last year of a maiden flight in July did not pan out. Business Standard.


Tejas initial clearance; RAFAEL Derby picked as MRAAM; Kaveri engine still alive but in limbo; HAL pushed to outsource. IOC flight
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Dec 21/11: Kaveri. In response to Parliamentary questions, Defence Minister Antony explains the Kaveri engine’s current development status:

“So far 9 prototypes of Kaveri engines and 4 prototypes of Kabini (Core) engines have been developed. Total 2050 hours of testing have been conducted on various Kaveri and Kabini engines at ground and altitude conditions for various requirements including performance, operability, endurance, environmental, etc. Two major milestones viz. successful completion of Official Altitude Testing (OAT) and completion of first block of flights of Kaveri engine in Flying Test Bed (FTB) has demonstrated the technological capability and maturity of this indigenous effort. Kaveri engine prototype (K9) was integrated with IL-76 aircraft at Gromov Flight Research Institute (GFRI), Russia and flight tests have been successfully carried out up to 12 km maximum forward altitude and a maximum forward speed of 0.7 Mach No. Twenty seven flights for 55 hours duration have been completed on IL-76. Critical subsystems and its associated knowledge know-how and know-why has been acquired in association with Indian public & private sector industries, including certification methodologies.”

Nov 23/11: Kaveri. In response to Parliamentary questions, Defence Minister Antony says that nothing has changed with respect to the Kaveri engine’s successor. He doesn’t put it like that, but that’s the reality. India MoD.

Aug 8/11: Kaveri. In response to questions, the Indian MoD clarifies the status of the Kaveri engine project. There is no signed co-operation agreement with SNECMA, but the Air Force has reviewed the draft technical specification and approved it.

“The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has made no agreement with a French firm to develop the Kaveria aero engine to be used for the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas. However, DRDO is negotiating with M/s Snecma, France for co-development and co-production of Kaveri aero engine for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas MK-II. The project proposal will be put up for Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approval after the completion of price negotiation… IAF has further suggested that the engine design should have minimal impact on the LCA Tejas airframe for future retrofitment.”

If it succeeds, India’s Tejas fleet would have an alternative engine option, much like the popular F-16. Several countries fly F-16s, and even F-15s, with 2 different types of engine (PW F100 or GE F101) in their fleet, as insurance that keeps their air force flying even if an engine type develops problems. First, however, an agreement must be signed. Then, the development project must succeed at a reasonable cost.

July 20/11: Naval LCA. The naval Tejas will probably get a different name. Meanwhile, an F404-IN20-powered naval variant is undergoing ground integration tests at HAL’s Bangalore facility, followed by engine runs and ground runs in the coming weeks. A 1st flight within 3 months is considered optimistic.

Meanwhile, India’s ADA has asked the US Navy to help it define carrier suitability plans, and the US Navy is assisting. Flight International.

May 23/11: Testing & Weapons. Aviation Week reports that the Tejas Mk.I is due to undergo a 2nd phase of night trials. Aircraft LSP-5 reportedly made 6 night flights in April 2011, which tested avionics, the instrument landing system, and integration involving the IAI ELTA multimode radar, Elbit’s DASH helmet-mounted display, and RAFAEL’s LITENING pod. The push to finish night operations clearance will also include items waived for the IAF’s initial clearance (vid. Jan 10/11 entry) – waivers that the service does not intend to grant again.

The next 16 months will see assessments of Tejas’ angle of attack, g-forces and sustained turn rate, with limited series production aircraft #6 arriving to help speed things along. It will also see a greater focus on weapons integratiopn tests – so far, only R-73/AA-11 Archer short-range air-to-air missiles and standard bombs have been tested. Still to go: Laser-guided bombs, cluster bombs, and Russian 80mm S-8 rocket pods. RAFAEL’s Derby medium-range air-to-air missile isn’t set to test until mid-2012, and the IAF also expects Russian Kh-31/35/39 anti-ship and precision strike missiles as part of the Tejas Mk.I’s intended configuration.

March 24/11: Industrial. India’s Business Standard reports that the Indian DRDO is pushing HAL to outsource some Tejas production or set up joint ventures, in order to meet required delivery schedules and keep the IAF’s fighter fleet at acceptable numbers. The current line can reportedly produce just 8 planes per year, and a high-level HAL team has reportedly toured Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Eurofighter GmbH facilities.

A request of this nature from the DRDO is nothing short of revolutionary. HAL has 2 serious problems, however, which make such a different approach thinkable for India’s bureaucrats. One is low real orders for Tejas. As one HAL executive put it: “…how much money could we have realistically invested in a production line?… So far, future Tejas orders of 100-120 more fighters are only plans.” The other problem is the load level on the state-owned firm’s Aircraft R&D Centre, which is is simultaneously trying to develop the Tejas Mark II; the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT); the Sukhoi-HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA); and the Irkut-HAL Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MRTA). The firm is also developing Dhruv helicopter variants, including a light attack helicopter. That’s a tremendous amount of competition for attention and resources, and HAL will face more strains if/when each project becomes a production demand.

Other likely candidates for partnerships wold have to include France’s Dassault Aviation, Sweden’s Saab, and Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as BAE and Northrop Grumman. The latter 3 firms have considerable experience as fighter program sub-contractors. Northrop Grumman is looking to sell its E-2D AWACS and Global Hawk UAVs to India; while IAI supplies a range of equipment to India already, and has industrial partnerships in place. So, too, does BAE, who is already working with HAL to produce its Hawk advanced trainer jets in India.

Feb 14/11: Tejas runs the Derby. Indian Aeronautical Development Agency director P.S. Subramanya says they have picked RAFAEL’s Derby as the Tejas’ initial beyond visual range air combat missile. He expects a contract by March 2011, with delivery expected in the second half of 2012, in time for the final phase of Tejas Mk.I testing.

Derby has range limitations, and was accepted on India’s Sea Harrier fleet despite not meeting the program’s original range goals. It also lacks a datalink. On the other hand, it offers a fire-and-forget weapon that’s already in India’s inventory, and integrated with Tejas’ EL/M-2032 radar, possessing what’s reported to be a wide boresight cone. It’s also true that given the need to avoid fratricide and positively identify targeted aircraft, most aerial engagements have taken place within Derby’s range, and future conflicts involving India are expected to feature that same limitation.

Long-term plans were to deploy the locally developed Astra missile as the Tejas BVRAAM, but in 2010 India decided to use a foreign missile and get Tejas into operational service. If Astra succeeds, it can always be integrated later. Meanwhile, Tejas gets ordnance commonality with India’s Sea Harriers, which also carry the EL/M-2032 radar, and with India’s SPYDER anti-aircraft systems. Defense Update | Livemint | RAFAEL on Derby | ACIG on Derby.

RAFAEL Derby BVRAAM picked

Feb 3/11: Kaveri. DRDO hasn’t given up trying to force the issue with its long-delayed Kaveri engine. After proposing it as a naval turbine, the newest gambit is to specify it for a proposed twin-engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (A-MCA), which would be developed by 2020 and operational by 2025. The proposal is an aircraft somewhat comparable to America’s F-35 – not an encouraging comparison, given that plane’s development costs.

Government acceptance of that plan would buy the engine project another decade, but the question is whether the A-MCA project is even realistic. India’s M-MRCA medium fighter competition hopes to field an advanced 4+ generation plane by 2015, but deliveries will take years, and real operational capability isn’t likely until 2016 or later. Meanwhile, the 2020-2025 time frame is also the expected window for India’s FGFA 5th generation collaboration with Sukhoi. Both are very big budget programs, even as India looks to field a much larger Navy to counter Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean basin, and faces a growing need for expensive ballistic and cruise missile defenses. In that environment, MCA could easily find itself fighting hard to avoid becoming yet another sidelined Indian technology demonstrator project.

DRDO also hopes to muscle the Kaveri v2 engine into the Tejas. They want the Indian government to swap the engines in when the initial 40 GE F404 equipped Tejas Mk.Is come in for their scheduled overhauls, during the 2015-2020 time period. Flight International | The Hindu | UPI.

Jan 31/11: Kaveri. Livemint reports that India’s DRDO expects to close price negotiations for a Kaveri joint venture (JV) with France’s Snecma by the end of February 2011, following over 2 decades and INR 28.8 billion spent on the project in India. DRDO declined to reveal the estimated cost of the Snecma-GTRE project, which reportedly aims to produce a viable competitor to the GE F414 that powers the F/A-18 Super Hornet family, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG, and will almost certainly power the Tejas Mk.II.

Reports suggest that Snecma will bring in critical technology for the hot engine core, which is key to the 38% thrust gain sought over existing Kaveri models, while DRDO’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) will work on the “cold” sections around it. GTRE would be left with complete know-how and intellectual property rights for the engine,which will also need to become lighter.

Jan 10/11: Tejas IOC. The Tejas LCA is given Initial Operational Clearance by the Indian Air Force, marking their first induction of an Indian designed and built front line fighter. It has been a long road. The Hindustan Times reports that: “The government has so far pumped Rs 14,428 crore into the LCA programme which was pegged at Rs 560 crore when conceived in 1983.” The program cost was set at over 3,300 crore by the late 1980s, and has continued to rise. At today’s exchange rates, the INR 144.28 billion figure translates into about $3.15 billion. The Times of India places the program total even higher, at 17,269 crore/ $3.77 billion for all variants.

Note that India’s IOC designation is not the same as Initial Operational Capability for America’s military, which represents a combat-ready unit. India doesn’t have that yet, and Tejas receives this designation without all of its advertised capabilities, such as air-air engagements using radar-guided missiles. Indeed, subsequent reports reveal that key criteria for even minimal operations were waived, including wake penetration tests, lightning clearances, and some basic all-weather and day/night items. What India’s IOC does, is allow regular IAF pilots to begin flying it.

Indian Air Force chief P.V. Naik says that Final Operational Clearance for induction and formation of a Tejas squadron isn’t expected until 2013 or 2014, an event that will take place at Sulur Air Base in Tamil Nadu. The first test flight of the Tejas Mark-II version is currently scheduled for December 2014, with production beginning in June 2016. Indian Government | Economic Times of India | The Hindu | Hindustan Times | IBNLive | LiveMint | New Delhi TV | Sify | Times of India | Times of India op-ed || BBC.

Tejas IOC

Jan 14/11: Radar. domain-b reports that American pressure has forced Israel to bar exports of its EL/M-2052 AESA radar to India. The radar was reportedly intended to replace the EL/M-2032 on the Tejas Mk.II aircraft, where it would sharply improve radar performance and sharply lower maintenance costs (q.v. Oct 3/08, Dec 4/09 entries).

Israel wanted to install the radar in its own F-16s and F-15s, but the Americans moved to strangle a potential competitor by telling the Israelis that installing the M-2052 would cut off all manufacturer support for its fighters. On the export front, the USA can use ITAR restrictions to block technologies developed with American assistance, and forced Israel to implement a set of military export controls that add up to unofficial American review. Israel has reportedly sold a limited number of M-2052s to 1 undisclosed customer, but use in the Tejas Mk.II would represent the radar’s 1st major sale anywhere.


GE’s F414 engine for Tejas Mk.2/Naval; 1st Naval LCA prototype rolled out. EJ200s in Eurofighter
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Nov 21/10: Cost. The Times of India places the cost of India’s Tejas program at 17,269 crore, or over $3.7 billion. The report adds:

“Latest figures also show each of the first 40 Tejas fighters will cost around Rs 150 crore [DID: about $33 million], over and above the huge developmental cost… Tejas, incidentally, has clocked around 1,420 flights with 10 prototypes till date. Its FSED (full-scale engineering development) Phase-I till March 2004 cost Rs 2,188 crore [DID: 1 crore = 10 million rupees]. The Phase-II, to be completed by December 2012, will cost another Rs 5,778 crore. To add to that, there is fabrication of two Tejas Mark-II, with alternate engines, to be completed by Dec 2018 for Rs 2,432 crore, along with development of indigenous technologies for Rs 396 crore. Naval Tejas FSED Phase-I, in turn, is to be completed by Dec 2014 for Rs 1,715 crore, with Phase-II slated for completion by December 2018 for another Rs 1,921 crore.

Tejas will, of course, also be powered by American GE engines, with its indigenous Kaveri engine floundering despite Rs 2,839 crore being spent on its development since 1989. Towards this, India recently finalised a $822-million deal for 99 GE F-414 engines.”

These figures are later shown to fall short of government figures. India’s goal of a $20-25 million fighter at full rate production may still be achievable, but it will bear close watching. It is very normal for the first production sets of a fighter to cost far more than fighters at full-rate production, with figures of double or even triple the price common for aircraft with very long production runs.

Nov 6/10: F414. During President Obama’s visit, the White House provides further details regarding the F414 engine order, which it places at 107 engines:

“…Upon finalizing the contract, General Electric’s facility in Lynn, Massachusetts, and other sites across the United States will be positioned to export almost one billion dollars in high technology aerospace products. This transaction is tentatively valued at approximately $822 million, all of which is U.S. export content, supporting an estimated 4,440 jobs.”

This is strictly true, since any contract with GE would be 100% export content, but the deal itself may still contain provisos for technology transfer and related contracts in India. UK Financial Times Beyond BRICs blog | Hindu Business Line | Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) | NDTV | Sify | WSJ India Real Time blog.

Nov 3/10: At the end of the India-UK “Indra Dhanush 2010” exercise, Indian Air Chief Marshal P V Naik tells the media that LCA Mark-I will be inducted into operational squadrons by the middle of 2011, while the LCA Tejas Mark-II should be operational in the next 2-3 years, as “the process of selection of engine for LCA Mark-II is nearing completion.” It doesn’t happen that way.Deccan Herald.

Nov 1/10: Testing. Aviation Week reports that LSP-5, the 11th test jet and 1st final configuration Tejas Mk I aircraft, is readying for flight trials as the ADA tries to meer a Dec 27/10 deadline for release-to-service certification. Changes include internal cockpit lighting for night flying, a revised internal communication set similar to HAL’s Druhv helicopter, and National Aerospace Laboratories’ auto-pilot mode. Aviation week adds that:

“If the delivery schedules are met, then the Indian Air Force will have LSP-7 and LSP-8 for user evaluation trials by March 2011. LSP-6 will be a test vehicle for high angle of attack. The Tejas squadron is expected to be in Bengaluru by mid-2011 and the first two series production aircraft (SP-1, SP-2) also should be ready by then.”

Oct 25-28/10: Engine II. Report, and denial. After NewsX’s Vishal Thapar broadcasts a reports that a Eurojet consultant has been expelled from India for illegally obtaining information on GE’s bid, trying to substitute a new Eurojet bid by offering a monetary inducement, and then planting media reports that Eurojet was ahead on price. Thapar also claims that this is why the Indian MoD took the unusual step of announcing GE as its low-cost bidder, before a contract was signed.

The follow-on effects could be very severe if true, making it very difficult for India to pick the Eurofighter as its M-MRCA medium fighter. Eurojet’s communication agency subsequently issues the following denial. See Milplex | India Defence:

“Eurojet Turbo GmbH categorically denies unfounded allegations made in the NewsX report titled ” India expels arms dealer”, authored by Vishal Thapar and released on 23 October 2010. The report lacks any factual base and is a work of fiction.”

Oct 1/10: Engine II – F414. India’s Business Standard may want a word with its sources. GE announces that its F414 engine has been picked to power the Tejas Mk.II fighter. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) will order 99 jet engines, with GE Aviation supplying the initial batch of F414-GE-INS6, engines and the rest manufactured in India under transfer of technology arrangements. When questioned by DID, GE sources confirmed that this is not a contract yet, merely preferred bidder status.

The selection of GE’s F414 deepens a relationship that has supplied 41 earlier model GE F404 engines so far, in order to power initial Tejas LCA Mk.I fighters and LCA Naval prototypes. GE describes the F414-GE-INS6 as “the highest-thrust F414 model,” without offering specifics, but is has been working on an F414 Enhanced Performance Engine. The INS6 will add single-engine safety features in its digital controls, something GE also installed in the F414 variant powering one M-MRCA candidate, the JAS-39 Gripen NG.

F414 engine picked for Tejas Mk.2

Sept 20/10: Engine II. India’s Business Standard reports that the European EJ200 engine may have the edge in the competition to supply the Tejas Mk.II fleet’s powerplants:

“Informed sources have told Business Standard that when the bids were opened last week, European consortium Eurojet bid $666 million for 99 EJ200 engines, against US rival General Electric, which quoted $822 million.”

Both engines have been ruled technically suitable, so the lower priced bid will win, but the bidding process isn’t 100% final yet. The paper also quotes Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak (ret.) of the Indian Air Force’s Centre for Air Power Studies, who draws the obvious conclusion:

“It is as clear as daylight. Selecting the EJ200 for the Tejas would boost the Eurofighter’s prospects in the MMRCA contest. Its engines, which form about 15-20 per cent of the cost of a modern fighter, would be already manufactured in India for the Tejas [after the 1st 10 were built abroad]. For the same reason, rejecting the GE F-414 would diminish the chances of the two fighters [F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and JAS-39NG/IN] that fly with that engine.”

Aug 25/10: Kaveri. Defence Minister Shri AK Antony updates progress in the Kaveri engine in a written reply to Shri N Balaganga of India’s Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament). It’s phrased in terms of what DRDO is doing as development and testing continues, and gives various reasons why the engine is so late. It does not mention that the IAF isn’t interested, except to note at the end that “LCAs are, meanwhile, as decided by user, being fitted with imported engines.” Unlike some Indian programs, the Kaveri program has managed to spend most of its yearly budgets; over the last 3 years, these expenditures have been:

2007-2008: INR 1,525.1 million
2008-2009: INR 1,535.4 million
2009-2010: INR 1,220.6 million

As of Aug 25/10, INR 100 million = $2.15 million, so INR 1.2206 billion = $26.05 million.

July 6/10: Naval LCA. NP1, the first naval Tejas prototype, is rolled out. HAL will build NP1 and NP2 for testing, which will take place at a new facility in Goa. The naval variant adds a tailhook, strengthened undercarriage, leading-edge vortex controllers to slow down landings, auto-throttles, and a fuel dump system.

Naval LCA rollout

May 5/10: Engine II. GE describes 3 of the programs underway to improve its F414 engine. The most relevant is probably the F414 EPE (Enhanced Performance Engine), which has a new fan to increase airflow, and aims to increase thrust by 20%. It’s explicitly “targeted for potential international customers,” which includes India’s Tejas Mk.2.

The US Navy wants the F414 EDE (Enhanced Durability Engine), which uses an advanced high pressure turbine and 6-stage high pressure compressor (HPC) that offers a 2-3X hot-section durability gain, and reduced fuel consumption. F414 EDE forms the base of the EPE engine, but the gains will not be the same in both engines, owing to other design differences.

Crowded India may also appreciate the retrofittable F414 noise reduction kit project, with serrated edges where each “lobe” penetrates into or out of the primary airflow and generates a secondary flow, reducing jet noise by 2-3-decibels. The USN has identified funding for a program to mature the technology and prepare it for incorporation in the USN F414 engine fleet, with work scheduled to continue through 2011. GE Aviation.

Feb 3/10: Engine II. Eurojet says it will share single-crystal engine blade technologies with India if Eurofighter wins MMRCA, or the EJ200 engine is selected for the LCA Tejas Mk2.

Eurojet’s EJ200 equips the Eurofighter Typhoon. The EJ200 weighs about 2,200 pounds and produces 13,500 pounds of thrust in normal operation, or 20,000 pounds with afterburners. There were even rumors of a thrust-vectoring version, to improve Tejas maneuverability, but the engine lost the Tejas MK.II competition, then the Eurofighter was edged out by France’s Rafale in India’s M-MRCA finals.

Feb 2/10: Indian defence minister AK Antony watches flight demonstrations by twin-seat (PV-5), and single-seat (LCP-2) Tejas test aircraft, and declares: “Serious doubts were raised about Tejas… Now I can proudly say we will fly our own fighters.” He states Cabinet Committee of Security approval to add Rs 8,000 crore (about $1.73 billion) to the 27-year program for continued air force and naval development, and development of a new engine for the Mk.2, and expresses confidence in final operational clearance for the Mk.1 version by end of 2012. Antony also agreed that the government is in talks with parties abroad for the development of that Mk.2 engine, but would not be more specific.

The Indian Air Force has already ordered 20 LCAs, and has reportedly expressed interest in ordering another 20 aircraft. Meanwhile, the Navy is building 2-seat trainer (NP1) and a single-seat fighter (NP2) prototypes, with NP1 nearing completion of equipping after the structural assembly. NP1 is scheduled to roll out by April 2010, followed by a hoped-for first flight in June 2010. The single-seat NP2 is scheduled for its first flight by June 2011. India’s Business Standard | The Hindu | Indian Express | Times of India | Agence France Presse | The Asian Age.


First 6 LCA Naval ordered; Tejas Angle of Attack flight issues; US red tape trips Lockheed Martin; Engine competition to equip Tejas Mk.II. Tejas test
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Dec 31/09: Kaveri. The Hindu reports that India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been given government permission to accept an offer from France’s Snecma to ‘partner’ with the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) to jointly develop a new version of the Kaveri jet engine. Senior GTRE officials tell The Hindu that talks could begin early in 2010. When that might result in a signed contract is anyone’s guess.

This article’s Dec 26/08 entry covers the verdict of a senior Indian committee, which had recommended against the DRDO-Snecma collaboration. The Hindu highlights the Matheswaran team’s criticism that using Snecma’s fully developed ‘Eco’ engine core would not create sufficient transfer or control of technology, but reports:

“Snecma, which indicated that an engine run of at least 250 is required to make their offer economically viable, agrees that an existing core would be at the heart… will take at least five years before the first production engine comes out. Snecma chairman and chief executive officer Philippe Petitcolin told The Hindu: “Yes we first stated a 15-year period to hand over the design technology, but now we have indicated that the technology can be given as fast as the Indians can assimilate it.”

Note that the article does not indicate commitment to use the “Kaveri II” engine for any particular purpose, or offer a likely timeline. Rather, the emphasis seems to be on continuing to develop India’s industrial capabilities, rather than fielding an operational engine. StrategyPage places the cost of that collaboration at $200 million, but this must be an estimate, as no firm deal has been negotiated. See also Sri Lanka Guardian. See also Aug 20/08 entry.

Dec 14/09: Kaveri. In a written Parliamentary reply, Defence Minister Shri AK Antony responds to Shri Gajanan D Babar:

“The proposal on the Kaveri-Snecma engine joint venture for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is under consideration of the Government. Request for Proposal (RFP) for procuring 99 engines have been sent to two short-listed engine manufacturers, namely GE F414 from General Electric Aviation, USA and EJ200 from Eurojet Germany. The engine houses have responded to the RFP. Both Commercial and technical responses have been received for procurement of 99 engines along with Transfer of Technology.”

Dec 7/09: A Parliamentary response from defense minister Antony offers details regarding the initial Tejas Mk.1 contract:

“A contract for procurement of 20 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) configuration, along with associated role equipment, reserve engines, engine support package, engine test bed and computer based training (CBT) package from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was signed in March 2006. The total contract cost is Rs. 2701.70 crores.” [currently about $580 million]

Dec 4/09: Radar – AESA? DRDO’s Bangalore-based Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) reportedly invites global bids to become the development partner for a Tejas active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. This would presumably replace the IAI Elta EL/M-2032 derivative that will requip Tejas Mk.1 fighters.

The Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU) would be supplied by the development partner. Responsibilities would include “detailed design, development and realisation” of the antenna panel (main antenna, guard antenna and sidelobe cancellation antenna), transmit/receive modules/groups, the RF distribution network (RF manifold/combiners and RF interface), antenna/beam control chain (T/R control and T/R group control), and array calibration/BITE among other areas. Livefist.

Nov 26/09: Testing. Tejas PV-5, a 2-seat trainer version, makes its maiden flight. The Deccan Herald says that commonalities between the 2-seat trainer and Tejas naval version will help that sub-program as well, but it will take hundreds of flights over a year or more before the trainer version can be qualified for use by IAF, as a key step in pilot training and induction of the single-seat fighter into IAF operational service.

Sept 28/09: US red tape. India’s Business Standard reports that Lockheed Martin was selected in June 2009 as a consultant for developing the Naval version of the Tejas. Lockheed Martin has no serving carrier-borne fighters, but they’re developing the F-35B STOVL and F-35C Lightning II for use from carriers.

Unfortunately, delays in US government approval has led DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency to recommend that another consultant be chosen instead; Dassault (Rafale) and EADS (no carrier-borne aircraft) were recommended as alternatives,and EADS was eventually picked. Lockheed Martin is still fighting to get through the red tape and salvage the contract, and may continue trying until V K Saraswat, India’s Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, makes a decision.

This has happened before, and recently. Boeing was the front-runner for a similar role with respect to the main (IAF) version, and would be a logical consultant for any naval version – but the Indian MoD awarded EADS that contract in early 2009, after the US government failed to grant Boeing a Technical Assistance Agreement clearance in time.

Sept 21/09: Naval LCA. India’s Business Standard reports that the Tejas Mk.II is attracting funding from India’s Navy, who believes that a modified, EJ-200/F414 equipped Tejas would have the power required to operate from its future aircraft carriers in STOBAR (Short TakeOff But Assisted Recovery) mode:

“Business Standard has learnt that the navy has okayed the placement of an order for six Naval LCAs. At an approximate cost of Rs 150 crore per aircraft, that will provide a Rs 900 crore infusion into the Naval LCA programme.”

At today’s rates, Rs 900 crore = $187.8 million. Naval LCA fighters would operate from India’s 30,000t-35000t Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), which is being built at Cochin Shipyard with assistance from Italy’s Fincantieri, and is expected to join the fleet by 2014. That creates a potential timing issue, as the Tejas Mk.II’s engine selection and ordering process isn’t supposed to produce new engines before 2013-14. Aeronautical Development Agency director P S Subramaniam told Business Standard that they would fly the modified Naval Tejas airframe with the current GE-404 engine, to test its flight characteristics and structural strength. The new INS Hansa in Goa, with its land-based carrier deck outline and equipment, will be extremely helpful in that regard. If those tests go well, a naval Tejas variant would not operate from a carrier until the new engines were delivered and installed. See also: India Defence

India: 6 Naval LCA.

Aug 4/09: Engine II. Flight International reports that the Eurojet consortium has done tests regarding the EJ200’s fit into the Tejas’ space, and believes itself to be in a strong position for the expected 99-engine order to equip the Tejas Mk.II. The RFP response date is Oct 12/09.

Aug 3/09: Kaveri. India’s DRDO is attempting to resurrect the Kaveri engine project, but the IAF’s lack of enthusiasm is pointed. MoD release:

“Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has offered to co-develop and co-produce 90 kN thrust class of upgraded Kaveri engine with M/s Snecma, France to meet the operational requirement of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas with 48 months from the date of project inception… The proposal for co-development was considered by Indian Air Force. Indian Air Force has suggested a proven engine that is already in production and flight worthy for meeting immediate requirement. Request for Proposal (RFP) has been issued to reputed engine manufacturers.”

A separate MoD release gives December 2012 as the target date for the LCA Tejas Mk.I’s “final Operational Clearance,” adding that project oversight currently involves a high level review by the Chief of Air Staff once per quarter, and by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff once per month.

March 4/09: Testing. India Defense reports that a multi-agency team is carrying out 2-weeks of Phase 2 weapon testing for the LCA Tejas. The focus is on safe separation, aerodynamic interference data, and complex weapon release algorithms in different modes of release. Note that the tests still involve aerodynamics, rather than full weapons system integration.

Feb 25/09: Government of India:

“A contract for 20 indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has been signed. One IAF squadron is expected to be equipped with this aircraft in 2010-11. Government is not planning to set up a hi-tech facility at Nagpur costing about Rs. 300 crores [3 billion rupees, or about $60 million] for indigenizing components of these aircrafts. Product support including spare parts will be supplied by the vendor as per the terms of the contract that will be concluded.”

Feb 17/09: Engine II. Flight International reports that the Eurojet engine consortium may be about to change the competitive field for the expected RFP to equip LCA Tejas MkII aircraft. The firm has been working on a thrust-vectoring model of its engine, and the magazine reports that it will be offered to meet India’s expected RFP for up to 150 engines.

The Eurofighter is also an MMRCA medium fighter competitor, and twin wins for Eurojet could offer India important commonality benefits, even as they justified an in-country production line. Thrust vectoring would also offer the Tejas a level of maneuverability and performance that could be a difference-maker in combat, and on the international market. The Eurofighter is considered a long shot to win the MMRCA competition, however, and timelines could become an issue. Flight tests of a thrust vectoring EJ200 engine are not expected to begin for another 2 years.

Feb 6/09: Engine II. The Press Trust of India quotes Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) Director P Subrahmanyam, who says that India’s state-run DRDO is still looking for partners to develop the indigenous Kaveri engine. That hasn’t stopped the Ministry of Defence’s ADA from preparing a competition to equip the LCA Mark II version from 2014 onward, after the initial aircraft are fielded with F404-IN-20 engines:

“We are looking to procure either the GE-414 from US or European consortium Eurojet’s EJ 200 to fly with the LCA Mk II version [after going through offers from various global manufacturers]. Request for Proposals (RFP) is just about to go out and very soon it would be floated.”

Eurojet’s EJ200 equips the Eurofighter Typhoon, while GE’s F414 equips Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet family. All 3 of these fighters are competitors in India’s MMRCA, which aims to buy at least 126 medium multi-role fighters to fill the gap between Tejas LCAs and India’s top-tier SU-30MKIs.

The article appears to indicate that India would be looking to switch production to the new engines, after low-rate initial production equips the first 2 IAF squadrons with 48 aircraft. In practice, required engineering changes and aircraft testing make such an early switch unlikely.

Jan 29/09: AoA issues. Indopia reports that India’s DRDO/ADA and HAL are proposing a $20 million collaboration with EADS to assist with flight trials, and help to increase the fighter’s flight envelope. Performance at high “angles of attack,” in which a fighter’s nose and wings are tilted at steep angles, will reportedly be the focus for EADS efforts.

At any aircraft’s critical angle of attack, the wing is no longer able to support the weight of the aircraft, causing a tail slide that generally worsens the problem and can lead to an aerodynamic stall. Different aircraft have different critical angles of attack, and design changes can lead to an expanded range for safe, sustained flight maneuvers. In some cases, such as India’s Sukhoi 30MKIs with their modern triplane configuration, the design’s flight envelope can become so large that maneuvers like the near 90 degree “Cobra” become safe and routine.

Jan 23/09: Testing. The Tejas LCA completes its 1,000th test flight since the first 18-minute flight by Technology Demonstrator-1 on 04 Jan 4/01. Frontier India | The Hindu | The Times of India.

Flight #1,000


Why Kaveri was a failure, demonstrated; Kaveri for naval ships? Inverted flypast
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Dec 26/08: Kaveri. The Hindu reports that a committee set up by the IAF in September 2008 has recommended against Snecma’s offer (see Aug 20/08 entry). The report says that the result would not be a co-designed, co-developed engine, but rather a license production arrangement. The group recommends continued development of the Kaveri engine and its core technologies instead, despite the failures to date.

These conclusions are less surprising when one examines the committee’s composition. Air Vice Marshal M. Matheswaran chaired the group, which included representatives from India’s state-run Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, and IAF officers posted at ADA, the National Flight Test Centre and the Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment. All are state-run groups that have been involved in the Kaveri’s ongoing development, and have strong incentives to protect that turf.

Dec 13/08: Testing. A Tejas fighter prototype lands at Leh air base in the high-altitude Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, at an altitude of 10,600 fee. Leh is one of the highest airfields in the world, with a temperature variation ranging from 5 to -20 C/ 41 to -4F. .

That was the whole point, of course: perform cold weather testing, while making an assessment of the aircraft’s performance in high-altitude conditions, without the confounding influence and additional challenge of high temperatures. India Defence

Oct 3/08: Radar. The Hindu newspaper relays news from ADA Programme Director P.S. Subramaniam that the Israeli Elta “EL/M-2052” radar has already undergone tests on the flight test bed and ground rig in Israel, and “airworthy units” are expected to arrive early next week.

There had been some unconfirmed mentions of EL/M-2052s in connection with the Tejas, and it’s possible that ADA is beginning tests related to the Mk.II. It’s more likely that the radars are IAI Eltas M-2032, instead of Elta’s AESA option. The Elta M-2032 multi-mode radar already serves on India’s Sea Harriers and some Jaguars, and was picked as an “interim option” until India’s indigenous radar program performs to the required standard. Because the indigenous radar has failed to perform to standard, the ADA has reportedly been running weaponization tests on the Tejas using a weapon delivery pod, and has been forced to keep critical tests on hold. Past experience suggests that the Tejas’ radar will remain an import.

Aug 20/08: Kaveri & Snecma. The Wall Street Journal’s partner has an article that more or less sums up the Kaveri project in a nutshell, and also the DRDO: “In aircraft engine development, you cannot set a timeline.” The article interviews T. Mohana Rao, director of India’s state-run Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE). Rao explains why the Kaveri engine is effectively dead as a fighter aircraft engine, leaving GE’s popular F404-GE-IN20 variant to power the Tejas for at least the next 4 years.

Rao quotes the Kaveri’s performance at 11,000 lbs./ 5,000 kg dry thrust at sea level, and 16,500 lbs./ 7,500 kg thrust on afterburners. That’s about 1,000 lbs./ 400 kg short of specifications. The engine is also overweight by 330 lbs./ 150 kg, and has yet to perform long-endurance tests to assess its durability.

The GTRE cannot promise any date for successful delivery, and so political approval was granted to form a partnership with a foreign engine firm on a risk-sharing basis. Russia’s NPO Saturn and France’s Snecma responded, while GE, Rolls-Royce, and Pratt and Whitney declined. After almost 2 1/2 years, the GTRE chose France’s Snecma, but there’s no contract yet. industrial issues need to be settled, and the government requires consultation with the Indian Air Force before any contract and requirements are signed.

Snecma’s proposal involves an engine core (compressor, combustor and high-pressure turbine) called Eco. Snecma would have a workshare of 45%, and GTRE’s would be 55%, with nearly 85% of the manufacturing within India. Snecma says the aircraft could be certified for fitting in the Tejas within 4 years. Assuming that project remains on time, of course. The policy question is whether this outcome was predictable from the outset. As the Live Mint article notes:

“Nearly 20 years after it promised an indigenous engine to power India’s light combat aircraft Tejas, the… country’s sole aero engine design house, is now seeking outside help…”

Aug 13/08: Kaveri KMGT. The DRDO’s GTRE in Bangalore believes it may have found a use for the Kaveri engine, in naval vessels. Using the core of the Kaveri engine, plus a low-pressure compressor and turbine, the engine would become a gas-fired 12 MW propulsion unit in warships up the he Rajput Class, or find uses as on-shore electricity generators. A Kaveri Marine Gas Turbine (KMGT) has been transported to naval dock yard at Vishakapatnam, and installed on to the marine gas turbine test bed there. Yahoo! India | RF Design.

The Rajput Class “destroyers” are modified Russian Kashin-II Class ships, though their top weight of just under 5,000 tons would mark them as large frigates in many navies.

Aug 3/08: Kaveri – And Replacements? The Wall Street Journal’s partner reports that France’s Snecma will partner with India’s DRDO to develop a new engine, sidelining the Kaveri project.

“GTRE has spent nearly Rs1,900 crore of the Rs2,800 crore that was sanctioned since an engine project Kaveri, named after the river in southern India, began in 1989… Vincent Chappard, a Snecma spokesman in France, said he could not immediately confirm the development.”

While the IAF waits for Snecma’s efforts, reports also suggest that the DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency has invited both General Electric and Eurojet Turbo GmbH, a European engine consortium, to bid for higher-powered interim engines. GE offers the F414, and the Eurojet 2000 already has higher thrust, but the engines will have to fit the Tejas’ design – or vice-versa. These engines would be slated for Tejas aircraft produced beyond the initial 48 plane order, but before any indigenous engine is certified. WSJ partner Live Mint | domain-b

March 4/08: Radar. There are reports that Europe’s EADS has offered to co-develop an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with India, for installation on board the Tejas fighters. Work is currently underway on an AESA radar to equip EADS’ Eurofighter, which is a long shot in India’s 126-190 aircraft MMRCA fighter competition.

The nature of AESA radars makes it possible to scale them up or down while retaining high commonality with larger versions, the main difference being changes to radar power and hence overall performance. Northrop Grumman whose AN/APG-77 AESA radar equips America’s F-22, recently introduced its AESA Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) at Singapore’s February 2007 air show. It’s designed to equip existing F-16 fighters with no modifications required, and is advertised as being scalable to other platforms.

A win for EADS in this area offers to solve a problem for India, while creating a commonality hook for the Eurofighter – or at worst, a supplier diversification option for India that adds external funding to help EADS catch up in this key technology area.

March 3/08: Indian Defence Minister Shri A K Antony responds to a Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) question by saying that the Tejas flight test program is:

“…progressing as per the schedule. So far, 829 flight tests have been completed. Efforts are being made to accelerate the flight tests… Presently, no need is felt for strategic partner. To complete the project at the earliest, a top level review is being conducted by the Chief of Air Staff once in every quarter and review by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff once in every month. So far, Rs. 4806.312 cr [DID: 48.063 billion rupees, or about $1.19 billion at current conversion] have been spent on development of various versions of Light Combat Aircraft.”

2006 – 2008

1st 20 production Tejas ordered; IAI to substitute for MMR radar failure; F404 engines ordered; AA-11 fired; Naval Tejas contemplated. AA-11/R-73 Archer
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Oct 25/07: Testing. The Tejas fires a missile for the first time: Vympel’s short-range, IR guided AA-11/R-73 Archer air-to-air missile. Test aircraft PV-1 fired the missile at 7 km altitude and 0.6 Mach within the naval air range off the coast of Goa, marking the beginning of weaponization as a prelude to initial operational clearance (IOC) phase of the Tejas program.

The main objectives of test firing were to validate safe separation of the missile, the effect of missile plume on the engine’s air-intake and on composite structures, the workings of the stores-management displays and software, and quality assessment. India DoD release | Times of India.

While the beginning of weaponization is a significant event, the state of the fighter’s indigenous radar development means that the critical weaponization event for the Tejas LCA will be its first successful test-firing of a radar-guided missile.

Aug 13/07: Radar – IAI. Defence Minister Shri AK Antony states the obvious in a written reply to Shri Sugrib Singh and others in Lok Sabha, but adds new information concerning foreign cooperation:

“There has been a time and cost overrun in the said project. The project to develop two MMR systems for ground testing was sanctioned at a cost of Rs.62.27 crore. This activity was completed in 2004 at a cost of Rs.105 crore.

Yes, but see poor testing results in the April 8/06 and May 1/06 entries, below. He does not mention them, but effectively concedes the point by adding that:

A co-development activity of MMR has been initiated for Limited Series Production and Series Production with M/s ELTA Systems Ltd, Israel, which has experience in developing similar types of radars. To expedite the project, close monitoring of activity at the highest level of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) management has been put in place.”

See also India Defence follow-on | Flight International.

IAI Elta radar agreement

April 26/07: Testing. The 1st of the Limited Series Production Tejas jets (LSP-1), makes its successful maiden flight at HAL airport in Bangalore, reaching an altitude of 11 km/ 6.6 miles and a speed of Mach 1.1 during the 47 minute flight.

According to the Indian government release, LSP-1 marks the beginning of series production of Tejas for induction into the Air Force.

1st production flight

March 1/07: India’s Defence Minister Shri AK Antony offers an update re: the Tejas LCA:

“Five Tejas are currently being flight tested for Initial Operational Clearance by the Indian Air Force pilots posted at National Test Centre of Aeronautical Development Agency, Ministry of Defence. So far 629 flights accumulating 334 hours have been completed. Twenty aircraft have been ordered by the Indian Air Force as the first lot.”

Feb 7/07: F404. HAL ordered an additional 24 F404-GE-IN20 afterburning engines in a $100+ million contract, in order to power the first operational squadron of Tejas fighters for the Indian Air Force.

This buy follows a 2004 purchase of 17 F404-GE-IN20 engines, in order to power a limited series of operational production aircraft and naval prototypes.

F404 engine order #2

Jan 25/07: India tries to throw a large monkey wrench into Pakistan’s rival JF-17 project. They almost succeed.

Nov 22/06: Reuters India: “Pakistan set to get eight JF-17 fighter jets next year.” Anxieties are becoming more acute as Pakistan readies its JF-17 fighter developed in conjunction with China and Russia, and prepares to induct them into service in 2007-2008. The JF-17 is a sub-$20 million fighter designed to replace F-7P (MiG-21+) and Mirage 3/5 aircraft in Pakistan’s fleet, and is a comparable peer for the LCA Tejas.

Sept 19/06: India set to induct 28 LCA Tejas aircraft by 2007. They would have GE F404 engines rather than the Kaveri, says former project director Dr. Kota Harinarayana. As it turns out, India has 0 inducted aircraft, 5 years after that stated date.

May 2/06: India Defence reports that the Indian Navy may be interested in a Tejas LCA version of its own.

May 1/06: Radar. More bad news for the radar project. The Vijay Times also notes that that the performance of several radar modes being tested still “fell short of expectations,” and may force acquisition of American or Israeli radars (likely APG-68 or Elta’s EL/M-2032) as an interim measure.

April 8/06: Radar. The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Tejas’ radar, which was also set up as an indigenous project after foreign options like the JAS-39 Gripen’s fine PS05 radar were refused, could only perform at the most basic levels, putting tests on hold:

“According to the IAF, which proposes to buy 220 of the planes when they are ready, the radar is now “marooned in uncertainty”… While two basic radar modes have been tested, the other modes have failed, throwing up serious questions about the system’s fundamentals.

In written replies to queries sent by The Indian Express, DRDO chief M Natarajan said: “Because of the complexity of technologies involved (in the radar project) and the extent of testing to be done, help of specialists in the field may be sought to complete the task… When Natarajan was asked why there was uncertainty over the radar so long after development began, he said: “The radar is under development by HAL and not at LRDE (the DRDO’s lab).” This, even when the signal processor built by the DRDO is the very heart of the radar.

Security analyst K Subrahmanyam has earlier called the dogged refusal to entertain foreign help by the DRDO as reflective of the organisation’s bad project management.”

March 2006: Order #1. India signs a contract with HAL for 20 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in “Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) configuration,” along with associated role equipment, reserve engines, engine support package, engine test bed and computer based training (CBT) package.

The total contract cost is INR 27.017 billion. Source.

India: 20 LCA

February 2006: Kaveri. Jane’s claims that SNECMA won the contract to assist India in developing the Kaveri.

Appendix A: DID Analysis & Op/Ed (2006) More exportable Kaveri

The complexities inherent in designing a new fighter from scratch are formidable, even for a lightweight fighter like the Tejas. As Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd) notes, India’s industry had significant experience deficits going into this project, which have delayed the project significantly, and raised costs. The insistence on pushing the envelope with a new fighter design, a new engine, and a new radar all at once has had consequences. In the long run, those consequences will lead to a smaller IAF, and could be set to create major force gaps if MiG-21 lifespans can’t be extended long enough.

As experts like Richard D. Fisher have noted, Chinese projects tend to quickly hand off significant components to others and confine the kinds of domestic expertise required. The J-10 has been an example, and the massive changes required when Israeli and Western cooperation ended made the project incredibly challenging. Only a Chinese decision to outsource major components like the engines to the Russians kept the project from failing completely.

As the J-10 shows, delays remain possible, even with extensive foreign cooperation. It’s also true that every new jet engine type can expect teething issues when it is first installed. This may explain why even Sweden, with their long history of indigenous fighter development, chose the less risky approach of adopting the proven GE F404 & F414 engines for the JAS-39 Gripen. They made minor modifications as required in conjunction with the manufacturer, then concentrated their design efforts elsewhere.

All the more reason, then, to bring in foreign partners for components like the engine etc., and minimize the complexities faced by India’s indigenous teams in its state-run organizations.

Sainis and Joseph’s examination of the benefits to Indian industry from the LCA program demonstrate that most industrial benefits would have been retained had India taken this route. So, too, would the project’s timelines, which have suffered instead as India’s fighter fleet dwindles.

In India’s case, these added complexities can also spill over onto the export front. If potential Tejas export customers aren’t offered a common, fully tested international engine like the GE F404, with a broad network of support and leverage across multiple aircraft types, risk calculations will get in the way of some sales. When deciding on their buy, potential customers will have to evaluate the Kaveri engine’s prospects for future spares, upgrades and support, available contractors with relevant skills in maintaining them, etc. This tends to make potential buyers more cautious, and is likely to reduce Kaveri’s odds when competing against options like the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17, which uses a modified version of the engine that equips many MiG-29s around the world.

As the French have found with the Rafale, lack of exports for a limited production indigenous fighter equals rising maintenance and upgrade burdens that hit right in the home budget, and make it that much harder for the design to keep up with contemporary threats over its lifetime. Which in turn affect export prospects in a vicious circle.

Will India’s decision to proceed with the Kaveri engine offer short-term customization benefits, at the expense of long-term pain? Or can HAL maintain the Tejas airframe design, and field a lightweight fighter that offers its customers a choice of engines?

Appendix B: The Kaveri Saga – Keystone, or Killer? Kaveri prototype
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The GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri was envisioned as a variable cycle flat-rated engine, in which the thrust drop is compensated by increased turbine entry temperature at the spool. The variable cycle flat-rated engine would be controlled by a Kaveri full authority digital control unit (KADECU/ FADEC). The goal was a powerplant with slightly more thrust than GE’s F404 engines, whose characteristics were uniquely suited to India’s hot and humid environments.

India’s frequent goal of “100% made in India content” has derailed a number of its weapon projects over the last few decades, but foreign decisions also played an important role in the Kaveri project’s genesis. In 1998, India’s nuclear tests prompted the US to place sanctions on military exports, including GE’s F404 turbofans and Lockheed Martin’s assistance in developing the Tejas’ flight control system. In response, India began its program to develop an indigenous engine. As the Rediff’s Feb 5/06 report notes:

“DRDO scientists had kept the development of the Kaveri engine under wraps, exuding confidence that India had developed the technological edge to develop its own aircraft engine, so far confined to handful of developed countries.”

The prospect of ending that dependence is a powerful lure, but some of the reasons for that small club are technical. Modern jet engines are far more complex than even Vietnam-era engines like the GE J79 that equipped the F-4 Phantom. Producing a working, reliable engine that can operate at these high pressures and thrust ratings isn’t easy, and weaking and troubleshooting a new and unproven jet engine always involves a great deal of work and expense. The Kaveri engine’s climate performance targets added even more challenges to an already-full plate. That proved difficult for the program when the program’s entire context changed.

Eventually, the USA lifted its weapons export restrictions on India. In contrast, the natural barriers to developing an advanced engine from scratch, in a country with no past experience doing so, to technical specifications more challenging than current market mainstays, were not lifted so easily. The complexities inherent in this challenge belied DRDO’s apparent confidence, forcing India to bring in turbine experts from Snecma in France and from US firms like Pratt and Whitney.

In the end, the Indian DRDO was finally forced to look for a foreign technology partner, and issue an RFP. Even then, acceptance of program realities was slow in coming. In the initial stages, DRDO secretary M Natarajan referred to it as an effort to “add value and look for a partner to stand guarantee,” and stated that any partners would have to work to India’s terms. A committee in which IAF experts would be included would evaluate the bids to decide on:

“…how much to take and from whom… But Kaveri is and would remain an Indian project… We have gone this way to shorten time for making the engine airborne, as we don’t wont to delay the LCA induction schedule.”

GE F404

Those goals did not prove to be compatible.

US engine manufacturer General Electric, who supplies the F404 jet engines that power initial Tejas models, seemed unenthralled with those proposed terms. They declined to respond to the RFP for foreign assistance. Eventually, India’s state agencies were forced to concede that they could not develop an engine with the required specifications, and that seeking foreign help to improve the basic design was also unlikely to produce a design that met the required specifications.

With no engine in production as late-stage aircraft testing began, and none forthcoming in the forseeable future, India’s drive to develop an indigenous “Kaveri” jet engine had become a key roadblock for the Tejas program in India – and very possibly, beyond India as well.

In contrast to the Kaveri, F404 family engines are already proven in a number of aircraft around the world including Saab’s 4th generation JAS-39 Gripen lightweight fighter, the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, models A-D of the F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft in service around the world, South Korea’s T/A-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer & light attack aircraft, and Singapore’s soon to be retired A-4SU Super Skyhawk attack jets. Kaveris equipped with F404/F414 engines would present a lower risk profile to potential export customers, due to the engines’ long-proven performance, GE’s global support network, and the number on engines in operation around the world.

Kaveri would offer none of these important benefits, in exchange for one offsetting feature: foreign sales would not require US military export approval for the engines.

India has not been a major weapons exporter, so export realities didn’t carry a lot of weight. On the other hand, the technical and timeline difficulties experienced by the main Tejas program created a potential natiional defense crisis that could not be ignored. By August 2008, the Kaveri program had effectively been sidelined, in order to get the Tejas into service within an acceptable time frame and preserve India’s operational fighter strength. While political changes may resurrect the Kaveri program as a political exercise, the Tejas program’s technical procurement path has been moving in the other direction.

This kind of vague drift away from an indigenous option is common in India’s procurement history. It usually ends with off-the-shelf “interim” buys becoming permanent; and an indigenous program that’s either shelved, or bought in very low numbers alongside a much larger foreign purchase of similar equipment.

GE’s F404-IN20 will be the Tejas’ initial powerplant, to be followed by the F414-GE-INS6, which beat the Eurojet EJ200 as the Tejas Mk.II’s planned engine.

Even so, DRDO continued to fund and back its long-delayed project. By January 2013, they had abandoned negotiations with France’s Snecma to create a Kaveri 2.0 version using key Snecma engine technologies, and resolved to try yet another global tender. A Kaveri without an afterburner would power a notional UCAV strike drone, and DRDO specified a pair of Kaveri engines for a proposed “Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft” project.

These pursuits would have kept the Kaveri development project consuming defense funds for another decade. In May 2014, however, Narendra Modi’s BJP Party scored a crushing landslide victory, and vowed to shake up the way government was run. DRDO felt the change, shifted their prioritization methods, and decided in November 2014 that the Kaveri program should be abandoned entirely.

\Additional Readings & Sources Background: LCA Tejas

Background: Ancillary Technologies & Weapons

Background: Tejas Mk.II Technologies

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: News

TPQ-53 Counterfire Radars: Incoming… Where?

9 hours 10 min ago
EQ-36 concept
(click to view full)

Firefinder radars track the path of incoming shells, rockets, mortars, etc., and calculate the point they were fired from. Raytheon’s TPQ-36 radar is specifically designed to counter medium range enemy weapon systems out to a range of 24 kilometers, while the TPQ-37 can locate longer-range systems, and even surface launched missiles, out to 50 kilometers. Michael Yon, embedded with 1-24 (“Deuce Four”) in Mosul, offered a first hand description of counter-battery radars’ effect on enemy tactics in 2005.

Better radar technologies offer a number of potential advantages for this role, including wider fields of view and less maintenance. Not to mention fewer disruptive, time-sucking false positives for deployed troops. In September 2006, Lockheed Martin began a contract to deliver their “Enhanced AN/TPQ-36” (EQ-36) radars. Despite the close official name and designation, this was a wholly new radar system, from a different company. Orders have begun to accumulate, along with deployments – and, finally, a less confusing designation change to AN/TPQ-53.

The TPQ-53 Counterfire Radar System TPQ-53 components
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The TPQ-53 includes a number of operational improvements, including 360 degree coverage capability instead of the TPQ-36’s current 90 degrees, and dramatic reductions in false alarm rates. A successful program would replace many of the TPQ-36 radars currently in service.

In 2002, the US Army began a research project called the Multi-Mission Radar Advance Technology Objective. The goal was similar to the US Marine Corps’ G/ATOR: a single mobile radar system able to perform Air Defense Surveillance, Air Defense Fire Control, Counter Target Acquisition (artillery tracing) and Air Traffic Service missions. Unlike the Marines, the Army didn’t proceed from there toward a full development project. Instead, they incorporated some of the technologies and learning from MMRATO into a competition that would begin by fielding radars to solve the CTA problem.

Both the truck-mounted AN/TPQ-53, and the smaller Humvee-mounted TPQ-50 LCMR (Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar) trace back to that effort, and the TPQ-53 also grew out of lessons learned from the previous generation TPQ-36/37 Firefinder radar series. The base radar technology is more advanced, and software and hardware were modernized. Mechanically, the radar got more robust gears, a rotating platform, an automated leveling system for faster and more reliable emplacement, and an improved air cooled system to improve reliability and keep costs down. The Army expects these changes to save millions of dollars over the radars’ lifetimes.

An AN/TPQ-53 radar system is actually made up of 2 vehicles. One FMTV truck is the Mission Essential Group, containing the radar antenna and the power generator. The second FMTV truck carries the Sustainment Group, with a climate controlled operations shelter and backup power generator.

The TPQ-53 is IFPC (Indirect Fire Protection Capability) compatible in countering rocket, artillery, and mortar attacks, and the Army is thinking of adding software upgrades to allow it to track larger targets, and perform air defense surveillance against UAVs, helicopters, and enemy aircraft.

The system’s operations center allows the radar to link back to Army command systems like AFATDS and FAADC2. Linkages to ground-based Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) command systems, which can also connect to fire control radars and defensive weapons like the Phalanx Centurion, provide a complete defensive solution for protected bases. If the radar’s functions expand to include broader air defense, those command system linkages will become even more important.

Automation and built-in test sensors means that only 4 soldiers can operate the system, with an emplacement time of 5 minutes and a displacement time of just 2 minutes. This compares to 3 HMMWVs and 6 people for the previous TPQ-36v8 system; or 2 FMTV trucks, 2 HMMWVs, and 13 people for the TPQ-37v8.

A built-in encrypted wireless radio can reach up to 1 km away, allowing operators to disperse and make themselves more difficult targets. Soldiers can use a pair of ruggedized Linux laptop computers to handle operations from anywhere in range, or work from the climate-controlled shelter vehicle.

EQ-36/ TPQ-53: Program and Industrial Team Old: TPQ-36 Firefinder
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The initial Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) contract for 5 radars was issued in January 2007. In spring 2007, the prototype completed successful counterfire target acquisition testing in both 90- and 360-degree modes at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, AZ. In summer 2007, the system completed successful air surveillance testing at White Sands Missile Range in White Sands, NM. A prototype was unveiled in October 2007, and the 1st system was delivered to the Army in summer 2009. By late 2010, the first EQ-36 systems were deployed in Iraq & Afghanistan.

An August 2011 option raised the EQ-36’s QRC order total to 36 systems (4 + 12 + 17 + 3), though some official documents place the number at 38. Another 65 AN/TPY-53 radars were ordered later, following the Milestone C update decision that launched low-rate initial production.

Over the longer term, the potential exists for $1.6+ billion in orders, covering all QRC units + 136 radars in the program of record. The Full Rate Production decision is scheduled for Q4 FY 2014.

Industrial team members for the EQ-36 program include Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors (MS2):

  • Lockheed Martin MS2 in Syracuse, NY (Program lead, antenna array, digital module assemblies);
  • Lockheed Martin MS2 in Moorestown, NJ, facility (transmit/receive modules);
  • Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support, in Orlando, FL (TPQ-53 training system and curriculum);
  • Burtek, Inc. in Chesterfield, MI (operations shelter and stationary platform);
  • Syracuse Research Corp. in Syracuse, NY (digital signal processor);
  • Tobyhanna Army Depot in Tobyhanna, PA (maintenance support).

Contracts and Key Events

The radar is an American product, with the USA as its founding and largest customer. As such, timelines and divisions use American fiscal years, which end on September 30th.

FY 2014 – 2016

13 more for USA under MYP; Singapore’s export request. TPQ-53 system
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February 9/16: Testing of the Q-53 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar System in June 2015 has shown the radar is having difficulty detecting volley-fired mortars. While the second initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) found the system effective against single-fired rockets, artillery, and mortar munitions, it was unable to handle the detection of more than one munition fired at the same time, according to Michael Gilmore’s annual Operational Test & Evaluation report. The radar also struggled to identify the difference between a mortar, a rocket, and artillery. The Army, however, has stated that the radars have been working well in operational environments, and plans are to increase performance in high clutter environments with development and integration of software upgrades in 2019, with more testing planned for 240 mm and 122 mm munitions not assessed in previous tests.

April 7/14: Support. Lockheed Martin in Liverpool, NY receives a $9.1 million contract modification for interim contractor ssupport of the AN/TPQ-53 radar fleet.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 Army budgets. Work will continue until Sept 30/14, and will be performed in Liverpool, NY. US Army Contracting Command in Aberdeen, MD manages the comntract (W15P7T-06-C-T004 P00092).

March 28/14: +14. Lockheed Martin in Liverpool, NY receives a $145.9 million contract modification for another 13 AN/TPQ-53 radar systems, along with 13 corresponding sets of on-board spares. This is the 4th installment under the March 13/12 multi-year contract, and brings orders to $751 million: 65 systems over 4 phases.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY14 US Army budgets. Work will be performed in Liverpool, NY, with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/16. US Army Contracting Command in Aberdeen, MD manages the contract (W15P7T-12-C-C015, PO 0022).

Oct 8/13: Singapore. The US DSCA announces Singapore’s export request for up to 6 AN/TPQ-53(V) Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar Systems (CTARS) with 120 degree sector scan capability, along with generators, power units, a simulator, a live fire exercise (!), tool and test equipment, spare and repair parts, repair & return services, software support, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, communication support equipment, personnel training, and other forms of US Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $179 million.

Singapore would be the radar’s 1st export customer. Their forces do deploy abroad, where CTARS capability will be very useful. At home, the city-state’s small size also makes them inherently vulnerable if problems in neighboring countries should allow local terrorists to acquire ballistic rockets.

The principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin in Syracuse, NY. If a sale is negotiated, they’ll need Government and contractor representatives in Singapore for 6 weeks to support equipment deprocessing/fielding, systems checkout and new equipment training. Source: US DSCA, Oct 8/13.

DSCA: Singapore

FY 2012 – 2013

Multi-year contract; Milestone C approval; Initial fielding; Future competition? AUSA 2011
(click to view video)

June 27/13: +19. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Liverpool, NY receives a $206.9 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to procure AN/TPQ-53 Radar Systems and corresponding spare parts, using a combination of FY 2012 and 2012 funds. Lockheed Martin sets the number at 19 radar systems, and this order brings the cumulative total face value of this contract is $605.1 million over the low-rate initial production contract, with 52 systems ordered over 3 phases.

Work will be performed in Syracuse, NY. US Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD manages this contract (W15P7T-12-C-C015, PO 0010). Sources: Pentagon, Lockheed Martin Aug 26/13 release.

March 12/13: Support. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Liverpool, NY receives a $12 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, to provide interim contractor support for the AN/TPQ-53 radar system.

Work will be performed in Liverpool, NY until the end of FY 2013 on Sept 30/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W15P7T-06-C-T004).

Dec 19/12 – Jan 17/13: future competition for FRP? PM Radars issues a Sources Sought request to determine whether reintroducing competition for Full Rate Production (FRP) may be possible in FY 2014. In other words, this is not an RFP to displace incumbent Lockheed Martin just yet, but it’s the homework that might create the option to do so.

The Army anticipates an FRP contract in Q4 FY 2014, as a single award, firm fixed price (FFP) contract comprised of a base year, with multiple separately priced options and range quantities. Spares, new equipment training, and technical manuals will also be acquired on a FFP basis. This would lead to the acquisition of about 70 systems over 4 years. Key factors in the source selection process include a Live Ammunition System Demonstration (LASD) planned for the first half of FY 2014. Data witnessed by the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) will not be an adequate substitute to participating in the live demo.

The submission date for this information request, originally set to Jan 14, 2013, is later postponed to Feb. 12. The FRP RFP itself is planned for release in Q4 FY 2013, with an award in Q3 FY 2014. FBO: W15P7T-13-R-C113.

Jan 2013: DOTE report. In its FY2012 report, the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation notes reliability improvements, with less frequent system aborts than the 2011 system demonstration’s 1 per 30 hours. Some of these original issues were attributed to user documentation and training, which slated for further improvement.

Even so, the results show a fallback from vast improvements after initial configuration changes, to a final configuration figure of 1 abort every 75 hours during limited testing. Initial Operational Test & Evaluation is scheduled for fall 2013, and the radars will need a big jump to hit required reliability levels of 1 abort every 257 hours.

A Limited User Test (LUT) took place in the fall of 2012, but that’s in FY 2013, and so it isn’t covered in the 2012 annual report.

Oct 17/12: Add other functions? The US Army announces that it has begun fielding the AN/TPQ-53, and the Humvee-mounted AN/TPQ-50 Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar, to protect forward-deployed forces. They also discuss a number of the AN/TPQ-53 system’s features, and reveal that the Army is considering software upgrades that would add general air surveillance radar capabilities against helicopters, UAVs, cruise missiles, and aircraft. Note that the radar’s antenna is heavily derived from the 2002 MMR ATO radar project, which already contemplated air volume search as a mission.

One indication that the Army is serious is that they’re moving the program from PEO IEWS Product Manager Radars, to PEO Missiles and Space. That will organize air defense radars under the same organizational umbrella as the counter-fire radars. US Army.

April 20/12: +21. Lockheed Martin issues a release citing $391 million in US Army contracts for 33 TPQ-53 systems.

Asked for clarification, the firm explains that the US Army has exercised its 2nd option under the contract since the March 13/12 announcement, adding another $225 million for another 21 systems (W15P7T-12-C-C015).

April 2/12: Lockheed Martin MS2 Radar Systems in Liverpool, NY receives a $23.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, for services “in support of the EQ-36 radar” through April 30/13.

Work will be performed in Liverpool, NY. The original bid was solicited through the Internet, with 3 bids received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Fort Monmouth, NJ (W15P7T-06-C-T004).

March 13/12: Multi-year contract. Lockheed Martin Mission System and Sensors in Liverpool, NY receives a $166 million firm-fixed-price contract for 12 “enhanced AN/TPQ-36” (now called AN/TPQ-53) radar systems, including spares, testing, and training materials.

This means that Lockheed Martin will be the producer for the EQ-36 program of record, which could rise to 136 systems. It’s also the 1st installment of a larger $881 million contract, which could end up buying up to 51 low-rate production systems, plus Limited User Test (LUT) and Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) services.

Work will be performed in Liverpool, NY, with an estimated completion date of Feb 28/17. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 1 bid received. The US Army Contracting Command at Fort Monmouth, NJ manages the contract (W15P7T-12-C-C015). See also US Army PEO IEW&S, Aug 15/11 entry | Lockheed Martin.

Multi-year contract

February 2012: Despite the issues noted in the DOT&E report, the TPQ-53 radar receives Milestone C clearance, allowing it to go ahead to Low-Rate Initial Production. Source.

Milestone C

Jan 17/12: Test reports. The Pentagon releases the FY 2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The “Enhanced AN/TPQ-36 (EQ-36) Radar System” is included. The Army conducted 3 Live Ammunition System Demonstration (LASD) radar test events at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in October 2010, January 2011, and June 2011. Unfortunately, the DOT&E office reports that the systems had problems with reliability and accuracy:

“Based on radar testing at Yuma Proving Ground and Army reporting from theater to date, radar reliability remains poor and is well below system requirements… one system abort every 30 hours [instead of 1 per] 185 hours… provided accurate locations of most rocket, artillery, and mortars systems… [but] has difficulty detecting certain types of rockets and artillery rounds. Using updated software, the QRC AN/TPQ-53 radar demonstrated improvements in reducing the rate of misclassifying aircraft as threat projectiles in the 90-degree and 360-degree modes… June 2011 testing, the QRC AN/TPQ-53 radar decreased the rate of [false positives, but]… misclassifying and false location reporting rates remain below the Program of Record requirement of one false report in 12 hours.”

FY 2008 – 2011

1st delivery. New name. TPQ-53 on truck
(click to view full)

September 2011: TPQ-53. The EQ-36 gets a formal designation change, to the less-confusing QRC(Quick Reaction Capability) AN/TPQ-53. The Army will select the Program of Record EQ-36 radar contractor some time in FY 2012, to produce up to 136 systems. Source: 2011 DOT&E report.

Designation change

Aug 15/11: Army Contracting Command (ACC) APG-C4ISR, in Aberdeen, MD announces that it intends to buy more EQ-36 radar systems, to begin Program of Record purchases instead of the Quick Reaction Capability buys to date.

The solicitation for Full Rate Production (FRP) was first posted on Feb 16/11 at an estimated value of $940 million. The response date has been postponed by 30 days to Sept 14/11, under “Best Value” consideration and Firm Fixed Price (FFP) pricing. A June 30/11 revision addressed inconsistencies on desired quantities that had built up since the presolicitation. The planned production schedule for this 5-year contract is currently set to 12 Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) units in FY 2013, 23 LRIP units in FY 2015, and 32 Full-Rate Production (FRP) units in FY 2016, for a total of 67 systems (W15P7T-11-R-T201)., ASFI.

Aug 15/11: +3. A $91.5 million firm-fixed-price cost-plus-fixed-fee award modifies Lockheed Martin’s April 14/10 contract, raising it to 20 EQ-36 systems: 4 EQ-36 radar systems with armored Sustained Operation Group (SOG) and Mission Essential Group (MEG) equipment, and 16 EQ-36 systems with standard SOG and MEGs.

Work will be performed in Liverpool, NY, with an estimated completion date of July 30/12 (W15P7T-06-C-T004). By our records, this appears to raise the order total to 54 systems, though DOT&E figures place QRC buys at just 38 systems.

3 more systems

Oct 26/10: Deployment. Lockheed Martin announces that the U.S. Army has deployed the first AN/TPQ-36 (EQ-36) radars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


June 21/10: Sub-contractors. Donaldson Company announces that the EQ-36 will use its patented StrataTube filtration technology to air-cool its electronics, without introducing dust and other contaminants. Current schedules have the final units for that initial 17-system June 2007 contract delivered by fall 2010.

Donaldson StrataTubes use inertial force to spin dust and other contaminants out of the air stream, but have no moving parts to wear out or break, and are maintenance-free. Custom designed EQ-36 Strata panels are included in the radar’s antenna and pedestal systems, and it joins other StrataTube using military devices like the M1 Abrams tank and H-60 family of helicopters.

April 14/10: +17. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Syracuse, NY receives a sole-source $108.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for 17 enhanced AN/TPQ-36 (EQ-36) radar systems, plus associated sustained operational group and mission essential group (MEG) non-recurring engineering and MEG installation. Work is to be performed in Syracuse, NY, with an estimated completion date of Oct 8/10. The US CECOM Acquisition Center in Fort Monmouth, NJ manages the contract (W15P7T-06-C-T004).

This award is made under an unfinalized contract, and commits 49% of the estimated final value. Lockheed Martin has confirmed to DID that this is a new radar order, which would make 34 radars ordered so far.

17 more Radars

July 2/09: 1st delivery. Lockheed Martin delivers the first EQ-36 Radar System to the U.S. Army on time, following successful live-fire performance testing against indirect fire from mortars, artillery and rockets this spring at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The effort also included engineering, contractor and government acceptance testing.

To accelerate the fielding of the EQ-36 radar, the U.S. Army in June 2008 exercised contract options with Lockheed Martin for 12 additional systems, which will include enhanced performance capabilities. With production for both orders now running in parallel, and the 12-radar order accelerated, all 17 of the EQ-36 systems are expected to be delivered by fall 2010. Lockheed Martin.

1st delivery

April 29/09: Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Liverpool, NY receives a $20.7 million firm-fixed-price contract that buys spares for the 12 initial production Enhanced AN/TPQ-36 Radar Systems.

Work is to be performed in Liverpool, NY, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/10. One sole source was bid solicited from the radar’s manufacturer and one bid was received by the CECOM Acquisition Center in Fort Monmouth, NJ (W15P7T-06-C-T004).

FY 2006 – 2008

SDD; CDR. EQ-36 at Yuma
(click to view full)

July 29/08: +12. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Support in Syracuse, NY receives an $84.3 million firm-fixed-price contract to accelerate the production and delivery of the 12 Enhanced AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder Initial Production Radar Systems (EQ-36), which were listed as options within the initial development contract. Those options were reportedly exercised in June 2008.

Work will be performed in Syracuse, NY, and is expected to be complete by Oct 25/10. There was one bid solicited on March 23/08, and 1 bid was received by the CECOM Acquisition Center in Fort Monmouth, NJ activity (W15-P7T-06-C-T004)

March 2008: EQ-36 program successfully completes its Critical Design Review. Source.


Nov-Dec 2007: Testing. A prototype EQ-36 radar built by industry partner SRC is tested against mortars and rockets at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. During the tests, the EQ-36 prototype successfully located the firing positions of both rocket and mortar launchers. Lockheed Martin says that live fire testing was conducted over a 7 day period without a single false alarm.

October 2007: EQ-36 program successfully completes its Preliminary Design Review. Lockheed Martin.

Oct 9/07: Lockheed Martin unveils an EQ-36 prototype.

Rollout & PDR

Sept 27/06: Development + 5. Lockheed Martin’s contract win of up to $120 million, issued by the Army’s Program Executive Officer-Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO-IEW and S).

The original release says that the company is directed to provide the Army with 5 Enhanced AN/TPQ-36 radars, within 36 months (W15P7T-06-C-T004). Subsequent conversations with Lockheed Martin reveal that this stage included just 4. The firm uses key technology from the MMR ATO program, especially the antenna/ emitter. Lockheed Martin release.


2002: MMR ATO. Contract to Syracuse Research Corp. (SRC) for a “Multi-Mission Radar, Advanced Technology Objective”. The radar is designed to perform C-RAM/ Firefinder, Air volume search, Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD), and Air Traffic Control functions.

For this demonstration project, Lockheed Martin is a sub-contractor. The radar turns out to be a TPQ-53 precursor. Later, the roles flip to make SRC a Lockheed sub-contractor, with responsibility for the radar’s core Digital Signal Processor.

Additional Readings

  • Lockheed Martin – TPQ-53 Radar System. Formerly called the EQ-36, or Enhanced AN/TPQ-36 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar. Still referred to that way in some contracts.

Competitors and predecessors include…

Categories: News

Brazil’s Gripen Acquisition Still Under Contention | Belarus Plans to Replace Mig-29s with Su-30s | Japanese Observers Saw NK Missile Break in Pieces

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 00:20

  • The US Department of Defense will acquire 404 F-35 fighters over the next five years. That number is a decrease of 5-7% on last year’s plan. The order will see $40 billion in revenue going to manufacturer Lockheed Martin and engine maker Pratt & Whitney. The deviation from last year’s plan comes as the Pentagon is shifting orders away from models ordered for the Air Force instead giving preference to the Navy & Marine Corps models. The coming years will see a total of 2,457 F-35s spread around all three military branches.

  • The case involving alleged corruption over Brazil’s acquisition of 36 Saab Gripen fighters is to be reopened by prosecutors. The $5.4 billion purchase had been subject to an investigation by authorities last April, but collapsed due to lack of evidence in September. Federal authorities, however, have said that they will reopen the investigation into the deal since new evidence came to light during an investigation into tax fraud. The first of the jets are scheduled to be delivered in early 2018.

Middle East North Africa

  • Kuwait’s delayed signing of a deal to buy 28 Eurofighters was caused by the country’s State Audit Bureau. The Bureau’s approval is needed for any sale to go through with auditors requesting information from Finmeccanica and Eurofighter on technical support, training, spare parts and the construction of support facilities. The $8.9 billion deal was supposed to be signed on January 31 with visiting Italian officials, but further delays to any deal seem likely. Discussions between parliament and the Bureau are still ongoing, with disagreements also over the price of the deal, most of which will go to Finmeccania. While Boeing’s F/A Super Hornets were the initial choice by the Air Force, US delays in approval have increasingly become a bone of contention for Gulf nations awaiting military hardware.

  • A North African country is to receive 50 MiG-29M/M2 with deputy director general of Rosoboronexport, Alexey Beskibalov, calling it the largest contract in the history of military-technical cooperation. While not mentioning the country involved, he did say the contract was signed in April 2015. This would coincide with reports of Egypt agreeing to buy 46 of the fighters in a deal worth around $2 billion. The first two of the 4th generation fighters are set to be shipped later this year.

  • Egyptian Navy crews have arrived in France to prepare for the delivery of two Mistral helicopter carriers due in June and September. Training will continue until the end of March. The French built vessels, which had been originally destined for Russia, have subsequently had their communications equipment replaced with Egyptian systems. In a separate deal, Egypt will purchase navalized versions of the Ka-52K attack helicopter designed for the Russian purchase. With the initial sale to Moscow billed at around $1.3 billion, Egypt has enjoyed a slight reduction, purchasing the vessels for $1 billion.


  • BAE Systems Striker II helmet-mounted display (HMD) is nearing the end of development after completing a flight-test campaign to validate its integrated night vision capability. The Striker II was developed as an alternative system for the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter, but was subsequently dropped in favour of the original Vision Systems International design. It subsequently has been qualified on the Eurofighter Typhoon but is still awaiting on receiving a production contract. BAE still remains confident in picking up future contracts as it’s adopted by fighters while continuing in to look at incorporating new technologies such as eye tracking, blink control, and medical, sport and neurological technology.

  • Belarus has concluded a preliminary deal to purchase Su-30 fighters from Russia’s Irkut Corporation. The new jets will replace the Belarussian Air Force’s aging MiG-29s after reports in October 2015 stating the deal could be done by 2020. Some of the MiG-29s have been in service for nearly 30 years with fleet renewal becoming a more cost effective method than constant maintenance. The Su-30 will also allow for much greater operational capabilities including increased range and targeting abilities. Belarus remains one of Russia’s only allies in eastern Europe as more former Communist-era states are increasing their military capabilities with NATO.

Asia Pacific

  • Yesterday’s launching of a long-range rocket on Sunday has drawn condemnation from the international community with the UN Security Council vowing fresh sanctions. Pyongyang claimed that the rocket was for the purpose of placing a satellite in orbit, however critics believe it may have been a ballistic missile test. The launch follows a spate of recent testing, including last month’s nuclear test, and a failed attempt at a Submarine launched ballistic missile in December. Japanese observations of the launch, which saw the rocket fly over their airspace, said that the rocket broke into five parts in various places in the Yellow Sea, west of the Korean peninsula and the East China Sea. No interceptor was fired by Japanese forces.

Today’s Video

  • The latest ad from Northrop Grumman introducing the 6th Generation fighter concept:

Categories: News

Egypt Buys Mistrals; Kitting Out With KA-52 & KA-52K

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 00:18
RFS Vladivostok,
DCNS concept
(click to view full)

In August 2009, Russian media reported that their country was planning to take a radical step, and buy a French BPC-210 Mistral Class amphibious assault ship (BPC/LHD) by the end of 2009. The outlet quoted the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who said that: “We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present, and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships [of the same class] to be jointly built in Russia.” That plan eventually came true, with a contract for 2 ships, and a possible follow-on for 2 more.

France currently operates 3 Mistral Class LHDs, after buying a 3rd using economic stimulus funds. Unlike other LHD designs, the Mistral Class can’t operate fixed wing aircraft, and some observers in Russia and elsewhere classify at as an LHA. Regardless, it’s an important tool of power projection. Mistral Class ships can carry and deploy up to 16 helicopters, including attack helicopters like France’s Tiger or Russia’s Ka-50/52. Their main punch revolves around 4 landing barges or 2 medium hovercraft, however, which deliver armored vehicles, tanks, and soldiers to shore. Vessels of this class are equipped with a 69-bed hospital, and could be used as amphibious command ships.

Russia wants that kind of versatility – even as her neighbors fear it. After Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and the continued covert war in Eastern Ukraine, this contract became a major point of contention between Russia and NATO members.

Mistral’s Meaning: A Method to their Madness? Mistral LHD

The Russian order represented an extension of some larger trends, but it was still a sea change on several fronts: strategic, tactical, and industrial.

Strategic: For one thing, it’s the first major arms import deal since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. That, in itself, is a huge shift. The second big change is that Russia’s current defense procurement program through 2015 didn’t even envision the construction or purchase of large combat ships.

Clearly, Russian thinking is changing. The Pacific is becoming a critical strategic theater, and Russia has placed extra strategic emphasis on its influence networks in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mistral Class LHDs, designed for both a large helicopter aviation role as well as amphibious landing and support of troops, would go a long way toward improving Russia’s capabilities in these areas.

February 2011 reports had suggested that the first 2 ships would be deployed to the Pacific Fleet near Vladivostok, but it’s certainly possible to shift the ships to other theaters given enough time, infrastructure, and planning.

By 2014, with Crimea annexed, a civil war in the Ukraine, and the Middle East facing a modern production of the 30 Years’ War, Moscow was talking about basing the ships in their namesake home ports: RFS Vladivostok on the Pacific at Uliss Bay, near Vladivostok; and RFS Sevastopol in newly-annexed Crimea’s port of Sevastopol.

(click to view full)

Tactical: Control of littoral regions, which includes large stretches of Russia’s coasts, zones like the Baltic Sea and much of the Black Sea, and influence along Middle Eastern coasts, depends heavily on helicopters and UAVs. Russian naval capabilities are limited in these areas, and during the recent war with Georgia, Russia failed to control the Georgian coast.

Russia’s Mistral Class ships will carry Ka-29K utility helicopters, and navalized Ka-52K Alligator coaxial scout/attack helicopters. Other possibilities include anti-submarine helicopters, radar-carrying airborne early warning helicopters, and UAVs.

When this potent aviation punch is combined with the ships’ troop landing capabilities, the new class offers Russia a whole new dimension of offensive and influence operations.

Industrial: The other aspect of the government’s changing thinking may well be industrial. Russia’s shipbuilding industry is clearly experiencing difficulties. Major shipbuilders have defaulted on commercial contracts, and fiascos like the Admiral Gorshkov refit for India have blackened the global reputation of Russian defense products. Any Mistral Class ship built in Russia would represent a naval project whose scale Russia hadn’t seen in well over a decade – which is why initial construction will take place in France. The fact that Russia was even discussing a Mistral buy indicated a certain lack of confidence in Russian shipbuilding.

On the other hand, this Mistral order may be an opportunity for Russian shipbuilding. If construction in Russia is preceded by training in France, as the first ships are built. If engineering and project management expertise are brought back to those shipyards from France to supervise the Russian portion. If infrastructure investments are made within Russia. If all of those things are done, the Mistral order could represent a key step forward in revitalizing Russia’s naval defense sector, following its decimation in the wake of the Cold War.

France, Russia, and the “Competition” HNLMS Rotterdam
(click to view full)

The foundations for Franco-Russian cooperation on a program of this size have been laid on several fronts over the last few years. France’s Thales already provides components for Russia’s front line military equipment, from tank gunnery sights to avionics and targeting pods for Russian-built fighters. Recent memoranda of understanding for cooperation in naval R&D (Thales) and defense R&D more generally (EADS) build on the 2006 MoU between DCN and the Russian government to develop technical, industrial and commercial co-operations between the Mistral’s builder and Russia’s naval defense industry.

Persistent reports from Russia indicated that the Mistral was not the only option Russia was investigating. Reports consistently cited Spain, where Navantia makes the BPE and related Canberra Class LHDs. These ships have a “ski ramp” up front that the Mistral lacks, and have the ability to operate STOL/STOVL fighters in addition to helicopters. The other country cited was the Netherlands. Royal Schelde’s Rotterdam Class is a more conventional LPD design with good helicopter capacity, but without a flattop deck.

In the end, it appears that these reports of interest served mostly as bargaining chips, in order to get better terms from the French for the ships that Russia had always wanted.

The Vladivostok Class LHDs Mistral Class LHD
(click to view – Francais)

Mistral Class ships are slightly smaller than contemporaries like Navantia’s BPE/ Canberra Class LHDs, or Italy’s Cavour Class aircraft carrier/LHDs, and lack the ski jump that gives their contemporaries fixed-wing aviation capability. Exercises off the American coast have demonstrated compatibility with heavy-lift helicopters in the front (#1) landing slot, however, and well deck compatibility with LCAC hovercraft as well as the conventional landing ships.

As such, the 21,300 ton Mistral Class “BPC” (Batiments de Projection et de Commandement) ships operate as helicopter carriers and amphibious assault transports, with secondary capabilities as command ships, and naval hospitals. Propulsion comes from 2 electric-powered maneuverable thruster pods, similar to those used on cruise ships, with 2 more bow thrusters for added maneuverability in tight situations. The Russian Vladivostok Class will include some unique features, but it will be strongly based on the Mistral Class.

Mistral Class vessels normally carry 450 equipped troops for up to 6 months, but can raise this figure to 700 troops or evacuees for short periods. Normal hospital capacity is 69 beds, with a fully-equipped operating room. That capacity can also be expanded in emergencies, by appropriating other ship spaces. The command post section is not expandable, but has workstations for up to 150 personnel.

Vehicle storage capacity is 2,650 square meters, accommodating an estimated 60 wheeled armored vehicles, or 46 vehicles plus 13 AMX-56 Leclerc medium tanks, or 40 tanks plus associated munitions. Russian T-90 tanks have roughly the same dimensions as a Leclerc.

To get those vehicles ashore, Mistral Class ships can carry a number of different landing vessels, including standard LCMs, American LCAC hovercraft, and France’s innovative L-CAT landing catamarans. A 2012 report suggests that Russia will become the 1st export customer for the 80t capacity L-CAT LCM, which can raise and lower its cargo floor to switch between high speed transport and on-shore unloading. Alternatives would involve the smaller Russian Project 11770 Serna LCU, or a modified Project 21280 Dyugon craft LCM with lowered masts.

Aviation Options Ka-31 AEW
(click to view full)

Mistral Class helicopter capacity is about 1,800 square meters, accommodating up to 16 machines with size “footprints” similar to the NH90 medium helicopter or Eurocopter Tiger scout/attack helicopter. The #1 landing spot, over the bow, has been tested with American CH-53E heavy-lift helicopters. It could accommodate most Russian helicopters for “lilly pad” operations, but the huge Mi-26 might be a stretch. Testing would be required, in order to know for sure.

Under current plans, Russia’s Vladivostok Class will carry Ka-52K Alligator coaxial scout/attack helicopters. The Ka-52s will add considerable attack punch, and their short range air-to-air missiles could make them extremely unpleasant for enemy fighters to tangle with.

They’ll also carry Ka-29TB utility helicopters, a slightly enlarged variant of the Russian “Helix family” design that’s optimized for troop transport and assault roles, with the ability to carry rockets and anti-tank missiles.

The Helix family is a larger set, however, with the slightly smaller Ka-27PL Helix operating as an anti-submarine helicopter, and the modified Ka-27PS available in a search and rescue role. The SAR role is necessary for any task force, and the Ka-27PL’s ASW role would be a useful capability. If Russia decided to add the Ka-31 Airborne Early Warning derivative on board, Vladivostok Class ships would be able to serve as true centerpieces of a naval task force.

Beyond those standard options, Russia’s UAV force is too nascent to factor in at this point, and indeed most of their operational UAVs are Israeli models. It would certainly be possible to operate Searcher II UAVs from a Mistral, but they aren’t armed, and could serve only in a reconnaissance role.

The key to any of these aviation capabilities is to add the necessary training and ancillary equipment investments.

Vladivostok Class: Weapons AK630 CIWS
(click to view full)

As noted above, the ship’s most important weapons will be its helicopters.

Beyond that, the Mistral Class is built to commercial standards, rather than naval combat standards, and currently carries very light defensive systems: 4 machine gun stations, a pair of 30mm guns, and a pair of manual Simbad twin-launchers for MBDA’s very short-range Mistral anti-aircraft missiles. Deployment in zones that feature anti-ship missiles, such as the 2006 evacuation off of Lebanon, requires protective escort ships.

The Vladivostok Class be be similarly armed. With respect to the transfer of French military technology, and especially questions raised about the SENIT-9 combat system and SIC-21 fleet command system, DCNS had this to say:

“A Russian combat management system will be installed on board in France. The communication system will integrate Russian communication equipment with French equipment. Some of these equipment will be installed and integrated with the French equipment, some Russian equipment will be installed in Russia. The radar is French. ESM(Electronic Support Measures, detects & pinpoints incoming radar emissions) is not planned on board. Only the pre-installation of the self-defence (A360, Gibkha) will be done in France. The installation will be done in Russia, after the delivery of the ship.”

AK-630 systems are Russian 30mm radar-aimed gatling guns used for close-in defense. Drawings from DCNS suggest that the Vladivostoks will carry 2 of these, along with 2 SA-N-10/ Gibkha 3M-47 quad-launchers fitted with 4 very short range SA-24 Grinch/ 9K338 Igla-S missiles. Four DP-65 anti-saboteur grenade launchers will also be scattered around the ship.

Other Russian Modifications Vladivostok launch

The Russian ships may include a number of changes, to the point of making them a variant class.

The biggest change appears to be an air wing of 30 helicopters, instead of 16, but that could be a mirage. Russian Ka-27/29/31 naval helicopters have smaller footprints than the Mistral’s base NH90, owing to their design, while the Ka-52 attack helicopter is comparable. Some natural increase to about 18 on board is possible, therefore, but the Russian official who gave that figure spoke of combined ship and land-based elements, in order to ensure fast rotation of the helicopters for repairs, or replace combat losses. Russian equipment doesn’t have an outstanding reliability record, and training will require set-asides, so a wing of 30 to deploy 16-18 helicopters is plausible.

Other helicopter-related changes include raised hangars to accommodate taller Russian coaxial designs. Changing overall ship height would change the ship’s balance, but squeezing other decks would change capacity for other key items. It will be interesting to see how the Russian design decides to cope.

Structurally, weather is the first priority. Operations within Russia’s Pacific and Northern fleets will require some hull strengthening to guard against ice damage, which may squeeze internal space a bit more, and parts of the flight deck will need more power for de-icing. The well deck door will reportedly close completely, eliminating the Mistrals’ top opening. Finally, drawings show a modified bridge structure with less protected forward visibility, and more and larger radomes around the ship to accommodate Russian equipment.

For Russian sailors, however, some of the Vladivostok Class’ most important features may be more basic: hot water to shower in, comfortable bunking quarters, etc. Given the state, age, and design philosophy of most current Russian navy vessels, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian Vladivostoks soon earn an unofficial sailor’s nickname with the word “Dacha” in it.

Contracts and Key Events 2014-2016

February 8/16: Egyptian Navy crews have arrived in France to prepare for the delivery of two Mistral helicopter carriers due in June and September. Training will continue until the end of March. The French built vessels, which had been originally destined for Russia, have subsequently had their communications equipment replaced with Egyptian systems. In a separate deal, Egypt will purchase navalized versions of the Ka-52K attack helicopter designed for the Russian purchase. With the initial sale to Moscow billed at around $1.3 billion, Egypt has enjoyed a slight reduction, purchasing the vessels for $1 billion.

November 11/15: Egyptian plans to acquire Ka-52K naval attack helicopters – reported in October – will not go ahead until the Russians have finished dismantling the sensitive equipment on board the Mistral LHDs they will equip. Russian specialists began removing sensitive communications systems, combat information systems and other equipment in September [Russian], after the Egyptians announced the acquisition of the two Mistrals, signing a contract in October. Completion of the removals is expected in November, with Egypt yet to submit a formal request for the helicopters.

October 22/15: Jane’s is reporting that Egypt is planning to order Kamov Ka-52K Katran helicopters to equip it’s newly-acquired Mistral LHDs, in addition to the 50 Ka-52 Alligator helicopters it signed for in September. The navalized Ka-52K was supposed to equip the Mistrals had they been delivered to Russia, with Moscow reportedly planning to acquire 16 Ka-52K helicopters per vessel.

October 2/15: The Mistral LHD resale to Egypt has cost the French taxpayer between EUR200 and EUR250 million, according to a report [French] delivered by the country’s Senate. Industry has also seen a loss of approximately EUR90 to EUR146 million, including profit loss and uninsured expenses such as maintenance. The two Mistrals previously destined for Russia are expected to be delivered to Egypt next year, following a deal announced earlier this month.

September 24/15: Egyptian and French leaders have negotiated a deal for the two Mistral LHDs owned by the French state following a deal with Moscow in August. The Egyptians are also reported to be in talks over acquiring two more Gowind corvettes, to supplement the four ordered in 2014. However, reports [French] indicated that there was a brief sticking point over the price of the two Mistrals. Reports from August indicated that Saudi Arabia [French] may be financing the Egyptians, with Malaysia also previously indicating interest in the Mistrals.

As France celebrates offloading the two vessels, French personnel began on Wednesday to remove sensitive Russian equipment [Russian] installed on the LHDs, joined by Russian experts to assist in the removal/prevent any unwanted prying into the systems. The systems are thought to collectively value around EUR50 million and include combat information systems, missile fire controls, helicopter landing modules and artillery systems.

September 15/15: With Egypt appearing to lead the pack of prospective buyers for the two French state-owned Mistral LHDs, the Russian government has reportedly indicated that if the North African state were to acquire the two ships then the sensitive Russian equipment installed on them could remain in place, after stating earlier this month that this equipment would be removed. The same reportedly goes for India, with both countries established markets for Russian military hardware. With reports indicating that Saudi Arabia may finance the acquisition of the vessels for Egypt, in order to leverage the country’s navy as a regional proxy, the Egyptians have recently purchased a number of French naval vessels, including a FREMM frigate and Gowind corvettes.

September 09/15: The sensitive work of removing Russian equipment from the Mistrals that France is refusing to deliver will take place in a few weeks. Among the sensitive systems are combat information control systems, missile fire control, and the helicopter landing control module.

August 28/15: France has reportedly returned Russia’s $900 million for failing to deliver the two Mistral class helicopter carriers it had manufactured. Interestingly, the Sputnik News report indicates that Russia feels it has a right to grant or withhold permission to France to resell the craft to a third nation. This could conceivably be the case were Russia contributing significant design work or classified specifications.

August 26/15: France is reportedly in talks with Malaysia to take on the two helicopter carriers initially purchased by Russia. France found it impolitic to sell to the Russians after various instances of Russian ill behavior. Malaysia joins a lengthening list of countries reportedly interested in the craft, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

August 10/15: Saudi Arabia is reportedly [French] looking to purchase France’s pair of Mistral LHDs for Egypt, following an agreement between Russia and France last week which opened up the possibility of a foreign buyer for the two ships. China expressed interest in the two ships when negotiations between Paris and Moscow began in May. Egypt has been a major customer for French shipyard DCNS in recent years, including a FREMM frigate and Gowind corvettes.

August 7/15: Moscow and Paris have reached an agreement over the Mistral LHDs currently sitting idle in St. Nazaire, with France cancelling the two contracts and returning Russia its sunk investment. The two ships are now property of the French state, which suspended their delivery in November last year in response to Russia’s support for separatists in Ukraine. Negotiations began in May, with the total amount to be paid by France reported to be less than the €1.2 billion value of the original June 2011 contract. The French government is now looking for possible buyers for the two ships, with several potential customers reportedly interested.

May 21/15: One of the Mistral LHDs originally destined for Russia departed St. Nazaire on Wednesday for a third set of sea trials. The Sébastopol is one of two Mistrals at the heart of a diplomatic spat between Paris and Moscow, with negotiations having begun earlier this week.

May 8/15: French newspaper Le Figaro has reported [French] that the French government may opt to scuttle the two Mistral-class LHDs originally built for Russia, with the French Navy having little desire [French] to integrate the ships into their own fleet. The French have held off delivering the two vessels, originally ordered in 2011, owing to Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Discussions between Russia’s Putin and France’s Hollande last month must have amounted to little, with the Russians previously pressing the French to make a decision on delivery by June.

April 14/15: Russian state defense export agency Rosoboronexport has stated that the French and Russian governments have two more contractually-stipulated months in the $1.5 billion Mistral contract to work out an agreement before Russia makes a decision based on the “terms and conditions set forth in the contract.”

March 4/15: 2nd ship to trials. France will soon have a second built-for-Russia Mistral class helicopter carrier on its hands. The first, the Vladivostok, is biding its time while France waits for a period during which Russia does not appear to be acting war-like against European allies. The second, the Sevastopol, should
start sea trials later this month.

Dec 11/14: negotiating tactics. Russia’s official TASS news agency relays a statement from “a high-rank source in the Russian defense sector” bearing the studied vagueness that is a trademark of Russian communications:

“The Navy has put construction of Russia’s own amphibious assault ships on a long-term program of shipbuilding for up to 2050 and these plans have been endorsed by the Defense Ministry. The document envisions (the emergence of) these ships, many such ships actually.”

Of course if Russia does want to do it alone they’re more than a decade away from having working ships, and if the Kremlin was confident in their own shipbuilding capabilities, they would not have gone to France in the first place. Russia obviously can’t come with an overnight homegrown substitute, but this is consistent with the overall messaging from Russia that they care, but not that much, and that they can operate with eyes set on a long term horizon. It sounds like the Russian are hedging to save face in case France does cancel the Mistral contract.

Sebastopol under construction

Dec 5-8/14: Politics. Jean-Yves Le Drian, in an interview discussing the French government’s ambiguous position, first repeated that ceasefire conditions needed to be fulfilled in Ukraine for the BPC delivery to proceed. Pressed by journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin the defense minister finally said that the Russians had to realize that “one may never deliver [the ships].” A new ceasefire is supposed to start on December 9.

In past months French officials had stuck to postponing then at most freezing delivery until genuinely peaceful conditions could be observed in Ukraine. Given that fighting redoubled since the September ceasefire, France has little choice but to start making firmer declarations. Some, but not all, politicians from the UMP and FN right-wing parties have have criticized the (left-wing) government for its contractual wobbling.

All along, Russia’s official response had been to downplay any delivery delay as long as France would eventually fulfill its contractual obligations. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also used starker language in a press conference held on December 5:

“We have already had enough of this issue, it’s not our problem, it’s the problem of France’s reputation. And next, the contract must be strictly fulfilled.”

On December 6 President Hollande met with his Russian counterpart. Putin said that Mistrals had not even been discussed, an assertion that strains credulity. By Monday Presidential aid Yuri Ushakov said that it would suit Russia if France returned their money.

Sources: BFM TV [Le Drian, video in French] | Elysee statement, Sept. 23/14 [in French] | ITAR-Tass [Lavrov] | BBC [ceasefire] | [French internal politics] | ITAR [accepting a refund].

Nov. 28/14: Theft aboard Mistral #2. The public prosecutor in Saint Nazaire, the French port where the Sevastopol is under construction, told French media that computing hardware and communications software from Thales had been stolen aboard the ship. There was no confidential information on the equipment. The theft happened between November 18 and 25 and is under investigation. Source: Ouest France [in French].

Nov. 21/14: Sevastopol launch and DCNS liability. The 2nd Mistral ship was launched from its dry dock in Saint Nazaire, one month later than expected. Though Coface, France’s export insurance agency, is covering the contract, DCNS is reportedly exposed to a gap of about €200 million that the company is trying to get the government to pay if they end up blocking the sale. That’s about a whole year worth of profit for the state-owned shipbuilder. Source: L’Opinion [in French].

Nov. 14/14: Vladivostok MMSI. Activist website “No Mistral for Putin” – yes, there is a website for that – is outraged that the Maritime Mobile Service Identity showed the ship under Russian flag for about a day. DID was not witness to this and can’t corroborate.

Uliss Bay, 1908

Sept 3/14: Politics. French President Francois Hollande issued a statement that RIA Novosti quoted as follows:

“The [French] security council has studied the situation in Ukraine. It is difficult. Russia’s recent actions in eastern Ukraine violate the principles of European security. The president of the republic stated that despite prospects for ceasefire, which is yet to be achieved and put into practice, present circumstances do not allow the delivery of the first helicopter carrier by France.”

The Russian military actually started training on the ship in June 2014, but the statement leaves lots of room to deliver the warship on Nov 1/14, or slightly later. With that said, other reports cite unnamed sources who say that the French are trying to figure out how to avoid added contract cancellation penalties, on top of the state-insured cost of refunding the 2-ship contract if it’s terminated. Pressure has been building on France, and the potential loss of equal or greater missile defense and attack helicopter competitions in Poland may be introducing new complications. Sources: Bloomberg, “France Said to Weigh Cost of Ditching Russia Mistral Deal” | Deutsche Welle, “France changes tack on Mistral warship delivery to Russia” | RIA Novosti, “France Puts Off Delivery of First Mistral-Class Helicopter Carrier to Russia” | Russia Today, “France says it cannot deliver Mistral warship to Russia over Ukraine” | Washington Post, “France backs off sending Mistral warship to Russia in $1.7 billion deal”.

Aug 5/14: Ka-52Ks ordered. IHS Jane’s reports that Russia has ordered its 32 Ka-52K helicopters for use with its Vladivostok Class LHDs. The order isn’t a surprise, it was just a question of when the contract would be placed. See “Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack Helicopters” for full coverage.

32 Ka-52K helicopters

July 30/14: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitiry Rogozin tells ITAR-TASS that if the 2nd Mistral ship is held up, Russia will pursue full contract penalties, then build an aircraft carrier on its own. Not only did they delivery INS Vikramaditya to India, but “…now we have shipyards with dry docks in Crimea and they presuppose ability to build ships of this class.”

That may be true, but standing up a new project of this scale in a new shipyard isn’t trivial, and creates both extra costs and cost ovverruns. India ended up paying $2.9 billion for Vikramaditya, which was modified from the pre-existing Admiral Gorshkov. If one somehow assumed that Russia could build a new one for just $2 billion, which strikes us as unlikely, it would still be more than double the cost of a Vladivostok Class ship. ITAR-TASS, “Russia to build own aircraft carrier if France annuls Mistral supplies — deputy PM”.

July 27/14: Basing. Russia seems to be changing its mind, and now plans to deploy a Mistral ship with the 5th Squadron in the Black Sea, where its focus would project into the Eastern Mediterranean:

“The Russian navy said during Sunday’s Navy Day celebrations that a French-made Mistral-class carrier will become the flagship of its budding Mediterranean Fleet, while Western leaders continue to pressure Paris into withholding the delivery of the warships…. A navy spokesman told Interfax on Sunday that the second ship has “every opportunity” to become the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet by 2016…. The Black Sea Fleet’s admiral, Alexander Vitko, said Sunday that …. “We have begun the construction of new naval stations and airfields”… adding that new aircraft for the fleet have already been flown in…. Looking further ahead, the Black Sea Fleet will receive 20 new vessels by 2020, Vitko said…”

RFS Sevastopol’s delivery is expected in 2015, so the article’s assertion that meeting this basing schedule would force RFS Vladivostok to be deployed in Crimea is wrong. Sources: Moscow Times, “Second Mistral Warship to Head Russia’s Mediterranean Fleet”.

July 22/14: France will still deliver RFS Vladivostok on schedule, despite criticism from the USA, UK, and other NATO countries. Indeed, President Hollande hits back at Britain for allowing so many Russian oligarchs and their finances in London, while continuing to export military equipment themselves. With respect to the sale, Hollande says:

“For the time being, a level of sanctions [“level 3″] has not been decided on that would prevent this delivery…. Does that mean that the rest of the contract – the second Mistral – can be carried through? That depends on Russia’s attitude”

Since level 3 sanctions against the entire Russian economy are extremely unlikely no matter what, Hollande is essentially saying that the sale will go through. Sources: Bloomberg, “Hollande Threat to Cancel Russia Mistral Warship May Be Empty” | EurActiv, “Hollande: Delivery of second Mistral warship depends on Russia’s ‘attitude'” | Moscow Times, “Under Fire, France Stands by Mistral Warship Sale to Russia” | RIA Novosti, “France Must Adhere to Mistral Contract Instead of Blackmailing Moscow – Russian Lawmaker” | RIA Novosti, “UK Continues Exporting Arms to Russia Despite Call for New Sanctions” | Voice of America, “France Criticized for Warships Contract with Moscow” || UK Parliament, “MPs call for tightening over arms exports for external repression” | Moscow times, “Cameron: Selling Mistral to Russia Is Now Unthinkable; Hollande Disagrees” | The Telegraph, “French lash out at British ‘hypocrisy’ over Russian oligarchs” .

July 17/14: MH17. Russian-backed separatists, who fight alongside Russian special forces units in Ukraine’s civil war, use an SA-11 missile to destroy a Malaysian Airlines 777 flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The plane it hit while flying at 33,000 feet, and all 298 people on board are killed.

MH17 shot down

June 5/14: Politics. Germany steps in and defends France’s willingness to honor their contract with Russia. Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“The question of exports to Russia falls under [EU sanctions] stage three. About when to trigger stage three, if there is more destabilisation we have agreed, also myself bilaterally with the US President, that if [Ukrainian] elections take place we won’t trigger stage three. We see elections have taken place successfully….”

Poland has added their voice to public opposition, which may well cost France a major air and missile defense contract there. Regardless, French President Hollande is holding to the same position Germany is articulating, promising that the Vladivostok would be delivered in October 2014. Meanwhile, the article quote an anonymous EU diplomat asking why France should pay a price, when UK oil firm BP has just signed a major deal with Rosneft. All very predictable. Sources: EU Observer, “Germany backs France on Russia warship contract” | Le Monde, “La Pologne opposée a la vente de Mistral a Moscou” | Vice Magazine, “Why Is France Building Warships For Russia?”.

May 29/14: Politics. Eliot Engel [D-NY], Ranking Member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, writes to NATO’s Secretary General, urging the alliance to buy France’s 2 Vladivostok (Mistral) Class LHD ships as a pooled asset, instead of selling them to Russia. He’s joined by Rep. Michael Turner [R-OH, Chair of the US delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly], and Rep. William Keating [D-MA, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging threats].

The idea makes sense on paper, because it fills a critical military gap. But the lawmakers’ obliviousness to France’s position, and to the reality of European defense budgets, is stereotypically American – in a bad way. It doesn’t help that the USA is reportedly about to try fining France’s Bank Paribas $10 billion for violating sanctions against Sudan and Iran. They’re guilty, but rightly or wrongly, France is less likely to listen to American offers under these circumstances. More to the point, any offer of this nature needs to be serious, and come with serious financial backing. Hope is not a plan. Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs Democrats, “Engel: Stop Sale Of French Warships To Russia” | The Economist, “The fine on BNP Paribas: How much is too much?” | Les Echoes, “Quand l’Amérique perd la raison”.

Feb 26 – March 18/14: Crimea annexed. Massive street protests force Ukrainian President Yanukovych to flee, shortly after he signs treaties that abandon relationships with the EU and tie Ukraine to Russia. Yanukovych signed with a metaphorical economic gun to his head, but the guns quickly become real as Russian troops without identifying markings begin capturing Crimea’s Parliament building, key airports, etc. On March 18/14, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexes Crimea into Russia, including the key naval base of Sevastopol, after a hurried referendum takes place in that region.

Very limited American sanctions draw open and public disdain from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and Europe’s response is equally weak despite its bluster. France provides Exhibit B in this farce, and validates Russia’s confidence that European governments can be had.

In the interview with France’s TF1 channel, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warns Russia against further “escalations” in Ukraine, which at this point would involve invasion and annexation of eastern Ukraine. “If Putin carries on like this, we could consider canceling the sales [of the Mistral ships],” he says. By the next day, he’s backtracking, saying that “What is being envisaged is the suspension of these contracts [not cancellation – suspension until when?] but … that would only be in the event of us moving to a third level of sanctions and we are not there yet…” Getting to that level would, of course, involve a consensus within the EU that won’t happen, along with financial sanctions against Russian oligarch assets imposed by a British government that’s showing no inclination to do so. Putin’s speech proclaiming Crimean independence says that Russia has no further intentions in Ukraine, which seems to rule out escalation anyway. Meanwhile, Rogozin decides that it’s France’s turn as the target of his Twitter account:

“France is starting to undermine confidence it is a reliable provider in the very sensitive sector of military and technical cooperation…. All those political waves around the referendum in Crimea will soon subside, but our countries will have to continue working together…”

One presumes that traditional diplomatic cables and notes are reserved for countries one actually respects. Sources: Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti, “France May Scrap Russian Warship Deal Over Ukraine Crisis” | Canada’s CBC, “Vladimir Putin defends Crimea vote in Moscow speech” | CNN, “Ukraine cries ‘robbery’ as Russia annexes Crimea” | Der Spiegel, “Ticking Timebomb: Moscow Moves to Destabilize Eastern Ukraine”.

Crimea annexed by Russia

Feb 11/14: Infrasructure. Russia has begun expanding the naval facilities at Uliss Bay, near Vladivostok, to house their new ship. Things look a lot better than they did in 1908, but it’s still going to be a lot of work. A 1.6 km berth will be created by extending the naval base’s quay to 2,700 meters, access roads and railways will be upgraded, they’ll “drastically” modernize the ammunition loading site, and existing water, electricity and communications systems will all get replaced.

Pacific Fleet commander Rear Admiral Sergei Avakyants said that basic infrastructure will be finished by October 2015, while the base will be ready to host the ships by the beginning of 2018. If they’re lucky, the construction standard will be better than the Olympic facilities in Sochi. Sources: RIA Novosti, “Russia Begins Construction of Mistral Ship Base”.


Construction. Schedule. STX St. Nazaire
(click to view full)

Oct 4/13: A “high-ranking defense industry official” adds some precision to Vladivostok’s final delivery date, telling RIA Novosti that it’s Nov 1/14. Sources: RIA Novosti, “Russia to Receive First Mistral Warship in November 2014”.

June 26/13: Sub-contractors. RIA Novosti reports that Baltiisky shipyard has floated out the Valdivostok’s stern, for towing to France on July 8/13 and an expected arrival at the main shipyard in on July 25/13. Vladivostok is scheduled for structural completion and float-out at Saint-Nazaire, France on Oct 15/13.

June 18/13: More for France. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov tells reporters that stern construction for the first-of-class Vladivostok was being moved from the Severnaya Verf shipyard in St. Petersburg to the shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France for completion. It became clear to the Russians that their own shipyard wasn’t going to meet the deadline, and “we won’t take risks so as not to delay the contract”.

The Russians are hoping to move the completed ship to Russia as early as October 2013, in order to install Russian weapons, combat system, communication equipment, etc., and prepare the ship for delivery in 2014. The 2nd ship, Sevastopol, is scheduled for 2015 delivery, so Severnaya Verf will need to get it together fast. RIA Novosti.

June 17/13: Keel laying. The keel is officially laid for the future RFS Vladivostok. Source.

May 5/13: Industrial. South Korea’s STX group reportedly plans to sell its 66% stake in the St. Nazaire shipyard. The French state holds the other 34%. The South Koreans appear to have decided that the Vladivostok contract, and a December 2012 contract to build a large cruise ship for Royal Caribbean, aren’t enough for long-term success.

In order to sell, of course, they need a buyer. State nationalization is one option, but what does that really do for French politicians? Sources: Liberation, “Les chantiers de Saint-Nazaire entre deux eaux”.

March 17/13: Naval Recognition offers additional background concerning the new Vladivostok Class weapons and modifications from the initial Mistral design.

Jan 24-26/13: Taking fire. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin criticizes the Mistral Class while addressing a meeting of the Academy of Military Science:

“It’s very odd that ships for offloading a landing force, floating in our latitudes won’t work in temperatures below 7 degrees (Celsius)….”

That would be very odd if it were true, given that France often experiences temperatures below 7C. Rogozin didn’t explain the source of his remark, but the fact that he made it is instructive. It came hard on the heels of industrial criticisms from Military-Industrial Commission Deputy Head Ivan Kharchenko, who told a meeting of defense companies that:

“We have been discussing the absurdity of this earlier decision. It was the initiative of Serdyukov and it’s not the only damage he has inflicted to the government and the industry…”

Russia’s alternative domestic options for fielding a naval amphibious force aren’t exactly clear to outside observers, and Kharchenko did hedge by saying that it’s impossible to backtrack on the 2-ship Mistral deal now. Cancellation costs would be lethal, but ships #3 & 4 aren’t protected by a full contract, and a hostile trend appears to be gaining strength. Vladimir Putin campaigned hard in military-industrial cities during the last election, and these criticisms of the Vladivostok Class come on the heels of a turn away from an Iveco joint venture to produce wheeled armored vehicles in Russia. RIA Novosti | Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s RBH | UPI.


Preliminary design review passes; 1st keel laid; Ka-52K helicopter modifications; Russia ordering L-CATs?; Project cut from 4 to 2? CNIM’s L-CAT

Dec 21/12: Just 2? Russia’s Vedemosti newspaper reports that Russia may cancel the 2nd pair of Mistral ships, quoting an unnamed “government source” and citing cost as an issue. It’s just an unconfirmed report at this point, but if it is true, cost is likely to be a secondary consideration. Much depends on the outcome of all the political reshufflings, now that defense minister Serdyukov has been fired and replaced by former emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu.

OSK United Shipbuilding Corp. says that they have not received any instructions from Russia’s defense ministry concerning the cancellation of ships #3 & 4. Both reports could be true, of course. The initial report said “may” cancel, and there’s no finalized contract in place to demand immediate notification. Lenta.RU via RusNavy | RIA Novosti.

Nov 23/12: L-CATs? Russia’s Ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov, seems to announce that Russia will become the 1st export customer for France’s innovative landing catamarans:

“We signed a contract on the purchase of two Mistral Class ships. The first is already under construction in Saint-Nazaire, the second will follow. We also discussed the construction of two Mistral LHDs in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Everything is on schedule. There are also additional contracts. We will buy small french boats that will be aboard the Mistral LHDs, they are landing catamarans…”

The only landing catamarans qualified for this class are France’s new EDA-R (L-CAT) vessels. They can carry up to 80t at up to 18 knots, if the central cargo platform is raised. Once the vessel reaches shore, that platform is lowered, and its cargo can walk or drive off. This performance approaches the capabilities of American options like LCAC/SSC hovercraft, at significantly lower cost. Navy Recognition.

Oct 23/12: STX France tells the Vzglyad newspaper that they’ll launch the Vladivostok’s hull in September 2013, before moving the ship to Toulon for outfitting. Commissioning dates are currently planned for 2014 and 2015, which could be a bit optimistic is there are delays integrating the ships’ Russian electronics and weapons, or delays in testing and crew preparation. RusNavy.

Oct 1/12: Keel-laying. Baltiysky Zavod shipyard places its 1st hull section of the Vladivostok on slipway “A”, where it’s formally accepted by STX France.

The shipyard is building hull sections for the 1st 2 ships, and metal cutting began on Aug 1/12. Metal cutting for ship #2, Sevastopol, is scheduled to begin in May 2013. RusNavy.

Keel-laying: Vladivostok

Sept 19/12: Air wings. Naval Recognition relays a report from Russia’s Izvestia newspaper, stating that each Vladivostok Class ship will have a combined air wing of 30 Ka-52K and Ka-29 helicopters. The unnamed Defense Ministry source is quoted as saying that:

“These will be air wings comprising carrier-based and land-based elements to ensure fast rotation of the helicopters for repairs or replacement due to combat losses.”

Aug 9/12: Ka-52K changes. Oboronprom confirms that Russia will build the navalized Ka-52K Alligator helicopter, which also prompts speculation about the changes involved. Past displays have shown folding rotor blades and folding wings, as well as the standard anti-corrosion treatments.

Navy Recognition says that the Ka-52K will also include a modified version of the MiG-35 fighter’s Zhuk-A AESA radar in the nose section, and will be able to carry Kh-31 Krypton or Kh-35 Kayak anti-ship missiles. Those missiles weigh in at over 600 kg/ 1,300 pounds each, however, which could make them challenging weapons for the helicopter to carry. Navy Recognition | Voice of Russia.

July 17/12: DCNS provides an update part-way through the project’s detail Design phase, which is expected to run into September 2012. While the design modifications are being finalized, STX shipyard in Saint Nazaire has begun building hull blocks for areas that aren’t likely to change. The first 100-tonne block will be delivered in September 2012 and laid down in early 2013, marking the formal beginning of block assembly in the shipbuilding dock.

Russia’s OSK shipyards will participate as a subcontractor, building 12 aft hull blocks for the ships. 2014 and 2015 are confirmed as the targets for delivery. DCNS.

April 2012: Successful completion of the Preliminary Design Review, which outlines DCNS’ revised design to take Russian concerns and needs into account. Detailed design studies were launched immediately afterwards. Source.

Variant’s PDR


From framework to contract for 2 ships; Joint shipyard deal; Preliminary contract for ships #3 & 4. FS Mistral
(click to view full)

Dec 2/11: RIA Novosti reports that Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation and the Baltiisky Zavod shipyard signed a RUB 2.5 billion ($80 million) contract to build hulls for the Navy’s 3rd and 4th Mistral LHDs, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in attendance.

Subsequent news leads one to question if RIA Novosti made an error in reporting on a sub-contract related to ships #1 & 2. The shipyard will be doing hull work for those 2 ships, and the amount tracks better with the expected level of Russian content.

Most people think of the ship’s hull as being a majority of a ship’s cost, but that’s not so. Russian defense officials had previously said Russia would account for 80% of labor inputs in building the 3rd and 4th warships, but that doesn’t mean anything close to 80% of the cost, most of which involves on-board equipment and ancillaries. Different relative levels of manufacturing automation can also produce a figure of 80% labor input, without producing 80% of cost or value in basic construction. Time will tell.

Contract re: ships 3 & 4?

Nov 30/11: Russia’s ITAR/TASS quotes an unnamed DCNS official:

“Russia made an advance payment several weeks ago, and the construction works are about to start… The first Mistral ship will be supplied to the Russian Navy in 2014 and the second in 2015,”

See: RIA Novosti | UPI.

Sept 3/11: Navalized Alligators. While discussing a $4+ billion Russian contract with state-controlled Oboronprom for 140 military helicopters by 2020 (no type breakdown), General Director Andrey Reus confirms that the 1st navalized Ka-52K Alligator attack/scout helicopter shipment for use on Russia’s new Mistral LHDs will finish by the end of 2012. RIA Novosti | Voice of Russia.

July 1/11: RIA Novosti quotes Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and Navy commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, as they discuss the buy’s training & industrial angles. Serdukov:

“We will send to France 70 people, who will be charged with servicing those ships… At the same time, we will train two Mistral crews in Russia.”


“The purchase of Mistral shipbuilding technology will help Russia to grasp large-capacity shipbuilding. It is important for construction of ships like the future ocean-going class destroyer and later an aircraft carrier…”

June 22/11: Latvia asks for help. Latvia’s Defense Minister Artis Pabriks reportedly says that:

“If these helicopter carriers appear in the Baltic Sea, Latvia will ask France and NATO in general for military and political support… The size of this support should be adequate to restore the balance of forces in the region.”

June 20/11: South Korea’s STX, who builds Mistral ships at its St. Nazaire facility, announces a $1 billion deal with Russia’s state-owned United Shipbuilding to build a shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia. STX Group will undertake engineering, procurement and construction on a lump-sum, turnkey basis. Agence France Presse | KOMEC | NASDAQ | Reuters.

Joint shipyard deal

June 17/11: France & Russia have reportedly agreed on a full contract for the Mistrals, to be signed by June 21/11, but key questions remain unanswered in public reports. Accounts conflict, but the bulk of reports place the contract at EUR 1.12 billion billion for 2 Mistral-class assault ships from STX in France, to receive final outfitting by naval shipbuilders in Russia. DCNS will be the prime contractor, and will also integrate the operations and communication systems. Shipbuilding will be subcontracted to the STX shipyard at Saint-Nazaire in western France, who has further sub-contracted Russian shipbuilder OSK for part of the hull. Deliver is slated for 2014 and then 2015.

The total project cost appears to be EUR 1.7 million for these 2 ships, with an option for another 2 ships that would be assembled in Russia. The sale of these 2 ships to Russia represents more than 1,000 full-time jobs in France over a period of 4 years.

The unanswered questions revolve around the transfer of French military technology, esp. the SENIT-9 combat system and SIC-21 fleet command system. State-controlled United Shipbuilding Corp. spokesman Roman Trotsenko told Rossia 24 television that Russian industries will produce about 40% of the first 2 ships, which could suggest significant insertions of Russian technology. On the other hand, he also said that the command and control system would come from France.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL-18], blasted the sale, arguing that it threatened regional security even as Russia was becoming more threatening toward its neighbors. DCNS | STX Europe | Moscow Times | RIA Novosti op-ed | Voice of Russia | Expatica France | Radio France International | MarineLog | US House Foreign Affairs Committee statement.

Contract for first 2 ships

June 14/11: RIA Novosti reports that the governments of Russia and France signed a protocol of intent for the Mistrals, but not a final contract, on June 10/11.

It adds that electronics continue to be an issue. France is reportedly not comfortable delivering the Mistral’s NATO-standard SENIT-9 naval tactical data system with a production license, and doesn’t want to include its SIC-21 fleet command system at all.

May 27/11: At a G8 press conference, French President Sarkozy discusses the Mistral sale. He portrays the Russian situation as stable with the end of the Cold War, and the sale of a ship like the Mistrals as normal within the current relationship. Key excerpts:

“…la Russie est un grand pays avec des matières premières. L’Europe a beaucoup de technologies, nous avons tout à construire ensemble… Voilà, donc, soit on est ami, soit on ne l’est pas. Mais si on est ami, si on est partenaire et si on est allié, je ne vois vraiment pas pourquoi on ne devrait pas avoir des projets ensemble… Vous savez il y a une chose dont je suis sûr, si ce n’est pas nous qui les avions construit, d’autres, y compris en Europe, auraient été heureux de les construire. Je pense notamment à nos amis espagnols.”

May 3/11: RIA Novosti notes that former senior Navy official Nikolai Borisov (“internal reasons”) and first deputy defense minister, Vladimir Popovkin (to head Roskosmos) eere relieved of their duties in late April 2011, and quotes an unnamed Russian defense ministry source as saying that:

“New representatives will take part in the next round of Russian-French Mistral talks… At the moment, they are receiving the necessary documentation on the contract… The replacement of the negotiation team is just a technicality… The negotiation process has made great progress, and the sides are well aware of each other’s stance. The question now is whether France will sell Russia ships with all systems and equipment.”

March 15/11: France’s Le Figaro reports that Mistral negotiations are starting to produce friction within the French government, who see allied pressure continuing and issues with Russia over price and technology transfer. An excerpt:

“Aujourd’hui, la France serait prêt à vendre à la Russie presque toute la technologie qui équipe le Mistral, l’un des fleurons de la marine nationale… Mais le Mistral possède des technologies sensibles sur lesquelles seule la France a autorité. Selon les informations obtenues par Le Figaro, Paris aurait ainsi accepté de céder les systèmes de communication et de commandement. Avec leurs codes. Or l’un des systèmes de communication ultrasophistiqués du Mistral, Sinik 9, est un dérivé direct de Sinik 8, celui qui équipe le Charles de Gaulle ! Même le directeur des chantiers navals de Saint-Nazaire a reconnu qu’il existait «un risque» lié aux transferts de technologie… Paris et Moscou ont encore quelques semaines pour trouver un compromis. Mais à Paris, cette histoire finit par mettre mal à l’aise les plus fidèles partisans de l’accord, qui commencent à trouver le prix à payer bien cher.”

To summarize: according to Le Figaro’s sources, Russia has pushed through an important change in the intergovernmental agreement, replacing French “assistance” in technology transfer to Russia with a “guarantee” of technology transfer, involving almost every one of the Mistral’s systems. For instance, France has reportedly agreed to transfer the Sinik 9 control & communications system to Russia, which builds on the Sinik 8 system installed on the nuclear aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle. This is seen as a risk, and when coupled with price and diplomatic issues, even the sale’s supporters are beginning to question the price. Le Figaro [in French] | RIA Novosti.

March 3/11: Russia’s Kommersant business daily reports that Russia and France have deadlocked on price negotiations, but official Russian sources deny it. Which they would anyway. France is expected to put forward the final commercial proposal on March 15, and the 2 sides are reportedly over $250 million apart.

Time may reveal the truth. According to reports, the deputy chief of the Russian Navy, Vice Adm. Nikolai Borisov, signed a EUR 1.15 billion protocol with France in December 2010: EUR 980 million for the 2 ships built by STX in France, plus EUR 131 million in logistics expenses and EUR 39 million in crew training expenses. Construction licenses and technical documentation to build the next 2 ships at Admiralty Shipyards in Russia would add EUR 90 million, bringing the total to EUR 1.24 billion.

Russia reportedly says that Borisov had no authority to sign the document, and did it without consulting with Rosoboronexport and the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. They want the entire deal for EUR 980 million. In response to the Kommersant reports, however, the spokesman for the Russian prime minister downplayed the seriousness of the situation, while acknowledging differences. Dmitry Peskov told Ekho Moskvy radio that “Mistral contract working problems really exist, which is quite natural for such a large scale project.”

To add to the uncertainty, First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin tells the Military-Industrial Courier that the Mistral contract involves: “two ships built by France’s DCSN and the licenses for construction of two additional ships in Russia for at least 1.5 bln euros,” adding that the ships would include all the original navigational and other technical equipment, including the SENIT 9 naval tactical data system. ITAR-TASS | RIA Novosti || defpro | South Africa’s TNA | UPI.

Feb 9/11: Basing & helicopters. Itar-Tass reports that Russia will use 2 of the Mistral ships in the Pacific Fleet, including protecting the South Kurile Islands, which are disputed territory with Japan. An “informed source at the Defence Ministry” is quoted as saying that:

“Considerable appropriations will be made for improving the infrastructure of military compounds and garrisons of the 18th Artillery Division in the Eastern Military District, which are deployed on the islands of the Kurile Ridge. The division stationed in the South Kurile Islands has not undergone any organisational changes during military reform in Russia… We plan to replace the division’s weapons and hardware that have expended their service life with one ones.”

As for the ships’ complement and design, Helicopters of Russia Holding Company Deputy Director-General Andrei Shibitov says that:

“Ship versions of the Ka-27K, Ka-29K and Ka-52K helicopters will be used. Their number on each ship will be determined by the Defence Ministry.”

Another Russian official states that using those coaxial rotor helicopters will require a slight elevation of the ship’s deck, to ensure enough clearance height in the hangars. Use in northern latitudes will also require some reinforcement within the ship, in order to make it more survivable against threats like ice. This is not expected to require a major redesign.

Basing plans: Pacific Fleet

Feb 8/11: RIA Novosti relays reports from Kommersant that state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport will represent Russia in direct talks with France’s DCNS from now on.

“Kommersant speculates that the removal of the USC from the talks could be the result of the company’s aspirations to acquire a status of an “independent dealer” on the lucrative arms exports market. Rosoboronexport, backed by the Russian Defense Ministry, has almost monopolized Russia’s arms exports and apparently does not want new players to bite into its share in enormous profit…”

USC removed from talks

Jan 25/11: Agreement signed. Neither Russia nor France are transparent about sale details, but published estimates of the sale price revolve around RIA Novosti’s report of around EUR 1.37 billion euros ($1.9 billion) for the first 2 ships. One of the reasons for that vagueness may involve the nature of the deal. Rosoboronexport head Anatoly Saikin says the agreement is only a framework, without firm deadlines or costs: “A contract is still a long way off. Only an intergovernmental general agreement has been signed.”

Despite Saikin’s cautions, reports place the 1st Russian Mistral’s delivery in December 2013, and there is general agreement that it would be 80% built in France and 20% in Russia. The 2nd ship will reportedly use 40% Russian components. The 3rd and 4th ships will be built in Russia, with 80% Russian workshare. Noted cruise ship builder STX Europe estimates its Saint-Nazaire yard’s work share at 2.5 million man-hours.

In America, meanwhile, Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] said:

“I strongly oppose France’s sale of the Mistral to Russia… This ship is a threat to some of America’s friends and NATO allies, and I worry that this decision could set a troubling precedent within NATO of advanced weapons sales to the Russian government.”

See: French President | Agence France Presse | Le Figaro | ITAR-TASS | Moscow News | Moscow Times | Pravda | RIA Novosti | La Tribune | UPI || Outside reactions: Bloomberg | AFP | Civil Georgia | Expatica France re: Lithuania | Trend in Azerbailjan | China’s Xinhua.

Framework, but not a contract

Jan 12/11: Basing, New Shipyard. Russian media reiterate reports that their 1st Mistral Class ship will be based in Vladivostok with the Pacific fleet, while the 2nd will be based at Severomork on Russia’s northern Peninsula. The Severomorsk ship will reportedly require special piers and additional anti-submarine and air defence systems on site. These basing choices lessen the communication of direct threat to Baltic countries like Latvia, or Black Sea countries like Georgia, while the ships are being built n France. There is no word on where the final 2 ships would be based, though the Baltic and Black Sea fleets would be logical possibilities.

What’s new, is a quote from a Russian navy spokesman that “a decision has been adopted to build Mistral Class vessels at a new shipyard to be constructed on the Kotlin Island near St. Petersburg, but still under the structure of the large Admirality Naval yards.” That’s a shift away from Sergei Pugachyov’s United Industrial Corporation Baltiisky Zavod shipyard, marking the latest in a string of setbacks for the financier. Barents Observer | Moscow Times.


International controversy; Tech transfer issues; Planned helicopters; French-Russian JV. FS Tonnerre [BPC 2],
during sea trials
(click to view full)

Dec 24/10: Russia’s ITAR-TASS reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvand French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

“…made a joint statement, which reads, “Russian President Dmitry Medvedev informed French President Nicolas Sarkozy that a consortium of the French company DCNS and the Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation won an international tender for the delivery of two helicopter ships to the Russian Defense Ministry announced on October 5.” Two helicopter ships will be built jointly at first, and another two will be built in the future, the statement said.”

Key industrial players will be France’s DCNS and STX of France, and of course Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC). See also: Voice of America.

Dec 9/10: During a visit to Moscow, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon says of the Mistral deal that:

“There is no question about the technology transfer, no problem regarding technology transfers… We are discussing the price and Vladimir Putin is not the easiest person to talk to about this question.”

Nov 1/10: USC-DCNS consortium Agreement.

Russia’s state-controlled United Shipbuilding Corporation and France’s state-controlled DCNS sign an agreement, setting up a consortium to build “military and civilian ships.” Noises are being made about building Arctic supply ships and icebreakers, and Russian firms are also becoming a bigger presence at events like Euronaval 2010, but the initial focus is likely to be Russia’s order for Mistral Class helicopter carriers.

DCNS Chairman Patrick Boissier added that it is also ready to compete in all military tenders. Beyond the Mistral, Russia will need to build corvettes and frigates very quickly, in order to avoid having key regional fleets in the Black Sea and beyond rust out to almost nothing. RIA Novosti | RIA Novosti op-ed | AP | China’s Xinhua.


Sept 21/10: Competition? Russia’s Interfax news agency quotes an unidentified senior Russian Navy official as saying the ship tender would be a mere formality “formed in such a way as to practically predetermine the victory of the French ship” while getting the best price, adding that Russia and France had already agreed on the parameters of the rumored deal.

Construction terms appear to have followed the French proposals, with 2 ships built in France and 2 in Russia, rather than the 1 and 3 pattern Russia had been asking for. If true, that would leave the issue of technology transfers and cost as the biggest unanswered questions. The figure of EUR 600 million (about $765 million) is mentioned in reports, but that’s much too low for 4 Mistral Class ships. It’s about right for DCNS’ share of a deal for 4 ships, however, if the French are building 2, and key electronics and weapons are being provided by Russia. Voice of Russia | Agence France Presse via Defense News | Reuters via Malaysia Star.

Sept 13/10: Competition? UPI reports that despite an apparently open tender, Russia and France are still conducting exclusive talks regarding DCNS’ Mistral Class LHDs. It also quotes an ITAR-TASS report where Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told them that the Kremlin was “expecting the detailed financial conditions” from France to push the deal to its final stages. UPI.

Aug 20/10: Competition. Russia’s amphibious ship purchase becomes an open tender competition, assuming that other governments allows their shipbuilders to participate. Ouest France reports that the key sticking point was France’s refusal to include the Mistral’s combat system and NATO C4I systems.

Navantia makes the Spanish BPE, and its counterpart the Canberra Class LHD for Australia. It’s larger than the Mistral, and features a “ski jump” on deck that can help it launch fixed wing UAVs and short or vertical takeoff fighters. Russia’s neighbors would likely consider it even more destabilizing than the Mistral Class, but Spain’s commitment to NATO has never been strong, and the country currently faces depression-level unemployment. Political interference will probably be low, but the combat and C4I systems could easily become the subject of pressure from other NATO states, and Navantia’s dependence on exports within NATO would give that pressure weight.

Damen Schelde makes a slightly different kind of ship with a much more conventional profile, but its Rotterdam/ Johann de Witt Class LPDs are considered to be excellent examples of their type, and very good value for money. The firm also worked with BAE on the UK Royal Navy’s new Bay Class LSDs. These “Enforcer Series” ships are all smaller than Mistral, but the firm is also designing a 28,000t Zuiderkruis Class Joint Support Ship. Political approval may be an issue with the Dutch, however; their Parliament is divided, weapons exports are challenged, and Russia’s invasion of Georgia did not sit well there.

Other contenders may include Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and their MHD 200 LPH (Landing Platform, Helicopter) concept. Time will tell. See Defense News | Information Dissemination | Ouest France [in French] | Reuters.

July 26/10: Tech Transfer. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Russian Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said the Mistral purchase hinged on the “transfer of key, fundamental technologies,” or it would be pointless. Russia’s political leaders may or may not share that view. More to the point, NATO countries are likely to have limits on what they will or will not transfer. UPI.

July 23/10: French President Nicolas Sarkozy tells shipyard workers at STX that:

“Avec nos amis russes, vous allez fabriquer les deux BPC. Le contrat, on est en train de le négocier, mais la decision de le faire, elle est certaine.”

In other words, the French yards will build 2 ships, and though the contract is still under negotiation, the decision to go ahead is a done deal.

The same MdlD release also places the cost of FS Dixmude [BPC 3] at about EUR 300 million, but any Russian ships will have additional costs from 2 sources. One is any Russian electronics and weapons, which will have to be integrated with the rest of the ship. That will take time, and costs money, unless Russia opts for some export variant of the ship’s native French electronics and weapons. The other source of added costs is tied to reports that Russia wants to strengthen the ships’ hulls at Russian shipyards after construction, so they’ll be able to cope with the ice around its northern ports. French Ministère de la Défense.

July 5/10: Helicopters. A RIA Novosti report may provide some insights into the new ships’ helicopter complements [DID: links added]:

“Vyacheslav Kovalyov, the first deputy director of the Kumertau Aviation Production Enterprise… added that the Russian Air Force was planning to buy the Ka-52 Alligator, Ka-226 Hoodlum helicopters and a new modification of the Ka-27 helix helicopter, the Ka-27M, the development of which is now in its final stage. A high-ranking source in Russia’s United Industrial Corporation (OPK) confirmed that the country’s Air Force was going to buy up to 100 Ka-class helicopters, including some 70 Ka-27M choppers, to equip Mistral ships.”

June 21/10: Software. RIA Novosti reports that Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), headquartered in Massachussets, USA, intends to participate in software development if Russia orders the Mistral Class, creating links that bridge exportable French ship systems with Russian counterparts. PTC VP Paul Grenet cites 20 years of firm experience working with DCNS, and similar work done for past French warship sales to Brazil and Morocco:

“The same warship for a national navy or for export has certain differences due to secrecy and national security… PTC specializes in the development of export options that are compatible with the standards of a customer.”

PTC is headquartered in the USA, but its global offices include Moscow and St. Petersburg.

May 26/10: A RIA Novosti report outlines the shape of the Mistral deal, while repeating past reports that Russia is also in discussions with Spain and the Netherlands. According to the Barents Observer translation, however, negotiations with the French are in their final stages.

As reported, the deal would see the first ship built entirely abroad. Russian shipbuilders would participate in manufacturing ships 2 & 3, and the 4th ship would be built entirely in Russia. Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov appears to be trying to allay concerns over Georgia by saying that the first 2 ships will be deployed in the Northern and the Pacific Fleets. This will not make NATO members like the Baltic states feel any better.

April 20/10: Rosoboronexport’s Russia is quoted as saying that Russia has made the political decision to purchase the Mistral-class warships, and expects that the agreement with France will be signed by the end of 2010. Time will tell. Defense News.

Feb 10/10: NATO waffles. NATO spokesman James Appathurai offers an official alliance view:

“The Secretary General has said he does not consider Russia a threat and he hopes Russians don’t think of NATO as a threat. He takes it for granted, of course, that any arms sale would fully respect international rules and conventions, but the anxieties of some allies are, of course, real and they are understandable for historical reasons, geographic reasons and so this is the context which has to be taken into account.”

When closely parsed, it offers no firm position.

Feb 9/10: Lithuania cites EU. NATO and European Union member Lithuania weighs in publicly on the Mistral sale, as the Minister of National Defence pledges to raise the issue at the next EU Defence Ministers meeting. Mr. Dainius Zalimas, Law Adviser to the Minster, adds this statement:

“We think that the said sale is inconsistent with criteria II, III, IV, V and VI of Article 2 of EU Council Common Position 2008/944/BUSP that describe common rules of export control of military technology and equipment. Therefore, the execution of the sale may violate the principle of solidarity of member states which has been embedded in the Treaty of the EU and the responsibility of member states to ensure that the national policy must be in line with the position of the Union as it has been stipulated in Article 29 ( former 15) of the Treaty.”

Feb 8/10: Approval? Widespread media reports say that France has approved in principle the Russian request for 1 ship, and expects to decide in the “next few weeks” whether to approve the sale of 3 additional Mistral Class LHDs to Russia. The DGA’s head of international development, Jacques Lajugie, reportedly added that if Russia were to buy the Mistral, France would expect at least the first 2 units to be built in French yards. Russia has sated a preference for 1 ship from France, and 3 built in Russia’s less-than-reliable shipyards under the state-run United Shipbuilding Corporation.

The deal is somewhat controversial in Russia, where industrial groups see the move as a declaration of non-confidence in Russia’s own shipbuilding industry, and a diversion of money to foreign industries. The issue has also become a topic of concern in Washington over the ships’ potential uses against allies like Georgia, with Senators writing letters, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressing his “deep concern” directly to French officials. Since the ships do not use American military technologies, there is currently no legal mechanism that would allow the USA to hold up the sale. Diplomatic concerns are being expressed nonetheless. A U.S. diplomatic official reportedly said that:

“We have a lot of questions for the French. Mr Gates made it clear that a lot of people are very worried about this – not just in Washington, but among other NATO allies like Britain and in the east too.”

See: Radio France International | RIA Novosti | Russia Today [video, English] | CNBC | Defense News | Daily Mail, UK | NY Times | Georgian Daily: Part 1 | Part 2 | Reuters | Scotland on Sunday | Washington Post.

Jan 31/10: On Georgia’s mind. Information Dissemination reports that Eutelsat’s cancellation of Georgia’s First Caucasian Channel stems directly from this proposed sale:

“Gia Chanturia, general director of the Georgian Public Broadcasts was in Paris this weekend seeking answers from Eutelsat and French government officials. He is unlikely to like what the French tell him, because my sources both in Washington, DC and Paris have confirmed that Moscow has made cancellation of the First Caucasian Channel by Eutelsat a condition of the Mistral sale… As we watch Russia leverage their unequal national power to influence France, keep an eye on eastern European countries like Poland. This will get bigger than Russia, Georgia, and France before it is all over, and the potential for long term consequences in Eastern Europe is not trivial.”


Negotiations; FS Mistral visits; New foreign options? Ka-52 on FS Mistral
(click to view full)

Dec 23/09: Wider talks? UPI reports that Russia is also considering amphibious ships from Navantia in Spain, and Damen Schelde in the Netherlands. Russian navy chief Vladimir Vysotsky was quoted as saying:

“Yes, we are holding talks, and not just with the French, but with the Netherlands and Spain, about the acquisition of a ship of this class.” …But observers say the 650-foot Mistral is still favored to win the contract.”

See also Foreign Policy Magazine: “Russia’s New Arms Dealers.

Nov 27/09: FS Mistral visit. During the FS Mistral’s visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, the amphibious assault ship holds a “cross deck” exercise with Russian Navy helicopters. They include landings by a Ka-29 utility helicopter with a French officer on board, as well as landings using a Ka-27 Helix anti submarine warfare helicopter and the first deck landing for the Ka-52 scout/attack helicopter, which also simulates a refueling on the flight deck. French Navy [in French].

Oct 3/09: Russia Today provides an update on the Mistral controversy in Russia. Negotiations are underway, but buying ships from abroad does not sit well with many in Russia. On the other hand, senior officials openly acknowledge that Russian shipbuilding is in crisis, and it could not build an LHD itself.

Sept 19/09: Russia’s RIA Novosti confirms that talks are underway, quoting Defense Ministry official Vladimir Popovkin. Popovkin is not making any commitments, however, telling Ekho Moskvy radio that “We are holding talks, but no purchases have yet been made.” RIA Novosti adds that: “A Russian source close to the negotiations hinted on Tuesday that technical bilateral discussions should be completed soon.”

Sept 15/09: A RIA Novosti report lays out the expected process for any Mistral ship buy:

“We are holding technical consultations, which are expected to be completed by the end of September. The results will be reported to Russia’s military-industrial commission in order to determine the viability of the purchase… The officers [who recently inspected a French ship of class in Toulon] were shown the interior of the ship and provided with technical data.”

A decision is expected some time in October 2009, if all goes as planned.

Aug 26/09: Intent. RIA Novosti reports that Russia is planning on a EUR 300-400 million contract by the end of 2009 to buy a French Mistral Class amphibious assault ship (LHD). The outlet quotes Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who said that: “We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present, and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships [of the same class] to be jointly built in Russia.”

Additional Readings The Ships and Equipment

Other News

End Notes

  • = DCNS itself refers to the Mistral Class in its marketing materials as an LHD. A Navantia-sponsored IDS study referred to the Mistrals as LHAs, and so have several Russian media reports. DID will generally use the manufacturer’s designation unless there is a compelling reason not to, hence the references to Mistral-derivative ships as LHDs.

Categories: News

USAF to Become the Agents of SHiELD | Pentagon: Multi-Billion Investment in Tomahawks and SM-6 | UK MoD Buying Zephyr Solar Planes

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 00:20

  • The USAF is considering defensive lasers for future fighters such as the F-35 and F-22, along with future bombers from 2021. A Request For Information (RFI) notice posted by the US Air Force Research Laboratory is looking for market information for a podded laser weapon system that can destroy missiles directed at stealth fighters and bombers. The search for an advanced laser, referred to as the Self-protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program would be significantly more powerful than current-generation self-protection capabilities and potentially burn or otherwise disable infrared and radar-guided missiles at high speeds.

  • The Pentagon is to invest in the development of Tomahawk and SM-6 missiles which will be capable of hitting moving vessels. $2 billion has been requested for the purchase of 4,000 Tomahawk missiles with manufacturer Raytheon. Raytheon has invested in a multi-modal seeker that would allow the missiles to hit moving targets so that missiles may be adapted from land missiles into anti-ship missiles. A further $2.9 billion will also be made available for the purchase of 650 SM-6 interceptors as well, to advance them to become anti-ship missiles for the first time. This will allow the SM-6 to operate in an offensive capability instead of operating solely as an anti-ballistic weapon.

  • USAF orders of the F-35A jet will drop from forty-eight to forty-three in Fiscal Year 2017. However, the budget will include increased money to purchase ten additional F-35C models for the Navy and three F-35B models for the Marines over what had been planned. It’s unclear whether the total number of total aircraft to be procured under the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program will decrease overall. The move has not been too surprising as analysts and government officials have hinted that changes to JSF procurement could change. The cutting of the F-35As in 2017 is expected to free up millions in savings over the next several years.

Middle East North Africa

  • Turkey may look to purchase four more airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft as part of an add-on option to an existing $1.6 billion order. With the original order placed in 2003, the last of four of the aircraft was delivered last December, after initial delivery was planned for 2008. Amid rising security issues along Turkey’s borders, after the eruption of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and increased tensions with country’s like Russia, it is likely that more of the spy planes may be bought to help with reconnaissance and battle management operations. If the procurement is to go ahead, the planes would be bought under Ankara’s next 10-year procurement plan currently being drafted.


  • The UK plans to buy two unmanned solar-powered aircraft, known as Zephyrs, which are capable of carrying small payloads that might consist of reconnaissance cameras or communications equipment. The Zephyrs hold the absolute endurance record for un-refuelled aeroplanes staying up for 336 hours, 22 minutes and eight seconds. Developed in the UK by QinetiQ, the technology has been recently bought and marketed by Airbus with the MoD’s vote of confidence expected to lead to an increase in sales. High altitude, solar powered planes have often been used for civilian purposes by companies like Google and Facebook to deliver broadband to locations that lack fixed-line connections.

  • Former Communist-era jets and helicopters used by the Albanian Air Force are to go under the hammer later this month. The Chinese and Soviet Union built aircraft include 10 Mig-19s, six Mig-21s, six Yak-18s and four Mi-4 helicopters. They will be auctioned off in the capital Tiriana with the total value estimated at $483,000. Albania’s defense ministry has said that they only have historic value, and are for civilian purposes with expressed interest coming from museums and private collectors in Europe and the US. After seeing pictures showing the state of some of them, one would hope no one has ambitions to put them to military use as Albania says goodbye to relics of its past.

  • Finland’s former prime minister has given his backing to the Saab Gripen as the jet of choice to replace the Finnish Air Force’s F/A-18 Super Hornet fleet. Matti Vanhanen stated his support for the Swedish aircraft in a book published this week mentioning the deepening defense cooperation between the two countries. While the government has yet to state any preference between the Gripen, Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, Vanhanen acts as a close advisor to current Prime Minister Juha Sipila. With a final decision not to be chosen until the 2020s, the Gripen looks to be gaining the early lead in a procurement that could range between $5-11 billion. While both Sweden and Finland are non-aligned nations, increased cooperation between them, Baltic, and other Nordic states are bringing them into closer cooperation with NATO.

Asia Pacific

  • Chief of US Naval Operations, John Richardson, has said talks with India over development of New Delhi’s next aircraft carrier are progressing well. US assistance will mostly come in the form of providing new electromagnetic launch technology that will enable the navy to fly heavier planes from a carrier, and is set to become the biggest military collaboration between the two countries. The vessel, to be India’s third, will be their biggest one yet, and the third to be inducted into the Indian Navy. It will join the Russian made INS Vikramaditya and the indigenously produced INS Vikrant, which will enter service between 2018-2019 and will patrol the waters in the Indian Ocean. Increased naval activity from China in the region has worried both countries, and India has been bulking up their fleet with a dozen new submarines, six of them nuclear-powered and has more than 40 warships which are under construction.

Today’s Video

  • The Zephyr UAS to be bought by the UK:

Categories: News

A-10s Get a Reprieve from Retirement Plans | Turkish Coast Guard Competition Swells to 25 | Lithuania & Czech Republic Adding to Mil Truck Fleets

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 00:35

  • Following Michael Gilmore’s thoughts on the F-35 program, his report has also shed some light on the hotly contested Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) competition. His report goes into detail on how the three offerings for the USMC Humvee replacement faired in tests. While Lockheed Martin and competition winner Oshkosh met protection requirements, Humvee producer AM General fell short. The shortfall resulted in AM General losing out on a contract potentially worth $30 billion, one of the biggest Army contracts in recent times. Lockheed Martin went on to begin a legal proceeding against the award to Oshkosh; however, these were thrown out before the new year.

  • Four OH-58 Kiowa Delta helicopters are ready for export to a foreign county after landing at Redtone Arsenal prior to shipping. While details as to where the helicopters are going and at what cost have remained unknown, it is possible that they could be going to Croatia after being deemed Excess Defense Articles. Back in November 2015, the Croatian Defence Ministry announced that it had selected sixteen OH-58D helicopters that the USAF would donate to Croatia. The latest model is primarily operated in an armed reconnaissance role in support of ground troops, and could contribute to the ongoing modernization of the Croatian Armed Forces to participate in NATO operations.

  • The life of the A-10 attack jet will be extended until 2022 after it was announced in Secretary for Defense Ash Carter’s 2017 defense budget preview on Tuesday. Lawmakers including former A-10 pilot Rep. Martha McSally and Sen. John McCain who supported the plane’s continuation were pleased with the announcement. The close-air support aircraft will continue to see service in the operations against the Islamic State in the Middle East where it has been supporting ground troops. The deferral of the A-10’s retirement comes as continued delays seem likely for the F-35, which is due to replace the A-10 once it comes into active service. The A-10’s ability to swoop in to heights of 50 feet above ground and engage enemies has been held up as an advantage against the F-35 by supporters.

Middle East North Africa

  • Interest in providing aircraft for the Turkish Coast Guard has increased dramatically in the last week with ten more interested parties joining the initial fifteen. The twenty-five bidders are both a mix of domestic and international firms, with the most recent competitors including Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training and the Turkish military-software company Havelsan. Turkey plans to purchase a Beechcraft King Air 350ER for the Coast Guard, but are looking for someone to provide the integration of subsystems into the aircraft for maritime surveillance operations. As well as maritime surveillance, the aircraft will be responsible for conducting border security and search & rescue operations.


  • Both Lithuania and the Czech Republic have inked contracts for new military truck acquisitions as they continue to modernize military gear. Lithuania has signed a $65 million deal with Daimler AG for 340 Unimog trucks as part of plans to increase the size of their land forces, with the establishment of another infantry brigade. The Czech Republic is to acquire 18 N3G-V trucks from local firm Tatra. The purchases are one of several contracts signed by Prague in an effort to be prepared to participate in NATO activities as well as to deal with the flow of refugees through its borders from the Middle East.

  • Rheinmetall Defence is to provide a multi-million dollar deal to modernize the skyguard air defense system of an unknown international buyer. The order, worth $427 million, will be delivered between 2017 and 2020. Upgrades will include equipping the missile/gun air defence systems with advanced radar technology. Further more, the system will be outfitted with a new target tracking radar, a latest-generation friend-foe identification system as well as cutting-edge electronic warfare components. The missile launcher will be upgraded with a new state-of-the-art electronic pod, which will enhance the system’s missile capability. Variants of Rheinmetall’s anti-aircraft guns and systems are being used in over thirty countries with Thailand recently signing a contract for four Skyguard systems earlier this year.

Asia Pacific

  • Israel Aerospace industries and Korean composite manufacturer Hankuk Carbon are to develop, manufacture and sell a new vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicle for South Korea. Initial aims for the UAV will be to develop a system with a 200-300kg maximum take-off weight, and it is hoped that it will have 90% of the work done domestically in Korea. Both companies are also looking into adding shipborne take-off and landing capabilities to IAI/Hankuk’s FE-Panther VTOL UAV, which will be available by the end of 2018.

  • India has received the final batch of three Mi-17V-5 military transport helicopters from Russia, bringing the total to 151. The models are the most technically advanced of Rostec Corporation’s Mi-8/17 type including a KNEI-8 avionics suite. The new suite replaces the previously used multiple systems indicators with four large multi-functional that are easy to read and reduce the intensity of pilot’s workload. The completion of the sale comes as both India and Russia continue negotiations for forty-eight more of the helicopters, which are to be used in a variety of operations such as in deserts and mountains, matching the wide variety of environments found in India.

Today’s Video

  • The FE-Panter UAV:

Categories: News

F-35 Program Potentially Facing Further Delays | Kuwait Eurofighter Deal on Hold | UK MoD to Spend $1.58B on New Mil Training Fleet

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 00:20

  • A recent report from the Pentagon’s top weapons tester has raised serious questions over the F-35 program’s “unrealistic test schedule”. Michael Gilmore’s annual F-35 report released on Monday follows a recently leaked memo from December 2015 that highlighted issues over the jet’s software development. The report flags these testing issues as potentially delaying the operational evaluation by up to a year, with flight testing not likely to be completed until at least January 2018. It had been initially hoped that testing would be completed by August 2017, after program re-baselining in 2012. As a result of these delays, Gilmore also warned against current block buying of the fighter with 250 planned to be locked-in before the (Initial Operational Test and Evaluation) IOT&E. At present, 150 fully operational jets have been delivered by Lockheed and will all require extensive modification to the Block 3F standard once development concludes.

  • Ahead of the Pentagon’s February 9 official budget release, Defense Secretary Ash Carter mapped out his spending priorities on Tuesday. Among the plans include a $13 billion plan in funding for a new submarine to carry nuclear ballistic missiles over the next five years. This would be broken down into $4 billion towards research and development of new submarines, with $9 billion spent on procurement funding. The Navy may also see twelve more Super Hornet’s procured to make up for shortages caused by delays to Lockheed’s F-35 program, and longer-than-expected repair times for current Boeing F/A-18 jets. The budget also outlines a total 322 F-35s across its A, B and C models but following the recommendations in Michael Gilmore’s most recent report, this could be more wishful thinking than the eventual reality.

Middle East North Africa

  • Last weekend’s expected signing of a deal for Kuwait to purchase twenty-eight Eurofighter jets has been put off. Italian Ministry of Defense officials cited “procedural” delays on Kuwait’s behalf, and that no clear date had been set. It had been expected that the deal would close quickly after some initial delays over pilot training had pushed an agreement into 2016. News of the deal came as Kuwait’s initial plan to purchase F-18 Super Hornets from Boeing was scrapped after their frustration over congressional delays in gaining approval for the sale. The loss of the sale to the Eurofighter has put into question the security of some jobs at Boeing’s St. Louis plant. The plant specializes in the manufacture of the Super Hornet, and were set to start production of the $3 billion deal before the change.

  • The UAE is to acquire more of the Finnish Patria AMVs 8×8 armored wheeled vehicles. With a first batch ordered by the Emirates in 2008, Patria will provide forty more of the AMVs in a contract worth $41 million with options to purchase a further fifty. Construction of the hulls has been outsourced to Polish partner Rosomak SA, and they will be fitted with additional armor and mine protection, along with remote weapon stations armed with 12.7 mm machine guns or 40 mm automatic grenade launchers. The Patria AMV has been used in Afghanistan, Chad and is also participating in ongoing Saudi-led operations in Yemen. UAE involvement in the country has included daily air strikes along with a ground presence that has included claims of having hired Colombian mercenaries to fight there.


  • The UK Ministry of Defence has signed contracts in the amount of $1.58 billion for a new military training fleet. Under the UK Military Flight Training System (UKMFS), approximately half the sum will go to Affinity Flying Services who will provide the aircraft that will be used at different stages of the training. Affinity, which is a joint venture between Kellogg Brown and Root Ltd and Elbit Systems UK, will provide three aircraft types as well as their maintenance and support. The remaining funds have been awarded to Lockheed Martin and Babcock, who have been selected to deliver all of the ground based training equipment and infrastructure to support the delivery of the fixed wing training capability. When fully operation in 2019, student pilots will learn initially on the Grob 120TP “Prefect” before going on to take part in either Multi-Engine Pilot Training on the Embraer “Phenom” 100 or Basic Flying Training on the Beechcraft “Texan” T-6C.

  • French procurement agency DGA announced the finalizing of an order with Lockheed Martin for four C-130 aircraft. The models to be delivered are two standard C-130J transports, and two KC-130Js equipped for in-flight refueling of helicopters. While the exact figure of the deal is unknown, the core value of the deal is around $355 million, slightly more than the $340 million set aside in the revised multiyear defense budget for acquiring four C-130s. The orders will plug a growing capability gap in the French military caused by the Airbus A400M program. Development of the multi-purpose A400M has seen delays in delivery as Airbus looks to fix technical problems over inflight helicopter refueling capabilities, and for paratroopers to be able to jump from the side door.


  • Equatorial Guinea will receive two C295 transport aircraft after officials visited Airbus’ plant in Seville last week. The planes will add to the central African nations rather modest fleet of mostly Russian made transport and fighter aircraft. The first, due in September of this year, will be used primarily for personnel transportation, medical assistance and evacuations. The second will be configured to operate on surveillance missions over the country’s territory and coastal waters. The C295 is becoming a popular selection for many militaries in Africa, with Ghana, Algeria and Egypt just a few who operate or have ordered the plane. Airbus sees sales of at least fifty C295s going to the continent over the next decade.

Asia Pacific

  • The Malaysian Army’s purchase of six MD 530G Scout Attack Helicopters will include a custom weapons package including a complete missions management system not found on previous models. This will include a stores management system and helmet mounted cuing system for integrated target identification and tracking, and allows laser-guided rocket and Hellfire capability. With increased range over other models, the helicopters will be stationed with the Eastern Sabah Security Command. In 2013, a three week insurgency and standoff erupted in Sabah after Fillipino militants landed in the area making territorial claims as the Sultanate of Sulu.

Today’s Video

  • Following the recent sale to Malaysia, a look at MD Helicopters latest MD530G Scout Attack Helicopter:

Categories: News


Wed, 02/03/2016 - 00:19
(click to view full)

Patria recently announced a deal with the United Arab Emirates to buy its Armored Modular Vehicle 8×8 wheeled armored personnel carriers. The Finnish vehicle offers a strong mix of features, and is the only vehicle of its class to submit to and pass the South African ARMSCOR’s mine resistance tests. Variants include an armored personnel carrier (APC), up-gunned infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), AMOS heavy mortar system, command post, workshop and battlefield ambulance. Defense Aerospace reports that all substantive information re: numbers, types, delivery dates, et. al. is being kept private at the customer’s request. Reports indicate that the UAE’s Bin Jabr Group will support the vehicle in-country, and that local production in the U.A.E. is being studied as a supplement to production in Finland.

The AMV family has become a strong competitor in the wheeled armored personnel carrier market, winning orders in Finland, Poland, Croatia, South Africa, and Slovenia, and competing in the USA to replace the US Marine Corps’ LAVs.

(click to view full)

This deal has actually been in the works for some time now. A 24t extended AMV variant has undergone extensive local trials since 2006, and the UAE’s IDEX defense exhibition has featured an AMV fitted with a BMP-3 turret.

The UAE is the largest global operator of BMP-3 tracked IFVs, with almost 600 in inventory. They had reportedly been thinking about placing some BMP-3 turrets on wheeled armored personnel carriers, which would complement the tracked BMP-3 force with a medium IFV counterpart that offered better on-road mobility and mileage, but kept the same firepower levels.

The BMP-3’s turret turret packs more wallop than other IFVs around the world, mounting a 2A70 100mm gun/missile launcher, plus a coaxial 2A72 30mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine gun. The turrets can also be fitted with additional anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles, to upgrade their firepower even further. Earlier BMP-1 models had serious accuracy issues with their main guns, but a combination of better ballistics and the ability to fire guided 9M117/ 9UBK10-3/ AT-10 Stabber rounds from the 100mm gun have improved the BMP-3’s performance. This was demonstrated in the UAE’s rigorous testing against M2/M3 Bradley and Warrior IFVs, which led to the surprise selection of the Russian vehicle.

Contracts & Events

February 3/16: The UAE is to acquire more of the Finnish Patria AMVs 8×8 armored wheeled vehicles. With a first batch ordered by the Emirates in 2008, Patria will provide forty more of the AMVs in a contract worth $41 million with options to purchase a further fifty. Construction of the hulls has been outsourced to Polish partner Rosomak SA, and they will be fitted with additional armor and mine protection, along with remote weapon stations armed with 12.7 mm machine guns or 40 mm automatic grenade launchers. The Patria AMV has been used in Afghanistan, Chad and is also participating in ongoing Saudi-led operations in Yemen. UAE involvement in the country has included daily air strikes along with a ground presence that has included claims of having hired Colombian mercenaries to fight there.

Categories: News

USAF Forays into 3D Printed Parts | Turkish F-16s to Get Harris AIDEWS Pod System | Malaysia to be First Recipient of MD530

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 00:20

  • The USAF is to use a 3-D printed part for the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. The part, a plastic end cap for seat armrests, is non-essential to keeping the battle management platforms flying, but is seen as an important first step toward using 3-D printing to repair and maintain aircraft in a cost and time effective manner. Other parts being developed are replacement air duct brackets used inside the E-3’s wings, with savings of over $0.5 million per annum. The increase in the development of 3-D printing by the air force follows the $6 million contract awarded earlier in January to Aerojet to define the standards that will be used to qualify components made using 3-D printing for use in liquid-fueled rocket engine applications. The award is part of a larger drive by the military to end its reliance on Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines used on the Atlas 5 rocket.

  • Initial plans to have the US Navy’s latest unmanned jet weaponized seems less likely, as plans seem to have shifted towards a tanker role. The long deferred Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program was recently provided enthusiastically with $350 million by Congress. However, this was given on the understanding that the jet would be developed for full integration into carrier air wing operations – including strike operations – and possess the range, payload, and survivability attributes as necessary to complement such integration. No mention had been made about the need for unmanned aerial tanking capability. Instead the jet could be developed under the little known Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) aimed at producing an unmanned carrier-based aerial tanker, able to refuel other planes low on gas without risking a pilot. Strike capabilities would feature in a future variant of the aircraft.

Middle East North Africa

  • Harris Corp. will upgrade Turkish F-16s with self-protection pods, bolstering their electronic warfare capability. The Turkish Air Force will receive 21 of AN/ALQ-211 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite (AIDEWS) pod systems from Harris which will include maintenance support equipment, spares, and engineering support. The addition will greatly increase the fleet capabilities as they conduct operations within their own territory and along their borders with Syria and Iraq as tensions over Russian aircraft encroaching on Turkish airspace continue. Ankara will eventually replace their F-16s with Lockheed Martin’s F-35A, with plans to acquire 100 of the Joint Strike Fighter.

  • Meteor Aerospace, one of Israel’s newest companies, has given a glimpse of its Impact UAV. The development has been kept rather quiet until now, but details released include the ability to carry a 330lb payload along with a 100hp fuel-injection engine and a flight endurance of over 24 hours. Meteor, founded in 2013, has currently received orders for the Impact and other systems for $150 million, with another $100 million in potential add ons. Development is also under way for both a larger and smaller UAV system as Meteor looks to muscle its way into Israel’s extremely competitive UAV market.


  • Following increased defense cooperation among Nordic and Baltic militaries, 2016 is to see a boost in logistical demands as Denmark takes the chair of the Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO) organization. 2015 already saw Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland agree to pool resources in joint development programs and acquisitions said to be worth up to $40 billion, as well as mounting pressure for Sweden to join NATO. These common defense policies will now extend to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the planned establishment of a Nordic-Baltic Battalion Task Force (BTF) leading to increased joint international operations and more expansive multi-branch training and exercises between their armed forces.The maturation of these defense and procurement alliances have been spurred over security concerns posed by Russia.

Asia Pacific

  • Malaysia is to be the first recipient of MD Helicopter’s new MD530 G-model variant with an order made for six of the armed scout helicopters. Full delivery will be completed by March of 2017, following an initial unit being delivered by this winter. Included in the deal is an electro-optical/infrared sensor, and an unspecified weapons package that could include guided and unguided rockets alongside .50cal machine guns. MD530 sales have had a strong start to 2016, recently receiving a follow on contract for twelve F-models to the Afghan Air Force after a previous twelve were delivered in 2015. The ones serving in Afghanistan are currently armed with FN Herstel gun pods and 2.75-inch rockets.

  • BAE Systems has signed a contract with Bangkok Dock to license and produce another 90-meter offshore patrol vessel (OPV) for the Royal Thai Navy (RTN). Based on BAE’s 80-meter River-class vessels used by the British Royal Navy, the new addition will mark the second of such a type to be produced and operated by the RTN in a deal estimated at between $60-80 million. Thailand plans to have four OPVs in operation, and it is believed that BAE will be helping to provide the two remaining, with orders expected within the next decade. Armed with a 76mm main gun and 30mm secondaries and potential for fitting a surface-to-surface missile, the OPVs will be charged with management of economic exclusive zones and the provision of effective disaster relief along Thailand’s coastal waters.

Today’s Video

Categories: News

Naval Air, Unmanned: The Long Deferred UCLASS Develops

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 00:19
UCAS-D/ N-UCAS concept
(click to view full)

The idea of UAVs with full stealth and combat capabilities has come a long way, quickly. Air forces around the world are pursuing R&D programs, but in the USA, progress is being led by the US Navy.

Their interest is well-founded. A May 2007 non-partisan report discussed the lengthening reach of ship-killers. Meanwhile, the US Navy’s carrier fleet sees its strike range shrinking to 1950s distances, and prepares for a future with fewer carrier air wings than operational carriers. Could UCAV/UCAS vehicles with longer ranges, and indefinite flight time limits via aerial refueling, solve these problems? Some people in the Navy seem to think that they might. Hence UCAS-D/ N-UCAS, which received a major push in the FY 2010 defense review. Now, Northrop Grumman is improving its X-47 UCAS-D under contract, even as emerging privately-developed options expand the Navy’s future choices as it works on its new RFP.

N-UCAS: Programs & Potential X-47B concept
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In early 2006 the future of DARPA’s J-UCAS program seemed uncertain. It aimed to create Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) for the USAF and Navy that could approach the capabilities of an F-117 stealth fighter. Boeing’s X-45C was set to face off against Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Pegasus, the program had demonstrated successful tests that included dropping bombs, and aerial refueling tests were envisioned. J-UCAS was eventually canceled when the services failed to take it up, but the technologies have survived, and the US Navy remained interested.

Like the F-117, a UCAV’s self-defense would involve remaining undetected. While UCAVs can theoretically be built to execute maneuvers no human pilot could handle, the pilot’s awareness of surrounding events would be quite limited. The X-47B isn’t being designed to do what the type inherently does poorly, but to do what the type does inherently well: be stealthier than manned aircraft, and fly reliably on station for days using aerial refueling support.

If Northrop Grumman or emerging competitors can overcome their technical and operational challenges, and if UCAV reliability lets them match the 2-3 day long mission profiles of Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawks, the US Navy would receive the equivalent of a carrier-borne F-117 stealth fighter, with improved stealth and no pilot fatigue limits. That would open up entirely new possibilities for American carriers.

If aerial refueling support is present behind the front lines, an N-UCAS wing could easily sally forth to hit targets thousands miles from their host carrier, while pilots inside the ship fly in shifts. The X-47s would fly a much shorter distance back to aerial tankers as needed, and only return to the steaming carrier several days later, or when their weapons had been used up. As a concrete example, in an emergency a carrier could launch UCAVs as it left Gibraltar at the gate of the Mediterranean, then fly them to the Persian Gulf and keep them on patrol using USAF aerial refueling tankers, all the while steaming to catch up. As the carrier got closer to the Arabian Sea off of Oman, the UCAVs would get more and more loiter time over their target area, and the “chainsaw” would get shorter and shorter.

First Step: UCAS-D / X-47B Concept no more
(click to view full)

N-UCAS (Naval Unmanned Combat Air System) is the US Navy’s broader umbrella initiative to define/develop/produce a fleet of unmanned, carrier based strike and surveillance aircraft. The UCAS-D demonstration program is a subset of that initiative. If the demonstrations go well, the Navy may progress to an Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

In July 2007, Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Pegasus beat Boeing’s X-45C to win the UCAS-D development contract. Northrop Grumman’s Aug 3/07 release describes their mission as:

“The UCAS-D effort will mature critical technologies, reduce unmanned air system carrier integration risks and provide information necessary to support a potential follow-on acquisition milestone.”

Translation: show us that this can work, and demonstrate carrier-based launches and recoveries of a tailless, autonomous, “LO-relevant” aircraft. “Low Observable relevant” means that its outer shape must reflect stealth requirements, but without any of the operational stealth coatings and other expensive measures. That makes sense, since UCAS-D is only about aerodynamics and control. Eventually, follow on programs like UCLASS will have to test stealth as well, but UCAS-D will be about the basics.

UCAS-D has 2 big technical challenges. One is safe, reliable flight and landings in carrier-controlled airspace, for a stealth aircraft that may not always be visible on radar. Testing appears to be working, and combined manned/ unmanned evolutions have begun. The other big challenge is successful and safe aerial refueling.

Next Step: UCLASS Phantom Ray

Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D team hopes that by completing the UCAS-D funded demonstration phase, they’ll be able to offer an inherently conservative service a proven UCAV option, with a more complete set of advanced capabilities than privately-developed or late-moving competitors.

The USA’s Naval Aviation Master Plan currently includes provisions for a Navy UCAS (N-UCAS) around 2025. If UCAS-D work goes very well, and the US Navy follows through on its shift toward an X-47B-class UCAV that can be used for limited missions, pressure will build for much earlier deployment. There are already indications of pressure along those lines, and the UCLASS RFI sets a goal of fielding a limited capability UCAV on board American carriers by 2018 or so.

Barring continued and substantial pressure from above, however, the level of cultural shift required by the naval aviation community is likely to slow down any deployment of advanced UCAVs on board ships. That is already happening to UCLASS, which has seen its strike role shrink while the Navy publicly talks about making surveillance its main mission. That would be less threatening to future manned aircraft programs, but it may not be the best use of UCAV technology, and the Navy is already finding itself at odds with Congress on this score. A priority on surveillance also shrinks the need for stealth, which would give General Atomics’ conventional airframe design a big advantage over its 3 tailless flying wing competitors.

Predator C
click for video

If and when the US Navy proceeds with a full Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle deployment program, the X-47 will have competitors. The 3 additional recipients of initial UCLASS study contracts include:

General Atomics. They were the first competitor out of the gate, expanding their jet-powered Predator C “Avenger” research program to include a carrier-capable “Sea Avenger” as well.

Boeing. Boeing already makes F/A-18 Super Hornet naval fighters, and their privately-developed X-45 Phantom Ray UCAV stems from the same DARPA J-UCAS program that produced the X-47B UCAS-D. Northrop Grumman designed their X-47B for carrier operations from the outset, but Boeing developed their X-45C without those compromises, so carrier operations will require added work.

Lockheed UCLASS
click for video

Lockheed Martin. This concept comes out of their famed Skunk Works facility, which produced planes like the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. Their work also builds on internal efforts like Polecat UAV, and classified programs like the RQ-170 UAV. They also seem to be making a push to leverage their strength in back-end command and control systems as a selling point, while partnering with control system specialist DreamHammer.

UCAS-D: Program & Team

The first X-47B Pegasus UCAS-D (AV-1) was scheduled to fly in December 2009, but that was pushed back to Q1 of CY 2010, and finally ended up taking place in February 2011. It conducted series of detailed flight envelope and land-based carrier integration and qualification events at Edwards AFB, CA, then returned to NAS Patuxent River, MD to begin land-based carrier landing trials.

AV-2, which is equipped with full refueling systems, was expected to make its first flight in November 2010, and begin testing autonomous aerial refueling (AAR). Early 2011 saw the AV-2 airframe pass static and dynamic load tests, but AV-2’s flights were delayed until AV-1 finishes its own tests, in late 2011, and didn’t take off until November 2011. It began carrier-related testing in 2012, and launched for the 1st time in May 2013. Full launch and landing circuits, and aerial refueling tests, are still on the horizon.

Its first landing was initially set for late 2011, but the firm now talks about some time in 2013. Once autonomous aerial refueling demonstrations begin, the Navy intends to achieve both probe & drogue (USN style) and boom/receptacle (USAF style) refuelings.

Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, CA is the final assembly site for the X-47B, and the industrial team also includes:

UCAS-D: Northrop Grumman’s X-47B X-47B 3-view
(click to view full)

UCAVs currently have no real situational awareness of the airspace around them, which makes them sitting ducks for any attack that doesn’t use radar guidance, and isn’t picked up by their radar warning receivers. Even an alerted UCAV currently has few options but to try and change course. That may work against ground threats, but mobile aerial opponents will simply follow and kill them. Their best defense is not to be found. Their best option if found is to make it hard to keep a radar track on them, or to vector in enemy aircraft. This may be why high-end strike UCAVs like the Boeing X-45 Phantom Ray, European nEUROn, British Taranis, and Russian MiG SKAT all use the maximum stealth configuration of tailless subsonic blended wing bodies with shielded air intakes, and attenuated exhausts.

The X-47B’s modified flying wing design and top-mounted air intake reflect this orientation. By removing the pilot and opting for sub-sonic speeds, Northrop Grumman is able to field a design that looks like a more advanced version of its B-2 bomber. Instead of a straight flying wing like Boeing’s competing X-45C, however, their engineers opted for a cranked wing that improves landing characteristics on carrier decks, and makes it easy to use carrier-borne aircrafts’ classic “folding wing” design for improved storage in tight spaces.

This UCAV may be a short plane, but it’s not a small one. The X-47B’s 62.1 foot wingspan rivals the Navy’s old F-14s, and is wider than a Navy F/A-18 Hornet or even a larger Super Hornet. Because of its foreshortened length, however, its storage “spot factor” relative to an F/A-18C Hornet (“1.0”) is just 0.87.

Target and strike
(click to view full)

Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5C turbofan engine powered previous X-47 models, but the UCAS-D will adopt Pratt & Whitney’s F100-PW-220U, a modified variant of the engine that powers American F-16 and F-15 fighters. Subsonic requirements and carrier-based employment changed the engine’s imperatives: it will produce less thrust than its F100 counterparts (just 16,000 pounds), in exchange for efficiency improvements and better protection against the corrosive salt-water environment.

Efficiency matters to this platform. Unrefueled X-47B range is expected to be between 1,500 – 2,100 nautical miles, with a maximum payload of 4,500 pounds. The standard payload is expected to be a pair of 2,000 pound JDAMs, but the weapon bay’s ultimate size and shape will determine its ability to carry other options like strike missiles, JSOW glide bombs, a pair of 4-bomb racks for the GPS-guided Small Diameter Bomb, the forthcoming Joint Air-Ground Missile, etc.

Sensors are currently to be determined, as they aren’t really the point of UCAS-D. Any Navy strike platform is expected to have an advanced SAR radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI), conformal electro-optic day/night cameras, and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) equipment that helps it pinpoint and trace back incoming electromagnetic signals. Given the X-47B’s design’s inherent strengths of stealth and long endurance, additional modules or payloads for tasks like signals collection must surely be expected.

Naval UCAVs: Contracts and Key Events

See also “Boeing to Advance UAV Aerial Refueling” for background and updates regarding unmanned aerial refueling test programs in the US military – which now include UCAS-D/ N-UCAS.

Unless otherwise indicated, The Naval Air Systems Command Patuxent River, MD manages these contracts.

FY 2016

February 2/16: Initial plans to have the US Navy’s latest unmanned jet weaponized seems less likely, as plans seem to have shifted towards a tanker role. The long deferred Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program was recently provided enthusiastically with $350 million by Congress. However, this was given on the understanding that the jet would be developed for full integration into carrier air wing operations – including strike operations – and possess the range, payload, and survivability attributes as necessary to complement such integration. No mention had been made about the need for unmanned aerial tanking capability. Instead the jet could be developed under the little known Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) aimed at producing an unmanned carrier-based aerial tanker, able to refuel other planes low on gas without risking a pilot. Strike capabilities would feature in a future variant of the aircraft.

October 1/15: Both House and Senate armed forces committees have agreed to fund the development of UCLASS unmanned aircraft in the draft FY2016 NDAA bill, in addition to more Tomahawk cruise missiles, F-35B Joint Strike Fighters for the Marines and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the Navy. The draft bill also includes for the provision of a fourth MQ-4C Triton UAV.

FY 2015

April 20/15:
The X-47B UCAV currently being developed by Northrop Grumman, has conducted successful aerial refueling from a KC-707, the first time the demonstrator has completed this difficult test set. Additionally, the US Office of Naval Research recently successfully tested the ability of UAVs to “swarm”, sharing information in flight with some autonomy, as part of its LOCUST program.

Feb 4/15: FY 2016 budge shelves UCLASS until 2023.
Even (theoretically) busting through sequestration, the 2016 Administration budget for the Navy opts to push UCLASS off to 2023.

The new schedule has an RFP released in FY 2016, with an award in Q2 2017 and first flight milestone in Q3 2020. Initial capability wouldn’t arrive until 2023. Where UCLASS was to originally get $669 million in FY 2016, the final document allowed it only $135 million.

FY 2014

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Sept 10/14: UCLASS. The UCLASS team has integrated the latest iteration of Common Control System (CCS) software, which is the 1st to use the latest Navy Interoperability Profile (NIOP). This iteration forms the baseline for all future UCLASS control software, and Cmdr. Wade Harris is the Control System and Connectivity (CS&C) lead. They’re currently testing this software with an air vehicle simulator based on the MQ-4C Triton.

Ron La France is the UCLASS integration lead, and system-level testing of the control station and connectivity segment, carrier segment, and air system segment in the lab is next. That’s hard enough. Meanwhile, the program team is working with 72 programs of record, 22 program offices, 6 program executive offices and 3 systems commands. No wonder this stuff is slow and expensive; in fairness, a carrier deck can’t afford screwups, and there are a lot of moving parts to consider. Sources: US Navy NAVAIR, “Navy integrates ‘common’ software into next-generation unmanned carrier-based system”.

Aug 29/14: UCLASS. So much for that Sept 10/14 DAB meeting. US Navy Cmdr. Thurraya S. Kent now says that:

“Defense officials will be including [Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS)] in its ISR portfolio review to be conducted in conjunction with the normal budget review process this fall… Determination regarding the release of the UCLASS RFP will be made based on the results of this review.”

It appears that the Navy itself is divided between its initial view of UCLASS as an ISR asset with secondary aerial tanker and low-threat light strike capabilities, vs. a stealthy and refuelable high-threat strike platform that’s designed to radically extend the carrier’s offensive reach. Sources: USNI, “UCLASS RFP Delayed Again Following Pentagon Meeting”.

Aug 27/14: Testing. X-47B testing aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt [CVN 71] draws to a close. The UCAV flew with manned aircraft for the first time (q.v. Aug 17/14), continued flying and landing tests, performed a night time shipboard flight deck handling evaluation to see how the sailors dealt with that, and collected flying quality and recovery wind condition data to evaluate how the aircraft responds to wake turbulence during approach and landing. Sources: US Navy NAVAIR, “X-47B achieves new set of firsts aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt”.

Aug 19/14: UCLASS. USNI reports that US NAVAIR is about to release their UCLASS RFP at long last, with a final signoff expected on Sept 10/14 by the Defense Acquisition Board. The specifications are still secret this time, so it’s hard to have an intelligent public discussion beyond the public data of 14 hours ISR endurance, 1,000 pound payload, or 2,000 mile strike mission with 500 pounds payload.

It is interesting that many American sorties over Iraq these days are surveillance missions, though using Navy fighters for that is a fiscally stupid thing to do. Sources: USNI, “NAVAIR ‘On the Precipice’ of Releasing UCLASS RFP, Pentagon Review Set For Sept. 10” | USNI, “Navy: Most Carrier Sorties Over Iraq Are Surveillance Missions”.

X-47B & F/A-18F

Aug 17/14: UCAS-D & F/A-18F. The Navy continues taking next steps, operating an X-47B alongside manned F/A-18C and F/A-18F fighters from the same carrier at the same time:

“The first series of manned/unmanned operations began this morning when the ship launched an F/A-18 and an X-47B. After an eight-minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area. The deck-based operator used newly developed deck handling control to manually move the aircraft out of the way of other aircraft, allowing the F/A-18 to touch down close behind the X-47B’s recovery.”

This seems easy, but “de-confliction” is really dangerous. Sources: US Navy, “USS Theodore Roosevelt Conducts Combined Manned, Unmanned Operations” | Foxtrot Alpha, “Video Of X-47B & F/A-18 Carrier Ops Shows The Future Of Naval Aviation” | Washington Times, “Navy’s X-47B drone completes ‘key’ carrier tests alongside F/A-18 Hornet”.

July 31/14: UCLASS. USNI reports that the shift in UCLASS requirements wasn’t budget-driven, it was politically driven based on a program that doesn’t exist yet:

“In particular, the change in UCLASS from a deep strike stealthy penetrator into the current lightly armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) focused aircraft was – in large part – to preserve a manned version of the F/A-XX replacement for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, several Navy, Pentagon and industry sources confirmed to USNI News.”

It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened. The usual outcome is the elimination of a useful capability now, without really protecting the future program. Another trap could snap shut if the Washington Business Journal turns out to be correct, and the Navy decides to keep the specifications poorly defined, in order to give themselves more flexibility. What that usually gives you, is more cost. Sources: USNI, “UCLASS Requirements Shifted To Preserve Navy’s Next Generation Fighter” | The Guardian, “Carrier-based drone offers way forward for US navy – subject to squabbling” | Washington Business Journal, “Could UCLASS end up as the Pentagon’s next runaway program?”.

June 26/14: N-UCAS Phase II. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA receives a $63.1 million to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for Phase II of N-UCAS post-demonstration activities. $45.9 million is committed immediately, using US Navy FY 2013 and 2014 RDT&E budgets.

Phase II activities will include continued flights, test bed and flight test support at both shore-based locations and associated carrier detachments, continued development of Fleet Concepts of Operations, X-47B maintenance support, lab and test bed operational support and continued flight test opportunities.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (70%) and Patuxent River, MD (30%), and is expected to be complete in March 2015. US Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD, is the contracting activity (N00019-07-C-0055).


May 6/14: Politics. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chair Buck McKeon [R-CA] is proposing to add $450 million to fund 5 EA-18Gs and their equipment in the FY 2015 budget, instead of the 22 on the unfunded priorities list. The committee’s proposed changes would also preserve all F-35 funding, while cutting the Navy’s unmanned UCLASS R&D budget in half to $200 million. Sources: Flightglobal, “House bill promotes EA-18G and U-2S, but hits UCLASS” | Reuters, “Boeing, backers to fight for funding for 22 Boeing jets”.

May 4/14: RFP leak? Shawn Brimley of the center-left Center for a New American Security discusses the recent classified UCLASS RFP. Something must have leaked:

“But last month the Navy instead reportedly issued classified requirements for UCLASS to deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Instead of creating a drone that can carry missiles or other strike power into enemy airspace, defense contractors have been told to submit proposals for an aircraft designed to fly around the aircraft carrier for 12 to 14 hours delivering persistent surveillance over uncontested airspace, with a light strike capability to eliminate targets of opportunity.”

Within the known set of contenders, this RFP would give General Atomics a significant advantage, but it would also remove most of the UCAV’s ability to operate in contested environments. Stealth at a level required for contested environments isn’t a bolt-on, it’s a fundamental design choice that affects most other choices. There’s a set of trade-offs between various capabilities and reasonable cost (q.v. Feb 13 – April 2/14), but one can legitimately wonder why the job description Brimley describes requires a new program of any kind. The MQ-4C Triton and RQ-4B Block 40 Global Hawks will already perform that reconnaissance role, and if light strike is also required, the MQ-9 Reaper could just be navalized. Sources: Defense One, “Congress’s Chance to Fix Aircraft Carrier Drones”.

April 30/14: Politics. The House Subcommittee On Seapower And Projection Forces discusses H.R. 4435, the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill. Title II addresses UCLASS directly, and prohibits UCLASS contracts until the Pentagon has produced a review of the report that examines the carrier wing’s capabilities against surveillance-strike complexes by 2025-2035, including both manned and unmanned components. That actually misses one of a UCAV’s biggest benefits, which is the strike range they offer with aerial refueling. The report may not change much, but the committee does say that:

“The committee believes that current UCLASS Air System Segment requirements will not address the emerging anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) challenges to U.S. power projection that originally motivated creation of the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System (N-UCAS) program during the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and which were reaffirmed in both the 2010 QDR and 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance. In particular, the disproportionate emphasis in the requirements on unrefueled endurance to enable continuous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the Carrier Strike Group (CSG), a capability need presumably satisfied by the planned acquisition of 68 MQ-4C Tritons…. appears unsupportive of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance for the United States to “maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged.”

….Finally, the committee is concerned with multiple aspects of the proposed UCLASS acquisition strategy, including: insufficient time and funding for contractors to mature their designs in support of a full-scope Preliminary Design Review, due in part to late-developing and still-evolving air system performance requirements; the additional risk to the program associated with the Navy’s decision to abandon the precision landing system developed and successfully tested during the UCAS-D effort; and the potential risk associated with NAVAIR developing the UCLASS Mission Control System internally.”

April 17/14: RFP. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed-off on the draft RFP during an April 16/14 briefing, and the US Navy Navy released a draft UCLASS RFP direct to their existing contractors: Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin & Northrop Grumman. It’s classified, as expected, and the final RFP is due late this year. Sources: USNI, “Navy Issues Restricted UCLASS Draft Request for Proposal”.


April 10/14: UCAS-D Testing. The X-47B conducts its 1st night flight. Sources: US NAVAIR, “Photo Release: X-47B completes night flights”.

April 10/14: UCLASS GA. General Atomics’ modified Sea Avenger UAV appears to have grown larger since initial designs were released, with an internal bay and 4 wing hardpoints, including an option for buddy refueling tanks. The key question for the company will be the UCLASS stealth requirements. If they’re focused on ISR and strike missions in defended airspace, requiring good stealth scores in the C, X, and Ku bands, the Sea Avenger probably can’t compete. If the requirements focus on missions in relatively unthreatened airspace, inherent efficiencies in the Sea Avenger’s design sharply improve its chances. Sources: USNI, “General Atomics Shows Off Company’s UCLASS Option”.

April 9/14: UCAS-D Recognition. The X-47B program is awarded the aerospace industry’s annual Robert Collier trophy for 2013. Sources: US NAVAIR, “Navy’s X-47B program receives aviation honor”.

April 8/14: UCLASS. Speaking at the Sea, Air and Space 2014 expo, NAVAIR PEO unmanned aviation and strike weapons Adm. Mat Winter says that the US Navy expects to release a classified UCLASS draft RFP before the end of April. Sources: USNI, “Classified UCLASS Draft Request for Proposal Due at End of April”.

Feb 13 – April 2/14: UCLASS. Nailing down the UCLASS requirements has been the Navy’s biggest headache throughout, and even at this late date, competing visions are still problematic enough to delay the RFP. One is reminded of legendary Skunk Works chief Kelly Johnson:

“Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don’t know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy.”

The core design issues are straightforward. One, more payload = more size = more cost. Two, different UCAV sizes force a choice of specific marinized jet engines, which will have specific fuel consumptions. If gal/nmi isn’t good enough, that means more fuel, which means more payload, and see #1. Engine choice also affects stealth and size directly, since efficient high-bypass turbofans have large diameters, and you have to design around that. Finally, stealth itself costs money, and creates airframe designs that are difficult to change later.

The Navy’s requirements (q.v. June 26/13) effectively impose a $75 million per UCAV cost cap, but “we want it all” letters from House ASC Seapower subcommittee chair Randy Forbes are likely to force costs to $100+ million if its recommendations are adopted. In-air refueling capability is critical for any UCAV, but adding maximum stealth and payload to the request is what breaks the deal. This may be one of those cases where a limited program with a less expensive platform is what’s really called for, in order to allow the Navy to figure out how they can best use the technology first. Sources: Scribd, Rep. Randy Forbes UCLASS Letter || USNI, “Cost Will Drive UCLASS Designs” | “Requirements Debate Continues to Delay UCLASS RFP”.

April 1/14: UCLASS. The Navy has been discussing the potential use of UCLASS as an aerial tanker platform for some time now. They aren’t talking about forward use during strikes. Rather, they’re focused on orbits around the carrier that can top off planes in the landing circle.

The Navy currently uses F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for that job, configured with buddy refueling tanks. Those missions eat up fully 20% of the fighters’ missions, consuming limited airframe flight hours for an expensive asset. All because the Navy foolishly retired its S-3 Vikings when they still had more remaining airframe life than a new Super Hornet. The coming COD carrier cargo aircraft competition may provide a different solution to this problem, via an upgraded C-3 Viking or the V-22’s roll-on refueling pallet. That’s good, because there probably won’t be enough UCLASS drones to do this job and perform their own missions. Sources: USNI, “UCLASS Could Be Used as Tanker for Carrier Air Wing”.

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. They peg the UCLASS program at $3.7 billion, and express concern about using a “technology development” program as a procurement program, which would bypass formal systems development requirements and move directly into production in 2020. A development contract is expected in FY 2014, but:

“UCLASS is critically dependent on the development and fielding of the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS), a global positioning system that guides aircraft onto an aircraft carrier. Navy officials expect UCLASS to hold a preliminary design review – including the air vehicle, carrier, and control segments – in May 2014 based on JPALS test progress. However, the Navy still considers JPALS one of its top risks for UCLASS.”

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The future UCLASS program is slated to consume $2.937 billion through FY 2019, all of which will be R&D money due to the program’s structure.

Feb 13/14: UCLASS Air-to-Air? The Navy is thinking broadly about UCLASS, which is good as long as it doesn’t screw up the specifications. Director of air warfare Rear Adm. Mike Manazir talks about the potential to use the UCLASS’ payload bay as a missile magazine. It wouldn’t have independent targeting capability, but datalinks with fighters like the missile-limited F-35C would allow remote firing, with guidance provided thereafter by manned fighters.

It’s the right kind of thinking, but unlikely to see much use for 3 reasons. One is that the UCLASS will be subsonic, with very limited ability to avoid enemy fighters. That’s a nice way of saying that they’d be expensive sitting ducks if enemy aircraft can get a firing solution on them, even as the number of missiles on board makes them a priority target. Another potential issue is that asking internal launchers to handle a wider variety of weapons (q.v. Nov 21/13) generally drives up costs, and may compromise optimal weapon configurations for the strike role. On a less likely but more catastrophic level, one hopes there’s no software exploit that might allow others to issue those kinds of firing commands. Sources: USNI, “Navy’s UCLASS Could Be Air to Air Fighter”.

Feb 4/14: UCLASS. The FY 2014 defense budget bill added some new demands on the UCLASS program, but they won’t stop the Navy from running it as a technology demonstration project that goes straight into operational production.

Programmatic updates, and annual GAO review of the program, are normal. What will change is the number of UAVs bought during the TD Phase, which is capped at 6 instead of the planned 24. The Navy says that they can handle Milestone B approval with 6, which was never really in doubt. What does change is the ability to field what’s effectively an operational capability straight out of the TD phase. Sources: USNI, “Navy: Congressional Oversight Will Not Slow UCLASS Program”.

Nov 21/13: UCLASS. The UCLASS weapons debate isn’t solved yet, though the Navy seems to be leaning strongly toward a primary surveillance and targeting role, since that would be a new addition to the carrier air wing. UCLASS/UCAS-D requirements officer Cmdr. Pete Yelle says that:

“Weapons requirements will be defined in the final proposals. It is up to the vendors to come back with proposals and leverage what is available”…. The UCLASS will be able to work operations over land and water using EO/IR, or electro-optical/infrared sensors, FMV or full-motion video and eventually a fifth-generation AESA radar, Yelle said.”

Full Motion Video is part of most EO/IR systems these days. As for the AESA radar, that can mean a wide array of solutions, and a significant range of expense. The question is how far one wants to go. Just surface scans? Surface scans plus periscope detection capabilities, to partially replace the retired S-3 Viking’s role? Or a full fighter radar for air and ground surveillance, with specialized capabilities added as software? Each choice leads to different cost ranges, and potential commonalities or divergences with other fleet assets.

On the weapons front, some capability for persistent surveillance and strike seems like an obvious addition. What’s available includes Paveway laser-guidance, JDAM and Small Diameter Bomb GPS, and DAMTC dual-mode laser/GPS bombs. Depending on a given UAV’s internal mechanics, compact anti-ship missiles and even AIM-9X air defense weapons could also become an option, but that tends to add complexity and cost to the system. Sources: Defense Tech, “Navy Plans to Arm UCLASS with JDAMs”.

Nov 10/13: Flying again. The X-47B is back at sea, flying from the decks of the USS Theodore Roosevelt [CVN 71]. US Navy, “X-47B Operates Aboard Theodore Roosevelt”:

“The aircraft performed precise touch and go maneuvers on the ship to generate data that characterizes the environment in close proximity of the carrier flight deck. In addition, the aircraft took part in flight deck handling drills, completed arrested landings and catapult launches. Mission operators monitored the aircraft’s autonomous flight from a portable command and control unit from Theodore Roosevelt’s flight deck during each of its 45-minute flights.”

FY 2013

In-depth carrier ops testing; UCAS-D deck handling, catapult launch, and arrested landing tests; Despite cuts, UCLASS plans are still on. History made
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Aug 28 – Sept 6/13: AAR. A Calspan Learjet has been modified with a non-functioning aerial refueling probe, and X-47B UCAV hardware and software for navigation, command and control, and vision processing. Its challenge? To fly behind an Omega K-707 tanker, and demonstrate its ability to hold correct positions and operate with the installed systems. Testing went well.

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

Aug 14/13: UCLASS. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD offers each of the UCLASS study participants another $15 million firm-fixed-price contract for their preliminary design review assessment work. Each firm has $4.75 million committed to it immediately, and work is extended until June 2014. Too bad the core requirements are still in flux. The winners include:

  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in El Segundo, CA (N00019-13-C-0140).
  • Lockheed Martin Corp. in Palmdale, CA (N00019-13-C-0141).
  • Boeing in St. Louis, MO (N00019-13-C-0142).
  • General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA (N00019-13-C-0143).

Aug 12/13: UCLASS. Aviation Week reports that the US Navy is having a hard time with the specifications for their UCLASS program RFP, which will be delayed into September 2013.

The biggest question is how much stealth the drone requires. Despite recent manufacturing advances, like the radar-absorbing materials baked right into the F-35’s composite skin, more stealth tends to make planes more expensive to buy and to maintain, while dropping their endurance and payload. On the other hand, current drones would have a very short life expectancy against advanced air defense systems, which creates a gap outside of the military’s unknown “black” programs.

Aviation Week reports that Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are emphasizing stealth, while General Atomics and Boeing are willing to raise the radar cross-section somewhat in exchange for payload and endurance. General Atomics’ Sea Avenger, with its winged body and tail, does seem to fit this description. On the other hand, Boeing’s X-45 Phantom Ray is a tailless flying wing design, just like its NGC and Lockheed competitors. If Boeing is really prioritizing range and payload, it means they’re changing their base platform. Aviation Week: “Uclass: How Much LO is Enough?”

Aug 7/13: UCAS-D: Keep flying. It seems that the X-47Bs aren’t done flying yet. Instead of mothballing them as planned, the US Navy wants to keep them flying into 2015, and deploy to carriers 3 more times. Up to 3 more carriers will be fitted with compatible equipment, and Congress may get its wish to have the aerial refueling tests restored and completed by October 2014. The most important test will involve full integration with a 70-plane carrier air wing for several weeks, which would create a different level of comfort within the Navy for unmanned aircraft.

Despite past weapon drops under the J-UCAS program, The Us Navy doesn’t expect to conduct any of those with the X-47 UCAS-D. NAVAIR’s Capt. Jaime Engdahl repeated that refusal a couple of times a week later, at the AUVSI conference.

Continued flying will also give Northrop Grumman additional opportunities to work on its UCLASS design, and ensure that the Navy gets comfortable with its evolution. David Axe correctly points out that the last situation similar to this one involve Lockheed Martin’s X-35 design, which was chosen to become the F-35. DoD Buzz: “Navy: X-47B Drone Won’t Be a Killer” | USNI News: “NAVAIR: X-47B to Fly Again” | War Is Boring: “Navy’s Big Surprise: Carrier Drone to Make a Comeback”.

July 10/13: X-47B “Salty Dog 502” leaves NAS Pax River, MD and flies to USS George H.W. Bush [CVN 77], off the coast of Virginia. The UCAV successfully lands on the aircraft carrier and traps the #3 wire, marking a huge milestone in naval aviation. It then takes off from the carrier and lands again. On the 3rd approach, the drone reported that one of its 3 navigational computers failed. Rear Adm. Mat Winter decides that they had done enough for 1 day, and orders the drone back to Wallops Island, VA to land. Even with that minor glitch, the Secretary of the Navy had an appropriate quote when he said that:

“It isn’t very often you get a glimpse of the future. Today, those of us aboard USS George H.W. Bush got that chance…”

Actually, glimpses of the future are common. What he meant to say was that glimpses of a future that promises big changes in naval warfare are rare. This event is indeed in that class – closer to Billy Mitchell’s sinking of the Ostfriesland than it is to the 1st carrier jet launch. The Navy still needs to demonstrate UCAS aerial refueling in order to complete an airpower revolution, but this is a very big step forward. US Navy | Northrop Grumman | Wind River | Defense Tech | DoD Live.

Carrier landing at sea!

July 2/13: UCLASS. Lockheed Martin touts a recent UCLASS demonstration at NAVAIR, but their focus is on back-end and Common Control systems, rather than the UCAV itself. Lockheed Martin:

“Using an open architecture framework integrated with DreamHammer’s Ballista [DID: link added] drone control software and Navy compliant software protocols, a single operator managed multiple UAS platforms [including Lockheed Martin’s UCLASS concept] simultaneously. The team also used the new Navy Cloud capability to demonstrate control of the ISR sensors and fully integrate the data into one complete mission picture. The team then used this picture to rapidly re-task and re-route the UAS assets. In addition to using DreamHammer’s Ballista drone control software in this UCLASS demonstration, Lockheed Martin is teamed with DreamHammer Government Solutions in pursuit of the upcoming Navy Common Control System contract.”

June 28/13: JPALS/N-UCAS. Engility Corp. in Mount Laurel, NJ receives a $12.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, exercising an option for engineering services in support of the Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems (JPALS) and the Navy Unmanned Combat Aerial Systems programs. JPALS is a ground or ship-based system that adds extra precision to GPS, and is used to help land aircraft. It’s a critical enabler for naval UAVs like UCAS-D, UCLASS, etc.

$4 million in FY 2013 RDT&E funds are committed immediately. Services to be provided include requirements definition and analysis; prototyping; test and evaluation; technical assistance; system analysis; engineering; software development, integration and maintenance; test data acquisition; reduction and analysis; technical logistic support; configuration management; training support; and program and project management.

Work will be performed in St. Inigoes, MD (95%); Providence, RI (3%); and Chicago, IL (2%); and is expected to be complete by in January 2014 (N00421-12-C-0048).

June 26/13: UCLASS. “The Navy has outlined the specifications for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) in a requirements document obtained by USNI News.” the key numbers are:

  • Carrier and JALN-M network compatible, with take-off and landing in Sea State 3 (4′ waves) minimum, and SS7 (29′ waves) maximum.
  • Able to conduct a strike mission at 2,000 nmi.
  • Able to conduct 2 surveillance orbits at 600 nmi radius around the carrier, or 1 at 1,200 nmi radius.
  • 3,000 pound payload, including day/night optical surveillance comparable to an MQ-9, plus a surface scanning radar including GMTI moving object tracking.
  • At least 1,000 pounds of that payload can be existing carrier weapons.
  • Enough stealth for surveillance missions in lightly contested areas.

Those requirements will be difficult to meet already. Now add a number of added requirement being floated at present, and ongoing disputes about how much stealth etc. is necessary. Sources: USNI, “UCLASS By the Numbers”.

May 17/13: Touch and Go. The X-47B UCAS-D follows its catapult launch with a touch-and-go landing on USS George W. Bush [CVN 77], which tests its ability to fly precision approaches to a moving target.

A touch-and-go doesn’t trap the wire, but throttles the engine to full and takes off again. Carrier-based planes have to be able to do that if they miss the wire and pull a “bolter,” which is a guaranteed way to get harassed by your fellow pilots. Not sure what you do to a UAV. Perhaps the Navy can offer a rotating pool of drone software programmers, available for friendly abuse via secure video conference. US NAVAIR | US Navy.

Carrier launch
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May 14/13: Carrier launch. An X-47B UCAS-D is maneuvered into position on deck, and launched from USS George W. Bush [CVN 77]. The US Navy, Northrop Grumman et. al. hail it as a revolutionary milestone. We’ll grant that launching amidst the busy, complicated, and dangerous goings-on of a carrier deck is unlike any land-based challenge. It’s a difficult task for humans, and a difficult task for computers to do with human help.

Having said that, this isn’t the complete circuit. It’s the next logical step after on-ship deck tests (vid. Nov. 26/12) and land-based catapult launch (vid. Nov 29/12). We’ve said before that they won’t have a revolution on their hands until they can do the complete circuit: maneuver, launch, fly a circuit, and land. The next revolution after that will involve aerial refueling. When they do these things, we’ll join the chorus. US NAVAIR | Northrop Grumman.

May 6/13: Trap. The X-47B UCAS-D demonstrator successfully traps the wire as it lands at NAS Patuxent River, MD’s shore-based catapult and arresting gear complex. Northrop Grumman.

April 12/13: Support.

“This synopsis provides notice of the Government’s intent to solicit a proposal on a sole source basis from Sierra Nevada Corporation, 444 Salomon Circle, Sparks, NV for work providing support in troubleshooting, problem resolution, and anomaly investigation associated with the Precision Global Positioning System (PGPS) as part of the existing Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D) Program. This request for proposal will be issued in accordance with the terms and conditions of Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) N00421-10-G-0001.

This acquisition is being pursued on a sole source basis under the statutory authority 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1), as implemented by Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 6.302-1, only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements.”

April 7/13: UCLASS. Lockheed Martin finally unveils their Skunk Works’ UCLASS design, which combines elements of their RQ-170 Sentinel stealth reconnaissance UAV with technologies from the F-35C for carrier operations, weapons use, etc. Overall, the design looks quite a bit like Boeing’s X-45C Phantom Ray. LMCO UCLASS Page | YouTube video.

March 26/13: UCLASS. NAVAIR indicates through a presolicitation that it plans to go ahead with follow-on Preliminary Design contracts to all 4 UCLASS study contract vendors (Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman – vid. June 23/11), and continue the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

The contracts are expected by the summer of 2013, supporting up to 2 years of work on the UAVs, datalinks for communications and control, and the carrier operations segment. They’re expected to carry each design to the Preliminary Design Review by Q3 2014, and support post-PDR design maturation and follow-on engineering. The next step after that will be the selection of 1 winner, and UCLASS initial operational capability within 3-6 years. FBO | Defense Update.

Dec 21/12: Aerial Refueling. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA receives a $9.7 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) demonstration activities in support of the N-UCAS program. Services will include completion of Delta Critical Design Review (DCDR), surrogate testing with manned aircraft, preparation for the X-47B demonstration, travel, and support technical data for the AAR demonstration activities.

Work will be performed in Manhattan Beach, CA (70%) and Patuxent River, MD (30%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. All contract funds are committed immediately (N00019-07-C-0055).

Nov 29/12: Testing. An X-47B is launched using a land-based naval steam catapult, at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The releases are full of words like “historic,” but DID just doesn’t see it. Lots of UAVs have been launched by non-steam catapults, steam catapult technology isn’t new, and this isn’t a launch from an actual ship. It’s just a test to verify that the X-47B’s landing gear, body structure, and software, which were designed from the outset to handle the rigors of a steam catapult launch, can indeed do so. A milestone, yes, but a minor one.

When an X-47B is launched from an actual ship, and recovered aboard, that will be historic. Ditto for successful aerial refueling. US NAVAIR | Northrop Grumman.

X-47B deck tests
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Nov 26/12: Testing. An X-47B air vehicle arrives by barge from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD, and is craned aboard the USS Harry S. Truman [CVN 75] for deck handling tests aboard the ship.

One suspects that civil airspace certification for high-end drones can’t happen soon enough for NAVAIR and the US military. US NAVAIR.

Nov 15/12: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that its UCAS-D team has successfully completed initial onshore trials of the Control Display Unit (CDU), a new wireless, handheld controller used for carrier-deck maneuvering. Tests were basic: control engine thrust; roll forward, brake and stop; nose wheel steering; and maneuver the aircraft efficiently into a catapult or out of the landing area following a mock carrier landing.

On-ship deck trials are next.

Nov 6/12: NASIF Testing. US NAVAIR discusses testing at the “N-UCAS Aviation/Ship Integration Facility.” If NASIF didn’t exist, the Navy would have to use an aircraft carrier for this sort of testing, and it can’t afford that. Hence the NASIF building, stocked with Primary Flight Control (PriFly), Landing Signals Officer (LSO), Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) and Mission Control Element (MCE) equipment.

The UCAS-D program uses the facility for system integration of new equipment, and UAV/manned surrogate demonstration events. Events like final Human Systems Integration (HSI) modeling and simulation testing for sailors from USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln.

Instead of using the current method of controlling multiple aircraft with radar displays and voice radio, the event tested their ability to send and receive digital instructions to and from aircraft, in addition to using voice instructions. This capability is absolutely required for UAV, but it will also help manned fighters, whose 60-second landing spread includes a final 20 seconds of enforced controller silence. If the controllers can communicate with everyone else by text while a pilot lands, that’s a big step forward.

The controller teams showed they could handle it over about 20 test scenarios, which progressed from relaying UAV commands to a UAV mission operator for entry, to direct communication with the simulated UAV and more automated systems.

FY 2012

Aerial refueling expands to include both boom and drogue; How can it be a UFO, if it’s on a truck? X-47B, Edwards AFB
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Aug 20/12: UCLASS. NAVAIR awards a small $440,315 firm-fixed-price delivery order to Rockwell Collins, for Phase II of the ARC-210 UCLASS feasibility study with JPALS.

ARC-210 radios are used to communicate with UAVs over UHF, and their software may need fine-tuning to work with UCLASS for all of the Navy’s requirements (N00019-08-G-0016-0076). Contract:

Aug 13/12: UCLASS. Naval Air Systems Command releases a Request for
Information to evaluate the Draft Mission Effectiveness Analysis (MEA) Tool developed by the UCLASS Program Office. In practice this is a spreadsheet fed with warfare analysis models, where the user can input UAV parameters for comparative assessment (N00019-12-P7-ZD235).

The RFP should come in the fall with a down-select to a single design in 2016 aiming for IOC in 2020. The spreadsheet is classified SECRET/NOFORN. | Flight International.

Early July 2012: Testing. Members from the UCAS-D carrier integration team engage in extensive software testing aboard USS Harry S. Truman [CVN 75], talking to fleet air-traffic controllers and air-department personnel about the usability of the new software, and lessons learned. Land-based X-47B tests will continue at Patuxent River, MD, and the goal is a carrier landing in about a year. US NAVAIR.

June 14/12: UFO-G. US NAVAIR indirectly confirms that the wrapped object spotted on a truck in Kansas was UCAS-D AV-2 (vid. June 6/12 entry), being trucked across the country from Edwards AFB, CA to NAS Patuxent River, MD for the next phase of flight tests. Easier than getting the civil flight waivers, I guess.

June 8/12: JPALS. L-3 Service, Inc. in Mount Laurel, NJ receives a $12.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering services in support of the precision GPS Joint Precision Approach and Landing System, and the Navy’s UCAS-D program. The 2 are highly connected, of course, since UCAVs will need to depend on precision GPS, in order to land on carriers (vid. the July 2/11 test). JPALS will also help manned fighters.

Services to be provided include requirements definition and analysis, prototyping, test and evaluation, technical assistance, system analysis, engineering, software work, test data acquisition, reduction and analysis, technical logistic support, configuration management, training support, and program and project management. Work will be performed in St. Inigoes, MD (95%); Providence, RI (3%); and Chicago, IL (2%). Work is expected to be complete in October 2012. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to the FAR 6.302-1, by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, MD (N00421-12-C-0048).

June 6/12: UFO-G. From the Augusta (KS) Gazette:

“This morning several Butler County Sheriff officers and KDOT personnel escorted a flatbed trailer entering Augusta from the south on US Highway 77 and headed east out of town on US Highway 54. Traffic was backed up coming in and going out of town. At first glance the strange-shaped cargo cloaked in industrial-strength shrink wrap appeared to be a saucer, but an unidentified KDOT worker advised it was an X-47B Combat Drone coming from Texas and en route to an unknown destination.”

Operating unmanned jets in US civil air space is a bit of a problem, which may help to explain the decision to ship it by road. Kansas is a rather roundabout route from Texas to Patuxent River, MD, but it is more of a straight line from California.

Jan 21/12: Testing. NAVAIR/AFRL’s AAR program completes a series of ground and flight tests that began in November 2011, using a Calspan Learjet surrogate with X-47B hardware and software, and a Omega Air Refueling K-707 aerial tanker. The tests included simulated flight demonstrations of both boom/receptacle (USAF) and probe-and-drogue (Navy & European) aerial refueling techniques, but no fuel was actually transferred, and Calspan’s Learjet wasn’t equipped for that anyway. The tests were all about correct positioning and coordination, beginning at a position 1 nautical mile from the K-707, and allowing autonomous guidance to move the Learjet into the 3 air-air refueling positions: observation, contact, and re-form.

Navy UCAS program manager Capt. Jaime Engdahl says that the next big step will involve using the actual X-47B. The team plans to conduct 2 more surrogate test periods before a planned refueling demonstration with the X-47B in 2014. NAVAIR | Northrop Grumman.

Nov 22/11: AV-2 flies. The fully-equipped UCAS-D demonstrator #AV-2 takes off for the 1st time at Edwards AFB, CA. That’s about a year late, but AV-1’s issues had to be ironed out first.

With 2 flying UCAVs, the program is expected to move AV-2 to NAS Patuxent River, MD by the end of 2011, and begin testing carrier landing technologies in 2012. That will include GPS-guided precision approaches to the carrier, arrested landings and “roll-out” catapult launches at land-based test facilities; and flight testing of new precision navigation computers and guidance/ navigation/ control software recently installed on both aircraft. The new suite of hardware and software is designed to let the X-47B land safely on a moving aircraft carrier deck. AV-1 will continue testing at Edwards AFB, with a focus on finding its flight limits. Northrop Grumman.

Nov 7/11: Aerial refueling. Inside the Navy reports [subscription] that the US Navy will be expanding the X-47B’s planned aerial refueling capability, to autonomously refuel while in flight with both USAF Air Force and USN aerial tankers.

The USAF uses KC-135s and KC-10s, but many of the KC-135s need to place an attachment on the refueling boom, in order to refuel probe-carrying aircraft. The US Navy has KC-130 Hercules aerial tankers, and its F/A-18E/F Super Hornets can become “buddy refuelers” with special wing tanks.

FY 2011

1st UCAS-D flight; 1st carrier landing using a surrogate plane; UCLASS study contracts. “Look ma, no hands!”
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July 18/11: Northrop Grumman Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $25 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for UCAS-D autonomous aerial refueling technology maturation and demonstration activities. They’ll provide “air systems, air vehicle segment, and mission management segment requirements definition; integration planning and verification planning; and definition of certification requirements and approach.”

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in December 2012. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-07-C-0055).

July 2/11: Testing. A contractor/government team lands an F/A-18D test aircraft from Navy squadron VX-23 on the USS Eisenhower in the western Atlantic Ocean, using hardware and software developed for the X-47B UCAS-D. This Hornet had a pilot on board as a safety precaution, but the system landed the plane. A King Air 300 twin-prop plane from Air-Tec, Inc. was also used as a surrogate to test mission management, command and control, communications, air traffic control and navigation, without executing an actual landing. Participating organizations included USN PEO Carriers, NAVSEA PMA-268, and the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower; plus industry partners Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, L-3 Communications, SAIC, ARINC and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

It’s a big step forward for the UCAS-D program, and came after a series of interim steps detailed in the accompanying releases. It could also change the way Navy pilots land manned aircraft. Right now, carrier landings are very manual, and visual. All air traffic control instructions are by voice, and even a good portion of navigation data has to be read out over the air, while visual signals cement the final approach.

Supporting a UAV, and possibly retrofitted manned fighters, in future operations, required some important ship modifications. Eisenhower’s Landing Signal Officer (LSO) equipment was altered to communicate directly with the VX-23 F/A-18D through a digital network, and so were the ship’s primary flight control (“tower”) and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC). The UAS operator’s equipment, installed in one of the carrier’s ready rooms, was the other key network node. Precision Global Positioning System (PGPS) capabilities with sub-1 meter accuracy were then added into the ship and the aircraft, to provide constant position awareness. US NAVSEA | Northrop Grumman.

Unmanned carrier landing!

June 23/11: UCLASS US NAVAIR awards a set of UCLASS study contracts to 4 vendors. Boeing publicly touted its own 8-month, $480,000 study contract, which includes developing of a concept of operations, an analysis of alternatives, and an investigation of notional solutions for various components of the Navy’s UCLASS program, which could be fielded for ISR and strike operations by 2018. Boeing’s option would include the X-45C Phantom Ray UCAV, but similar contracts for about $500,000 each were issued to Northrop Grumman (X-47B/ UCAS-D), General Atomics (Sea Avenger, also new EMALS/AAG carrier launch/recovery systems), and Lockheed Martin (unknown, has previously discussed the possibility of an unmanned F-35).

The UCLASS system will consist of an air segment (the UCAV), a connectivity and control segment, a launch and recovery segment, and a systems support segment. announcement | Boeing. See also March 28/11, March 19/10 entries.

UCLASS Studies

May 16/11: Northrop Grumman announces that it has picked up awards from the USAF Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, CA, including Flight Test Team of the Quarter (above candidates like the F-35) for its X-47B/UCAS-D aircraft.

April 25/11: Sub-contractors. ARINC Engineering Services, LLC in Annapolis, MD receives a $9.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for technical and engineering services in support of the Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems (JPALS) and Navy Unmanned Combat Aerial Systems (N-UCAS) programs. The 2 are related, as JPALS precision GPS-driven approach is a natural fit with the landing needs of a carrier-borne UCAV.

Work will be performed in Lexington Park, MD (80%), and St. Inigoes, MD (20%), and is expected to be complete in October 2011. This contract was not competitively procured by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, MD (N00421-11-C-0034).

March 28/11: UCLASS. US NAVAIR issues a Broad Agency Announcement regarding UCLASS, in solicitation #N00019-11-R-0031:

“The Naval Air Systems Command seeks proposals which conceptually demonstrate that a UCLASS system can provide a persistent Carrier Vessel-Nuclear (CVN) based Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capability supporting carrier air wing operations in the 2018 timeframe. In order to identify and explore available trade space… The program anticipates leveraging existing, deployed Department of Defense (DoD) systems to launch, recover, and control the air vehicle, transfer data in support of time critical strike operations, and conduct persistence ISR operations. The ongoing Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration program will inform UCLASS development and provide technology risk reduction for Unmanned Aircraft (UA) integration into carrier environments.”

March 14/11: Testing. A US Navy/Northrop Grumman Corporation test team issues a report stating that 5 weeks of dynamic load testing on X-47B air vehicle 2 (AV-2) demonstrated its ability to handle the stresses, strains and dynamic loads associated with carrier catapult launches and arrested landings, and air-to-air refueling. AV-2 is the X-47B airframe that will be equipped for air-to-air refueling tests.

The tests themselves finished on Jan 24/11, a week ahead of schedule. NGC AV-2 manager says they included 8 design conditions, including a 3-G symmetrical pull up, a 2.4G rolling pullout, and turbulence during aerial refueling; and 5 conditions expected to occur on the ground, including takeoff and landing tests involving the nose gear and tail hook. To conduct the tests, engineers bonded pads to 200 points on the airframe surface, and then pushed and pulled on those pads using hydraulic jacks to simulate various static and dynamic load conditions. Northrop Grumman.

March 1-4/11: Testing. The X-47B UCAS-D makes its 2nd and 3rd of 49 planned flights at Edwards AFB, CA. Testers are working to expand the flight test envelope in terms of air speeds, altitudes and operating weights, while testing key systems. Major concerns at this point include its flight control system’s ability to handle unpredictable crosswinds and turbulence at all speeds, the accuracy of its flush-mounted air data testing instruments, and engine performance. NGC.

Feb 15/11: UCLASS. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announces success in wind-tunnel tests of its Sea Avenger model, intended to validate its new wing’s low-speed handling characteristics. a key wind tunnel test on a model of its jet-powered Sea Avenger Predator C variant. The new wing is also designed to increase aircraft dash speeds, which is an interesting engineering combination.

GA-ASI President Frank W. Pace touts the 90-hour, 8-day test at the San Diego Air & Space Technology Center, as a classic example of his firm’ push to invest in early development, ahead of customer requirements for a UCLASS type system. The firm’s past history with the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper backs up his boast.

Feb 7/11: Sub-contractors. Lockheed Martin touts their own involvement in the X-47B program, which mostly revolves around low observable (stealth) design and aspects of aerodynamic edges, inlet lip and control surfaces, and an all new arresting hook system. Al Romig is the current VP of Advanced Development Programs for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, and the firm completed delivery of its UCAS-D hardware in December 2009. Lockheed Martin will continue to support further UCAS-D flight testing, as well as carrier flight operations.

UCAS-D 1st flight
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Feb 4/11: First UCAS-D flight. The flight took off at 14:09 PST (GMT -0800) at Edwards AFB, and lasted 29 minutes, flying between 180 – 240 kt and climbing to 5,000 feet with landing gear down at all times, while executing racetrack patterns. It provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation, and aerodynamic control of the tailless design. The flight follows airframe proof load tests, propulsion system accelerated mission tests, software maturity and reliability simulations, full system taxi tests, and numerous other system test activities that happen before any 1st flight.

Eugene Fly had made the first landing on a stationary ship on Jan 18/1911, but a 100th anniversary flight for X-47B #AV-1 wasn’t possible. Some of items that delayed this flight from original expectations in late 2009 included propulsion acoustic and engine-start sequencing issues, an asymmetric braking issue uncovered during taxi tests, and a last-minute maintenance issue with an auxiliary power generation system.

Testing continues. Aircraft AV-1 will remain at Edwards AFB for flight envelope expansion before transitioning to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD, later in 2011, where they will validate its readiness to begin testing in the maritime and carrier environment. Meanwhile, the refueling-ready AV-2 has completed its design limit load tests up to 130% with no test anomalies, showing that it’s able to withstand g-loads encountered during aerial refueling. It won’t begin its own tests until AV-1’s initial tests are done, which is currently planned for late 2011. The program is currently preparing the X-47B for carrier trials in 2013. US Navy | NGC release | Bullet points, images & video | Aviation Week.

1st flight

Feb 2/11: USAF opportunity? Defense news quotes Col. James Gear, director of the USAF’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Task Force, on the future of its UAV fleet. Despite a big commitment to the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper caused a major mid-stream shift in plans. Col. Gear cites some existing issues with the MQ-9, which could leave it open to a similar shift.

The Reaper does not fare well in icing conditions, and is also not considered survivable against anti-aircraft systems. The issue of jam and snoop-proof data links, and trace-back and verification of signal origins, has also been a live question during the MQ-1 and MQ-9’s tenure. The “MQ-X” that replaces it will have to do better on all 3 counts, and the USAF also wants it to be easily upgradeable via switch-out modules. The Colonel believes the resulting UAV will end up being common with the US Navy’s carrier-based UCLASS requirement, as the 2 services are cooperating closely. That could give Northrop Grumman’s funded X-47B N-UCAS an edge over Boeing’s privately developed X-45 Phantom Ray. It could also offer a boost to General Atomics’ Predator C/ Sea Avenger.

FY 2010

UCAS-D testing; UCLASS RFI and Navy plans; Does GA’s Predator C have a customer? Manned and…not
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July 19/10: UCLASS. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. touts its jet-powered Predator C Avenger UAS as “ready for deployment” under programs like the British RAF’s SCAVENGER, or as the MQ-X successor to the USAF’s MQ-9 Reapers. The Avenger family’s avionics are based upon the Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper, and the plane features both radar and optical sensor options, plus a variety of internal weapons loads up to 2,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).

Ready for deployment” is stretching things a bit. The Predator C series first flew in April 2009, “tail one” is currently averaging 2-3 flights a week, and flight tests were recently transferred from GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA, to Naval Air Station (NAS) China Lake, CA. GA-ASI Aircraft Systems Group President Frank Pace does describe some results as “exceeding our expectations,” including excellent agreement between advance engineering and flight tests, and fuel burn rates up to 10% better than predicted models. The UAV reportedly uses a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545B engine, which also powers the Cessna Citation XLS business jet.

May 3/10: UCLASS. General Atomics announces that it has submitted its “Sea Avenger” as a potential candidate for UCLASS airborne surveillance and strike requirement. Their UCAV is based on their jet-powered, 44-foot long and 66-foot wingspan “Predator C Avenger,” which can fly at 400 knots for up to 20 hours, and operate up to 50,000 feet. Design changes include a highly fuel-efficient engine and inlet design, a Lynx SAR ground-looking radar, retractable electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors and a 3,000 pound capacity internal weapons bay, and folding wings. The structure can accommodate carrier suitable landing gear, tail hook, drag devices, and other provisions for carrier operations.

Developed on company funds for near-term military use, the base Predator C Avenger is continuing through its planned test program, with a 2nd aircraft currently under development and expected to be complete by the end of 2010. General Atomics.

March 19/10: UCLASS RFI. The US Navy issues a Request for Information for a (UCLASS). The RFI indicates that the Navy is looking to move ahead with full unmanned combat aircraft earlier than its original plans.

“The Navy is interested in information on carrier based, low observable (LO) Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) concepts optimized for Irregular and Hybrid Warfare scenarios, capable of integrating with manned platforms as part of the Carrier Air Wing (CVW) by the end of 2018 to support limited operations in contested scenarios. The UAS should enhance situational awareness and shorten the time it takes to find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess time sensitive targets. This RFI is intended to determine the existence of sources that can provide a limited inventory of systems capable of being operated by fleet Sailors and performing the above mentioned Navy UAS mission.”

The UCLASS concept involves 4-6 UAVs that could perform both intelligence/ surveillance/ reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions in contested airspace, that are able to fly for 11-14 hours without refuelling. Industry reportedly expected the navy to release a UCLASS RFP in early 2011, and interested parties beyond Northrop Grumman include General Atomics (Sea Avenger), and reportedly Boeing (X-45 Phantom Ray) as well. See: FedBizOpps RFI | Flight International | Jane’s.

March 17/10: Leadership. Janis Pamiljans, previously vice president and program manager of Northrop’s KC-30 aerial refueling tanker bid for the USAF, takes over from Scott Winship as vice president of N-UCAS related efforts. Pamiljans also has worked as a program manager on the F/A-18 and F-35 strike fighter programs.

Aviation Week points out that this is just one of several corporate moves, which seem to be aimed at freeing people up to participate in “black” (classified) programs, and develop a next-generation stealth aircraft for reconnaissance and long-range strike. Aviation Week | Defense News.

March 2/10: Leadership. Capt. Jeff Penfield takes over the Navy’s X-47B program office, replacing Capt. Martin Deppe. Source.

Feb 18/10: Predator C. Don Bolling, a Lockheed Martin senior business development manager, hints that General Atomics’ Predator C has a customer, and isn’t just a privately funded effort. He tells a media source that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is interested in “Global Hawk-like” payloads for high altitude surveillance on its jet-powered Predator-C Avenger UAV, putting efforts to install the F-35 fighter’s Sniper pod-derived electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) on hold.

The shift was reportedly at the request of a customer, which made the report news because the Predator C wasn’t known to have a customer. The USAF already flies Global Hawks, and export approvals for the EOTS and Predator C would be an involved process. The most likely guess as to the customer would be the CIA, which does operate UAVs of its own, or US Special Operations Command. Flight International.

Feb 13/10: Testing. The US Navy announces that N-UCAS team members are underway with USS Abraham Lincoln [CVN 72] to test the integration of existing ship systems with new systems that will support the X-47B in carrier-controlled airspace. The team is testing X-47B software integration by using a King Air turbo prop “surrogate” aircraft taking off and landing from shore, but approaching the carrier and performing the various procedures associated with systems like Prifly, CATCC, LSO, etc. The digital messages from shipboard controllers receive “wilco” (ACK) responses to verify receipt.

Additional developmental testing later this year, will involve testing the software integration using an F/A-18 surrogate aircraft, to more closely emulate the X-47B’s flight.

Feb 4/10: Navy plans. Defense News reports that the N-UCAS program is slated to receive a $2 billion boost over the next 5 years, and seems set to follow the RQ-4 Global Hawk procurement model, rather than remaining a demonstration aircraft.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk was an advanced development program that was moved to the front lines after the 9/11 attacks, and became a fully operational platform. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review featured a tilt away from technology demonstrator status, and toward an X-47 UCAV that can perform surveillance and/or strike roles. That would let the Navy field operational UCAVs much sooner, and allow them to field a capability that could be similar but superior to the USAF’s current RQ-170 Sentinel/”Beast of Kandahar” stealth UAV. Those exact capabilities remain a matter for discussion, however, as Navy Undersecretary and UCAV advocate Bob Work points out:

“There is a lively debate over whether or not the N-UCAS demonstrator should result in a penetrating, ISR strike bird, or be more of a strike fighter… That debate has not quite been resolved. Having this extra $2 billion added to the budget is going to help us resolve that debate.”

Jan 26/10: Aerial refueling. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector in San Diego, CA received an $11 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for autonomous aerial refueling technology maturation and demonstration activities in support of the Navy UCAS-D.

Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (60%) and Rancho Bernardo, CA (40%), and is expected to be complete in November 2010 (N00019-07-C-0055).

Jan 17/10: Testing. First low-speed taxi test of an X-47 N-UCAS. Source.

Dec 22/10: Delay. Trouble with engine start sequencing and propulsion acoustics will now reportedly delay the X-47B’s December 2009 flight to sometime in the first 3 months of 2010. Gannett’s Navy Times | Defense Update.

Nov 25/09: Aviation Week reports that the X-47 UCAS-D system demonstrator is experiencing “propulsion acoustic and engine-start sequencing” issues, which will require additional testing and push its 1st flight to 2010.

The US Navy reportedly says UCAS-D is still on track for sea trials in 2012, but Northrop Grumman has placed a “moratorium” on press interviews for UCAS-D – never a good sign.

Nov 2/09: Navy plans. The Brookings Institute’s 21st Century Defense Initiative hosts Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, who discusses the U.S. Navy’s use of new technologies, and its development and integration of unmanned systems. Excerpts:

“I would say that where we can make some significant breakthroughs us just in the organizing principles and in the way that we approach the unmanned systems. The idea of being able to disembark or embark long-range unmanned air systems for example changes the nature in which we can run flight decks, changes the nature of the carrier air wing configurations as we move into the future.

…I would also say that I am often struck that as we talk about unmanned systems we’ve really become enamored with the vehicle itself and there has been very, very little discussion and arguably little work on something that makes it all work together and that’s the network and the architecture of the network, how the information will be moved, what are the redundancies that you would have in place, and what are the common protocols that are going to be required as we move into the future.”

See WIRED Danger Room | Brookings Institute and full transcript [PDF]

Oct 6/09: Sub-contractors. GE Aviation announces that it has delivered the first fully-dressed X-47B UCAS-D landing gear to Northrop Grumman Corporation. “Fully-dressed” landing gear is designed to meet or exceed all U.S. Navy carrier landing requirements for a fully loaded UCAS-D aircraft. GE Aviation says that its combined systems make it the largest non-partner equipment supplier to the X-47B, but the landing gear effort had partners of its own:

“Due to the demanding mission profiles required for this advanced carrier platform, the landing gear system incorporates the latest technology advancements in steering control from Parker Hannifin as well as anti-skid braking systems from Goodrich Corporation.”

FY 2008 – 2009

Aerial refueling will be part of the program; Load testing. UCAS-D load testing
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Aug 11/09: Updates. AUVSI 2009 event reports indicate progress on several fronts from the UCAS-D program.

Flight International reports that an F/A-18D Hornet test plane with be modified to carry X-47B avionics and software, then used as a test bed to develop a fully integrated aircraft/carrier auto-landing system. The Navy is hoping to perform manned but “hands-off” approaches and landings on an aircraft carrier within 2 years, though that aspect remains to be decided.

Meanwhile, Shephard reports that number of USAF personnel will begin arriving at NAS Patuxent River as observers to PMA-268, the Navy UCAS Program Office. The planned air-air refueling demonstration was apparently the catalyst for USAF interest, and the second test aircraft (AV-2) is being built with full internal refueling systems on board.

July 29/09: Load testing. Northrop Grumman announces a successful series of static and dynamic proof load tests, designed to ensure that the UCAV will be able to stand up to aircraft carrier launches, recoveries, and other associated stresses. For these torture tests, over 200 electro-hydraulic assemblies were attached to the major components of the X-47B, whereupon pressure was applied to simulate desired conditions. The 2-month effort included progressive structural, functional proof and calibration tests to verify the integrity of all flight control surfaces, major structural load paths, main landing gear structure, and the tailhook assembly.

The 2nd aircraft is currently being assembled, and will begin proof load tests later in 2009. UCAS-D aircraft will also undergo parallel engine integration and taxi tests through fall 2009, in preparation for first flight and aircraft carrier trials. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems VP and UCAS-D program manager, Scott Winship, cited that unforgiving environment, then promised that:

“The X-47B was built for these conditions, and as the results of the rigorous proof test show, the design of the aircraft is structurally sound for all aspects of carrier operations.”

Jan 12/09: Aerial refueling. Jane’s confirms that the X-47 UCAS-D program will begin aerial refueling tests performed in 2010, using surrogate aircraft.

Dec 9/08: Aerial refueling. Aviation Week quotes UCAS program manager Scott Winship, as part of a report that that Northrop Grumman will modify the second X-47B UCAS-D to allow autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) using both U.S. Navy probe-and-drogue and U.S. Air Force boom-and-receptacle methods. The U.S. Navy has announced plans to award the company a sole-source contract to support the demonstration of AAR capability by 2013, under UCAS-D’s parallel technology-maturation phase.

Boeing is currently leading a team including X-47B partners Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for the 4-year second phase of a parallel Air Force Research Laboratory program. Winship says the X-47B could be used to provide a “graduation exercise” for the AAR effort.

Nov 19/08: Aerial Refueling. Boeing in St Louis, MO received a $49 million cost plus fixed fee contract as the automated aerial refueling Phase II integrator. At this point, $1.2 million has been obligated. The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages this contract (FA8650-09-C-3902). Read “$49M for Boeing to Advance UAV Aerial Refueling” for an explanation of the importance to the UCAS-D and similar programs.

July 14/08: Sub-contractors. Pratt & Whitney announces a $54 million contract from Northrop Grumman to develop and integrate the X-47 UCAS-D’s engine and exhaust system. The Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220U engine will power the UCAS-D, providing up to 16,000 pounds of thrust while operating in a maritime environment, including carrier deck operations.

FY 2005 – 2007

UCAS-D award; Carrier simulation exercise. Just another day
at the office…
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August 1/07: UCAS-D. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems – Western Region in San Diego, CA received a $635.9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for the Unmanned Combat Air System CV Demonstration Program (UCAS-D). Work will be performed in Rancho Bernardo, CA (38%); El Segundo, CA (29%); Palmdale, CA (13%); East Hartford, CT (7%); Jupiter, FL (2%); Nashville, TN (2%); Hazelwood, MO (1%), and various locations within the United States (8%), and is expected to be complete in September 2013.

The purpose of the UCAS-D is to demonstrate critical CV suitability technologies for a stealthy air vehicle in a relevant environment [DID: i.e naval/ aircraft carriers]. Expected deliverables include trade studies, analyses, software, reports and flight test data. This contract was competitively procured through a request for proposals; 2 firms were solicited [DID: that would be Boeing and NGC] and 2 offers were received (N00019-07-C-0055). See also Northrop Grumman’s Aug 3/07 release.

UCAS-D contract.

Sept 28/05: As part of DARPA’s J-UCAS program, Northrop Grumman Corporation’s X-47B conducted a successful simulated exercise at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA. It demonstrated the simultaneous control of 4 of its X-47B unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during U.S. Navy aircraft carrier operations. See Dec 9/05 NGC release.

Using a surrogate aircraft which represented one X-47B, 3 additional simulated X-47B aircraft were successfully controlled during several flights using advanced mission-management software and air traffic control procedures currently used by Navy aircraft carriers. The air traffic controller provided standard commands to a single mission operator, who in turn ensured all four aircraft safely operated within the simulated carrier’s airspace. The controller had to demonstrate the ability to guide all 4 aircraft through approach, wave-off and traffic pattern procedures, while accomplishing proper spacing and air traffic de-confliction. The mission operator had to be able to monitor the entire process to ensure proper command response, and advise the controller on aircraft response or performance limitations.

This was one of many tests undertaken as part of J-UCAS. It is reproduced here for its ongoing relevance to the UCAS-D program.

Additional UCAV Readings UCAS-D/ N-UCAS

News & Views

UCAV Programs

Categories: News

McSally Urging WH to Keep A-10s Flying | USN Places $2.5B Order with Boeing for Poseidons | Boeing Contracted for New Air Force One

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 00:20

  • Rep. March McSally has written to the White House in defense of the A-10 ahead of Obama’s budget rollout this week. The former USAF pilot has been one of the biggest political supporters of keeping the close air support aircraft in service until full plans for its legacy replacement are in motion. McSally’s efforts to keep the plane have so far resulted in the USAF reportedly shelving the A-10’s retirement plan indefinitely, due to increased demand for the attack plane in military operations in the Middle East. The letter also urged the president and defense secretary to fund depot support, maintenance, and upgrades to extend the life of the A-10 fleet, such as finishing the wing replacement effort.

  • 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.

  • Boeing has been awarded the first contract for the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program which will field the next Air Force One. The $25.8 million contract will see Being perform risk reduction activities that will include the definition of detailed requirements and design trade-offs required to support informed decisions. Additional modifications will be made to this contract in the future to purchase the commercial 747-8 aircraft, as well as to design, modify and test those aircraft to meet the presidential mission.

  • The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) conducted a successful non-intercept flight test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). A long-range ground-based interceptor was launched to evaluate the performance of alternate divert thrusters for the system’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle. A USAF C-17 aircraft was used to to fire a a target representing an intermediate-range ballistic missile over a broad area of ocean near Hawaii. The missile was then detected, tracked and given a fire control solution to engage the target from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The test of the missile has involved cooperation from several parties alongside the MDA including the USAF 30th Space Wing, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, and the US Northern Command.

Middle East North Africa

  • Egypt has received delivery of its second batch of three Rafale fighters bringing its total number to six. A special ceremony marking the delivery was held on Thursday with French and Egyptian officials in attendance. The importance of the Rafale acquisition was stressed by Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohamed Samir who said that they represent a “new addition to the armament system and combat readiness, and enhances the combat capabilites of the armed forces.” Last year’s contract will see Egypt acquire twenty-four of the jets from Dassault which also included a FREMM frigate from DCNS.


  • Mashinostroeniya Corporation has announced the completion of a silo-based version of the Bastion anti-ship missile system. The new variant had been developed primarily for export purposes geared at countries with smaller territory and a need to defend smaller amounts of coastline. The silo-system is capable of defending coastline of more than 600 kilometres, and are an ideal addition for its allies. As Russia utilizes a mobile complex of the system allowing for ease of transportation over its extensive coastline, the new addition shows Russian companies are developing products that will be of interest to foreign buyers, looking to increase foreign arms sales.


  • Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently arrested the former chief of the Nigerian Air Force, Air Marshal Adesola Nunayon Amosu. The arrest of Amosu comes as part of an investigation into an ongoing $2.1 billion arms deal scandal. The former Alpha jet pilot’s particular involvement surrounds the purchase of two military helicopters without functioning rotors, then having them replaced and flown with rotors that were taken from an unserviceable Russian-made helicopter gunship. The EFCC is investigating many prominent former and serving military officers as well as twenty-one companies involved in monumental fraud of funds meant to go towards fighting the Boko Haram insurgency.

Asia Pacific

  • Indian private companies have lodged complaints to the Indian Defence Ministry over the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) program. The complaints come after the ministry selected the state owned Ordnance Factory Board as one of the two companies nominated as Development Agencies (DA) to develop a prototype for the vehicle. One of the two companies would then be selected to produce the FICV in a deal potentially worth $11 billion. The selection of the second DA will be chosen from up to six other private companies once all bids are entered by February 16.

Today’s Video

  • Footage of the KC-46 first aerial refuelling:

Categories: News

A Higher-Tech Hog: USAF A-10C Upgraded, Refurbished, Unloved – But More in Demand

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 00:19
A-10A over Germany
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The Precision Engagement modification is the largest single upgrade effort ever undertaken for the USA’s unique A-10 “Warthog” close air support aircraft fleet. While existing A/OA-10 aircraft continue to outperform technology-packed rivals on the battlefield, this set of upgrades is expected to make them more flexible, and help keep the aircraft current until the fleet’s planned phase-out in 2028. When complete, A-10C PE will give USAF A-10s precision strike capability sooner than planned, combining multiple upgrades into 1 time and money-saving program, rather than executing them as standalone projects. Indeed, the USAF accelerated the PE program by 9 months as a result of its experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This is DID’s FOCUS Article for the PE program, and for other modifications to the A-10 fleet. It covers the A-10’s battlefield performance and advantages, the elements of the PE program, other planned modifications, related refurbishment efforts to keep the fleet in the air, and the contracts that have been issued each step of the way.

A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II: Experiences on the Ground A/OA-10 at Bagram, AF
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The Major’s Email: British Harrier Support in Afghanistan, Revisited” examined the statements of a British officer who had criticized British close air support, and openly stated a preference for USAF A-10s over any aircraft the British could deploy in theater.

As we explained at the time, this comes as no surprise. The O/A-10 “Warthog” has the advantage of armored protection, along with a purpose-built design that allows slower speed forward flight and longer loiter time over the battlefield. Not to mention its infamous GAU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling gun that can take apart a tank – or just about anything else in its field of fire. This is what allowed it to do a substantially better job in Desert Storm than fast-moving fighters like the quickly-abandoned “A-16” F-16 experiment, and it’s currently keeping them very busy in Afghanistan.

It kept them busy in Iraq, too. A July 2003 report in Air Force News quoted Lt. Col. Dave Kennedy:

“Kennedy said during a Pentagon interview that in the first week of the war, close-air support requests went to the Combined Air Operations Center “open-ended” — meaning no specific aircraft type was requested. After the first week, he said, 80 to 90 percent of the requests for close-air support were A-10-specific.”

As one can see, the British Major is hardly alone in his preferences. Why is this?

As this National Defense magazine article notes, fast jets simply aren’t an ideal choice for close air support, and the British aren’t alone in having this issue. US Army Sgt. First Class Frank Antenori discuss his recent experiences in Iraq:

“The aircraft that we have are awesome, but they are too awesome, they are too fast, too high speed. The older technology, the A-10, is far better than the new technology, Antenori said. “The A-10s never missed, and with the F/A-18s we had to do two or three bomb runs to get them on the target,” he said, recalling his recent experiences in combat.”

Dispatches from Afghanistan add an additional edge, and reinforce the point:

The A-10 combines some of the best of today’s high-technology Air Force with a solid, low-tech foundation. The addition of a targeting and laser-designation pod was a huge boost to the plane’s capabilities, but still no substitute for the pilot’s eyeballs.

“Most other aircraft rely heavily on (electronic) sensors to find and target the enemy,” said Capt. Rick Mitchell, deployed here from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. “In the A-10, it’s not unusual for a pilot to use binoculars.”

“Killer Chick”
flew it home
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Which is not to say that technology is useless. A/OA-10s have made effective and frequent use of LITENING AT surveillance and targeting pods, for instance. Integrating them directly into the aircraft’s systems is a fine idea that lowers pilot workload, and adds scanning range and improved night/bad weather capabilities. While a second crewman would be ideal, and was part of a 1980s “A-10 Night/Adverse Weather” model that was never produced, the sensor pods are clear improvements. Likewise, adding the ability to drop additional precision weapons like JDAM or its WCMD cluster bomb counterpart can only be a plus. On the flip side, A-10s have also been involved in several notable friendly fire incidents, which makes datalink improvements a critical fix.

The difference is that conventional fast jet fighters are forced to depend on these enhancements for effectiveness, because of their aerodynamic design a vulnerability to damage. With the new Precision Engagement additions, the A-10C adds many of the newer fighters’ tricks and weapons, but its cheaper, purpose-built design and stronger protection give its pilots additional options. Those additional options contribute directly to effectiveness in combat, and can still be used if hostile fire or simple technical failure render those technological enhancements useless.

The net result is an A/OA-10A Thunderbolt II/ “Warthog” platform that is a worthy successor to its P-47 Thunderbolt/”Jug” namesake, whose top 10 aces all survived World War II.

The “Hog” is the best western close air support aircraft by a very wide margin, and the A-10C upgrades make it the best close-support aircraft in the world. It’s likely to remain so well into the future, despite competition from the upgraded Sukhoi SU-25/28 “Frogfoot”/”Scorpion”, or boasts from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program that their aircraft will be able to replace it.

The A/OA-10 Precision Engagement Modification Program A-10 cockpit, before
(click to view alternate)

To date, A-10 fleet upgrades have been somewhat patchwork and piecemeal. The A-10C PE program changes all that. The entire A-10 fleet will be modified over 4-5 years, and an April 2/07 GAO report estimates the A-10 Precision Engagement program’s total overall cost at around $420 million.

Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego is the A-10C Precision Engagement program’s prime contractor and systems integrator under the direction of the A-10 program office (508th Attack Sustainment Squadron), leading a team that includes Northrop Grumman of St. Augustine, FL; BAE Systems of Johnson City, NY; and Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) of San Antonio, TX. The Air Force awarded the Precision Engagement development contract to Lockheed Martin in 2001, and as the prime contractor Lockheed is expected to deliver a total of 356 kits over 5 years, at an estimated cost of $168 million. Lockheed Martin received the production contract in February 2005, with the first production kits delivered to Hill AFB in March 2006.

While the program was originally supposed to consist of several spirals, these plans were modified in light of USAF requests and needs. The program now consists of 2 increments, with JTRS fielding left as an open item to be addressed once the JTRS AMF equipment is available.

A-10 PE, Increment 3.2 A-10C, partly upgraded
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The Maryland ANG(Air National Guard) 175th Wing at Warfield ANG Base in Baltimore, MD was be the first unit to convert to the modified aircraft and integrate them into normal operations, beginning in September 2007. They received Increment 3.2, which will include the PE kit described below plus datalink capability (14 months early), basic JDAM and WCMD compatibility (9 months early), the Spiral 1 PE kit described below, and targeting pod compatibility.

Each Spiral 1 Precision Engagement kit consists of a new cockpit instrument panel. A new computer called the Central Interface Control Unit (CICU) adds new cockpit controls and displays, including a pair of 5×5 inch multi-function color displays that include moving digital map functions. The new integrated Digital Stores Management System (DSMS), meanwhile, keeps track of weapons and launches them; it will be linked into applications as diverse as video from the targeting pod, weapons status reports, and the data link. These upgrades require a major change to the aircraft’s wiring, and consume a lot more power. Not to worry, though; a second DC generator will double the A-10’s generator capacity.

For the pilot, a new stick grip and right throttle provide true hands-on-throttle and-stick (HOTAS) fingertip control of aircraft systems and targeting pod functionality. Using the HOTAS, the pilot can designate the targeting pod to monitor an area of interest, confirm target identification, and provide laser guidance to weapons from his A-10 or from another platform – all without taking his hands from the controls. Upgrading 6 of the A-10C’s 11 pylons to ‘smart’ weapons capability via MIL-STD-1760 is the final piece of the basic infrastructure upgrades.

(click to view full)

Key add-ons build upon these initial steps, and targeting pod integration is touted as the final piece of spiral 1. PE Program modifications will allow the A-10 to carry either the Northrop-Grumman/ Rafael LITENING AT or the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR targeting pod on an underwing pylon as fully integrated devices, with connections to all of the aircraft’s other systems. The pods, which include long-range TV and infrared cameras with zoom capabilities and a laser target designator, will enable the pilot to identify targets from medium altitudes on the order of 20,000 to 30,000 feet day or night, then illuminate them for homing, laser-guided or GPS guided bombs. During the initial deployments in Iraq, their heat-sensing capability has even proved useful for finding buried land mines, which tend to retain a differential heat signature because they’re made of different materials than the earth around them.

The targeting pods will help reduce mistaken attacks on friendly forces and noncombatants by giving the pilot a closer look at potential targets, and experience with other jets indicates that their stabilized, “point and stare” capabilities are likely to prove especially important in urban operations. Eventually, they will allow A-10 aircraft to engage targets from a higher altitude using advanced sensors and targeting pods and precision guided weapons, including the JDAM and their companion WCMD kits for cluster bombs.

Integration with ROVER devices carried by ground troops also becomes possible, allowing front line forces to communicate using annotated map displays and specific positional data.

SADL screen
(click to view full)

Another very significant Increment 3.2 upgrade involves Raytheon’s SADL data link. SADL was added after the A-10 Precision Engagement program requirements were finalized, which is usually a predictor of trouble. Instead, it went from requirements to delivery in just 17 months, thanks to a general sense of urgency and extraordinary contractor efforts. Those efforts included hardware purchases by Lockheed Martin before they had a government contract to do so, putting their funds at risk but ultimately shortening project completion by 6 months. Back in February 207, Major Drew English, the USAF program manager for A-10C Precision Engagement, told Military Aerospace Technology that:

“I would say the biggest [change] we have coming impact wise is the data link. It will shape our tactics and it bring us into a new era, probably as much as night vision goggles did when we got those in the mid-’90s”

SADL automatically sends and receive data from the Army Enhanced Position Locating and Reporting System (ePLRS) that is part of FBCB2, a.k.a. “Blue Force Tracker.” This means that friendly troops on the ground receive the plane’s position and altitude, while the 5 closest “friendlies” will show up on the aircraft’s heads-up display and/or multi-function cockpit displays at the beginning of an attack. SADL also offers Link 16 integration with other fighters and air defense systems, allowing the A-10C to automatically known receive position data for enemy aircraft, air defenses, and other targets – including targets beyond its range of sight. Link 16 and SADL share information via gateways, which are land-based or airborne portals that permit the transfer of information between different formats.

A-10C pilot Capt. Rich Hunt of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing said from Al-Asad AFB, Iraq:

“Previously, for me to keep track of all the other airplanes that are around me or to help us perform the mission, I would literally have to write those down with a grease pencil inside my canopy or write them down on a white piece of paper on my knee board in order to keep track of all that… Now I have a color display that has all of the other airplanes that are up supporting the same mission across all of Iraq right now. And they are all digitally displayed through that data link on my map. So now, especially at night when awareness is a little bit lower, I can look at that beautiful map display and know exactly what other airplanes are around me.”

He also praised the ROVER downlink capability, allowing the aircraft to transmit the live video feed to a joint terminal attack controller on the ground, and the new JDAM capabilities:

“In Iraq that is especially important because it’s a very difficult situation when we provide close-air support in such a densely urban environment. By the controller being able to look through my targeting pod real time, we can compare exactly what we are looking at and make sure we have an absolutely 100 percent positive identification of the target… Sometimes we find ourselves where we have to destroy a terrorist stronghold location. But in the house across the street are friendly Iraqi civilians. We know we have to destroy the stronghold, but we don’t want to cause any collateral damage whatsoever. So the JDAM has been outstanding for us. Between the situational awareness data link, the targeting pod with the ROVER down link to the controller on the ground and the JDAM, the A-10C on this deployment has been an amazing success for us.”

The USAF adds that:

“A command and control platform — such as the 12th Air Force Air Operations Center here — can send digital communication via SADL to the A-10C for a variety of purposes. Tasking messages, targeting information, threat warnings, and friendly locations can all be sent and received by the A-10C. Additionally, the A-10C is the only platform with the ability to task other fighter platforms to attack targets.”

Given past A-10-related friendly fire incidents, the appeal of a system like SADL is obvious.

Together, these Increment 3.1 and 3.2 additions create an A-10C aircraft that looks the same on the outside, but offers a very different set of capabilities and can be used in very different ways.

The Air Force has been conducting flight-testing of the A-10C at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, and at Nellis Air Force Base, NV, since early 2005. Operational Testing Certification (OT Cert) begins in July 2007, with Air Force operational test and evaluation center Operational User Evaluation (AFOTEC OUE) in August 2007 that includes a final look at JDAM integration and the SADL datalink. If everything continues to go well, operational fielding begins in early September 2007 and The AFOTEC report will follow in October 2007.

A-10 PE, Increment 3.3 A-10C fires cannon
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A second fielded Precision Engagement release will provide for CNS/ATM, full smart weapon integration, more software upgrades, additional improvements as a result of feedback from earlier flight tests, and some maintainer functional improvements.

Releases to test were scheduled for August 2007 and December 2007, with fielding expected around May 2008.

Overall PE kit production ran to 2008. Squadrons released their jets for modification at Hill AFB, UT for upgrades, and they returned about 90 days later as A-10Cs. Installation work was scheduled to run until 2009.

A-10 Fleet: Other Planned Improvements In service to 2028

The A-10C PE program is only part of the effort required to keep the Reagan-era fleet of A-10s battle-worthy out to 2028. A separate $2.02 billion dollar wing replacement program is underway, a multiple-award $1.72 billion contract covered overall fleet maintenance and some upgrades from 2009-2019, and more technology inserts and structural modifications were planned. The GAO’s April 2007 report placed the potential total cost of upgrades, refurbishment, and service life extension plans for the A/OA-10 force at up to $4.4 billion.

The Pentagon began pushing to retire the entire fleet early in the FY 2015 budget. If that effort fails, possible upgrades could include electronics and engines, as well as structural work.

The USAF planned to replace the “thin skin” wings on 242 aircraft with new wings, and that effort is now underway. The cost was originally estimated at $1.3 billion, but the June 2007 contract was for $2 billion. This effort will help to extend A-10 service lives to 16,000 flying hours.

At some point, the A-10s would need to install Joint Tactical Radio System-based (JTRS) radios. As of April 2007, JTRS AMF was only in the bid phase, and as of 2014 it was not a required USAF standard.

To improve the A-10’s overall power and maintainability, the USAF hoped to eventually upgrade the existing General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines. Components of the existing engine will be replaced; in particular, a more efficient fan section with wider blades would be installed by General Electric along with digital engine controls. Flight testing of the revamped engine was slated to begin in FY 2008, and production in 2009-2010. Instead, this effort was downgraded in priority and deferred.

An April 2/07 GAO report places the potential total cost of upgrades, refurbishment, and service life extension plans for the A/OA-10 force at up to $4.4 billion.

Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise specified, all contracts are awarded to Lockheed Martin in Owego, NY as leader of the A-10 Prime Team; and they are issued by the Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT.

FY 2016

A-10 firing run

February 1/16: Rep. March McSally has written to the White House in defense of the A-10 ahead of Obama’s budget rollout this week. The former USAF pilot has been one of the biggest political supporters of keeping the close air support aircraft in service until full plans for its legacy replacement are in motion. McSally’s efforts to keep the plane have so far resulted in the USAF reportedly shelving the A-10’s retirement plan indefinitely, due to increased demand for the attack plane in military operations in the Middle East. The letter also urged the president and defense secretary to fund depot support, maintenance, and upgrades to extend the life of the A-10 fleet, such as finishing the wing replacement effort.

November 12/15: The Air Force is considering pushing back the retirement schedule for the A-10, following a spike in demand from US forces operating in the Middle East. The venerable Close Air Support platform has been on the service’s chopping block for years, with recent efforts to retire the aircraft early blocked by lawmakers in September. The Air Force also recently released a RFI to identify sources for a new A-10 re-winging program, with the Thunderbolt Lifecycle Program Support effort intended to extend a portion of the Air Force’s A-10 fleet out to 2028.

October 23/15: The US Air Force deployed a dozen A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft to the south of Turkey last week in anticipation of the aircraft seeing more combat against ISIS in Syria, according to reports Thursday. The first Warthogs were first deployed to the Middle East in November 2014, with the Air Force remaining adamant that the fleet should be retired. The aircraft have been deployed to Incirlik Air Force Base, having relocated from their home base at Moody AFB, Georgia.

FY 2015

Election results make retirement tougher.

September 21/15: The Air Force released a Request for Information on Friday to identify potential industry sources for the re-winging of an unspecified number of A/OA-10A close air support aircraft. Over half of the A-10 Warthog fleet is already undergoing a re-winging program, with Boeing acting as prime contractor for 173 of the aircraft, with options for an additional 69. The RFI comes despite repeated calls by the Air Force’s top brass to retire the fleet early in order to free up money and resources. These calls have been blocked, with this latest RFI part of the A-10’s Thunderbolt Lifecycle Program Support (TLPS) program, intended to keep the aircraft flying until at least 2028.

September 4/15: The Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Congress that their rejection of her branch’s decision to retire the A-10 – a cut projected to save about a couple billion dollars per year – could cause major problems and delays for programs such as the F-35, the new long-range bomber and the KC-46 refueler – programs that together constitute unprecedented expenditures for any nation in history.

September 1/15: The on-again, off-again Air Force comparison test between the F-35 and the A-10 for close air support is back on again, according to the Washington Times. The F-35 doesn’t carry – and isn’t anticipated to carry – the sorts of weapons that have proven useful in the typical CAS mission. It has but a few seconds of canon ammunition and its weapons bay was once compared to a purse after the F-35C variant further infringed on internal storage. A test between the platforms would likely hinge on the scenario imagined by the Air Force brass, so a cynic might expect a profusion of bogeys best handled by stealth fighters.

August 26/15: In what is perhaps the biggest reality perception difference between the Air Force and the rest of the military and civilian government, the Air Force has been working hard to shut down the A-10 program, maintaining that the close air support stalwart isn’t earning its keep. The several billion dollars saved would go to more F-35 work, as that platform has been tipped to be the replacement, although some senior Air Force officers have suggested that perhaps a completely new craft would be in order. So it was newsworthy that a senior officer for testing had suggested a shoot-out between the A-10 and F-35. That test is now taking fire from the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who called such a test “silly.” Still, Welsh said that the F-35 was never intended as an A-10 replacement, so that leaves observers scratching heads as to which parts of the Air Force desire what outcome, especially as few believe an A-X replacement would be cheaper.

July 27/15: The Air Force has quashed Boeing’s hopes of selling refurbished A-10s to international customers, following the floating of the idea in May. With the House protecting the A-10 from comprehensive retirement for another year, the Air Force is planning to mothball outgoing A-10s, thereby saving a reported $4.2 billion in sustainment over a five year period.

June 26/15: The Government Accountability Office slammed the Air Force’s body of evidence and cost projections used to make the case for retiring the A-10. A report published on Thursday claims that the Air Force did not fully quantify the economic argument for favoring more advanced multi-role aircraft over the time-tested A-10. Manufacturer Boeing recently floated the idea of selling refurbished US A-10s to international customers.

May 22/15: Boeing wants to sell refurbished A-10s to international customers. The US is the only operator of the Warthog, with the House recently voting to fund the fleet for another year, despite the Air Force chiefs’ efforts to cut down numbers. Boeing is currently engaged in an extensive re-winging program for the aircraft, following a $2 billion 2007 contract.

May 1/15: On Thursdaythe House Armed Services Committee voted to keep the A-10 operational for another year, with the 2016 defense policy bill including an amendment to prohibit the Air Force from retiring the plane. The amendment – proposed by Rep. McSally – passed while a “middle ground” amendment proposed by Rep. Moulton failed. That amendment would have allowed the Air Force to retain a hundred of the aircraft while retiring up to 164.

April 28/15: The House is seeking to block the A-10 from being retired, with Rep. Martha McSally reportedly planning to introduce an amendment to prevent the Air Force from pushing the aircraft aside. This amendment will be attached to Thornberry’s version of the defense budget, with the A-10 fleet fully-funded. An A-10 recently had to conduct an emergency landing while deployed to Iraq, with the aircraft’s engine reportedly suffering “catastrophic damage.”

Nov 11/14: Politics. The USAF has a new angle in the A-10 fight, proposing to retire 72 A-10s in order to switch their maintenance workers over to the F-35. It’s being sold as part of having the F-35A reach Initial Operational Capability, but A-10 proponents like Sen. McCain and Kelly Ayotte say the USAF has other choices. The USAF says that their previous plan B has been blown apart by renewed needs in Iraq and Syria. Sources: Defense News, “USAF Discussing A-10 Compromise With Congress”.

Nov 4/14: Elections. American mid-term elections leave the Republican Party with a bigger House Majority, and recapture the Senate from the Democrats. That result leaves John McCain [R-AZ] as the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. There are 80 A-10s at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ in Tucson, and McCain is very much a proponent of engagement in places like Iraq, Syria, and other places where the A-10’s unique capabilities make a big difference. He’s going to be a staunch opponent of any retirement plans.

The election also features A-10 pilot Lt. Col. Martha McSally [AZ-2], who was the first woman to command an American fighter squadron, and has been described as one of the Republicans’ top House recruits. McSally is narrowly ahead in a traditionally-Democratic district, but the vote count and recount process is going to take a little while. If she is elected, it will have obvious implications for A-10 lobbying in Congress. Sources: AP, “Sen. John McCain vows to save A-10 from retirement” | McSally for Congress, “McSally Campaign Statement on Challenge to Uncertified Ballots” | Politico, “The House GOP’s top recruit”.

FY 2014

Attempted retirement of the fleet. A-10Cs
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Sept 19/14: Ki Ho Military Acquisition Consulting, Inc. in Layton, UT wins a $31.4 million firm-fixed-price, engineering support, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to identify new and developing technologies that can “support the accomplishment of A-10 missions, and either eliminate or minimize operational and/or sustainability gaps.” $5.3 million is committed immediately, using FY 2014 USAF O&M funds.

Is this operational consulting, or payment to make more arguments for retiring the A-10? Poor results so far against in Iraq and Syria aren’t making fantastic arguments for other systems.

Work will be performed at Hill AFB, UT, and is expected to be complete by Sept 15/19. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition, with 3 offers received by the USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Hill AFB, UT (FA8202-14-D-0002).

Sept 9/14: Support. Korean Air Lines’ Aerospace Division in Seoul, South Korea receives an estimated $46 million firm-fixed-price maintenance and repair contract for depot level support to A-10 aircraft stationed in the Asia/Pacific region. Funds will be committed as needed.

Work will be performed at KAL’s facility in Seoul, South Korea, with an expected completion date of Sept. 30/20. This contract was a competitive acquisition, with 2 offers received by USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Hill AFB, UT (FA8202-14-D-0001).

Week of June 20/14: Politics. Things continue to move at a brisk pace in the House, with floor action starting for HR 4870 then leading to a vote within days. The White House issued its usual set of “strong” disagreements [PDF], with C-130 AMP, E-3s, and AH-64 transfers among the points of contention. At least the executive appreciated that someone in Congress sided with them to retire A-10s. But it was not meant to be, as an amendment against divesting A-10s easily passed with a 300-114 roll call. This was expected given the fact A-10 retirement was at odds with the already approved authorization bill.

The Administration will now have to find Senatorial opponents to the A-10, among other cuts the House doesn’t want, that are convinced enough to push the issue all the way through reconciliation. The odds are not in their favor.

On June 20 the bill was wrapped up with a 340-73 roll call, showing even broader bipartisan support than the authorization bill: amendments [PDF] | Bill report [PDF].

June 10/14: Politics. The House Appropriations Committee votes 13-23 against Rep. Jack Kingston’s [R-GA-1] amendment to transfer $339 million from the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account to sustain the A-10 fleet. Former USAF pilot Chris Stewart [R-UT-2] was one of the speakers in favor from both parties, and he outlined the inherent issues with the close-air support mission, but it was to no avail.

What really matters is what the House ends up approving by final vote, but these kinds of losses can hurt politically. Sources: DoD Buzz, “House Panel Votes to Scrap the A-10 Warthog”.

May 23/14: Political. The Senate Armed Services Committee has completed the mark-up of the annual defense bill, which passed by a 25-1 vote. The section relevant to the A-10 is explained this way:

“Prohibits the Air Force from retiring or preparing to retire any A-10 or Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft (AWACS), or making any significant changes in manning levels in FY15.”

That isn’t as comprehensive or as long-term as Sen. Ayotte’s S.1764 bill (q.v. Nov 21-Dec 5/14), but it fulfills the same purpose in the immediate term. If the measure remains in the Senate’s FY 2015 NDAA bill, it will have to be reconciled with similar but different provisions in the House bill (q.v. May 8/14). Bottom line? Unless these measures are stripped from the final bill in either the House or the Senate, the A-10C fleet isn’t going anywhere just yet. Sources: US Senate Armed Services Committee, “Senate Committee on Armed Services Completes Markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015”.

May 8/14: Political. A 41-20 voice vote in the House Armed Services Committee changes the language of Rep. McKeon’s A-10 compromise, and institutes terms that are similar to HR.3657. Ron Barber [D-AZ-2] and Vicky Hartzler [R-MO-4] and Austin Scott [R-GA-8] from HR.3657 are the amendment’s sponsors, and they’ve added interesting requirements. One example would have the Comptroller General’s Office assess the cost per-plane for close air support missions, as part of the set of activities necessary before retiring the A-10s. The F-35’s high operating costs, and heavy depreciation due to its high initial cost, would cripple it in any comparison with the A-10. The F-35’s figures per mission would probably be at least 100% higher, and could easily be worse than that.

May 5/14: Political. House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon [R-MO] proposes a compromise measure that would require “Type 1000 storage” for the retired A-10C fleet. Planes kept in that condition can be recalled to duty and fly again within 30-120 days, because after the initial removal and proper storage of key items like engines and weapons, no parts can be pulled without the express permission of the program office at Wright-Patterson AFB. That’s significantly better than Type 2000/4000 storage, but a step below Type 3000 “temporary storage” planes that receive engine runs, tow-outs to lubricate their bearings, and fluids servicing every 30 days.

Defense News estimates the cost for the 283-plane fleet at $25.7 million over 5 years ($12.17M initial storage + $283k/year + $12.17M refurb every 4 years). Sources: Air Force Magazine, “Living Boneyard” | Defense News Intercepts, “The Price of Storing the A-10 in “Type-1000″ Storage” | House Armed Services Committee, “McKeon Releases Full Committee Mark”.

Feb 24/14: Scrap the A-10Cs. The announcement isn’t a surprise (q.v. Sept 15/13), but Chuck Hagel’s FY 2015 pre-budget briefing explains the official justification for removing the A-10 fleet:

“For the Air Force, an emphasis on capability over capacity meant that we protected its key modernization programs, including the new bomber, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the new refueling tanker. We also recommended investing $1 billion in a promising next-generation jet engine technology, which we expect to produce sizeable cost-savings through reduced fuel consumption and lower maintenance needs. This new funding will also help ensure a robust industrial base – itself a national strategic asset.

To fund these investments, the Air Force will reduce the number of tactical air squadrons including the entire A-10 fleet. Retiring the A-10 fleet saves $3.5 billion over five years and accelerates the Air Force’s long-standing modernization plan [to replace it with the F-35]…. the A-10… cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses. And as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, the advent of precision munitions means that many more types of aircraft can now provide effective close air support, from B-1 bombers to remotely piloted aircraft. And these aircraft can execute more than one mission.

Moreover, the A-10’s age is also making it much more difficult and costly to maintain. Significant savings are only possible through eliminating the entire fleet, because of the fixed cost of maintaining the support apparatus associated with the aircraft. Keeping a smaller number of A-10s would only delay the inevitable while forcing worse trade-offs elsewhere.”

The A-10’s original concept did, in fact, aim to survive and operate in the face of advanced fighters and air defense, which makes Hagel’s statement questionable. Expect to see others question Hagel’s use of the term “effective” as well. The A-10 remains peerless in the close support role, and the use of fighter guns for close-in attacks on the front lines remains reality. That isn’t possible for drones, and it’s problematic for the vulnerable F-35A, which carries only 14% as much ammunition (only 180 rounds) in a lesser caliber. It would be possible to defend the decision by saying that the USAF is downgrading Close Air Support in order to build up other capabilities, but that isn’t how the Pentagon is selling this. Sources: US DoD, “Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel FY 2015 Budget Preview Pentagon Press Briefing Room Monday, February 24, 2014”.

FY 2015 Budget: Retire the fleet

Nov 21-Dec 5/13: Politics. House and Senate members introduce bills in each chamber that would restrict the USAF’s ability to retire its A-10Cs. The Senate’s S.1764 is introduced by Kelly Ayotte [R-NH], While the House’s HR.3657 is introduced by Vicky Hartzler [R-MO-4]. Both have cosponsors from each party, but they’ll need more cosponsors to improve the chances of getting to a vote and being passed into law.

The core condition in both bills is that the USAF must have a fleet of F-35As with Block 4A software, including integration with the GBU-53 Small Diamater Bomb II or equivalent capability, all certified by an audit by the Comptroller General that also says that there are enough F-35s to replace the A-10s. In practice, that would defer A-10C retirement to 2025 at least, and might even push all the way to the A-10’s planned 2028 retirement.

FY 2013

APKWS laser-guided rockets added; A-10s out of Europe. BAE/GD APKWS
(click to view full)

Sept 26/13: TLPS. Northrop Grumman Technical Services in Herndon, VA receives an estimated maximum $11.3 million task order under a combined firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee engineering support contract. They’ll provide evaluations, analysis, repair designs, and/or testing to support the requirements for the A-10 aircraft structural integrity program and maintenance of operational safety, suitability, and effectiveness. All funds are committed immediately.

This award is a result of a competitive acquisition under the Thunderbolt Life Cycle Program Support contract, but only 1 bid was received.

Work will be performed at Hill AFB, UT, although various portions of the work will take place at subcontractor facilities, and work is expected to be completed by Sept 18/16. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WWAK at Hill AFB, UT manages the contract (FA8202-09-D-0003, 0012).

Sept 25/13: Political. Sen. Kelly Ayotte [R-NH], whose husband Joe was an A-10 pilot, puts a hold on the nomination of Deborah Lee James to be Secretary of the Air Force, until she gets clear and acceptable answers regarding the USAF’s proposal to kill the platform. Sources: Defense News, “Ayotte Blocks Air Force Secretary Nominee Over Possible A-10 Cuts”.

Sept 20/13: Political. House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Ron Barber [R-AZ-02] initiates a letter signed by 8 colleagues, calling the A-10:

“…a critical capability…. In Operation Desert Storm, the A-10 was responsible for the destruction of 4,000 military vehicles and artillery pieces. In Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the A-10 has performed nearly one third of the combat sorties…. The Department of Defense must maintain its ability to wage ground combat and support those at the tip of the spear.”

The letter is co-signed by Reps. Rob Bishop [R-UT-01, HASC on leave to Rules]; Paul Gosar [R-AZ-04]; Vicky Hartzler [R-MO-04 HASC]; Jack Kingston [R-GA-01, Ways & Means]; Candice S. Miller [R-MI-10]; C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger [D-MD-02, Intel.]; Austin Scott [R-GA-08, HASC]; and Mike Simpson [R-ID-02, Budget/ Approp.]. Sources: Rep. Ron Barber Release | Full letter [PDF].

Sept 17/13: Political. Gen. Mike Hostage reiterates to reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference that the A-10 may be on the chopping block, and repeats the point about savings only becoming substantial when you remove entire fleets. He adds:

“You can’t get your money out of installations because they won’t support [base realignment and closure]. You can’t get money out of people fast enough. It takes about a year to get savings out of people.”

Gen. Welsh’s address
click for video

Sept 15/13: End of the A-10? USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, is quoted as saying that “You can cut aircraft from a fleet, but you save a lot more money if you cut all the infrastructure that supports the fleet.”

That’s a step beyond initial reports about the Strategic Choices and Management Review, and current reports have the USAF considering the removal of all 343 A-10Cs, all 59 KC-10 tankers, and more of the 249 or so F-15C/Ds. The CRH successor to the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters is also up for review.

The KC-10 option seems to make zero sense as a “single-role” retirement, as it’s far more capable and multi-role than the smaller KC-135s, giving it especial value in the huge Pacific theater. It’s also the USAF’s key insurance against a grounding of its 1950s-era KC-135 aerial tanker fleet – which may explain the decision. If the USAF is trying to protect its KC-46 program, removing any operational insurance for the aged KC-135s makes the KC-46 program that much harder to mess with, or even to delay.

The F-15Cs, on the other hand, have had serious aging out problems, including maneuvering restrictions, and even a months-long grounding after one of the planes broke in 2 in mid-air. The F-22 Raptor fleet’s small size means that retiring the F-15Cs would be a big hit to US air superiority assets, but the multi-role F-15E Strike Eagles can perform the air superiority role almost as well. It’s just a continuing data point in the long-term downsizing of American TacAir. Sources: Defense News, “USAF Weighs Scrapping KC-10, A-10 Fleets” and “USAF General: A-10 Fleet Likely Done if Sequestration Continues”.

Sept 4/13: Wings. Boeing announces a $212 million follow-on order for 56 A-10C replacement wings, bringing total orders so far under the $2 billion program (q.v. June 29/07 entry) to 173 of a maximum 242.

Work will be performed at Boeing’s plant in Macon, GA. Sources: Boeing, Sept 4/13 release.

Aug 12-13/13: Cut the USAF? Prof. Robert Farley makes a condensed argument for abolishing the USAF as a separate service, in advance of his book “Grounded! The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force.” Farley argues that the USA needs air power, but not a service that’s divorced from the ground and naval forces they support. A misguided focus on strategic effect, which he argues hasn’t panned out in wartime experience, will interfere and has interfered with effective contributions to a land/ sea/ air team.

Michael Auslin of the neoconservative AEI think tank responds, arguing that the USAF’s space role and global fast-reaction capabilities make it a unique asset that can reach areas far inland where the Navy cannot go, and go overseas in a way the Army is unable to. An independent Air Force, he says, will wring every advantage out of the air and space domains, just as the Navy does at sea.

Here’s the thing. What if the USAF is seen as a non-team player, one who consistently short-changes the needs of other services? It then becomes very hard to argue that the USAF is in fact wringing every advantage out of the aerial domain for the USA. At a time of significant budget cuts, cutting an entire service offers much bigger administrative savings than removing aircraft fleets, and removing fleets the other services see as their top priorities could create a level of friction that will place that kind of radical option on the table. Sources: War Is Boring, “America Does Not Need the Air Force” | Breaking Defense, “Why America Needs The Air Force: Rebuttal To Prof. Farley”.

Aug 6/13: Combat. An engagement in Afghanistan illustrates the A-10’s strengths, and underscores why high-altitude bombing simply isn’t going to replace what it does on the front lines:

“Even with all our (top-of-the-line) tools today, we still rely on visual references,” said the lead pilot, who is on his first deployment from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. “Once we received general location of the enemy’s position, I rolled in as lead aircraft and fired two rockets to mark the area with smoke. Then my wingman rolled in to shoot the enemy with his 30 millimeter rounds.”…. “We train for this, but shooting danger-close is uncomfortable, because now the friendlies are at risk,” the second A-10 pilot said. “We came in for a low-angle strafe, 75 feet above the enemy’s position and used the 30-mm gun — 50 meters parallel to ground forces — ensuring our fire was accurate so we didn’t hurt the friendlies.

The engagement lasted two hours that day, and in that time, the A-10s completed 15 gun passes, fired nearly all their 2,300, 30-mm rounds, and dropped three 500-pound bombs on the enemy force.”

As a reference point, the F-35s the USAF wants to use as replacements can’t fly as slowly for visual references, are highly vulnerable to battle damage, and carry just 180 25mm cannon rounds. Sources: USAF, “Bagram pilots save 60 Soldiers during convoy ambush”.

Front-line reality

Aug 5/13: Political. Defense News reports that the 4-month Strategic Choices Management Review will report that the USAF could eliminate most of its older C-130E/H transports, and 5 of 55 tactical A-10, F-15, or F-16 squadrons (up to 120 jets, based on 24-plane squadrons).

The USAF’s problem is that Congress wants to cut money, but won’t countenance closing bases. They’re also not receptive to aircraft retirements, which has left the USAF with several squadrons’ worth of unflyable planes that can’t be retired. FY 2013 budget proposals to retire 22 C-130Hs and shut down two A-10 squadrons were blocked by Congress. Sources: Air Force Times, “AF considers scrapping A-10s, KC-10s, F-15Cs, CSAR helos”

June 18/13: Basing. As part of budget cuts (q.v. Feb 1/12 entry), a ceremony at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany inactivates the 81st Fighter Squadron and its A-10Cs. The ceremony marks the end of A-10 operations in Europe.

The A-10 was originally designed for combat in Europe, and was seen as a crucial fast-reaction asset that could stop heavy armored thrusts through NATO’s defenses. Now, the 52nd Fighter Wing is left with only F-16 fighters on its roster. Considering the situation in Europe, and likely threats, wouldn’t it have made more sense to remove and retire F-16s? That would have left the A-10s as an inexpensive but uniquely reassuring deterrent for NATO’s eastern flank, with fast deployability to the CENTCOM AOR if needed. Pentagon DVIDS.

Europe, Adieu

April 2/13: APKWS guided rockets. Eglin AFB announces successful tests of the APKWS laser-guided 70mm rocket from an A-10C, marking the 2nd test from a fixed-wing aircraft (a Beechcraft AT-6B was the 1st). For the final A-10C test sortie, 2 APKWS rockets were fired at a surface target at altitudes of 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The first rocket hit within inches, and the 15,000 foot shot hit within 2 meters despite a 70-knot headwind.

The USAF used a US Navy rocket launcher, because the guidance section adds 18″ to the Hydra rocket. If the USAF continues to move forward with APKWS on the A-10C and F-16, they’ll buy the Navy’s modified launchers to replace their 7-rocket LAU-131s. The US Navy is preparing to qualify APKWS on the MQ-8C VTUAV, USMC AV-8B Harrier II V/STOL jets, and F/A-18 family fighters. Pentagon DVIDS.

FY 2012

A-10C fleet cut; 1st re-winged A-10C rolls out; A-10C flies on biofuel; Thales acquires Scorpion HMD. Alcohol-to-Jet
(click to view full)

Nov 5/12: Thales buys Scorpion HMD. Thales announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Gentex Corp.’s Visionix subsidiary for Helmet Mounted Displays (HMD) and motion tracking. Products include “Intersense” motion tracking, and the Scorpion HMD that equips American A-10Cs. Thales has a strong position in helicopter HMDs with its TopOwl, but it hasn’t had quite as much luck with fighter HMDs. Visionix has good technologies, which can help Thales improve that position against the Elbit/Rockwell joint venture VSI, and secondary competitors BAE systems and Saab Group.

Visionix will operate as a subsidiary of radio supplier Thales Communications, Inc., a Thales USA company that operates independently under a proxy agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense. Its management team will remain, and they’ll continue to operates from Aurora, IL and Billerica, MA. Thales Group.

July 12/12: Sub-contractors. Boeing calls South Korea’s KAI “a key supplier on the A-10 Wing Replacement Program,” while discussing the Korean company’s role in delivering AH-64D Block III attack helicopter fuselages. Boeing is a huge customer for KAI, who supplies parts for commercial jets and F-15s, as well as helicopter fuselages, A-10 wings, etc.

July 10/12: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Owego, NY receives a $7.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for repair service for the A-10 central interface control unit (CICU), and related Circuit Card Assemblies. This computer is also knows as a Signal Data Processor, and the idea is to provide a support bridge, while the USAF gets ready to perform maintenance in-house.

Work will be performed in Owego, NY, and will be complete by Sept 9/12. The USAF GLSC at Hill AFB, UT manages the contract (FA8251-12-D-0005). See also announcement.

June 29/12: Liquored up. An A-10C from Eglin AFB, FL flies using a cellulosic alcohol derivative, called “Alcohol-to-Jet.” That trick works better for the jets than it does for the pilots, apparently. The fuel comes from Colorado’s Gevo, Inc., and can be had for the bargain price of just $56 per gallon.

The $700,000 flight was just a test, obviously. The A-10 is a good test platform for this sort of thing, because its fuel system was segregated in order to help the plane survive hits. The system allows the 2 engines to run off of different fuel supplies, allowing simple performance comparisons. If a test fuel creates failures, the plane can still make it back on one engine. Daily Mail |

Alcohol flight

May 16/12: Flight International:

“The US Air Force has concluded that the short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) Lockheed Martin F-35B- model aircraft cannot generate enough sorties to meet its needs; therefore the service will not consider replacing the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog close air support jet with that variant.”

The short take-off F-35B’s ability to base near the battle does multiply the number of flight sorties from each plane, and improves total time over the battlefield. On the other hand, that’s multiplied relative to the F-35A. The A-10 has excellent endurance, whereas the F-35B has to sacrifice fuel capacity in exchange for its short-takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. Beyond that, F-35s of any vintage lack the armoring or gun for in-close support, remove most of their stealth protection if they carry the same array of weapons as an A-10, suffer from the usual problem identifying targets at fast jet speeds, and don’t offer significantly better battlefield sensors than the LITENING-SE or Sniper-SE pods on current A-10s. No matter what the sortie rates may be, replacement of the A-10 with any F-35 is a poor idea.

Feb 15/12: Boeing and the USAF officially roll out of the 1st re-winged A-10C Thunderbolt II in a ceremony at Hill AFB, UT. Boeing is under contract with the Air Force to deliver 233 wing sets through 2018, and delivered the 1st set in March 2011. In the intervening year, the new wings had to be installed, verified, and conduct initial test flights. Boeing.

1st re-winged A-10C

Feb 1/12: US Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz released a short white paper [PDF] outlining its priorities and choices within forthcoming budget constraints. The A-10 fleet bears the largest cuts by far, even though it has been the most consistently requested plane by troops on the ground in recent wars, and offers high value in both counterinsurgency and full-war scenarios:

“More than 280 aircraft have been identified… for elimination… over the next five years. This includes 123 fighters (102 A-10s [emphasis DID’s] and 21 older F-16s), 133 mobility aircraft (27 C-5As, 65 C-130s, 20 KC-135s, and 21 C-27s), and 30 select ISR systems (18 RQ-4 Block 30s, 11 RC-26s, and one E-8 damaged beyond repair)”

That’s 102 of 345 total A-10s flown, leaving 243 in service. It remains to be seen whether Boeing’s re-winging contract will be cut, but if not, 233/243 A-10Cs left will be re-winged planes. Unconfirmed reports point to the elimination of 2 regular USAF units, plus 3 Guard units: the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base (ANGB), MI; the 163rd Fighter Squadron at Fort Wayne ANGB, IN; and the 184th Fighter Squadron at Ebbing ANGB, AK. See | Salt Lake Tribune | Neoconservative AEI think-tank’s Weekly Standard.

A-10 fleet cuts

FY 2011

A-10Cs to South Korea; TLPS support contracts. A-10 wing work
(click to view full)

Sept 6/11: TLPS. Boeing announces a 1-year, $2.9 million contract to develop and validate a modification of the A-10’s Digital Video Audio Data Recorder (DVADR), which was becoming difficult to support. That’s not uncommon with electronics, which become obsolete much faster than their fighter jets do.

This contract is the 6th Boeing task order under the A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) program.

Dec 7/10: TLPS. Northrop Grumman announces a set of 3 small task orders under the A-10 Thunderbolt Life-cycle Program Support (TLPS) indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract, worth almost $2 million. Under the terms of the 2-year Aircraft Structural Integrity Program Modernization II task order, Northrop Grumman and its teammate Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX will develop and document non-destructive inspection (NDI) procedures and source data, and report discrepancies found between current technical data program requirements.

The Critical Safety Item (CSI) Technical Deficiency Improvement task order has 1 base year with 3 option years. Along with Wyle Laboratories in El Segundo, CA, and Rowan Catalyst Inc. in Libertyville, IL, the team will identify the engineering and technical correct CSI technical and acquisition data deficiencies.

Northrop Grumman is also teamed with Wyle Laboratories and Rowan Catalyst Inc., for the Critical Systems Component Analysis task, which has 1 base year with 2 option years. The team will perform component analysis of critical systems and provide solutions for increasing system reliability, safety, and aircraft availability; and reducing maintenance requirements and man-hours.

Nov 16/10: To Korea. Brahmand relays reports that the USAF 25th Fighter Squadron has deployed A-10Cs on the Korean peninsula at Osan AB, near Seoul. Subsequent USAF reports indicate that the last A-10A left the base on Dec 4/10, marking the 25th fighter squadron’s transition to an all A-10C force.

FY 2010

A-10C getting a Scorpion HMD, but not Hellfire missiles. A-10A fires Maverick
(click to view full)

Sept 27/10: OFP Suite 7, no Hellfire. A $48 million contract modification which will allow for the “completion of the full A-10 Suite 7 Operational Flight Program.”

Asked about this, Lockheed Martin confirmed that this is part of the A-10C program, adding that the government had reached its ceiling on this contract for mission software, also called Operational Flight Programs (OFPs) or Suites. Like the current modification, the original Oct 19/07 sole source contract ceiling for Suites 6, 7 and 8 was not an award, just a maximum. The government awards funds suite by suite, and based on additional things they wanted to add to the A-10C fleet, they requested this ceiling extension to $123 million total. The USAF has since separated Suite 7 into Suite 7A and Suite 7B, and Lockheed Martin recently received a contract for the remainder of OFP Suite 7A work.

The 2007 award also mentioned Hellfire II missiles, which are not normally fired from jets. Lockheed Martin says that the high cost of developing and purchasing a special missile launch rail for the A-10 caused the USAF to change its mind. The AGM-65 Maverick missile can perform the same role at a higher cost per missile, and Hellfire’s forthcoming JAGM missile successor is expected to work with fast jets (FA8635-07-D-6000, PO0012).

July 19/10: Scorpion HMD. Raytheon announces a $12.6 million USAF contract for Phase 1 integration and qualification of the Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT) system for USAF and Air National Guard A-10C and F-16C Block 30/32 aircraft. Raytheon Technical Services Company LLC (RTSC), the prime contractor, is teamed with Gentex Corp. in Simpson, PA to produce the system, based on Gentex’s Visionix Scorpion(TM) Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

HMIT will be a night-vision compatible helmet-mounted display that shows crucial information in high-resolution color imagery directly in the pilot’s field of vision. The color imagery is a step forward, and information displayed will include weapons-cueing, targeting and situational data from on-board and remote sensors. Like other HMDs, the system will track helmet movement to display accurate imagery, regardless of the direction the pilot’s head is turned. The program includes 5 one-year production options, with a potential total value up to $50 million.

April 13/10: Sub-contractors. CPI Aerostructures, Inc. of Edgwood, NY announces an additional $10 million in orders from Boeing in support of the A-10 fleet’s $2 billion re-winging effort. The original contract with Boeing was for $70 million (see July 1/08 entry).

Boeing has added additional structural assemblies and subsystem installations to the CPI Aero contract. These additions include pylon covers, center trailing edge wedge fittings, lower outer trailing edge panels, wingtip covers, wingtip light installations and aileron light installations.

Nov 20/09: OFP. Lockheed Martin announces a $17.8 million contract from the US Air Force to upgrade software that integrates communications and situational awareness capabilities on the A-10C close air support aircraft. The software upgrade is the 3rd in an annual series planned for the A-10 and is scheduled for release in May 2011. The earlier two upgrades were also performed by Lockheed Martin; the first was fielded on schedule in May 2009 and the second is on target for release in May 2010.

The software upgrade will provide improved pilot vehicle interface (PVI) and weapons delivery. Also included with the upgrade are software baselines for the helmet-mounted cueing system that provides situational awareness through improved visual cues for the pilot and for the lightweight airborne recovery system that integrates search and rescue capability. The upgrades will be integrated in Lockheed Martin’s A-10 Systems Integration Lab in Owego, NY. Lockheed Martin A-10 industry team includes Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX and Northrop Grumman in St. Augustine, FL.

Nov 11/09: TLPS. Northrop Grumman announces an 18-month, $3.3 million A-10 TLPS contract to develop and test an anti-jam embedded GPS and an inertial navigation unit (EGI) for the A-10C. Northrop Grumman Technical Services will perform an integrated architecture and life cycle costs analysis and install a temporary modification. The company will then develop a system safety program, and provide program and engineering management support in order to conduct an operational assessment of the EGI capability during flight test. Northrop Grumman’s team includes subcontractors BAE Systems Control Inc., Johnson City, N.Y., and Borsight Aerospace, Farmington, Utah.

FY 2009

$1.72 billion TLPS multi-award maintenance contract; A-10C adds Laser JDAM; Wing cracking in 130 planes. LJDAM test from A-10C
(click to view full)

Sept 24/09: Boeing announces that it received 2 separate contracts from the US Air Force to support modernization of its 365 A-10A+ and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft. The contracts, which have a total value of $4.2 million, consists of several tasks ranging in duration from 3 to 18 months as part of the A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) contract. For details on the TLPS contract, see the June 11/09 entry.

Under the 1st contract, Boeing and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will provide engineering services for the A-10 Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP), which involves updating and aligning modern structural analysis tools, processes and standards for the A-10 fleet. Under the 2nd contract, Boeing, Raytheon Technical Services, and BAE Systems Platform Solutions will conduct a trade study analysis and operational assessment/proof of concept for the A-10 Upgraded Data Transfer Unit (UDTU). The goal of this contract is to update the aircraft’s avionics architecture to improve memory and data capability.

Other A-10 contracts Boeing has received include a contract to provide on-site engineering support and 3-D models of the A-10 wing, and a contract for fuselage lofting – the transfer of a scaled-down plan to full size. The $2 billion A-10 Wing Replacement Program, which Boeing received in June 2007 (see June 29/07 entry), plans to manufacture up to 242 enhanced wing assemblies. The 3-D models allow the Air Force to resolve wing-crack issues that temporarily grounded the A-10 fleet in 2008 (see Oct 3/08 entry).

June 11/09: TLPS. The A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) “provides a multiple-award indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract vehicle to sustain and modernize all A-10 weapon system configuration.” It’s a follow-on to the A-10 Prime Contract, which was competitively awarded to Lockheed Martin in 1997. A-10 TLPS could run for up to 10 years, with an initial 4-year award that can be followed by up to 3 more 2-year option periods. All funds have been obligated, and the A-10 TLPS is managed by the 538 ACSG/PK at Hill Air Force Base, UT.

The Aug 29/08 entry explains the key rule change from the USA’s 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which requires DoD task & delivery order contracts exceeding $100 million to be awarded to multiple contractors. The USAF will select up to 3 contractors to compete for individual A-10 TLPS orders over the life of the contract, which will include avionics, mechanical, structural, and propulsion system upgrade work and a program integration support. The 3 winners of the $1.72 billion total contract are:

  • Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY (FA8202-09-D-0002). Current incumbents. Partnered with Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio TX; and Northrop Grumman in St. Augustine, FL.

  • Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Saint Louis, MO (FA8202-09-D-0001). Also on contract for the $2.015 billion A-10 re-winging program (q.v. June 29/07 entry).

  • Northrop Grumman Technical Services, Inc. in Herndon, VA (FA8202-09-D-0003). NGC will manage the program from Clearfield, UT. Work will also be performed at Warner Robins, GA; Bethpage, NY; El Segundo, CA; and Rolling Meadows, IL.

See also: Lockheed Martin | Boeing | Northrop Grumman.

TLPS support contract

June 11/09: TLPS. Boeing’s A-10 TLPS release adds information concerning the separate $2.015 billion A-10 Wing Replacement Program:

“The work remains on schedule as Boeing develops the 3-D models that provide the engineering foundation for production of the new wings. The models also allowed Boeing to help the Air Force quickly resolve wing-crack issues that temporarily grounded the A-10 fleet last year.”

June 11/09: A-10PE Update. Lockheed Martin’s A-10 TLPS release adds some details concerning the separate A-10C Precision Engagement program:

“Lockheed Martin will remain under contract to complete efforts that are underway including work to provide Precision Engagement modification kits through 2011… To date, the Air Force has converted more than 200 of the 356 aircraft fleet. The A-10C was declared combat ready in August, 2007… In 2007, Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego and the Air Force were co-recipients of a Top 5 DoD Program Award from the National Defense Industrial Association and the Department of Defense for A-10 systems engineering and program management excellence.”

Feb 4/09: TLPS. Boeing announces that it has submitted a proposal to the to the USAF for the $1.6 billion A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) contract. This is a separate endeavor from the A-10C PE program, but it will have connections to ongoing modernization work.

Boeing is looking to leverage its work creating 3-D models of the plane under the $2 billion A-10 Wing Replacement Program. The A-10 was designed in the 1970s, and 3-D modeling was not used at the time. Lockheed Martin currently handles a large share of A-10 work, and competition is also expected from BAE Systems and L-3 Communications. Boeing release.

Jan 12/09: Cracking up. DoD Buzz quotes 12th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, who says the USAF has inspected 200 of 244 aircraft with thin wings. Of those, 40% remain grounded, 41% have been inspected and returned to flight and the remainder are considered “flyable and awaiting inspection.” June 2009 remains the target date for a fix. Among the “thick winged” A-10s, 30% are still grounded, 23% will keep flying and the rest should be ready by June 2009.

The USAF’s challenge has been to keep all of the pilots current in their required flight hours for pilot certification, while providing enough aircraft to meet front-line combat needs.

Nov 14/08: LJDAM. The USAF announces that an upgraded USAF A-10C has dropped the GBU-54 LJDAM in a successful test. The next step is operational testing to develop tactics and techniques for employing the 500 pound dual laser/GPS guidance bombs from A-10s, who can use them to hit moving targets or drop bombs through clouds.

If those tests continue to go well, Eglin AFB’s test team may have their feedback as early as January. The goal is to have the LJDAM/A-10C combination deployed on the front lines by early 2009.

Nov 12/08: Cracking up. USAF release: Approximately 5 members of a depot maintenance team from Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT arrive at Moody AFB. They will provide hands-on training to perform major crack repairs on A-10 aircraft to Moody maintainers and another 40 active duty, Reserve and Guard maintainers from bases including Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, Nellis AFB, NV, Whiteman AFB, MO, and Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, PA. Master Sgt. Steve Grimes, Air Combat Command Headquarters A-10 maintenance liaison:

“It would cost too much to fly all the aircraft to Hill. It would also take longer to repair all since three could only be sent at a time. This method is more cost-effective and it would be a faster way to repair the A-10s.”

Oct 3/08: Cracking up. The USAF announces “a time compliance technical order requiring immediate inspection and repair of wing cracks” for approximately 130 A-10 aircraft that were originally built with thin-skin wings.

“Such action has become necessary due to an increase in fatigue-related wing cracks currently occurring in aircraft assigned to Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and Air Force Materiel Command… The inspections, however, will not impact on-going or future operational combat missions.”

The USAF explicitly notes this as one of the issues associated with its aging aircraft fleet. The US military currently has about 400 active A-10s. See USAF release | Reuters.

Wing cracking grounds 130 A-10s

FY 2008

USAF prepared to compete future support; A-10C #100 delivered; Creating a 3-D model of the A-10. A-10C at Davis-Monthan
(click to view full)

Aug 29/08: New Rules. Aviation Week reports that the A-10C program is likely to be an early test case for a dramatic rule change inserted in the USA’s 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which requires DoD task & delivery order contracts exceeding $100 million to be awarded to multiple contractors.

The kits that upgrade the A-10A to an A-10C are still sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin, but that’s about to change. A final RFP is expected soon, and the current plan is for 3 associate prime contractors to win a “multiple award” contract that lets them compete for individual task orders. The Air Force will reportedly oversee all modifications above and beyond the A-10 Precision Engagement aircraft under the Thunderbolt Lifecycle Program Support (TLPS) contract, with a $1.6 billion ceiling over 5 years and an additional 5-year option.

Boeing, who has extensive fighter experience and makes new A-10 wings under the $2 billion re-winging program, is likely to add itself to the mix. L-3 Communications also has strong experience with aircraft refurbishment and upgrades, and BAE Systems is heavily involved in the A-10A+ program.

July 1/08: Sub-contractors. CPI Aerostructures, Inc. of Edgwood, NY announces a long-term, $70 million requirements from Boeing in support of the A-10 fleet’s $2 billion re-winging effort.

The first ordering period is to run until Sept 30/11, with an additional option period that runs from Oct 1/11 through Sept 30/16. CPI expects to receive the initial order under this contract within the next 30 days.

June 19/08: Model me. Integrating new weapons and systems onto new aircraft involved aerodynamic and mechanical considerations, in addition to electronic compatibility. Modern engineering practices offer comprehensive 3-D design drawings that account for every part, and can be used to create models that reduce the trial-and-error associated with new work. An aircraft designed in the 1970s wouldn’t have those 3-D CAD/CAM models to work from, however, which is where Eglin AFB’s 46th Test Wing’s SEEK EAGLE office enters the picture.

Visibility Size and Shape Targeting Accuracy Room Scale (V-STARS) uses a photogrammetry system of triangulation to collect thousands of data points involving every external surface of an aircraft. These data points are then used to create a model that’s accurate to within 0.03 inches of the aircraft measured. The B-52H bomber has already been through this process, and now the SEEK EAGLE office is measuring an A-10C on loan from the Maryland National Guard. The 1000,000 data points that result will build an A-10C model that can be used when integrating future weapons. USAF.

Jan 22/08: Wings. Boeing announces a $14.9 million U.S. Air Force contract for systems engineering and modeling services under the A-10 Wing Replacement program (see April 2/07 and June 29/07). William Moorefield, Boeing A-10 Wing Replacement program manager, said that the contract will provide the engineering foundation for the program; the goal is “a true paperless engineering package.”

Boeing will perform the majority of the work in St. Louis, MO, with the remaining work done in Salt Lake City, UT. The contract runs through September 2010.

Jan 18/08: #100. The USAF announces that the 100th A-10C has taken off and flown from Hill AFB, UT to Moody AFB, GA. Aircraft 80-0172 was based at Pope AFB, NC before the modification, but transfers to Moody AFB as part of the base realignment and closure (BRAC 2005) recommendations.

On average, the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron technicians at Hill AFB are upgrading each A-10 aircraft to the new A-10C configuration in less than 90 days. The A-10C Precision Engagement program started in the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group in July 2006.

100th A-10C delivered

Oct 19/07: OFP. Lockheed Martin Systems Integration of Owego, NY receives a $75 million contract modification to fund the A-10C’s Operational Flight Program (OFP) Hardware Improvement Program for the plane’s mission computers, and Development and Integration of mission software Suites 6, 7, and 8, including Hellfire II Missile Development and Integration. This is just an umbrella contract and ceiling, no funds have been obligated by the 642th AESS/PK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8635-07-D-6000).

The USAF eventually decided to abandon Hellfire II missiles on the A-10C.

FY 2007

$2.015 billion contract for new wings; 25 more kits; Work on SADL datalink; A-10C arrives and reaches IOC. IOC ceremony
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Aug 22/07: Basing. The USAF announces that an associate group of about 215 reservists will support the active duty 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, GA, while a smaller associate detachment of 14 reservists will augment the A-10 Formal Training Unit at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. The arrangement means the reservists and active-duty personnel have opportunities to train and deploy as a unit; development of fighter associate units began in March 1997 with the launching of the Fighter Reserve Associate Test program. The success of that program led to the signing of an agreement in April 2003 by the commanders of ACC (Air Combat Command) and AFRC (Air Force Reserve Command) to establish fighter associate units at ACC F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle locations.

“Reservists in the Moody group will fly and maintain the A-10s with the regular component under the classic associate unit structure. The first A-10C Thunderbolt II arrived at Moody Aug. 7. About 50 of the upgraded aircraft will move to the Georgia base as a part of force realignment.”

Aug 21/07: IOC. The precision engagement modified A-10C Thunderbolt II receives its Initial Operational Capability certification at a Langley AFB, VA ceremony. The USAF report says that around 75 A-10s have already been upgraded as of IOC receipt.

Aug 7/07: A-10C #1. The first A-10C arrives at Moody AFB, GA.

1st arrival & IOC

July 18/07: AFSOC A-10s? Jane’s Defense Weekly mentions that USAF Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley has told Jane’s he is considering the creation of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) squadron of A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Gen Moseley said he is mulling the possibility of putting a squadron of A-10A close-support aircraft inside AFSOC to serve US Special Operations Command, which has the lead engagement role in the US-declared global war on terrorism.

The A-10C would certainly be useful in this role as it comes into service; a 2-seater all-weather version like the canceled A/OA-10B would have been even more useful in situations like this.

July 10/07: Sub-contractors. Rockwell Collins Government Systems, Inc. in Cedar Rapids, IA received a $24.85 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-priced contract, exercising an option for AN/ARC-210(V) Electronic Protection Radio Systems. The AN/ARC-210 Multimode Integrated Communications System provides 2 way multimode voice and data communications over the 30-512 MHz frequency range in either normal, secure or jam-resistant modes via LOS or satellite communications (SATCOM) links.

The ARC-210 family of equipment is made up of several variants of the receiver-transmitter, each providing a specific combination of functionality. This modification consists of 329 each RT-1851 ARC-210 Receiver-Transmitter Radios; 323 each C-12561 Radio Control Sets, and 294 each MT-4935 Mounting Bases for the USAF’s A-10 aircraft. Work will be performed in Cedar Rapids, IA, and is expected to be complete in July 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command, at Patuxent River, MD issued the contract (N00019-05-C-0050).

June 29/07: New wings. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St Louis, MO received an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price with economic price adjustment contract for $2.015 billion for Engineering Services plus 242 enhanced A-10 Wing sets. The new wings will extend the planes’ life to 16,000 flight hours, and the program calls for the replacement wing sets to be delivered in parts and kits for easy installation. See also our April 2/07 item, which mentions the USAF’s original estimate of $1.3 billion for this program.

Solicitations began November 2006, negotiations were completed May 2007, and $74.2 million has been committed as of the award announcement. Work on the contract could run from 2007-2018, with a base ordering period from June 2007 – September 2011, plus an option period that runs from Oct 2011 – September 2016. The Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT issued the contract (FA8202-07-D-0004). Boeing release

Re-winging contract

April 11/07: +25 kits. A $17.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to produce and deliver A/OA-10 Aircraft Precision Engagement production kits and associated items. This will include: 25 Precision Engagement Modification Kits, 30 Portable Automated Test Sets, 5 Throttle Quadrant Tester Upgrades, 25 Third SP103 Single Board Computers, 30 Stick Grip Attachment, and 357 Throttle Grip Covers. At this time, $8.8 million have been obligated, and work will be complete January 2009 (FA8202-05-C-0004/P00022).

April 11/07: SADL. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Owego, NY received a $70 million indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity, firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee and time-and-materials contract. This action covers continuing development, integration, and production of Raytheon’s Situation Awareness Data Link (SADL), and Improved Date Modem (IDM) efforts in support of on-going A-10C Precision Engagement (PE) fleet modernization and upgrade efforts. At this time, $4.1 million have been obligated, and work will be complete December 2009. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8635-07-D-6015).

April 9/07: SADL. The A-10 Prime Team announces successful delivery of the full-function Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL) capability to the U.S. Air Force for developmental flight testing. The U.S. Air Force is expected to conduct developmental flight test of the SADL capability through May 2007 at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. SADL is expected to be fielded to operational A-10 units by September 2007. Lockheed Martin release.

April 2/07: GAO Report – Costs. The US Government Accountability Office releases #GAO-07-415 – ‘Tactical Aircraft: DOD Needs a Joint and Integrated Investment Strategy’. A key excerpt:

“The Air Force will retain the A-10 “Warthog” fleet in its inventory much longer than planned because of its relevant combat capabilities– demonstrated first during Desert Storm and now in the ongoing Global War on Terror. However, because of post-Cold War plans to retire the fleet in the early 1990s, the Air Force had spent little money on major upgrades and depot maintenance for at least 10 years. As a result, the Air Force faces a large backlog of structural repairs and modifications – much of it unfunded – and will likely identify more unplanned work as older aircraft are inspected and opened up for maintenance. Major efforts to upgrade avionics, modernize cockpit controls, and replace wings are funded and underway. Program officials identified a current unfunded requirement of $2.7 billion, including $2.1 billion for engine upgrades, which some Air Force officials say is not needed. A comprehensive service life extension program (if required) could cost billions more.”

…A major re-winging effort is planned for 2007 through 2016 that will replace the “thin skin” wings on 242 aircraft at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. This effort will help to extend the A-10’s service life to 16,000 hours… Total cost to complete the [Precision Engagement] modification is estimated to be $420 million.”

GAO on costs

March 27/07: EMD. Lockheed Martin announces a $40.4 million contract modification to complete the A-10C Precision Engagement program’s engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase. Work will continue through May 2008 to conclude development of the Precision Engagement software suite and to support flight testing conducted by U.S. Air Force. Lockheed Martin release.

Oct 17/06: Update. The USAF reports that as of October 2006, 21 A-10C aircraft have been modified at Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB, Utah; the entire fleet of 356 active aircraft are to receive the upgrades, including active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Warthogs.

FY 2005 – 2006

179 upgrade kit orders (or is it 239?); DSMS delivered. The Warthog in Winter
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Sept 27/06: +107 Kits. A $49 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-incentive fee and time and material contract. Lockheed Martin’s release cites 107 PE kits, representing the 2nd production lot following the initial award for 72 kits in March 2005:

“The contractor shall provide total systems performance responsibility for A-10 aircraft integration by managing all system problems to a final solution. Interfaces are maintained between the performance work systems primary areas of modifications, system test/evaluation, project management, system engineering, and facilities.”

DID’s own records show 2005 orders for 132 kits, but we’ll go with the manufacturer’s numbers. At this time, $1.3 million have been obligated, and work will be complete September 2010. The 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group at Hill AFB, UT began installing the first award production kits in March 2006 (FA8202-06-D-0001)

March 21/06: DSMS. Lockheed Martin announces that the A-10 Prime Team has delivered the Digital Stores Management System (DSMS) to the U.S. Air Force’s A-10C flight-test program as scheduled. The new system is integrated with the Sniper ATP and LITENING surveillance and targeting pods, and automates many of the weapons control functions that A-10 pilots today perform manually.

Integration of the targeting pods and DSMS took place in Lockheed Martin’s A-10 Systems Integration Lab (SIL) in Owego, NY, where A-10 pilots validated and refined the mechanization of the upgrade before official release of the software to ground and flight test. “The pilot reviews saved significant ground and flight test time,” said Roger Il Grande, A-10 program director at Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego. Built by Lockheed Martin in 2003, the SIL duplicates the aircraft’s wiring and cabling infrastructure, and is outfitted with actual weapon hardware, missile seekers, suspension racks and rocket launchers to emulate an A-10 aircraft on the flight line.

July 25/05: Kits. A $9.1 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide for 72 A-10 aircraft precision engagement spiral 1 modification kits with 3 option years and associated test equipment. Looks like an adjustment to a previous order.

At this time, the total amount of funds has been obligated. Work will be complete at a rate of 6 per month beginning 13 months after receipt of order. Solicitation began July 2004 (FA8202-05-C-0004, PZ001).

June 28/05: Sub-contractors. Enertec America in Alpharetta, GA received a $15.3 million firm-fixed-price modification to provide for A-10 digital video and data recorders. Total funds have been obligated, negotiations were completed June 2005, and work will be complete by November 2006 (FA8202-04-C-0023, P00005).

Feb 22/05: +60 Kits? A $28.5 million, firm fixed price, time and materials contract modification for 60 A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter precision engagement Spiral 1 modification kits, along with associated parts and test equipment.

Solicitations began July 2004, negotiations were complete in July 2005, and work will begin 13 months after the exercising option and will refit 6 aircraft per month after that (FA8202-05-C-0004/P00002).

Feb 17/05: +72 Kits. A $37.8 million contract to provide the U.S. Air Force with 72 Precision Engagement Spiral 1 production kits to modify A/OA-10 “Warthog” close air support aircraft, plus associated test equipment. At this time, $28.3 million of the funds have been obligated. Solicitation began July 2004 (FA8202-05-C-0004). Lockheed Martin release.

The production kits, a result of work by Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Southwest Research Institute, are one component of the Precision Engagement program.

FY 2004 and earlier

Main upgrade contract; Sniper pods for A-10Cs. Sniper XR

Feb 12/04: Sniper. Lockheed Martin announces a contract to integrate the Sniper XR targeting pod on the A-10 aircraft in support of the A-10 Precision Engagement (PE) Program. The contract award follows a successful demonstration of the Sniper system during the A/OA-10 Precision Engagement upgrade program’s critical design review.

Some existing A-10s do fly with targeting pods, but they’re earlier models of Northrop Grumman’s LITENING pod. The USAF picked Sniper as its future targeting pod in 2001 (though they’d shift to a dual-pod approach again in 2010), and the current contract will ensure that Sniper pods work seamlessly with the A-10’s upgraded stores management systems, pilot displays, weapon targeting, etc.

As part of the integration effort, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control will develop the Pilot Vehicle Interface (PVI), pod Operational Flight Program (OFP) software, and pod interface adapter hardware for the A-10. Upon completion of this effort, the Sniper XR pod will self-detect and automatically load the appropriate Operational Flight Program when installed on either the A-10, F-16 or F-15E airframes.

Feb 15/01: Lockheed Martin announces the contract win, stating that:

“The A/OA-10 Prime contract modification has an estimated value of $226 million, $74 million for the Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) phase through 2004 with follow-on production at $152 million.

This innovative government and industry teamwork approach cost-effectively combines multiple A-10 upgrade requirements into one program that fits within current available funding and saves the U.S. Air Force approximately $150 million over the cost of executing the requirements as standalone projects. The Precision Engagement modification also provides the A-10 fleet with enhanced close-air support and precision strike capability earlier than originally planned.

During the EMD phase, the company’s Aerospace Systems business unit will design, manufacture and test the Precision Engagement system. This effort involves the installation of a digital stores management system for cockpit interface with its weapon systems; new cockpit displays; a Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL) to provide accurate information about friendly forces and potential threats; a Direct-Current (DC) generator upgrade; and the integration of guided weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) along with future targeting pod integration. Follow-on efforts will then outfit the entire A-10 fleet.”

A-10C upgrade contract

Additional Research Background: A-10 Platform & Enhancements

News & Views

Categories: News

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

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 00:18
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
(click to view full)

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

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
(click to view full)

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
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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
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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

Missile Defense: Next Steps for the USA’s GMD

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 00:17
GMD launch, 2001
(click to view full)

The USA’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program uses land-based missiles to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in the middle of their flight, outside the atmosphere. The missiles are currently based at 2 sites in the USA: 4 at Vandenberg AFB in California, and 20 (eventually 26) at Fort Greely in Alaska.

The well-known Patriot missiles provide what’s known as terminal-phase defense options, while longer-reach options like the land-based THAAD perform terminal or descent-phase interceptions. Even so, their sensors and flight ranges are best suited to defense against shorter range missiles launched from in-theater.

In contrast, GMD is designed to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It depends on tracking that begins in the boost phase, in order to allow true mid-course interception attempts in space, before descent or terminal phase options like THAAD and then Patriot would be tried. In order to accomplish that task, GMD missiles must use data feeds from an assortment of long-range sensors, including satellites like SBIRS and DSP, some SPSS/BMEWS huge early-warning radars, and even the naval SBX radar.

GMD Program, Present & Past

According to the Director, Missile Defense Agency (MDA), GMD is expected to remain in service until at least 2032. At present, there are 30 GBI missiles in place: 26 at Fort Geely, AK, and 4 at Vandenberg AFB, CA. Within that set, there are 2 kill vehicle versions. The first kill vehicle, fielded since 2004, is known as the Capability Enhancement I (CE-I). The current production model is CE-II.

In 2009, the Secretary of Defense reduced the number of planned GBIs from 44 to 30, plus 22 more GBIs for testing and spares. In 2013, the Obama administration backtracked on its previous decision, restoring the planned number of deployed GBIs to 44.

(click to see others)

In many ways, the GMD program is a poster child for temporary gain and long term pain. When the threat involves nuclear weapons, that’s a defensible choice, but there is a flip side.

The GMD system arose out of President G.W. Bush’s 2002 directive to deploy an initial set of missile defense capabilities by 2004. Meeting the date resulted in a very concurrent program, which did field 5 CE-I interceptors and a fire control system. That gave the President an important new option, and added uncertainty to hostile states for several years into the Global War on Terror.

The flip side is that the option had costs. A 2008 MDA briefing acknowledged that their approach led to very risky decisions regarding schedule, product quality, and program cost. One example that seems unnecessary involved a design that wasn’t set up for manufacturing ease, creating a long and continuous river of design changes once it came time to build it. Other consequences of this approach have included schedule delays, unexpected cost increases, variations between delivered CE-I EKVs, performance issues, the need for a refurbishment program, and sometimes-questionable infrastructure that eventually forced the USA to shut down Fort Greely, AK’s Missile Field 1.

The FY 2014 budget aims to begin rebuilding Fort Greely’s MF1, including full hardening against EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse, created by nuclear airbursts among other things).

GMD: The System

The GMD “system” includes far more than just the GBI missiles and the EKV kill vehicles they carry.

  • The COBRA DANE Upgrade Radar at Eareckson Air Station (Shemya Island), AK.

  • Upgraded BMEWS Early Warning Radars at Beale AFB, CA; RAF Fylingdales, United Kingdom; and Thule AB, Greenland

  • Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) missiles at Fort Greely, AK, plus 4 silos at Vandenberg AFB, California.

  • GMD ground system including GMD Fire Control (GFC) nodes at Schriever AFB, CO, and Fort Greely, AK; Command Launch Equipment at Vandenberg AFB, CA, and Fort Greely, AK; and In-Flight Interceptor Communication System Data Terminals at Vandenberg AFB, CA, Fort Greely, AK, and Shemya Island, AK.

  • GMD secure data and voice communication system including long-haul communications using the Defense Satellite Communication System, commercial satellite communications, and fiber-optic cable (both terrestrial and submarine).

  • External interfaces that connect to Aegis BMD; North American Aerospace Defense – U.S. Northern Command Command Center and Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications at Peterson AFB, CO; Space Based Infrared System/Defense Support Program at Buckley AFB, CO to relay data from early warning satellites; and the AN/TPY-2 radar at Shariki AB, Japan.

  • The Sea-Based X-band radar can be operationally deployed as needed.

Contracts and Recent Events FY 2014-2016

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February 1/16: The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) conducted a successful non-intercept flight test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). A long-range ground-based interceptor was launched to evaluate the performance of alternate divert thrusters for the system’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle. A USAF C-17 aircraft was used to to fire a a target representing an intermediate-range ballistic missile over a broad area of ocean near Hawaii. The missile was then detected, tracked and given a fire control solution to engage the target from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The test of the missile has involved cooperation from several parties alongside the MDA including the USAF 30th Space Wing, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, and the US Northern Command.

June 1/15: A set of serious technical flaws have been identified in the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, with this the latest technical problem in a program which has cost over $41 billion.

June 22/14: FTG-06b Kill! After a gap lasting more than 5 years, the GMD system has killed an incoming target during a live test. The GBI interceptor was launched from Vandenberg AFB, CA to intercept an intermediate-range ballistic missile target launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The IRBM target was launched from the Reagan Test Site, then detected and tracked by the US Navy destroyer USS Hopper [DDG 70, with AEGIS BMD 4.0.2] and the Sea-Based X-Band radar, which provided data to GMD fire control using the MDA’s C2BMC back-end system. The intercept was achieved by an EKV CE-II model. Sources: US MDA, “Target Missile Intercepted Over the Pacific Ocean During Missile Defense Exercise” | Raytheon, “Raytheon kill vehicle destroys complex, long-range ballistic missile target in space”.

June 15/14. The LA Times writes a feature about the GMD system, whose $40 billion price tag and 8/16 success record (including just 3/8 successes since becoming operational in 2004) don’t inspire favorable treatment. That record suggests that the USA would need to volley about 4 missiles at each incoming missile, in order to have a high probability of success. Moreover:

“About a third of the kill vehicles now in use — the exact number is classified — are the same model that failed in the 2010 tests, according to people familiar with the system who spoke on condition of anonymity. That model has yet to intercept a target…. interceptors used in test flights burn up when they reenter the atmosphere or are lost in the ocean…. some of the system’s problems can be traced to the kill vehicles’ [inertial measurement unit]…. Scientists suspect that intense vibration during the interceptors’ ascent is the cause of some of the test failures…. It could take years of additional engineering work to solve this and other technical problems in the kill vehicles, scientists said.

Lehner, the Missile Defense Agency spokesman, said vibrations were successfully dampened in a January 2013 flight test [that]… did not involve an attempt to intercept a target…. Engineers who have worked with the system acknowledge that because each kill vehicle is unique, even a successful test might not predict the performance of interceptors launched in combat.”

Sources: LA Times, “$40 billion missile defense system proves unreliable”.

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The MDA has decided on a full redesign of the missile’s kill vehicle, which will involve an initial $99.5 million in FY 2015; overall interceptor improvements are budgeted to cost around $700 million from FY 2015 – 2019. MDA adds the usual boilerplate, though executing on these promises does make a difference to long term costs:

“The redesigned EKV will be built with a modular, open architecture and designed with common interfaces and standards, making upgrades easier and broadening our vendor and supplier base. The redesigned EKV will increase performance to address the evolving threat; improve reliability, availability, maintainability, testability and producibility; and increase in-flight communications to improve usage of off-board sensors information and situational awareness to combatant commanders for enabling new tactics such as shoot-assess-shoot.”

See above for an updated chart of GMD budgets, which is still entirely made up of RDT&E funds. The logic when they were deployed was “get the prototypes up, and at least create uncertainty in enemies.” That was actually a logical step; every trader knows that you have to hedge sometimes, in order to manage risk. Every hedge also has a cost. In this case, the end-product isn’t as good, and the USA will pay more over time.

March 4/14: Updates. At an MDA Q&A session, they say that an EKV redesign is needed because of test failures. The Failure Review Board is still ongoing, so they’re not commenting on that, except to say that it’s “not a quality issue.” With respect to the ELV’s path forward, they’re not sure they’re going to compete it, or what the acquisition approach is going to be. A test of the newer CEII EKV is reportedly coming in the summer. That would be a step back from the March 2014 date reported by DOT&E (q.v. Jan 17/13).

Jan 17/13: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). For GMD:

“The MDA continues to make progress on the return-to-intercept for the CE-II EKV [final-stage kill vehicle], but will need to successfully conclude its investigation of the CE-I EKV failure before returning the CE-I EKV to intercept flight testing…. The MDA has started, but not completed, the FY11 recommendation to repeat the FTG-06a [CE-II] mission to verify (1) failure root causes, (2) Failure Review Board results, and (3) permanent fixes for the deficiencies found during the flight test. They have identified root cause issues, implemented solutions, and successfully completed the first (CTV-01) of a planned two-flight test series designed to demonstrate the fixes. The MDA has scheduled the second flight test in the series, FTG-06b…”

They’re also trying to figure out what went wrong in the July 2013 “FTG-07” GMD test that included an older CE-I EKV, but used a more challenging scenario than previous tests. The preliminary Failure Review Board report was delivered in August 2013. The finish by saying that:

“The flight test failures that have occurred during the past three years raise questions regarding the robustness of the EKV’s design…. Consider whether to re-design the EKV using a rigorous systems engineering process”

FY 2012 – 2013

Program slammed for slippery accounting; Boeing/NGC win big support contract; Flight tests resume. GMD CE-II delays
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July 5/13: Testing. A GBI missile launched from Vandenberg AFB, CA fails to intercept a long-range ballistic missile target launched from the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. US MDA | Pentagon.

Intercept failure

April 26/13: GAO Report. The GAO looks at the Missile Defense Agency’s full array of programs in report #GAO-13-342, “Missile Defense: Opportunity To Refocus On Strengthening Acquisition Management.” Through fiscal year 2012, about $36.5 billion has been spent on GMD, with another $4.5 billion planned between FY 2013-2017. GMD is expected to remain in service until at least 2032. Given those figures and timelines, MDA’s biggest concern is the slippery accounting that makes ovdersight impossible:

“GMD is moving activities and costs from a currently reported baseline to one that will be reported in the future, thereby obscuring cost growth. The GMD program’s current baseline represents activities and associated costs needed to achieve an initial defense of the United States…. Despite significant technical problems, production disruptions and the addition of previously unplanned and costly work in its current efforts, the GMD total cost estimate as reported in the resource baseline has decreased from 2010 to 2012. We reported last year that GMD had a flight test failure in 2010 which revealed design problems, halted production, and increased costs to demonstrate the CE-II from $236 million to [$1.174 billion, and delayed CE-II by 5.5 years]. This cost increase includes retrofit costs to already-delivered CE-II interceptors. Instead of increasing, the total costs reported in the BAR resource baseline have decreased because the program moved activities from out of its reported baseline. By moving these activities, MDA used the funds that were freed up for failure resolution efforts instead.53 In addition, because the baseline for its next set of capabilities will be defined after these activities have already been added to it, the additional cost for these activities will not be identifiable. The full extent of actual cost growth may never be determined or visible for decision makers for either baseline because of this adjustment.”

Meanwhile, the report also clarifies the status of GMD’s companion SBX floating radar, which was moved to “limited test support” status in order to save money. It was recently sent to sea again, in the wake of North Korean threats. They acknowledge that “there is a difference in how the BMDS operates without SBX, the details of which are classified.” As the September 2009 NRC report (q.v.) explains, poorer ability to pick out warheads from debris and decoys is one near-certain consequence, due to differences imposed on UHF radars by the laws of physics.

March 15/13: Following North Korea’s 3rd nuclear test attempt, the new US Secretary of Defense announces that the USA will add 14 more ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, AK and Vandenberg AFB, CA, boosting the total number from 30 back to the 44 planned by the previous administration. At the same time, they’re conducting Environmental Impact Studies for a potential additional GBI site in the United States, which fits with the NRC’s September 2012 report (q.v.) recommendations. They’re looking at 1 West Coast and 2 East Coast sites, but no decision has been made yet. It’s an open secret that Fort Drum, NY, is one of the locations being surveyed.

They’re paying for all this by “restructuring” the SM-3 Block 2B “Next Generation Aegis Missile” program, whose 2020 deployment date was never realistic. In English, they’ve eliminated it.

Japan will continue to collaborate with the USA on the SM-3 Block 2A program, and will get a 2nd AN/TPY-2 radar on its territory. Pentagon AFPS | Full Speech Transcript | Later Q&A transcript answers a reporter re: GMD changes | Boeing.

Backtrack: GMD will grow to 44

Jan 26/13: Testing resumes. The GMD system begins flight testing again after almost 2 years, though it isn’t an interception test. Flight testing had been halted in early 2011, after a guidance error resulted in a failed December 2010 intercept test. The existing set of missiles have remained operational during that time.

The diagnosed fault is related to what Raytheon’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) experiences in space, so the flight measured the redesigned EKV’s performance in navigating to its designated position in space, and performing set maneuvers. The flight test was successful, but it will take another couple of intercept tests to be sure. US MDA | Boeing | Raytheon.

Flight tests resume after 2 years

Clear AFS, AK:
EWR upper right
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September 2012: NRC recommends improved GMD. The US National Research Council publishes “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives.” The report staff have deeply impressive backgrounds related to missile defense, and their main conclusion is that very fundamental reasons of geography and physics make boost-phase defense systems a waste of time. A secondary conclusion is that geography and physics mean that the European EPAA program won’t be able to help protect the USA. To handle that, they propose an important upgrade to the USA’s midcourse defense sensors, by substituting sets of stacked AN/TPY-2 radars (GBX) for the proposed PTSS satellite constellation, in combination with improved GBI interceptors. First, the core problem:

“…the midcourse discrimination problem must be addressed far more seriously if reasonable confidence is to be achieved… While the current GMD may be effective against the near-term threat… the committee disagrees with the statement… that this capability can be maintained “for the foreseeable future.”1… little help in discrimination of decoys or other countermeasures…. The synergy between X-band radar observations and concurrent optical sensor observations on board a properly designed interceptor (which could be a modified ground-based interceptor) closing on the target complex has not been exploited.”

The affordable sensor fix involves 2 elements. On the ground, 5 FBX (stacked and integrated, rotatable TPY-2 derivative) adjunct X-band radars would be added, with uplink and downlink modes. Four would be co-located with current SPSS ballistic missile early warning sites at Clear AFS, AK; Cape Cod, MA; Thule, Greenland; and Fylingdales, United Kingdom. The 5th would be placed at Grand Forks, ND, which currently houses the 10th Space Warning Squadron. See also NY Times | “Ballistic Missile Defense: Why the Current GMD System’s Radars Can’t Discriminate” for an in-depth technical explanation of why even the huge UEWR radars aren’t suitable for discriminating between warheads, and the decoys used by more advanced missiles.

The 2nd sensor fix involves the GMD-E kill vehicle (EKV), most especially a 30cm aperture, 256 x 256 long-wavelength infrared (LWIR) sensor that can see threat objects at room temperature at a range of 2,000 km. NRC believes it would provide as much as 200 seconds (3.5 minutes) of observation in most first-shot engagements. The EKV’s DACS maneuvering rockets would be sized for a divert capability of 600 m/sec, which, with the almost-1-degree sensor field of view, can handle handover uncertainties of ±30 km or more. A dual-band X/S communication transponder would offer a 2-way encrypted link with either X- or S-band radars, and their associated command centers. Battery capacity would be 1,100 sec.

The interceptor would also change to a GMD-E/ GBI Block II configuration: a smaller, 2-stage interceptor based on the (terminated) boost-phase KEI program’s 1st stage rocket motor, plus a similar but less demanding 2nd stage. Those motors had been deemed ready for flight when KEI was terminated. Together, they’d offer a boosted burn time of 70 sec., and burnout velocity of 6 km/sec. A 3rd interceptor site would be established on the east coast, possibly at Fort Drum, NY, in order to improve coverage of certain inbound trajectories.

NRC’s BMD Report proposes GMD-E, plus new radars

Dec 30/11: Team Boeing wins. The 7-year, $3.48 billion Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) Development and Sustainment Contract (DSC) is awarded to Team Boeing, based in Huntsville, AL. This is about more than just the missiles. It also includes radars, other sensors, command-and-control facilities, communications terminals, and a 20,000-mile fiber optic communications network.

The Pentagon describes the scope of work as including future development; fielding; test; systems engineering, integration and configuration management; equipment manufacturing and refurbishment; training; and operations and sustainment support for the GMD Weapon System and associated support facilities. Northrop Grumman is Boeing’s only announced team member.

Work will be performed at multiple locations, including: Huntsville, AL; Fort Greely, AK; Vandenberg AFB, CA; Schriever AFB, Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, and Colorado Springs, CO; Tucson, AZ; other government designated sites; and other contractor designated prime, subcontractor, and supplier operating locations. Contract work will run from December 2011 through December 2018, with initial funding coming from FY 2012 RDT&E funds. The US Missile Defense Agency in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (HQ0147-12-C-0004).

Boeing wins sustainment contract

April 20/12: GAO report. The US GAO releases report #GAO-12-486, “Opportunity Exists to Strengthen Acquisitions by Reducing Concurrency.” Its implications for missile defense belie the bland title. After noting the GMD program’s deliberate sacrifices for fast fielding, and the long echo of its consequences, they get to current issues:

“The discovery of the design problem while production is under way has increased MDA costs, led to a production break, may require retrofit of fielded equipment, delayed delivery of capability to the war-fighter, and altered the flight test plan. For example, the flight testing cost to confirm the CE-II capability has increased from $236 million to about $1 billion [not including costs already expended during development of the interceptor and target].

In addition, the program will have to undertake another retrofit program, for the 10 CE-II interceptors that have already been manufactured…. MDA has restructured the planned multiyear flight test program in order to test the new design prior to an intercept attempt…. expects the cost to retrofit the CE-II interceptors to be around $18 million each or about $180 million for all 10. Intended to be ready for operational use in fiscal year 2009, it will now be at least fiscal year 2013 before the warfighter will have the information needed to determine whether to declare the variant operational.

High levels of concurrency will continue for the GMD program even if the next two flight tests are successful. GMD will continue its developmental flight testing until at least 2022, well after production of the interceptors are scheduled to be completed. MDA is accepting the risk that these developmental flight tests may discover issues that require costly design changes and retrofit programs to resolve.”

Nov 25/11: Support competition. Revised proposals are in to maintain the USA’s GMD system (vid. Jan 28/11). Boeing (existing contract holder) and Northrop Grumman (GBI missile) are one bid team, but they have not detailed their full team of sub-contractors. This proved to be the winning team.

Lockheed Martin (prime contractor and systems integrator) was teamed with Raytheon (GMD Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, systems engineering, development, modeling and simulation, operations and sustainment, manufacturing, testing and training), and its supporting team included:

  • Alaska Aerospace Corporation (local maintenance)
  • ARES Corporation
  • ATK Aerospace Systems (Ground-Based Interceptor missile)
  • Bechtel National Inc. (engineering support for operations, maintenance and upgrades of launch site, schedule integration for the operational asset management system)
  • Bluespring Software
  • CohesionForce Inc.
  • Dynetics Inc. (information assurance, cyber support training, modeling, systems engineering)
  • Harris Corporation (In-Flight Interceptor Communications System Data Terminal)
  • Imprimis Inc.
  • IroquoiSystems Inc.
  • Mission Solutions Engineering
  • NANA Development Corporation’s ASTS-Akima Logistics Services Joint Venture
  • Northrop Grumman Information Systems (GMD Fire Control and Communications)
  • Orbital Sciences Corporation (GMD Orbital Boost Vehicle)
  • Oregon Iron Works Inc.
  • Quadrus Corporation
  • QuantiTech Inc.
  • TDX Power Inc.

See: Boeing and Northrop Grumman | Lockheed Martin | The Hill.

Nov 16/11: Support. The Missile Defense Agency awards a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, exercising a $36.7 million option with Boeing Co. in Huntsville, AL to continue GMD sustainment and operations support from Dec 1/11 through Feb 29/12. That brings the total contract value to $729.6 million, as the US MDA continues to delay awarding a new contract.

Work will be performed in Fort Greely, AK; Vandenberg AFB, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; and Huntsville, AL. FY 2012 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used. The US Missile Defense Agency in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (HQ0147-09-C-0007, PO 0049).

FY 2011

Test failure creates program delays.

Aug 26/11: Delays. Aviation Week reports from the annual Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville, AL, and discusses the GMD system’s delays. More design reviews are needed to iron out problems with the EKV kill vehicle, which has failed the 2 tests since December 2008 that pitted it against a target using countermeasures:

“Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly… acknowledged the grounding of the Boeing-led program as the “600-lb. gorilla in the room.” A failure review board has finished its analysis of the latest flight-test flop in December 2010, although he declined to identify the root cause. He says a team is giving the Raytheon EKV Capability Enhancement 2 (CE-2) a second design review, and there is time to conduct a third, if needed, before returning to flight in about a year. At that point, the MDA will conduct its third attempt at a challenging 90-deg. hit-to-kill intercept, geometry simulating a North Korean launch scenario. EKV production will remain suspended pending the outcome of that flight.”

July 15/11: Support. The US MDA exercises a $36.7 million, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for 3 months of GMD operations and maintenance support, from September through November 2011, in Fort Greely, AK, and Colorado Springs, CO. That brings the Boeing support contract’s total awarded value so far to $697 million (HQ0147-09-C-0007).

Note that this is an extension of existing support arrangements, not the award for the new support contract competition.

June 7/11: Support competition. US MDA:

“The pending Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) development and sustainment contract undergoing proposal evaluation is now planned for award late this fall. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have each submitted proposals to compete for the contract award. The award amount will be proposed by the companies in their respective proposals. The Source Selection Authority has determined that it is in the best interest of the government… [to extend] the anticipated award date into November of this year.”

April 15/11: 2011 Budget. H.R.1473, the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, becomes Public Law 112-010 after passing the House and Senate. This ends reliance on continuing resolution funding.

April 9/11: Notice sent. Northrop Grumman has sent 100 of its Huntsville, AL employees notices they could be furloughed in 60 days, after the current GMD development contract ends on May 31/11. Another 19 employees are also affected: 17 in Colorado Springs, 1 in Florida and 1 in Washington state.

Furloughed employees remain Northrop Grumman employees, with benefits, on a “company-initiated unpaid leave of absence.” If the firm wins the new GMD Development and Sustainment Contract at the end of May 2011, the firm expects to recall all of these employees to work. Huntsville Times.

April 4/11: Continuing resolutions are having an effect on the GMD program, as the 2010 baseline effectively removes planned funding ramp-ups. So, too, is the January intercept failure, which may be traceable to Raytheon’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV).

Boeing’s VP of strategic missile defense efforts, Greg Hyslop, says that orders for some components are on hold. Obbital Sciences interceptor rockets are still being built, but they are then stored, in order to avoid retrofits if the EKV turns out to need modifications. Hyslop is putting his priority on getting the GBI missiles flying again, which means the major hit could happen in construction – especially work on missile field 2 at Fort Greely, AK. Aviation Week.

March 24/11: GAO Report. The US GAO issues report #GAO-11-372: “Missile Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Transparency and Accountability.” Key excerpts:

“MDA finalized a new process in which detailed baselines were set for several missile defense systems… [but] GAO found its unit and life-cycle cost baselines had unexplained inconsistencies and documentation for six baselines had insufficient evidence to be a high-quality cost estimate… DOD has not yet determined the [GMD] system’s full capabilities and limitations. In January and December 2010, GMD experienced two flight test failures. In addition, GMD is just beginning to take actions necessary to sustain the capability through 2032… GAO makes 10 recommendations for MDA to strengthen its resource, schedule and test baselines, facilitate baseline reviews, and further improve transparency and accountability. GAO is also making a recommendation to improve MDA’s ability to carry out its test plan. In response, DOD fully concurred with 7 recommendations. It partially concurred with 3…”

March 1/11: Support. Boeing in Huntsville, AL receives a $109 million sole-source cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to continue operation and sustainment services for the GMD program ($72 million), and for sensors $37.9 million) in Fort Greely, AK, and Colorado Springs, CO.

The interim award runs from March through August 2011. The Sensors portion of the work is from March through December 2011. FY 2011 research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds will be used to incrementally fund $10.5 million, and contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. The US Missile Defense Agency manages the contract (HQ0147-09-C-0007, P00031)

Jan 28/11: Support competition. The Boeing/ Northrop Grumman team, and the Lockheed Martin/ Raytheon team, submit their GMD development & sustainment bids. A win is expected to be worth around $600 million per year, but the announcement isn’t expected until May 31/11. Boeing | Lockheed Martin.

Dec 15/10: Missed. A GBI interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg AFB, CA misses a target missile fired from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The participating SBX radar and the interceptor’s own sensors worked, and the EKV kill vehicle was deployed, but it missed. The cause of the failure will be investigated before another test is scheduled. US MDA | Washington Post.

Missed – testing halted

Dec 2/10: Support competition. The US MDA releases its RFP for the GMD maintenance contract. The submission date is Jan 28/11. Lockheed Martin.

Oct 26/10: Support competition. Lockheed Martin announces its final GMD support contract team, as it prepares for its own bid.

Oct 12/10: Support competition. Boeing and Northrop Grumman announce their final GMD support contract team, as an outgrowth of the bid partnership they announced in June 2010.

The support contract’s dates have slipped somewhat. At present, the final RFP is expected before the end of 2010, with the contract award itself in early 2011. At this point, Lockheed Martin looks like they will be leading the sole competing bid team. According to Boeing’s release, the team includes Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and the following firms:

  • Alaska Metrology Calibration Services Inc. in Anchorage, AK
  • All Points Logistics Inc. in Titusville, FL
  • Davidson Technologies Inc. in Huntsville, AL
  • Delta Industrial Services Inc. in Delta Junction, AK
  • DESE Research Inc. in Huntsville, AL
  • Dynetics Inc. in Huntsville, AL
  • Harris Corp. in Melbourne, FL
  • Issac Corp. in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Jeskell Inc. in Seattle, WA
  • nLogic in Huntsville, AL
  • Orbital Sciences Corp. in Chandler, AZ
  • Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas, OR
  • Penta Research Inc. in Huntsville, AL
  • Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ
  • Trident Group Inc. in Madison, AL
  • Victory Solutions Inc. in Huntsville, AL

FY 2010

Layoffs; Early intercept study; Support competition ramps up.

Aug 16/10: Testing. Raytheon announces that it successfully demonstrated a 2-stage flyout of the GMD’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). The EKV is designed to engage high-speed ballistic missile warheads in the midcourse phase of flight and destroy them using only the force of impact. EKV consists of an infrared sensor used to detect and discriminate the incoming warhead from other objects, as well as its own propulsion, communications link, discrimination algorithms, guidance and control system, and computers to support target selection and intercept.

June 17/10: Support competition. Alaska Aerospace Corporation in Anchorage, AK joins Lockheed Martin’s team, bidding for the new GMD Development and Sustainment Contract. The MDA is currently expected to issue a final RFP in summer 2010, and award the contract in 2011. It will cover support activities at Fort Greely, AK; Vandenberg AFB, CA; Huntsville, AL; Schriever AFB, CO, and at Eareckson Air Station, AK.

Alaska Aerospace will provide operations and maintenance support at Fort Greely, AK, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. The firm has strong experience with arctic support operations. It developed, owns and operates the Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, AK, which provides government and commercial satellite launch services and target missile launch services for missile defense testing. The State of Alaska established the corporation in 1991 to stimulate a high-technology aerospace industry in the state. Lockheed Martin | Alaska Aerospace.

June 14/10: Support competition. Boeing and Northrop Grumman will pursue the GMD maintenance contract together. As part of the strategic partnership, Boeing VP and GMD program director Norm Tew will serve as the joint team’s program manager. Northrop Grumman GMD program director Steve Owens will be the team’s deputy program manager.

Boeing is the current prime contractor incumbent for GMD support, while Northrop Grumman is responsible for designing and deploying the command-and-control systems that form the backbone of the GMD Fire Control/Communications (GFCC) ground systems.