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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 1 hour 32 min ago

Lack of $$ May Kill JSTARS | NG Nets $91.7M for SEWIP | India Extends Deadline on $15.4B FICV Program

12 hours 2 min ago

  • A senior Air Force official has revealed that budgetary constraints may kill off the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) recapitalization program. William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, stated on Tuesday that given sequestration and competing priorities, the program could now face the axe, a particularly poignant point given that the Pentagon recently blocked the program from moving to its demonstration phase, known as Milestone A. The announcement will undoubtedly spook the three contractors currently working on the early development for the program, following the awarding of engineering and manufacturing development contracts in August.

  • Lockheed Martin is reportedly evaluating whether the F-35 could one day field a fiber laser weapon, building on expertise the company has accumulated working with DARPA. Air Force Special Operations Command is also looking to develop and use laser weapons, including plans to test them on C-130U gunships, with plans to eventually install laser weapons onto C-130J Ghostriders, while the Missile Defense Agency also rebooted its airborne laser concept in August. Lockheed Martin is considering offering an adapted version of its vehicle-mounted 60kW laser system, with other firms also looking to upgrade aircraft with laser systems, including General Atomics with the HELLADS system.

  • Raytheon has demonstrated how a Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile can be used to assess battlefield damage, loiter and then attack a target following analysis of the data it provided to operators. The test demonstrated how the missile could be launched from one location, travel to a second area of operations and communicate via a UHF SATCOM link with a third location half-way around the world, before striking a target. The Block IV Tomahawk demonstrated flexible mission planning capabilities in flight during previous testing in August, with this latest round of testing also demonstrating that multiple missiles could be coordinated from a single control point.

  • Northrop Grumman has been handed a $91.7 million contract modification for the SEWIP Block 3’s engineering and manufacturing development phase. The Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP)’s Block 3 increment is intended to provide a scalable electronic warfare and electronic attack capability, building on out-of-production AN/SLQ-32(V) electronic warfare systems. Block 2 is already in low rate initial production, following a $147.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin in September 2014.


  • The Netherlands has signed a contract for 29 Lockheed Martin Sniper Advanced Targeting pods, with these set to equip the country’s fleet of F-16s. Jordan also opted to buy more Sniper pods in June, with Taiwan and Japan also recently placing orders.

  • Latvia has ordered a further three TPS-77 Multi-Role Radar air surveillance systems from Lockheed Martin to complement three already in operation. The last of these three was installed in May, with the first two ordered in 2007.The company is also upgrading one of these three existing TPS-77 systems, which are located at Calas, Lielvarde and Audrini to cover the country’s Eastern border with Russia.

Middle East North Africa

  • Egypt and France are reportedly engaged in talks over a potential acquisition of NH90 helicopters. With Egypt recently purchasing a significant quantity of French naval hardware with Saudi funding – including Gowind corvettes and a FREMM frigate – with which the NH90 would be compatible, the precise model being discussed could be the naval NFH variant, or a mix of NFH and TTH troop transport variants. Egypt signed a contract to buy the two Mistral LHDs formerly destined for Russia, with reports indicating that the country had also ordered Ka-52 navalized attack helicopters from Russia to equip the new vessels; however, these reports now appear to have been erroneous, with Russian officials now denying that an order has been placed.

Asia Pacific

  • South Korea and Indonesia look set to sign a set of agreements later this month to cement the two countries’ industrial commitments to the collaborative development of the South Korean KF-X indigenous fighter program. The two states signed an engineering and development agreement in October 2014, which split the development costs 80-20 to South Korea. The two countries reiterated their commitment to the program in May this year. Meanwhile, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced on Tuesday that a separate organization will be established specifically to manage the KF-X program.

  • The Indian Defence Ministry has extended the deadline for the country’s Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), the $15.4 billion program which will see the Indian government fund domestic companies to develop a new armored vehicle, with a planned acquisition of 2,600 FICVs planned. The deadline has now moved to mid-January 2016, following a request from several firms. The program was resurrected in July after a five-year delay.

Today’s Video

  • The NH90 in service with the New Zealand Defence Force, feat. incredible scenery:

Categories: News

Overlander is On! Australia’s A$ 3+ Bn Vehicle Program

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 00:20
Out with the old…
(click to view full)

LAND 121 – also known as Project Overlander – is the largest land project in Australia’s Defence Capability Plan. Overall, this is currently estimated as an A$ 7.5 billion (USD $7.6 billion) investment in the Australian Army to replace its fleet of Army trucks, patrol vehicles, trailers and modules. Australia’s “Hardened and Networked Army” meta-program needed to pay attention to these vehicles as well, given an existing fleet that was bought between 1959-1994. As Defence Minister Hill said in 2005:

“Our current fleet is ageing and is becoming more costly to maintain and upgrade. The vehicles will range from lightweight four-wheel drives to heavy trucks and prime movers with interchangeable modules to increase operational flexibility.”

This article looks at Project Overlander, with a particular focus on the major vehicle buys from Phase 3 onward. Some parts of Overlander are even linked to America’s JLTV program, though Australia is also preparing a domestic competitor.

Overlander: The Program Loading a Unimog

Tanks and armored vehicles generally receive the lion’s share of attention, but field vehicles and trailers are the real backbone of any army. They transport personnel and combat supplies, haul those flashy armored vehicles around, evacuate casualties, and serve as platforms and prime movers for weapons systems. Some even offer C4ISR(command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) and electronic warfare capabilities, thanks to specialized equipment sets.

The Australian Government Department of Defence sought “…proven and mature vehicle and trailer suppliers to develop a long-term relationship to provide the full range of Field Vehicles, Trailers, and Modules and their Through Life Support.” The tender for the medium and heavy vehicles and modules was released to a shortlist of 9 companies announced in March 2005, while an open tender was released for the light range of vehicles and modules. “Favourable consideration will be given to those companies who will assemble the vehicles in Australia.” Each RFT also required accompanying offers for fleet support, and sought an agreement to guarantee the whole of life acquisition and logistic support of the new fleet for up to 30 years.

The planned fleet includes 6 different basic vehicle types, with about 15 functional vehicle variants. In addition, Australia will buy about 18 specialist modules or shelters, and 9 trailer variants.

The request for tender for the trailer segment was restricted to Australian-based manufacturers, plus those vehicle suppliers capable of supplying a proprietary trailer. The request for tender is tailored to “encourage the production of trailers in Australia.” The RFT for all 3 fleet segments closed in May 2006, with detailed proposals presented to Government in 2007. October 2007 saw the shortlist announced, and the target date for delivery of the first of the vehicles is December 2009.

Phase 3 of Project Overlander will consist of:

  • 293 Bushmaster medium protected mobility vehicles (PMV-M, or MRAP), in a single-cab utility variant for hauling cargo through dangerous areas. The total Australian fleet is over 800, due to non-Overlander contracts, and may grow further.
  • 2,400 medium to heavy trucks, plus another 1,000 split off as Phase 5B
  • 1,200 or so specialty modules
  • 2,500 trailers

Bushmaster SC Utility
(click to view full)

The new medium – heavy vehicles will replace the ADF’s current fleet of Unimog, Mack and S-Liner trucks. The Bushmasters are designed as mine-resistant combat vehicles, with hull armoring against small-caliber bullets and a v-hull to deflect underbody blasts. The other trucks will offer less protection, but they’ll have their own they’ll have up-armoring options against small-caliber bullets and small land mines. They’ll also introduce integrated load handling systems to the ADF, which can load shipping containers and special pallets (flatracks) without assistance. Other specialty truck variants will include recovery, tractor, heavy equipment transport, and medium crane/tipper vehicles.

Though the DMO doesn’t mention it in their totals, vehicle modules are also part of the Phase 3 buy. These are removable structures carried on vehicles to equip them for specialist roles. They can also be switched between vehicles for a further increase in flexibility. Module roles include:

  • Ambulance
  • Cargo transport
  • Combined personnel and cargo transport
  • Command post
  • Computer and information systems
  • Mobile warehouse and store
  • Mobile workshop

The trailers will carry general freight, fuel, ammunition, stores, containerized freight, tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, engineer plant and equipment and specialized equipment modules and shelters. They are expected to include 9 different types:

  • Cargo trailers from 850 kg (1,870 pounds) to 5 tonne payloads,
  • Container carrying trailers of 10 and 16.5 tonne payload, and
  • Equipment carrying trailers, including a low loader of nearly 70 tonne payload

Thales’ Hawkei concept
(click to view full)

Phase 4 of the project is the Protected Mobility Vehicle – Light (PMV-L), blast-resistant patrol and utility vehicles that will replace some of Australia’s existing Land Rovers. A procurement decision that was expected in 2010, but will now happen around 2015. Australia has joined the USA’s JLTV program, but without making a commitment to its chosen vehicles. JLTV’s winner will end up competing with Thales’ Hawkei as its chosen “MSA” counterpart, though any vehicle chosen would use Australian in-country support, and offer at least partial manufacturing in Australia. This phase will involve a potential additional investment of approximately A$ 1.2 billion.

In August 2011, the Government approved the final Phase 5 of the project, to provide commercial G-Wagen vehicles (5A) and heavy trucks (5B) to augment the fleet for Australian training activities. Phase 5A alone is estimated at about A$ 425 million.

If all this comes to pass, the replacement fleet would be:

  • 2,400 medium-heavy truck family (BAE contract canceled, MAN won recompete)
  • 293 blast-resistant, 11.5t Bushmaster utility vehicles (Thales Australia, contracts signed), added to other Bushmaster variants bought outside Overlander, for a total serving fleet of around 800.
  • 1,187 Mercedes G-Wagens (Mercedes-Benz, contract signed). Canadian and Norwegian experiences in Afghanistan strongly suggest that the G-Wagen is too fragile for use in hostile territory. Hence…
  • 1,200 – 1,300 Protected Mobility Vehicles-Light, or PMV-Ls, in the 7t+ range. (Phase 4, TBD)
  • 2,000 commercial vehicles for training within Australia (Phase 5: 5A will be 959 more G-Wagens, 5B about 1,000 or so MAN trucks)
  • Plus about 1,200 specialty modules to mount on these vehicles (GH Varley Pty) and around 4,200 trailers (Haulmark)

As Australia’s purchase of extra Bushmasters shows, however, operational experience can change priorities and funding levels in a hurry. Overlander could become a A$ 7.5 billion program, rise higher, or not reach A$ 7.5 billion, depending on the situations and politics prevailing at the time.

Contracts & Key Events 2015

Phase 4 Hawkei 4x4s. MAN MX60, trials
(click to view full)

October 6/15: Australia has signed a A$1.3 billion ($910 million) contract with Thales Australia for 1,100 Hawkei protected vehicles and 1,000 trailers as part of the country’s LAND 121 Phase 4 procurement program. Full rate production is scheduled for 2018 as the company’s Bushmaster production in Bendigo, Victoria slows. LAND 121, also known as Project Overlander, is a multi-billion dollar acquisition program to modernize the Australian Defence Force’s vehicle fleet as part of the country’s Defence Capability Plan. The 4×4 Hawkei was downselected in 2011 and will replace most of the Australian Defence Force’s unprotected Land Rover fleet.

Phase 4 Protected Mobility Vehicle – Light (PMV-L)


Phase 3B Med-Hvy truck contract.

July 23/13: Phase 3B. Australia finally signs contracts for the Phase 3B medium & heavy trucks. Rheinmetall MAN had been announced as their preferred pick over 18 months ago, on Dec 12/11.
The A$ 1.58 billion / EUR 1.1 billion contract involves 2,500 protected and unprotected trucks, together with trailers and specialist modules. They will include: medium and heavy recovery vehicles; medium and heavy tractors; heavy integrated load-handling vehicles (self-loading hook lift trucks); and medium-weight tray variants with cranes, fuel and water modules, and tipper bodies. Land 121 Phase 3B trucks are scheduled for delivery from 2016 – 2020. Australia DoD | Rheinmetall Defence.

Phase 3B Medium-Heavy Truck contract

2011 – 2012

Phase 5A contract for trailers; Preferred picks for Phases 3B, 5A; Hawkei vs. JLTV for Phase 4. Hawkei utility
(click to view full)

Aug 1/12: Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) will provide Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) during the trials phase for Thales Australia’s Hawkei PMV-L prototypes. Under the A$ 3.5 million contract, BDA will help support the 6 Hawkei prototypes and trailer that will be delivered to the Australian government for further testing during the 16-month prototype production and testing phase.

They’ll also work with Thales Australia to help improve Hawkei’s long-term availability and maintainability, and reduce future support costs. This includes delivering development and training to operators, conducting logistics support analysis, and providing engineering support to the Thales design team. Boeing.

June 3/12: Hawkei SDD contract. Australia’s government announces the Stage 2 development contract for Thales Australia’s 7-ton Hawkei blast-resistant patrol vehicle, as the made-in-Australia option for the PMV-L competition. This follows the December 2011 selection of Hawkei as its “preferred vehicle” for that competition slot. It’s worth “just over [A$] 38 million, and covers 6 Hawkei prototypes for further testing, with deliveries beginning later in 2012. A range of user assessments and reliability testing will begin in 2015, along with the implicit tests of technical performance, cost and schedule commitments.

Success would make the a Hawkei serious candidate for Overlander’s PMV-L order in 2015. Thales’ problem is that its heavier Bushmaster blast-resistant vehicle is scheduled to end production in 2013, barring export orders. This is why Australia’s government is exploring more bushmaster buys, but that would be bad news for Hawkei’s competitors. Each dollar spent keeping the plant running at production staffing is part of a political commitment trap, which will be hard to justify if the Hawkei vehicle isn’t picked in 2015.

Hawkei SDD

Dec 12/11: Preferred picks. The Australian government announces several steps under Project Overlander.

Phase 3B/5B, Med-Heavy Trucks: Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles Australia has emerged from bidding and performance testing as the preferred supplier for the Phase 3B medium & heavy trucks competition, over Thales’ Bushmaster Utility, and Mercedes’ Actros/Zetros (vid. Feb 18/10 entry). This also ends the phase’s listing as one of the DoD’s “Projects of Concern”. Australia is set to order up to 2,700 HX60 medium and HX58 heavy trucks; including cargo, recovery, tractor, heavy equipment transport, heavy integrated self-loading, and medium crane/tipper vehicles. As the preferred tenderer, Rheinmetall will now enter into detailed negotiations, which Australia’s DoD hopes to conclude in time for 2nd pass buying approval in 2013.

The Phase 3B trucks will replace the ADF’s current fleet of Unimog, Mack and S-Liner trucks. Under Overlander Phase 5B, options will also be sought for about 1,000 more unprotected vehicles, to be used for training and other light duties. Australia expects that about 35% of the production work will involve Australian subsidiaries and subcontractors, mostly around Wacol near Brisbane. This will also allow Australian firms to offer through-life support.

In a linked order, their standard local trailer suppliers at Haulmark Trailers are the preferred tenderer to supply up to 2,500 accompanying LAND 121 Phase 3B/5B trailers.

Australia’s DoD now believes that Phases 3B and 5B will cost more than the original budget estimate from August 2007. The additional funds will come from surplus funds previously committed to LAND 121 Phase 2A (Land Rover safety improvements) and 3A (vehicle fleet data management system), LAND 17 Phase 1C Artillery Replacement (self-propelled howitzers, in limbo), LAND 112 (ASLAV wheeled APC Enhancement, improved armor implemented but Stage 2 canceled), and JOINT PROJECT 2048 Phase 3 (Amphibious watercraft).

Phase 4 – Light Protected Patrol: Thales Australia’s Hawkei is picked as the preferred Manufactured and Supported in Australia (MSA) alternate option under LAND 121 Phase 4, beating General Dynamics’ Ocelot and Eagle IV. Thales will get funding for further development, testing, and Hawkei prototype production at their Bendigo facility, which is set to stop producing Bushmaster medium protected vehicles in 2013.

Subject to successful testing, and progress in America’s JLTV program, selection of a Phase 4 winner and final approval of the PMV-L project is expected in 2015. Production work could start early as 2016.

From 2013-2015, the Australian government is looking at buying additional Bushmasters to keep the Bendigo facility running, since export orders have been slow.

G-Wagen Update Overlander Phase 3A approved 1,187 Mercedes Benz G-Wagons in 2007. In August 2011, Phase 5A was approved to add another 959 vehicle trainers for Overlander platforms in general. Vehicle deliveries began on schedule in March 2011, and 307 production vehicles have been delivered so far to equip some units. The main roll-out of vehicles to ADF units is scheduled to occur between July 2012 and 2015.

Preferred picks: Phases 3B, 4, 5B

Sept 5/11: Australia’s Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare visits Haulmark Trailers in Rocklea, near Brisbane, confirming an A$ 31 million contract to provide 830 trailers under Overlander’s Phase 5A.

The contract builds on an earlier April 2010 order for 583 lightweight trailers and 390 light trailers – vid April 16/10 entry. Australian DoD.


Aug 30/11: Phase 5A approved. The Australian government gives combined 1st and 2nd pass approval for Land 121 Phase 5A: Light and Lightweight Tactical Training Vehicles. They will serve as tactical vehicles in Australia, and will also be used as training platforms, to prepare for operations in more protected vehicles like the Bushmaster and JLTV.

The plan is to buy over 950 new 4-wheel drive ‘G-Wagon’ vehicles from Mercedes Benz Australia Pacific Pty Ltd. Another 200 modules will be integrated onto the vehicles by G. H. Varley Pty Ltd in New South Wales, and 830 trailers will come from Haulmark Trailers in Queensland, Australia. The approved value is around A$ 425 million (currently $453 million), of which more than A$ 100 million is expected to involve Australian workshare. Final costs are subject to negotiations with the respective companies. Australian DoD.

Phase 5A approved

2009 – 2010

Overlander 2nd Pass approval; Preferred picks for Phases 3A, 3B; Phase 3A G-Wagen deliveries begin; Phase 3A trailer contract; More blast-resistant Bushmasters bought under Phase 3 PMV; Phase 4 adds Ocelot, EAGLE IV, and Hawkei to PMV-L competition, still in for US JLTV; Ocelot modularity
(click to view full)

July 2/10: In the wake of the May 26/10 announcement that its Ocelot is a candidate for Australia’s A$ 1 billion PMV-L component of Project Overlander, Force Protection meets with potential suppliers, as well as State Government ministers and industry representatives in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

May 26/10: Australia’s Overlander Phase 4 will have 3 new competitors. Australia’s Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, announces that Thales Australia, Force Protection Europe, and General Dynamics Land Systems will each receive 6-month contracts worth up to A$ 9 million each, in order to develop “Protected Mobility Vehicle” prototypes. Those prototypes would compete against any winners from the American/Australian JLTV competition, for a roughly A$ 1 billion, 1,300 vehicle contract.

Force Protection is partnered with England’s Ricardo to develop the modular Ocelot, which is also competing for a similar contract in Britain. Bushmaster MPV manufacturers Thales Australia have designed a smaller vehicle called the Hawkei, named after one of Australia’s Death Adders. Their partners include Boeing Defence Australia, PAC Group, and Israeli armor manufacturer and designer Plasan Sasa. GDLS has several options, but reportedly offered their GD MOWAG EAGLE IV. As noted above, they are also partnered with Humvee manufacturer AMC General for the JLTV competition. Thales Australia | Defense Update.

PMV-L “Made in Australia” options

April 16/10: Haulmark Trailers in Brisbane, Australia, received a A$70 million contract to supply 973 lightweight and light trailers to the Australian Defence Force as part of the LAND 121 (Overlander) project. The trailers are designed to operate with the G-Wagon vehicles being supplied by Mercedes Benz Australia/Pacific (see Feb 18/10 entry), and will be delivered from April 2012 to February 2015.


Feb 18/10: Australia’s government announces delivery of the first 11 Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon vehicles, out of the order for 1,200 vehicles to replace the Army’s Land Rovers. The G Wagon vehicles being delivered include 4-wheel drive station wagons; cab-chassis units; and 6-wheel drive vehicles, in both single and dual cab-chassis configuration. The will be powered with a Mercedes-Benz 3.0 litre turbo-diesel V6 engine that will be Euro 5 emissions compliant.

These first G Wagons will undergo compliance and accepting testing during 2010. Full production of the ADF’s G Wagon vehicles will commence in Austria later in 2010, with deliveries to commence in 2011.

Specific models of the G-Wagon will be fitted with specialist modules (for example Ambulance and Command Posts), built by the Australian Engineering firm G.H. Varley Pty Ltd of Newcastle. See Oct 5/07 and Aug 10/08 entries for more details.

G-Wagen deliveries begin

Feb 18/10: M-H Trucks. The government announces next-stage finalists for Australia’s medium and heavy trucks. As part of the medium and heavy trucks re-compete, Australia’s trials tested 24 vehicles in 5 vehicle categories, employing over 64 Army test drivers and putting the trucks through comprehensive field testing, on both public roads and military training areas, over a 6 month period. The order could involve up to 2,400 trucks and trailers.

The trucks going on to the next stage do not include BAE Systems’ FMTV vehicles; a tough blow, as BAE just lost a contested recompete to produce these vehicles for the US Army. Nor will they include Thales partner Oshkosh’s MTVRs, which equip the US Marine Corps. Instead, the finalists will include:

  • Thales’ Bushmaster Utility, which adds 5,000 kg of load-carrying capacity to its mine-resistant vehicles – see Thales Australia release;
  • MAN Military Vehicle Systems Australia’s HX vehicle series, which has been selected by Britain; and
  • Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific’s Actros and all-terrain Zetros vehicle series.

Nov 6/09: G-Wagens. The first prototype Mercedes Benz G-Wagen vehicles have been handed over to staff from Australia’s Land 121 DMO team at a ceremony conducted in Graz, Austria, The prototype G-Wagen vehicles will now be subjected to a quality assurance and verification and validation testing regime. Testing is scheduled to be complete by late August 2010, with first delivery for operational use scheduled for 2011.

Oct 12/09: Oshkosh announces that it will be submitting its M-ATV and Sandcat vehicles for Australia’s PMV-L component of Overlander. Their partners in these 2 proposals are Plasan SASA, Ltd., who supplies the armoring solutions for both vehicles and developed the Sandcat/ Caracal; and local Oshkosh division JLG Australia, who will assist in manufacturing the vehicles and handle through-life support.

Oct 6/09: PMV-L. Aviation Week’s Ares reports that Australia has given notice that will continue their JLTV program participation into the next phase. Meanwhile, India is in discussions to join the program, and the 3 selected vehicle teams are about 1/3 of the way through the existing phase, with Preliminary Design Reviews done and Critical Design Reviews coming up over the next 2 months.

With respect to a potential threat from the existing Oshkosh M-ATV, JLTV program officials state that the programs share 320 mission requirements, but JLTV adds another 580 to create a full Hummer-like family of light tactical vehicles. They see the programs as complementary, which could be true if the 580 additional requirements are difficult for M-ATV to meet within its existing design. It would take a budget crunch to really test those theories – but one may be coming in America.

Still in JLTV

Sept 29/09: PMV-L. Thales Australia unveils its 4×4, 7-tonne “Hawkei” vehicle as a candidate for Overlander’s PMV-L phase, which is currently informed by Australia’s participation in the American JLTV program.

The vehicle was developed in the same Bendigo facility that developed the Bushmaster, but this vehicle is named after an Australian snake: the Death Adder Acanthophis hawkei. A November 2009 release claims that selecting the Hawkei for PMV-L would generate 700 jobs in Australia – but some may simply be retained jobs at Thales, since Bushmaster production is forecast to peak in 2010-11, and then decline quickly.

July 20/09: M-H Trucks. Oshkosh Defense and Thales Australia are teaming up to submit 7 vehicles to the Australian Department of Defence for Phase 3 Medium/Heavy Capability segment Comparative Evaluation Testing, which could involve up to 2,400 Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) trucks. Comparative testing is expected to be conducted through October 2009.

Oshkosh Defense is submitting 5 variants based on its U.S. Marine Corps MTVR, alongside 2 Thales Bushmaster Single Cab variants of their blast-resistant patrol vehicle. Oshkosh Defense.

2007 – 2008

Phase 3B re-tender. G-Wagon. 105mm, towed
(click to view full)

Oct 29/08: Labor Party Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announces that the Government has given approval to commence planning for Phase 4 of the LAND 121 project, which will replace some of the Australian Defence Force’s 4,200 Land Rovers with a fleet of protected light mobility vehicles.

As part of their plan to examine all of their options, Australia has decided to participate in the technology demonstration phase of the United States’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) Program, which aims to replace its Hummers with better-protected vehicles in the 14,000 – 20,000 pound range. This is not a total commitment to the JLTV program’s 3 contenders, however; Australia’s DoD will also engage with industry to explore other options.

Oct 29/08: Labor Party Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon witnesses the signing of a $350 million contract with Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific to supply 1,200 “G-Wagon” trucks to the ADF, following 4 months of extensive testing. This order finalizes the Oct 5/07 decision that identified them as the preferred bidder, “subject to successful negotiations.”

These vehicles will be the first to be delivered under the LAND 121 project, which will buy 6 different types of G-Wagon. Planned variants include a 4×4 general purpose station wagon, a pair of 4×4 cargo variants, a 6×6 cab chassis variant, a 6×6 dual cab truck, and a specialist 6×6 surveillance and reconnaissance vehicle. The parties have also signed a 30-year strategic agreement, and a service/parts/support contract which will run for an initial 15 years, with an option for an extension.

Deliveries will begin in 2009, and continue through 2014. The military-specification G-Class vehicles will be built in a dedicated factory in Graz, Austria in both a 4×4 (for the lightweight component of the tender) and a 6×6 configuration (for the light component). The new military vehicles will also feature detachable unit-specific modules from VARLEY in Newcastle, New South Wales. They will be designed for tasks including munitions transfer, field ambulances and troop carriers.

There are currently more than 2,000 examples of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in service with the Australian Defence Force including the Actros 8×8 heavy duty transport vehicles for the Royal Australian Air Force, the Unimog medium recovery vehicle, and Unimog medium cargo vehicle. DoD release (June 2013) | Auto Channel.

Phase 3A G-Wagen contract

Oct 28/08: Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announces a contract for another 293 Bushmaster mine-resistant vehicles, to meet Protected Mobility Medium requirements for Land 121 Project Overlander Phase 3. This finalizes the orders announced in August and October 2007, and brings the ADF Bushmaster fleet to 737 vehicles.

Bushmaster PMVs

Aug 10/08: New Labor Party defense minister Joel Fitzgibbon announces that Project Overlander Phase 3B will be re-tendered, after BAE proved unable to meet its contractual commitments. The exact shortfalls were not stated or reported, but cancellation is likely to cost A$ 30 million, and estimates place the final project cost of the re-tender at around A$ $300 million.

As one might expect, the cancellation has become a political football. The new Labor Party government is accusing the previous Liberal Party government of rushing the process without allowing sufficient time for testing. Australia’s Liberal Party points at the project’s timeline, and says that any problems are a combination of the new government’s failure to prevent continual specifications changes, and a contractor’s inability to deliver on promises it made.

The Overlander Program office has initiated consultation with the 5 companies involved in the medium heavy segment tender, and intends to initiate a revised tender process for that segment in November 2008. Thales Australia, whose Bendigo facility manufacturers Bushmaster vehicles and other trucks, had partnered with America’s Oshkosh; this renewed competition offers them an important second opportunity. Australian Broadcasting Corp re: cancellation / opposition response | Bendigo Times.

Phase 3B re-tender

Oct 5/07: Australia’s Minister for Defence Dr. Brendan Nelson announces that subject to successful negotiations, the preferred Project Overlander Phase 1 tenders are Haulmark Trailers Australia (for trailers), Daimler Chrysler Australia/Pacific (for unprotected lightweight and light vehicles) and BAE Systems Australia/ Stewart & Stevenson (for medium and heavy vehicles). The project includes small 4-wheel drive vehicles, medium and heavy trucks, and large semi-trailer style vehicles to replace the existing fleet acquired between 1959 – 1994. See Oct 2/08 entry for the finalized order.

These vehicles will be capable of carrying enhanced protection kits, but as experiences with American Hummers, British Land Rovers, and Daimler-Chrysler Gelandwagens in several NATO forces have proven, there is no substitute for vehicles designed from the outset to be blast-resistant. Which is why there’s also a 4th winner – the government’s recent buy of at least 250 Bushmaster blast-resistant vehicles from Thales Australia will fall under the Overlander umbrella.

Many specialist vehicle modules, trailers, and all the Bushmasters will be produced in Australia. This Australian portion is worth approximately A$ 800 million (about $707 million).

Preferred picks

Oct 5/07: An Australian DoD release [link now broken, like all DoD content prior to 2011] highlights the role of local Australian firm G.H. Varley Pty Ltd. Subject to satisfactory contract arrangements, the Newcastle firm is a key subcontractor for specialist modules that would fit to the G-Wagen fleet (potential value A$ 40 million) and Australia’s medium and heavy weight vehicles (potential value A$ 100 million):

“Specialist modules are removable kits attached to vehicles for special tasks, including casualty evacuation, personnel carriage, communications, computer services, cargo distribution and reconnaissance.”

August/September 2007: LAND 121 Overlander Second pass approved by Australia’s NSC.

2nd pass approval

Aug 18/07: The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson, Minister for Defence, announces that Australia will buy at least 250 more Bushmaster vehicles. See “Bushmaster Bonanza at Bendigo“; the final figure is 293.

2006 and Earlier

Tenders and initial decision. Bushmaster, Iraq
(click to view full)

June 2006: Australia’s Defence Capability Plan released, in which it stated that Land 121 Year of Decision was 2006/07.

mid-2006: Tenders closed and tender evaluation began.

Dec 13/05: Minister for Defence the Hon. Senator Hill announces the release of 3 separate Requests for Tender (RFT). As part of the initial project phase, a range of vehicles will be purchased for Army’s high readiness units, such as 3 Brigade, 5 Aviation Regiment, 10 Force Support Battalion located in Townsville and Sydney a well as RAAF units at Amberley.

March 17/05: 9 potential tenderers short-listed.

June 2004: First pass approval by Australia’s NSC.

Aug 27/03: Request for Interest Announced.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Navy Foot Dragging Annoys Top Shipbuilders | Strykers to Get An Upgrade | Australia Gives Thales $910M Contract for Hawkei 4x4s

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 00:20

  • The US’ top shipbuilders are growing impatient with the Navy over the Ohio-class Replacement Program (SSBN-X), with General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries both calling for the service to comment on a proposed workshare between the two yards. The two yards submitted a proposal for a working arrangement in March, which will see Electric Boat complete the majority of work for the twelve new subs; however the Navy has yet to finalize its procurement strategy for the program, despite advanced procurement scheduled to start in 2017 after a DoD review of the Navy’s acquisition strategy in mid-2016.

  • The Army’s Stryker vehicles will benefit from a $411 million upgrade program for the vehicles’ main armament, with the 2016 NDAA bill including $314 million for modification work to the fleet to up-gun their 12.7mm cannons to 30mm guns. The remaining $97 million is earmarked for R&D, with the House and Senate Armed Service Committees criticizing the Army for an increasingly unacceptable per-vehicle cost to upgrade the Stryker fleet. A response to fears that the Strykers would be out-gunned by would-be Russian adversaries in Europe, the Army was given a provisional thumbs-up for the upgrade work in April, with the Hill stipulating that the upgrades will be limited to the Army’s European-deployed Strykers rather than form a fleet-wide upgrade program.


  • Poland’s Armament Inspectorate has reportedly received three offers to upgrade the country’s Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. Turkey’s Aselsan and Germany’s Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are the three bidders, with a selection slated for later this month. The country has bought two batches of Leopard 2A4s from Germany, with the Polish Army also operating around a hundred more modern 2A5 variants. In total 142 MBTs will be modernized, with a prototype scheduled for production next year. The new design will be known as the Leopard 2PL, with the winning bidder set to collaborate with the Polish Armaments Group to complete the modernization program.

  • Bidders for the Czech Republic’s acquisition program intended to replace the country’s fleet of Mil Mi-24 helicopters have detailed their respective designs for the competition. With two bidders confirmed – Bell Helicopter with the UH-1Y and AgustaWestland with the AW139M – the remaining two are thought to consist of Airbus with the AS532 ALe or H225M Caracal and Sikorsky with the UH-60M or S-70i. The Czech defense ministry plans to procure a dozen new helicopters to fulfill its requirements, with reports from August indicating that there may be follow-up orders for a larger fleet.

  • With David Cameron announcing last week that the UK would replace the ten MQ-9 Reaper UAVs currently in service with the Royal Air Force, the Scavenger program is now likely to be folded into the newly-announced Protector acquisition. The former had been earmarked by Parliament to replace the MQ-9s by the end of the decade with a new, armed Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV, with the acquisition program slated to begin in 2016. The Ministry of Defence is planning to acquire over twenty of the new aircraft, with the “counter-terrorism” package announced by Cameron also including more resources allocated to Special Forces, something he has looked to do before.

  • Poland has launched a tender for sniper rifles, chambered for .338 Lapua Magnum rounds, the same round used by the UK’s L115A3 sniper system. The 150 rifles are to be fitted with day sights along with thermal and night sights. Intended to be used in an anti-materiel role, the rifles should be capable of penetrating light armored vehicles.


  • Ghana has received four Harbin Z-9 helicopters from China, completing a contract signed in November 2014 and confirmed in February this year. Ghana announced the helicopter purchase along with the intention to buy Super Tucano counterinsurgency aircraft, which the country eventually ordered in June.

Asia Pacific

  • Australia has signed a A$1.3 billion ($910 million) contract with Thales Australia for 1,100 Hawkei protected vehicles and 1,000 trailers as part of the country’s LAND 121 Phase 4 procurement program. Full rate production is scheduled for 2018 as the company’s Bushmaster production in Bendigo, Victoria slows. LAND 121, also known as Project Overlander, is a multi-billion dollar acquisition program to modernize the Australian Defence Force’s vehicle fleet as part of the country’s Defence Capability Plan. The 4×4 Hawkei was downselected in 2011 and will replace most of the Australian Defence Force’s unprotected Land Rover fleet.

  • Northrop Grumman has completed the center fuselage for the Japanese Self Defense Forces’ first Joint Strike Fighter, forming the skeleton for the country’s first F-35A. The company manufactured the fuselage in California before shipping it to Japan for Final Check Out and Assembly. In total Japan has ordered 42 F-35As, with an initial order for six aircraft this year coming with a price tag of $827.4 million. The country selected the F-35 in December 2011, beating the Eurofighter Typhoon and an upgraded Super Hornet bid.

Today’s Video

  • The UH-1Y on offer to the Czach Republic in action:

Categories: News

SSBN-X Subs: Congressmen Promote Refresh, Have Sub Bases in Districts

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 00:19
SSBN-X concept
(click to view full)

The US Navy needs new SSBN nuclear missile submarines. Their existing Ohio Class boats will begin to retire at a rate of 1 hull per year, beginning in 2027, as they reach the end of their 42-year operational lifetimes. Hence SSBN-X, also known as the Ohio Replacement Program for now.

The first step toward recapitalization involved a new Common Missile Compartment and Advanced Launcher for current and future nuclear missiles. The next step involves finalizing a design that can serve effectively to 2080, without destroying the US Navy’s shipbuilding budget in the process. Good luck with that one, but they have to to try. The maintenance of the USA’s nuclear deterrent is too important, in a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating.

SSBN-X Background Trident D5 (larger)
and C4 predecessor
(click to view larger)

The USA aims to begin construction of the new SSBN in 2021, and have the new type enter service with the fleet in 2031. A total of 12 boats would be produced, with the last boat expected to leave service around 2085. That’s a very long lifetime for a submarine, whose hull is alternately squeezed and released by water pressure as it dives and surfaces. Unfortunately, delays in starting the program mean that the USA is likely to end up with just 10 SSBNs from 2029 – 2042. If the Ohio Replacement Program suffers further development delays, this high-risk period will see corresponding extensions.

America isn’t alone in their pursuit. At present, Britain, France, India, Russia, and China are all working on new sub-launched ballistic missile systems and/or SSBN submarines. The American SSBN-X will be the end product of intense debate, especially given its aggressive production cost target of FY10$ 4.9 billion. So far, what’s known about the design includes:

Basics: The submarines will be about the same length as the Ohio Class at 560 feet, but may be a bit wider. They will be powered by a new-design reactor using 90% enriched uranium. Like the current SSN Seawolf and SSN Virginia Classes, the new reactor won’t need refueling during the submarine’s lifetime.

SSBN-X propulsion will be all-electric, which decouples the drive train from the turbines, and the pump-jet propulsor will use shrouded technology taken from the Virginia Class. The usual sail-mounted dive planes will be present, along with X-shaped stern surfaces.

One suggested way to save money was to reduce the submarine’s maximum speed from 20 to 15 knots. That would cut maximum power needs sharply, and reduce maximum required diving depth because the submarine won’t require as much space to pull out of a jam dive. The penalty would be poorer evasion of enemy torpedoes if the sub is found.

Sensors: SSBN-X is expected to use the horseshoe-shaped Large Aperture Bow Array (LAB) sonar that was developed for the Virginia Block III submarines. The submarines will undoubtedly deploy an array of other sensors, including flank sonars, towed sonar, fiber-optic masts that don’t have to penetrate the ship’s hull, ESM signal recognition and location technologies, etc.

The key will be making these sensors upgradeable at low cost. The 65 years from 2015 – 2080 is a huge amount of time in the technology world. If upgrades are too expensive, the entire SSBN force could find itself compromised mid-way through its life.

(click to view full)

Weapons: The new CMC/AL assemblies are slated for production in blocks of 4 tubes, allowing the USA and UK to tailor the total number of missile tubes to their final submarine designs. Current American Ohio Class SSBNs have 24 tubes, but SSBN-X currently plans to reduce that to 16 tubes. The Trident II D5 missiles, which are being refurbished and improved, will switch over to the new boats as their initial nuclear weapons.

Beyond that, there are questions. Should the new boats have torpedo tubes, in order to protect themselves from enemies under, on, or even above the water? Or should they eliminate that feature and its accompanying space? Sometimes the best defense really is a good offense, but even if the torpedo or missile destroys its enemy, the act of destruction is a beacon to enemy forces as soon as they’re aware of it. Attention is the last thing an SSBN wants, so this is a last resort action. On the other hand, torpedo tubes are useful to keep up SSN training and testing roles, ensuring that American submariners remain proficient enough to be assigned between types.

Then there’s the question of non-nuclear payloads in some of the CMC missile tubes. Converted Ohio class SSGNs, for instance, have already replaced nuclear missiles with American special forces, land attack missiles, and UAVs. In a similar and related vein, the Virginia Class Block III fast attack submarine replaced their 12 vertical-launch cruise missile tubes with 2 Common Weapon Launcher (CWL) “six-shooters” derived from the SSGNs’ converted missile tubes. The size of those CWLs allows Virginia Class Block III submarines to launch cruise missiles, UAVs, UUVs, and more from these same tubes.

Nuclear missile submarines are a nation’s most strategic assets, because they are its most secure and certain deterrence option. One does not commit them casually, to any purpose. As key trends like cheaper sensors and the Robotic Revolution grind onward, however, the next 40 years will see big changes underwater warfare. SSBNs will need the flexibility to adapt and leverage these changes if they intend to survive. For the USA and Britain, their weapon launchers need to be part of that adaptation.

Contracts and Key Events

Note that Common Missile Compartment design, and refurbished Trident nuclear missile production, are covered by their own articles. Unless otherwise indicated, the US Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, DC manages the contract.

FY 2016

Shipbuilders Growing Impatient

October 6/15: The US’ top shipbuilders are growing impatient with the Navy over the Ohio-class Replacement Program (SSBN-X), with General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries both calling for the service to comment on a proposed workshare between the two yards. The two yards submitted a proposal for a working arrangement in March, which will see Electric Boat complete the majority of work for the twelve new subs; however the Navy has yet to finalize its procurement strategy for the program, despite advanced procurement scheduled to start in 2017 after a DoD review of the Navy’s acquisition strategy in mid-2016.

FY 2015

Mar 5/15: Congressmen praise new refresh effort.
At trade association forum, senator and representative both stressed the importance of replacing the boomers. They also, coincidentally, come from states with the major East Coast sub bases.

Feb 5/15: FYDP puts $10 Billion in kitty.The Future Years Defense Plan calls for a $10 billion investment, split between research and long-lead-time procurement, over the next five years. After that, the real money really starts to add up. The Navy today estimates that it will cost $100 billion to replace the existing 14 boomers with 12 new ones – an amount equal to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product at the end of the first cold war. Over their service life, they would be expected to cost roughly four times that. Several rear admirals have suggested that the navy will need budget relief to get this accomplished, yet still have funds to afford other shipbuilding programs. The idea of moving this big project off their books appears to be more and more frequently floated.

FY 2014

Specifications “finalized”; GAO and DOT&E reports; Proposal to move it outside of Navy budgets. Plans 2014-2023
(click to view full)

June 10/14: GAO Report. The US GAO releases GAO-14-373, “Ten-Year Budget Estimates for Modernization….” of American nuclear forces. With respect to SSBNs:

“…the Navy’s Ohio Replacement Program included $27.8 billion in research, development, test, and evaluation and ship construction estimates over the 10-year period for a new SSBN. However, the Navy’s submarine-replacement program is further along in the acquisition process than either the Air Force’s ICBM-replacement effort, or its new bomber program.”

May 27/14: Sub-contractors. Northrop Grumman announces a contract from General Dynamics Electric Boat to design and deliver the Ohio Replacement Program’s 1st turbine generator units, which will provide all of the submarine’s propulsion and other electrical power. They add that the award “…follows separate ORP contract awards from General Dynamics to Northrop Grumman’s Marine Systems business unit for other ORP components.” Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman Selected to Provide Turbine Generator Units For US Navy’s Ohio Replacement Submarine Program”.

May 23/14: Politics. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s FY 2015 mark-up calls for the establishment of a separate budget to finance SSBN-X construction, instead of consuming the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for several years:

“Establishes a National Sea-based Deterrence Fund, to provide resources for ensuring that we implement the Ohio-class replacement program at the appropriate level of priority assigned to it by the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, with an [initial] authorization of $100 million.”

They’re going to have to reconcile that with the House bill before that becomes any kind of organizing structure for the program. Sources: SASC, “Senate Committee On Armed Services Completes Markup Of The National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2015”.

April 7/14: Specifications. The US Navy has reportedly finalized the specifications for their new SSBNs. They’ll be about as long as the current Ohio Class, but with 8 fewer missile tubes (16 total). The submarines will have a new electric propulsion system, and the same kind of no-refuel reactor enjoyed by recent American fast attack boats. All of this was already established wisdom, and they aren’t saying much more than that publicly.

The latest Navy figures reportedly estimate $110 million per boat per year in operating costs. US Navy estimates at this stage of a program have a bad record, so caveat lector. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Navy Finishes Specs for Future Nuclear Sub” | USNI, “Navy Has Finalized Specifications for New Ohio-Replacement Boomer”.

SSBN spec done?

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. With respect to SSBN-X, the numbers are very large: $95.103 billion total for 12 boats, split $11.718 billion RDT&E and $85.385 billion in procurement costs.

“The Navy has set initial configurations for areas including the torpedo room, bow, and stern. In 2014, the program expects to complete initial specifications, set ship length – a major milestone – and start detailed system descriptions and arrangements.”

Navy officials are trying to reduce costs for boats 2-12 from an estimated FY10$ 5.6 billion to FY10$ 4.9 billion, and one approach is to seek commonalities with the Virginia Class and the UK’s Successor SSBN. The CMC itself is already doing some of that.

Jan 30/14: UUV launcher. A joint effort between the US Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat is now testing a prototype Universal Launch and Recovery Module (ULRM) system that would launch and capture underwater drones from SSBN/SSGN vertical launch tubes, and from the Virginia Payload Module on forthcoming Virginia Class submarines. Diagrams show payloads up to a pair of Bluefin-21 (future SMCM mine countermeasures) UUVs, but the extend and launch method itself is adaptable to any new UUV that fits within the space.

This isn’t a development that touches the CMC directly, nor is it new. Indeed, engineer Steve Klinikowski’s idea was tabled in 2005, and a model was exhibited at DSEi 2011 in Britain. This article is particularly helpful in showing pictures of the mechanisms, and in confirming that ULRM has progressed to testing. If there was any doubt that the CMC’s tubes are likely to include payload options beyond nuclear missiles, those doubts are effectively removed. The time to contemplate those needs is right now, during the CMC’s design phase. Designer Edge, “Navy Begins Test of UUV Launch System” | Fox News, “Navy, Electric Boat test tube-launched underwater vehicle”.

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). CMC is included indirectly, as part of the “SSBN Ohio Class Replacement Program”.

SSBN-X is currently slated to include a new propulsor, a new electric drive system, and a degaussing system, all of which should make the new submarines harder to detect. The new nuclear reactor won’t require mid-life refueling, a long refit whose operational impact would have forced the USA to build 14 submarines instead of the planned 12. CMC provides the main weapons interface, and there’s currently a debate about whether to even give the SSBNs torpedo tubes. The Strategic Weapon System includes the Trident II D5 Life Extension missile, launcher, fire control, navigation systems, and associated support systems. Most of the SWS will be carried over from existing submarine classes, as will items like communications, sonar, and internal computer networks.

From September 2012 – July 2013, the Navy conducted an Early Operational Assessment (EOA) – an extensive review of Ohio and Ohio Replacement documentation to identify program risks, and a modeling and simulation study to compare the survivability of the existing and future submarine classes. The EOA did come up with some program risks, which are classified. The modeling and simulation was informative, but the acoustic and threat models need updating.

FY 2012 – 2013

The case for the program; Some specifications finalized, incl. all-electric propulsion; Navy decides not to adapt Virginia Class. Ohio class SSBN, tubes open
(click to view full)

Jan 9/13: Long-lead. GD Electric Boat in Groton, CT receives a $15 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for integrated tube and hull long-lead-time material in support of the Ohio Class Replacement Program. This contract combines purchases for the US Navy (50%) and the Britain (50%).

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 RDT&E budgets and UK government monies. Work will be performed in Groton, CT, and is scheduled to be complete by November 2016. The USN’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding Conversion and Repair in Groton, CT manages the contract (N00024-13-C-2128).

Jan 26/13: All-Electric. TG Daily reports that the next American SSBNs will be doing away with their mechanical drivetrain, which connects the reactor turbines directly to the boat’s propellers. In order to make the boat quieter, and free up electricity for other functions, power from the reactor would flow into an all-ship electrical grid. Some of that power would be harnessed by electric motors connected to the shortened propeller shafts, and it would probably be more than the 20-25% available in more conventional nuclear designs.

This kind of “all-electric” system is becoming more and more common on naval surface ships, so its adaptation to next-generation submarines is unsurprising. Even so, the cramped, no-failure world of submarine design always adds new engineering challenges. The USN also plans to field its new SSBN submarines with reactors that don’t require mid-life refueling, something they’ve already accomplished on the Virginia Class fast attack boats.

Sub design 101
click for video

Dec 21/12: SSBN Design. General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. in Groton, CT receives a $1.849 billion cost-plus-fixed-fee with special incentives contract to design America’s new class of ballistic missile submarines. GDEB will also undertake shipbuilder and vendor component and technology development; engineering integration; concept design studies; cost reduction initiatives using a design for affordability process; and full scale prototype manufacturing and assembly. Additionally, this contract provides for engineering analysis, should-cost evaluations, and technology development and integration efforts. This contract includes options which could bring the cumulative value to $1.996 billion.

Other efforts contemplated under this contract include the continued design and development of US unique Common Missile Compartment efforts; and continuing the design and development of the joint US Navy/UK CMC. About 8% of the contract involves foreign military sales to the United Kingdom.

Work will be performed in Groton, CT (91%); Newport News, VA (7%); Quonset, RI (1%); and Bath, ME (1%), and is expected to be complete by September 2017. $183.1 million is committed immediately, with the rest allocated as needed; $8 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. This contract was not competitively procured in accordance with FAR 6.302-1 by US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-13-C-2128).

Initial SSBN design ordered

Sept 27/12: Integration. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, CA receives a sole-source $51.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering efforts to support next-generation SSBN programs. The firm was deemed to be the only company that could integrate the TRIDENT II Missile and Reentry Strategic Weapon System subsystems into the CMC, and design an updated missile service unit that will be compatible with both current and new submarine fleets. With options, this contract could rise to $52.2 million.

Work will be performed in Cape Canaveral, FL (50%); Sunnyvale, CA (34%); Syracuse, NY (10%); Magna, UT (2%); Washington, DC (1%); yet to be determined locations (2%); and other locations of less than 1% (1% TL); and will run until Dec 31/17 (N00030-12-C-0058).

Sept 24/12: Program Risk. US Navy Director, Undersea Warfare Rear Adm. Barry Bruner answers questions about the Ohio Class Replacement Program. He defends the Navy’s vision of 12 submarines instead of 14, with 16 tubes each instead of 24, at a target cost of $FY10 4.9 billion per hull for boats 2-12. At the same time, he acknowledges that the existing SSBN force will have a problematic period, which will become very problematic if the replacement program suffers any significant delays:

“Because ship construction of the Ohio Replacement shifted from the year 2019 to 2021, there will be fewer than 12 SSBNs from 2029 to 2042 as the Ohio-class retires and Ohio replacement ships join the fleet. During this time frame no major SSBN overhauls are planned, and a force of 10 SSBNs will support current at-sea presence requirements. However, this provides a low margin to compensate for unforeseen issues that may result in reduced SSBN availability. The reduced SSBN availability during this timeframe reinforces the importance of remaining on schedule with the Ohio Replacement program to meet future strategic commitments. As the Ohio Replacement ships begin their mid-life overhauls in 2049, 12 SSBNs will be required to offset ships conducting planned maintenance.”

If the Ohio Class Replacement Program manages to come in on time, and anywhere close to its budget, it will be a very unusual example within recent US Navy shipbuilding programs. The higher-odds bet, unfortunately, is that the USA is headed for serious problems with the readiness of its SSBN deterrent. With respect to costs, and proposals to use the Virginia Class or existing Ohio Class blueprints:

“To date, the Navy has reduced costs by reducing specifications to the minimum necessary to meet national strategic deterrent requirements, implementing modular construction design, re-using the Trident II D5 Strategic Weapons System, and re-using Virginia- and Ohio-class components where feasible….. has already reduced approximately $1.1 billion in construction per ship and ~$3 billion in design from its fiscal year 2011 plan (calendar year 2010).

….Although some savings would be realized due to lower design costs, an SSBN class based on a Virginia hull would require additional platforms, additional nuclear refueling, increased personnel costs, and its acoustic signature would be vulnerable to projected threats. Ultimately, the Navy would receive an SSBN class that is more expensive and less capable. Similarly, rebuilding Ohio-class SSBNs would save on design costs. However, the Ohio-class does not have sufficient stealth to stay viable out to the 2080s, and construction of more Ohio-class ships would not be able to take advantage of efficiencies of modern construction techniques.”

Sources: USN’s Navy Live, “Next Generation Ohio-Class”.

Sept 6/12: SSBN-X Specifications. US Navy, “Navy Signs Specification Document for the Ohio Replacement Submarine Program, Sets forth Critical Design Elements”:

“The Navy formalized key ship specifications for both the United States’ Ohio Replacement and United Kingdom’s Successor Programs in a document signed Aug. 31 at the Washington Navy Yard…. Ship specifications are critical for the design and construction of the common missile compartment, which will be used by both nations’ replacement fleet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) programs. Specifically, the First Article Quad Pack Ship Specification establishes a common design and technical requirements for the four missile tubes and associated equipment that comprise each quad pack.”

CMC specifications

Oct 18/11: No Virginia. The US Navy has reportedly shelved the idea of a Virginia Class SSBN variant (vid. July 20/11), in favor of a new and quieter SSBN design that will carry the CMC. The question is whether that stance can last, given the new design’s current estimated cost of $7 billion per boat. If those costs rise, or budgets shrink, that Navy may find itself with fewer submarine platform choices than it would like. AOL Defence

FY 2008 – 2011

Britain joins common CMC program, launches its own future SSBN program; US Navy considering SSN Virginia Class adaptation. Virginia Block III bow
(click to view full)

July 20/11: Virginias? To date, the assumption in America has been that CMC would equip a newly designed SSBN submarine, and GD Electric Boat has been hiring with the idea in mind. Connecticut’s The Day now quotes vice-Adm. Cartwright, Vice-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that budget cuts may force the Navy to lengthen its Virginia Class attack submarine, in order to fit ballistic missile compartments and act as an SSBN.

By nature, fast attack submarines tend to be less optimized for stealth than SSBNs. The Virginia Class is said to be remarkably stealthy, but the USA will still want improvements, and the weight/ size gap is very challenging. Ohio Class SSBNs are about 18,750 tons submerged. Britain’s Vanguard Class SSBNs are 17,800 tons, and France’s Triomphant Class SSBNs are 15,800 tons. In contrast, the basic Virginia Class is about 7,800 tons. Even with fewer missile tubes on board, finding a solution that offers an affordable extension, instead of a full submarine redesign that defeats the point of starting with the Virginia Class, won’t be easy. The Day.

July 6/11: General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. in Groton, CT receives a $15.8 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-2100) for continued engineering, technical services, concept studies, and design of a common missile compartment for the United Kingdom Successor SSBN and the Ohio replacement SSBN submarine.

Work will be performed in Groton, CT (93%); Quonset Point, RI (3%); Newport News, VA (2%); and Newport, RI (2%). Work is expected to be complete by December 2011. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract.

May 18/11: British go-ahead. Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox announces government approval for the early phase of design to replace the existing Vanguard Class. The new “Successor Class” submarines will use the same CMC launcher system as the USA’s SSBN-X, and fire the same Trident II D5 MK6LE missiles. They’ll also be powered by a new nuclear propulsion system known as the Pressurised Water Reactor 3, which is more expensive but safer. The design phase as a whole could be worth up to GBP 3 billion.

The Initial Gate approval ensures that more detailed design work will be undertaken and long-lead items ordered, even though the main build decision for the submarines will not be taken until 2016. Under current plans, the first replacement submarine is expected in 2028. For all further coverage of Britain’s new submarines, see “New Nukes: Britain’s Next-Gen Missile Submarines“.

Britain’s related SSBNs

Dec 23/08: General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation, Groton, CT receives a $75.6 million sole-source, cost plus fixed fee contract to perform concept studies and design of a Common Missile Compartment (CMC) for the United Kingdom Successor SSBN and the USA’s Ohio Class Replacement program. This contract includes options which would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $591.8 million, and take design work to December 2013.

Work will be performed in Groton, CT (92%), Newport News, VA (4%), Quonset, RI (3%), and Newport, RI (1%), and is expected to be complete by December 2009 for the base contract, and December 2013 if all options are exercised. This contract was not competitively procured, and is formally run through the Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, DC (N00024-09-C-2100). At present, this contract involves Foreign Military Sales to the United Kingdom (100%), but that may change.

CMC: initial concept studies

Additional Readings Background: Related Technology

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: News

Buy from the Pros: Poland Adds More German Tanks

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 00:18
Polish Leopard 2A4
(click to view full)

Germany is almost done selling off one of the world’s most impressive tank fleets, earning itself a solid market around the world in the process, and choking sales of competitive designs. In November 2013, Poland announced that it would buy a 2nd batch of Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, along with assorted other equipment. As usual, the package price was incredibly cheap: just EUR 180 million for 119 more tanks, plus range training fittings, machine guns, radios; and assorted armored tractors, cars, and trucks. Poland’s next question is what to do with the new gear…

Poland’s Leopard Cavalry Leopard 2A5
(click to view full)

Poland’s original set of 128 Leopard 2A4 tanks were bought and transferred in the mid-2000s. They need a full overhaul, and modernization would be an excellent idea. The new Leopards include another 14 2A4s, plus 105 of the more advanced Leopard 2A5s. This will form the high-end core of Poland’s armored brigades, with capabilities and survivability far ahead of its T-72 and PT-91 Twardy (locally designed upgrade beyond T-72M1) tanks.

The Polish Army needs commonality within its Leopard fleet at some point. Meanwhile, Polish industry is unhappy because the new acquisitions will replace the mothballed T-72 fleet with a German design, rather than having the MON fund a new Polish design by 2016. The logical solution is to involve Polish industry in a common upgrade effort that will begin by bringing the existing fleet to a more advanced Leopard 2PL standard, then follow by upgrading the newer Leopard 2A5s to create a common Polish standard.

Rumors have Poland looking for a final configuration that’s similar to Canada’s new Leopard 2A6Ms. That would reshape and strengthen the armor structure to 2A5 levels and beyond, upgrade the sights and communications, beef up the internal climate control to handle hot environments like Afghanistan, add extra mine blast protection underneath, and provide points to fit engineering utilities like dozer blades and mine clearance rollers.

A parallel track is working to make Poland self-sufficient in producing the 2 key ammunition types for its tank fleet: 120mm High Explosive shells for general use, and tungsten Armor Piercing Fin-stabilized Discarding Sabot shells for killing other tanks. Mesko S.A., which is being folded into Poland’s PGZ, has now received contracts for both types, and industrial investment is underway.

Contracts & Key Events Polish Leo-2A4s

October 6/15: Poland’s Armament Inspectorate has reportedly received three offers to upgrade the country’s Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. Turkey’s Aselsan and Germany’s Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are the three bidders, with a selection slated for later this month. The country has bought two batches of Leopard 2A4s from Germany, with the Polish Army also operating around a hundred more modern 2A5 variants. In total 142 MBTs will be modernized, with a prototype scheduled for production next year. The new design will be known as the Leopard 2PL, with the winning bidder set to collaborate with the Polish Armaments Group to complete the modernization program.

Nov 13/14: Ammo. The Ministry of National Defence’s Armaments Inspectorate signs a PLN 240 million ($71 million) multi-year contract for tank shells with Mesko S.A. at Lucznik Arms Factory in Radom. This is the companion buy to the Sept 27/14 contract, designed to make Poland self-sufficient in tank-killing APFSDS-T 120mm shells as well as high-explosive ammunition. The new shells will supplement, and eventually replace, German DM33A2 tungsten armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot shells.

Supplying 13,000 APFSDS-T shells from 2015 – 2017 is only part of the bigger industrial picture. The consolidation of Mesko and other firms into PGZ (Polish Armaments Group/ Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa in Polish) is still on, and modernizing the Lucznik factory is part of that. Polish authorities will invest about PLN 45 million ($13 million) in new tooling and technology lines, as part of Poland’s efforts to ensure “independence for the Polish arms industry in this segment of military production.”

Poland is taking significant steps toward a defensive posture that is part of NATO, but senior officials doubt that NATO would actually help. As such, they’re trying to rely on that help as little as possible. They aren’t withdrawing from NATO by any means, and are pursuing closer cooperation and training with the German Army that could extend to joint commands – but they’re also quietly reviving the Home Army by recruiting at shooting clubs, etc. Sources: Dziennik Zbrojny, “Polish combat ammunition for Polish Leopard 2 tanks” | Aviation Week Ares, “Poland and Germany Deepen Army Cooperation” | The XX Committee, “Poland Prepares for Russian Invasion”.

120mm APFSDS-T ammo & Poland’s posture

Oct 20/14: 2A5s. Leopard 2A5 tanks continue to arrive from Germany (q.v. Nov 23/13) by rail, to join the 34th Armoured Cavalry Brigade. They’re received by German contractors, who work beside the Polish Army on inspection and maintenance to certify their condition.

Of course, an order like this requires more than just tanks. Technical support vehicles and trucks, specialized technical equipment, AGDUS laser shooting simulators etc. also need to arrive. But the process is underway. Sources: Defence24, “Poland Receives More Leopard 2A5 Tanks”.

Sept 27/14: Ammo. The Ministry of National Defence’s Armaments Inspectorate finalizes a PLN 114.4 million ($34.8 million) contract with Mesko S.A. for 14,000 120mm high-explosive tank shells, to be delivered as a multi-year deal over 2014-2017 (q.v. January 2013). Negotiations were sole-source in order to maintain the same set of ammunition for training and supply/ support chain purposes, and to maintain Poland’s industrial base in this area. In addition:

“The administrator indicates lack of possibility of introducing another set of ballistic data regarding the new round into the fire control system of the Leopard 2A4 tanks. The fire control system of the Polish Leopards 2A4 has an option of introducing only one more type of ammo, but this slot is reserved for the new 120×570 mm round with a sabot projectile.”

Poland currently uses German DM33 aluminum/tungsten sabot shells, but they don’t have the same effectiveness against explosive reactive armors as the most modern AFPSDS ammunition. Sources: Defence24, “Polish Army Acquires New Ammo for the Leopard Tanks”.

120mm HE ammo

Sept 2/14: 2PL etc. Poland is backing off of its planned Leopard 2PL upgrade, until the major industry consolidation takes place into PGZ (Polish Armaments Group/ Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa in Polish). This will allow the MON to allocate this work directly rather than relying on chosen team-ups (q.v. Dec 10/13), but it also takes away a lot of the competitive incentive. What it will not change, is the need to find a partner from Germany or Turkey with the requisite know-how. An opportunity for KMW, and for Poland’s GAIN SA? We’ll see.

The initial 2012 plan involved prototype rollout in 2014-2015, with full modernization of Poland’s original Leopard 2A4 fleet taking place from 2015-2018. Unfortunately, waiting for PGZ will destroy that timeline.

Poland will also need to address the issue of armored vehicles to accompany 34 Brigade’s Leopard 2A5 tanks. 10 Armoured Brigade currently uses M113 tracked APCs and derivative M577 command vehicles alongside its Leopard 2A4s, but Poland doesn’t have uncommitted surplus armored vehicles to stand up the 2nd Leopard tank brigade. There are rumors that Poland is negotiating a transfer of mothballed M113s and M577s from the USA in order to fill this gap. That will bring the issue of a 2nd modernization to the fore, of course, in order to ensure that the new armored vehicles can all work together. Sources:, “Przetarg na modernizacje Leopardow z problemami”.

Dec 10/13: 2PL upgrade. Poland’s MON receives 3 responses to their modernization RFP. The teams are:

  • Wojskowe Zaklady Motoryzacyjne S.A., Wojskowymi Zakladami Lacznosci, and Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH
  • Bumar-Labedy, OBRUM Gliwice, and PHO
  • PCO SA and Turkey’s Aselsan Elektronik

Sources:, “Przetarg na modernizacje Leopardow z problemami”.

Nov 23/13: More Leopards. Poland orders their 2nd batch of Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, along with assorted other equipment: range training fittings, machine guns, radios; and assorted armored tractors, cars, and trucks.

As usual, the package price was incredibly cheap: just EUR 180 million for 119 more tanks (14 2A4s + 105 2A5s), plus all of the extras.

119 Leopard 2s: 14 L2A4, 105 L2A5

Oct 30/13: 2PL upgrade. Poland releases an RFP for modernization of its existing Leopard tank fleet to the 2PL standard. Upgrades will include modifications including armor improvements, a suspension upgrade, and modernized sighting and fire control. It’s issued per Decision No 118 of the Minister of National Defence, bypassing the Public Procurement Law in the interests of national security. This allows Poland to issue the RFP to domestic firms only, despite EU regulations. The deadline is Dec 10/13. Sources: Dziennik Zbrojny, “Przetarg na modernizacje Leopardow z problemami”.

January 2013: Ammo. A contract is signed with the Mesko Works to equip Poland’s Leopard tanks with 3,300 more 120mm high explosive shells: 1,500 in FY 2013, and 1,800 in FY 2014. The contract could grow to 14,000 shells, over a period lasting until 2017. Sources: Defence24, “14 thousand shells for Polish Leopards”.

Additional Readings

Readers with corrections, comments, or information to contribute are encouraged to contact DID’s Founding Editor, Joe Katzman. We understand the industry – you will only be publicly recognized if you tell us that it’s OK to do so.

DID would like to thank our friends at for their assistance with ongoing developments.

News & Views

Categories: News

US Army Moves Ahead with V-Hull Strykers

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 00:18
M1126, post-IED
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Under current plans, the 8×8 wheeled Stryker armored vehicle will be the future backbone of 8 US Army and 1 National Guard medium armored brigades. The 5th Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, WA was the first Stryker unit sent to Afghanistan, deployed in the summer of 2009 as part of a troop level increase. The brigade was equipped with 350 Stryker vehicles. In the first few months of deployment, they lost 21 soldiers, with 40 more wounded, to IED land mines. The losses prompted the Army to examine modifications to their Stryker vehicles, in order to make them more resistant to land mines.

One result is the Stryker hull redesign, creating the v-hulled Stryker DVH. The US Army is now on pace to order 2 brigades worth, as it moves toward the end of Stryker armored vehicle production.

Strykers, Struck: The Afghan Experience & Response Struck Stryker
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The Strykers have come under criticism for their performance in Afghanistan since the first Stryker brigade was deployed there in the summer of 2009. The Stryker vehicles have been faulted for their lack of maneuverability on rough terrain, a problem that Canada’s similar LAV-IIIs have also experienced.

That creates an associated vulnerability to IED land mines planted in the road. In June 2009, the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed to Kandahar province. It had 37 troops killed in action and 238 wounded over its year-long deployment, and their flat-bottom Strykers were diverted part-way through into road guard missions, away from intense combat. Their replacement, the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, continued the “freedom of movement” missions, and had suffered 14 KIA, 5 noncombat KIA, and more than 100 wounded, as of May 2011. Stars and Stripes reports:

“In one incident in August [2010], a 1st Squadron flat-bottomed Stryker was struck by a massive bomb hidden in a highway culvert in Kandahar province. The blast peeled away the armor protecting its engine like the skin of an orange, snapped off a wheel at the axel and mangled the metal cage that was designed to protect troops from rocket-propelled grenades.

[Pfc. Dustyn Applegate]… doesn’t rate the Stryker as a good vehicle for the sort of counter-IED mission that his unit was engaged in… “That’s the bad thing about the Stryker,” he said. “It has a flat bottom, so when the blast happens, it just blows up instead of up and out like with an MRAP. There is no safe place on the Stryker.”

On the other hand, “M1126 Strykers in Combat: Experiences & Lessons” detailed surprisingly positive reviews of the wheeled APCs’ performance in Iraq. There, they made good use of roads, and their relative silence compared to tracked vehicles was an asset in urban warfare. If the Stryker is not the vehicle for all situations, it has at least proven to be very useful under defined circumstances.

Any campaign that includes the mission of securing key roads, which is to say any mission that depends on economic progress and trade growth, will find Strykers very useful – so long as they remain survivable.

Deflecting Danger: The Strykker DVH Effort V-Hull at work:
Cougar MRAP

(click to view full)

Hence the Stryker double-v hull design, which channels blast force away from the vehicle and its occupants. The US Army has announced contracts to produce 742 Stryker DVH vehicles, as retrofits and as new production vehicles. That’s the full extent of the current plan, which was a major step beyond the program’s initial plan of 450 Stryker DVHs.

The modified M1126 Stryker ICVV/DVH infantry carrier is the base variant for 7 additional configurations, which will be employed as part of coherent v-hulled Stryker Brigade Combat Teams: M1129 DVH Mortar Carrier, M1130 DVH Command Vehicle, M1131 DVH Fire Support Vehicle, M1132 DVH Engineer Squad Vehicle, M1133 DVH Medical Evacuation Vehicle, M1134 DVH Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle, and the Infantry Carrier Vehicle DVH-Scout (ICVV-S). The ICVV-S is a new configuration that allows internal stowage of the Long Range Advance Scout (LRAS) surveillance system, which is mounted externally on the standard M1127 Reconnaissance Vehicle.

The Stryker DVH program retains a connection with overall Stryker modernization efforts. In a sense, it just prioritized one element of that plan for faster fielding, and made them the front-line vehicles for an SBCT in-theater. That will rise to 2 SBCTs by the end of 2012. After that, the Army says that:

“Once the Army decides on the appropriate future force structure, fleet mix and overall number of combat vehicles, the quantity of DVH Strykers and variants of Strykers will be finalized.”

America isn’t the only one upgrading its LAV-IIIs. Blast-protection efforts are underway for Australia’s ASLAVs, and in Canada via the near-term LAV LORIT program, and their longer-term LAV-III upgrade to the same base vehicle.

To date, however, the Stryker Double-V Hull remains unique to the USA.

Left Behind

Stryker M1128, Iraq
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Some Stryker typers won’t be getting the DVH treatment. The US Army does not plan to purchase Stryker DVH versions of the M1127 Reconnaissance vehicle (which does have an ICVV-S DVH counterpart), M1128 MGS assault gun, or the M1135 Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle. Once the DVH vehicles are done, and the last set of M1135s are ordered and produced, overall Stryker production will end.

During the December 2010 Stryker DVH Configuration Steering Board, the Army decided not to pursue full-rate production for the standard M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, either. While the M1128’s 105mm gun offers potent firepower, the type already has significant weight and protection issues that haven’t been resolved. The Army decided that neither continued production nor DVH made sense for this type, unless the Stryker Modernization program gave the vehicle more base heft and power.

That seems less and less likely. According to US Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry:

“Stryker Modernization has been replaced with a reduced-scope Engineering Change Proposal (ECP). The scope of the ECP for Stryker upgrades is still to be determined, but the following will be considered: buy-back Space, Weight, Power, and Cooling (SWaP-C) deficiencies, improve mobility and protection, and provide ability to accept future network and protection upgrades.”

Contracts & Key Events M1126 DVH Exchange
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Under the contracts, the GM General Dynamics Land Systems Defense Group partnership in Sterling Heights, MI will provide design and integration engineering services, test articles/prototypes, and procurement of materials, including long-lead materials, to support the modified hull design with related integrated system changes. The US Army says the contract objectives are an integrated solution that will provide improved protection levels to support operations in Afghanistan.

The Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren, MI manages these contracts.

FY 2016

M1126 DVH
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October 6/15: The Army’s Stryker vehicles will benefit from a $411 million upgrade program for the vehicles’ main armament, with the 2016 NDAA bill including $314 million for modification work to the fleet to up-gun their 12.7mm cannons to 30mm guns. The remaining $97 million is earmarked for R&D, with the House and Senate Armed Service Committees criticizing the Army for an increasingly unacceptable per-vehicle cost to upgrade the Stryker fleet. A response to fears that the Strykers would be out-gunned by would-be Russian adversaries in Europe, the Army was given a provisional thumbs-up for the upgrade work in April, with the Hill stipulating that the upgrades will be limited to the Army’s European-deployed Strykers rather than form a fleet-wide upgrade program.

FY 2013 – 2015

May 5/15: The Army’s European-deployed Stryker mobile guns have been given a provisional thumbs-up for more powerful weapon systems. The current 12.7mm machine guns will be upgraded to 30mm autocannons, with the “high priority need” a reflection of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s requirement for increased lethality, according to a memo obtained by Breaking Defense earlier this month.

Jan 12/14: Good news, bad news. The good news: the Army wants to convert all 9 of its standard Stryker Brigades to the DVH configuration, using the DVH Exchange option.

The bad news is what you’d expect: no funding beyond the first 2 brigades they’ve already done, and the 3rd they hope to finish by 2016 (q.v. Sept 10/13). Which means GDLS Canada’s LAV-III/ Stryker manufacturing equipment will have to be placed in layaway mode for a future production line restart, to be triggered by either future US Army orders or foreign sales. Either way, however, a line restart always costs extra. Sources: Defense News, “US Plans Radical Upgrade of Stryker Brigades”.

Sept 10/13: 3rd brigade. The Project Manager for the Stryker Brigade Combat Team received the approval from the Army Acquisition Executive to begin buying a 3rd brigade of Stryker DVH vehicles to switch with an existing brigade. The initial 66 vehicle conversions of an eventual 337 have been awarded via a $118 million contract to GDLS. Deliveries will begin in July 2014, and the initial 66 will be complete by February 2015.

As of this order, the DVH Exchange pilot program had wrapped up in April 2013 after delivering 52 vehicles on time and under budget. Remaining brigade orders will be based on the availability of funding, using an incremental approach over FY 2014-2016. Sources: US Army, “Army gives green light for procurement of 3rd Stryker Double-V Hull brigade” | GD, “General Dynamics Awarded $118 Million for Stryker Double-V Hull Vehicles” | Yellowhammer News, “80 Anniston Army Depot jobs preserved with DVH Stryker announcement”.

Orders for 3rd brigade begin

Oct 15/12: DVH Exchange. The US Army announces that they’ve completed the 1st vehicle in their Stryker DVH exchange program. The exchange involves taking a standard Stryker variant, reusing common parts, refurbishing them, and inserting the parts into a vehicle on the DVH production line.

The Army is documenting the teardown and reuse process, in hopes of having clearer figures if the Army decides that it wants more Stryker DVHs later on. Obviously, they’re hoping to find out that this saves money, by using a lot of the old parts. Once they’ve had a chance to try and make this process more efficient, then cost it, they’ll be in position to present a case. US Army.

FY 2012

M1126 DVHs, Afghanistan
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March 4/12: Plans. The US Army clarifies its plans for the Stryker DVH: 760 total, to be delivered by the end of 2012, equipping 2 Brigade Combat Teams. When queried, however, Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry said that:

“…the Army has a current procurement target of 742 Double-V Hull (DVH) Stryker vehicles… which will be completed by December 2012. Procurement of 158 NBCRVs which are on contract in FY12 & FY13, will complete the current planned Stryker vehicle purchase. Once the Army decides on the appropriate future force structure, fleet mix and overall number of combat vehicles, the quantity of DVH Strykers and variants of Strykers will be finalized.”

With respect to performance in-theater, Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, says there have been about 40 land mine incidents for the DVH. In 38 of those incidents, all soldiers walked away with just minor injuries. In his words: “That vehicle has performed beyond our expectations.”

Jan 18/12: Industrial. GDLS’ newly-acquired Force Protection manufacturing facility in Ladson, SC, will be doing work on another v-hulled vehicle. About $10 million in new work is moving there, to install additional combat-related communication and protection equipment on 292 Stryker DVH (Double-V Hull) 8×8 wheeled APCs, which are getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.

The new work begins in March 2012, and will occupy about 45 jobs until about February 2013. Force Protection.

Jan 17/12: DOT&E Report. The US Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation issues his FY 2011 Annual Report, which includes the Stryker DVH program. The program get good reviews, based on tests. The modified Strykers retained the same basic mobility, proved their performance against land mines, and actually had better reliability than their flat-hulled counterparts. They were rated both operationally effective for performance, and operationally suitable for reliability.

Quibbles were minor, involving data collection for the M1126 ICVV’s operational assessment, and problems with the Stryker DVH driver’s compartment being too small for larger Soldiers. The Army is planning a driver’s compartment redesign, and will continue to test the other 7 DVH variants through Q3 2012. In the nearer term, February 2012 is expected to see the end of Styker ICVV-Scout operational testing, and M1129 Mortar Carrier Vehicle DVH developmental and operational testing, at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Oct 25/11: +177. General Dynamics Land Systems announces a $367 million order for another 177 Stryker double-V hull (DVH) wheeled APCs, raising the US Army’s buy to 2 full Stryker DVH Brigade Combat Teams. Work on Stryker DVH vehicles is performed in Anniston, AL and Lima, OH, as well as the main production facility in London, ON, Canada (W56HZV-07-D-M112, #0266, Mod.1).

The firm says that over 320 double-V-hulled Stryker vehicles have been produced so far, under a contract awarded in July 2010 for 450 double-V-hull vehicles. Deliveries will be complete by July 2013. DID checked with GDLS, and confirmed that this order brings the total number of ordered Stryker DVH vehicles to 742.

Oct 5/11: +115. General Dynamics Land Systems announces a $243 million contract to produce and deliver another 115 Stryker DVHs. General Dynamics will also provide production sustainment support and obsolescence management services. Work will be performed in Anniston, AL, London, ON, Canada, and Lima, OH. Deliveries will be complete by September 2012 (W56HZV-07-D-M112, #0266).

The firm says that about 300 double-V-hulled Strykers have been delivered so far, under a contract awarded in July 2010, with initial deliveries rolling out in May 2011. This order begins to go beyond the program’s original goal of 450. GDLS.

FY 2011

M1126, Mosul – no DVH
(click to view full)

June 1/11: A $40 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification “for Stryker double-V hull development and delivery of prototype vehicles.”

Work will be performed in Sterling Heights, MI, and London, Ontario, Canada, with an estimated completion date of July 30/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

May 20/11: Deployment. Stars & Stripes relays the US Army’s statement re: Afghan deployments of the Stryker DVH, and also details combat statistics and criticisms related to the Stryker’s deployments in Afghanistan.

May 9/11: Deployment. US Army:

“In the coming weeks, Soldiers in Afghanistan will begin to see 150 new Strykers with a double-V hull, or DVH… The Stryker DVH, with enhanced armor, wider tires and blast-attenuating seats, went from conception to production in less than one year… “The rapid turnaround of the DVH is responsiveness at its best,” Col. Robert Schumitz, Stryker Brigade Combat Team Project Management Office, project manager, said… Engineers at General Dynamics Land Systems conceived of the double-V-hull design and tested it at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif… There are 140 Stryker DVH’s already in the Army supply chain, and plans are to field a total of 450 vehicles.”

April 12/11: +404. A pair of contracts worth $49.5 million revise earlier orders for 404 vehicles. The wording is confusing, but GDLS clarifies that: “The dod announcements are not new vehicles or contracts” – designating them as limit increases to existing contracts.

A $37.2 million firm-fixed-price contract revises the not-to-exceed amount and obligated amount for Double-V hull production cut-in to 178 Stryker vehicles. Work will be performed at London, Ontario, Canada, and Anniston, AL, with an estimated completion date of Feb 29/12. One bid was solicited and one received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

A $12.3 million firm-fixed-price contract revises the not-to-exceed amount and obligated amount for Double-V hull production cut-in to 226 Stryker vehicles. Work will be performed at London, Ontario, Canada, and Anniston, AL, with an estimated completion date of Feb 29/12. One bid was solicited and one received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

March 3/11: +15. GM GDLS Defense Group, LLC in Sterling Heights, MI receives an $18.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract that will “provide for support for 19 Stryker flat-bottom vehicles and 15 Stryker double-V hull vehicles.” Work will be performed in Sterling Heights, MI, with an estimated completion date of Feb 29/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

Dec 3/10: Support. A $91.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee/firm-fixed-price contract, for service to support performance specification changes to the Stryker vehicle. These changes will design and buy “necessary components to support the Stryker mine protection kit” for vehicles in the Afghan theater.

Work will be performed in Sterling Heights, MI (5%), and London, Canada (95%), with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/10. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

Oct 27/10: +46. A $8.3 million firm-fixed-price contract cuts the modified double-v hull design into another 46 Stryker vehicles on the production line. Note that cut-in contracts pay for making the changes and for the new materials, not for the entire Stryker.

Work will be performed in London, Canada (50%), and Anniston, AL (50%), with an estimated completion date of Feb 29/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112, #0256). This order brings the total to the program’s goal of 450 vehicles.

Oct 13/10: +45. A $9.5 million firm-fixed-price contract to cut the modified double-V hull design into the production of another 45 Stryker vehicles. Work is to be performed in London, Ontario, Canada (50%), and Anniston, AL (50%), with an estimated completion date of February 2012. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

FY 2010

M1129 MC – no DVH
(click to view full)

Aug 10/10: Renovations may be more difficult than they first appear. A $20 million firm-fixed-price contract adds the modified hull design (double-V hull), into an additional 78 new-build vehicles, raising the total to 359. It also revises the obligated amount for the previous 281 vehicles (vid. July 9/10). Work is to be performed in London, Ontario, Canada (50%), and Anniston, AL (50%), with an estimated completion date of Feb 22/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112). See also GD release.

Aug 6/10: A $9.8 million firm-fixed-price contract revises the obligated amount for the production cut-in of the revised Stryker performance and hull design into 281 new-build vehicles (vid. July 9/10). Work is to be performed in Sterling Heights, MI (30%), and London, Canada (70%), with an estimated completion date of Feb 16/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

July 9/10: A $30.1 million firm-fixed-price contract directs production cut-in of the revised Stryker performance specifications, which incorporates a modified double-V hull design, into 281 vehicles. The new vehicles will be sent to Afghanistan. Work will be performed in London, Canada (70%), and Sterling Heights, MI (30%). Deliveries will begin in January 2011 to allow vehicles to be available for use by the Stryker brigade that will rotate into Afghanistan in 2011, and will be completed by February 2012. (W56HZV-07-D-M112). See also GDLS release.

June 1/10: The GM GDLS Defense Group, LLC in Sterling Heights, MI recently received a $29.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract buys 14 Stryker Double-V Hull prototype vehicles for government ballistic, performance/durability, and logistics testing and demonstration.

Work is to be performed in Sterling Heights, MI (41%); and London, ON, Canada (59%), with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/11. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by TACOM, CCTA-AI in Warren, MI (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

April 9/10: A $58.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for a modified hull design for the US Army’s Stryker vehicles to improve performance and survivability in Afghanistan. Work is to be performed in Sterling Heights, MI (41%), and London, Ontario, Canada (59%), with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/11 (W56HZV-07-D-M112).

March 11/2010: During US Senate testimony in early 2010, Gen. George Casey said that the US Army was planning to modify the Stryker vehicle with a double V-shaped hull designed to deflect land mine blasts from below.

The Stryker M1135 NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) reconnaissance and M1128 MGS assault gun variants would reportedly not be modified under the current plan. That could create field issues, since the M1128 is meant to act as firepower support in Stryker brigades.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Japan’s Next F-X Fighters: F-35 Wins Round 1

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 00:16
(click to view full)

In December 2011, Japan picked Lockheed Martin’s new F-35A stealth fighter as its next fighter aircraft, to replace its aging F-4 “Kai” Phantom fleet. The F-35 was actually their 2nd choice.

Back in February 2006, Inside The Air Force (ITAF) reported that momentum was building within the USAF to sell the ultra-advanced F-22A Raptor abroad to trusted US allies, as a way of increasing numbers and production. Japan clearly wanted them, and the Raptor was a topic of diplomatic discussions in several venues, including a 2007 summit meeting. In the end, however, US politics denied export permission for downgraded export variants of the F-22, and its production line was terminated. That left Japan looking at other foreign “F-X” fighter options in the short term, while they considered a domestic stealth fighter design as their long-term project.

In the ensuing F-X competition, the F-35 Lightning II beat BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as an upgraded F/A-18E Super Hornet from Boeing. Now Lockheed Martin has to deliver, and so will its Japanese partners. Will the F-35A’s price and program delays create problems in Japan? This article looks at the JASDF’s current force, its future options, and ongoing F-X developments.

The JASDF: Structure & Choices F-4EJ “Kai(zen)”
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The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) currently has 3 fighter jet models in its fleet: F-15J/F-15DJ Eagles, its F-4EJ “Kai” and RF-4EJ reconnaissance Phantom IIs, and the Mitsubishi F-2 – a larger, longer-range variant on the F-16C. The Mitsubishi F-1 entered service in 1978 and is still listed on the JASDF web site, but it has now been replaced by F-2s [1]. Now, 42 F-35As will begin to replace the 80-plane F-4 fleet, but that won’t be the end for Japan.

The JASDF introduced the F-4EJ in 1973. It currently serves mostly in anti-shipping and other “permitted” strike roles, though it can also be used for air defense and policing. The RF-4EJ reconnaissance version will be replaced by F-15Js with special pods, and Japan has indicated that they will begin retiring the rest of the F-4 fleet early in the 2010s.

Japan has top-tier manufacturing experience, but they also had a qualitative and quantitative problem. Japanese firms have already produced F-15Js under license, and designed and produced the Mitsubishi F-2 in conjunction with Lockheed Martin. The F-2 is larger than an F-16 and has more range, but its performance doesn’t compare to an F-15, and it costs nearly as much. The F-2s won’t be built in expected numbers, which means they cannot replace the F-4EJs and RF-4EJs.

J-20 Prototype
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The Japanese had important choices to make, and the 2010 tsunami sharpened that urgency by destroying 18 of Japan’s F-2 fighters. Then China pushed things to the next level, unveiling its J-20 twin-engine stealth fighter prototype.

The Phase 1 plan was for Japan to choose a future F-X fighter by the end of 2011, buy about 50, and begin receiving them in 2016. Meanwhile, Japanese industry is trying to figure out how to keep itself busy now that license production of F-15 components and F-2s is ending. The Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies’ proposal involves producing F-X fighters and their F-XX follow-on buy until 2028, and having some of those 100-120 planes replace existing F-15Js as well. That would be followed by a Japanese fighter design, to begin development by 2017 based in part on lessons learned from their ongoing ATD-X stealth technology demonstrator. Japan hopes to fly ATD-X in 2014-2016, and the SJAC’s idea was that its successor could enter production around 2028, as the foreign-designed F-X fighter line closed down.

When choosing their initial F-X buy, the Japanese had several options.

The Winner: F-35 Lightning II F-35A test flight
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If stealth is desired, Lockheed Martin’s plane is considered a “second best” option to the F-22. While other contenders have sharply reduced their radar signature when compared to planes like the F-16, the F-35 is significantly ahead because it’s designed for stealth from the outset, including internal weapon bays. As China moved to introduce its own J-20 stealth fighter, that criterion seemed to eclipse all others in Japan’s thinking. “Joint Strike Fighters” also offer exceptional performance in the reconnaissance role, while its set partnership model smooths technology transfer issues. That transferred technology is very important to the Japanese, who are quietly working on stealth fighter concepts of their own. Finally, the F-35 will be widely used, offering commonality with key allies and ensuring a steady stream of upgrades without requiring steady Japanese investment.

On the negative side, the F-35’s single-engine design would be a concern during maritime combat air patrols, as it increases the odds of having an engine issue cause the complete loss of the fighter. Beyond that, the F-35’s industrial structure is largely set, its development delays could make on-time deliveries a problem, any early deliveries will cost well over $100 million per plane, and its declared status as a strike fighter clashes somewhat with Japan’s avowedly defensive posture.

Rising tensions in the area led Japan to conclude that it needed good ground-attack capabilities as an explicit requirement, and based on their mathematical analysis of submitted information, Japan concluded that the F-35A was more capable all around than other fighters with proven records. The choice was announced in December 2011, and agreement to buy up to 42 fighters was signed in June 2012.

Media reports aren’t completely precise, but they seem to suggest that Japanese F-35As could eventually fly with up to 40% Japanese manufactured content. Reports and documents indicate that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be involved in work on aircraft bodies, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. on mission-related avionics, and IHI Corp. on engines.

DDH-181 Hyuga & USN’s
LHD-2, post-tsunami
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The F-35B’s STOVL (Short Take Off, Vertical Landing) capabilities might make it an especially valuable future option, as a defensive aircraft that could operate from dispersed land locations, rather than bases that are easily targeted by enemy missiles.

It has a shorter range than other variants, but Japan is also fielding 18DDH Hyuga Class helicopter carriers for roles like disaster response, and will soon field larger 22DDH Izumo Class ships. They’re called “helicopter destroyers,” because Japan is currently prohibited from operating aircraft carriers, but it should be noted that other countries are planning to operate F-35Bs from comparably-sized ships. This very fact may inhibit Japan from ordering the F-35B, despite its potential usefulness as a land-based fighter.

Japan had other options, too. They included:

Boeing: The Traditional Supplier F-15Js
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Boeing and its predecessor firm McDonnell Douglas supplies the JASDF’s F-4s and F-15s. Their next-generation choices included:

Upgraded F-15s Japan could have chosen to go ahead and buy “kaizen” F-15Js at a comparable cost, possibly with the AESA APG-63v3 radar being fielded by Singapore. Additional capability boosts would come from attached pods like ReeceLight or SHARP for reconnaissance, or combination recon/targeting pods like LITENING or Lockheed’s Sniper ATP.

The concern in Japan is that this option could leave them without an air-to-air advantage against current PLAAF SU-30MKK aircraft, let alone potential future upgrades like the SU-35, or China’s J-20.

Boeing’s new F-15SE “Silent Eagle” appeared to be aimed directly at these concerns. It adds a number of important advances that will help it hold its own with currently-fielded fighters, and is optimized for the kinds of long-range, over-water combat patrols the JASDF requires. In full-stealth mode, its strike capability is sufficiently secondary that it need not raise alarm bells, but it’s still present.

While a combined F-15 Kai/ F-15SE buy appeared to be the easiest move, things did not work out that way. Boeing did not submit the F-15SE, and F-15 upgrades will have to be a separate, future issue for Japan. Instead, it submitted…

Super Hornet Int’l
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F/A-18Ei Super Hornet. The base for Boeing’s submission was the AN/APG-79 AESA radar equipped Block II model, and the F/A-18F model has already been sold to Australia. The “Super Hornet International Roadmap” is on the drawing board, adding improved radar signature, the ability to carry weapons in low-RCS underwing pods, better defensive systems, an advanced wide screen cockpit display, and more fuel capacity without increasing drag.

The other Super Hornet option for Japan would be even more exotic. Some of Australia’s Super Hornets are being fitted to receive electronic warfare equipment, which would allow conversion to EA-18G signals intercept and jamming fighters. That’s a unique capability, but Japan’s avowedly defensive posture makes it much less useful to them than it is to other countries.

Even with the EA-18G option, the Super Hornet was an odd bid choice. Beyond the electronic attack role, it’s less capable than the most current F-15 models, such as Singapore’s F-15SGs. Its main benefits relative to the F-35 and European options involved a low price in the $60 million range, the potential for significant license-production in Japan, and future commonality with Japan’s main defense partner, the US Navy.

Buy European Eurofighter: Rising sun?
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The Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale were seen as possibilities, and coupling them with the MBDA Meteor long-range air-air missile might have been very attractive, given Japan’s needs. Price is likely to be close to the F-35, and similar to the option of buying more F-15s.

Dassault Aviation declined to participate with its Rafale, and Saab’s single-engine JAS-39 Gripen NG wasn’t a contender, but Eurofighter campaigned hard. Their plane is a very capable twin-engine air superiority aircraft. Tranche 1 versions have very limited ground-attack capabilities that would satisfy “defensive-only” criteria, while the latest “Tranche 3” offers a good set of multi-role capabilities. The plane’s carriage of the long-range Meteor missile, and integrated IRST system that can find even stealth aircraft by their heat signatures, offer another pair of advantages over American contenders.

The Super Hornet raised questions of comparative capability relative to China’s new fighters, while industrial and technology sharing remain issues for the F-35, so the Eurofighter had a chance. Their platform did well, but Japan rated theoretical capability very highly, and their desk-bound mathematical analysis hurt Eurofighter. The Typhoon was seen as the most fuel-efficient plane, and its bid had the best industrial benefits for Japan. On the other hand, EADS and BAE had trouble meeting Japan’s purchase cost targets while giving Japanese firms all of that work, and picking it would have meant deviating from Japan’s strongly American industrial links and equipment infrastructure. That’s no small move, in a society that sets such store by deep industrial relationships.

What They Really Wanted: F-22s No climbing Mt. Fuji
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F-22J-EX. The F-22 was at the top of Japan’s wish list, due to its unmatched aerial performance, high level of stealth, and twin-engine design. In February 2006, a Lockheed Martin official confirmed that a proposal to sell Japan F-22s in some form of downgraded “international variant” was working its way through the Air Force with the support of the Japanese government. At the time, it was “at the three- or four-star level” and among civilian decision-makers. The request was pursued at the highest levels of government, but the USA killed the fighter by refusing to export it.

Japan’s combination of long sea zones and growing rivalry with China make a long-range, twin-engine, supercruising andunprecedented stealthy interceptor with reconnaissance capabilities a natural choice. Leveraging existing Japanese partnerships with Lockheed and Boeing made it nearly irresistible. With it, Japan would have had unquestioned air superiority over its territory for the foreseeable future.

There were clear American advantages to a sale. The USAF originally intended to buy 700-800 F-22 fighters, but that was cut to 442, then 381, and finally to just over 180. That left USAF planners concerned, even as foreign projects like Russia & India’s PAK-FA/SU-50, and China’s J-20, prepared to challenge US air superiority. If upgrades and proliferation led to confirmed fighter overmatch against US aircraft within the next decade, an active F-22 production line would have had considerable strategic and financial value.

On the negative side, the F-22’s extensive capabilities made many in the USA very nervous risking security breaches of its electronic architecture, stealth aspects, or next-generation data links. Licensed Japanese production, a standard requirement for other Japanese fighter deals, would be unlikely – or extremely limited if allowed. The aircraft’s $137-160 million base flyaway cost also gives pause, since a Japanese buy would require significant and expensive changes to the plane’s electronics. Some estimates placed the cost of an F-22J at around $250 million per plane.

Japan never had a chance to find out, as political moves within the USA blocked all F-22 Raptor exports. The USA was left to support its shrunken fleet all by itself, which includes financing a very expensive set of electronics upgrades over the next several years.

Japan’s F-X: Contracts and Key Events 2015

NG completes center fuselage Getting ready…
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October 6/15: Northrop Grumman has completed the center fuselage for the Japanese Self Defense Forces’ first Joint Strike Fighter, forming the skeleton for the country’s first F-35A. The company manufactured the fuselage in California before shipping it to Japan for Final Check Out and Assembly. In total Japan has ordered 42 F-35As, with an initial order for six aircraft this year coming with a price tag of $827.4 million. The country selected the F-35 in December 2011, beating the Eurofighter Typhoon and an upgraded Super Hornet bid.

2013 – 2014

Expected costs keep rising; FACO agreement; MHI’s industrial deal goes sideways.

Aug 19/14: FY15. Japan’s Ministry of Defense intends to order 6 F-35As in FY 2015, and they’re asking for a YEN 124.9 billion ($1.21 billion) budget to do it.

Other major priority items include 3 long-range surveillance UAVs (YEN 54 billion) and new AEW planes (E-2D or E-737, YEN 58.8 billion). Sources: Reuters, “Japan looking to buy more stealth fighters in 2015: Nikkei”.

Aug 4/14: Industrial. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) was supposed to begin supplying F-35 rear fuselage sections for Japan and for other F-35 partners, but the government says that they’ll only subsidize Japanese production. Japan has already given MHI the YEN 63.9 billion yen ($623 million), as MHI is responsible for Japan’s Final Assembly and Check Out line (q.v. June 21/13), but the firm is worried that their lack of experience in competitive global aerospace markets will cause them to lose money on parts supplied for export. MHI wants another YEN 10 billion ($97.4 million) in subsidies, the government says “no,” and the parties remain deadlocked.

BAE was supposed to begin receiving MHI parts by 2015, but that isn’t going to happen. Japan’s F-35 deal may need to be amended, though one of Reuters’ unnamed sources say that “…if BAE can wait something could be worked out.” Meanwhile, IHI Corp. is building engine parts for Japanese F-35s and with Mitsubishi Electric Corp. is supplying electric components. Sources: Asahi Shimbun, “Mitsubishi Heavy Won’t Supply Parts for F-35 Fighter Project” | Reuters, “Mitsubishi Heavy’s F-35 Deal with BAE Caught In Japan Funding Spat – Sources.”

July 17/14: Weapons. In the wake of recent changes that allow Japan to export some defense items to certain customers, and engage in multinational collaborations with allied countries, Japan is becoming involved with MBDA’s Meteor long-range air-to-air missile:

“Separately, the government also gave a green light to Japan’s joint research with Britain using Japanese seeker technology. It’s a simulation-based project linked to a Meteor missile development among European countries. Defense Ministry official Toru Hotchi said Japanese officials are hoping the research can lead to a technology that can be used for F-35 stealth fighter jets that Japan plans to purchase for its Air Self-Defense Forces.”

Meteor is about to enter service on the JAS-39C/D Gripen, with Eurofighter and Rafale qualification to follow by 2018. MBDA has previously stated that they plan to field a variant for internal carriage in the F-35, and have taken some design-related steps, but there’s no definite program or timeframe yet. Could interest be picking up? Sources: DID, “Meteor Missile Will Make Changes to Accommodate F-35” | (USA) ABC, “Japan Approves Joint Missile Study, Export to US” | NY Times 2014-04, “Japan Ends Decades-Long Ban on Export of Weapons”.

Feb 4/14: Bottakuri. Costs continue to rise for Japan, and F-35Js could end up costing YEN 300 billion each. Meanwhile, Japan’s new 5-year Mid-Term Defense Plan will buy just 28 F-35s by 2018, of a 42 plane order that would see 38 assembled in Japan under a final assembly and checkout deal. At that rate, they won’t make the target of completed deployment by 2021 without a high 2019 order surge. Meanwhile, prices have already climbed from the original YEN 9.6 – 9.9 billion agreement to YEN 14.95 billion each for 2 jets in FY 2013, and YEN 15.4 billion each for 4 more in FY 2014.

“Added to this are plant and tooling up costs of [YEN] 83 billion for 2013 and [YEN] 42.4 billion for 2014 as Japanese companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric and IHI establish assembly and production lines…. Sources here have privately begun to refer to the F-35 deal as a “bottakuri bar,” referring to establishments that lure customers… and force them to pay exorbitant bills through a range of excess charges for items not mentioned explicitly on the menu….. locally produced versions of US kit generally cost double their US prices…. Kiyotani said the F-35’s costs could climb to more than [YEN] 300 billion a fighter.”

Abe’s decision to print money at astronomical rates (q.v. Aug 22/13) is going to worsen this problem by dropping the exchange rate. The Yen has lost 28% of its value vs. the US dollar since June 29/12. Defense analyst Shinichi Kiyotani is quoted as saying that lack of specifics in Japan’s 10-year plan reflects uncertainty over the country’s ability to afford the F-35, and its 200 F-15Js and 90 or so F-2s will eventually need replacement. What to do? Sources: Defense News, “Future of F-35 Unclear as Costs Mount in Japan”.

Aug 22/13: Local non-discount. The Asahi Shimbun reports that Japan’s F-35As will be noticeably more expensive than their American counterparts, due to the cost of incorporating Japanese-made parts. They’re correct in general, but their figure is misleading.

The US government has reportedly authorized 24 engine and radar components to be produced in Japan, accounting for about 10% of the plane’s value, and that number is expected to grow with additional approvals. Overall, IHI Corp. will manufacture 17 engine fan and turbine parts, while Mitsubishi Electric Corp. will produce 7 radar system components that include signal receivers. Parts for the rear fuselage, wings, and undercarriage will come from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and other Japanese contractors. That will help Japan gain important experience for its own stealth fighters, and build on the composites manufacturing expertise gained in its F-16-derived F-2 program. The government has reportedly budgeted YEN 83 billion (about $844.1 million) in FY 2013 for F-35 related industrial infrastructure, including new facilities at an MHI factory in Aichi Prefecture.

The problem is that Japanese firms will be manufacturing only for JASDF F-35s, sharply raising per-part costs. The 2 aircraft ordered in 2013 will be the first with Japanese parts, and are now budgeted at YEN 15 billion (see also Sept 6/12, now about $153.5 million) each. Japanese sources cite it as a jump from YEN 10.2 billion (+47%), but sources when the contract was signed cited YEN 9.6 billion. Which makes the new figure seem like an even bigger jump of 56.3%. The real jump? Just 27%. On June 29/12, the equivalent dollar value for YEN 9.6 billion was $120.9 million per plane. A jump to $153.5 million is only 27% in real terms.

Abe may be more hawkish than his predecessor, but running the money printing presses full-bore will make it much more expensive for him to execute on those promises. Sources: Asahi Shimbun, “Japan-made parts to push up price of F-35 fighter jets for ASDF” | New Pacific Institute, “Japanese Companies to Manufacture 10 percent of each of Japan’s F-35As”.

Aug 13/13: 22DDH & F-35. A New Pacific Institute blog post looks at the new 22DDH/ Izumo Class “helicopter destroyer,” and its suitability for F-35s. The author doesn’t believe the ship is very suitable, as it would require expensive modifications that include a new landing surface, much greater munitions storage, greater aircraft fuel capacity, and possibly even new aircraft elevators. A ski jump isn’t 100% necessary, but would be important for good performance. Even after all of those expensive modifications, F-35 carrying and servicing capacity would be very limited, and the pilots would need expensive naval aviation training. It might be a good “lily pad” to extend air defense range in the southern sectors if Japan ever buys (very expensive) F-35Bs, but that’s about it.

Bottom line? The ship’s design makes it better suited to the helicopter and disaster operations it’s publicly touted for, and those needs alone are likely to keep the ship busy. NPI, “Does the Izumo Represent Japan Crossing the “Offensive” Rubicon?”

June 21/13: Industrial. Lockheed Martin has signed an agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to begin work on a final assembly and check out (FACO) plant. Per Japan’s weapon export restrictions, it would only be used for Japanese orders, and Japan’s agreement will see the first 4 F-35As produced entirely at Lockheed Martin in the USA. Sources: Defense News, “Lockheed, Mitsubishi Sign F-35 FACO Deal”.


March 25/13: Long-lead. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $40.2 million fixed-price-incentive (firm-target), contract to provide long lead-time parts, materials and components required for the delivery of 4 Japanese F-35As, as part of Low Rate Initial Production Lot 8. See also June 29/12 entry.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. All funds are committed immediately, and this contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, who is acting as Japan’s agent through the FMS process (N00019-13-C-0014).

Feb 15/13: Industrial. Jane’s reports that Mitsubishi Electric Corporation is no longer banned from bidding on Japanese military contracts, now that they’ve finished paying the National Treasury back for previous overcharges in defense and space contracts. The ban could have affected MEC’s planned involvement in providing avionics and other products to Japan’s F-35A fighter program.


F-35A DSCA request and contract; How the F-35A won; The future of stealth debated. White Paper
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Nov 9/12: Industrial. Japan may begin receiving F-35As by 2016, but local industrial participation faces a number of barriers, due to Japan’s 1967 arms export guidelines. Media reports say that current plans to allow participation in the multinational project, under amended arms export guidelines, wouldn’t lead to deliveries of Japanese F-35A avionics, or of exportable parts for the main wings and tails, before FY 2017.

Media reports are vague, but seem to indicate that Japanese F-35As might eventually reach 40% domestically manufactured content. Japan Today | Yomiuri Shinbun.

Sept 6/12: Bottakuri. More cost hikes for Japan, as defense officials Defense Ministry officials cite “lower production efficiency” as the reason its next 2 F-35As will be YEN 15.4 billion (about $195 million) per plane and initial spares. The initial budget was YEN 13.775 billion per plane for the first 4, which works out to an 11.8% increase.

The ministry is trying to find the full YEN 30.8 billion for the FY 2013 budget request, in order to cover the 2 fighters in it. The Japan Times.

July 2012: Why the F-35 won. The Japanese Ministry of Defense releases its “Defense of Japan 2012” White Paper. Among other things, it explains exactly why the F-35 won. All 3 contenders fulfilled all mandatory requirements, but the F-35 was rated as the overall winner based on the 2nd stage evaluation of capability, industrial participation, cost, and support. It’s difficult to tell whether the F-35A’s subsequent cost jumps would have changed this evaluation, if they had been admitted at the time. Based on what the government says it knew…

The F-35A was deemed to have the highest capability. This may seem odd for a plane with no exercise experiences or operational history, but the rating was done as a mathematical analysis, not a flyoff. Within the inputs that Japan received and believed, the F-35A scored highest overall, with a good balance of high scores across air interdiction, weapons and targeting, electronic warfare capability, and stealth target detection capability.

Eurofighter won the industrial participation segment with the highest level of domestic participation, but had a harder time keeping its local manufacturing proposals within Japan’s prescribed cost bracket. The clear inference is that Japanese Eurofighters would have cost more than other customers have paid.

The F/A-18E+ Super Hornet International was best for purchase cost, while the Eurofighter Typhoon had the lowest expected fuel expenses. The F-35A eked out a “Gilligan win” here by placing 2nd in both sub-categories, and by avoiding the need for “renovation expenses.” Japanese KC-767s don’t mount pod and drogue refueling systems, which is what the Eurofighter and Super Hornet require. The Lightning II uses the same dorsal aerial refueling system as existing JASDF fighters, which avoids the need for KC-767 or C-130H refits.

In terms of support and maintenance costs, the F-35A was given the highest score, due to its in-depth, fleet-wide ALIS maintenance and diagnostic system. Having said that, all 3 contenders proposed performance-based logistics (PBL) based on delivered availability, so all 3 scored the same.

June 29/12: Buy 4, for more. Officials from Japan’s defense ministry say that they have agreed to terms for their first 4 F-35As, despite a 9.1% price increase. The price hike was caused by American cuts, which have shifted 179 aircraft out of the order book over the next 5 years. The planes will reportedly cost 9.6 billion yen (about $120 million) each over the entire buy, up from the original plan of $110 million. American officials said they could not offer the Japanese a lower price than other partnership nations. That makes the Japanese contract a good bellwether for the real base cost of an F-35A in the near future.

Fortunately for the Japanese, the overall contract remained at the expected YEN 60 billion (about $752.4 million). The cost of the 2 simulators and other equipment dropped to YEN 19.1 billion ($240.83 million) from the expected YEN 20.5 billion. Defense News | Fort Worth Star Telegram | Reuters.

42 F-35As

May 1/12: F-35A DSCA request. May 1/12: The US DSCA formally announces Japan’s official request for an initial set of 4 Lockheed Martin F-35As, with an option to buy another 38 and bring the deal to 42 aircraft. “The Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-4 aircraft will be decommissioned as F-35’s [sic] are added to the inventory.”

The aircraft would come with Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engines, and Japan would also want up to 5 spare engines. Other components of the deal would include Electronic Warfare Systems, Reprogramming Center support to keep those EW systems current, additional software development and integration, a fight trainer system for the F-35, other forms for personnel training & equipment, transport to Japan, ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System) maintenance support systems, US government & contractor support that includes ALGS (Autonomic Logistics Global Support); and initial spare parts, technical data, tools & test equipment.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require multiple trips to Japan involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, programs management, and training over a period of 15 years to conduct Contractor Engineering Technical Services (CETS) and ALGS for after-aircraft delivery.

The estimated cost is $10 billion, which works out to $238.1 million per plane. Until a set of contracts are signed, it’s hard to split that accurately between purchase and support costs, and long support deals can add a lot to costs. Japan is also interested in considerably more local assembly than most of F-35 buyers, which is likely to add a number of unique costs of its own. Even so, the announcement has a ripple effect in Canada, where its huge cost per fighter draws a new round of questions about the plane. US DSCA [PDF] | Canada’s Postmedia.

F-35 request

April 2/12: Stealth’s future? A Japan Today article goes straight to the main military point at stake: the future effectiveness of stealth technologies:

“As more nations develop stealth fighters, then the use of radar as the main target acquisition device will be taken over by infrared, wake tracking, electro-optics, and radio/electronic chatter detection – thereby side-stepping radar stealth features – in short order.”

It’s a bit more complex than that, especially given the fact that stealth tends to be optimized for certain frequencies, so radars will still play a role. Still, the falling cost of high-bandwidth networking, and the need for a counter to stealth technologies, does suggest a range of countermeasures over the coming decades.

Feb 22/12: Negotiations. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura conveys Japan’s determination to stick to agreed prices and supply schedules for Japan’s F-35s, after Japan’s Sankei newspaper cites unidentified US government officials as saying that Japan had threatened to cancel its orders if prices climbed.

“When we were selecting the fighter, we asked those making the proposals to strictly observe their proposed prices and supply schedules. Japan has conveyed this to the US from time to time…”

The question is whether this matters. Once a contract is signed, backing out becomes so difficult that for practical purposes, it’s impossible unless the price increases are wildly egregious. The time to back out is before any contract is signed. After that, the contract’s own structure and penalties must serve as a government’s insurance. Reuters UK.


F-35A chosen as F-X; F-35 technical issues; China unveils J-20 stealth fighter prototype. F-35A: Winner.
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Dec 20/11: Winner! Japan’s Ministry of Defense announces that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II has won the F-X competitive bid process for 42 planes. The initial contract will be for 4 F-35A jets in Japan Fiscal Year 2012, which begins April 1/12. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2016. Japan’s Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa reportedly said at a news conference that:

“…of the four parameters [performance, cost, industrial, and support], the most important was performance. When we think about our national security needs for our future fighters, we have to consider various security environments, and the movements and changes by various countries. In view of this we need to have a fighter that is capable of responding to these changing needs.”

The reported budget for Japan’s initial 4 planes is YEN 55.1 billion (about $706 million, or $176.5 million per plane and initial spares). Overall, the cost is expected to be YEN 9.9 billion (about $127 million) per plane, with spares. On the industrial side, a final assembly and checkout facility is expected in Japan, as well as work on components. Reports and documents indicate that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be involved in work on aircraft bodies, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. on mission-related avionics, and IHI Corp. on engines.

As F-4 replacements, the F-35As will have an air defense role, but Japan does have a large cadre of dedicated F-15Js to perform that mission. Note that there’s still an F-XX program in the future, aimed at replacing Japan’s F-15Js. Numbers as high as 100+ planes have been floated, but that will depend on both economic straits, and local geopolitical threats. Japan Ministry of Defense [ in Japanese] | Lockheed Martin | Pentagon | AFA Magazine | BBC | Bloomberg | The Diplomat: interview, and Flashpoints blog | Defense News | Gannett’s Navy Times | Reuters | UK’s Telegraph | Wahington Post | Yahoo!

F-35A wins

Dec 13/11: F-35 problems. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and POGO obtain an internal Pentagon “Quick Look Review” dated Nov. 29, which says the F-35 is headed for serious technical troubles. The overlap between testing and production has been a sore point for the US GAO in particular, as significant changes due to failures revealed in testing will require expensive retrofits of produced fighters, along with the extra costs of changing future production. Even as operational aircraft were being bought, from June 2010 – November 2011 there were 725 change requests for the fighter, of which 577 are still not yet available to implement.

Major issues issues raised included unexpectedly severe shaking (“buffet”) during high-speed maneuvers, problems with the helmet system’s night vision display, and frequent failures of an important electrical component that can knock out power and affect both oxygen and cockpit pressurization. The team also expressed concern at the slow progress in developing and testing the plane’s combat roles, including “certain classified issues” that especially affect air defense performance. Star-Telegram |, incl. full Quick Look Review | Australia’s Herald Sun | The Hill.

Nov 4/11: Super Hornet International. Boeing continues to discuss Super Hornet International designs. Not much has changed beyond earlier releases that noted improved F414 EPE engines, a large touch-screen panel, warning systems with 360 degree spherical coverage, and conformal fuel tanks to extend range. They do mention that the dorsal conformal fuel tanks will have a similar center of gravity to the aircraft, and that up to 3 weapon pods would be able to carry 4 x AMRAAM/ 2 x 500 pound/ 1 x 2,000 pound bomb each, while keeping the plane’s radar signature low. That’s in line with earlier reports, which touted 2 x AMRAAMs and 2 x 500 pound JDAMs per pod, but the 2,000 pound JDAM is new. So, too, is confirmation that the new design would have additional radar shaping to lower its cross section further.

With the Super Hornet out of contention in India, Japan appears to be the main target, though the Super Hornet is also being marketed to Brazil, Greece, Denmark, Kuwait, and Qatar, among others. Aviation Week.

Sept 26/11: F-X RFP submission deadline. Boeing confirms that it’s offering the F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet, which has also been exported to Australia. Boeing also makes the stealth-enhanced F-15SE design, but appears to have decided not to offer it.

Eurofighter GmbH submits the Eurofighter Typhoon, with BAE acting in a lead role. While the submission is described as “cost effective,” the firm is not explicit regarding the status of the submitted aircraft: new, or used.

Lockheed Martin is expected to submit the F-35A, but has made no announcement. Boeing | Eurofighter.

Mitsubishi F-2s
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April 13/11: RFP. Japan issues the Request for Proposal for its F-X fighter competition. Source.


March 2/11: Eurofighter. During high level visits, British officials continue to press the case for the Eurofighter as Japan’s future F-X fighter, over offerings from Boeing (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or F-15SE Silent Eagle) or Lockheed Martin (F-35A/B/C). One interesting wrinkle is that reconnaissance capabilities could become an important requirement, a move that would give the F-35 family an edge. BAE et. al. are fighting an uphill fight, but they’re not alone: in January 2011, the European Business Council in Japan launched a defense and security committee to promote defense-related business cooperation. Asahi Shimbun | Japan Times | L.A. Times.

Jan 18/11: China’s J-20. The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s unveiling of its J-20 stealth fighter has creates ripples in the region:

“Tom Burbage, general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin Corp., said Beijing’s progress in developing the J-20 has created a “stronger sense of urgency” throughout the Asian-Pacific region about air-force modernization. He said Japan, South Korea and Singapore are now engaged in bilateral discussions with U.S. government officials over the F-35… Mr. Burbage said the U.S. government has asked Lockheed to provide preliminary information on how it could build the Joint Strike Fighter with Japanese industrial input, building either major subcomponents or completing final assembly in Japan… on aircraft for its own military inventory.”

2008 – 2009

Efforts to buy the F-22 fail, Japan looks at other options. F/A-18F over CV-63
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Nov 23/09: F-35. In the wake of a FY 2010 American defense budget that ended F-22 production, while maintaining the ban on exporting the aircraft, Japan has been forced to look at other options. Kyodo news agency reports that Japan is considering buying 40 F-35s, and that the Japanese defense ministry is seeking fiscal allocation in the 2011 budget. According to media reports, the plane beat the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, F-15 Eagle variants, and EADS’ Eurofighter. The acquisition plan is likely to be incorporated in new defense policy guidelines and a medium-term defense plan to be adopted in December 2010.

The F-35s are estimated to cost YEN 9 billion (about $104 million) each; that’s a rather low figure, when compared to actual expenditures by the USA and Australia. If the reports are true, the critical question would become: what model of F-35? The F-35C’s longer range might suit Japan very well, while the F-35B’s ability to make use of highways and helicopter carriers would add a very interesting wrinkle indeed. Japan Today | Agence France Presse | domain-b | Times of India.

Oct 4-7/09: F-35. The Japan Times reports, and Jane’s confirms, that Japan is negotiating a requested payment of about YEN 1 billion (around $11 million), in order to receive “sensitive” information about the F-35’s capabilities. Japan wanted the F-22, and is reportedly still considering it; the government is also reportedly looking at the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s stealth-enhanced F-15SE, and its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Japan Times adds that:

“It is rare for a country to be charged such a large sum for information on potential imports of defense equipment. The U.S. also told Japan that Washington will not provide information on the F-35’s radar-evading capabilities until Tokyo makes a decision to purchase it, the sources said.”

One wonders about the wisdom of that sales approach, if true.

July 31/09: F-22. The US House passes “H.R. 3326: Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010” by a 400-30 vote. The final version strips out F-22 funding. As House members prepare for negotiations with the Senate on a single, final bill to send to the President, the amendment vote, and subsequent passage of HR 3326, effectively marks the end of the F-22 program. F-22 production will continue through remaining funded orders, and cease in 2011.

Both the House and Senate versions of the 2010 defense authorization bill require a report to study the potential for F-22A exports. The House version listed only Japan, while the Senate bill did not restrict the countries involved. Development work would be required before production, however, which creates real problems. While it’s theoretically possible to bridge that time gap by resurrecting the American program in future defense bills, the aircraft’s supply chain will stop producing certain parts, and begin losing the people associated with them, long before the final delivery in 2011. That makes a production line restart in 2013 or beyond a very difficult and expensive proposition for potential export customers like Japan. See also: Aero News.

F-22 program ended

June 5/09: F-22. Reuters reports that US Senate Appropriations Committee chair Senator Daniel Inouye [D-HI], has sent sent letters on the F-22 issue to Japanese ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, and to American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Inouye reportedly supports repeal of the 1998 “Obey Amendment” that bans F-22 exports, and the USAF is also said to have decided to support exports to select countries. Reuters adds that there is even growing Congressional support to repeal the Obey Amendment in the face of North Korea’s stepped-up belligerence, and the prospect of significant job losses if F-22 production is closed per Gates’ FY 2010 budget. The exact quote from one of their sources is “…decent support, but it’s not a slam-dunk.”

The senator confirmed sending the letter, but would not discuss its contents. Reuters claims that the letter conveyed some conclusions from a recent USAF study, which placed the estimated cost of developing an F-22 Export version at about $250 million per plane, assuming a production run of 40-60 planes. The USAF study also reportedly assumed that production of an F-22EX would begin in 4-5 years, with delivery beginning in 7-9 years following a re-start of the F-22 production line.

That price tag is about $80-100 million above the cost of a more-capable F-22A. It factors in average costs per plane for production line restart, and for substituting and integrating replacements for components that the USA still does not wish to export. The final cost per plane could certainly end up being higher, if the development and integration program runs over budget. It could also be lower, but only if the substitution program meets projections and one of 2 things happens: (1) The production line is not shut down, due to Congressional appropriations over the next 3 years; and/or (2) More F-22EXs are bought to spread out the F-22EX program’s development and restart costs, via additional Japanese buys or by adding other countries as F-22EX customers.

May 19/09: F-22. A Japan Times article looks at the barriers to F-22 fielding on the Japanese side of the equation, and concludes:

“In sum, Japan’s acquisition of the F-22 would involve significantly increasing defense spending, rethinking the domestic production of weapons platforms and implementing a more robust legal and enforcement framework to protect classified information. Under current circumstances, these developments are not in the cards.”

Given that some of the F-22’s material/manufacturing methods are considered to be among its more sensitive technologies, domestic manufacturing in Japan is unlikely to be an option at all.

April 6/09: F-22. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces his recommendation to terminate F-22 orders at the end of FY 2009, leaving the USA with a fleet of 187 aircraft.

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

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

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

That partner could also be Israel, which has now expressed interest in the F-15SE, and also made its own requests for F-22s.

Dec 28/08: F-22. Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper reports that the country is likely to drop its attempts to buy F-22s, amid signs that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s new administration may halt production of the aircraft.

Congress has yet to weigh in, however, and a consensus for continued production could easily change the odds for exports as well. Defense News report.

Oct 10/08: Eurofighter. Flight International’s “Eurofighter gets serious about Japan’s F-X contest” discusses political developments:

“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that the Typhoon did not have a chance due to the close US-Japan ties. I am no longer sure of that,” says a Tokyo-based industry source close to the Japanese defence ministry. “Washington’s continued refusal to release information on the [Lockheed Martin] F-22 has strained bilateral defence ties, and Japanese politicians and bureaucrats are eyeing the Typhoon as a viable alternative to the other American fighters that are on offer.”

Flight International’s sources indicate that Japan will make one more push in 2009, after the American elections. If that fails, it is likely to abandon efforts to secure the F-22, and move to buy other options.

July 16/08: Eurofighter. BAE executives interviewed at Farnborough discuss the Eurofighter’s opportunities with Japan if the USA refuses to sell that country F-22EX fighters. BAE says that is willing to share more of its technology with Japanese companies, establishing Japan as a so-called home market where it manufactures and sells products. Current BAE home markets include the U.K., the USA, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Saudi Arabia.

The executive also mentions that BAE is looking hard at India and South Korea for future growth, adding that Defense spending in Korea will be greater than in the U.K. within 5 years. Bloomberg News.

2006 – 2007

Japan pushes for F-22, but is undermined by pro-China interests; USAF F-22As deploy to Kadena, Japan. F-22: Off to Kadena…
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Nov 15/07: F-22. The Lexington Institute’s quick brief “Asian Security: Japan Needs Better Tools To Do Its Part” weighs in, in favor of Japan’s case:

“The F-22 is the Air Force’s new top-of-the-line fighter, far superior to any other fighter in the world in its agility, survivability and versatility. It’s so capable that policymakers aren’t inclined to export it, even to trusted allies like Japan. But does that really make sense if Raptor is the plane best suited to protecting the Japanese home islands against cruise-missile attack or preempting a ballistic-missile launch by North Korea? It sounds like Washington is saying it wants Japan to play a bigger role in regional security, but with inferior weapons — or that the Japanese will have to depend forever on America to do the really tough missions… if we really want the Japanese to be partners in regional security, we should be willing to trust them with other top systems too — especially since they’re the one ally we have that isn’t inclined to export weapons.”

July 24/07: F-22. Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said he has recommended that the F-22 Raptor not be sold to Japan. His comments came during a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and concern a new U.S. “capabilities assessment group” of Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Office of the Secretary of Defense and industry officials who are reviewing Japan’s fighter requirement. Defense News.

June 28/07: CRS on F-22. The US Congressional Research Service issues its report re: selling F-22EX aircraft to Japan (last revised: July 2/07). The report itself is completely non-committal, as it sketches out the options. While the USAF and defense industry are solidly behind the idea as a way to keep the F-22 production line alive, there is some opposition in Congress. Key paragraph:

“The executive branch proposes and Congress reviews arms sales on a case-by-case basis. The sale of F-22s to Japan raises both broad questions about the security environment in East Asia and questions that are specific to domestic interests. Factors that argue for a transfer include potential benefits to U.S. industry, contribution to the defense of allied countries, and promoting U.S. interoperability with those countries. Factors that argue against a particular arms transfer include the likelihood of technology proliferation and the potential for undermining regional stability.”

Increased Chinese capabilities and the need for a longer-range, twin-engine jet with the ability to take on modern SU-30 family jets is mentioned in the report body, but the military capability drivers are sidestepped and this is not highlighted as a key issue in favor. Japan’s policy of domestic production and license-building is mentioned in the document as a potential stumbling block, but it, too, is absent from the summary paragraph. CRS reports also tend not to present counter-arguments or responses to objections/contentions, as an attempt to remain “above” political debate. That tendency is also present here, and weakens the report as an analytical document. In a particularly interesting side note, however, the CRS report adds:

“A final industrial base issue pertains to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Although originally intended to be complementary aircraft, F-22 and JSF capabilities, development, and production have converged. Implicitly if not explicitly, these aircraft are competing for scarce procurement funds. Extension of F-22 production would likely bring these aircraft into even sharper competition.”

May 23/07: Given the Raptor’s top secret status, American trust in the purchasing country’s security levels and intentions is a significant part of any export decision. Israel’s past defense cooperation with China, for instance, which included sales like “Harpy” anti-radar drones without timely US notification, has created serious issues. It led to temporary suspension from Israel’s observer status in the F-35 program, and is also widely seen as a serious impediment to its current request for an export version of the F-22.

International espionage is a constant of international relations, and victimization is assessed differently; but sufficiently serious leaks can also have repercussions if they indicate a systemic problem, or happen at a high enough level.

Details are sparse, so it’s difficult to assess the true importance of recent developments in Japan. Reuters reports that classified data on the USA’s AEGIS naval radar/combat system, SM-3 missiles, and Link 16 tactical data net had been “leaked” in Japan. Local media said authorities believe that computer disks containing the classified data were illegally copied and circulated among dozens of students and instructors at a naval college in western Japan. The reports follow a police raid on Saturday of a naval college in western Japan over a “leak of data” in March 2007 when police found one of the disks at the home of a Japanese naval officer in Kanagawa during a separate investigation of his Chinese wife over her immigration status. AEGIS, SM-3 missiles, and Link 16 are all key nodes in Japan’s outer layer of its initial ABM defense system. Link from Taiwan’s China Post | Associated Press.

May 18/07: F-22. Bill Gertz, Washington Times: “Pro-China officials in the White House and Pentagon are quietly undermining Japan’s request to buy 50 advanced F-22 jet fighter-bombers, to avoid upsetting Beijing’s government, according to U.S. officials familiar with the dispute… Both the Air Force and the F-22 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., favor building an export version… The F-22 export is a major test of U.S. support for Japan and is being watched closely by Japanese government officials who are worried Washington will not back Tokyo and instead kow-tow to Beijing on the sale.”

April 30/07: F-22. Japan applies to buy fighter Australia rejects. The USA’s stated willingness to consider Japan’s F-22EX request re-ignites controversy in Australia, in the wake of the Australian government’s attempt to defuse the issue by maintaining that the USA will not sell the F-22 abroad.

April 27/07: F-22. Japan has yet to receive clearance for F-22EX fighters, but discussions are progressing. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency: “Seoul eyes advanced jets beyond F-15K” contends that the issue of F-22 exports to Japan will be under discussion during the imminent summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The decision will be watched closely by South Korea, which also wants 5th generation fighter jets for its 3rd phase F-X purchase. An excerpt:

“China is modernizing its air force at a rapid pace,” said Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian Affairs at the White House National Security Council. “And so we are very positively disposed to talking to the Japanese about future-generation fighter aircraft.”

Japan has worked to improve its diplomatic and military relations with the USA, stressing its reliability as an ally and collaborating on sensitive technologies like missile defense. Hence the current situation, in which exports of the F-22 can be discussed with some odds of success. South Korea, which has made a very different set of choices, is unlikely to be received as positively.

April 20/07: F-22. Flight International reports that Israel has approached the USA about acquiring Lockheed Martin F-22s, as concern mounts about new threats to the IAF’s regional air superiority from proposed sales of advanced US weapons to the Gulf states, and Israeli assessments of a growing threat from Iran. Sources say that the issue was raised during a recent one-day trip by US defense secretary Robert Gates to Israel.

While unrelated to the Japanese request, and very uncertain for reasons of its own, the Israeli request raises both the pressure to create an F-22EX version, and the perceived market & benefits from doing so.

Feb 17-18/07: F-22. Kadena Air Force Base (AFB), Japan received 10 F-22A Raptors in the aircraft’s first overseas deployment. The F-22As are assigned to the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, VA, and are under the command of Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver. The aircraft started their deployment with a stop at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, but a software issue affecting the aircraft’s navigation system was discovered on February 11th, causing the aircraft to return to Hickam. The issue was corrected and the aircraft continued on to Kadena.

The 27th FS deployed more than 250 Airmen to Kadena for the 90-120 day deployment, which is part of a regularly-scheduled U.S. Pacific Command rotational assignment of aircraft to the Pacific. See USAF release.

Feb 11/07: F-22. The F-22A’s first foreign deployment, to Kadena Air Force Base (AFB) in Japan, runs into a serious problem. The aircraft started their deployment with a stop at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, but a software issue affecting the aircraft’s navigation system was discovered on February 11th, forcing the aircraft to return to Hickam without navigation or communications.

October 2006: wide spectrum of opinion in Australia (including the opposition Labor Party) is also pushing for an F-22EX request, based on arguments and strategic needs that are very similar to Japan’s. At the moment, however, the current Liberal Party government remains absolutely committed to the F-35A as its only future fighter force option.

September 2006: DID’s “Japan Looking to Expand Missile Defense & Military Spending” report looks at Japan’s current security situation, and political-economic shifts that may be very consequential for its defense market.

Feb 18/06: F-22. Inside Defense’s Air Force Plans to Sell F-22As to Allies offers a fuller discussion and analysis of Japan’s F-22 bid.


fn1. Reader Keith Jacobs informs DID that despite the JASDF listing of 7 F-1s in service, “The JASDF marked retirement of the F.1 with a six-aircraft flypast at Tsuiki Air Base (Kyushu) in 2006 (forgot actual date – but Feb or March if I remember correctly. They were aircraft of the 6th Hiko-tai (the final squadron unit). 6th Hiko-tai has now transitioned to F-2A and has its full complement of aircraft of the new fighter. JASDF also retired the last Fuji T-1B, assigned to the 5th Technical Training School and dispersed them to museums (as they did the T.3) from Komaki Air Base. “ The date of that retirement at Tsuiki was March 6/06.

Additional Readings Background: Japan’s Plans

Background: Fighters

News & Views

  • New Pacific Institute, Japan Security Watch (Aug 13/13) – Does the Izumo Represent Japan Crossing the “Offensive” Rubicon? Conclusion: no.

  • Aviation Week (Oct 22/12) – Japan Aims To Launch F-3 Development In 2016-17 [dead link]. See also News of Japan abridged version. Now known as “F-3” instead of “i3”, this would be a Japanese-designed stealth fighter as a follow-on to the F-35. Hence the importance of industrial offsets. If F-3 progresses slowly, opportunities open up for more F-35s.

  • Bloomberg (Sept 2/11) – Lockheed Stealth Jet May Win Japan Deal. Speculative analysis. Suggests that stealth is a very important criterion for the Japanese.

  • Aviation Week (June 11/09) – Boeing Studies Stealth Eagle Options [link now broken]. Interesting point made re: retrofits and stealth sales: “It’s not how low can you go, it’s how low are you allowed to go, and the U.S. government controls that,” says Brad Jones, Boeing program manager for F-15 future fighters. “We can get to different levels depending on the country.”

  • Japan Times (May 16/09) – Hurdles to a Japanese F-22

  • USA Today (July 12/07) – Japan may hold key to F-22’s future, thousands of jobs

  • US Air Force Association Magazine (June 2006) – “Air Force Alliance” for the US and Japan. There have been major changes in the alliance over the last few years, as the level of cooperation between the 2 countries has grown by leaps and bounds.

Categories: News

The UK’s Watchkeeper ISTAR UAV

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 00:29
Watchkeeper 450
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Britain’s Watchkeeper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program aims to give the Royal Artillery an advanced mid-range UAV for surveillance – and possibly more. Watchkeeper will be an important system, working within a complementary suite of manned (vid. ASTOR Sentinel R1) and unmanned (Buster, Desert Hawk, MQ-9 Reaper) aerial Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) systems. This will make it a core element of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Network-Enabled Capability strategy.

The initial August 2005 contract award to Thales UK’s joint venture was worth around GBP 700 million, but that has risen, and the program expected to create or sustain up to 2,100 high-quality manufacturing jobs in the UK. The Watchkeeper platform is based on Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 UAV platform, which is serving as a contractor-operated interim solution on the front lines of battle.

Watchkeeper: Rationale & Concept

Watchkeeper is a mid-tier ISTAR program. After its Phoenix UAV fleet was deemed unfit for purpose, something had to be done to complement Britain’s man-portable Desert Hawk and Buster UAVs at the low end, and manned platforms like the ASTOR Sentinel R1 jets at the high end. Britain bought 10 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs as an interim ISTAR/Strike platform, but they won’t be the middle tier of its aerial ISTAR assets.

That role will fall instead to the Watchkeeper platform, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 UAV. Initial costs were pegged at GBP 800 million (about $1.6 billion in June 2007), but have since risen to GBP 1.08 billion (about $1.775 billion in February 2014).

The in service dates for Watchkeeper have moved back and forth, but the concept has not. Watchkeeper is designed to provide continuous 24/7 surveillance when needed, using unmanned air vehicles able to stay airborne for more than 16 hours each through night and poor weather.

Britain expects to continue improving the platform post-delivery, and the Royal Artillery hopes to arm the UAVs by 2020. A proliferation of small precision weapons like Thales’ LMM and MBDA’s Viper-E make that very thinkable. At this point, however, the Watchkeeper program has no specifics and no schedule for that sort of thing.

WK450: The Platform Watchkeeper: UAV Hermes 180
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When the UK MoD announced Thales UK’s team as preferred bidders in July 2004, Watchkeeper WK180 and WK450 were based on the Elbit Hermes 180 & 450 tactical UAVs as a high-low mix. While the Hermes 180 substantially outperforms the Phoenix, Thales decided to concentrate on offering only the larger WK450 platform as a single solution that could perform all required tasks, including sensing, communication relay, and other activities. From their release:

“Where needed, two unmanned air vehicles will operate in combination (for example to allow operations by one air vehicle at low levels below clouds while maintaining line of sight communications via a second UAV flying at higher levels (acting as a communications relay). These air vehicles will now be of the same type (WK450) providing increased functionality and capability growth.”

WK450 concept –
note dual sensors
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The Hermes 450 UAV is 6.1 m long, with a 10.5 m wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 450 kg/ 990 pounds, making about twice the size of the Phoenix UAVs it will replace. Built using a composite structure for maximum strength and light weight, it was designed for tactical long endurance missions and has multiple-payload capability (150 kg, 300 L, 1.6 kVA). It is powered by a 52 hp rotary UEL engine that provides a maximum speed of 95 KTAS@SL, at an operating altitude up to 18,000 feet, with endurance over 20 hours – 2x the altitude, and 5x the endurance, of Phoenix. Fully redundant avionics, fully autonomous flight, and the option of control via either line-of-sight and/or satellite communication data links are included. Watchkeeper can be launched by catapult from a vehicle (truck or BvS10 Viking light tracked armor), or take off from a runway.

Watchkeeper: Sensors I-Master insides
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The complete UAV includes at least 2 main sensor package options – COMPASS and I-Master:

CoMPASS (Compact Multi-Purpose Advanced Stabilized System) is an optical surveillance and targeting turret that provides high quality day and night imagery in black & white or color; eyesafe laser range finding, target designation and marking; superior stabilization performance; highly accurate Line of Sight (LOS) positioning capability with enhanced automatic video tracker; precise LOS angular and range data; special scan patterns; and enhanced image processing. Also known as CoMPASS IV, it is optimized for smaller platforms like UAVs and features a full digital open architecture. It weighs 38 kg/ 85 pounds and includes a 3rd generation 320×256 fpa FLIR with microscan, and Picture in Picture functions.

I-Master is a lightweight high performance radar that combines a high-resolution, all-weather Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and a Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to detect both vehicle and infantry movements. Most high quality SAR/GMTI radars are too heavy and costly to be carried as a dual payload in tactical UAVs, but I-Master weighs just 30 kg/ 65 pounds.

At present, the UK MoD has not discussed arming Watchkeeper UAVs. Israel has reportedly armed its own Hermes 450s, so that door is presumably open if Britain changes their mind.

Watchkeeper: System Hermes GCS Console
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The complete Watchkeeper system consists of the WK450/ Hermes 450B unmanned air vehicle carrying day/night sensors and laser target designator, connected by a data link to a network of containerized Ground Control Stations where operators will control the entire mission and interface within a network enabled environment. The Watchkeeper’s Ground Control Station will be larger, as it has been containerized to fit a 20′ ISO shipping container format. The result is more straightforward transportability, more room inside (including room for an Image Analyst when needed), and the potential for growth in its electronics.

The GCS will be carried by standard Supacat DROPS trucks supplied as Government Furnished Equipment, and might also be towable using BvS10 vehicles equipped with devices like Amaze-N-Tow. The system is capable of rapid deployment and operations anywhere in the world.

Watchkeeper: Team and Program

Thales UK and its team were selected in July 2004 as preferred bidders for this final phase of the Watchkeeper program. As part of that effort, Thales has established a joint company called U-TacS in Leicester, England with Elbit Systems. The ownership split is 49% Thales/ 51% Elbit Systems, and Elbit is the firm’s largest subcontractor; they will execute approximately 1/3 of the UK contract’s value. Elbit notes, however, that the majority of U-TacS’ activity will be executed in the UK, with a significant amount of its work sub-contracted to small and medium sized enterprises across the country.

The total program currently involves 54 UAVs, and 15 ground stations.

UAV Tactical Systems Limited (U-TacS) manufactures sub-systems for Watchkeeper, and for the rapidly growing worldwide UAV market. Thales estimates that their production could be worth up to $3 billion over the next 10 years, or approximately double the size of the Watchkeeper program. Thales UK claims their consortium will create or sustain up to 2,100 high technology jobs throughout the UK supply chain, adding that “exports are expected to increase this total to 2500.” The industrial Watchkeeper team includes:

  • Thales UK in Crawley, Wells, Leicester, Glasgow, Bury St. Edmunds, St Asaph, Taunton, and Staines. Prime Contractor responsible for systems integration, engineering, and manufacturing.
  • Elbit Systems (UAV Engines Ltd) in Lichfield. UAV design, UAV engines.
  • Advanced Composites Group. Materials and epoxy.
  • Cubic Corporation in Greenford, UK. Datalinks, esp. for transferring time critical information from multiple UAVs operating in the same geographical area without mutual interference. Also their Multi-Service Target Control System Data Link Transceiver (MDLT), developed for command and control of multiple UAVs from a single ground station.
  • LogicaCMG in Leatherhead, UK. Digital battlespace integration.
  • Lola Composites Ltd. in Huntingdon, UK. Composite structure assembly.
  • Marshall SV in Cambridge, UK. Ground station shelters and support.
  • Praxis in Bath, UK. Program safety.
  • The UK’s QinetiQ defense research firm. Airworthiness consultancy and image data management.
  • Supacat in Honiton, UK. Wheeled ground vehicles – though BAE Hagglunds’ tracked BvS10 Vikings will also be used;
  • Vega in Welwyn Garden City, Bristol, Fareham. Training;
  • Boeing in London (joined March 8/04 to support future US/UK interoperability, partner in the scheduled technology and capability upgrades);
  • Cobham in Wimborne & Dorset. The existing supplier of UAVs and launchers for the British Army’s ill-fated Phoenix program, joined the team July 5/04.

Hermes 450
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According to the UK NAO’s 2004 Major Projects Report, Watchkeeper was due to enter service in November 2006; the 2004 Parliamentary Defence Committee reports gave a similar time frame. The August 2005 contract signing placed the initial in-service date at 2010 instead, but forces in the field needed them earlier.

To address this, a service was bought from U-TacS on a “capability service provision basis,” which is government-speak for “rented”. Thales retains ownership of the standard Hermes 450 drones, which are operated and maintained by applicable units like 32 Regiment Royal Artillery. Contractors are supplied by U-TacS (a joint Thales and Elbit company) for deployed operations, and provide support in theater. When Watchkeeper’s delivery date slipped by almost 2 years, those rent-a-drones ensured that a Plan B was in place.

This sort of thing has become commonplace. Countries renting UAVs for use on the front lines in Afghanistan include the USA (ScanEagle), Australia (ScanEagle, Heron-1), Canada (Heron-1), Germany (Heron-1), and the Netherlands (Aerostar), among others.

Pre-Watchkeeper U-TacS services began operations in Iraq in July 2007, and began operations in Afghanistan in September 2007. The service reached full operating capability in early 2008, and continues to this day. Those rentals will keep going for a while, as the UAVs have not been released to service. A January 2014 NAO report now places Watchkeeper initial release to service in mid-2014, and Full Operating Capability around September 2015.

Could Watchkeeper earn export orders?

Elbit Systems Hermes 450 is a popular base model. This UAV is currently in service or on order with Israel, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Colombia, Crotaia, Georgia, Mexico, Singapore, the UK (as Watchkeeper), and the USA (Department of Homeland Security Border Patrol, US military’s Joint UAV Joint Test and Evaluation platform), among other countries.

Watchkeeper would compete with the Hermes 450 for international orders, and there are no exports at this point. France is reportedly ordering a single trial system, which may lead to wider adoption in future. The most intriguing option may be Poland, whose government wanted by buy Hermes 450s from Elbit. Unfortunately, IAI’s counter-tactics created a diplomatic incident big enough for Israel to ban both competitors from exporting there. A purchase from Britain is one way to solve that problem.

Contracts & Key Events 2014-2015

Handover and beginning of training; NAO report; Commons Defence Committee report; Royal Artillery wants Watchkeepers armed; WK450 subject to US ITAR; Opportunity in Poland? WK450

October 5/15: The UK’s Watchkeeper UAV program has come under fire for cost overruns, with the majority of the 33 delivered Watchkeepers in storage despite a price tag of GBP1.2 billion ($2.4 billion). The program’s Initial Operating Capability timetable of 2017 is unlikely to be met, with only six British Army pilots trained to use the system. In total 54 Watchkeepers are due to enter service, with only three having seen very limited active service in Afghanistan. The news comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Sunday that he plans to double the UK’s fleet of UAVs.

Sept 29/14: After a long series of delays, the UK Ministry of Defence announces the 1st operational flights of Watchkeeper in Afghanistan. Sources: Thales, “Thales welcomes Watchkeeper operations for British Army in Afghanistan”.

July 29/14: The UK government responds to the Commons Defence committee’s RPAS report (q.v. March 11/14). There’s no decision yet re: Afghan deployment, but there are some lessons learned per the Committee’s request.

Software certification and electronic technical publications provided unpleasant surprises, project governance needed to change, and finding and training qualified personnel was an issue. The tone of the report, however, places a different risk in the pole position:

“An underestimation of the challenges of delivering sufficient quality evidence to underpin the Watchkeeper System Safety Case led to the delay to the achievement of the system Release to Service. This lesson has informed the Scavenger and Future Combat Air programmes where Airworthiness Certification has been highlighted as one of the key risks to success driving appropriate levels of contingency.”

Sources: UK House of Commons Select Committee on Defense, “Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use – Defence Committee: Government Response”.

March 11/14: Report. The UK House of Commons Defense Committee releases “Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use.” With respect to the 5-UAV, GBP 847 million Watchkeeper program, it’s now 3 years behind schedule due to flight certification and other issues, and the incorporation of an American de-icing system will subject it to US ITAR export control laws. That could be especially troublesome if future Watchkeepers are armed, the Royal Artillery “has aspirations” to arm them. At this point, however, the program has no specifics and no schedule for that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, the report describes Civil Aviation Authority limitations on training in Britain as “the greatest constraint upon the operation of military UAS within the UK”. The Committee doesn’t think Watchkeeper isn’t going to deploy to Afghanistan, so this is going to become a pressing issue once initial training is done at Boscombe Down. Fortunately, Watchkeeper partner Thales is also one of the leading industry players in the GBP 30 million ASTREA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) consortium, which is helping to develop a roadmap for use of UAS outside of military segregated airspace. The WK450 is being fitted with a system that will make it compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, but a full solution is still a few years away.

Across the Channel, France is conducting an Operational Assessment per the 2012 summit terms, with help from the UK under a Memorandum of Understanding that provides access to Boscombe Down and the loan of British equipment to enable live flying in France. A procurement decision is expected by the end of 2014. Sources: See “Additional Readings” section for links.

March 5/14: Handover. The UK MoD announces that Watchkeeper has been cleared to begin military flight training with the Royal Artillery from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. The 600+ flight-hours to date have involved UTacS personnel at the controls, so this is effectively the beginning of release to service. They’re rather late, as initial plans would have reached this stage before the end of 2011.

The Army’s flights will take place in restricted airspace over the Salisbury Plain Training Area, at an altitude of 8,000 – 16,000 feet, and will be overseen by military air traffic controllers. Sources: UK MoD, “Army cleared to fly next-generation eye-in-the-sky” | Flight Global, “British Army to start Watchkeeper flights in April” | The Telegraph, “Watchkeeper: the army’s latest ‘spy in the sky'”.

Initial Release to Service

Feb 10/14: Poland. IAI went too far in disputing Poland’s preference for its Israeli rival Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 UAV. How far? So far that the resulting controversies forced Poland’s Deputy Minister of Defence to resign, and damaged diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland. Israel’s Ministry of Defense was very unamused, and reacted by barring both firms from exporting UAVs to Poland. Israel’s Aeronautics DS, which has already exported Orbiter mini-UAV systems to Poland, should be thrilled. Except that they had their own contract for Aerostar UAVs canceled in 2012 on performance grounds, with damages sought.

If Poland really wants the Hermes 450, they could probably circumvent Israel’s ban by ordering the derivative Watchkeeper MK450 system from Thales in Britain. Sources: Globes, “Defense Ministry nixes UAV sale to Poland” | Ha’aretz, “Polish official accused of illicitly favoring Israel-made drones” [July 2013] | sUAS News, “Polish MoD Cancels Contract with Israeli UAV Supplier” [October 2012].

Feb 5/14: NAO Report. The UK NAO releases its Major Projects Authority Annual Report, which covers the entire British government. A report focused on the MoD will come later, but Watchkeeper has earned a place in this report as a red-tagged project, and has its costs and issues discussed. Why?

“The red rating reflects the delay in achieving Release to Service. The programme has been slowed by more stringent software certification requirements than anticipated, the rectification of a small number of safety ? critical deficiencies in the system’s technical publications, and errors in the training courseware….. In March 2013, the Authority raised serious concerns that the Release to Service date would not be met, but acknowledged that the target of reaching Full Operating Capability of Watchkeeper in September 2015 was more attainable. A Departmental review of the programme is under way [to re-evaluate timelines]…. Equipment deliveries remain on track and over 900 hours of flight trials have taken place, as of October 2013.”

Training on the new system began in January 2014, and Watchkeeper is scheduled for initial Release to Service in early 2014. Which would be a bit more than 3 yewars late. Sources: UK NAO, “Major Projects Authority Annual Report 2012?13 and government project assurance”.

2011 – 2013

UK delays and crashes a problem; France will evaluate Watchkeeper. WK450 flight trials
(click to view full)

September 2013: The UK’s Military Aviation Authority (MAA) provides a Statement of Type Design Assurance for Watchkeeper, confirming its airworthiness. Sources: UK NAO, “Major Projects Authority Annual Report 2012?13 and government project assurance”.

Feb 13/13: The Guardian reports the results of a freedom of Information request concerning British UAV crashes since 2007, which have cut the overall fleet in about half. Crashes include 1 of their 10 Reaper armed UAVs; 9 Hermes 450s (8 Afghanistan, 1 Iraq) over 75,000 flight hours; 412 Desert Hawk mini-UAVs over more than 30,000 missions; and 25 rotary wing RQ-16 Tarantula Hawk UAVs and Black Hornet mini-UAVs.

“Faced with a mounting bill for the crashes, and fewer UAVs to use, the MoD has admitted that it is trying “to increase airmanship standards in a number of areas” by updating training courses. But officials also insist the drones are being worked hard in difficult conditions, and breakdowns are to be expected…. Despite the high loss rate, the military believes the Desert Hawk still provides “indispensable and flexible” intelligence to UK ground forces – and value for money.”

That may be so, but these crash figures are going to make civil certification challenging.

Watchkeeper test
(click to view full)

Jan 7/13: Size & cost. In response to written questions from MPs Alison Seabeck [Lab – Plymouth Moor View], Under Secretary of State for Defence Philip Dunne [Cons – Ludlow] discusses the Watchkeeper program. He affirms that the program involves 54 UAVs and 15 ground stations, and admits that formal airworthiness certification is taking longer than expected. He implies that this thoroughness is necessary because the WK450 will be the “first large unmanned air system to fly in UK airspace,” without mentioning crash rates.

Program and support costs will be declining over the next 3 years, from GBP 73 million, to GBP 59 million, to GBP 28 million. With respect to costs in Afghanistan:

“The cost to the Government of supporting Hermes 450 in Afghanistan since September 2010 has been [GBP] 61.3 million. This has been funded from the net additional cost of Military Operations element of the Treasury Reserve, which would in any case have been drawn upon to support Watchkeeper had it deployed on time.”

Oct 24/12: Crashes. From Hansard. MP Angus Robertson [SNP – Moray] asks Minister of State for Defence Maj. Andrew Robathan (ret.) [Cons, South Leicestershire and former SAS] about Britain’s experience with the Hermes. The reply reveals a large number of crashes, and some concern about training and pilot quality or adaptation:

“Mr Robathan: The Hermes 450 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is not flown in the UK nor have there been any crashes in the UK. [DID: Watchkeeper prototypes are being excluded; they have flown in the UK]

Since 2007 there have been 11 Hermes 450 crashes in Afghanistan.

An end-to-end review for army unmanned aerial systems training has recently been conducted which reported at the end of September 2012. As a result, several changes have already been made to unmanned aerial systems training to increase airmanship standards in a number of areas, with further improvements to follow.”

Hermes’ high crash rate

July 25/12: Following a meeting in London, defense ministers from the UK and France confirm that France will buy 1 WK450B Watchkeeper system for operational assessments and trials in 2012 and 2013. Watchkeeper is currently late, with the gap being filled by leased Hermes 450 UAVs from Elbit. Thales states that Watchkeeper is currently undergoing field trials with the British Army, and has completed more than 400 test flights.

They also agreed on a joint EUR 13 million (about $15.7 million) UCAV research study by BAE (Taranis) and Dassault (nEUROn lead). A coming contract will link Rolls-Royce, whose Adour engine powers both Taranis and nEUROn, with France’s Safran in a joint study for future UCAV engine options.

What did not happen, is any kind of collaboration announcement on an Anglo-French medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV, like the Dassault/BAE Telemos. That’s the very category Watchkeeper could end up replacing, as a smaller but adequate solution. Defense News | Thales Group.

France in

Feb 17/12: France, too? Britain & France follow up on their Nov 2/10 cooperation statement, saying that as one of their joint UAV efforts, France will evaluate the Watchkeeper:

“France confirms its interest for the Watchkeeper system recognising the opportunities this would create for cooperation on technical, support, operational and development of doctrine and concepts. An evaluation of the system by France will begin in 2012, in the framework of its national procurement process, and conclude in 2013.”

The Elbit/Thales MK450B Watchkeeper is smaller and less capable than France’s Harfang Heron derivatives, and much smaller than France’s chosen Heron TP interim UAV or Telemos bi-national MALE project. Still, it is a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance class UAV. Depending on what France chooses to do, it could either complement the Harfang fleet after 2013, or become a Heron substitute. UK Prime Minister | Defense-Aerospace.

Nov 16/11: NAO. The British NAO releases its Major Projects Report 2011. This isn’t good:

“The most significant changes were a 12-month delay in the timetable for the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle project, which was largely due to the contractor’s failing to deliver against the agreed schedule…”

June 13/11: Under review. The UK Ministry of Defence’s Major Projects Review Board meets for the first time. Watchkeeper is 1 of 3 projects on its initial list for scrutiny, and its main contract value is listed at GBP 635 million.

The MBRP can take a page from the Australian playbook and designate “Projects of Concern.” This would be a blow to the program, but in the end, they decided not to do so for Watchkeeper. UK MoD.

Jan 17/11: IHS Jane’s reports that the 2011 spending and planning round (PR11) will feature a number of cuts, including a program to arm the Watchkeeper UAVs. Britain already fields the larger MQ-9 Reaper UAV, which can be heavily armed.

2009 – 2010

Interim Hermes 450 rentals extended; WK450 Testing. RAF Hermes 450
(click to view full)

Oct 24/10: Rental extension. UAS Tactical Systems Ltd. (U-TacS) in Leicester, UK receives a follow-on Urgent Operating Capability (UOR) contract worth approximately $70 million, to continue providing its rent-a-UAV service to the UK’s Armed Forces over the next 18 months.

As was the case with the previous U-TacS UOR contracts, awarded in 2007 and 2009, this contract also includes the provision and support of Hermes 450 UAS systems, training for UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) staff in the use and maintenance of the system, and the provision of contractor logistic support (CLS) and program management services. Elbit Systems.

More rentals

April 15/10: Support. UPI reports that UAS Tactical Systems Ltd. (UTacS) has received a $70 million contract from Thales UK, to provide logistics support services for the Watchkeeper program over the next 3 years.

April 14/10:

A bit later than expected, but the maiden UK flight of a production configuration Watchkeeper UAV happens in a 20-mnute flight from Parc Aberporth in West Wales. Thales UK. Thales UK.

1st production flight

April 12/10: Rentals. The stop-gap Hermes 450s operated by UTacS as contractor-leased UAV services have now flown more than 30,000 operational hours over more than 2,000 sorties. The release adds that the UAVs are providing most of the surveillance used by British forces in Afghanistan, and the October 2010 end of contract could be extended until April 2011. Thales UK | Defence Management | Shephard Group.

April 7/10: Sub-contractors. Advanced Composites Group announces that it has been qualified by Elbit Systems to supply materials for the construction of the Thales Watchkeeper 450 (WK450) Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV). The UAv is apparently constructed from ACG’s LTM 26EL prepregs and MTM 46 epoxy prepreg system, with the build carried out by Lola Composites Ltd. in Huntingdon, UK and integrated at UTacS in Leicester, UK. JEC Composites.

Aug 13/09: Testing. Thales UK announces that Watchkeeper successfully completed a key set of inaugural flights in June 2009, which will allow the system to progress to a series of ground system and flight trials at Parc Aberporth in West Wales in late 2009.

The test flights included all elements of the system and sub-system, including radar controlled Automatic Take-Off and Landing System (ATOLS), Autonomous Systems Flight Control, Ground Control Station, data links, video imagery downlink, Electro Optic / Infrared (EO/IR) and Synthetic Aperture Radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) payloads. Flight trials also took place from a semi-prepared landing strip with rough ground and obstacles, demonstrating an ability to operate from open fields with minimum preparation.

Work continues with the development of payloads, software, flight management and ground infrastructure systems.

April 14/09: Sub-contractors. Shepard Group reports that QinetiQ has delivered infrastructure to support the Watchkeeper’s unmanned air trials program at Parc Aberporth, Ceredigion, as part of a GBP 5 million contract. Thales is now clear to migrate the trials program to the UK by October 2009. Initial live flying elements of the operator training are expected to commence in March 2010, contributing to systems acceptance and deployment in October 2010.

2007 – 2008

Interim Hermes 450 rentals begin; Phoenix UAV ends; A Viking companion. In for a Landing
(click to view full)

Nov 24/08: Testing. Thales UK announces a successful 1st set of system flight trials at Elbit’s facilities in Israel. The UAV was controlled by the WATCHKEEPER Ground Control Station using software produced by Thales UK at its Crawley facility.

These trials of the UAV, which operates with dual payloads, will continue into 2009, and will validate the key mission system capability of the WATCHKEEPER system. Full WATCHKEEPER systems trials will begin in the UK in 2009. Remaining test program objectives include:

  • System command and control of UAV from WATCHKEEPER GCS
  • Initial assessment of system data link performance
  • Dual payload installation
  • Generation and exploitation of payload imagery (the ‘imagery chain’)
  • Avionics system trials (IFF and airborne radio assessment)
  • Further systems ATOLS assessment
  • Electrical power system performance with dual payloads installed

August 2008: Demonstration of the Watchkeeper UAV’s Automatic Take-Off and landing (ATOL) capability. Source.

April 16/08: Testing. The Hermes 450B Watchkeeper UAV makes its first flight from Elbit’s Megiddo airfield facility in northern Israel. Interesting scholarly side note: “Mount Megiddo” is “Har Megiddon” in Hebrew. Say that one slowly, and you’ll understand.

The rest of 2008 will see testing and integration of the automatic take-off and landing (ATOL) system, the I-Master radar and EO/IR/LTD payloads including the COMPASS EO/IR system and the I-Master radar. Thales release.

Watchkeeper flies

April 14/08: Flight International reports that the British Army’s Elbit Systems Hermes 450 deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq has reached a total of 7,000 flying hours. Lessons learned are being rolled into the Watchkeeper program.

March 31/08: Farewell, Phoenix. Phoenix UAVs officially go out of service, to be replaced by the WATCHKEEPER system in 2010. During the interim, the Lydian Hermes 450 System will be used and is currently operating in both Iraq and Afghanistan. UK MoD release.

Phoenix UAV retired

Watchkeeper display
(click to view full)

Sept 12/07: Jane’s International Defence Review reports that the British Army is set to increase the operational tempo of its Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Afghanistan and Iraq, after completing more than 1,000 flying hours since deployment in July 2007.

Sept 11/07: Rentals. U-TacS has obviously received clearance to discuss its Hermes 450 UAV’s work in theater and key milestone dates, via a press release. It states that:

“Within only two weeks of IOC [DID: July 5/07], due to the intensity of operations, the UAV systems have been called upon to provide consistent and reliable ISTAR coverage over extended periods with only a 90-minute turn-around time before returning to station: “a truly reliable and stunning performance for our UK troops,” according to a senior officer in theatre. “The H-450 ISTAR capability allows immediate and rapid reaction to a threat, with unmatched flexibility and minimum maintenance to support UK forces in adverse conditions. It’s made a considerable difference to our capability.”

July 5/07: Rentals. Initial Operational Capability declared for Britain’s Hermes 450 systems.

June 20/07: Rentals. First Hermes 450 UAV flight in theater.

June 14/07: First in-theater delivery of Watchkeeper systems to British forces in Iraq. That was quick. It’s likely that these are actually the standard Hermes 450 UAVs, bought through the rental agreement.

June 14/07: Final version? Thales unveils production WATCHKEEPER air vehicle design. “Thales UK has unveiled the final configuration of the WATCHKEEPER unmanned air vehicle (UAV) following a Critical Design Review by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).”

June 7/07: Rentals. Elbit Systems and Thales announce that U-TacS has received an urgent ISTAR(intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and reconnaissance) support contract from Britain’s armed forces, “to provide unmanned air vehicle (UAV) systems to support UK forces on current operations.” The $110 million contract covers a program that:

“…will commence immediately and will take place over the next few years. The contract includes Hermes(R) 450 UAV systems, as well as training of the UK MoD staff in use and maintenance of the system, and the provision of contractor logistic support (CLS) and program management services. This work will be managed from the U-TacS facility in Leicester, UK, which currently employs approximately 100 personnel.”

Thales UK CEO Alex Dorrian, CEO of Thales UK, confirms that this will result in fielded vehicles long before the formal 2010 in-service date:

“It is very important for industry to be able to react quickly in this way to provide support to emerging requirements. As an additional benefit the experience that UK forces will gain in operating this equipment will give an insight into the greater capability that WATCHKEEPER will offer when it comes into service at the end of the decade.”

See Elbit release [PDF] | Thales release.

Initial rent-a-UAV interim deal

May 10/07: Israeli civil certification Elbit’s Hermes 450 UAV Gets Civil Certification In Israel. This is a first step toward broader civil certification, which is a major UAV focus for the EU’s European Defence Agency. If that kind of civil certification is possible in Europe, it would open up a wide variety of domestic roles for UAVs like the Watchkeeper. In Israel’s case, of course, the line between civil and military airspace is much foggier, owing to the country’s small size and the widespread distribution of terror attacks against it.

Israeli civil cert

BvS10 during UK trials
(click to view full)

May 2/07: New role for the Viking. The UK Ministry of Defence has awarded BAE Systems Hagglunds a contract for another 21 BvS10 Viking armoured all-terrain vehicles. This order is in addition to an earlier batch of 108 that began delivery to the UK’s Royal Marine Commandos in July 2003.

The armored all-terrain vehicles will be used as an equipment transporter for the UK’s new Mk450 Watchkeeper UAV system. Prototype vehicles are scheduled for delivery at the end of 2007, with production deliveries to commence in the second half of 2008.

Viking tow

2004 – 2006

From preferred bidder to contract and 1st flight. ParcAberporth landing
(click to view full)

Dec 20/05: Sub-contractors. Thales UK announces that Watchkeeper sensor packages will include Elbit El-Op’s CoMPASS advanced electro-optical surveillance & targeting system, and a variant of the Thales UK I-Master radar system. Both systems are detailed above. Thales release | Elbit Systems release [PDF].

Oct 28/05: Sub-contractors. UAV Tactical Systems Limited (U-TacS) receives a GBP 317 million order (over $500 million), to be performed over an 8-year period.

This event also marks the formal announcement and naming of the U-TacS joint venture. Elbit Systems’ release [PDF format] notes that U-TacS’ financial statements will be consolidated within their financial reports.

Sept 7/05: The first flight of a large UAV in UK airspace takes place at the ParcAberporth Unmanned Systems event in Wales, using a Hermes 450 UAV. The Hermes 450 took off early in the day and maintained constant surveillance during the event. The UAV is able to remain airborne for over 16 hours. High-resolution imagery from the UAV’s optical and infra-red sensors was transmitted to the ground by a data link and displayed on large screens at the ParcAberporth event.

This is the first time a large UAV has been certified to fly in UK airspace; he Civil Air Traffic Movement Log recorded the UAV’s sortie through civil airspace and as with all flights it displayed the aircraft type, number of passengers and call sign. For the first time ever it showed “zero” people on board. The call sign was “UAV Silver 01”. Thales UK release.

1st UK UAV flight

August 4/05: The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Thales UK announce a contract worth GBP 700 million (about $1.24 billion at the time) for the full Development, Manufacture and Initial Support (DMIS) phases of the WATCHKEEPER program. “This programme will deliver equipment, training and facilities, with the capability coming into service from 2010.” Thales UK release.

Development contract

July 21/05: Thles UK announces that the Watchkeeper program’s initial phase has received “best practices” recognition from the UK National Audit Office (NAO). See full NAO case study here [PDF format].

Like its U.S. GAO counterpart, the NAO is responsible for scrutinizing public spending on behalf of Parliament, and the Major Projects Report monitors the performance of all major defense projects. Phase Three of the report, which details good practice and improvements, used Watchkeeper as a case study, highlighting its bid processes, program structure and adherence to supply chain relationship code of practice which seek “to promote better team working with the contractor.”

July 20/04: Preferred bidder. Thales UK’s consortium is the preferred bidder for the Watchkeeper ISTAR program. Thales UK release.

Appendix A: Phoenix’s Ashes No rebirth here:
the Phoenix UAV
(click to view full)

Watchkeepers will fill a role that had been occupied, but became vacant due to poor performance. Britain has operated Phoenix UAVs for several years, but the program had been something of an embarrassment and their limitations were well known. General Fulton testified to the UK’s Parliamentary Defense Committee in early 2004 that:

“In terms of effectiveness of UAVs, yes, the Americans made a lot of use of them. The Americans, as we know, have a much greater variety of them and they have developed them much further than we have, but nevertheless, there is a great deal of investment going in this country to improve or to increase the use that we make of them. As far as Phoenix is concerned, Phoenix has been a much maligned equipment in the past, but was identified by General Brims as one of his war winners and he certainly found it extremely useful, with all its known shortcomings. Yes, the attrition rate was high… In terms of causes of loss, technical reasons are believed to account for the majority of those that were lost… Phoenix is very much a last-generation air vehicle and a last-generation system… We are not going to go out and buy more Phoenix. Watchkeeper is due in service in 2005-06 and will provide a two-step change in our capability in the information-gathering capability that will be provided… We are very keen not to make changes to the Watchkeeper requirement, so that we do not keep chasing the latest requirement, and we do not fall into the same trap we fell into with Bowman [radios].”

Spyflight, not normally prone to histrionics, is less reticent about Phoenix:

“A total of 23 were lost in Gulf War II, between Mar-Apr 03, where it was nicknamed the ‘Bugger-Off’ by British troops because they generally never returned from a sortie – the residents of Basra are welcome to them.”

One can add another 12 Phoenix UAVs reportedly lost during NATO operations in Kosovo, including 2 lost to enemy fire.

Additional Readings and Sources Background: Watchkeeper Program

Background: Watchkeeper UAV & Ancillaries

Background: Related UAVs

  • DID – Size Matters: Elbit’s Hermes 900 MALE UAV. Larger, Predator-sized variant with more endurance and payload. U-TacS could be changed to offer it, if a customer wanted it.

  • Elbit Systems – Hermes 180. Smaller UAV, originally to have served as Watchkeeper’s low end. Dropped by Thales between their selection as preferred bidder and the contract signing, and no longer promoted by Elbit

  • DID – Britain’s RAF Buying up to 10 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. They bought all 10, which serve a tier above Watchkeeper as Britain’s high-end, armed UAVs.

  • Army Technology – Phoenix Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, United Kingdom

  • Spyflight UK – Phoenix UAV. Not complimentary.

  • Wikipedia – BAE Systems Phoenix.

  • Aeronautics.RU – The Rise and Fall of Phoenix [dead link]. First line: “It is not often that a piece of modern military equipment becomes a museum exhibit so soon after entering service…”

News & Views

Categories: News

AF C-130J Crashes Killing 11 | Watchkeeper Costs Under Fire | France Ups ’16 Defense Budget

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 00:20

  • An F-35 released a weapon from its external rack for the first time in late September, according to a Lockheed Martin press release Friday. A test aircraft released four 500lb GBU-12 JDAM bombs over the Atlantic Test Range, building on testing conducted by the Marines in June when GBU-12 and GBU-32 JDAMs were dropped, presumably from the Joint Strike Fighter’s internal weapons bay.

  • Meanwhile an F-35C landed aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on Friday as part of the second round of at-sea testing for the F-35C known as DT-II. Following the first round of tests in November – which included a catapult launch – this set of trials will also test the fighter’s fancy helmet, the Joint Precision Approach Landing System (JPALS) and operations with a full internal weapons bay. The tests are slated to last two weeks.

  • An Air Force C-130J transport aircraft came down in Jalalabad, Afghanistan early on Friday morning, killing the aircraft’s six crew members and five civilian contractors on board. The Taliban claim that they shot down the aircraft as it took off, with this assertion denied by the Air Force. The crash is the sixth loss of a C-130J to date and the second time the USAF has lost one of the aircraft; however this is the first time US service personnel have been killed in a C-130J crash.


  • The UK’s Watchkeeper UAV program has come under fire for cost overruns, with the majority of the 33 delivered Watchkeepers in storage despite a price tag of GBP1.2 billion ($2.4 billion). The program’s Initial Operating Capability timetable of 2017 is unlikely to be met, with only six British Army pilots trained to use the system. In total 54 Watchkeepers are due to enter service, with only three having seen very limited active service in Afghanistan. The news comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Sunday that he plans to double the UK’s fleet of UAVs.

  • Finland is planning to replace two aging mine-layers and four fast attack boats heading out of service in the mid-2020s. The project, known as Squadron 2020, will see four corvettes inducted into the Finnish Navy in the latter half of next decade, with the Finnish Defense Ministry aiming to have the vessels under construction by 2019. The country’s Defence Forces estimate that the project will require approximately EUR1.2 billion ($1.36 billion) to complete, with plans also outlining a significant portion of indigenous components aboard the new vessels.

  • France is increasing its defense budget next year by $671 million, with around half of this earmarked for new equipment, including orders for three A400M transporters, nine Rafale fighters and five Tiger attack helicopters, as well as a Barracuda submarine and a new frigate. The French government’s 2016 budget also allocated $4.2 billion for research & development, with the entire defense budget reaching $32 billion. The French budgetary increase comes as other European states have also announced defense budget increases in recent months.

Middle East North Africa

  • Canada’s secretive plan to sell Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia will move forward despite criticism of the Gulf state’s human rights record. The deal – estimated to value $11 billion – has not been officially acknowledged by the Saudi government, with the Harper government contractually-assuring the deal’s low profile.

Asia Pacific

  • The South Korean government has opened an investigation into a senior security official over his role in the decision to procure the F-35 in March 2014, with this finalized in September 2014. Kim Kwan-jin headed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) committee responsible for the selection of the Lockheed Martin jet, despite an earlier DAPA recommendation of the Boeing design on technology transfer grounds in September 2013. The failure to see four core technologies transferred to the country from the F-35 program, confirmed in September, has hit the country’s KF-X indigenous fighter competition hard, with it now thought that the transfer of these technologies was never likely. The probe is now assessing whether Kim lied about the contract’s terms in order to set Lockheed Martin up for the win.

  • Japan has stood-up a new defense procurement agency in an attempt to rationalize equipment acquisition for the Japan Self Defense Forces. The Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) will try to streamline acquisition, R&D and sustainment of JSDF equipment in the face of plateauing acquisition and research budgets. The agency is also an attempt by the MoD to invigorate international defense industry collaboration, particularly with the US. Growing Japan’s domestic defense industry is also a priority for the Japanese MoD, with the new organization pulling together components from the MoD to better manage equipment research, development and acquisition.

  • The Indian Air Force (IAF) has signed a $1.2 billion contract with domestic firm Bharat Electronics Ltd for radar integration services, following clearance of the project by the Cabinet Committee on Security last month. The work will mesh the country’s civilian and military radar systems, as well as establish new nodes in the country’s growing ground-based radar network.

Today’s Video

  • The F-35C aboard CVN-79 for the fighter’s second round of trials:

Categories: News

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

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 00:19
F-15K Poster: apropos?
(click to view full)

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

As the 3rd phase loomed, the question was whether it will be a variant of their existing fleet, or something new. While the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) dreamed of developing their own “5th generation” aircraft for Phase 3, reality eventually had its say. Now, foreign manufacturers are offering the ROKAF a number of off-the-shelf options. But throughout 2013 DAPA couldn’t seem to be able to reconcile the air force’s desire for advanced technology with its budget constraints. Boeing seemed on the edge of winning with its F15-SEs as the sole contender within budget, only to be rejected by the end of September 2013. This reopened the tender with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as the likely favorite, a choice which was confirmed as 2014 unfolded.

F-X to KF-X: The Best-Laid Plans… ROKAF F-4D Phantom II
(click to view full)

South Korea’s relationship with Boeing’s F-15 began in 2002, with a $3.6 billion contract to deliver 40 aircraft to the ROKAF, beginning in 2006 and ending in August 2008.

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

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

The ROKAF’s F-X-2 Strike Eagle
with SLAM-ERs
(click to view full)

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

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

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

F-X-3 and KF-X F-35A Lightning II
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The 5-year process of getting to a Phase 3 RFP has seen its share of twists and turns, along with some confusion in terminology.

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

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

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

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

Stealth, and the F-X-3 competitors J-20 Prototype
(click to view full)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eurofighter Typhoon
(click to view full)

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

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

Gripen: no bid.
(click to view full)

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

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

Contracts & Key Events 2014-2015

JSF Order confirmed. Landing the F-35A
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October 5/15: The South Korean government has opened an investigation into a senior security official over his role in the decision to procure the F-35 in March 2014, with this finalized in September 2014. Kim Kwan-jin headed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) committee responsible for the selection of the Lockheed Martin jet, despite an earlier DAPA recommendation of the Boeing design on technology transfer grounds in September 2013. The failure to see four core technologies transferred to the country from the F-35 program, confirmed in September, has hit the country’s KF-X indigenous fighter competition hard, with it now thought that the transfer of these technologies was never likely. The probe is now assessing whether Kim lied about the contract’s terms in order to set Lockheed Martin up for the win.

F-35 deal

Sept 24/14: F-35A. DAPA confirms the terms of its order for 40 F-35As, for a total of WON 7.3 trillion ($7.04 billion), about 120 billion won ($115 million) per fighter plus support, spares, and training costs. The actual Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) will be signed within days, under a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) process. Lockheed Martin agreed to transfer flight control and fire-extinguishing technologies. Deployment is planned between 2018 and 2021.

Subsequent reports indicate that Lockheed Martin has limited its proposed help with KF-X to just 300 man-years, rather than the 800 desired. In exchange, they offered a very unusual offset: they would buy a military communications satellite for South Korea, and launch it by 2017. Lockheed Martin isn’t saying anything, but Thales is favored as the source, as they provided the payload for South Korea’s Kopmsat-5 radar observation satellite, and have played a major role in KT Sat’s Koreasat commercial telecommunications satellites. Why wouldn’t Lockheed Martin, which makes these satellites itself, just built one? Because this way, it doesn’t have to deal with any American weapon export approval processes and restrictions, which would have delayed overall negotiations and might have endangered them. Source: Yonhap, “Seoul to buy 40 F-35A fighters from Lockheed Martin in 7.3 tln won deal” | Defense News, “F-16 Upgrade: Problems With S. Korea-BAE Deal Could Open Door to Lockheed” | Reuters, “Exclusive: Lockheed to buy European satellite for South Korea in F-35 deal”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-35A sole-source is official


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

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

KEPD-350 cruise missiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-X-III called off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-X-3 suspended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-15/KEPD 350 concept
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April 4/13: Cruise missiles. The ROKAF has taken about 5 years (q.v. May 18/11, April 25/08 entries), but they appear to have picked their long-range cruise missile: Taurus’ KEPD 350, with an expected order of 200 weapons. Negotiations are expected to begin quickly. A ROKAF officer is quoted as saying that they “urgently need more long-range air-to-surface missiles due to the mounting nuclear threat and the increasing possibility of provocations from North Korea.”

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

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

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

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

Cruise missile picked: Taurus’ KEPD 350

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-15SE & F-35A export requests

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

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

Multiyear F100 engine support


F-X-3 stealth criteria lowered, but other criteria adjusted to keep F-35A viable; F-X-3 bids make it F-15SE vs. F-35 vs. Eurofighter; Are JASSM missiles a problem for F-15K/SE? F-15K, Kunsan AB
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Nov 5/12: Cruise missiles. South Korea’s Yonhap News Service reports that a design inconsistency involving the F-15K Slam Eagle will make it impossible to load 2 JASSM medium-range stealthy cruise missiles on the aircraft, without modifying either the pylons or the plane’s upper wing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-X-3 RFP re-do

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

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

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

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

F-X-2 all delivered

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

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

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

F-15K support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

F-15K espionage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-4Ds retired


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

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

F-15K availability issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

All F-X planes delivered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-15K weapons request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2007 and Earlier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd F-X-2 RFP

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

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

AIM-9X missile request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

F-X-2 approved

March 27/06: F-15K SLAM test. An F-15K becomes the first F-15 to release a Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) weapon, during certification testing at Point Mugu, CA, USA. For the test, the F-15K released the Boeing-built SLAM-ER at 25,000 feet at Mach 0.8 approximately 100 nautical miles from its target. The SLAM-ER maneuvered to its target and scored a direct hit.

Korea is the first international customer for the SLAM-ER, and the ROKAF has received the first 4 of 40 F-15Ks under the F-X program. The first 2 aircraft were delivered in October 2005, during the Seoul Air Show. The remainder will be delivered by August 2008. Boeing.

Appendix A: Original F-X-2 Candidates F-35A head-on
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Back in November 2006, “South Korea to Buy Another 20 F-15K Fighters?” offered an analysis of the F-35 option being bandied about in various newspapers, and came to this conclusion:

“These factors make a Phase 2 ROKAF buy of F-35A Lightning II aircraft almost inconceivable for the 2007-2011 time frame; rather than opening the issue up for consideration, Lt. Gen. Kim Eun-Ki appears to have been saying “no” in an innocuous way…”

Fast forward to a Jan 17/07 Korea Times article, which quoted Maj. Gen. Kim Deuk-hwan as saying:

“Possible candidate fighters for the latest F-X project are Boeing’s F-15K, the Rafale of France’s Dassault Aviation, the Eurofighter Typhoon built by a consortium of European aerospace manufactures and the SU-35 of the Russian Aviation.”

The article adds:

“Kim, however, said the F-35 Lightening II of the U.S. Lockheed Martin would not be a competitor because the fifth-generation fighter does not meet the basic requirements of the Air Force regarding the number of engines, weapons-carrying capacity and combat radius.”

Not to mention delivery time. The F-35‘s armament capacity and combat radius has been questioned in other strategic contexts, most notably by defense critics in Australia. Its single-engine status has also been raised as an issue in Australia; and may become an issue elsewhere as well.

Given North Korea’s close overland proximity, South Korea could justify a set of requirements that would remove the two-engine and extended range qualifications. It could also justify weapons load requirements that would match up to the F-35’s mid-range capacity. It chose not to do any of these things, and so F-X-2 proceeded without the F-35 Lightning II as a contender.

Dassault Rafale
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The F-15K won the original F-X competition, and remained the incumbent favorite for F-X-2. It’s capable of air-to-ground, air-to-air and air-to-sea missions in day or night, under any weather conditions. It can carry 23,000 pounds of payload and has a combat radius of 1,800 km. A single aircraft costs about $100 million. A follow-on F-15K win would extend the F-15’s production line until mid-2011, giving Singapore up to two more years to go ahead with its contract option for 8 more F-15SGs. The production extension would also keep the possibility of orders from other US allies alive.

Boeing was the only contender to submit a bid by the F-X-2 deadline. Whereupon DAPA once again called for international bids. Meanwhile, Korean Air received a contract to service the ROKAF’s F-15K fleet, deepening Boeing’s local partnerships and advantages. In the end, Boeing was the only qualified bidder, and won a contract for 21 planes.

There were other potential competitors.

Despite Boeing’s advantages, a Nov 1/06 KOIS article discusses a growing sentiment within Korea to diversify their defense sources. Dassault’s Rafale was the most obvious candidate – it reportedly beat the F-15K by narrow margins in the F-X’s Phase 1 technical evaluation, and a Korean export order would have been a major boon to the program as it looked for its 1st export order. The aircraft is a contender and known quantity, but Rafale’s narrow range of integrated weapons to date and complete lack of export orders (most recent loss: Norway) create an uncertain future for upgrades and additional investments. This is a major issue given the Korean F-X-2 fleet’s likely 20-30 year service life. Revealed corruption scandals, a CEO’s promise never to do business in South Korea again, and corporate legal action against the government haven’t removed the Rafale from consideration, but they did underline the dim nature of Dassault’s future prospects.

Dassault held to its promise, and did not attend the mandatory DAPA information session on March 9/07. Nor did they bid on Phase 2, when the competition was re-opened.


EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter is acquiring more multi-role capabilities, and despite export setbacks, its overall production and investment picture is good. Over 100 aircraft are now in service with various European air forces, and at the time of the F-X-2 competition, the plane was competing for additional orders in Norway, Denmark, and India.

Eurofighter offers a very strong air superiority choice that is widely believed to be superior to the F-15K or current SU-30 variants, along with growing secondary attack capabilities. According to KOIS, the Eurofighter lists its combat radius as 1,389 km/ 869 miles. It also offers a large and growing set of weapons options from American and European sources, and a crowded but proven national work-sharing structure.

Eurofighter GmbH was initially part of the F-X-2 bid process, but pulled out at a later date and did not submit a bid. Nor did they elect to incur further participation costs, after the ROK DAPA re-issued its solicitation.

COPE India 2004: SU-30K,
F-15C, Mirage 2000
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During F-X-2, the Russian SU-35 also got attention, as an aircraft the South Koreans expressed public interest in considering. These aircraft have good range, large weapon loads, and performance that exceeds the ROKAF’s F-15Ks in a number of areas. At the time, however, only 14 had been produced as testbeds. The Sukhoi’s avionics set will create significant difficulties for weapons integration with Korea’s overwhelmingly US weapons, but Sukhoi will choose its own entry if it participates, and may decide to go with a variant of India’s SU-30MKI instead. This is arguably a more advanced aircraft than the SU-35, with thrust-vectoring capabilities and a mix of French/Israeli/indigenous avionics that could make integration of non-Russian weapons easier.

The SU-30 family has other potential attraction as well. Russia’s production agreement with HAL already offers a proven model for partial industrial offsets, and India’s indigenous avionics work creates a parallel set of opportunities for South Korea to insert its own locally-developed equipment. Geopolitically, Siberia’s treasure-trove of resources need foreign investment; warmer relations with Russia could offer opportunities in this area, and also create another diplomatic lever to use against North Korea.

These selling points, and the SU-30 family’s growing presence in a number of Asian countries, might make a Sukhoi bid more competitive than one might at first believe. Sukhoi did not attend the DAPA’s mandatory March 9/07 F-X-2 information session, however, and didn’t change their mind after DAPA has re-issued its solicitation.

Appendix B: Which SU-35? SU-35?
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As one of our readers noted, DID’s articles seem to describe two different SU-35s. One is a mid-life modernized SU-27 Flanker, but we have also covered a much more re-engineered “SU-35” variant with canards, thrust vectoring, etc. that has been confused with (and possibly redesignated between) the SU-37. So… what do we mean by “SU-35”? By SU-27M, did DID mean the canard-equipped, ultra-modernized version?

DID explains the natural confusion regarding this fighter, and offers clarity and program news in “Russia’s SU-35: Mystery Fighter No More

Additional Readings

Background: Chosen Fighters & Key Equipment

Background: F-X-3 Contenders

News & Views

  • East Asia Forum, via WayBack (Aug 3/13) – South Korean missile acquisition boosts strike capability. The MBDA/LFK KEPD 350 missile, and what it means in East Asia. Plus, why DID the USA stall the ROK on JASSM?

  • Aviation Week, via WayBack (June 3/13) – South Korea Nears F-X Phase 3 Decision. Explains some of the considerations at work, in their view.

  • The Korea Times (Jan 17/07) – South Korea to Buy 20 More Advanced Fighters by 2012

  • Korea Overseas Information Service (Nov 1/06) – Korea Mulls Purchasing F-35 Fighter Jets for Next-Generation Project

  • The Korea Times (Oct 31/06) – Seoul Mulls Buying F-35 Fighter Jets [dead link]

  • Flight International (Aug 6/06) – F-15K crashed after pilots blacked out South Korea resumed flights with its Boeing F-15Ks on August 21 following the investigation. “The South Korean air force, which plans to enhance its biological training structure and introduce G-LOC (g-force induced loss of consciousness) training equipment… A rash of G-LOC incidents which followed the US Air Force’s introduction of the F-15 and Lockheed Martin F-16 led to aeromedical studies that concluded the best prevention was training, particularly for pilots new to the aircraft… The air force says the F-15K left Daegu airbase at 19:42. The aircraft discharged simulated air-to-air weapons at 20:11 but, while manoeuvring to respond to an opponent’s attack, the crew sent a “knock it off” signal at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,350m) – the aircraft crashing 16s later, at 20:12:19.”

  • Flight International, via WayBack (March 18/05) – South Korea’s defence ministry approves 20 Boeing F-15K fighters to keep line alive until 2011

  • Flight International, via WayBack (April 13/04) – South Korea urged to join JSF team to meet next fighter requirement

  • Flight International, via WayBack (June 11/02) – Dassault slams South Korean ‘favouritism” “Dassault says it will boycott future South Korean defence competitions in protest at what it claims is Seoul’s predisposition towards buying US equipment…” It also launched legal action against south Korea’s government.

  • Flight International, via WayBack (March 19/02) – Dassault drops South Koreans over F-X scandal. “The French manufacturer says it has broken ties with local trading company Comet International, which had been one of its agents in the campaign. The move follows the arrest by military police of South Korean air force Col Cho Joo-hyong on suspicion of receiving an unauthorised 11 million won ($8,400) payment from Comet. A second air force officer, who worked with Cho on the F-X evaluation team, has also been arrested…”

  • Forums, via WayBack – F-15K/RoKAF Updates. An interesting and extensive collection of press releases (good) and republished articles (not good), covering F-15K program developments and Korean fighter program developments from March 2005 – end 2007.


Categories: News

F-35 Ejection Seats Problematic for Small Pilots | NG Contract to Modernize Global Hawk at $3.2B | Mistral Debacle Costs French Taxpayers up to EUR250M

Fri, 10/02/2015 - 00:20

  • An issue with the F-35‘s ejection seat has grounded lightweight pilots from flying the aircraft, according to a report by Defense News. The issue was uncovered during testing in August and the restriction (of pilots weighing less than 136lb) is reportedly only an interim measure until the manufacturer – Martin-Baker – can develop a solution to the problem in cooperation with the F-35’s Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin. Fighter ejection seats are supposed to be capable of accommodating pilots weighing between 103 and 246lbs.

  • Northrop Grumman has been handed a $3.2 billion IDIQ contract to develop, retrofit, modernize and sustain the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk fleet, with the contract running to 2020. Cost estimates for Global Hawk modernization efforts out to 2020 – originally slated as $4 billion in May – were subsequently revised down to approximately half of that earlier this month.

  • Defense Department officials have warned against continued consolidation in the US defense industry, with DefSec Carter keen to assert that the clearance of the $9 billion Sikorsky acquisition by Lockheed Martin should not be the start of an emerging trend. Aside from reduced competitive pressure, a smaller number of defense prime contractors could drive up prices and down performance; a view somewhat contested by industry players.

  • Boeing will develop an electronic warfare (EW) system for the Air Force’s fleet of F-15 fighters, along with BAE Systems. The new, digital system known as the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) will replace the current Tactical Electronic Warfare System in operation with F-15C and E aircraft. Prime contractor Boeing has subcontracted BAE Systems to develop EPAWSS, with the program valued at approximately $4 billion.

  • DARPA has demonstrated its Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) prototype aboard a Navy ship (see video below), with the fully-automated system designed to carry communications and intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) sensors higher than a ship’s mast. The system has been undergoing rigorous testing on the east coast, with modified designs for different vessel classes. A part of the Tactical Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program – a joint ONR and DARPA effort – the TALONS system is part of a broader effort to improve distributed airborne capabilities across the Navy fleet.


  • The French Direction Générale de l’Armement test-launched an M51 strategic ballistic missile on Wednesday from a site on the south-west coast of France. The missile will equip the French Navy’s next-generation ballistic missile subs, with each missile carrying six to ten MIRV warheads. An M51 missile failed a submarine test launch in May 2013, with this latest test the seventh test launch of the missile since 2006, which entered service in 2010.

  • 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.

  • The Czech Republic may be buying TITUS armored vehicles, following a recommendation by the country’s Defence Ministry to the government that the 6×6 vehicle, produced by Nexter Systems, be selected on cost efficiency grounds over the locally-designed VEGA 4×4 design. The Army of the Czech Republic requires 42 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles with the program valued at $111 million. The Vega reportedly scoring 12 points compared to the TITUS’ 25 in trials.

Middle East

  • Jordan is upgrading four Border Patrol Aircraft with intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) through a $9.8 million contract with L-3 Communications, rather than MC-12W aircraft previously speculated by IHS Janes. The four IOMAX AT-802 aircraft were received as part of a package of six aircraft transferred to Jordan from the UAE in 2013.

Today’s Video

  • The prototype TALONS system:

Categories: News

Defense Industry Consolidation in the USA

Fri, 10/02/2015 - 00:19
(click to visit)

The US GAO’s 2008 Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs is proving to have a longer tail than usual. Booz Allen Hamilton is a strategic/ I.T/ program assistance consultancy with strong representation in the government and defense sectors. This May Day, we refer readers to the recent Washington Post article “One-Stop Defense Shopping,” wherein Booz Allen Hamilton VPs Dov S. Zakheim and Ronald T. Kadish discuss the state of competition in the American defense industry, and some of its consequences:

“The GAO report lays bare a festering problem in our nation’s military procurement system: Competition barely exists in the defense industry and is growing weaker by the day.

It was a different story just two decades ago. In the 1980s, 20 or more prime contractors competed for most defense contracts. Today, the Pentagon relies primarily on six main contractors to build our nation’s aircraft, missiles, ships and other weapons systems. It is a system that largely forgoes competition on price, delivery and performance and replaces it with a kind of “design bureau” competition, similar to what the Soviet Union used — hardly a recipe for success…”

America is certainly not the only country facing these pressures: Britain is even farther down this road, and Europe is aggressively moving to restructure its own industry into a very few global competitors. Ultimately, the policy implications described here will be played out on a near-global basis, with the possible exception of China.

Still ongoing in 2015…

October 2/15: Defense Department officials have warned against continued consolidation in the US defense industry, with DefSec Carter keen to assert that the clearance of the $9 billion Sikorsky acquisition by Lockheed Martin should not be the start of an emerging trend. Aside from reduced competitive pressure, a smaller number of defense prime contractors could drive up prices and down performance; a view somewhat contested by industry players.

Categories: News

AF LRS-B Contract May Be Awarded Before Year End | ULA Keeps Launching; $882.1M Contract Mod | Kenya, Cameroon, Pakistan to get UAVs through Foreign Military Sales

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 00:20

  • A contract award for the Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) may be forthcoming in another two months. The program has been pushed back several times, including in July, and before that, May. The competing contractors submitted their designs early in September, following the Air Force releasing a Request for Proposals in July 2014.

  • The Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance has been awarded a $882.1 million contract modification for continued services under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The company will continue to launch satellites for the Air Force with Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, with no details on the number of launches this modification covers. The $612 billion FY2016 NDAA bill released on Tuesday would allow ULA to use four more Russian-produced RD-180 engines in addition to the current five operated by the company; the firm had, however, argued that it requires fourteen engines.

  • 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.

  • Chile is buying seven light aircraft configured for special mission applications, for use by the country’s navy and naval police. The Vulcanair P68 Observer 2 aircraft will be supplied in 2016/2017 and come equipped with infrared sensors and maritime Automatic Identification Receivers.


  • Lithuania has ordered 21 ex-Bundeswehr PzH 2000 self-propelled artillery systems from Germany in a $65.4 million deal. Reports from April indicated the Lithuanians’ interest in the 155mm system, with delivery scheduled between 2016 and 2019. Lithuania is also acquiring 26 M577A3 mobile command post vehicles and six BPZ-2 recovery vehicles, also from Germany. These support vehicles are included in the contract for the artillery systems, with $18.2 million being paid directly to the German Defence Ministry and the remaining $47.2 million going towards modernization of the vehicles, as well as training and support infrastructure.

  • Denmark is reportedly looking to buy a fifth C-130J transporter, rejecting the A400M in the process. Plans to buy the Airbus design were reportedly dropped on financial grounds, with operating costs deemed too high by the Danish defense ministry.

Middle East

  • Russia has completed deliveries of BMP-3 armored vehicles to Kuwait. The Gulf state purchased an undisclosed number BMP-3s along with BMP-2s and Smerch rocket launchers in 1994; a deal estimated to value $800 million. The now-aging platform has been modernized in recent years, with the Russian Army deciding in May to purchase hundreds of the vehicles despite the unveiling of the new Kurganets-25 IFV, with serial production of the new vehicle scheduled for 2017.


Asia & Pacific

  • 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.

  • The Indian Navy has commissioned the stealth frigate INS Kochi into service, the second of two Kolkata-class (Project 15A). The ships comes equipped with BrahMos surface attack missiles, AK630 CIWS and indigenous torpedo and rocket launchers. The Kochi also operates the MF-STAR radar and vertical-launch LR-SAM air defense missile systems. The Indian Navy has also inducted three Intermediate Support Vessels, with these planned to patrol the country’s western coast.

Today’s Video

  • An Il-76MD making a low pass over some Su-25s:

Categories: News

The Rockets’ Red Ink: from EELV to a Competitive Space Launch Future

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 00:19
Boeing Delta IV Heavy
(click to view full)

The EELV program was designed to reduce the cost of government space launches through greater contractor competition, and modifiable rocket families whose system requirements emphasized simplicity, commonality, standardization, new applications of existing technology, streamlined manufacturing capabilities, and more efficient launch-site processing. Result: the Delta IV (Boeing) and Atlas V (Lockheed Martin) heavy rockets.

Paradoxically, that very program may have forced the October 2006 merger of Boeing & Lockheed Martin’s rocket divisions. Crosslink Magazine’s Winter 2004 article “EELV: The Next Stage of Space Launch” offers an excellent briefing that covers EELV’s program innovations and results, while a detailed National Taxpayer’s Union letter to Congress takes a much less positive view. This DID Spotlight article looks at the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, emerging challengers like SpaceX and the new competition framework, and the US government contracts placed since the merger that formed the United Launch Alliance.

The EELV System

When comparing launch vehicles, note that Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) between 1,240 – 22,240 miles above the Earth’s surface is preferred for high-end satellites. It’s much easier to lift objects into Low Earth-orbit (LEO), up to 1,240 miles above the Earth’s surface. On the other hand, your payload’s coverage will suffer, and its lifespan might as well.

A quick primer on reading EELV configurations is in order. “AF” is the US Air Force, while “NRO” is the USA’s National Reconnaissance Office. The numbers after the rocket type represent its payload cover (fairing) diameter, and the number of boosters attached to the core rocket.

For example, in the Atlas models, 501 means a 5m diameter fairing, 0 boosters, and everything always ends with a 1. If we strapped on 4 boosters, it would become an Atlas V 541.

For Boeing’s Delta rockets, the attributes are broken out more clearly: (4,2) means a 4m diameter fairing and 2 boosters. If we switched to a 5m fairing instead, it would become a Delta IV 5,2.

Delta IV Delta rocket family
(click to view full)

The Delta IV’s history dates back to the late 1950s when the US government, responding to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, contracted for development of the Delta rocket. The first successful Delta launch was NASA’s Echo 1A satellite on Aug 12/60.

Over the years the Delta family of rockets has become larger, more advanced, and capable of carrying heavier satellites into orbit. Design changes included larger first-stage tanks, addition of strap-on solid rocket boosters, increased propellant capacity, an improved main engine, adoption of advanced electronics and guidance systems, and development of upper stage and satellite payload systems.

Following a 1989 contract from the US Air Force for 20 launch vehicles, the newer, more powerful Delta II version emerged. Then, in response to market needs for a larger rocket to launch commercial satellites, Delta III began development in 1995. Its first launch occurred in 1998 and its final launch in 2000, paving the way for the Delta IV.

The Delta IV offers customization options by adding booster rockets, including a Delta IV Heavy that uses 2 additional Common Booster Cores. The Delta IV Heavy has the highest payload rating to Geostationary Transfer Orbit of any American rocket, and also beats the Ariane 5 ECA. It’s expected to stay on top even after SpaceX launches its Falcon Heavy, though the Falcon Heavy will offer greater capacity to Low Earth Orbits.

Delta IV medium-to-heavy launch vehicles became operational in 2002. The first Delta IV launch, of Eutelsat’s W5 commercial satellite, took place on Nov 20/02. The first payload delivered for the EELV program was the DSCS A3 satellite, on March 10/03.

Atlas V Atlas family
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Developed in the late 1950s as the USA’s first operational intercontinental ballistic missile, the Atlas launch vehicle went on to become the first commercial ride to space.

The 1990s opened a new chapter in Atlas history with the first commercial satellite launch. The growing demand for satellite entertainment presented new opportunities in the launch business. The Atlas I was developed to serve these needs and to continue the evolution of the Atlas vehicle.

Launched on Dec 7/91 with a Eutelsat satellite on-board, the first Atlas II ushered in a family of Atlas vehicles that would go on to launch many commercial payloads. The Atlas II family of launch vehicles was retired in 2004.

Developed as an evolutionary bridge, the Atlas III launch vehicle, like the I and II before it, debuted by delivering a commercial payload to orbit. First launched on May 24/00, the Atlas III family was retired in 2005. There was no Atlas IV.

The Atlas V launch vehicle comes in 400 and 500 series variants, and made its debut on Aug 21/02. It uses the Russian RD-180 rocket engine, which has become a problem as tensions between the USA and Russia have reignited. Like the Delta IV, each rocket can be customized by adding boosters, in order to launch heavier payloads. Atlas V can also rise from 1 to 2 Centaur second-stage engines, in the XX2 configuration.

The Atlas V has been used to launch several NASA missions, and a July 2011 agreement with NASA began the process of certifying the design for manned missions as well. ULA partnered with Blue Origin, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corp. for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, and Boeing was 1 of the 2 final winners, which helps to ensure additional orders down the road.

Military Satellite Payloads AEHF concept
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A rocket’s key specifications involve how much it can lift to various orbits, and the US military pushed for the EELV program in part to expand that range. There’s controversy over the military’s success in meeting other goals, but lift and range have clearly improved.

EELV rockets are currently being used to launch satellites for a number of the major military satellite programs, including:

  • Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communication satellites that will support twice as many tactical networks, while providing 10-12 times the capacity and 6 times higher data rate transfer than that of the current Milstar II satellites.

  • Wideband Global SATCOM satellites that will support the USA’s warfighting bandwidth requirements, supporting tactical C4ISR, battle management, and combat support needs.

  • Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-High satellites that will provide a key component of the USA’s future missile alert system, designed to give maximum warning and monitoring of ballistic missile launches anywhere in the world.

  • GPS IIF navigation satellites that are an upgrade of the original GPS, which is a worldwide timing and navigation system that utilizes a constellation of satellites positioned in orbit approximately 12,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. GPS-III will also launch using EELV rockets, instead of the Delta IIs.

EELV Budgets & Structure Competition Again? The New “Open” Launch Framework SpaceX Falcon
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Emerging competition from privately developed solutions like SpaceX’s Falcon-9 will give NASA and the US military additional options for all kinds of medium-heavy launch projects. EELV itself may even provide competition for NASA. The Delta IV has been considered as an alternative for a manned return to the moon, and a NASA-sponsored report concluded that using a modified Delta IV capable of human spaceflight could save billions of dollars, in place of NASA’s developmental Ares rocket. It would also provide a quickly-fielded solution to the expected gap in US space lift capabilities, now that the Space Shuttle program has ended.

As of July 2012, NASA and the Pentagon intend to pursue separate rocket buys, within a common framework. That framework is a huge departure from past practice, with big long-term implications for EELV.

In October 2011, NASA, the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the US Air Force announced a game-changing development: “certification of commercial providers of launch vehicles used for national security space and civil space missions.” In English: the market for national security launches just opened up beyond EELV, which will have to compete in some segments. That simple change incorporates 4 payload types (A-D), and 3 risk categories (1-3), where 3 is lowest risk. It’s both more, and less, than it seems.

For high-value “Class A, failure is not an option” long-lived national security satellites, whose added presence has a high marginal value to the existing constellation, EELV’s “Category 3” low-risk certified rockets will remain the only option. Barring a huge national emergency and Presidential orders, A1 or A2 combinations are impossible. At the other extreme, “Class D” payloads could fly on anything, even “Category 1” launch vehicles classified as high risk or unproven.

Once a new entrant demonstrates a successful launch of an EELV class medium-heavy launch system, the Air Force awards integration studies, and they can begin working toward EELV certification of specified systems and configurations. If no competitor has a certification rating that matches a competed launch, ULA gets a sole-source contract as a pre-priced option.

This framework will help NASA most, but each category now has a specific number of successful launches needed for eligibility, as well as a known set of technical, safety and test data needed to verify that record. Technically, competition exists now. In reality, it will take a while.

On the other hand, the new framework’s flexibility means that every successful launch by a non-EELV platform brings it closer to a new category, which will grant access to a forecastable set of new opportunities. That makes the investment payoff clear, and should spur a long-term sea change toward a number of qualified providers for many of the US government’s launch contracts. The big and obvious potential winner here in SpaceX (vid. May 23/11), whose Falcon 9 is poised to compete in the EELV’s segments once the certification paperwork is done on its 3 qualifying launches. Orbital’s Minotaur family may also benefit at some point.

Going Forward: Block Buys in a Broader EELV Program Delta IV, waiting
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The US military made an EELV multi-year block buy of some kind part of its procurement strategy in November 2011, as an attempt to improve a shaky industrial base and drive costs down. Boeing and Lockheed Martin saw this as their opportunity to push a multi-year deal for 40 ULA rockets and launches from FY 2013 – 2017 inclusive. That would make it much more difficult for other private firms to secure launch orders, regardless of the certification framework, while EELV annual orders nearly doubled to over $2 billion per year.

Their lobbying ended up securing a 35-core block buy from FY 2013 – 2017, but their prices kept rising, and the contract’s exact terms are murky. Note, however, that cores =/= launches. The Pentagon’s FY14 plan involved 29 total launches from FY 2013 – 2017, vs. 45 booster cores. EELV launch services are usually ordered at least 24 months before a planned mission launch, so this multi-year buy actually covers US government missions into FY 2019.

FY 2015 – 2017 was supposed to see the beginnings of competition, with 14 “cores” (about 28%) supposedly open to competition, but there are reports of restrictions in the block buy agreement that essentially remove competition before 2018. Those allegations are now the foundation of a court case involving SpaceX and the USAF.

As of March 2014, SpaceX has completed the required number of successful Falcon 9 certification missions to begin competing for some national security launches. What they don’t have yet is certification, as government employees go over every aspect of their business. The USAF is working hard on this, but SpaceX’s Silicon Valley propensity to keep innovating adds to the challenge of certifying their configurations, even as it helps improve their costs and performance. Their entire approach is a major culture clash with the standard model for space access, explaining SpaceX’s 66%+ cost advantage and better pace of innovation, as well as their solid-but-not bulletproof reliability record. The long-term bet in this race is obvious. In the short-term, it’s a tougher call.

A March 2014 GAO report explained the USAF’s options, which became even more complex after Russia invaded Crimea, and the Atlas V’s dependence on Russian RD-180 engines became a glaring problem:

Contracts & Key Events AEHF-2 launch
(click for video)

Military satellite launches will be covered in their respective satellite type’s articles. This section will generally be reserved for contracts, but significant military-related launches that are not covered elsewhere on DID may receive a pointer here. We’ll also cover EELV rocket-related issues that delay launches, but not external delays stemming from weather issues, ground equipment, etc.

FY 2014 – 2015

FY 2014 base and production contracts to ULA; GAO repport looks at USAF options; SAR report shows program costs down, but still $67.6 Bn; USAF reduces the number of competed launches; SpaceX meets cert. requirements, claims 75% savings are possible, launches lawsuit to force competition; Europe scrambles to compete with SpaceX; ULA also begins to move, hooking up with Bezos’ Blue Origin; Friction with Russia makes access to Atlas V’s RD-180 engines an issue. Launch, Deliver… Compete?

October 1/15: The Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance has been awarded a $882.1 million contract modification for continued services under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The company will continue to launch satellites for the Air Force with Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, with no details on the number of launches this modification covers. The $612 billion FY2016 NDAA bill released on Tuesday would allow ULA to use four more Russian-produced RD-180 engines in addition to the current five operated by the company; the firm had, however, argued that it requires fourteen engines.

June 4/15: The Air Force has released a RFP for its next generation of space launch engines, as it tries to move away from reliance on the Atlas-V’s Russian-produced RD-180 engines. Reports from March expected the RFP to have been released sooner, with industry being given tight deadlines in order to meet Congressional timelines. The Air Force aims to allocate $160 million, which will be distributed between four companies to produce prototypes for evaluation, with the Pentagon recently arguing for the continued use of the RD-180 as an interim measure before new engines can be introduced.

The Air Force is also reportedly investigating a possible leaking of information prior to the release of a RFP as part of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, with this a potential violation of the Procurement Integrity Act. The first competition in over a decade within the EELV program is to launch next-generation GPS-III satellites, with the RFP being released on 14 May.

May 28/15: SpaceX has been cleared by the Air Force for national security-related launches, injecting competition into a previous United Launch Alliance monopoly on private DoD launches. This is part of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s efforts to end US reliance on the Russia-manufactured RD-180 rocket for space launches. However, the Pentagon has previously urged Congress to allow ULA to continue using the Russian rockets in order to “ensure access to space”.

May 14/15: DefSec Carter and DNI Clapper have urged Congress to allow United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin/Boeing joint venture, to use Russian RD-180 engines for “assured access to space.” If the current law were to change from the current 2015 defense authorization law banning the use of Russian engines in US launches, ULA would be capable of competing for 18 out of 34 competitive launches between 2015 and 2022, versus the current 5 as the law stands, with the Air Force pushing for more launches by the private sector.

Feb 26/15: The Air Force is looking nervously at its capacity to meet the congressionally-mandated deadline of 2019 to stop relying on Russian rocket engines. Air Force Secretary Deborah James told senators on Wednesday that to try to meet the deadline by 2019 would mean exchanging one monopoly franchise for another. Except, of course, it wouldn’t be controlled by Russia, a quality that of late has started to have more and more charm. It was an interesting remark given that the new monopoly in question might be that of SpaceX, the firm that has shown unprecedented speed to development. James indicated a decade was more realistic, which sounds more like the preferred timeframe of the Air Force’s long-time partner United Launch Alliance, which has a good record, but not one for sprightliness.

Feb 3/15: In addition to a new GPS III satellite procurement, the new Air Force budget would pay for five launches, two of which would be “set aside” for competition. This follows the very public recent settlement of a SpaceX protest that the Air Force had deliberately prevented competition when it awarded United Launch Alliance a bevy of launches over many years not long before SpaceX was expected to gain certification to compete. ULA uses Russian engines to loft satellites into orbit, and the new Air Force budget also has a line item to reduce reliance on Russian hardware, although the mechanism for doing so isn’t yet clear.

Jan 26/15: SpaceX has said it will call off the legal dogs on the Air Force. SpaceX sued after the Air Force bundled up a great number of future space launches and pre-contracted for the services without letting SpaceX bid. In an odd sort of settlement, SpaceX will drop its suit, and in return, the Air Force will add more launches that will not necessarily go to the Boeing-Lockheed-led United Launch Alliance consortium. When asked directly this morning an Air Force representative said that there was not a specific number of launches attached to that settlement. The Air Force has also agreed to work toward getting SpaceX certified for launches, although it is unclear if that last aspect is actually part of the settlement, as it is something that wouldn’t be properly withheld. When asked, the Air Force referred back to the single-paragraph statement. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk previously accused an Air Force official of seeking employment from the bidders during the process, an offer SpaceX had refused. That accusation made news at the time (May 2014) partly because of the significance of the contract size, but primarily because it is fairly rare for a contractor to speak of such alleged behavior publicly.

Sept 29/14: United Launch Services LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $127 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising an option for 1 Air Force Atlas V 531 (5m fairing, 3 boosters), and the exercise of an option for backlog transportation. It’s a FY 2014 launch vehicle configuration, will all funds committed immediately using FY 2013 and 201 USAF missile budgets.

Work will be performed at Centennial, CO, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, and is expected to be complete by Aug 15/15. USAF Space and Missile Systems, Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA manages the contract (FA8811-13-C-0003, PO 0055).

Extra Atlas V ordered

Sept 7/14: ULA & Blue Origin. United Launch Alliance partners with founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to jointly complete development of Blue Origin’s 550,000 pound thrust BE-4 LNG/LOx rocket engine, a fuel choice that helps reduce costs and complexity. The announcement hints at coming consolidation of ULA’s rocket lines.

The BE-4 has been under development at Blue Origin for the last 3 years, and the new joint agreement expects another 4 years of development, with full-scale testing in 2016 and a 1st flight in 2019. They won’t discuss the new engine’s costs, except to say that they expect it will cut costs for customers when 2 BE-4s are used to power ULA’s next-generation rocket. What the new engine won’t do, is fix the Atlas V’s reliance on a Russian engine. ULA’s FAQ says:

“The BE-4 is not a direct replacement for the RD-180 that powers ULA’s Atlas V rocket, however two BE-4s are expected to provide the engine thrust for the next generation ULA vehicles. The details related to ULA’s next generation vehicles – which will maintain the key heritage components of ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets that provide world class mission assurance and reliability – will be announced at a later date.”

The BE-4 will be available to other customers beyond ULA, beginning with Blue Origin itself. If the new CEO (Aug 12/14) was looking to inject a bit of Silicon Valley’s DNA into ULA, in order to compete with SpaceX and lower costs, this is a good start. Sources: Blue Origin, “United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin Announce Partnership to Develop New American Rocket Engine” | ULA, “United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin Announce Partnership to Develop New American Rocket Engine” and FAQ | BE-4 Fact Sheet [PDF].

Sept 16/14: NASA CCiCap. NASA issues its main Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) contracts: up to $4.2 billion to Boeing, which will use the CST-100 on top of the Atlas V, and up to $2.6 billion to SpaceX, which will use its Dragon v2 on top of its own Falcon 9.

SpaceX isn’t certified yet, but by the time flights begin taking place, it will be. Which means that each NASA CCiCap mission will improve production volume, and hence likely prices. Read “NASA’s CCiCap: Can Space Taxis Help the Pentagon?” for full coverage.


Sept 16/14: FY 2015 ELC. Sept 16/14: United Launch Services LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $938.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for FY 2015 EELV Delta IV and Atlas V launch capability. This contract covers mission assurance, program management, systems engineering, integration of the space vehicle with the launch vehicle, launch site and range operations, and launch infrastructure maintenance and sustainment. As one might guess, actual rockets and launches are separate. $231.8 million in FY 2015 USAF missile budgets is committed immediately.

Work will be performed at Littleton, CO; Vandenberg AFB, CA; and Cape Canaveral Air Station, FL, with an expected completion date of Sept 30/15. The USAF Launch Systems Directorate’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, CA manages the contract (FA8811-13-C-0003, PO 0048).

FY 2015 base (ELC) award

Aug 12/14: ULA Leadership. ULA names Lockheed Martin’s VP and GM of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Tory Bruno, as its next President and CEO, effective immediately. He will replace Michael Gass, who has held these roles since ULA’s founding in 2006. Former Boeing executive Daniel Collins will remain COO.

In a separate statement, Gass said he had planned to retire “in the near term” but with “the changing industry landscape over the next several years, the Board of Directors and I have agreed that the immediate appointment of my successor to begin the leadership transition is in the best interest of the company.” Lockheed Martin Space Systems EVP and ULA Board member Rick Ambrose praised Gass’ launch record, and stated that:

“Tory is an ideal leader to take the reins at ULA. He’ll bring the same unwavering commitment to mission success that has been ULA’s hallmark, and will apply his proven track record of driving customer focus, innovation and affordability to shape ULA’s future.”

It would seem that ULA is beginning to take the prospect of competition with SpaceX et. al. seriously. Sources: ULA, “United Launch Alliance Names Tory Bruno President and Chief Executive Officer” | Space News, ” United Launch Alliance Taps a Lockheed Executive To Replace CEO Gass”.

Aug 4/14: SpaceX Infrastructure. SpaceX picks a site in Brownsville, TX as its private launch site, beating a location in Shiloh, FL just north of Cape Canaveral. They plan to stage up to 12 commercial launches a year from there, but the need to steer clear of populated areas forces them into a “keyhole” area between Florida and Cuba that restricts missions to equatorial orbits. “Dogleg” maneuvers could expand the range of orbit allowed, but there’s a performance cost. The good news for SpaceX, who wanted a range clear of NASA or USAF restrictions, is that 3 of 4 SpaceX launches from Cape Canaveral since December 2013 would fit Brownsville’s launch profile.

SpaceX plans to invest $85 million in the site, with another $15.3 million coming from the Texas state government: $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), plus $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. FAA certification will be part of that development, and the Texas government has already made moves to support that. These Texas investments aren’t coming from out of the blue. SpaceX has operated a Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, TX since 2003. It now has over 250 employees, and a TexasOne visit to California in 2011 launched Texas’ bid for this project.

Government missions under contracts like EELV will still be launched from Cape Canaveral, as will some commercial missions. Sources: Governor of Texas, “Gov. Perry Announces State Incentives Bringing SpaceX Commercial Launch Facility, 300 Jobs to the Brownsville Area” | Florida Today, “Despite SpaceX plans, Nelson pushes for Brevard launches” | Space Politics, “As Texas celebrates winning SpaceX spaceport, Florida regroups”.

July 17/14: Political. The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a $489.6 billion base FY 2015 budget, plus $59.7 billion in supplemental funding. The issue of launch infrastructure, which is currently an almost $1 billion per year award to ULA, gets a small but interesting twist:

“The Committee believes additional competition can be achieved by creating new opportunities within the United States launch infrastructure, including commercial and State-owned launch facilities. Increasing the capability and number of launch facilities helps to ensure our Nation’s ability to launch priority space assets. Therefore, to promote competition at launch facilities, $7,000,000 is provided to spaceports or launch and range complexes that are commercially licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration and receive funding from the local or State government. These funds shall be used to develop the capacity to provide mid-to-low inclination orbits or polar-to-high inclination orbits in support of the national security space program.”

At the same time, however, the SAC directs the USAF to dispose of DSP-20, rather than storing a $500 million satellite for $425 million until its planned 2020 launch. It also votes to add $125 million for a competed EELV launch order in FY 2015, which could help the USAF kill 2 problems with one launch (q.v. July 10-15/14). Note that the FY 2015 budget still has to be voted on in the whole Senate, then reconciled in committee with the House of Representatives’ defense budget, then signed into law by the President. There is no guarantee that this provision will survive. Sources: US Senate Committee on Appropriations, “Committee Approves FY 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill – Report: Department of Defense”.

July 16/14: Disclosure. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the Senate Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hold a joint hearing titled, “Options for Assuring Domestic Space Access.” There’s a lot of back-and-forth on a number of issues, including requests from representatives in ULA strongholds of Alabama and Colorado:

“In the interest of full disclosure and accountability to the American taxpayer, we request that NASA publicly release all anomalies and mishap information, un-redacted, so that Congress can gain a better understanding of what has occurred and ensure full transparency”…. They also ask for information “on the various aspects of risk and reliability with these programs” and the agency’s “understanding of the specific technical issues, failures and resulting consequences for ISS.”

That’s trickier than it seems. Export control restriction may prevent unredacted reports, Elon Musk says that no government funding was used to develop Falcon 9, and the SpaceX contracts were carefully set out for cargo services rather than launch vehicles. See also: Space Politics, “House members press NASA for information on “epidemic of anomalies” with SpaceX missions” and “Senators debate RD-180 replacement, EELV competition”.

July 10-15/14: DSP-20 to compete. The USAF got some pushback about the ULA block buy at the House Armed Services Committee hearings on July 10th. USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James is telling reporters that they’re looking to reprogram $100 million, and move the DMSP-20 weather satellite launch into FY 2015 as a competed contract. That would raise the number of purchased FY 2015 launches to 6, but the amount committed strongly suggests that SpaceX would win the deal. Sources: DID, “FY15 US Defense Budget Finally Complete with War Funding” | DoD Buzz, “Air Force Seeks $100 Million for Rocket Rivalry” | Space Politics, “DOD official defends EELV block buy, endorses launch competition”.

July 15/14: SpaceX. USAF Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center has declared that SpaceX’s Dec 3/13 and Jan 6/14 flights qualify toward EELV certification, completing the Falcon 9 v1.1’s 3-flight requirement. The rocket must still pass a number of technical reviews, audits and independent verification and validation of the launch vehicle, ground systems, and manufacturing processes before EELV certification is complete. Sources: USAF, “SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 Flights Deemed Successful”.

July 10/14: Competition. The ripples of competition are extending beyond the USA. Europe, at least, is taking the competition extremely seriously:

“In June, it became obvious that Europe has made a major collective error, underestimating SpaceX’s capability to successfully market commercial launches at a fraction of Ariane’s costs. Today everyone is trying hard to maximize the impact of an Airbus Group-Safran initiative to form a joint venture and take control of the Ariane program. Jointly, the two groups own two-thirds of the heavy-lift booster and this is most probably just the beginning of a far-reaching consolidation strategy…. In other words, Ariane, despite an excellent reliability record, suddenly appears too complex and far too expensive…. In June, Genevieve Fioraso, the French minister in charge of space, candidly admitted the looming U.S. competition had been underestimated…. Now will come technical disagreements, such as solid propulsion versus liquid fuel…. the upgraded 5ME derivative and the envisioned next-generation Ariane 6. Divergent views on technicalities are expected to make discussions difficult…. The wake-up call is salutary, but devastating.”

They probably underestimated the threat because they focused on the American competitor most like themselves, believing that there wasn’t really any other way to perform this role. There’s a lesson for the whole industry there. Sources: Aviation Week, “Opinion: Arianespace Facing Shake-Up To Compete With SpaceX”.

July 4/14: ULA. ULA is the top aerospace company in Denver, so the locals are understandably concerned about the firm’s viability in light of competition from SpaceX, and a potential squeeze from Russian rocket engines. So, how is ULA reacting? By focusing on their reliability record, and ability at the top-end geosynchronous delivery missions:

“Michael Gass, CEO of ULA [says]…. ULA’s best strategy to keep winning business is to remain the most advanced and reliable rocket-launch company in the world…. “If a new entrant only wants to do a few of the missions and only has capability to cherry-pick a few, that’s not fair and level competition,” Gass said.”

USAF Space Command head Gen. William Shelton has his own take:

“Generally, the person you want to do business with you don’t sue…. Show me an interplanetary mission from NASA that’s contracted with SpaceX – that’s not what they’ve contracted,” he said. “Basically they’ve contracted commercial resupply with SpaceX. It is not putting my most precious assets on top of that rocket and launching it.”

Valid points. The downside of this approach for ULA is that a disruptive innovator who eventually hits a similar effectiveness level will destroy a “business as usual” incumbent. If Falcon Heavy succeeds, ULA will have a serious problem. Sources: Upstart Business Journal (Denver), “Rocket war involving SpaceX upends the space-launch business”.

June 3-5/14: New engine? Aviation Week quotes Gencorp President & CEO Scott Seymour, who says that their Aerojet Rocketdyne subsidiary has spent roughly $300 million working on technologies that will feed into a new AR-1 liquid oxygen/ kerosene booster engine with 500,000+ pounds of thrust, to replace Russia’s RD-180. Hoped-for costs would be about $25 million per pair. He also estimated that finishing development would take about 4 years and cost $800 million – $1 billion.

Gencorp hopes to recoup their investment by getting government funding for the remaining development work, and by fostering AR-1 use on multiple platforms. Their targets include the ULA’s Atlas V, Orbital’s Antares, “and, possibly, Space Exploration Technology’s Falcon 9 v1.1.” SpaceX uses a vertical integration philosophy, so they’d be a very tough sell. On the other hand, the Merlin engines used by SpaceX aren’t seen as an ideal solution for boosts to geosynchronous transfer orbit, and they don’t provide a high-energy upper stage. SpaceX has managed GTO launches, and they will need to prove the doubters wrong re: capacity at higher orbits with the forthcoming Falcon Heavy, which requires 27 of their Merlin 1D engines.

Meanwhile, if the government wants a new engine, why not compete the development phase? Sources: Aviation Week, “Aerojet Rocketdyne Targets $25 Million Per Pair For AR-1 Engines” | Lexington Institute, “Aerojet Rocketdyne Lays Down Challenge To Russian Rocket Engine Monopoly”.

June 2/14: ULA’s argument. The Lexington Institute, which counts Boeing and Lockheed Martin as funders, makes the case for the ULA block buy. Loren Thompson elides the issue of the latest block-buy agreement removing announced competition, which is a huge hole in his argument, but it isn’t one he can address without inside information. Beyond that, he does make some valid points:

“The Air Force says it has dedicated $60 million and 100 personnel to getting all the steps accomplished expeditiously…. [EELV hasn’t] had an unsuccessful mission in 70 attempts, whereas SpaceX has seen several failures in less than a dozen launches. During the Obama Administration, the launch alliance has met its schedule objectives for when launches occur 87% of the time, while the corresponding figure for SpaceX is 29%…. the Falcon 9 rockets that SpaceX currently uses as its main launch vehicle are severely limited in terms of what kinds of payloads they can loft into which orbits….[and are] also hobbled by the lack of a high-energy upper stage…. According to [HASC Chair Mike] Rogers, various SpaceX missions have delivered a satellite into a suboptimal orbit, experienced multiple spacecraft thruster failures, or failed to successfully achieve a planned second-stage relight…. SpaceX has sought to correct all of the glitches it encountered….. [but] when a company keeps altering the configuration of its launch vehicles… it becomes unclear as to precisely what is being certified.”

Sources: Forbes Magazine, “SpaceX Versus The Air Force: The Other Side Of The Story”.

May 23/14: New engine? The Senate Armed Services Committee inserts an initial $100 million in funding into the FY 2015 defense bill, in order to begin developing an American rocket engine that can replace the oxygen-rich, staged combustion performance of the Russian RD-180. Sources: Gizmodo, “A Senate Panel Just Set Aside $100 Million To Build a Putin-Free Rocket” | Phys Org, “US Senate panel budgets $100 mn for non-Russian rocket”.

May 22/14: Twitter Accusation. Elon Musk’s Twitter account fires a shot at former USAF PEO Space launch Scott Correll, who negotiated ULA’s block contract and is now at Aerojet-Rocketdyne as VP Government Acquisition and Policy:

“Air Force official awards $10B+ contract uncompeted & then takes lucrative job w funds recipient [DID: link]”

“V likely AF official Correll was told by ULA/Rocketdyne that a rich VP job was his if he gave them a sole source contract”

“Reason I believe this is likely is that Correll first tried to work at SpaceX, but we turned him down. Our competitor, it seems, did not.”

“Either way, this case certainly deserves close examination by the DoD Inspector General per @SenJohnMcCain’s request [DID: link]”

SpaceX had made the point in a less directly accusatory way as item 106 in its original legal brief, but retreated even further to an arm’s length statement in their amended legal filing of May 19th (q.v. May 19/14), citing the same National Legal and Policy Center NGO article noted in Musk’s Tweet. Musk’s Twitter volley more then negates any defensive legal benefits of that soft-pedaling. It’s an extremely serious accusation – people have gone to jail for this, which is why Correll’s hiring about a year after the contract’s signing was cleared through the USAF General Counsel.

It’s also logically obvious that trying to work at SpaceX after awarding the block-buy would destroy the idea that the ULA contract was a quid pro quo. Legally, SpaceX had better have some proof that Correll solicited a job with them before he left the USAF, or there’s probably a defamation suit in Musk’s future. One wonders if triggering a defamation suit is the point here, given the additional opportunities it would give SpaceX for legal discovery procedures. Sources: elonmusk@Twitter, Tweet 1 | Tweet 2 | Tweet 3 | Tweet 4 || | Business Insider, “SpaceX’s Dispute With The Air Force Just Got Even Uglier” and “Elon Musk Isn’t Backing Off Some Of His Most Serious Accusations Against The Air Force” | Spaceflight Insider, “Elon Musk suggests former USAF officer got Aerojet Rocketdyne position for sole source contract with ULA.”

May 21/14: Mitchell Report. SpaceNews obtains a summary of the Aerospace Corp. report authored by USAF Maj. Gen. Mitch Mitchell (ret.), and describes scenarios ranging from 9 missions/ 2 years avg. delay/ $2.5 billion cost to 31 missions/ 3.5 years avg./ $5 billion:

“…a bleak outlook for the American launch landscape without the RD-180 engine…. losing the RD-180… would delay as many as 31 missions, costing the United States as much as $5 billion…. The report says 38 Atlas 5 missions are on the manifest, but United Launch Alliance and RD-Amross have only 16 RD-180 engines on hand. That number is expected to shrink to 15 on May 22 with the launch of a National Reconnaissance mission.”

Sources: Space News, “Losing Access to RD-180 Engine Would Prove Costly, Pentagon Panel Warns”.

May 19/14: SpaceX suit. SpaceX amends its original suit in Federal District Court. The overall suit sets out their core rationale. SpaceX claims that the USAF changed the rules for eligibility mid-stride, bent its own rules to remove planned competitive launches, locked in a contract with secret terms that further restrict competition, and will cost the USA more than $6 billion over just 3 years. Read “Sued from Orbit: SpaceX and the EELV Contract” for full coverage.

May 13/14: Russian block? Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin unleases his Twitter diplomatic notes of Doom (SM) once more:

“Russia is ready to continue deliveries of RD-180 engines to the US only under the guarantee that they won’t be used in the interests of the Pentagon.”

That choice of words rules out fears that Russia would stop delivering US astronauts to the International Space Station, but a subsequent tweet says that will also end after the agreement expires in 2020. A release from ULA says this is all SpaceX’s fault, adding that a 2-year inventory of RD-180 engines (see also May 21/14 entry) should help cushion the blow:

“United Launch Alliance (ULA) and our NPO Energomash supplier in Russia are not aware of any restrictions…. We are hopeful that our two nations will engage in productive conversations over the coming months that will resolve the matter quickly…. [but we] have always prepared contingency plans in the event of a supply disruption…. We also maintain a two-year inventory of engines to enable a smooth transition to our other rocket, Delta, which has all U.S.-produced rocket engines.”

Sources: Twitter @DRogozin, re: RD-180s and re: ISS | ULA, “ULA Statement Regarding Reports of Russian Engine Restrictions” | Washington Post, “Feud between SpaceX and ULA over space contract grows more intense”.

April 25-29/14: SpaceX sues. SpaceX files a formal legal challenge to the USAF’s long-term, sole-source, 36-core EELV contract with ULA (q.v. Dec 16/13). Their release says that EELV is 58.4% above initially estimated costs on each launch, and estimate cost savings of 75% from each SpaceX launch. More to the point, however, they allege that the block-buy deal, which has not been made public, contained clauses that negated the government’s promise of open competition before 2018.

The SpaceX releases also cite The Atlas V’s Russian RD-180 engine, produced by state-owned NPO Energomash, which is overseen by Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in charge of defense industry Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin is best known to the world as the guy who mocks other world leaders on Twitter when they criticize his government, and he had personal sanctions placed on him by the US government in March 2014. Read “Sued from Orbit: SpaceX and the EELV Contract” for full coverage.

SpaceX sues for competition

April 25/14: Politics. Concurrent with the lawsuit filed by SpaceX, Sen. McCain [R-AZ] is taking actions of his own:

“The first letter is to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James requesting additional information about her recent testimony regarding the EELV program before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 10, 2014, and conveying concern about the apparently incomplete and incorrect nature [DID: emphasis ours] of some of that testimony. The second letter is to the Department of Defense Inspector General Jon T. Rymer requesting that his office investigate recent developments regarding the EELV program.”

Sources: Sen. McCain’s office, “Senator Mccain Seeks Information On Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (Eelv) Program”.

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF]. The EELV is mentioned, due to significant cost changes:

“Program costs decreased $3,062.7 million (-4.3%) from $70,685.1 million to $67,622.4 million, due primarily to savings realized in the negotiation and award of the new 2013-2017 Phase 1 contract (-$3,770.7 million), revised cost assumptions based on the negotiated contract (-$1,511.5 million), and net decreases from a change in launch vehicle configuration requirements (-$411.3 million). These decreases were partially offset by a quantity increase of 11 launch services from 151 to 162 (+$2,505.0 million).

With that said, it’s worth asking just how much can be saved by opening the process fully to competition (q.v. March 5/14). SpaceX hasn’t been formally certified yet, and it will be interesting to see what changes once that happens.

Cost Reduction

March 12/14: GAO Report. GAO releases GAO-14-382T, “Acquisition Management Continues to Improve but Challenges Persist for Current and Future Programs.” Regarding EELV:

“In December 2013, DOD signed a contract modification with ULA to purchase 35 launch vehicle booster cores over a 5-year period, 2013- 2017, and the associated capability to launch them. According to the Air Force, this contracting strategy saved $4.4 billion over the predicted program cost in the fiscal year 2012 budget [DID: but see March 5/14 entry].

….DOD expects to issue a draft request for proposal for the first of the competitive missions, where the method for evaluating and comparing proposals will be explained, in the spring of 2014…. The planned competition for launch services may have helped DOD negotiate the lower prices it achieved in its December 2013 contract modification, and DOD could see further savings if a robust domestic launch market materializes. DOD noted in its 2014 President’s Budget submission for EELV that after the current contract with ULA has ended, it plans to have a full and open competition for national security space launches. Cost savings on launches, as long as they do not come with a reduction in mission successes, would greatly benefit DOD, and allow the department to put funding previously needed for launches into programs in the development phases to ensure they are adequately resourced.”

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. In the EELV’s detailed budget briefings, which are split between ELC launch capability and ELV launch vehicles, the USAF has this to say about ongoing competition:

“The number of competitive launch opportunities from FY15-17 changed from 14 to 7 due to launch manifest changes. If competition is not viable at the time of need, missions will be awarded to the incumbent. The Air Force plans to compete all launch service procurements beginning in FY18, if there is more than one certified provider.”

EELV Hearings

March 5/14: Politics. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is one of several individuals giving testimony to the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Defense Subcommittee. It’s a wide-ranging hearing, covering the realities of planning and running national security launches, the ELS infrastructure contract’s rationale as national security emergency launch insurance, the prospect of creating segmented monopolies, etc. Musk’s basic message is that once competition is possible, every launch should be competed on a firm fixed-price basis, and ULA’s $1 billion per year subsidy should be removed. His firm isn’t certified for national security launches yet, but he hopes that a very involved and intrusive process involving over 300 government officials will be done by year-end. Key excerpts:

“I commend the United Launch Alliance (ULA) on its launch successes to date. However, year after year, ULA has increased its prices…. In FY13 the Air Force paid on average in excess of $380 million for each national security launch, while subsidizing ULA’s fixed costs to the tune of more than $1 billion per year…. By contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 price for an EELV mission is well under $100M… and SpaceX seeks no subsidies…. had SpaceX been awarded the missions ULA received under its recent non-competed 36 core block buy, we would have saved the taxpayer $11.6 billion…. now we have serious concerns that it may not be the case that 5 missions [planned outside the block buy] will be openly competed [in FY15]…. To be clear, every mission capable of being launched by qualified new entrants should be competed this year and every year moving forward…. Consistent with federal procurement regulations and DOD acquisition directives, when a competitive environment exists, the Government should utilize firm, fixed-price, FAR Part 12 contracts that properly incent contractors to deliver on-time and on-budget. That also means eliminating $1 billion subsidies to the incumbent, as those subsidies create an extremely unequal playing field.”

Air Force data that wasn’t public until the GAO’s report yesterday (q.v. March 4/14) show $2.247 billion in FY13 funding for 11 launches from all EELV customers, which works out to $204 million per launch. The comparison may not be exact – either way, ULA’s problem is that they’re unlikely to be able to compete with SpaceX on a level playing field, now that SpaceX has refined rockets whose significantly lower costs are a product of hardware research & design. The GAO has explained (q.v. March 4/14) why pure fixed-price competition is best for SpaceX, but the implications go farther. ULA’s problem isn’t just competitive, it’s existential. Firm-fixed price competition for every launch, under a structure that eliminated byzantine cost-reporting systems, could turn ULA into a sharply-downsized bit player very quickly.

To survive, ULA has 3 options: (1) Hope that lobbying funds can deliver them contracts by skewing competitive structures, and limiting competition, regardless of costs to the government, even as military budgets shrink; (2) Deliver new designs with different cost points, soon, thanks to major, fast-moving and wide-ranging internal design efforts that are already underway; (3) Hope that future accidents force SpaceX into a lesser launch status, and force Falcon redesigns with higher costs. Just to make things really interesting, and highlight the need for #2, Musk’s testimony makes a pointed reference to the Atlas V’s Russian engine. If supplies depend on President Putin’s permission, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing “assured access to space.”

Competition options
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March 4/14: GAO Report. The GAO releases GAO-14-377R, “The Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Competitive Procurement”. The period from 2002 – 2013 has seen a total of $18.974 billion spent on 55 military and government launches, and the GAO places the total for EELV-type space launches to 2030 at an astonishing $70 billion. They also look at potential competition structures, which is a critical question. There are outside indications that the federal government could save up to half of its costs, as well as risks that the wrong acquisition policy could entrench existing or new monopolies. What’s the right thing to do? The GAO’s competition structure chart is reproduced here.

The GAO also covers significant changes in the EELV contract structure. Projected escalations in EELV costs were so high that they forced a new acquisition strategy in 2011, and the Pentagon & NRO’s homework included both intrusive and detailed pricing data for ULA rocket components, and scrutiny of the government’s own launch processes. A June 2013 contract for 35 cores was finalized in December 2013, leveraging insights gained to improve government bargaining, combining the 2 previous launch & infrastructure contracts into 1 framework (but 2 budget lines), and creating a touted $4.4 billion in relative savings, according to the USAF. Even so, nailing down exact costs per launch remains tricky, because about 75% of cost-reimbursement items still aren’t broken out per launch. Other key excerpts:

“…DOD officials say the administrative burden of renegotiating every year will be substantially lessened due to the new contract’s simplified structure…. ULA periodically sells launch services to customers outside of the EELV program, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and to commercial customers. Because DOD pays for ULA’s fixed costs, DOD receives compensation… on a per-launch basis for launches ULA sells to non-DOD customers. Prior to the December 2013 contract modification, compensation amounts were loosely based on an average of 30 days of launch pad use… DOD was reimbursed through price reductions on ULA invoices submitted to DOD at the end of the fiscal year. Under the new contract, compensation is based on some actual costs, including factory support and direct labor hours, and is approximately three times the dollar amount per-launch of reimbursements under previous contracts.”

As for the new competition regime, which is expected to start in FY15, it’s worth noting that some of the questions involve the byzantine reporting systems demanded by cost-reimbursement approaches. ULA had to install them, raising their costs and lowering corporate flexibility. SpaceX hasn’t, and a firm-fixed price per launch cost wouldn’t force them to. The US government may move to systems that would force such systems on SpaceX, despite firm-fixed costs half as much as ULA’s. Cost alone won’t be the decider, either:

“DOD officials told us they intend to use a best value approach in evaluating proposals from all competitors… may also consider mission risk, taking past performance into account, and satellite vehicle integration risks…. DOD is currently developing its methodology for comparing launch proposals, including establishing how proposals are to be structured, and what the specific evaluation criteria will be…. “

Jan 6/14: SpaceX. SpaceX launches the THAICOM 6 satellite from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40. It’s a successful launch that reaches a targeted 295 x 90,000 km geosynchronous transfer orbit at 22.5 degrees inclination.

More to the point, it’s the 3rd of 3 required certification flights for EELV qualification. Looks like there’s going to be a new competitor in town. Until then, the company says that “SpaceX has nearly 50 launches on manifest, of which over 60% are for commercial customers.” In case anyone was still wondering, ULA and Airbus Defence & Space have a serious competitor on their hands. Sources: SpaceX, “SpaceX Successfully Launches Thaicom 6 Satellite To Geostationary Transfer Orbit”.

Dec 16/13: FY14 Production. United Launch Services LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $530.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, which finalizes the multi-year FY 2014 – 2017 contract, and sets the FY 2014 buy (q.v. June 16/13, Oct 18/13: TL $2.558 billion). Which may explain why $679 million in FY 2014 funds can be committed immediately.

Recall that the FY 2014 budget (q.v. April 10/13) begins a split between EELV Launch Capability (ELC) and Launch Services (ELS). This is the ELC award. ULA will produce the following configurations: Air Force Atlas V 501, Air Force Atlas V 511, Air Force Delta IV 4,2, Air Force Delta IV 5,4, and a National Reconnaissance Organization Delta IV Heavy. Orders for FY 2015 – 2017 will have to be exercised separately.

Work will be performed at Centennial, CO; Vandenberg AFB, CA; and Cape Canaveral Air Station, FL, and is expected to be complete by Q2 2018. The USAF’s Launch Systems Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Los Angeles AFB, CA manages the contract (FA8811-13-C-0003, PZ0001).

ULA Rockets bought, Block buy finalized

Dec 3/13: SpaceX. SpaceX successfully launches a civil SES satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. SES-8 is the Falcon 9’s 1st GTO launch, the 1st commercial flight from Cape Canaveral in over 4 years… and the 2nd of 3 certification flights needed to certify the Falcon 9 to fly EELV national security missions. Sources: SpaceX, “SpaceX Successfully Completes First Mission to Geostationary Transfer Orbit”.

SpaceX SES-8 to GTO

Oct 18/13: FY 2014 ELC. United Launch Services LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $939.1 million sole-source contract modification covering FY 2014 support work, including integration of the space vehicle with the launch vehicle mission assurance, program management, systems engineering, launch site and range operations, and maintaining the launch infrastructure. The contract’s structure is cost-plus-incentive-fee, with cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract line items.

$294.3 million is committed immediately. Recall that the FY 2014 budget (q.v. April 10/13) begins a split between EELV Launch Capability (ELC) and Launch Services (ELS).

Work will be performed at Littleton, CO, Vandenberg AFB, CA, and Cape Canaveral Air Station, FL and will run until fiscal year end on Sept 30/14. The USAF Launch Systems Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles AFB, CA manages the contract (FA8811-13-C-0003, PO 0002).

FY 2014 ULA base (ELC) award

FY 2013

Major program changes: Multi-year block buy is a huge windfall to ULA, but opens 28% of EELV to competitors; SpaceX begins Falcon 9 certification process. Falcon Heavy
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June 26/13: United Launch Services LLC in Littleton, CO receives a maximum $1.088 billion sole-source letter contract for “production services in support of” 7 launch rockets: AF Atlas V 401; AF Atlas V 501; AF Delta IV 4,2; AF Delta IV 5,4; NRO Atlas 401; NRO Atlas 541; and a NRO Delta IV 5,2. $525 million in FY13 funds is committed immediately.

A quick primer on reading these configurations is in order. “AF” is the US Air Force, while “NRO” is the USA’s National Reconnaissance Office. The numbers after the rocket type represent its payload cover (fairing) diameter, and the number of boosters attached to the core rocket. In the Atlas models, 501 means a 5m fairing, 0 boosters, and everything ends with a 1. If we strapped on 4 boosters, it would become an Atlas V 541. For Boeing’s Delta rockets, the attributes are broken out more clearly: (4,2) means a 4m fairing and 2 boosters. When we use a 5m fairing instead, it becomes a Delta IV 5,2.

Work will be performed at Centennial, CO, and is expected to be complete by 2015. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Systems Directorate at Los Angeles AFB, CA manages the contract (FA8811-13-C-0003).

ULA Rockets bought

June 11/13: SpaceX. The USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center signs a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with SpaceX, to begin certifying Falcon 9 v1.1 for National Security Space (NSS) missions according to the New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG).

The NECG process will monitor at least 3 certification flights, after looking at the Falcon 9 v1.1’s flight history, vehicle design, reliability, process maturity, safety systems, manufacturing and operations, systems engineering, risk management and launch facilities. The CRADA will be in effect until all certification activities are complete, and the USAF has made a decision. USAF SMC.

May 24/13: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/12 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF] describes and costs out the major shifts underway (vid. April 10/13):

“Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) – Program costs increased $35,717.0 million (+102.1%) from $34,968.1 million to $70,685.1 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of 60 launch services from 91 to 151 launch services (+$16,040.5 million) resulting from an extension of the launch manifest from FY 2018 to FY 2028 and the program life extension from FY 2020 to FY 2030 that was directed in Space Command’s Strategic Master Plan (+$20,987.5 million). These increases incorporate cost saving methodologies implemented in the revised contracting strategy, to include incentivizing the contractor, enabling the government to implement cost cutting initiatives during technical evaluations and contract negotiations, improving insight into the contractors’ costs, and enforcing better cost management. These increases were partially offset by cost savings realized in the FY 2014 President’s Budget Future Years Defense Program due to a revised acquisition strategy and other initiatives (-$1,671.6 million).”

SAR – big program changes

April 10/13: FY14 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.

This budget describes major changes in the EELV program, whose components have been moving into place for a couple of years now. These changes include the use of the Open Launch Framework to compete almost 30% of planned launched through FY 2017, as described above. In addition, beginning with the FY 2015 budget submission, EELV Launch Services (ELS) and EELV Launch Capability (ELC) support will become separate budget lines.

Major shifts for EELV

Dec 5/12: SpaceX. SpaceX announces that USAF Space and Missile Systems Center has awarded them 2 “EELV-class” missions. DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) is slated for launch by a Falcon 9 in late 2014, while STP-2 (Space Test Program 2) would be launched aboard a Falcon Heavy in mid-2015. The Falcon Heavy launch is significant, as the rocket hasn’t flown yet, but SpaceX also says that “the awards mark the first EELV-class missions awarded to the company to date.”

Both missions fall under Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3), and aren’t directly part of EELV. OSP-3 is its own contract for small and medium-class military payloads. Orbital Science’s Minotaur rockets had been the staples for those missions, but they’re going to have more competition now. OSP-3 is also partly designed to provide new entrants an opportunity to demonstrate their vehicle capabilities, as part of the path to EELV certification. These 2 SpaceX missions are expected to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Sources: SpaceX, “SpaceX Awarded Two EELV-Class Missions From The United States Air Force” | Aerospace Blog, “SpaceX Bests Orbital Sciences In First OSP-3 Duels”.

FY 2012

Certification framework opens EELV to competition; Launch contracts; Boeing sues for pre-ULA costs; NASA’s CCiCap a boost to ULA and competitors. Dream Chaser & Atlas V
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Sept 28/12: FY 2013. United Launch Services in Littleton, CO receives a $1.168 billion cost plus incentive fee and cost plus fixed fee contract for 4 Delta IV and Atlas V launches.

Work will be performed in Littleton, CO, and the contract will run through FY 2013 to Sept 30/13. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, CA manages the contract (FA8811-13-C-0001).

Aug 3/12: NASA CCiCap. NASA issues about $1 billion in contracts under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program. These “space taxis” will rely on heavy-lift rockets to make it into space, and 2 of the 3 winning entries have picked Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V, which was the subject of a ULA-NASA agreement in July 2011. That’s good news for the Atlas industrial base, and for the Pentagon. Seven firms entered, and the 3 winners are:

Boeing in Houston, TX – $460 million for their CST-1000 capsule, which will launch using Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V.

Sierra Nevada Corporation in Louisville, CO – $212.5 million for their Dream Chaser space plane, an evolution of a NASA’s former HL-20 test vehicle that’s boosted into orbit on an Atlas V.

SpaceX in Hawthorne, CA – $440 million for a manned version of the Dragon capsule that recently docked at the International Space Station. They will continue to use their own Falcon 9 booster. Read “NASA’s CCiCap: Can Space Taxis Help the Pentagon?” for full coverage.


July 26/12: GAO report & EELV plans. The US GAO releases “Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle: DOD Is Addressing Knowledge Gaps in Its New Acquisition Strategy.” The Pentagon plans to spend about $19 billion on launch services from FY 2013-2017, and $35 billion through 2030.

The question is how that will be divided up, and the Pentagon hasn’t made a decision about the length or amount of any block buy. They’re trying to get a very clear picture of EELV costs, down to the sub-component level, and won’t decide until they have that. Meanwhile, they plan a FY 2013 EELV bridge buy. The ULA will present its certified block buy pricing proposal later this summer, with price proposals for its Atlas V and Delta IV booster cores to cover different launch quantities across several contract lengths. The Defense Contract Audit Agency will be involved in reviewing contractor and subcontractor proposals and cost or pricing data.

The idea of joint NASA/Pentagon EELV buys is out the window, as DOD and NASA plan to continue to acquire launch vehicles on separate contracts. The GAO thinks the US government isn’t getting as much benefit or leverage as it could, and launch technology R&D is also a concern. Existing R&D programs are receiving minimal funding. Less than $8 million of the roughly $1.7 billion in the FY 2013 EELV budget is R&D, for instance, with no R&D funding budgeted after 2014. This naturally leads to the question of other launch providers, who are working with NASA already and developing new technologies. This excerpt makes it seem like an afterthought, rather than an avidly pursued solution, but time will tell:

“Another assessment that will take place prior to EELV contract award is an evaluation of the potential production capability and technology development status of a new launch provider, and potential competitor of ULA. DOD has authorized an assessment of a launch vehicle provider who may in the future be certified by the Air Force to compete with ULA for EELV-class missions. The assessment is being conducted by retired Air Force personnel with launch expertise. The results of this assessment are expected to be finalized by the end of the fiscal year.”

July 20/12: Atlas V & NASA. The United Launch Alliance has completed a review of its Atlas V rocket to assess its suitability for NASA human spaceflight, under the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). NASA provided technical consultation during the ULA’s System Requirements/Design (SRR/ SDR) reviews. This is a follow-on to the July 2011 co-operation agreement between ULA and NASA.

Atlas V was picked because it had already launched numerous satellites and robotic missions into space for NASA, including the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and the Juno probe to Jupiter. That gives it a strong baseline that it doesn’t need to test, but human spaceflight is a step beyond that. ULA has partnered to launch Boeing’s CST-100 capsule, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spaceplane, and Blue Origin’s Space Vehicle on missions to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station. NASA | ULA.

July 20/12: We Sue. Boeing is suing the USAF for $385 million, to recover “legitimate, allowable costs of the Delta IV program that Boeing incurred prior to the creation of ULA in 2006.” Boeing and the ULA filed the joint complaint on June 14/12 “to preserve their rights to recover these costs,” since ULA is the legal “successor-in-interest” to the relevant contracts and agreements.

This isn’t a surprise to the USAF. Boeing reportedly made the recovery of those costs a condition of accepting the EELV restructuring and joining ULA, back in 2006. Reuters.

May 14/12: United Launch Services, LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $398 million firm-fixed-price contract for an Atlas V EELV launch carrying the narrowband MUOS-4 communications satellite, and a Delta IV EELV launch carrying a GPS satellite.

Work will be performed in Decatur, AL, and the contract runs until Nov 30/14. The USAF’s SMC/LRK in El Segundo, CA manages the contract (FA8811-11-C-0001 PO 0018).

March 26/12: The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics redesignates the EELV Program as an Acquisition Category ID (ACAT ID) Major Defense Acquisition Program, and removes it from the “sustainment phase” designation. Source: USN budget documents.

Program shift

Jan 10/12: Launches. United Launch Services, LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $1.516 billion firm-fixed-price contract for Atlas V EELV launch services in support of Defense Meteorological Satellites Program satellite DMSP-19, the narrowband UHF Mobile User Objective System satellite MUOS-3, and 3 National Reconnaissance Office missions. It also buys Delta IV EELV launch services in support of Air Force Space Command-4, 2 GPS satellites, and the DMSP-20 weather satellite.

Work will be performed in Decatur, AL, and the contract runs until June 30/14. The USAF’s SMC/LRK in El Segundo, CA manages the contract (FA8811-11-C-001 PO 0012).

December 2011: Industrial. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics USD (AT&L), Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy office, completes a study of the liquid rocket engine industrial base. It’s part of their efforts to estimate independent cost estimates for 2 EELV engines.

The bad news is that the Space Shuttle had been stabilizing this industrial base, and now it’s gone. Unless military missions get an alternative launch vehicle, these engines are necessary for national security – but all of the liquid rocket engines currently supporting these requirements are associated with EELV. The report provides evidence of instability in the supplier base, and adds that the current lack of design opportunities make it difficult for industry to sustain a skilled workforce for future liquid rocket engine development programs.

The study is used to highlight the need for an EELV block buy, in order to provide certainty for these companies. It could also highlight the need for private alternatives, in order to remove dependence. US GAO.

Nov 28/11: Launch. United Launch Services, LLC in Littleton, CO receives a $150 million unfinalized firm-fixed-price contract, for launch services in support of Wideband Global Satcom satellite F5. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, CA manages the contract (FA8811-11-C-0001).

Oct 14/11: Competition – and Politics. NASA, the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the US Air Force announce an agreement this week to establish clear criteria for “certification of commercial providers of launch vehicles used for national security space and civil space missions.” In English: the market for national security launches just opened up beyond EELV, which will have to compete in some segments.

For high-value “Class A, failure is not an option” long-lived national security satellites, whose addition has a high marginal value to the existing constellation, EELV’s “Category 3” low risk certified rockets will remain the only option. There are no A1 or A2 launches, barring a huge national emergency and Presidential orders. At the other extreme, “Class D” payloads could fly on anything, even “Category 1” launch vehicles classified as high risk or unproven (to keep symmetry, shouldn’t that have been the Cat 3?). This will help NASA most, but each category now has a specific number of successful launches needed for eligibility, as well as a known set of technical, safety and test data needed to verify that record.

The new framework’s flexibility means that every successful launch by non-EELV platforms brings it closer to a new category, which will grant access to a forecastable set of new opportunities. The big and obvious potential winner here in SpaceX (vid. May 23/11), whose Falcon 9 is poised to compete in the EELV’s segments. Orbital’s Minotaur family may also benefit.

In response, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are seeking to close the opened door by pushing a multi-year deal to buy 40 ULA rockets and launches from FY 2013 – 2017 inclusive. This would make it much more difficult for other private firms to secure orders, regardless of the certification framework. The stakes are high. Some estimates see the deal as being worth more than $12 billion, and the ULA’s 2016 budget could grow to around $2.0-2.2 billion, from its current 2011 figure of $1.2 billion. ULA claims that their deal would still leave 20% of the US government launch market up for grabs. SpaceX doubts those projections, and says that it could deliver saving far above the ULA’s advertised 15% – possibly up to $1 billion per year. In response, Congress has asked the GAO to report on this issue. NASA | USAF | Aviation Week | TMC’s Satellite Spotlight | Space News | The Space Review | Washington Post.


FY 2011

Launch contracts; Atlas V for manned spaceflight?; EELV R&D plan to improve engine and replace obsolete parts; Contract type shifting; Hearings showcase SpaceX’s cost advantage over NASA. Lynx XR-5K18 nozzle test
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July 28/11: ULA R&D. United Launch Services in Littleton, CO receives a $34.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to complete the development of the RL10C-1 engine. The RL-10 is the EELV’s upper stage rocket engine, made by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The RL10A-4-2 powers the Atlas V’s upper stage, and the RL10B-2 powers the Delta IV’s upper stage.

The USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Launch and Range Systems Directorate in El Segundo, CA manages the contract (FA8811-11-C-0001).

July 18/11: Atlas V & NASA. The ULA and NASA sign an unfunded Space Act Agreement that will begin certifying the Atlas V for manned spaceflight. Success could make NASA a larger customer, which would make the Pentagon happy too.

NASA gave ULA some minor contracts in 2010, designed to help them develop monitoring systems for the rocket that could feed information to astronauts. Under this next step, ULA will provide Atlas V data to NASA, which is already a customer for Atlas V launches. In turn, NASA will share its human spaceflight experience with ULA, and tell them what it wants in terms of crew transportation system capabilities, and draft certification requirements for the accompanying booster. ULA will provide NASA feedback about those requirements, including providing input on the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of NASA’s proposed certification approach. Eventually, they’ll agree on a certification path, and work toward checking off those requirements. NASA.

June 2011: R&D plan. The EELV program provides a sustainment plan to Congress, identifying required technology and investments to maintain the program’s current capability. From a GAO report:

“The investments identified in the plan include $80 million for the RL10C engine conversion activities, $500 million in non-recurring costs over 5 years to develop a new or evolved upper stage engine, and $100 million each year to sustain and replace avionics, ordnance, ground command, control, and communications, and launch infrastructure. The plan states that due to the limited demand for some types of materials and components for propulsion, avionics, and ordnance systems, which can include complex materials, electronics, and computers, special emphasis must be placed on designing and qualifying new designs to mitigate obsolescence issues. Many of the parts across the systems either have designs that have become obsolete or are no longer produced.”

R&D plan

June 30/11: ULA FY12. United Launch Services in Littleton, CO receives a $1.13 billion cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to cover EELV launch capability, engineering support, program management, launch and range site activities, mission integration, and mission specific design and qualification from July 1/11 through Sept 30/12, the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

This is a change from previous contracts, which were cost-plus award fee- frameworks. The contract includes a mission performance incentive plan, and the change in contract type is intended to encourage the ULA to deliver mission success at a lower cost.

Work will be performed at Littleton, CO, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. $300.4 million has been committed, which includes $187,500 that will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. The SMC/LRK at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA manages the contract (FA8811-11-C-0002).

Contract type shifting

May 23/11: Private competition. Congressional hearings shine a light on an emerging EELV competitor, from the American private sector. Aviation Week says that “SpaceX Might Be Able To Teach NASA A Lesson, after it spends under $400 million to do what experts estimate would have taken NASA around $4 billion. A May 4/11 update from SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk lays out their competitive position:

“I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record… The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million… The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference…

“The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million… The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium… The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million… The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat. SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.”

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Heavy, aims to challenge EELV heavy lift platforms, offering higher payloads and lower costs.

May 6/11: Launches. United Launch Services, LLC in Littleton, CO receives a not-to-exceed $575 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide EELV launch services in support of the following missions: Mobile User Objective Services 2; Wideband Global Satellite Communications 6; and National Reconnaissance Office Launch 65. At this point, $245.25 million has been committed.

Work will be performed in Littleton, CO. The contract is managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center/Launch and Range Systems Directorate, at Los Angeles AFB, CA (FA8811-11-C-0001).

March 31/11: Extension. ULA in Littleton, CO receives a $293 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification, to extend the EELV contract by 3 months. Work will be performed at Littleton, CO. The USAF’s Space & Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, CA manages the contract (FA8816-06-C-0002, P00275).

March 17/11: R&D. ULA and XCOR Aerospace announce successful hot-fire demonstrations of a lighter-weight, lower-cost vacuum nozzle design for liquid-fueled rocket-engines. They used aluminum alloys and innovative manufacturing techniques to create a cheaper nozzle that’s hundreds of pounds lighter, and tested it on a modified Lynx XR-5K18 LOx/Kerosene engine. The nozzle was developed under a 2010 joint risk-reduction program, and aims to create lower cost space launches for ULA, and ULA has now launched a follow-on program with XCOR to develop a liquid oxygen (LOX)/LH2 engine in the 25,000 – 30,000 pound thrust class.

The companies structured their LOX/LH2 engine development program with multiple “go / no-go” decision points and performance milestones, while leaning on XCOR’s small-company environment to achieve fast turnaround and performance. ULA | XCOR.

March 11/11: NROL-37. A Delta IV rocket lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex-37 launch pad at 6:38 p.m. EST, with a National Reconnaissance Office NROL-27 national defense satellite. This is the 4th NRO satellite launch by United Launch Alliance in 6 months: NROL-41 aboard an Atlas V from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) on Sept 20/10; NROL-32 aboard a Delta IV from Cape Canaveral on Nov 21/10 (see entry); and an NROL-49 aboard a Delta IV from VAFB on Jan 20/11. United Launch Alliance release.

Feb 11/11: Budget spikes. WSJ reports that the Obama administration is increasing by 25% the budget projection for the Delta IV and Atlas V heavy lift rockets, reaching $1.8 billion for FY 2012. Over 5 years, that budget line would climb to a total of about $10 billion, a roughly 50% jump from earlier projections.

Dec 20/10: A $101 million contract modification to provide launch services for the NROL-36 mission. At this time, all funds have been committed by the SMC/LRK in El Segundo, CA (FA8816-06-C-0004; P00019).

Dec 2/10: R&D. United Launch Services in Littleton, CO receives a $21.2 million contract modification, adding the “fleet standardization program core effort” to the EELV launch capability contract. At this time, $1.3 million has been committed by the SMC/LRK in El Segundo, CA (FA8816-06-C-0002; P00219).

Dec 1/10: ULA 4th Anniversary. The ULA celebrates its 4th anniversary, which includes 45 launches in its 48 months of operation. 2020 saw the launch of 4 Atlas-V, 1 Delta-II and 3 Delta-IV rockets.


Nov 21/10: NRO satellite. A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex-37 launch pad at 5:58 p.m. EST, with a National Reconnaissance Office satellite, which is reported to be the largest spy satellite ever launched. This was the 4th Delta IV launch and the 351st launch overall in the Delta program history. United Launch Alliance release

FY 2010

Extensions, launches, R&D. Atlas V w. AEHF-1
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Sept 24/10: Extension. United Launch Service in Centennial, CO receives a contract modification for up to $461.6 million, exercising an option to extend the EELV contract by 6 months. At this time, $58.5 million has been committed by the SMC LRSW/PK in El Segundo, CA (FA8816-06-C-0002; PO0237).

June 2/10: United Launch Services, LLC in Centennial, CO received a $90.2 million contract which will “provide launch services for a medium-plus lift launch vehicle,” on the National Reconnaissance Office’s Launch 38 mission. Other documents establish that the rocket will be an Atlas V. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the LRSW/PK in El Segundo, CA (FA8816-06-C-0004). See also FedBizOpps solicitation.

March 4/10: GOES launch. A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lifted off from its Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex-37 launch pad at 6:57 p.m. EST, with the 3rd and final GOES weather satellite in the GOES-N series on board. Following a nominal 4 hour, 21-minute flight, the Delta IV successfully deployed the GOES-P spacecraft. GOES-P was scheduled to be placed in its final orbit on March 13 and renamed GOES-15. The multi-mission GOES series of satellites provides NOAA and NASA with data to support weather, solar and space operations, and enables future science improvements in weather prediction and remote sensing. The next-generation GOES satellite program, called GOES-R, is expected to launch its 1st satellite in 2015. United Launch Alliance release | NASA release

Feb 10/10: R&D. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a United Technologies company, announces that it completed the initial step in certifying the RS-68A rocket engine by hot-fire testing the 1st certification engine. The RS-68A is an upgrade of the RS-68, a liquid-hydrogen/ liquid-oxygen booster engine for the Delta IV family of launch vehicles. Each RS-68A engine will provide 702,000 pounds of thrust, or 39,000 more pounds of thrust than the RS-68 engine.

During the hot-fire test at John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the 1st RS-68A certification engine burned for 190 seconds, with operating time split between 102% and 55% power levels. The company will hot-fire test the 1st RS-68A certification engine a minimum of 12 times through February and follow that with a similar series of hot-fire tests on its 2nd certification engine in March and April. Engine design certification review and acceptance of flight readiness are currently planned for July 2010.

Oct 2/09: United Launch Services, a Littleton, CO-based subsidiary of United Launch Alliance, received a $927.7 million contract to provide the FY 2010 EELV launch capability effort for the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Launch and Range Systems Material Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, CA, manages these contracts (FA8816-06-C-0001, FA8816-06-C-0002, P00149).

FY 2008 – 2009

Program formally extended to 2030; WGS-2 launch scrubbed; Contracts. Delta IV w. WGS-3
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March 17/09: Leak. WGS-2’s launch is scrubbed, when an anomalous leak rate was detected in the Centaur upper stage oxidizer valve. A follow-on review of the time needed to inspect the Atlas V rocket, fix the identified problem and prepare for a rescheduled attempt revealed it could not take place prior to the Delta II launch date on March 24/09, so the schedule will be moved back beyond that. That date was later set for March 31st, but the satellite ended up launching on April 3/09.

Nov 4/08: Lockheed Martin Space Systems received a maximum $27.5 million contract modification, to provide launch services and hardware coverage for the AFSPC-2 mission and to protect the current launch schedule under the Evolved Expendable Launch Capabilities (ELC) contract. This contract modification covers the Atlas V geo-synchronous orbit and the ELC portions of the AFSPC-2 mission. The contract has a required minimum lead time of 24 months to build and deliver a launch vehicle. Delay of this action will adversely impact the launch manifest for a critical national security AFSPC mission and the contractor’s ability to meet its lead time requirements. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Launch and Range Systems Material Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, CA, manages this contract (FA8816-06-C-0002, Modification P00121).

Oct 17/09: Industrial. Lockheed Martin Space Systems received $19.9 million contract modification to perform supply chain management and technological improvement task to minimize the risk of launch failure by establishing subcontracts with common suppliers and addressing new capabilities to support the upcoming government EELV launches. These projects include lithium ion battery development for flight safety and development of a replacement resin for solid rocket boosters. Any delay in these projects will have detrimental effects to mission capability and schedule. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Launch and Range Systems Material Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, CA, manages this contract (FA8816-06-C-0002, P00095).

Sept 18/09: R&D. Lockheed Martin Space Systems received a not to exceed $30.7 million contract modification to provide a program for the development and implementation of a Global Position System metric tracking to include a detailed program acquisition/execution plan and Integration Master Schedule supporting a September 2011 initial operational capacity (Atlas configurations) and 2012 (Delta configuration) availability. Identified milestones will be evaluated at the time the individual statements of work are resubmitted. This is an initial study that will lay the foundation for the actual development of the launch requirements. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Launch and Range Systems Material Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, CA, manages this contract (FA8816-06-C-0002, P00097).

Aug 8/08: Extension. On Feb 12/08, Boeing’s not-to-exceed amount to support the USA’s Delta IV rocket program was raised to $582.3 million, as its contract was extended. The goal was and is to “maintain critical engineering and integration skills and the infrastructure necessary to support the Delta IV Program and our nation’s space assets.” The Delta-IV Heavy rocket, developed under the EELV program, made its first flight on Dec 21/04.

Now the USAF is modifying that cost-plus award fee contract, adding up to $516.1 million to extend the contract to Sept 30/09 (end of FY 2009) and raising the contract’s maximum value to $1.656 billion. In addition, the contract has a $557.1 million option; if exercised, it would extend the contract through FY 2010.

The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Launch and Range Systems Material Wing (LR) at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, CA, manages this contract (FA8816-06-C-0001, P00024).

June 27/08: Extension. The USAF is modifying a cost plus award fee contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. of Littleton, CO for $1.384 billion. The Evolved Expendable Launch Capability (ELC) contract is being modified to cover a number of things. Part of the modification involves continued support for the last 2 months of FY 2008, which are August and September. This procurement will also extend the contract’s period of performance through FY 2009, and incorporate a one year priced option for FY 2010.

Lockheed Martin will provide standard and mission unique integration and development, systems engineering, program management, transportation, and launch and range operations for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base, as required to launch American space assets. At this time $144.7 million has been obligated. The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Launch and Range Systems Material Wing in El Segundo, CA manages this contract (FA8816-06-C-0002, P00076).

March 31/08: MUOS-1. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. of Littleton, CO receives a modified firm fixed price contract for $124.1 million to purchase EELV launch services and Atlas medium-plus rocket (Atlas 5510) to launch the Mobile Users Objective System (MUOS)-1 Satellite. At this time all funds have been committed (FA8816-06-C-0004, Modification Number P00002).

See also Lockheed Martin’s March 27/08 release “Lockheed Martin Team Achieves Major Milestone On U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System.” With all options exercised, the contract for up to 5 MUOS satellites delivering 3G voice/data transmission has a total potential value of $3.26 billion. The first MUOS satellite along with the associated ground system are scheduled for on-orbit hand over to the US Navy in 2010.

Feb 12/08: Extension. Boeing Launch Services of Huntington Beach, CA received a contract modification that changes the scope of contract #FA8816-06-C-0001/P00011 by adding an additional 4 months to the time period, and $288 million to the not-to-exceed (NTE) amount. This change brings the NTE amount to $582.3 million, and is considered “necessary to maintain uninterrupted support of the Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Capability contract.” At this time, $216 of the additional $288 million has been committed by SMC/LRK at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA (FA8816-06-C-0001, P00017).

Feb 12/08: Extension. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Littleton, CO received a contract modification that changes the scope of contract #FA8816-06-C-0002 by adding an additional 4 months to the time period and $210.4 million to the not-to-exceed (NTE) amount. This change brings the NTE amount to $459.3 million, and is considered “necessary to maintain uninterrupted support of the Atlas-V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Capability contract.” At this time, $157.8 million of the additional $210.4 million has been committed by SMC/LRK at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA (FA8816-06-C-0002, P00075).

Jan 23/08: Boeing Co. of Huntington Beach, CA received a contract for $505.3 million. This contract covers launch services using Delta IV heavy and medium launch vehicles under the EELV program; the rockets will launch the US National Reconnaissance Office’s missions #27, 32, and 49. At this time $252.7 million has already been obligated by the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles CA (FA8811-08-C-0005).

Oct 31/07: The AFSPC’s Routine Spacelift Enabling Concept Document formally extends the EELV Program an additional 10 years, from 2020 through 2030. Source: USN budget documents.


FY 2006 – 2007

Contracts; 1st ULA Atlas V rocket launch. Atlas V
Orbital Express Launch
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March 15/07: Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne in West Palm Beach, FL received a $10 million undefinitized firm-fixed-price contract against the McDonnell Douglas Corporation’s other transaction agreement, for the RL-10 assured access to space projects. “At this time, a total of $896.7 million has been obligated.” Solicitations began November 2006, negotiations were complete March 2007, and work will be complete December 2007. The Headquarters Launch and Range Systems Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA issued the contract (F04701-98-9-0005-0080).

In English: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas and subcontractor Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne will increase the producibility and reliability of the RL-10 upper stage engine, thus enhancing mission assurance for the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets on the EELV Program. As PW Rocketdyne notes, the RL10B-2 powers the upper stage of Boeing’s Delta IV, and the RL10A-4-2 powers the upper stage of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V.

March 8/07: United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches First USAF Atlas V. This was their 9th successful Atlas V launch and 1st ULA Atlas launch, as well as the 1st EELV Atlas launch for the US Air Force. The mission used the new ESPA (EELV Secondary Payload Adapter) which is designed to integrate multiple smaller satellites; the 6 satellites on this mission (DARPA’s Orbital Express x2, MidSTAR-1-1, STPSat-1, Cibola Flight Experience, and FalconSAT-3) were delivered into two distinctly different orbits.

EELV launches Atlas V

Feb 28/07: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Littleton, CO receives a $108 million firm-fixed-price contract to launch the first AEHF military communications satellite using an Atlas V Launch Vehicle under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. At this time, total funds have been obligated and work will be complete February 2009. The Headquarters Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA issued the contract (FA8816-06-C0004).

Jan 10/07: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Huntington Beach, CA receives a $20 million firm fixed price contract modification is for pre/post mission engineering and critical components under the Assured Access to Space program. McDonnell Douglas will perform supply chain management and technological improvement tasks to minimize the risk of launch failure for the Delta IV Rocket on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program (EELV) under the Launch and Range System Wing.

At this time, total funds have been obligated. Work will be complete December 2007. The Headquarters Launch and Range Systems Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA (F04701-98-9-0005-0079).

Nov 17/06: Boeing Co. of Huntington Beach, CA, receives a $674.1 million cost-plus-award fee contract for Delta IV Launch Capability for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) rocket program. This effort includes a number of components: launch and Range Operations for Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.; Mission Integration; Mission Unique Development and Integration; System Engineering and program management; subcontractor support; factory support engineering; and special studies. Solicitations began April 2005, negotiations were complete June 2006, and work will be complete September 2007. At this time, $405.2 million have been obligated. The Headquarters Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA issued the contract (FA8816-06-C-0001).

Additional Readings Firms & Platforms

Some Key USAF Payloads

Launch Tracking

Official Reports & Legal

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Categories: News

Naval Air, Unmanned: The Long Deferred UCLASS Develops

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 00:18
UCAS-D/ N-UCAS concept
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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

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

LCA Tejas: An Indian Fighter – With Foreign Help

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 00:16
Tejas LCA
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India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Radar Love: Weapons & Fire Control Radar Failure & Replacement EL/M-2032
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The Tejas project’s original radar, like its original engine choice, very nearly sank the project. The state-run Aeronautical Development Agency had originally intended to use Ericsson Microwave Systems’ PS-05/A radar, until they changed their mind and decided to develop their own. India’s Multi Mode Radar (MMR) program was started in June 1991, with a “Probable Date of Completion” of 6.5 years. More than 15 years later, development was still plodding away as a joint effort between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Hyderabad, India’s Electronics and Radar Development Laboratory in Bangalore, and the Centre for Airborne Studies. Even worse, test results for the radar were poor.

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

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

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

Other Sensors & Defensive LITENING pod

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

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

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

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

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

Engines & Alternatives F414-GE-400 engine
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With its radar issue solved by a foreign partnership, the fighter’s indigenous Kaveri engine (vid. Appendix B) was left as the project’s biggest unresolved issue. That was resolved with a stopgap, followed by a competition to field a working engine; even so, India’s DRDO continues to pour dollars and time into Kaveri development.

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

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

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

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

In the Navy… Naval LCA 2011 briefing
click for video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEL on EW, 2011
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Oct 16/13: Why no EW? The DRDO has finally fitted a Tejas fighter (PV-1) with electronic warfare/ self-protection systems, and intends to begin flight tests in November and December. Why has this key development been delayed for 5 years? Believe it or not, they thought it was more important to preserve the plane’s flight safety record:

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

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

DRDO’s problems, in a nutshell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F414 engine deal finalized

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

UCAV: a good use for Kaveri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAL: Industrial fail

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

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

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

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

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

A DASH of trouble

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

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

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

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

Lessons learned report

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

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

Naval variant flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tejas initial clearance; RAFAEL Derby picked as MRAAM; Kaveri engine still alive but in limbo; HAL pushed to outsource. IOC flight
(click to view video)

Dec 21/11: Kaveri. In response to Parliamentary questions, Defence Minister Antony explains the Kaveri engine’s current development status:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RAFAEL Derby BVRAAM picked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tejas IOC

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

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


GE’s F414 engine for Tejas Mk.2/Naval; 1st Naval LCA prototype rolled out. EJ200s in Eurofighter
(click to view full)

Nov 21/10: Cost. The Times of India places the cost of India’s Tejas program at 17,269 crore, or over $3.7 billion. The report adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F414 engine picked for Tejas Mk.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naval LCA rollout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India: 6 Naval LCA.

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 25/09: Government of India:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight #1,000


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2006 – 2008

1st 20 production Tejas ordered; IAI to substitute for MMR radar failure; F404 engines ordered; AA-11 fired; Naval Tejas contemplated. AA-11/R-73 Archer
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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
(click to view full)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GE F404

Those goals did not prove to be compatible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

\Additional Readings & Sources Background: LCA Tejas

Background: Ancillary Technologies & Weapons

Background: Tejas Mk.II Technologies

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: News

DoD Blocks Move of JSTARS to Milestone A | LM’s Space Fence System Passes AF Review | Pentagon Report Details Decade Defense $$ Decline

Wed, 09/30/2015 - 00:20

  • The Defense Department has blocked approval of a move to advance the JSTARS recapitalization program into its demonstration phase, known as Milestone A. The program, intended to field a replacement for the Air Force’s fleet of E-8 Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System aircraft, kicked off in August, with the Air Force handing out three contracts to fund pre-engineering and manufacturing development work. The hold-up could be down to the Air Force’s funding strategy for the program, or potentially a changing requirement set.

  • Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence system has passed an Air Force Critical Design Review, according to a company press release. Passing the CDR now means that the full-scale Space Fence System radar and facilities can be constructed on Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands. Designed to serve as a second-generation space surveillance radar system, the Space Fence will allow the Air Force to track satellites and space debris.

  • The Pentagon has released a report detailing a decline in defense spending over the next decade. Forecast figures predict a cut of $454 billion over the FY2013-2021 period, a result of the sequestration which went into effect in March 2013. As lawmakers work to establish a budget agreement for FY2016, officials have warned that personnel may be forced to work without pay.

  • L-3 Communications is settling with the government in an over-billing dispute. Centered on charging for independent contractor personnel on an L-3 contract with the Air Force over the 2006 to 2011 period, the contractor is alleged to have knowingly exaggerated labor hours for time these independent contractors spent at pre-deployment bases in the US before travelling overseas. The $4.63 million settlement was announced by the Justice Department, with the case stemming from whistleblower and former contractor Robert Martin.

Middle East North Africa

  • Jordan will receive four intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft through a $9.8 million contract awarded to L-3 Communications, along with training and support. Thought to be the four remaining MC-12W aircraft currently operated by the US Air Force, the contract will run until next September while the aircraft are likely to be used by Jordan in operations against ISIS.

  • General Dynamics is to reconfigure 150 Moroccan M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks to the situational awareness configuration, following a $358 million Foreign Military Sales contract announced on Monday evening. The Moroccan government has been upgrading its fleet of M1A1s in recent years, requesting a list of upgrades in June 2012 valued at over a billion dollars. The Situational Awareness package includes improved display systems and sensors to provide a clearer picture of the battlespace.

  • British sniper rifles have appeared in the hands of Syrian Army special forces, with a Russian news crew capturing its use on video. Armament Research Services confirmed the identity of the rifle – the Accuracy International Arctic Warfare – on Tuesday, with the rifle also previously spotted in service with Russian special forces. The rifle spotted in the YouTube video appears to be a modern version of rifle in service with the British Army, incorporating an “updated chassis”, manufactured by the Portsmouth-based company.

  • Algeria has received the second of two upgraded amphibious support ships, with Spanish shipyard Navantia undertaking the work through a contract awarded in July 2012. The first vessel was delivered in November 2014, with the contract thought to value approximately $84.3 million.

Asia & Pacific

  • Following Cabinet Committee of Security approval earlier this month, India’s Defence Ministry has signed a $3.1 billion contract with Boeing for Apache and Chinook helicopters. The 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook transport helicopters are slated for delivery between 2018 and 2019, with Boeing agreeing to a 30% offset clause in a contract split into a Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) for the airframes and a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract for weapons, training and sensors. The deal’s signature comes two days before the expiration of a price agreed in 2013, with Boeing granting an extension to this price in July.

  • A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) has refuelled a Lockheed Martin F-35A for the first time, the country’s Defence Ministry announced on Tuesday. The refuelling marks an important step for the RAAF’s five KC-30As as they heads towards Full Operating Capability, with an additional pair ordered from Airbus Defence & Space in July. A RAAF E-7A Wedgetail also refuelled from the aircraft for the first time earlier this year.

Today’s Video

  • Flight simulation at the F-35 Academic Training Center:

Categories: News

Don’t Touch Their Junk: USAF’s SSA Tracking Space Debris

Wed, 09/30/2015 - 00:18
Space Fence concept
(click to view full)

Space is big. Objects in space are very dangerous to each other. Countries that intend to launch objects into space need to know what’s out there, in order to avoid disasters like the 2009 collision of 2 orbital satellites. All they need to do is track many thousands of man-made space objects, traveling at about 9 times the speed of a bullet, and residing in a search area that’s 220,000 times the volume of Earth’s oceans.

The US Air Force Materiel Command’s Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts leads the USA’s Space Fence project. It’s intended to improve space situational awareness by tracking more and smaller objects, while replacing legacy systems in the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) as they retire. With a total anticipated value of around $6.1 billion over its lifetime, Space Fence will deliver a system of 2-3 geographically dispersed ground-based radars to provide timely assessment of space objects, events, and debris. International cooperation will supplement it, as part of overall Space Situational Awareness efforts. Failure is not an option. Or is it?

Space Fence Background LEO clutter concept
(click to view full)

The current space fence was operational from 1961 – 2013, and Secure World Foundation technical advisor Brian Weeden charts at least 9 known collisions involving non-secret satellites over that period. Meanwhile, the number of potential hazards is rising. In 1980, there were 5,396 total objects to track. In 2010, there were 15,639. Space Fence is expected to grow that set even further, because the higher wave frequency of the new Space Fence radars will let it detect much smaller microsatellites and debris than current systems. At the same time, global political and technology trends are accelerating the absolute number of these objects in space.

The Space Fence program will provide a radar system operating in the S-band frequency range to replace the Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS) VHF “Fence” radar that currently performs detection of orbiting space objects. The Space Fence will have a modern, net-centric architecture that is capable of detecting and effectively tracking much smaller objects in low/medium Earth orbit (LEO/MEO). It was slated to go live by 2015, but subsequent development have pushed it to December 2018 at the earliest.

To fit this program into its larger context, the US GAO characterized 4 facets of space situational awareness (SSA), an umbrella term that includes but it not limited to tracking space debris:

1. Detect, Track, and Identify. The ability to discover, track, and differentiate among space objects. Space Fence will anchor this facet, but it won’t be the only asset used for this purpose.

2. Threat warning and Assessment. The ability to predict and differentiate among potential or actual attacks, space weather environment effects, and space system anomalies. Space Fence may be able to help with this task, but in a secondary way.

3. Intelligence characterization. The ability to determine performance and characteristics of current and future foreign space and counterspace system capabilities, as well as foreign adversary intentions. Better monitoring of space may help with intelligence collection, but in a tertiary way.

4. Data integration. The ability to correlate and integrate multisource data into a single common operational picture and enable dynamic decision making. Out of scope for Space Fence. The USA’s pending Joint Space Operations Center Mission System (JMS) will play a large role here, and must be ready, or the amount of data generated by the new radars will exceed the existing system’s capacity.

The Space Fence Program: Old and New Out With the Old – In Advance Space Fence concept
(click for video)

The in-place AFSSS was also known as a “fence” because several transmitters and receivers create a narrow, continent-wide planar energy field in space. There were once 9 AFSSS sites (3 transmitter, 6 receiver), located on a path across the southern United States from Georgia to California, along the 33rd parallel. Energy emitted from the transmitter sites formed a fixed, very narrow, fan shaped beam in the north-south direction, extending across the continental United States in the east-west direction. One or more of the receiver sites receives energy reflected from objects penetrating the beam. The 3 transmitter sites were located at Jordan Lake, AL; Lake Kickapoo, TX; and Gila River, AZ. The 6 receivers were located at Tattnall, GA; Hawkinsville, GA; Silver Lake, MS; Red River, AR; Elephant Butte, NM; and San Diego, CA.

In 2013, every one of these locations was shut down. In exchange, the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System at Cavalier AFS, ND was slated for modification, and the space surveillance radar at Eglin AFB, FL became the sole space radar.

It’s estimated that this closure will remove about 40% of the current surveillance network’s observation capability, and all of its long distance capability out to about 24,000 km/ 14,900 miles. Note that the Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) used by most military satellites is up at 22,000+ miles, where Space Fence doesn’t really reach. On the other hand, launches and subsequent satellite raisings have to make it through the debris clouds to get there. Meanwhile, important global systems like Iridium, and a number of intelligence satellites, sit in lower orbits.

In With the New, Eventually Kessler Syndrome

The new Space Fence system would begin to fix this problem, but the number of sites has dropped from 2-3 to just 1 large S-band radar at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, with an option for a 2nd.

The Space Fence procurement is broken down into the following phases: Phase A, Preliminary Design Review, System Development, Deployment and Follow-on support. System development of the large S-band radar was scheduled to begin in June 2012, but the contract wasn’t even awarded until mid-2014. Initial Operational Capability has slipped from FY 2017 to Q1 FY 2019, and full capability has shifted to Q1 2022.

Space Fence data will be fed to the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg AFB, CA, which is scheduled to become operational by December 2016. Data from the Space Fence radar will be integrated with other SSN data to provide a more comprehensive and integrated space picture.

At an estimated program cost of $6.1 billion over its lifetime, Space Fence was slated to be the USAF’s largest single investment in SSA sensors. Over the 2011-2015 period, the Pentagon expected about 66% of their $3.3 billion SSA investment to buy new sensors, about 21% on JMS for data integration, and the other 13% on extending the lives of current sensors, and other SSA-related programs.

Declining budgets have forced the USAF to change its plans more than once already, and plans as of October 2013 involve just $1.6685 billion for the Space Fence radar. Once the chosen system is deployed, it will serve alongside new systems like the SSBS satellite, the pending ground-based RAIDRS electromagnetic interference detection system, and DARPA’s pending ground-based Space Surveillance Telescope. They’re designed to boost the existing Space Surveillance Network, which includes 29 ground-based Department of Defense (DOD) and privately/foreign owned radar and optical sensors, at 17 worldwide locations; plus a communications network, and primary and alternate operations centers for data processing. Most of the sensors are mechanical tracking, phased-array, and continuous-wave radars; but optical telescopes are also used.

Contracts and Key Events

Poor planning delivers delays, but RFP eventually leads to a contract; USAF exploring whether they can do more on the cheap. Space Fence concept
(click to view full)

September 30/15: Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence system has passed an Air Force Critical Design Review, according to a company press release. Passing the CDR now means that the full-scale Space Fence System radar and facilities can be constructed on Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands. Designed to serve as a second-generation space surveillance radar system, the Space Fence will allow the Air Force to track satellites and space debris.

July 1/14: Innovation. A Washington Post article highlights the recent work of AFRL senior engineer Richard Rast, who has come up with a way to use multiple small telescopes for effective tracking of space debris as small as a few centimeters. Portability is just a bonus:

“Rast’s invention uses a series of small telescopes developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory that capture the faint light signals entering the lens. Rast converts the camera photos into a movie, where he uses the human eye’s sensitivity to detect variations between frames to separate man-made objects from the star background and identify objects the size of just a few centimeters.

“Richard Rast demonstrated that his small telescope approach can find and track space objects at a much lower cost than traditional methods and provide a quality of data previously assumed impossible for a small telescope system to achieve,” said Maj. James Thomas, the chief of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Satellite Assessment Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.”

There are still questions like field of view, etc., but this is a promising development, especially if it allows a distributed and networked system of sensors that allied countries can also deploy. Sources: Washington Post, “Air Force engineer developed unique method to track space debris”.

June 2/14: EMD Contract. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training in Moorestown, NJ receives a $914.7 million fixed-price-incentive-firm, cost-reimbursable and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Space Fence program engineering, manufacturing and development, production and deployment. Other team members include General Dynamics and AMEC.

$415 million in FY 2013 and 2014 research, development, test and evaluation funds are committed immediately, and Lockheed Martin says that the contract total could reach up to $1.5 billion if all options are exercised. Work will be performed at Moorestown, NJ, and Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of Marshall Islands. The contractor will have 52 months after contract award to reach initial operational capability. The contract was competitively procured, with 2 bids received by the USAF Life Cycle Management Center/HBQK at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8709-14-C-0001). See also Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin Selected to Provide U.S. Air Force with Space Fence Radar to Safeguard Space Resources”.

Space Fence contract

May 27/14: In “Beyond Gravity,” Ars Technica takes a long look at the technical and legal barriers in the way of actually dealing with any of the space junk that the USA Space Fence will be busy cataloguing. short answer: lots of interesting research and ideas, but outdated legal constructs will eventually threaten space travel. Key paragraph?

“The Kessler Syndrome [of cascading, self-generating orbital debris] is a mathematical singularity,” said Darren McKnight, a member of a recent National Academies panel on NASA’s meteoroid and orbital debris program. “Based on the equations, we’ve already passed the critical density.”

May 9/14: The problem. A House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing addresses the issue, albeit with far poorer distribution than the movie Gravity. The Kosmos-2251/ Iridium-33 collision is well known as a problem, but China’s sloppy destruction of a satellite in 2007 is an equally big problem, creating “150,000 objects centimeter-sized or larger.”

One of the witnesses testified that the International Space Station had to be moved twice within the last month, in order to avoid collisions. At some point, the focus will have to shift from identification to solutions – but without identification, there are no solutions. Meanwhile, that “April 2014 contract (q.v. Nov 21/13) hasn’t materialized yet. Sources: USAF, “Air Force official testifies on dangers of ‘space junk'”.

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. For Space Fence, R&D and procurement costs look different, because most of the R&D goes into creating the actual system. The expected program total as of October 2013 is $1.6685 billion, of which just $103.3 million is termed “procurement.” That will produce just 1 radar site to be operational by November 2018, with an option for the 2nd.

The parallel JMS (JSpOC Mission System) to process all of the data is considered a separate program, and is scheduled to become operational by December 2016.

“The Space Fence program has seven critical technologies, which are expected to demonstrate full maturity during or after the critical design review. The program delayed development start and awarding of the system development contract… almost 2 years. As a result, the program delayed initial operational capability by a year to November 2018…. The Air Force plans to award a fixed-price incentive contract for system development activities for the first radar site, with a contract option for the second site. If the option for the second site is exercised, it is planned to be operational 36 months after the program meets initial operational capability.”

Decisions concerning a 2nd radar are expected after the 1st radar goes live, with operational testing expected to begin in June 2018. The technologies used in the 2nd site may differ.

Jan 9/14: NDPP. Lockheed Martin announces a $3.9 million contract from the USAF Life Cycle Management Center, to develop a Non-Traditional Data Pre-Processor (NDPP) under the Integrated Space Command and Control (ISC2) contract.

ISC2 is responsible for providing conclusive and timely air and missile warning information, and also provides space situational awareness via the Space Surveillance Network. The NDPP system is an expansion of the ISC2 space data server, and also extends the communications infrastructure so that the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg AFB, CA can use a wider variety of sensors to maintain and update their space object catalog. NDPP’s infrastructure includes multiple security levels, and it will offer a new channel for receiving space object data, as well as a new collection system. Sources: Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin Awarded Contract to Make Non-Traditional Sensor and User Data Available for Space Situational Awareness”.

Dec 20/13: SBIR. The USAF launches a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project to improve space surveillance out to geosynchronous equatorial orbits. The sensors would use a wide staring field of view to cover more than 1000 square degrees per hour at 45 degrees elevation, during “typical” sky conditions at AFRL’s Starfire Optical Range (SOR), Kirtland AFB, NM. The ultimate goal is a cheap system that costs $1 million or less per site, and is used as an early-stage sensor to detect dim objects and immediately queue high-resolution systems for a closer look.

That would be useful, given current weaknesses in space surveillance. It’s also difficult. The USAF hopes that rapidly growing “off-the-shelf” technology for data bus architectures, networking, and electro-optic sensors makes it feasible.

Phase I will provide a mathematical model for system design, which helps create simulation tools, and work on small-scale lab tests. Those tests feed back into the models and simulations, with the goal of creating a system design that demonstrates the potential to meet these challenges. Phase II would demonstrate these capabilities at SOR, and develop prototype control systems, reporting systems, and procedures. Phase III would fully develop an operational scaled system prototype that can be easily deployed to one of USSTRATCOM’s electro-optical surveillance sites. Sources:, “AF141-016: Persistent Wide Field Space Surveillance.” | C4ISR & Networks, “USAF wants to detect dim space objects – cheaply”.

Nov 21/13: USAF Space Command commander Gen. William Shelton tells the AFA’s Pacific Air & Space Symposium in Los Angeles, CA that he’s aiming for an April 2014 contract:

“We have now been given the go-ahead to release that modified [Space Fence RFP] and begin our acquisition program again… Hopefully we’ll have that on contract in the April time frame, and that will represent about a one-year slip in the program because of the delay here, but nevertheless we’ll get a very good sensor that will help us keep track in a much-larger-volume sense and a much-better-resolution sense of the traffic in low Earth orbit.”

Extra points to the general for using the movie Gravity in his speech, as a way of highlighting why space situational awareness is important. Sources: Space News, “Pentagon Approves Latest Air Force Space Fence Plan”.

Oct 24/13: RSS RFP. The Air Force releases an RFP for a flexible coverage risk reduction study (RSS):

“Key among these unique capabilities is flexible coverage, which is a search mode of operation that enables coverage in various orbital regimes (altitudes) with enhanced sensitivity and variable search volume coverage modes to support operations like new object discovery at higher altitudes, proximity operations/neighborhood watch for space protection, etc. This capability enables the radar to schedule detection fences covering either a user-defined fixed region or a region defined in orbital space.”

They may award up to 2 Firm-Fixed-Price contracts for a maximum total of $9.9 million, with 5.5 months of anticipated work. A Notice of Proposed Contract Action released in September limits that RFP to incumbents Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. FA8709-13-R-0003.

Oct 23/13: Revised milestones. In their testimony [PDF] to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, William A. LaPlante, Deputy Assistant Air Force Secretary for Acquisition, and USAF Deputy Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Michael R. Moeller, wrote:

“The Space Fence contract was ready for award in early June; however, a DoD-level review driven by sequestration, delayed the decision to proceed into later in 2013. With an affirmative decision in November, initial capability will slip about one year and costs will increase by over $70M.”

So “the Pentagon made me do it” is the Air Force’s posture on this (see also July 16/13). There is some truth to that narrative, since the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and DoD explicitly instructed departments and agencies to ignore the Budget Control Act (BCA) until the last minute, following the universal Stuff Rolls DownHill (SRDH) principle. In any case, the anticipated date for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was postponed in August by a year, after having already been moved from 2015 to 2017 a year ago. Presumably this also affects the Full Operational Capability (FOC) deadline, which had been set to 2020.

The ongoing Space Fence EMDPD RFP (q.v. Oct 4/12) is about to be amended, and an award is now planned for March 2014. Additionally, the Procuring Contracting Officer was changed in September.

FY 2012 – 2013

PDR; 1st site picked; RFP, bids; Shutdown of most existing sites – for what?

Aug 12-14/13: Space Fence Shutdown. So, the total amount of money saved by shutting down the Space Fence (AFSSS) by Oct 1/13, due to “resource constraints caused by sequestration”? $14 million per year. Instead, USAF SMC is looking at modifying operating modes for the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System at Cavalier AFS, ND and the space surveillance radar at Eglin AFB, FL. The USAF’s defense:

“The operational advantage of the AFSSS is its ability to detect objects in an un-cued fashion, rather than tracking objects based on previous information. The disadvantage is the inherent inaccuracy of the data, based on its dated design. The new operating modes at Cavalier AFS and Eglin AFB will provide more accuracy than the AFSSS and still collect un-cued observations.”

On the flip side, it’s worth asking what percentage reduction that represents for tracking coverage. Less coverage means that less debris will be tracked, which means less accurate orbits, which makes predicting collisions harder and less accurate. The new plan also leaves Eglin AFB as the only dedicated space radar, so it creates an absolute failure risk.

Meanwhile, the USAF throws critics a bone by touting the improved capabilities of the new Joint Space Operations Center’s high performance computing, and the new fence. Without committing to construction. While also suggesting that maybe others should just pick up the mission. USAF Gen. Shelton told Satellite Today that “other countries, as well as the commercial sector,” might try to offer capabilities of their own. The Europeans are moving in this direction, slowly, and Intelsat General’s Nancy Nolting says that their satellites could carry sensors to build a supplementary network in orbit. At the end of the day, however, someone has to pay for that. The question is now “whom?” Sources: USAF release | Satellite Today, “US Air Force Space Fence Shutdown Threatens Satellite, Aerospace Industries” | Space News, “U.S. Air Force: Space Fence Shutdown To Save $14 Million Annually”.

Aug 5/13: Over in Europe… A July 2013 proposal to the European Parliament, Council and other EU bodies, the EC would help EU nations fund development of a space surveillance and tracking (SST) network. It would be based on French & German radars and other systems, for about EUR 10 – 120 million per year. Candidate assets include the French Graves demonstration radar (range 1,000 km/ 620 miles), Germany’s TIRA (more powerful, but track just 1 object at a time), 3 Satam French air force tracking radars, the nascent Oscegeane telescope/ spectroscopy application, and the Fedome space weather system.

France is building out a Cosmos tracking center in Lyon by 2014, but still needs to develop a Space Information System. The German Space Situational Awareness Center (GSSAC) in Uedem, Germany is also ramping up, but isn’t expected to be really ready until 2020. Cooperation would be positive, especially if Graves could note objects and cue TIRA to identify them. Even so, the bottom line is that the systems’ limited range and breadth won’t replace resources like the US Space Fence, even at a regional level. Nor has the EU’s ESA been able to get very far with wider initiatives of its own. Aviation Week, “EU Aims For Space Situational Awareness Network”.

Aug 1/13: Space Fence Shutdown. A memo from USAF Space Command commander Gen. William Shelton tells Five Rivers Services of Colorado Springs, CO to prepare for shut-down at the current Space Fence system’s 3 transmitter and 6 receiving sites. The USAF has decided not to exercise the 5th option year of their support contract, and won’t be giving it to anyone else:

“A specific list of action items will be provided as soon as it is finalized. A specific date to turn off the mission system has not been established yet, but will be provided to you immediately upon determination.”

Technically, they’re deactivating 3 transmitters and 4 receiving sites. The 2 receiver sites at Tattnall, GA and Silver Lake, MS were deactivated in April 2013, as an automatic response to sequestration. It’s estimated that this full closure will remove about 40% of the current surveillance network’s observation capability, and all of its long distance capability out to about 24,000 km/ 14,900 miles. Note that the Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) used by most military satellites is up at 22,000+ miles, where Space Fence doesn’t really reach. On the other hand, launches and subsequent satellite raisings have to get there. There are also important global systems like Iridium, and a number of intelligence satellites, that sit in lower orbits.

There’s a judgement call involved about the USAF’s intentions. Is this a serious response, or a classic bureaucratic “Washington Monument” exercise? For the uninitiated, a “Washington Monument” response does something that will cause the maximum amount of damage or inconvenience, blames it on “budget cuts” even if the amount saved is trivial, and tries to create a groundswell to reverse all of the cuts. A well functioning system would simply fire administrators who use this tactic, due to loss of confidence in their decision-making; but that requires intervention from outside the bureaucracy in question, and rarely happens. Space News, “Shelton Orders Shutdown of Space Fence”.

Existing AFSSS Space Fence to shut down

July 16/13: Why no contract? The USAF says they would have issued the Space Fence contract by now, but the Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) has put it on hold. SCMR is meant to look at how the US military would react if budget cuts aren’t reversed, with scenarios involving $100 billion, $300 billion and $500 billion in cuts over a 10-year period.

If the new Space Fence falls victim, there’s some discussion of upgrading space surveillance sensors already at Eglin AFB, FL, even though that won’t provide the same low-and-high-inclination orbit coverage, or address key back-end systems. USAF Space Command head Gen. William Shelton says that they’re also looking at “new architectures”, without specifying further. Aviation Week | Defense News.

June 21/13: Global Horizons Study. MITRE delivers the USAF’s Global Horizons study, which states:

“There are clear threats to the U.S. space enterprise, including growth in space debris, space weather induced upsets, the increasingly easy access to space, and potential cyber/EW (electric warfare)/kinetic attacks on our space and space-support ground assets…. Generally speaking, the U.S. has put a lot of eggs in very few baskets and when you look at the limited number of missile warning communication satellites, weather satellites and even NRO satellites, an aggressor could severely disable and even degrade U.S. capabilities with only a handful of successful shoot downs of U.S. satellites.”

Sources: Report at scribd | Satellite Today, “Air Force Report Outlines Threats to Satellite and Aerospace Industries”

Nov 14/12: Bids in. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin both announce that they have submitted their bids to finish development, and build the USA’s new Space Fence.

The RFP is for the final development and construction of the Space Fence Operations Center, Site 1, and an option for Site 2. It is a full and open competition that will conclude with a contract award, currently anticipated in spring 2013. Lockheed Martin | Raytheon.

Oct 4/12: RFP. Space Fence solicitation becomes an RFP.

RFP & bids

Sept 25/12: 1st site. The USAF has picked its 1st Space Fence radar site on Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, South Pacific. Construction of the S-band radar and buildings is expected to begin in September 2013, with 48 months planned to complete construction and testing, and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) planned for fiscal year 2017.

After IOC, the 21st Space Wing is expected to manage about 10-15 contractors as a long-term work force, and a Support Agreement will be established between USAF Space Command and the US Army Kwajalein Atoll/Reagan Test Site for site support and facilities maintenance. USAF.

Kwaj is 1st site

August 2012: During a Pentagon Defense Acquisition Board review, some changes are made to the program’s acquisition strategy, which is now an incremental approach.

Increment 1 includes the Space Operations Center, Site 1 facilities construction, and radar build. Increment 2 includes Site 2 and system integration. Source.

Acquisition change

March 21/12: GAO report.DOD Faces Challenges in Fully Realizing Benefits of Satellite Acquisition Improvements” includes a discussion of Space Fence’s acquisition strategy, and potential pitfalls. The agency doesn’t believe Space Fence will be ready before 2017, and sees a strong technical risk if the accompanying JMS ground system isn’t ready at the same time:

“Space Fence program officials have stated that Space Fence will be one of the largest phased array radars ever built. The size of the radar is expected to provide significant power… but may also pose increased risk… To mitigate this risk, the Space Fence acquisition strategy includes maintaining competition through technology development and having two firms under contract doing parallel prototype development. This process allows program officials to evaluate contractor’s designs and associated costs while moving Space Fence’s four critical technologies and backup technologies toward maturity, before the program enters system development which is scheduled for later this year with the award of a single contract. Though earlier plans called for the first Space Fence site to achieve initial operational capability in 2015, estimates show that at current funding levels, this capability will not occur before 2017.

…Another area where synchronization in system development may pose problems is the Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center Mission System (JMS) and Space Fence programs. JMS is to process data about space assets gathered by the Space Fence and other Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programs, and will increase DOD’s ability to track objects in space from about 10,000 objects with the current system to over 100,000 objects. According to the Space Fence program office, JMS needs to be available when the Space Fence is fielded because the amount of data Space Fence will generate exceeds existing command and control system performance limits. JMS recently underwent a change to its acquisition strategy, dividing the program’s development into two increments to reduce risk and more rapidly deliver needed capabilities. The first Space Fence radar site is scheduled to provide initial operational capability by the end of fiscal year 2017, and… JMS needs to be operational by this time.”

March 8/12: Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence prototype, developed under the Jan 26/11 contract, is beginning to track orbiting space objects. The USAF has said that it plans to award a Space Fence production contract later in 2012. Lockheed Martin.

Feb 29/12: PDR. The USAF grants its final approval of Lockheed Martin’s preliminary design for the Space Fence system. Source.


FY 2009 – 2011

Phase A; preliminary design. Look waaay up…

May 31/11: The US Congress’ Government Accountability Office auditors looks at American programs for monitoring space debris, and voice serious concerns. Excerpts:

“DOD has significantly increased its investment and planned investment in SSA acquisition efforts in recent years to address growing SSA capability shortfalls. Most efforts designed to meet these shortfalls have struggled with cost, schedule, and performance challenges and are rooted in systemic problems that most space acquisition programs have encountered over the past decade. Consequently, in the past 5 fiscal years, DOD has not delivered significant new SSA capabilities as originally expected… two critical acquisition efforts that are scheduled to begin development within the next 2 years – Space Fence and the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System (JMS) – face development challenges and risks, such as the use of immature technologies and planning to deliver all capabilities in a single, large increment, versus smaller and more manageable increments… GAO recommends that DOD assure–in approving the Space Fence and JMS acquisition efforts to initiate product development–that all critical technologies are identified and matured, and that other key risks have been fully assessed. If DOD determines that the programs should move forward with less mature technologies, DOD should assess available backup technologies and additional resources required to meet performance objectives…”

The GAO adds elsewhere that governance is at least as much of a problem as technology:

“There are significant inherent challenges to executing and overseeing the SSA mission, largely due to the sheer number of governmentwide organizations and assets involved… while the recently issued National Space Policy assigns SSA responsibility to the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary does not necessarily have the corresponding authority to execute this responsibility. However, actions, such as development of a national SSA architecture, are being taken that could help facilitate management and oversight governmentwide. The National Space Policy, which recognizes the importance of SSA, directs other positive steps, such as the determination of roles, missions, and responsibilities to manage national security space capabilities and the development of options for new measures for improving SSA capabilities… Finally, though the commercial sector and the international community are to play a pivotal role in the SSA mission, it is too early to tell whether DOD’s efforts to expand and make permanent its Commercial and Foreign Entities SSA data-sharing pilot program will be effective in integrating efforts to develop SSA capabilities.”

With respect to the Space Fence in particular, the report says that the original 3-site system (notionally Australia, Ascension Island in the south Atlantic, Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands) is very likely to devolve into a 2-site system on cost/benefit grounds, as the current Technology Development Phase assesses costs and tradeoffs. It adds:

“The primary program risk… is that the new Joint Space Operations Center Mission System (described below) will need to be available to process Space Fence data, as the amount of data provided will result in an increase in uncued detection and tracking capacity from 10,000 to 100,000 objects… other risks of the program include large-scale integration and calibration of radar arrays, scalability of the design for the digital beam former,[C] and development of information assurance certification criteria… All five critical Space Fence technologies identified by the program office are immature – one at technology readiness level (TRL) 4 and four at TRL 5… mature backup critical technologies exist which could be used… our best practices work has shown technology development to TRL 7 could significantly reduce risk to meeting cost, schedule and performance goals.”

See GAO | iWatch News.

Jan 26/11: Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each receive an 18-month contract worth $107 million (total: $214 million) for Space Fence Preliminary Design. These preliminary system designs must use mature technologies that meet or exceed Technology Readiness Level 6 and Manufacturing Readiness Level 6. The firms will also conduct radar performance analyses, evaluations and prototypes, and related activities, en route to a functional radar prototype with hardware and software components representative of the technology in the final design. A final production contract to one of the companies is expected in 2012.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Sudbury, MA will produce 1 preliminary design for the Space Fence Program. At this time, $20 million has been obligated by the ESC/HSIK at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8707-11-C-0004),

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors of Moorestown, NJ will produce 1 preliminary design for the Space Fence Program. At this time, $20 million has been obligated by the ESC/HSIK at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8707-11-C-0005)

The missing Phase A contract winner is Northrop Grumman (see June 11/09 entry). Lockheed Martin release | Raytheon release

Preliminary design contracts

Jan 18/11: As part of a piece highlighting Raytheon personnel who won Black Engineer of the Year awards, Raytheon discusses:

“Adrian Williams is senior electrical engineer at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) business in Andover, Mass. He works in the Wafer Fabrication Engineering department where his responsibilities include the development and transition-to-production of Gallium Nitride (GaN) process technology for future advanced radar systems. In this role, he manages the production GaN process line that provides an essential discriminator for new radar programs like Space Fence and Air and Missile Defense Radar. He also directed yield and process initiatives for a Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit chipset used by various Active Electronically Scanned Array programs and performed reliability analysis for multiple radar systems for Missile Defense Agency projects…”

Gallium Nitride integrated circuits have been a focus of research for DARPA, and for a number of defense firms, over the past few years. Raytheon has benefited from some of those contracts.

Nov 18/10: Lockheed Martin announces that the firm has submitted its Space Fence bid. John Morse, director of Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence program:

“The 2009 collision of an operational communications satellite with a defunct satellite illustrates the real risk space debris poses to both our manned and unmanned space missions. Space situational awareness is a national security priority and Space Fence will greatly enhance our ability to track and catalog orbiting objects which number in the tens of thousands.”

Nov 2/10: Raytheon announces a successful system design review (SDR) for their Space Fence program concept, which included the prototyping of critical system elements to demonstrate increased technical and manufacturing readiness levels. Scott Spence is program director of Space Fence program for Raytheon IDS:

“We’ve partnered with the Air Force on requirements trade studies and analysis, balancing cost, capability and technical maturity… We’re confident we can support the Air Force’s need for an initial operating capability in 2015 and look forward to the next phase of the program.”

Oct 20/10: The Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center releases an RFP for the preliminary design review (PDR) phase of the Space Fence development. For the PDR phase, the ESC will award 2 contracts worth up to $214 million to 2 of the 3 companies that participated in Phase A: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. Hanscom AFB: RFP | Release.


June 11/09: The Air Force awarded $30 million firm-fixed-price contracts to Lockheed Martin Corp. in Moorestown, NJ; Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Linthicum, MS; and Raytheon Co. in Sudbury, MA, for Phase A of Space Fence development.

Under the contracts, which are cumulative and so worth a total of $90 million, the companies will provide Space Fence system design review, plans trades analysis and data, systems engineering planning; architecture planning; prototyping, modeling and simulation systems trades and analyses; risk management life cycle cost estimate, and technical data. Hill AFB in Utah manages the contract (FA8213-09-C-0051). See also Lockheed Martin | Northrop Grumman | Raytheon.

Phase A contracts

US and International Ancillaries Tracking radar
(click to view full)

Aug 25/14: Australia. Lockheed Martin announces a new strategic cooperation agreement with Australia’s Electro Optic Systems Pty Ltd to develop a new space object tracking site in Western Australia for both government and commercial customers.

The site will use a combination of lasers and sensitive optical systems to detect, track and characterize man-made debris objects, acting as “a strong complement to radar-based systems like the U.S. Air Force’s Space Fence.” Sources: Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin and Electro Optic Systems to Establish Space Debris Tracking Site In Western Australia”.

May 20/14: Anglosphere Federation. The US, UK, Australia and Canada are establishing combined space operations among their armed forces:

“Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States have furthered their defense cooperation by establishing a partnership on combined space operations.

This combined space operations partnership among our armed forces enables sharing of space-related information and resources to synchronize space operations among the partners and to provide enhanced awareness of the space environment. In particular, the partnership will allow for more effective and coordinated use of their space capabilities through cooperation on activities such as identifying and understanding what objects are in space, ensuring uninterrupted satellite operations, and avoiding satellite collisions. Such activities will make a significant contribution towards a safer and more secure space environment while also enhancing mutual security.”

It sounds like Five-Eyes (FVEY) is coming back for an encore, with the exception of New Zealand. Sources: UK Government, “Joint Statement: Partnership On Combined Space Operations” [PDF].

Combined operations: USA, UK, Australia

March 12/14: Sharing. Breaking Defense tweet:

“As of January, US, France are sharing space situational awareness data after half decade of talks. Also sharing w Aussies, Italy Canada Japan”

Jan 30/14: Canada. Canada’s Sapphire has completed its operational testing, and has been officially declared a contributing sensor to the US Space Surveillance Network. It’s an optical SSA satellite, monitoring space objects orbiting between 6,000 – 40,000 km above the Earth’s surface.

More good news, as begins its 5-year operational phase: the program was fully delivered for about 12% less than budgeted: C$ 86.3 million instead of C$ 96.4 million. Sources: Canada DND, “Sapphire satellite system is declared fully operational”.

Sapphire operational, added to SSN

Jan 14/14: Canada. Canada’s DND announces the formal signing of a long-term partnership with the US Department of Defense for:

“…continued sharing of space-related services and information…. on natural (space weather) and man-made hazards (orbital debris, de-orbiting satellites or spacecraft collisions) in orbit…. This partnership permits the Canadian Space Operations Centre to coordinate and share unclassified information and data in support of government agencies.”

This follows the base May 2012 MoU. Sources: Canada DND, “The Department of National Defence partners with the U.S. for the Sharing of Space-related Data and Information”.

Nov 21/13: Australia & Japan. USAF Space Command commander Gen. William Shelton tells the AFA’s Pacific Air & Space Symposium in Los Angeles, CA that they plan to relocate a C-band tracking radar from Antigua to Australia, and also plans to deploy a new DARPA-developed optical telescope there. The telescope is especially useful at night (obviously), and for monitoring geosynchronous orbit. The report adds that:

“The Pentagon also hopes to eventually utilize data from other orbital surveillance assets owned by countries like Japan, which operates a radar tracking system as well as an optical telescope capable of watching objects in geosynchronous orbit.”

Sources: Space News, “Pentagon Approves Latest Air Force Space Fence Plan”.

July 23/13: GEODSS RFI. Since last April the US Air Force has been gathering market data from vendors interested in the operations, maintenance, and support of the Ground-based Electro-optical Deep Space Surveillance System telescopes (q.v. Nov 27/12), and now they’re posting relevant material publicly. This isn’t an RFP yet, but the request for information shows where the wind is blowing:

“For the next GEODSS contract, the USAF is exploring a Firm-fixed-price contract type. In conjunction with this approach, a prerequisite for contract award would be a decrease in contract price in each successive option year of the contract.”

The emphasis is clearly on cost control of the Better Buying Power ilk, and they’re asking interested contractors to suggest RFP terms that would lead to the desired cost and timeframe outcomes. Source: attachments to FA2517-13-R-8001 on

April 24/13: Australia. The Pentagon announces that:

“The Department of Defense has signed a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) international sharing agreement with the Department of Defence of Australia. This signed government-to-government memorandum is the first that will permit an advanced exchange of SSA data.”

See also Nov 15/12 entry. Australia was originally envisaged as a site for a 2nd new Space Fence location, but the USAF isn’t making any commitments. Meanwhile, this appears to be an extension beyond the November memorandum. Pentagon release.

Australia SSA agreement

Nov 27/12: GEODSS. GEODSS uses powerful telescopes, low-light cameras and computers to detect, track and report man-made deep space objects 3,000 or more miles from earth. BAE Systems has been supporting GEODSS since 2009, and announce a $5.5 million contract extension for FY 2013. The USAF’s 21st Space Wing, at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, CO manages this contract.

The GEODSS network is located at Maui, Hawaii; Socorro, NM; and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Each site has 3 telescopes (2 x 40″/ 2 degree main and 1 auxiliary; Diego Garcia is 3 main) that operate at night and can detect objects 10,000 times dimmer than the human eye threshold. The telescopes move across the sky at the same rate as the stars appear to move, then use computer post-processing to eliminate star images. The resulting tracks are used to update the list of orbiting objects, and sent nearly instantaneously from the sites to Cheyenne Mountain AFB, CO. BAE Systems | FAS on GEODSS.

Nov 15/12: Australia. Australia and the USA sign a Memorandum of Understanding regarding space surveillance, building on the 2010 Australian-United States Space Situational Awareness Partnership Statement of Principles.

Under the agreement, they’ll establish a jointly-operated C-band radar space surveillance installation at the Harold E. Holt naval communication facility in Exmouth, Western Australia. The C-band radar facility will be operated by the Royal Australian Air Force on behalf of the United States. They’ll also work together to transfer a highly advanced space surveillance telescope to Australia. Its location and operating arrangements will be settled later. According to Australia’s DoD:

“The hosting of SSA facilities in Australia will improve the overall performance of the global network of sensors forming the US Space Surveillance Network, through which the US provides a warning service to all satellite operators, and publicly available information on the orbits of satellites and space debris. Addressing a gap in the Network’s coverage in the southern hemisphere will allow for more accurate tracking, and reduce the danger of accidental collisions between satellites and space debris.”

Australia radar & telescope

May 23/12: Canadian help. Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) announces a long-term partnership with the Pentagon on Space Situational Awareness (SSA). Better yet, they’re offering concrete help, via a project worth “under [C$]100 million”.

Canada already helps the USA with space surveillance, through the joint use of some NORAD radars with a secondary space-tracking capability. Now, it’s going to add an optical satellite called Sapphire, whose data will be contributed to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network. Sapphire is scheduled for launch later in 2012, atop an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, in southern India.

Adding optical, in-space collectors to the SSN is a good way to offset some of the Space Fence radar’s technical risk, but adding more data sources also means that breaking past the current limitations of the JMS ground system becomes even more important. Canada DND | Canada DND Backgrounder | SpaceRef Canada.


Additional Readings & Sources

Official Reports

News & Developments

Categories: News

Army Launches T700 Competition | Elbit Gets $70M Contract for Hermes 900 UAV | GSL Looking for Partner to Share $5B Contract

Tue, 09/29/2015 - 00:33

  • The Army has launched its T700 engine replacement competition, with the program set to deliver 3,000 new helicopter engines after production begins in 2019. Two companies will be awarded development contracts for the new engine design, with GE Aviation and a Honeywell/Pratt & Whitney team appearing as the most likely candidates, although Turbomeca could also participate in the competition.

  • Israel’s Elbit Systems has been awarded a $70 million contract by an undisclosed Latin American buyer for the Hermes 900 UAV system. The company was awarded a similar contract in June 2011, also to an undisclosed customer in the region, with the Swiss parliament approving the $250 million acquisition of six Hermes 900 UAVs earlier this month.


Asia & Pacific

  • China could be constructing its first indigenous aircraft carrier, according to analysis released by Janes. The PLAN currently operates the Liaoning carrier, an ex-Ukrainian Navy Kuznetsov-class design. Satellite imagery appears to show a previously unknown hull under construction at the Dalian shipyard, where the Liaoning has previously undergone refits and maintenance work.

  • US defense giants Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Textron have called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to simplify the Indian Defense Ministry’s acquisition process. The notoriously slow and unreliable nature of Indian defense procurement isn’t limited to US contractors, with negotiations over the sale of 36 Rafale fighters still underway despite a significant amount of political pressure to get a deal signed since the intergovernmental agreement in April. The Indian government’s offset and taxation policies are also proving a headache for foreign firms despite an increase last year to Foreign Direct Investment limits.

  • Meanwhile, state-owned Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL) is reportedly searching for an international company to partner with for the manufacture of a dozen mine countermeasures vessels for the Indian Navy. An Expression of Interest has been sent to several companies, including two Russian shipyards, Lockheed Martin, Thyssenkrupp Marine and Navantia. GSL was awarded the $5 billion contract by the country’s Defence Ministry in March, following the scrapping of a contract for eight vessels with South Korea’s Kangnam Corp. in December 2014. The company has also been sent an Expression of Interest, with the selected company slated to receive a contract valued at approximately $1 billion for the transfer of technology.

  • French and US firms have also reportedly begun discussions with the Indian Defence Ministry over possible collaboration for the Indian Navy’s future fleet of six nuclear attack submarines, known as Project-75(I). The discussions are reported to have taken place in July, with the Indian Defence Ministry now in a position to select a NATO partner over Russian assistance in the project. The country’s government is also considering whether to lease another Akula-class boat from Russia, with the Indian Defence Acquisition Council approving the acquisition of six new submarines in October 2014.

Today’s Video

  • The 155mm Archer in action:

Categories: News

India’s Project 75 SSKs: Too Late to Save the Submarine Force?

Tue, 09/29/2015 - 00:27
Scorpene cutaway
(click to view full)

India’s submarine fleet currently consists of 16 boats: 10 Russian SSK Kilo (Sindhugosh) Class, 4 locally built SSK U209 (Shishumar) Class, a leased nuclear-powered Improved Akula Class SSN from Russia (INS Chakra), and its own INS Arihant SSBN. Most of the Kilos have been modernized, but readiness rates for India’s existing submarine fleet sits below 40%, and the U209s will have trouble lasting much beyond 2015. With Pakistan acquiring modern submarines, and Chinese submarine building exploding, expanding India’s submarine fleet became an obvious national priority.

In 2005, India confirmed that it would buy 6 Franco-Spanish Scorpene diesel submarines, with an option for 6 more and extensive technology transfer agreements. Unfortunately, 7 years after that deal was signed, “Project 75” has yet to field a single submarine. A poor Indian procurement approach, and state-run inefficiency, are pushing the country’s entire submarine force toward an aging crisis. This DID FOCUS article covers the Scorpene deal and its structure, adds key contracts and new developments, and offers insights into the larger naval picture within and beyond India.

The Scorpene Class Scorpene
click for video

The SSK Scorpene Class diesel-electric fast attack submarine was jointly developed by DCN of France and Navantia of Spain, and incorporates advancements that stem from being developed about 10 years later than DCN’s Agosta 90 Class. Many of the Scorpene’s internal systems and weapons, however, are shared with Pakistan’s Improved Agosta 90B.

Displacing 1,565 metric tonnes, the standard CM-2000 Scorpene Class is 71.7m (219 feet) long with a submerged speed of over 20 knots, and submerged range at 100% battery usage and 4 knots speed of 134 hours or 536 miles. This new submarine class incorporates a high level of system redundancy to achieve an average 240 days at sea per year per submarine, and the endurance to undertake a 50 day patrol before being resupplied. In addition, its maximum diving depth is 300 meters (about 1,000 feet), giving the commander good tactical freedom for a conventional submarine.


The Scorpene’s SUBTICS combat management system, with up to 6 multifunction common consoles and a centrally situated tactical table, is co-located with the platform-control facilities. The vessel’s sonar suite includes a long-range passive cylindrical array, an intercept sonar, active sonar, distributed array, flank array, a high-resolution sonar for mine and obstacle avoidance and a towed array. Each Scorpene submarine features 6 bow-mounted 533mm torpedo tubes, and stores 18 weapons divided between torpedoes, missiles, and mines (stacked, up to 30).

India was leaning toward Finmeccanica’s Black Shark, the same heavyweight torpedo used in Chile’s Scorpene subs, but that decision has been put on hold by corruption allegations. Fortunately, a contract for the MBDA SM-39 Exocet was signed along with the original submarine contract. The Exocet SM 39 variant is launched from a submarine’s torpedo tubes using a VSM (Vehicule Sous Marin), a self-propelled and guided container that will maneuver before surfacing so as not to reveal the position of the submarine. Once it surfaces, the Exocet missile leaves the VSM and proceeds to the target like a normal surface variant of the missile.

In addition to these regular weapons, the Scorpene platform also offers advanced capabilities for mine warfare, intelligence gathering and special operations.

Scorpene subs can hold a total company of 31-36 men, with a standard watch team of 9. The control room and the living quarters are mounted on an elastically supported and acoustically isolated floating platform, really a ship within the ship.

The India order brought the number of committed Scorpene submarine sales on the international market to 10. Scorpene orders worldwide now sit at 14, and include Chile (2 O’Higgins class CM-2000 with split Navantia/DCN production, both delivered); Malaysia (2 with split Navantia/DCN production); and now India (6 from DCN-Armaris and local manufacture, 3 each CM-2000 and AM-2000 AIP, delivery expected 2015-2020). Brazil would later undertake its own project, which will build 4 SSK Scorpenes and 1 nuclear-powered SSN fast attack submarine.

India’s Submarine Programs

Current Project 75 figures:

  • Submarines: 6 CM-2000 Scorpene Class, #5-6 may have AIP, but that’s unlikely.
  • Contract signed: 2005
  • Schedule: Delivery from 2015-2018. May not even begin until 2017.
  • Cost: INR 235.62 billion

Project 75 had a pre-priced option for 6 more Scorpenes, but India as decided to pursue a follow-on “Project 75i” as a separate program instead. It could field 6 more Scorpenes, or it could field a very different design. The sections below provide more details.

Project 75: Schedule, Cost & Plans Final construction
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The Scorpene deal had simmered on the back-burner for several years, and media reports touted a deal as “close” in 2004, but nothing was finalized until late 2005. The cost had been subject to varying estimates over the life of those multi-year negotiations, and continued to change after the contract was awarded, but the final figure for the first 6 boats is now generally accepted as being about $4.5 billion.

India’s long-term objective is full made-in-India design, development and construction of submarines. Construction is the first step, and “Project 75” Scorpene submarines will all be built in India at state-owned Magazon Docks Ltd. (MDL).

That insistence on local production, rather than having the first couple built at their home shipyard with Indian workers present on exchange, has cost India. There have been issues involving technology transfer and negotiations, but it’s also true that MDL simply wasn’t ready. Expected delivery dates for the first 6 were set at 2012-2017, until everyone had to bow to the obvious and begin promising 2015-2018. Given the record to date, and the difference between schedule slippage of 1st vs. final deliveries, it’s reasonable to expect deliveries stretching beyond 2018. Recent reports are even suggesting that deliveries may not begin before 2017.

Meanwhile, costs are growing.

Planned costs for the Project 75 deal had a range of reported figures, until a contract was signed. In the end, the reported figure was Rs 15,400 crore, or $3.5 billion converted equivalent at the time. Subsequent auditor reports indicated that the program would actually cost about Rs 18,798 crore (about $4 billion), and escalations to Rs 20,798 crore/ $4.38 billion and then Rs 23,562 crore/ $4.56 billion have followed. That makes for about a 25.4% cost increase from the auditors’ baseline.

Tracking actual contracts is more difficult. Contracts signed as of August 2009 totaled INR 207.98 billion/ Rs 20,798 crore. The contracts were signed at different times, and will be paid over different periods, so a true currency conversion is difficult. A weakening American dollar and Euro have cushioned the increases somewhat, but most of the project’s cost involves local currency purchases. Contracts reportedly include:

  • Rs 6,315 crore contract with DCNS’ predecessor for transfer of technology, combat systems and construction design.
  • Rs 1,062 crore contract with MBDA for sea-skimming Exocet missiles and related systems
  • Rs 5,888 crore contract with MDL for local submarine construction
  • Rs 3,553 crore set aside for taxes
  • Rs 2,160 crore for other project requirements
  • Rs 2,000 crore added in March 2010 to cover added finalized costs of the “MDL procured material (MPM) packages”
  • Rs 2,764 crore unaccounted for yet in public releases, but envisaged in final INR 235-237 billion program costs.

Project 75: Industrial Scorpene
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On the industrial front, the Scorpene deal will enable India to reopen its submarine building assembly lines. The initial plan was for all 6 boats to be built entirely in India by Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Ltd. (MDL), whose submarine lines had been shut down after they finished manufacturing German HDW Type 209 diesel subs in 1994. That plan has remained steadfast, despite delays created by MDL’s work.

The French firm DCNS (Thomson CSF became Thales, which became the Armaris naval JV, then DCNS) was set as the overall industrial prime contractor for this program. DCNS is also in charge of the technology transfer and delivery of all services and equipment, and DCNS subsidiary UDS International will supply the combat systems with help from Thales. An ancillary contract signed between DCNS’ predecessor Armaris and MDL provides for a team of French technical advisers during the construction of the first 2 submarines.

Tracking contract value for foreign firms is challenging.

The key foreign contractors for the Project 75 Scorpene buy are DCNS and Thales, who will provide the “MDL procured material (MPM) packages” of propulsion, sensors, weapons systems etc. that fit into the hull. When the initial contract was signed in 2006, Thales revealed that India’s Scorpene contract was worth nearly EUR 600 million (USD $736 million) to their company, in return for key subsystems for the submarines’ 6 UDS International SUBTICS integrated combat systems, underwater sensors, communications and optronics, and electronic warfare equipment. A corresponding DCN news release put the total value to all members of the DCN Group at EUR 900 million, but did not address possible overlaps with Thales.

Finalized supplier contracts changed overall totals, which increased by EUR 300 million to about EUR 1.8 billion total. The allocations also changed, since Thales sold part of its naval business to DCN in 2007, creating DCNS. Some of the Thales products destined for the Scorpene became part of the DCNS Group when the merger took place.

A variety of Indian subcontractors, such as SEC, Flash Forge, Walchandnagar Industries, et. al. are involved in the submarines’ construction, manufacturing and delivering specific parts for incorporation into the vessels.

By late 2010, delays at MDL led to reports that Scorpene construction might be altered to include other Indian shipyards, and even DCNS in France. That shift to other shipyards hasn’t happened for Project 75, but it is planned for the follow-on Project 75i. Whether that plan can survive rent-seeking lobbying by India’s state-owned industries remains to be seen.

Overall Timeline, Plans & Options Project 75 & 75i Timelines

A March 8/06 release from the Indian Ministry of Defence gives the long history of the Type 75/ Scorpene contract’s genesis. After numerous delays, final negotiations were held with vendors in 2005. This reportedly cut INR 3.13 billion from the 2002 negotiated position, and involved other concessions. Even so, India’s program budget had to rise in order to accommodate the final contract.

As is often true in India, some of this was self-inflicted. In 2009, India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reported that the government’s delays in finalizing a deal had probably raised the project’s cost by 2,838 crore, or about 15% of the project’s total cost – and that was before the additional Rs 2,000 crore contract to DCNS was finalized in 2010.

“Project 75” had options for another 6 submarines, but that was replaced by a 6-boat “Project 75i” competition in 2007. Introducing another competition risks slowing India down, and may add industrial disruption from a new design and new partners, in order to add improved technology. Key requirements reportedly include an Air-Independent Propulsion module, and the ability to launch supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles from vertical launchers. As of 2014, however, there isn’t even an official RFP.

The AIP Option MESMA AIP section

Like many modern diesel-electric submarines, the Scorpene class is exceptionally quiet. It can also be equipped with an additional section that holds a MESMA brand AIP (air-independent propulsion) system. A CM-2000 Scorpene can operate underwater for 4-6 days without surfacing or snorkeling to get oxygen to recharge its batteries. An AM-2000 Scorpene AIP, in contrast, will be able to operate underwater for up to 18 days depending on variables like speed, etc. Each AIP section costs around $50-60 million, and adds 8.3 meters (27 feet) and 305 tonnes to the hull section. The resulting AM-2000 Scorpene AIP is 70m long, and displaces 1,870t.

Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash has said that the agreement gave India the option of incorporating AIP technology after delivery of the 3rd Scorpene submarine. India’s Navy appeared to be opting to do this in Scorpenes 4-6, but the state-run DRDO research organization made a typical play to develop their own AIP “hull plug” for the Scorpene. They’re now talking about fielding only submarines 5 & 6 as AIP boats, if DRDO’s technology is ready.

The need to test such systems extensively after they’ve been developed means that DRDO has effectively defaulted on their future 2015 delivery target, even as Pakistan fields all 3 of its Agosta 90B boats with mature French MESMA AIP technology inside.

India’s specifications for Project 75i boats are expected to require pre-installed AIP systems.

Sub-Par: India’s Underwater Plans & Realities Shishumar Class
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If India can overcome its government’s own obstacles to fielding an effective submarine force, reports by Indian media have described a long-term desire to manufacture up to 24 submarines in a phased manner. In the mid-200s, Admiral Prakash publicly stated an objective of “24 subs in 30 years.” A more likely outcome involves cutting the current operational fleet roughly in half by 2025, and returning to the current inadequate fleet size by 2030 – 2035.

Most of the Project 75 delays, and many of the cost increases, are attributable to India’s slow decision making and lack of readiness. Meanwhile, India’s existing fleet continues to age, and the size of India’s submarine fleet will become a serious concern by 2016 or so. The situation is fast approaching a crisis, especially given India’s general Anti-Submarine Warfare weakness. Key risk factors that are creating the crisis include:

Risk: Age-out. Based on a 30-year safe lifetime for submarine hulls due to the constant pressure squeeze and release from diving, India will need to start retiring its first 2 U209/ Shishumar Class submarines around 2016 – 2017, or find a good reason to extend them past that 30-year lifespan. At the same time, 3 of the Navy’s early Kilo/ Sindhugosh Class boats would also be at or beyond a 30-year lifespan by 2017, for a total of 5 boats at risk. By 2020, the figure will be 9 boats: 2 U209s, and 7 Kilo Class. By 2025, all 4 U209s and 8 of the 9 remaining Kilo Class submarines would be past 30 years of service.

If 33 years is the service cutoff instead, the fleet would drop by 3 boats in 2019 (2 U209, 1 Kilo), 2 more in 2020 (2 Kilo), 2 more in 2021 (2 Kilo), 1 in 2022 (1 Kilo), 1 in 2024 (1 Kilo), 1 in 2025 (1 U209), 1 in 2027 (1 U209), and 1 in 2033 (1 Kilo).

Risk: State Firms. Poor performance by state-run firms has gone from a risk to a crisis. Project 75 was supposed to begin Scorpene deliveries in 2012, but that may be delayed to 2017. Since placing a new submarine type in operational service can take up to 2 years of trials and exercises, it could be 2019 before India fields its 1st new operational boat.

Risk: India’s Government. India’s 4th-World class procurement process adds even more risks. The risk of delay has already materialized. Despite initial solicitations in 2008, the 75i RFP still pending in 2014, and even declaring a winner isn’t expected before 2017. India’s navy has given up on its sensible risk-mitigation plans to have the first 2 boats built abroad. Worse, India’s government wants to add state-run Hindustan Shipyard Ltd. (HSL) in Visakhapatnam as a submarine builder. This is the same yard that destroyed the Kilo Class INS Sindhukirti in a bungled refit, which does not inspire confidence. There is marginal comfort in the fact that the Modi government intends to open Project 75i to private industry, and substituting inexperience for demonstrated issues of competence may be an improvement.

The bottom line? India is unlikely to field any Project 75i submarines before 2025. Even this date assumes that the 75i competition won’t become bogged down in unsubstantiated allegations and process freezes and fail to deliver anything.

DID reminds our readers that long term plans for major capital acquisitions have a way of shrinking over time as budgetary tradeoffs are made – 32 DD (X) destroyers for the USA became 12, and then 3. The difference is that submarines are the strategic platform of the 21st century, and India needs a strong presence in the Indian Ocean if it intends to be a significant strategic actor. Meanwhile, the buildup of China’s submarine and naval forces is likely to keep the importance of Indian submarines front and center.

Time will tell if actual budgets, shipbuilding execution, and political performance can match the Navy’s appetites. So far, the record isn’t encouraging.

India’s Scorpene Project: Contracts & Key Events 2014-2015

DAC clears Project 75i, but conditions set by India’s political class cut the throat of their submarine force structure; Sindurakshak raised as inquest continues; Other Kilo Class accidents; New government takes action on batteries for existing fleets; Still no action on Black Shark torpedoes. (ex-)INS Sindhurakshak
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September 29/15: French and US firms have also reportedly begun discussions with the Indian Defence Ministry over possible collaboration for the Indian Navy’s future fleet of six nuclear attack submarines, known as Project-75(I). The discussions are reported to have taken place in July, with the Indian Defence Ministry now in a position to select a NATO partner over Russian assistance in the project. The country’s government is also considering whether to lease another Akula-class boat from Russia, with the Indian Defence Acquisition Council approving the acquisition of six new submarines in October 2014.

July 9/15: India is
reportedly engaged in talks with Russia over a possible nuclear submarine leasing agreement. The topic is scheduled to be included on a list of topics to be discussed between India’s Modi and Vladimir Putin when the Indian PM visits Moscow next week. It is likely that instead of leasing a third Akula-class attack sub from the Russians to complement the existing leased subs, the Modi government will look to lease a more modern Yasen-class sub, or a customized variant of a different class. Russia recently announced that it will upgrade its own Akula-class fleet, also recently laying-down a fifth Yasen-class boat.

May 4/15: The Indian-manufactured INS Arihant nuclear SSBN is progressing well with sea trials, according to the Chief of the Indian Navy. Launched in 2009, the sub’s reactor went critical in August 2013 and is thought to have begun shakedown voyages from March last year. Based on the Russian Akula-1 design, the INS Arihant is India’s first indigenously-manufactured nuclear sub and a critical component of the country’s pursuit of a nuclear triad capability. In related news, the Indian MoD has restricted all future shipbuilding to domestic yards, with private shipyards having a potential workload of $3.2 billion over the next fifteen years.

Oct 24/14: Project 75i. India’s top-level Defence Acquisition Council clears INR 900 billion in acquisitions, including INR 530 billion for Project 75i to build 6 AIP submarines in India. The government intends to identify capable shipyards for the foreign partnership within the next 2 months, from among 7 major shipyards (4 of which are state-owned).

Wouldn’t it be better to have the outside partners identify their preferred shipyards, since their primary incentive is directed toward contract performance rather than the results of political lobbying? One might add that if the chosen submarine vendor ends up disagreeing with India’s shipyard choice, it’s only going to prolong negotiations whose late timing and contract structure already guarantee a force crisis for India’s submarine fleet.

Other DAC clearances today include 2 SDV underwater commando delivery vehicles; up to INR 32 billion to buy and license-build about 300 Spike family launcher systems and 8,000 missiles; INR 20 billion to have the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board build about 360 more BMP-2 tracked IFVs under license; and INR 18.5 billion for 12 more license-built Do-228NG short-range transport and maritime surveillance aircraft from HAL. Sources: NDTV, “6 Made-in-India Submarines for Navy for 53,000 Crores” | IANS, “Defence ministry clears Israeli anti-tank missile, six submarines”.

DAC Approval: Project 75i

Sept 7/14: Project 75i. Indian policymakers decide to cripple their strategic posture:

“Frustrated with seven years of debilitating delay in even kicking off the process to select a foreign collaborator to help make new-generation stealth submarines, the Navy has junked its long-standing demand for getting two of the six such vessels directly from aboard…. all the six new submarines, armed with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance, will be constructed in India with foreign collaboration under ‘Project-75-India’….

Once the global tender or RFP (request for proposal) for P-75I is issued, it will take at least three years to first select the foreign collaborator and then finalize the project with it. It will thereafter take another seven to eight years for the first submarine to roll out.”

So, no tender. When there is one, we’re at 2017 for a winner. India will need to start retiring U209/ Shishumar Class submarines by 2016, or find an excuse to extend them past a 30-year safe lifespan. At the same time, 3 of the Navy’s early Kilo/ Sindhugosh Class boats would also be at or beyond a 30-year lifespan, for a total of 5 boats at risk this way before a Project 75i winner is even declared. Waiting another 8 years after a winner is declared brings us to 2025 for the 75i rollout, by which time all 4 U209s should be retired, and 8 of India’s 9 Kilo Class boats would have ages ranging from 34 – 39 years. Only INS Sindhushastra would be under the 30-year mark. That could leave India with its submarine force cut in half, when its current fleet of 13 is already acknowledged as inadequate to India’s strategic needs.

In contrast, here’s what strategic urgency that forced the original plan plus urgency looks like: an 2-phase RFP issued in late 2014, with an expeditious evaluation and a winner in 2015. There’s a commitment to build the first 2 boats abroad, with some Indian workers present on exchange, and a target for Indian participation that can be finalized while construction begins. That would add 2 more submarines to India’s fleet by around 2019; even if service cutoff is set at 33 years, India’s total fast attack submarine fleet would still have dropped from 13 to 11 boats. By 2025, if the 1st Indian-built Project 75i boat rolls out as planned, the type has already been through their long trials and exercise period, and can enter operational service before INS Shalki must decommission. It also sails into a reduced but modern fleet that has held steady at 10-12 front-line submarines: 6 Scorpene submarines, the Kilo Class INS Sindhushastra, the U209 Shankul and the soon-to-depart U209 INS Shalki, 2 Project 75i boats with fully trained crews, and a possible renewal of the nuclear-powered INS Chakra’s lease. Sources: The Times of India, “Delays force Navy to drop demand for foreign submarines”.

Program timelines and India’s sub fleet

June 23/14: Batteries. India’s government new has decided to take swift action to replace submarine battery stocks, as India works to keep its existing fleet in the water until 2016.

The Navy has issued an RFP to buy 7 Type-I battery sets (248 batteries each) for Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, plus 2 sets of Type-II batteries (540 batteries each) for their U209 Shishumar Class. They’re also buying new cables. The Kilo Class submarine INS Sindhuratna needs those cables to become operational again, and the belief that old and dangerous battery sets may have played a role in Sindhurakshak’s sinking (q.v. Feb 26/14) has made it clear that the red tape blocking new buys needed to be cut.

What the report doesn’t say is whether a resolution was found for the fact that “the Defence Ministry had stopped purchases from a particular vendor.” One supposes that we won’t know until the RFP responses come in, but these sorts of considerations should have planners attention for the future Scorpene fleet as well. Sources: Mail Online India, “Centre rushes to buy new submarine batteries as Navy suffers shortage”.

June 5/14: Sindhurakshak raised. Resolve Marine Group begins raising INS Sinhurakshak (q.v. Jan 19/14), which has lain at the bottom of Mumbai harbor since explosions sank the Kilo Class submarine on Aug 14/13. After the harbor was dredged to be 8 feet deeper in that area, Resolve used a twin-barge technique that raises the boat using chains, sinks the carrier barge beneath the raised boat, lowers the submarine onto the sunken barge, then refloats the barge and carries the submarine away.

The is important to the entire fleet, and not just because it clears critical space in Mumbai harbor. If forensics reveal that the explosion was terrorism, India will need to overhaul its security procedures. If the problem involved unstable batteries that MoD couldn’t replace in a timely way (q.v. Feb 26/14), then the risk to the entire serving submarine force rises until this can be dealt with, and India’s naval crisis is even worse. Sources: India Today, “INS Sindhurakshak lifted from Mumbai harbour floor in massive salvage operation”.

June 2/14: New Man. The BJP’s Shri Arun Jaitley takes over as Defence Minister, while also holding the ministries of finance and corporate affairs. He himself says that MoD will be a temporary assignment, leading many observers to wonder what’s going on. The answer may lie in the Ministry of Finance’s repeated sabotaging of military modernization project approvals. The Times of India writes:

“The finance ministry is often blamed for being a “big obstacle” for military modernisation plans. But with Arun Jaitley straddling both MoF and MoD as of now, there is “hope” the “detailed action plan” for the submarine fleet will be swiftly cleared. Jaitley, on being asked by TOI if there was “a conflict of interest” in handling both the ministries, replied, “Well, I see it as supplementing of interest”…. Navy is down to just nine operational diesel-electric submarines, with another four stuck in long repairs and refits. All the 13 submarines are over 20 years old, while eight of them have crossed 25…. Though this over Rs 50,000 crore project[75i] was granted “acceptance of necessity” in November 2007, the global tender to select the foreign collaborator is yet to be even floated…. “Since early-April, it’s now again with MoF. The tender or RFP (request for proposal) can be issued only after first the MoF and then the cabinet committee on security approves it,” said a source.”

If a unified minister can get the Project 75i RFP out, finalize the Black Shark torpedo buy, and make a decision about India’s M-MRCA program, he could do a tremendous amount of good for India’s defenses in a very short time. Sources: Indian Gov’t, “Arun Jaitley takes over as Defence Minister” | India’s Economic times, “BJP men, others fail to find logic in alloting defence to Arun Jaitley” | Times of India, “Modi govt must act fast to save India’s depleting submarine fleet”.

May 15/14: Torpedoes & 75i. Ajai Shulka writes that the absence of a torpedo contract needs to be a priority for the new BJP government, if they want to avoid a situation where India’s new Scorpenes are defenseless against enemy submarines:

“Consequently, when the first Scorpene submarine is commissioned in 2016, it will be armed only with the Exocet anti-ship missile. Were it to be challenged by Pakistan’s silent new Khalid-class submarines – the French Agosta-90B -the Scorpene will have empty torpedo tubes. Even if the new government signs the contract quickly, delivery would be unlikely before 2017…. A top-level navy planner laments the MoD’s lack of accountability, contrasting it with how former navy chief, Admiral D K Joshi, took responsibility for warship accidents and resigned.”

Meanwhile, no upgrade and life-extension has been approved or contracted for India’s aging U209 boats, and Project 75i has no contract. When 75i is underway, it plans to entrust construction of 1 of 6 submarines to state-owned Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL) – the same yard that destroyed the Kilo Class INS Sindhukirti during a bungled refit. Building Project 75i in 2 Indian shipyards would also mean paying double for transfer of technology (ToT). On the other hand, it may speed badly-needed deliveries. If you can trust the 2nd shipyard to perform. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “Scorpene subs to join fleet without torpedoes” | See also March 11/13, Dec 23/13 re: torpedoes.

April 10/14: Sabotage? The Sindhuratna Board of Inquiry is reportedly recommending the court martial of a Commodore, and a notation of “severe displeasure” on the records of 2 mid-ranking officers. Another change at the top may be on the way, courtesy of India’s electorate. dna India, “Sindhuratna mishap: Navy Board of Inquiry recommends action against officers” | PTI, “Top Navy officer may face court martial in submarine mishap”.

April 9/14: Sabotage? A preliminary Board of Inquiry still isn’t ruling out sabotage, which was an immediate conclusion when the Kilo Class boat INS Sindhurakshak sank in August 2013. While the initial, minor explosion could have been an accident, malfunction, or human error, the major explosions are attributed to the torpedoes. Those supposedly can’t trigger without human intervention, but the old saw about making things foolproof always applies. More can’t be known until the submarine is fully salvaged around August 2014, and forensic tests can be performed. Sources: The Hindu, “Sindhurakshak may have been sabotaged: probe” | Hindustan Times, “INS Sindhurakshak fire: ‘Sabotage’ angle in report is disturbing”.

April 6/14: Kilo Fire. The Kilo Class boat INS Matanga catches fire while undergoing a refit at Mumbai’s Naval dockyard. It’s a minor incident, involving a contractor performing steel welding in the Sewage Treatment Plant compartment and causing insulating material in the adjacent compartment to smolder. This isn’t something that would happen at sea, and they put the fire out immediately. Deccan Chronicle, “Fire on board INS Matanga at the Naval dockyard in Mumbai, no causalities reported”.

Feb 26/14: Kilo Fire. The Kilo Class submarine INS Sindhuratna experiences a fire during training near Mumbai, killing 2 officers and felling 7 sailors unconscious due to smoke inhalation. The problem was a smoke build-up in the Kilo Class submarine’s battery compartment – a problematic area that has been subject to procurement delays. The Times of India explains:

“TOI has learnt that the batteries on INS Sindhuratna were old and had not been replaced. “The batteries were not changed during its refit (maintenance) that was done in December 2013. The submarine is a diesel-electric vessel, which runs on battery power provided by 240 lead acid batteries weighing about 800 kg each. These batteries tend to release flammable hydrogen gas, especially when they are being charged, and submarines have safety systems to address emergencies arising out of this. Old batteries are even worse,” the source said.”

The submarine wasn’t fully loaded with weapons, which was extremely fortunate for all involved. Reuters adds:

“One former senior submariner describes a gridlock in which bureaucrats make “observations” and note their “reservations”, but make no decisions to buy or replace equipment for fear of being implicated in corruption scandals. “No one wants to touch the damn thing,” he said, noting that delays also cause procurement costs to escalate.”

In response, chief admiral DK Joshi resigns. Joshi is known as a very upright character, and he’s upholding an important tradition by his actions, while also reportedly expressing his own dissatisfaction with the MoD. It’s certainly convenient for some politicians to have him take the blame, but that may not be where the real problem is. Sources: Hindustan Times, “INS Sindhuratna mishap: Navy chief resigns as 2 go missing, 7 injured” | Firstpost India, “INS Sindhuratna: Report on battery system overhaul will haunt AK Antony” | NDTV, “Two officers died in fire on board submarine INS Sindhuratna, confirms Navy” | Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Navy setbacks show defence challenges facing next Indian govt” | Times of India, “Major mishap averted as INS Sindhuratna wasn’t fully loaded”.

Feb 6/14: Project 75i. Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau says that they’ve made progress adding vertical launchers to their newest Amur-1650 submarines, in order to incorporate Klub-S (SS-N-27B/30B) missiles that offer various combinations of subsonic and even terminal supersonic anti-ship, land-attack, and anti-submarine variants. Chief designer Igor Molchanov believes that they could install tubes for Brahmos missiles, without compromising the submarine’s capabilities.

He also made a pitch for Rubin’s own AIP solution, which cracks diesel fuel to obtain its hydrogen instead of storing the highly explosive gas on board. The Amurs are expected to compete against France’s Scorpene, Germany’s U214 or stretched U216, and Spain’s S-80. sources: RIA Novosti, “Russia Prepared to Modify Submarines for Indian Tender”.

Jan 19/14: Kilo Salvage? India has reportedly received 2 RFP responses for a DSRV rescue submarine, in case there’s another submarine emergency. Meanwhile:

“After an exhaustive study, an empowered committee of the Indian Navy has submitted to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that to salvage the sunk, Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhurakshak, will cost upto [sic] Rs 300 crore. However, the MOD is yet to respond. It was learnt that a final decision on this is now being awaited since the MoD is ‘vetting the entire proposal’. It was also learnt that the navy has recommended a particular firm in its report to the MoD.”

That’s about $50 million, and even after paying it, the boat probably can’t be returned to service. On the other hand, no salvage means that the Board of Inquiry is stalled, which matters because there are strong suspicions that she was sunk by a terrorist attack (q.v. Aug 14/13). The sunken sub is also taking up an important berth in Mumbai’s crowded naval base.

Resolve Marine Group subsidiary Resolve India ends up winning the order in February 2014, with a bid described as “under Rs 240 crore” (around $40 million). Sources: India Today, “Salvaging INS Sindhurakshak to cost upto Rs 300 crore, navy tells MoD” [sic] | Times of India, “Indian arm of US company wins Sindhurakshak salvage

Jan 19/14: Accident. The Kilo Class boat INS Sindhughosh runs aground while trying to enter Mumbai Harbour. Its entry was delayed, and by the time it was cleared, the tide was too low. Salvage efforts rescue the sub by floating it off as the tide rises.

The Indian Navy is initially saying that there was no damage, and that the submarine remains operational. It’s hard to see how this can be determined without a drydock examination, but so far, no decision has been made to do that. Or to launch a Board of Inquiry. Sources: India Today: “Navy salvages submarine INS Sindhughosh stuck off Mumbai coast” | Calcutta Telegraph, “Armed sub scare”.

Kilo aground

Jan 18/14: Torpedoes. India’s DAC may have cleared the INR 18 billion buy of 98 WASS Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes, but the Ministry of Defense has cold feet after the Jan 1/14 cancellation of fellow Finmeccanica Group AgustaWestland’s AW101 VVIP helicopter contract, and is “doing a rethink.”

Finmeccanica won’t be blacklisted, because it would affect too many other Indian programs and fleets. State-sector delays have already pushed the initial Scorpene delivery back to September 2016, so the MoD can afford to dither. Even so, the AW101 court case will take a while, and a decision will probably be needed while it’s still in progress. The Indian Navy is just lucky the submarines weren’t delivered on time, then forced to go without torpedoes. Which may still happen, unless the Ministry is forced into action. Sources: Times of India, “Defence ministry reviews move to buy torpedoes”.


More costs, and more delays, all preventable; BrahMos can launch underwater, just not deploy; Torpedo buy hung up; China buying more advanced Russian subs. BrahMos
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Dec 23/13: Torpedoes. India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approves an INR 18 billion proposal to buy WASS Black Shark torpedos for the Scorpenes. The decision comes a week before the government decides to cancel a different Finmeccanica group contract for AW101 VVIP helicopters, which is about to become a strongly-contested court case. Sources: The Week, “Proposal to buy torpedos from AW’s sister company”.

Dec 17/13: Project 75i. With its submarine force waning, the Indian MoD announces that 2 of the coming Project 75i submarines will be built abroad:

“Based upon the Naval HQ proposal, Defence Acquisition Council has taken a decision that P-75 I project will have 4 submarines (out of six) built within the country (03 at Mazgaon Dock Limited, Mumbai and 01 at Hindustan Shipyard Limited, Visakhapatnam, on Transfer of Technology, and two to be built in collaborator’s yard abroad.”

Nov 30/13: Scorpene supplemental. France is reportedly offering India an interesting deal. DCNS would build 2 Scorpene submarines in France, for delivery that would coincide with the induction of India’s 1st locally-built boat. In 1 stroke, they’d give India’s navy enough working modern submarines to meet naval commitments, until the rest of the Scorpenes arrive in service.

France is also reportedly pushing to have India make a 2nd-generation fuel cell MESMA system India’s official “Plan B,” in case DRDO can’t meet its 2015 delivery commitment for an indigenous Air-Independent Propulsion supplementary system. Extensive testing requirements for AIP systems all but guarantee that DRDO’s AIP is already late, but DRDO insists as usual that they’re on track this time. Their preferred approach is to wait until official failure in 2015 before beginning any decisions. Which would, of course, hold up construction of submarines #5 & 6, further crippling India’s submarine fleet, while India’s bureaucrats and politicians take their customary years to make a decision.

DRDO is correct to worry that acceptance of MESMA AIPs in the last 2 contracted boats would badly damage hopes for a DRDO-led AIP retrofit of the first 4 Scorpenes. It would also strengthen DCNS’ position for Project 75i, of course, by offering fleet commonality, while proving that MDL is already trained to accomplish MESMA AIP fit-outs. Sources: Livefist, “France Offers 2 Quick Scorpenes, DCNS ‘Worried’ About DRDO’s AIP”.

Aug 26/13: Project 75i. In the wake of the Sindhurakshak’s sinking, Indian media report that the country may look to lease a 2nd nuclear submarine from Russia. On the SSK front, the Times of India reports that defense minister A K Antony may be rethinking the Ministry’s slowness, and consider compromising his own renewed push toward an all-indigenous procurement policy.

In India, this consists of asking bureaucrats to kindly expedite the Project 75i building plan, 14 years after the program was approved to go forward. The paper reports that a Draft CCS Note with required specifications, concrete building plans, etc. will be sent to the Cabinet Committee of Security in “a month or so,” and that it contains the Navy’s requested provision that the 1st 2 submarines would be built abroad. If CCS approval leads to a fast contract, it’s entirely possible that India could have 2 operational Project 75i submarines before it has 2 operational Project 75 Scorpenes. That would shore up the submarine force quickly, but it would also be embarrassing.

The rest of Antony’s reaction consists of chest-beating about no more schedule slippages at state-owned Mazagon Docks Ltd., and calls for better and “faster” refits and maintenance for the shrunken 13-sub fleet – 11 of which are 20-27 years old. Can the Minister guarantee either outcome? No. Are they even technically achievable? If he knew, he would have been doing it already. Sources: Times of India, “Submarine shock: Antony fast-tracks projects”.

Aug 14/13: Sunk. An explosion and fire sink the Kilo Class INS Sindhurakshak while the boat is docked in Mumbai, killing 18 people on board. Firemen manage to contain the blaze to the submarine, so it doesn’t end up sinking the submarine docked next to it as well. The explosion happens the day before India’s independence day, and the comprehensiveness of the damage leaves observers inside and outside India considering the possibility that it was a terrorist plot.

Whether it was or it wasn’t, India’s fleet just lost its 2nd newest submarine. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “INS Sindhurakshak crippled; experts blame battery fire and ammunition explosion” | The Hindu, “Submarine blasts due to ‘possible ignition of armament'” | Hindustan Times, “Russia distances itself from India sub disaster”


July 23/13: Late, again. MDL Chairman and Managing Director Rear Admiral Rahul Kumar Shrawat (ret.) confirms to The Hindu that “We have set a new target of September 2016 for delivery of the first Scorpene,” instead of the already-late date of 2015. Deliveries were originally slated to begin in 2012, and the latest confession won’t win many fans in the Indian Navy. The Hindu:

“The Navy, however, is livid over the yard’s persistent disregard for deadlines. Top Navy officials rue that by the time the Scorpenes are commissioned, they would be obsolete. The first three Scorpenes will not even have air independent propulsion (AIP)…. MDL’s long-drawn procurement processes and sluggishness in technology absorption gave the projects hiccups at the start itself. Meanwhile, the project cost grew exponentially from the original Rs.18,798 crore to Rs. 23,562 crore in 2010 with a renewed timeline.”

May 14/13: The Hindustan Times illustrates the dire situation facing India’s navy, due to mismanagement of India’s submarine programs:

“As reported first by HT on April 9, a confidential defence ministry report had warned that India had never before been poised in such a vulnerable situation and its undersea force levels were “at a highly precarious state.” …China operates close to 45 submarines, including two ballistic missile submarines. It also plans to construct 15 additional Yuan-class attack submarines, based on German diesel engine purchases.

The size of India’s submarine fleet will roughly be the same as that of the Pakistani Navy in two years…. merely six to seven submarines, including India’s first and only nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant.”

That may be a bit pessimistic. The 4 U209s will need to begin retiring, leaving 10 Sindhugosh (Kilo) Class submarines that began entering service in 1986. At least 8 of those have been refitted under Project 08773, and can be expected to serve for several more years. That makes 9 submarines, but at Indian operational levels, that leaves just 3-4 boats available for missions. On the other hand, China’s fleet is venturing into the Indian Ocean more often, and bases like Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan will make that easier and easier. Keeping up with Pakistan won’t be enough, and the article is correct to point out that India is barely clearing even that low bar. Hindustan Times.

April 15/13: More delays and costs coming. The Times of India reports that bureaucratic delays by the Ministry of Defence may force Scorpene submarine deliveries to start in 2016, even as costs are set to rise again:

“According to sources, Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) has informed the Navy that the project would be delayed by another 18 months…. Consultants from Navantia, the Spanish shipbuilding company, left the project in the last few days. The technical assistance pact for Navantia and DCNS, the French partner in the consortium, expired on March 31, sources said. With MDL failing to get the defence ministry’s approval in time, about 10 Spanish consultants working on the submarine project left India…. DCNS leadership is expected to meet with MDL top brass this week in Mumbai and present their own demand for additional technical assistance fee.”

Every problem listed here was preventable, and so is the crisis coming to India’s submarine force. A contract that built the first 2 boats abroad, with Indian engineers and specialists working at the foreign shipyard before transferring home to build the last 4 at MDL, would have cut technical assistance requirements, while delivering working submarines to the navy on time. India’s Navy has learned that lesson, and is lobbying hard for an analogous arrangement under Project 75i. Based on reports to date, the ministry hasn’t learned anything, and is resisting. Its political leaders would rather have the vote bank of state run jobs, and their associated financial arrangements up and down the supply chain. Even if that costs more, and leaves India strategically vulnerable. Somehow, that isn’t corruption.

March 20/13: BrahMos underwater. India successfully tests its supersonic PJ-10 Brahmos Mach 2+ cruise missile from a submarine. BrahMos joint venture CEO A Sivathanu Pillai describes it as the 1st underwater firing of a supersonic cruise missile anywhere in the world, and the missile successfully hit its target 290 km / 156 nm away.

Here’s the catch: none of India’s current submarines can fire the new submarine-launched missile. It’s too big to launch from a torpedo tube, and will need to use a vertical launch tube with the correct diameter. India’s Project 75i submarines are nearly certain to add this modification, but they won’t be ready until 2023 at the earliest, a decade after a submarine-launch Brahmos conducted its 1st test firing.

New Indian Express editorial director Prabhu Chawla attributes this disconnect to poor planning in the MoD. The truth is that there has been no shortage of planning, or lead time. Solicitations for the follow-on Project 75i reportedly began in 2008, and there is still no RFP. Likewise Air-Independent Propulsion was discussed in 2006, but the ball has been dropped and it’s unlikely to appear in any of the 6 ordered Scorpene submarines. What has been in short supply is timely execution, thanks to a combination of delays stemming from MoD practices, industrial failures, and hindrances put in place by politicians. No amount of planning can trump that. Times of India | Chawla op-ed.

March 18/13: Legal. India PIB:

“A complaint was received alleging financial irregularities against the then Director in-charge of Scorpene Submarine project in a Defence Shipyard. The complaint is under enquiry.”

March 11/13: Torpedoes. Defense minister Antony offers a written Parliamentary reply to say that India still hasn’t finalized a contract for torpedoes. A Special Technical Oversight Committee (STOC) was convened to review the complaints about the proposed Black Shark buy, and approved it as fair and to procedure. In other words, no wrongdoing. The high-level political Defence Acquisition Committee accepted the report in September 2012 (6 months ago), and has done… nothing. The purchase has now been delayed for over 3 years.

Welcome to India. Part of the reason involves allegations that WASS’ parent firm Finmeccanica paid bribes to secure a contract for 12 AW101 VVIP helicopters. In Italy, its CEO is facing bribery charges, and has been deposed. That sort of thing could get the parent firm blacklisted, which would also scuttle the torpedo buy, and could make it difficult for India to build its Vikrant Class indigenous aircraft carriers. As of March 11/13, Finmeccanica subsidiary AgustaWestland has been given a ‘show cause’ notice regarding cancellation of the AW101s, but did not have the contract cancelled until January 2014. No blacklisting will follow. See also Jan 12/10, Jan 31/11, Oct 28/12. India PIB.

March 8/13: China. An analysis piece in The Hindu by Vladimir Radyuhin points out that China continues to build a modern submarine fleet – including the most advanced conventional subs from Russia. The problem may be a pervasive one, stemming from poor Russian delivery and support on one hand, and India’s red-tape slowness and inability to make decisions on the other:

“At the end of last year, Russia concluded a framework agreement with China for the sale of four Amur-1650 diesel submarines…. It will also mark the first time that Russia has supplied China with more powerful weapon platforms compared with Russian-built systems India has in its arsenals. In the past, the opposite was the rule…. India risks being eclipsed by China on the Russian radar screens. As Russia’s top business daily Kommersant noted recently, even today, Russian officials from top to bottom tend to look at India with “drowsy apathy,” while Mr. Putin’s visit to India last year was long on “meaningless protocol” and short on time and substance.”

Jan 4/13: Investigation. India’s Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has launched an inquiry against Commodore (ret.) Gopal Bharti, who heads up Project 75. The inquiry is in response to an unnamed internal whistleblower. The financial irregularities which include train fare reimbursement and taking his son abroad at public expense, aren’t earth-shattering. On the other hand, the CVC is investigating allegations that Bharti deliberately refused to place orders for 170 critical items, and are curious about the disappearance of 15 high pressure specialized underwater valves from his department.

Innocent until proven guilty, but the range of allegations are pretty broad. Times of India.


India gambles on own AIP system – will it even be ready?; Kilo Class upgrades done; Project 75i gets official OK, but no RFP; India looking for land strike missiles on 75i subs. Pakistan’s A90Bs
click for video

Dec 4/12: AIP. StratPost offers an AIP system update from Indian Navy chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi

“AIP plugs for the fifth and sixth of (Project) 75 are under consideration. [DRDO’s Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL)] has been tasked to develop that. It is doing so. What is to be seen is whether the… timeline Matches the delayed production timelines of (Project) 75. In case this comes online in conformity with the fifth and sixth ones they will be put into place, but if for some reason they are not ready at that point in time we would not delay the production timelines…. This would [also] become an option for any of the subsequent indigenous options [Project 75i]…. The next line will have an AIP plug.”

Meanwhile, all 3 of Pakistan’s comparable Agosta 90B submarines will include DCNS’ mature MESMA AIP technology.

Dec 5/12: Project 75i. India’s cabinet Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for buying “Project 75i”, India’s next 6 submarines. A global RFP is reportedly due “very soon,” and the Indian government has reportedly decided to spend up to $10 billion/ Rs 55,000 crore on India’s future submarine force.

Project 75i diesel-electric SSK subs will have air-independent propulsion, and India is also looking to equip them with conventional land attack missiles. DCNS could offer the AIM-2000 Scorpene with the MESMA AIP, and might be able to offer integration of MBDA’s developmental MdCN cruise missile. The MdCN is already slated for DCNS’ SSN Barracuda Class nuclear fast attack submarines, and the right electronic commonalities could give any French proposal a notable advantage over German and Spanish competitors.

If India prefers its own BrahMos missile, on the other hand, 2 things will happen. One is that the playing field will be level. The other is that any submarine chosen would have to be a modified design, with vertical launch tubes sized for BrahMos. Indian government | Zee News.

Oct 28/12: Torpedoes. More headaches for India’s Black Shark torpedo buy. As if their direct competitor’s complaint wasn’t enough, a probe is now underway into India’s EUR 560 million purchase of 12 AW101 VIP helicopters. AgustaWestland is also a Finmeccanica company, and there are several cases of India’s blacklist laws being invoked against firms on the basis of mere corruption allegations, with no available proof.

The Rs 1,700 crore buy of 98 torpedoes for the Scorpene fleet was expected to be followed by a similar buy for Project 75i’s 6 submarines, and possibly a 3rd buy to plus up stocks and equip the new SSBN Arihant Class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. That could mean a total of up to Rs 5,100 crore, or about EUR 733 million / $947 million at risk given current conversions.

As for Atlas Elektronik’s claims that the torpedo bid was rigged (vid. Jan 31/11 entry), the Indian MoD’s Acquisitions Wing, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), and Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju have all rejected the claims, despite strong circumstantial evidence. India MoD | India’s Business Standard.

July 17/12: Sub-contractors. SEC Industries and DCNS today officially inaugurate new 1,500 m2 of workshop facilities at SEC’s Hyderabad facilities, and formally deliver cofferdam door coamings after successful Factory Acceptance Tests. The work was done under a September 2011 sub-contract between SEC DCNS India Pvt Ltd., and a second sub-contract for additional work was signed in 2012 (vid. March 23/12 entry). DCNS.

June 23/12: Kilo Class. Russia completes its set of 7 mid-life refits and modernizations of India’s Kilo Class submarine fleet, which were delivered from 1986 – 2000. Russia handled repairs and modernization for 7 boats, while Indian shipyards have delivered 1 and are working on another 2.

This last boat, INS Sindhurakshak ended her mid-life refit in Zvezdochka about 15 years after she was built. A submarine’s expected safe lifetime is usually about 30 years, but India may be forced to contemplate a 2nd refit series. Ortherwise, they may not be able to keep their overall submarine fleet at acceptable levels, while they wait for Scorpenes and Project 75i boats arrive. Additional refit efforts generally cost more for each additional year of safe service delivered. The Hindu.

June 11/12: Industrial. DCNS signs a strategic partnership for bringing DCNS technologies, methods and skills into India’s private Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering Company Limited. Pipavav is a shipbuilder, repair & dry-docking firm, and were recently chosen by MDL to form a Joint Venture to build warships for the Indian Navy. DCNS.

March 23/12: Sub-contractors. DCNS India announces a Scorpene sub-contract and transfer of technology with SEC Industries Pvt Ltd of Hyderabad, India. The deal for hull hatches, cofferdam doors, knuckle hoses, ballast vent valves, High Pressure air cylinders, weapon handling and storage system is worth about Rs 310 crore/ EUR 50 million. To make this work, DCNS will provide SEC with full plans for the components, training for over 40 SEC personnel at DCNS facilities during 2012-2013, plus 5 years of on-the-job training and support for manufacturing and quality control at SEC in Hyderabad.

SEC is known in Indian defense circles as a manufacturer of missile airframes and components, and signed a deal with Israel’s IAI back in 2008. The company’s previous experience had been with heavy pump set and road-roller equipment. DCNS.

March 19/12: Delays. The 1st Indian Scorpene sub is now confirmed as scheduled for delivery in June 2015, barring further delays, and program cost is now confirmed at Rs 23,562 crore (currently about $4.56 billion).

The original schedule was for delivery by December 2012, with submarines arriving each year until December 2017. The new official schedule has deliveries beginning 2.5 years later in June 2015, with submarines arriving every 9 months until September 2018. Costs are up about 25.4% from the original CAG-audited cost of Rs 18,798 crore after the deal was signed, or 87% over the program’s initial 2002 figure. Indian MoD | New Kerala | PTI.

Jan 14/12: Fleet readiness. The Hindu reports that construction of India’s 2nd Arihant Class submarine, Aridamana, leaves it slated for launch in late 2012 or early 2013. Fabrication of the 3rd ATV submarine has begun. Meanwhile, unnamed sources in the Indian Navy continue to express concern about the country’s silent service:

“The decline in the operational availability of submarines [as low as 40 per cent] has seriously compromised the force’s vital sea denial capability. The absence of Air Independent Propulsion… is another debilitating factor.”

What this means is that if India has 12 operational submarines (9 Kilo, 4 U209, 1 in refit at any time), it would only be able to field 4-5 boats in an emergency situation.


Inquiry into Black Shark torpedo buy; Scorpenes will be late; Do India’s U209s need life extensions now?; Navy wants Project 75i to be a mix of foreign and locally-built, in order to be on time; State-run stranglehold on Indian defense industry; MDL-Pipavav public-private JV to build and service warships.

Sept 13/11: Industrial. Private shipbuilder Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering Company (PDOL) and state-owned Mazagon Dock (MDL) agree to form India’s first public-private partnership venture to build warships and submarines for the Indian Navy.

Mazagon Dock Pipavav Ltd will be held 50/50, and it will help MDL fulfill existing orders while competing for future defence contracts in India. Pipavav chairman Nikhil P Gandhi is quoted as saying that it’s “primarily to fast-forward the process of warships and submarine contracts held currently by the MDL.” India’s Financial Express | Indian Express.

July 29/11: Rear Admiral MT Moraes takes over as the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Submarines) at Delhi, to look after the planning and acquisition of submarines.

Rear Admiral Srikant is also slated to take over as Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM) based at Visakhapatnam, this is the indian Navy’s class authority on submarines, responsible for defining standards, policies and procedures for their operations and maintenance. Rear Admiral G Ashok Kumar will take over as Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) at Kochi. India MoD.

June 8/11: Sub-contractor. DCNS India Pvt. Ltd. signs an undisclosed contract with Flash Forge India Pvt. Ltd., an ISO 9001:2008 certified manufacturer of customized special material forgings based in Visakhapatnam.

This first contract with Flash Forge for the manufacturing of mechanical equipment is the conclusion of a long process for DCNS, which involved identification of potential partners, audits of the manufacturing and quality processes, qualification, and then a competitive Request For Proposal (RFP). With a lot of the advance work out of the way, DCNS expects to announce other local contracts in the near future. DCNS.

June 6/11: IANS relays a report in the May 2011 issue of India Strategic, quoting DCNS India Managing Director Bernard Buisson to say that 2 Scorpene combat systems have been delivered to Mazagon Docks Ltd. (MDL). They’re in the process of integrating the first one.

Buisson reportedly said that there are about 20 – 25 French engineers assisting in technology transfer, and added that DCNS has had technical discussions with the Indian Navy on installing MESMA air independent propulsion (AIP) systems on board the last 2 submarines. That move would raise the subs’ cost, and DCNS said they are (still) awaiting the Navy’s response. IANS | India Strategic.

May 18/11: Delays. The Times of India reports that 2 Indian naval crews will be going to France “after some months” to train for operating the SSK Scorpene fast attack submarines. The article notes that by 2020, India’s fleet will comprise just 5 Kilo Class and 4 U209 Shishumar class boats available, and quotes an unnamed official:

“We now hope to get the first Scorpene by August 2015. Each submarine will have just a 36-member crew since automation levels in them are very high,”… “The first Scorpene will be ‘launched’ into water in 2013, and will be ready for commissioning by August 2015 after extensive harbour and sea trials,” said a top DCNS official. “The target is to deliver the sixth submarine by 2018, one every nine months after the first one in 2015. The third and fourth submarines are already under construction at MDL…”

April 6/11: Stretch the Shishumars? The Scorpene project’s lateness, and uncertainties around Project 75I award and delivery dates, have led India’s Navy to talk with Germany’s HDW about upgrading the capabilities, and extending the lifespans, of its existing U209 Shishumar Class boats, inducted from 1989-1994. Zee News.

Feb 16/11: P75i. Indian media quote Indian navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, who reiterates that the follow-on program to the Scorpene deal is already cleared by India’s government. The result could add 6 more Scorpenes to the order books, or it could result in a parallel program to build another model. With 7 of India’s 14 active submarines due for retirement by 2015, and the Scorpene program 3 years late because of self-inflicted delays, the Indian government’s unwise choice to avoid building any Project 75 Scorpene submarines in France has created a looming crisis for the Navy.

Verma says that the Navy is going through responses to the September 2009 RFI, and hopes to be able to issue a tender in 2011. Responses have reportedly included DCNS (Scorpene AIP), Germany’s HDW (U214) and its Swedish Kockums subsidiary (several options, incl. the forthcoming A26 design), Navantia (S-80), and Russia’s Rosoboronexport (Amur 1650), He adds that Project 75i is looking for an improved combat management system, better sensors and detection range, and the certain inclusion of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology. Reports place the order total at $11 billion, but that seems high even if it includes both the current $4.38 billion for Project 75’s 6 subs, and a Project 75i program for another 6 diesel-electric boats. Time will tell.

The current plan is for India to order 2 submarines built at the winning foreign shipyard, and build 3 at Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, and 1 at Hindustan Shipyard in Visakaphatnam. That’s similar to the Project 75 plan pushed by India’s Navy, who wanted 2 boats built abroad because they feared that delays and performance issues might create problems for the Scorpene. Political favoritism overruled that request, and the feared scenario has come to pass. This time, the government is showing slightly more flexibility, by approving the plan to have 2 submarines built abroad in order to avoid a complete crash in fleet numbers. On the other hand, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) refused to accept the recommendation the Project 75i avoid MDL, due to that shipyard’s existing workload. Instead, the government assumes that it would be able to build 3 more submarines, which may even be of a different type, on an accelerated production schedule, while still delivering all 6 Project 75 Scorpene boats to the revised schedule. Yeah, right. IANS | Times of India.

Jan 31/11: Torpedo trouble? India’s Central Vigilance Commissioner has opened an inquiry into Project 75’s planned buy of 98 heavyweight torpedoes, after Atlas Elektronik GmbH executive director Kai Pelzer reportedly lodged a direct complaint. The complaint refers reportedly refers to irregularities in the conduct of the procurement process, including specific charges of corruption. The CVC inquiry was ordered in December 2010.

Atlas Electroniks’ complaint is straightforward: the competition was rigged. The RFP makes the torpedo vendor responsible for seamless integration and/or interface of the torpedo with the SUBTICS combat system. The Finmeccanica/DCNS Blackshark is the Scorpene’s default torpedo, but Atlas had to have their plan approved by the MoD’s Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC). That approval was given, but Atlas’ integration proposal was failed in the user trials. India’s DPP, Para 13, doesn’t allow requirements that “prejudice the technical choices by being narrow and tailor made.” The TEC’s approval escaped that trap, but Para 70a allows only one remaining vendor after trials. Atlas says this was the Navy’s intent all along.

The inquiry suspends India’s planned buy of Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes from Finmeccanica subsidiary Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel (WASS), until this can be sorted out. Atlas Elektronik Gmbh was offering their DM2A4 Seahake. Both torpedoes feature advanced seeker heads, and can be controlled by a trailing fiber optic cable. Defense World | Economic Times of India | Subsequent Business Standard coverage.

Jan 18/11: Industrial. India’s Economic Times sums up the latest revisions to India’s Defence Procurement Policy, amid hopes that the stranglehold of state-run firms on major Indian defense contracts might be loosened:

“…(DPP) 2011 has made it clear that the state-owned companies will get preference while awarding major defence contracts. Private sector will get certain concessions, but the situation has not gone down well with the players… According to DPP 2011, foreign defence vendors can now discharge their offset obligations in the civil aviation, internal security and training sectors, compared to the earlier mandate of discharging the same in the defence industrial sector only… The minister also brushed away concerns that the new policy guidelines related to the capital intensive shipbuilding industry favoured the defence PSUs, in spite of the demonstrated ability of private sector companies, such as Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and Pipavav Shipyard in recent years… L&T, which has invested millions on its state-of-the-art shipbuilding facility at Hazira, was promised a critical role in developing and manufacturing India’s second submarine line, Project 75I, along with the state-owned PSU Mazagon Dock, but was later sidelined… The new policy – which has divided procurement into two different sections – mandates that the DPSU shipyards will be given contracts on a nominated (non-competitive) basis, while the private shipyards will have to participate through a competitive bidding process. Further, it remains the government’s call to decide which contract should be open to competitive bids in the first place, raising questions of whether the government is queering the pitch further.”


Costs rise, delivery slips; India picks WASS Black Shark torpedoes.

December 2010: Torpedoes, etc. WASS (Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei) has launched its first subsidiary in India: Win Blue Water Services (WBWS)/ It will focus on naval equipment, market research and analysis, supporting offset and supply chain management, and creating a service hub for the Middle East and Asia.

WASS has operated in India since 1975. Their A244/S light torpedo recently received an Indian contract to upgrade their stocks to Mod 3, and their Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) partnership is producing the C303 anti-torpedo countermeasures system, which is already 50% indigenized. The firm sees opportunities in artificial underwater targets, underwater surveillance systems for strategic areas and offshore energy production, etc. The more work it does, the more value it can count toward Indian requirements for industrial offsets, and the more it can compete with “indigenous” products for the Indian Navy. WBWS is planning to start joint ventures for its different domains, and is in the process of discussions with Indian companies including Larsen & Toubro. India Strategic.

Dec 2/10: Delays. The headline reads “After delays, Scorpene submarine now on track: Navy chief.” Unfortunately, the IANS article doesn’t offer many specifics to support that contention, so it’s hard to evaluate.

Nov 30/10: P75i. India’s PTI reports that Russia’s Rosoboronexport will offer the latest Amur-1650 class submarines to India for Project 75i, the follow-on tender for 6 new submarines that will either extend or complement the current Scorpene contract.

The Amur is known as the Lada class in Russia, and renaming it the “Amur” for export is probably a good idea, in case anyone still remembers those infamous Lada automobiles. The new class was developed by the Rubin Central Design Bureau of Naval Technology as an improvement to the Project 636 Advanced Kilo-class diesel-electric fast attack submarines, and is said to be even quieter. The 1,765t Amur 1650 variant is larger than the Amur 950 model, and has an option for air independent propulsion. It lacks the 950’s 10 vertical launch tubes, relying instead on 6 reloadable torpedo tubes.

Sept 29/10: Industrial. An Asia Times article, “Leaks in India’s submarine strategy,” says that the submarine construction program has changed:

“India is in the process of getting six Scorpene subs… to be built at the Mazagon facility in Mumbai… but this procurement is experiencing a slowdown. Mazagon Docks in Mumbai will construct three of the six, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd in Visakhapatnam will construct one, and the other two may be procured from foreign sources or built by another private shipyard in India.

“The delivery of the first of the French Scorpenes, which was supposed to enter service in December 2012, has been delayed. Antony addressed this situation in parliament only a few weeks back. This will clearly impact upon India’s undersea force levels,” said [Observer Research Foundation senior fellow Dr. Rajeswar] Rajagopalan. “India has about 35 private shipyards, of which L&T [Larsen & Toubro Ltd] and Pipavav are believed to be competing to build the two submarines, of the six planned.”

The report adds that shrinkage of India’s operational submarine fleet may even force 2 submarines to DCNS shipyards, so they can be delivered and become operational in time. As of March 2012, however, India has done none of these things – just added more overhead and reports, and pushed delivery back.

March 10/10: Costs. DefenseWorld reports that the Indian government has approved another Rs 2,000 crore for the Project 75 Scorpene submarine program, to cover the purchase of contractor-supplied MPM equipment packages for the Project 75 Scorpene submarines.

Negotiations over the price increase have been stalled since October 2005, which has delayed the Project 75 program by 2 years.

Extra for equipment packages

April 26/10: Delays. Sify News quotes a Parliamentary response by defence minister Antony regarding the Scorpenes:

“A programme of construction of six Scorpene submarines is currently underway at Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) under transfer of technology from a French company. As per the contract, the first submarine was scheduled to be delivered in December 2012 and thereafter one each every year till December 2017… There has been a delay due to initial teething problems, absorption of technology and augmentation of MDL purchased material. The first submarine is now expected to be delivered in the second half of 2015… The delay in scheduled delivery of submarines is likely to have an impact on the envisaged [submarine] force level… However, the gap in submarine capacity has been addressed by modernisation with the state-of-the-art weapon and sensor fit on the existing submarines…”

See: Sify News | Indian MoD – less detailed.

March 30/10: WIL partnership. An Indian PR Wire release by Walchandnagar Industries quotes DCNS Chairman Patrick Boissier, who was speaking after the unveiling of the “Vinod Doshi Technology Center”:

“Said that the company which was Europe’s leading company in , ship building , off shore patrol vessels and Submarine manufacturing and valued at Euros 2.5 billion had signed an MOU with WIL last year manufacturing of critical technical parts for Scorpene” submarines for the Indian Navy… Walchandnagar Industries was identified for the project after we scouted for strategic partners and we were convinced that they would provide us the with High level technology for critical manufacturing components, he added “Talking about our future plans is premature, but it is possible in the long term to work with Walchandnagar Industry for world markets after our project in India is completed as we have a 30 % market share in Submarine manufacturing.”

While the release adds a piece to the industrial puzzle, careful reading of Mr. Boissier’s statement shows no commitment made.

Jan 12/10: Torpedoes. India’s MoD picks the DCNS/Finmeccanica WASS Blackshark heavyweight torpedo to arm its Scorpene Class submarines. The Blackshark is the standard torpedo offered with the class, and already serves with Malaysia’s Scorpene. India’s total buy is projected at 98 torpedoes, for Rs 1,700 crore, but there is no contract yet.

Their competitor was Atlas Elektronik, who supplies the SUT-B torpedoes that arm India’s upgraded U209 Sindhugosh Class. Atlas’ new DM2 A4 Seahake, which has demonstrated very long range engagements, would have been the torpedo used on the Scorpenes. Source.

Torpedo picked


CAG auditors unimpressed with Project 75; More money needed; India’s submarine readiness problem.

Dec 2/09: Delays. The Indian government confirms earlier reports, via a written reply to a Parliamentary question:

“As per contract signed with Mazagaon Docks Limited (MDL), first Scorpene submarine is scheduled to be delivered in December 2012 and thereafter, one each every year till December 2017. On account of some teething problems, time taken in absorption of technology and delays in augmentation of industrial infrastructure and procurement of MDL purchased materials (MPM), slippage in the delivery schedule is expected. Delay in scheduled delivery of submarines is likely to have an impact on the envisaged submarine force levels [for the Navy as a whole]. Loss on account of the delayed delivery is difficult to quantify at this stage.

This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Prabhat Jha and Shri Prakash Javadekar in Rajya Sabha today.”

Aug 29/09: Costs. The Times of India reports that the Defence Acquisitions Council has decided to approach the Cabinet Committee on Security to approve a EUR 300 million (about Rs 2,000 crore) cost spike for the French ‘MDL procured material (MPM) packages,’ from a EUR 400 in 2005 to EUR 700 million now. The MPM packages go inside the hulls being produced by Magazon Docks Ltd., and reportedly include virtually all major systems connected with sensors, propulsion, and other systems.

Contracts signed to date include the October 2005 Rs 6,315 crore contract with DCNS’ predecessor for transfer of technology, combat systems and construction design; the October 2005 Rs 1,062 crore contract with MBDA for sea-skimming Exocet missiles and related systems; a Rs 5,888 crore contract with MDL for local submarine construction; Rs 3,553 crore set aside for taxes; and Rs 2,160 crore for other project requirements. Total: Rs 18,798 crore. India Comptroller and Auditor General reports that the government’s 9-year delay in finalizing the deal has probably raised the project’s cost by 2,838 crore, or about 15% of the project’s total cost before this price rise.

July 20-27/09: CAG report critical. India’s Comptroller and Auditor General releases a report critical of the Scorpene acquisition, and Defense Minister A K Antony admits to India’s Parliament that the project is running about 2 years behind schedule, due to “some teething problems, absorption of technology, delays in augmentation of industrial infrastructure and procurement of MDL purchased materials (MPM).”

The CAG report criticizes the fact that the submarine requirement was app