Skip directly to content

Defense Industry Daily

Subscribe to Defense Industry Daily feed
Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 1 hour 10 min ago

More upgrades for Super Hornets | Raytheon to set up in Saudi Arabia | Export Z-19 makes flying debut

15 hours 1 min ago

  • A U-2S Dragon Lady participated in the Northern Edge military exercises based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in order to test new technologies on this later version of the 5th generation upgraded version of the venerable aircraft. The high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance plane participated alongside some 6000 personnel and 200 aircraft from every service branch, in an exercise that aims to improve interoperability and cohesion between the various branches. For the U-2S’s participation in the exercise, 130 personnel from the 9th RW were deployed to JBE.

  • Boeing is planning future upgrades for the F/A-18 Super Hornet that will keep the fighters flying into the 2040s. If approved, the plan will see continued development of the aircraft after the current Block 3 enhancement planned for the E/F variant of the Super Hornet enters production in 2020. Speaking on the plan, Larry Burt, director of Global Sales & Marketing for the Global Strike division, said that there “could well be lots of new capabilities added after Block 3. The Block 3 is built around a new processor that is a hundred times more powerful that today’s. This processor resides outside of the aircraft’s Operational Flight Program [computer], and so is not tied to its five-year software development cycle. It is truly open architecture that allows for plug and play of weapons, sensors, and systems.”

Middle East & North Africa

  • The Turkish government has approved a deal with local firm Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for the design, development and serial production of 12 Hurkus-C armed trainer aircraft. Ankara’s procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM), said the program will maximize the use of locally developed software and hardware, including in the design and integration stages. So far, the aircraft has test-fired the L-UMTAS, a laser-guided, long-range, anti-tank missile designed by state-owned missile manufacturer Roketsan, and can fire several types of locally developed ammunition including CIRIT, TEBER, HGK and LGK. TAI expects the armed Hurkus to be widely used in Turkey’s increasing counterinsurgency fight against pro-Kurdish and Islamic militants both inside Turkey and across its Syrian and Iraqi borders.

  • Saudi Arabia’s Military Industries Company has entered an strategic partnership with Raytheon after a memorandum of understanding was signed at the weekend. The ceremony took place in Riyadh and was witnessed by both the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and a visiting Donald Trump. Under the terms of the deal, Raytheon will establish a wholly owned subsidiary in the country, Raytheon Arabia, that will implement programs to create indigenous defense, aerospace and security capabilities. Among subsidiary functions will be in-country program management and development of supply and sourcing capabilities. Raytheon said it is expected that Raytheon Arabia activities will positively impact the economies of both countries and lead to job creation in both. They would also continue worldwide growth in the areas of air defense systems, smart munitions, C4I systems and defense system cybersecurity.


  • The French Navy has fired an Aster 30 surface-to-air missile as part of a training exercise aimed at preparing crew and vessel in engagements against airborne threats. The May 18 exercise was conducted onboard the Forbin, a Horizon-class air defense frigate, while the vessel was at sea, and marks the third time that a missile was launched from the ship since its entry into service. Paris have also armed the Aster 30 on the Forbin’s sister ship, Chevalier Paul, and will be fitted on the two forthcoming multi-mission frigates to be adapted to the air defense mission. Five intermediate frigates will also be fitted with the system following a new work order issued last month.

  • Italy’s Fincantieri is looking to acquire a majority stake in French shipbuilder STX France. Fincantieri is looking to purchase a 66.66% stake in STX at a cost estimated to be worth $89 million, and plans to pay for the acquisition out of its current finances. The two companies sign the share purchase agreement late last week and Fincantieri is negotiating with the French government for the finalization of the shareholders’ agreement.

Asia Pacific

  • Rolls Royce will supply its MT30 gas engines to power the upcoming Daegu-class frigates for the South Korean Navy. The order covers the delivery of engines for the second third and fourth vessel of the eight frigate program, and marks the first application for MT30 outside the UK and US markets. Work for Seoul’s Daegu-class program has been split among a number of Korean shipbuilders with Daewoo responsible for the deliver of the second frigate, while Hyundai is building ships three and four.

  • The AVIC Harbin Z-19E attack helicopter has conducted its maiden flight. An export version of the Z-19, testing on the E variant included hovering, ground-effect manouevring, and low passes. Designed for anti-tank and ground attack missions, the manufacturer stated that the helicopter is “able to be deployed for battlefield support and a variety of other missions in a complicated battlefield environment during both day and night.”

Today’s Video

  • Houthi forces fire missile at Saudi F-15 in Yemen:

Categories: News

F-35B complete GAU-22 testing | General Atomics to build 36 Reapers | Singapore to buy two more subs

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 04:00

  • The F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has successfully completed airborne gunfire testing by the US Marine Corps Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons ‘Integrated Test Force’. The GAU-22/A is a four-barrel gun designed for the F-35 and has a rate of fire of 3,300 rounds per minute and an improved accuracy of 1.4 milliradians as compared to the GAU-12. On CTOL version of the aircraft, the gun is carried internally, while on STOVL and CV variants, it comes as an external podded gun.

  • Raytheon has received a $26.8 million contract for the engineering and support of the MK-31 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). The US Navy contract was awarded as part of a joint cooperative development and production program between the United States and Germany under a memorandum of understanding. The program is meant to test reliability, along with maintenance, logistics, and software issues, and work is expected to be completed by September 2018. The RAM is designed for point-defense against anti-ship missiles and can be deployed on ships of any size. . It uses passive radio frequency and infrared guidance systems to track and destroy targets.

  • Lockheed Martin has received a $13.4 million contract modification to a previous work order concerning the AEGIS weapons-system mounted on Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Under the deal the company will provide procurement, engineering, testing, and design and software services, with completion scheduled for September 2020. The funding comes from Fiscal 2016 ship-building money already obligated.

  • The USAF has awarded a $400 million contract to General Atomics for the production and delivery of 36 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. The contract comes from acquisition funds already appropriated sole-source acquisition funds from Fiscal 2016. Work will take place at Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2020. The Reaper, the larger and more heavily successor to the MQ-1 Predator, the UAV boasts a cruise speed of 230 mph, a flight ceiling up to 50,000 feet, and a range of 1150 miles, and can carry a payload of up to 3750 lbs. Munitions integrated include the Hellfire laser-guided missiles, GBU-12 Paveway bombs, and GPS-guided GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Heron 1 UAV has been selected to replace the manned Sea Scan maritime patrol aircraft of the Israeli Air Force. In order to make the Heron more suitable to maritime operations by including a maritime radar and an electro-optical payload suitable for maritime patrol and intelligence gathering missions. The maritime Heron 1 is currently being displayed at this week’s IMDEX ASIA 2017 in Singapore.

  • A missile ship operated by the Israeli Navy has began sea trials with its new advanced ALPHA (Advanced Lightweight Phased Array) ELM-2258 radar. The Saar 4.5 vessel is one of nine currently fitted with the ALPHA with two more expected to receive installation by the end of the year. Based on digital AESA technology developed by IAI, the ELM-2258 is a rotating system that can produce a number of simultaneous beams for maritime and aerial targets.


  • The German Air Force has requested a classified briefing on the F-35 Joint Fight Strike, indicating that Berlin is in the initial stage of requesting information for a replacement fighter that will be procured from 2025 to 2035. The request was made in a letter to the US military and makes clear that the German government has not yet authorized a procurement program and is not committed to any particular aircraft to replace its current warplanes. While a member of the Eurofighter consortium and home to strong labor unions wary of building US aircraft, Germany’s interest in the F-35 may be seen as a gesture aimed at strengthening its hand in negotiations with its European partners over the scale and timing of development of a next generation of European fighters.

Asia Pacific

  • Singapore has announced that it will acquire a second batch of two more Type 218SG submarines from Germany, adding to the two already on order with manufacturer ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. The first two subs are expected to be delivered in 2021 and 2022 in a deal that is estimated to be worth around $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, the second batch will be delivered post-2024, and are expected to replace Singapore’s existing two Archer-class boats, which are former Swedish Västergötland-class submarines refurbished and extensively modernized in the early part of this decade.

Today’s Video

  • F-35B airborne gunfire testing:

Categories: News

F-35 ban lifted for lightweight pilots | Textron’s Fury completes flight-testing | Reaper drone disrupts IS public execution

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 04:00

  • The USAF has lifted its two-year ban on lightweight pilots flying the F-35, after concerns that an ejection could cause a severe neck injury. The approval means the Martin-Baker Mk16 ejection seat meets the original service specification for the F-35A, which requires the manufacturer to accommodate all pilots weighing over 46.7kg. To solve the problem, changes were made to the helmet, the ejection seat and the ejection sequence. The Vision Systems International helmet saw a weight reduction, while the ejector seat had a head support installed onto the rear risers of the seat as a cushion as well as a switch that modifies the ejection sequence in the event the pilot needs to exit the cockpit in flight. The modifications will now be retrofitted on 100 F-35As already delivered to the USAF and enter Lockheed’s production system.

  • Textron’s Fury precision-guided glide munition has completed flight-testing. The company announced that a total of 13 test flights for the Fury weapon were conducted for a 23.8 flight hours between captive carriage, survey flights and 10 weapon releases from unmanned aircraft systems. On two occasions, the Fury flew with Textron’s Shadow UAS from an altitude of 8,000 feet and a standoff range from the target of nearly a mile. The new system features a common interface that allows for rapid integration on multiple manned and unmanned platforms. It has tri-mode fuzing—impact, height of burst and delay—for engagement of a broad target set.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Lockheed Martin has received a delivery order from the USAF for the provision of 14 Sniper targeting pods to Kuwait. The pods will be installed on the Gulf state’s fleet of F/A-18C/D aircraft. Since 2016, the firm have also began efforts to integrate the pods on Kuwait’s Typhoon aircraft. Deliveries of the new pods are expected to commence on 2018 in order to address “urgent operational needs” in the Kuwaiti Air Force. A member of the Saudi-led coalition currently involved in Yemen, Kuwait has contributed aircraft to conduct airstrikes during the intervention.

  • A DoD foreign military sales contract awarded to Lockheed Martin will see the firm conduct work for Qatar’s Patriot system. Valued at $25.4 million, the variants scheduled to be worked on by the firm include the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Missile Enhancement Aft Block I redesign. Work will be conducted in Grand Prairie, Texas, and Lufkin, Texas, with the program expected to be completed by May 15, 2020.

  • An MQ-9 Reaper UAV operated by the British RAF recently interrupted a public execution by the Islamic State. While flying over the town of Abu Kamal, flight crew had noticed two shackled prisoners being unloaded from a pick up truck in front of a large crowd. Unable to target militants located near the civilians, a Hellfire missile was fired at two IS sentries posted on a nearby roof. The explosion killed one of the militants while remaining fighters and public fled. However, it remains unclear if the prisoners due to be executed escaped or were taken away by their would-be executioners.


  • The British Royal Navy operated HMS Queen Elizabeth will receive its first F-35B aircraft next year, with the new aircraft carrier also receiving Merlin, Apache, Wildcat and Chinook helicopters. Royal Navy sailors have also trained alongside their US Navy counterparts on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, with British personnel fully embedded in the USS Wasp trials and will use the data gathered from this event for future trials and operational deployments to support the UK’s flying trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018. British F-35 pilots also recently embarked on the USS America for at-sea developmental testing phase 3 (known as DT), the last trial that paves the way for the US Marine Corps to deploy the jet operationally on amphibious assault ships.

  • Full-scale flight testing of the Ka-62 medium helicopter is scheduled to take place later this year. Designed by the Kamov design bureau as the civilian variant of the Ka-60 military helicopter, the Ka-62 has been developed to perform a wide range of operations, including the transportation of passengers, rescue efforts and works in the interests of the oil and gas industry. It can carry up to 15 people or 2.5 tonnes of cargo.

Asia Pacific

  • Australia’s DoD has announced plans to invest $965 million in order to develop infrastructure at the country’s naval shipyards. Known as the Naval Shipbuilding Plan, the investment is aimed at ending the boom-and-bust cycle that has afflicted the industry for many years, and preparing its shipyards for the development and manufacture of next-generation vessels. Included in the work will be new cranes and heavy lift transportation capability, the construction of welding stations and modernization of workshops and buildings. Under the government’s 2016 White Paper on Defense, Australia is planning to build about $66.7 billion worth of submarines, frigates and patrol boats over the next 35 years.

Today’s Video

  • Textron Fury:

Categories: News

Textron to join Embraer for Light Attack Experiment | Investigation into USAF secrecy over B-21 | Russia to swap fighters for rubber with Malaysia?

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 04:00

  • The USAF has invited Textron Aviation to enter both the AT-6 turboprop and Scorpion twin-jet to face off against Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano in the service’s demonstration of close air support capability. August’s demonstration, now known as the Light Attack Experiment, will include a broad set of counter-land missions typical of an extended military campaign and builds on previous close air support experiments organized by the US Navy and Special Operations Command. The AT-6 Wolverine is adapted from the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II with a higher-thrust engine, data links and weapons stations, while the clean-sheet Scorpion was initially designed in 2012 to offer the Air National Guard a low-cost tactical combat jet for roles such as air sovereignty patrols and mission in low-threat war zones.

  • Orbital ATK has been contracted by the US Army to produce and deliver large-caliber training ammunition. The $53 million agreement will cover both 120mm and 105mm rounds. The 120mm training ammunition, used by Abrams tanks, includes the M865 kinetic energy and the M1002 multi-purpose tank training rounds, while 105mm M724A2 rounds will be produced for crew training on the Stryker Mobile Gun System vehicles. So far, the ammunition manufacturer has sold almost 5 million rounds of large caliber munitions to the Army, Marin Corp, and US international allies and partners.

  • The Pentagon’s inspector general has opened an investigation as to whether the USAF has imposed unnecessary additional secrecy on its B-21 bomber program. Last year, the Air Force rebuffed requests, including from Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, to reveal basic information such as the value of the development contract awarded to lead contractor Northrop Grumman or the amount of the fee set aside to encourage meeting program goals, citing their potential value to adversaries. Now, the DoD’s watchdog office will review and submit a report to Congress within the next six months aiming to ascertain whether there is the right mix of balanced program classification and transparency.

Middle East & North Africa

  • BAE Systems has rolled out the lead example of its Eurofighter Typhoons destined for delivery to Oman later this year. Muscat’s Typhoon order, signed in December 2012, is for nine single-seat aircraft and three two-seat examples to support training activities. A ceremony to mark the occasion was hosted at the firm’s final assembly in Lancashire, UK, with the Typhoon joined by Oman’s first new-generation Hawk advanced jet trainer, of which eight Mk 166 examples are on order by the Gulf sultanate.

  • Isreal’s Elbit Systems has unveiled the newest variant of its SPEAR MK2 mortar system designed for lightweight combat vehicles. The 120mm mortar system has seen improvements made to its coverage area as well as a new high recoil deduction capability. The system can be rapidly deployed and features both autonomous and manual activation and uses an integrated command and control system enabling full mission autonomy and providing battlefield management and situational awareness capabilities, fire missions’ prioritization and monitoring of personnel assignments.


  • The CEO of French aviation firm Dassault, Eric Trappier, has told French media that the firm expects to sell an additional 18 Rafale fighters next year. In an interview with French regional newspaper Sud-Ouest on Sunday, Trappier hinted that the purchaser may by Malaysia, in a deal that could potentially be worth $2 billion. India has also been earmarked as a potential repeat customer after a high profile deal for 36 Rafales was concluded last year. “India’s needs are enormous,” said Trappier. “Hence, for its navy, 57 aircraft are considered,” he added. Malaysia, however, may be the more likely candidate for a deal to be finalized in the near term as it looks to replace its ageing combat aircraft.

Asia Pacific

  • Russia is keen to swap rubber products for fighter jets with Indonesia, according to Oke Nurwan, the Foreign Ministry’s foreign trade director general. While a decision on the offer has yet to be made, Moscow is willing to deliver Sukhoi jet fighters in exchange for Indonesian crumb rubber in a deal valued at $600 million. While response from local rubber producers has been positive, specific legislation still needs to be created by a yet-to-be decided ministry in order to facilitate the necessary groundwork for such an agreement to move forward.

  • A recent North Korean ballistic missile test has been detected by the newly-deployed THAAD system in South Korea, marking the first time the controversial air defense system has been put in use. The announcement was made by South Korea’s defense minister, Han Min-koo, who added that that Pyongyang is also at a more mature stage of development than previously thought, adding that the ICBM used in the test was of an “enhanced caliber compared to Musudan missiles that have continually failed” in previous rounds of testing.

Today’s Video

  • Elbit’s Spear mortar system:

Categories: News

Embraer to enter Super Tucano for OA-X demo | Canadian senators rebel against F/A-18 | India to up production of Pinaka

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 04:00

  • Embraer has announced that it will enter its A-29 Super Tucano into the US Air Force’s upcoming OA-X experiment. The Brazilian manufacturer will team with Sierra Nevada Corporation for the July demonstration, which aims to test low-cost options for acquiring light attack aircraft for the service. Manufactured in Florida and in use by a dozen air forces worldwide, the A-29 is a durable, versatile and powerful turboprop aircraft capable of carrying out a wide range of fighter and ISR missions. The USAF-certified A-29 is combat-proven, having seen combat in Afghanistan and in theaters around the globe.

  • A Canadian senate committee on defense has urged the Canadian government to drop the planned acquisition of F-A/18 fighters from Boeing, describing it as as a “political decision” that fails to serve either the air force or taxpayers. The government announced its plans to purchase 18 Super Hornets as an interim measure following its pulling out of a deal to buy 65 F-35s as a replacement for its ageing CF-188s. Citing a letter from 13 former senior Royal Canadian Air Force officers which argues that the acquisition of such a small fleet – sharing only limited commonality with its current fighters – will be needlessly costly, the senators stated that the government’s “decision not to proceed with the procurement process for a new fighter fleet and purchasing an unnecessary and costly interim capability will leave the taxpayers with a significant burden and [RCAF] with a duplicate support system that will cost billions of dollars in equipment, training, and technical know-how.” The committee recommended that the defence ministry “immediately” begins a contest to select the CF-188’s replacement, with a decision to made by 30 June 2018.

  • Damages to the the oxygen system of a VC-25A, also known as Air Force One, has been blamed on three mechanics from Boeing. A USAF accident report stated that the company reimbursed the government $4 million for the mishap, after mechanics used parts and a cleaning solution that did not meet the cleanliness standards for the oxygen system. An attempt to sanitise the contaminated parts with the unapproved cleaning solution also didn’t follow procedures, the report added. As a result, the cost to sterilize and re-check the oxygen system added $4 million to the repair bill for the VC-25A, but Boeing has re-imbursed the government for the costs.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Saudi Arabia has produced its own strategic UAV under its own drone program. Built by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the Saqr-1 features a KA-band satellite communications system, has a range of more than 2,500 km, and an endurance of more than 24 hours. News of the new drone program comes after March’s announcement that Riyadh would partner with China to construct a UAV factory in the Gulf kingdom as part of a $65 billion economic pact. The factory is most likely to produce China’s CH-4 UAV, as well as providing after-sales services for China’s clients in the Middle East in addition to satisfying Saudi orders.


  • Fincantieri’s shipyard at Muggiano has delivered the forth U212A Todaro-class attack submarine to the Italian Navy. Named the Romeo Romel, the vessel is the twin sub of the Pietro Venuti which was delivered in July last year. The project was conducted in cooperation with the German Submarine Consortium and features Kongsberg’s MSI-90U advanced combat management system.

Asia Pacific

  • In what is being described as a “rare comment on defense”, the Taiwanese government has publicly announced that it is to continue purchasing US defense systems despite its own efforts to build up its indigenous defense capabilities. Citing that its purchase “have boosted the local economy of and employment in states such as Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” the government statement added that companies like Raytheon Co, Lockheed Martin Co, Boeing Co, Sikorsky and BAE Systems PLC have benefited from Taiwan’s purchases of missile defense systems, attack helicopters, fighter jets, and other amphibious assault vehicles. The 40-page English-language response released by Taiwan’s cabinet late Thursday stated that US-Taiwan ties were a “top priority” and that the island was “open to any possible proposals that will strengthen US-Taiwan trade relations on a fair and mutually-beneficial basis.” While normally both Washington and Taipei keep a low profile on defense procurement matters, such a public announcement may move to antagonise China, which sees Taiwan as rightfully part of its bigger neighbor.

  • The Indian government is planning a $2 billion acquisition of the home-made Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher system in an effort to become more self-sufficient. An order for six regiments is expected within the next 18 months and it is believed to involve a number of state-owned and private industry partners. It’s also suggested that New Delhi may be looking to export the Pinaka. However, the Pinaka is not without its problems, namely with the rockets of the two regiments that have been in use for more than a decade. According to Bhupinder Yadav, an analyst and former Indian Army Major General, the “production of Pinaka rockets is on hold after some quality-related issues mainly relating to OFB-produced propellant such as short ranges, residues after firings and accidents relating to burst in launchers, etc.”

  • The US State Department has cleared the sale of CBRN equipment to India. Valued at an estimated $75 million, the foreign military sale includes includes 38,034 M50 general purpose masks; Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology — 38,034 each of suits, pairs of trousers, pairs of gloves, pairs of boots and NBC bags – plus 854 aprons; 854 alternative aprons; 9,509 Quick Doff Hoods; and 114,102 M61 filters. The equipment is used to protect service members from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

Today’s Video

  • The Kaplan MT:

Categories: News

Canada Preparing to Replace its CF-18 Hornets

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 03:59

CF-18, 20-year colors
(click to view full)

Canada’s 138 “CF-18s” were delivered between 1982-1988, but accidents and retirements have reduced the fleet to about 103, with only 79 upgraded F/A-18 AM/BM Hornets still operational. The CF-18s are expected to be phased out between 2017 – 2023. Maintenance and upgrades will remain necessary until then, and possibly beyond.

Canada has been an active Tier 3 partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, participating in both the Concept Demonstration Phase ($10 million) and the System Development and Demonstration Phase ($150 million). This USD $160 million has included funding from both the Department of National Defence, and from Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC). In the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Phase of the F-35 program, it is estimated that Canada’s contribution will exceed C$ 550 million (about the same in USD) over 44 years. As of September 2011, the government had disbursed about C$ 335 million toward participation in the JSF Program, and related support to Canadian industry.

Now, 65 new CF-35As are Canada’s official choice to replace its Hornets – and estimates of the cost range from $17 billion to $45.8 billion. This article covers efforts to keep existing CF-18s fit for service, as well as Canada’s replacement fighter buy. As timelines continue to slip, these 2 programs have become more interdependent – and the F-35’s selection less certain.

Canada and the F-35 Timelines: The F-35’s, and Canada’s

Here’s the timeline as it has unfolded so far, along with Canada’s plans out to 2050. The timeline will change, but it’s unlikely to move F-35 fielding up to an earlier date. That’s a problem, because the CF-18s have a limited number of hours for safe flight, and they will reach those limits soon. Any delays to the F-35s will either raise costs again by forcing a major refurbishment of Canada’s CF-18s, or leave Canada with serious gaps in its fighter fleet.

(click to view full)

From Canada’s OAG, 2012
(click to view full) F-35: Canadian Industrial Partners

The F-35 has been designed on 3 levels: operational, industrial, and political. The tiered partnership model created initial commitments by member governments, and a sub-contracting model that spread industrial benefits among committed partners was designed to create constituencies that would lobby for the F-35’s selection and production.

That approach has generally worked. It isn’t a coincidence that these industrial benefits have been the main defense used by Canadian governments whenever the F-35 purchase has been questioned, even though any other winner would also have to commit to a similar sort of arrangement. Existing recipients of public money will always fight harder, because the beneficiaries of any switch are only potential winners, who haven’t made big commitments that would be painful to undo. This political engineering approach saved the Dutch F-35 buy in the face of determined political opposition, even though the plane’s cost is forcing them to cut their planned fighter fleet by almost 2/3. Canada seems headed for a similar fate, and their industrial participants include:

According to the government’s Industry Canada, contracts as of summer 2013 totaled C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: C$ 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters, plus another C$ 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities.

Given the sharp order cuts we’re seeing in even Tier 2 partners like Britain and the Netherlands, and the USA’s long-term fiscal situation, Lockheed Martin might be lucky to produce half of the expected number of F-35s. Lockheed Martin would argue that one can only publish official figures using official estimates, and they’d have a point, but an honest debate can’t be blind to reality. This is a dilemma for all F-35 partners, and it needs to be kept in mind when reading estimates of the program’s long-term industrial value.

A Word on Stealth The Stealthy Mosquito

F-35A & F-22A
(click to view full)

Military discussion in Canada has been almost non-existent, beyond hand-waving and the grossest generalizations. The strategic requirements for new fighters, and whether the choices available can do those jobs at acceptable cost, doesn’t much concern Canada’s governing class. Such references as have been made generally revolve around the need for stealth, without explaining the concept.

The thing to remember is that stealth isn’t invisibility, just a shorter detection distance. To use a very simplified and very Canadian analogy, a mosquito will have to be a lot closer to you before you’ll see it, compared to a sparrow. Hence all those “surprise” bites, as they exploit the gaps in your perception and get in close enough to strike. They aren’t invisible, though you might swear otherwise at times. On the other hand, if you use other parts of the spectrum by employing your ears, even a tiny mosquito can be detected at uncomfortably long distances in a quiet room.

That’s just the beginning of your problem, of course. Awareness must be followed by pinpointing and tracking its location, and then it must come within your killing range.

It’s basically the same sequence for enemy systems. A fighter can survive by defeating any one link in the detection – tracking – reach – kill chain. Stealth complicates all 3 areas, shortening detection ranges, making tracking more difficult, and frustrating or weakening final stage radar guided missile locks.

Other manufacturers are correct when they respond that modern jets without the stealth marketing have much better radar cross sections that Canada’s existing CF-18s. Even so, the CF-35’s stealth will be a step beyond other fighters on offer to Canada, albeit a step below the USAF’s F-22A Raptors and F-35s. The thing is, modern fighters, missiles, and radars have been making their own parallel improvements over the last decade. To the point where even the F-35’s ability to prevail against high-end enemy air defense systems, and against fighters fielded after 2030, is a matter of controversy.

Design Choices: America vs. Europe

Eurofighter & Meteor
(click to view full)

The Americans had better hope that stealth continues to work in practice. They’ve placed their entire future fighter bet on stealth, and are paying the accompanying financial and operational costs.

The Europeans, in contrast, looked askance at the added construction and maintenance costs of stealth, and at the huge expense of aerodynamic changes once a stealth design is set. They opted instead for radar cross-section reduction that stopped short of full stealth, plus high kinematic performance. Advanced electronic warfare and defensive systems integrated into the planes, non-standard sensors like Infra-Red Search & Track, and long-reach weapons like the Meteor air-to-air missile and stealthy cruise missiles, would all improve protection in other ways.

Who is right?

The answer to this question is very consequential to Canada, but it’s hard to say at this point, because the respective approaches haven’t been fully tested against top-end enemy systems. American stealth worked very well against Iraq, twice. Modern European fighters were more than sufficient over Libya in 2011, however; and the stealthless Israelis sliced through dense Syrian air defenses in 2007, using planning, jammming, and well-chosen weapons to destroy a nuclear reactor.

If stealth remains fully or mostly relevant, even as a matter of faith rather than proof, Europe’s high-end jets will be unable to compete with American stealth fighters. Worse, the F-35’s full-rate production costs beyond 2020 would make it lethal in export competitions.

On the other hand, if jamming keeps pace, or if stealth’s advantages can be beaten or watered down, the European approach can create cheaper planes with better aerodynamic performance.

Changing the Game?

B-2, ICU
(click to view full)

Right now, modern ground radars are lengthening the ranges at which stealth aircraft can be detected, and AESA fighter radars are getting better. Those trends will continue, but neither will invalidate stealth on its own. With that said, there are at least 2 key technologies that could significantly change stealth design’s cost:benefit ratio.

Infrared Search & Track (IRST) systems on planes like the Eurofighter and Rafale, on the F-35 itself, and on most Russian-designed fighters, already offers a potential alternative to radar in aerial engagements. The B-2 picture above was taken by a Eurofighter’s PIRATE IRST system, and used in a presentation to the Norwegian government. The mechanics of fuel circulation in the F-35 are intended to make heat-based lock-ons harder to achieve, and there are pilot-activated additives that can even frustrate locks from tailpipe exhaust, but processors will continue to improve, and so will infrared detection arrays. IRST will remain a potent and improving solution for detection and location, and the mere friction of an airplane cutting through the atmosphere at high speed is very hard to hide completely.

The greatest long-term threat to stealth is probably a combination of “passive” radars that collect input from wider slices of the spectrum. They’d need to be paired with ever-expanding processing power that can separate anomalies from the clutter by collating multiple input types, and with networked analysis that collates multiple sensor systems. Early research and tests have begun in this area, courtesy of firms like Saab and EADS.

Canada’s Choice Does Canada Have a Plan B?

Canadian Parliament
(click to view larger)

At present, it does not. One could even say that it took until 2013 for the government to offer a Plan A.

There’s an argument that Canada has no strategic need for a fighter in the F-35’s class, and might be better off spending the same amount of money on the same number of cheaper 4+ generation fighters, plus assets like MQ-9 UAVs that would deploy abroad with its troops, maritime patrol aircraft to improve surveillance, etc. To date, however, Canada’s military, governments, and media have all diligently avoided a strategic discussion that could separate, evaluate, and prioritize spending options. Instead, the debate has revolved around economic concerns, and the military’s wants.

A rigid and secretive procurement system has only exacerbated these tendencies. In the wake of the 20+ year rolling fiasco of its Maritime Helicopter Program competition, multi-billion dollar, single-source buys have characterized almost all Canadian defense procurements over the last 5-7 years. Canada’s choice of the F-35 has been no different, and the only real debate has taken place in the realm of federal elected politics. Opposition critics have cited significant cost uncertainties for the F-35, the shift toward UAVs, and the availability of cheaper aircraft on the global market as reasons to avoid a sole-source purchase. In its place, they’ve alternated between favoring an open fighter competition with public criteria, and making noises about avoiding a fighter buy altogether.

A 2011 election seemed likely to decide the issue, and the F-35 became a campaign topic. The results were indeed decisive, as the governing Conservative Party finally won its long-sought majority.

F-35A: open doors
(click to view full)

That result left the F-35 with a number of elements in its favor.

One is the structure of the Canadian Parliamentary system, in which a majority government has no meaningful checks and balances. If the current majority Conservative Party government wants a plane, it can force the sale through, easily. The Conservatives in particular will bear little political cost for doing so, because they have become the only party in the country with serious security credentials. The national security constituency largely lives within that party, and will be happy that something is being done after decades of neglect. The rest of the population isn’t overly interested. The Liberal Party found this out to their sorrow when they tried to make the F-35 an election issue in 2011, and watched the attempt fizzle. They had a solid case, but the messenger had no credibility with people who were interested in the issue.

Another point in the F-35’s favor is its industrial program. It’s working as intended, by creating industrial constituencies with a strong interest in keeping the purchase. The power of that constituency is partly offset by the fact that Boeing, Canada’s largest aerospace player, is on the other side of the dispute. But only partly. Organizations billing actual dollars will always fight harder that those who might benefit at some future date. Which is why the F-35’s industrial benefits are the current focus of the government’s F-35 defense.

A third point in the Lightning’s favor is the commitment of senior DND members, who have gone public with a very absolute commitment. Never mind the fact that this commitment seems to mask some shoddy work underneath. In that circumstance, there’s little alternative to a no-compromise stonewall defense, until and unless senior leadership at DND changes.

Average flyaway cost estimates
(click to view full)

Barring a reversal in the next elections, therefore, only a large external shock can change Canada’s commitment to the F-35A. The F-35 program is busy providing that, as costs continue to rise, and major partner countries like the USA, Britain and Italy move to delay or cut their buys. Those moves will keep the plane at lower rates of production for a longer period of time, which makes each plane more expensive.

Unfortunately, Canada wants to begin replacing its CF-18s by 2017 – 2018. Which means that it needs to place an initial order by 2014 – 2015. The net effect is a fighter whose purchase costs are uncertain, but are clearly set to stay very high in the near term. Worse, at the time of purchase, the operating and maintenance outlays that comprise 2/3 of total lifecycle costs will be extremely vague.

The Harper government’s response has been to insist that the procurement budget is C$ 9 billion, period, and higher prices will just mean fewer planes bought. At some point, however, a low enough number of planes bought makes it impossible for them to cover their assigned missions. Canada’s air force is already close to that margin in asking for just 65 aircraft, in order to cover the 2nd largest country in the world and participate in international missions.

Politically, a “wait and see” strategy makes a lot of sense under these circumstances. Which is exactly what we’re seeing. Statements by ministers like Julian Fantino telegraphed that approach, without changing Canada’s underlying commitment. Perhaps some sort of “group buy” approach by the partners will bring purchase costs down, or program news may improve. If so, the purchase goes forward easily.

If the math continues to look grim, on the other hand, the difficult decisions can always be made later. The government’s shift of program leadership to the Public Works ministry, following a scathing 2012 auditor’s report, makes backtracking easier. The 1st real indication of cracks in the facade didn’t come until November 2012, when the government backed away from DND’s original tailored-for-F-35 fighter requirements. Would it matter?

What If… Potential Competitors

EA-18G & F/A-18F
(click to view full)

The F-35 offers Canada the best stealth, the most advanced array of on-board sensors, and the best “user interface” for presenting all that information to its pilots. Strategy has been absent from all Canadian discussions, so if Canada is forced away from its commitment to the F-35, it’s going to be a decision driven by costs. Handicapping for any prospective replacement needs to reflect that.

The strongest competitor would be Boeing, with its twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family. Its F-15E Strike Eagle family is arguably a far better fit for Canada’s military needs, but the Super Hornet is significantly cheaper at about USD$ 60 million flyaway cost, and offers perceived continuity with the existing CF-18 fleet. A Super Hornet buy also offers long-term commonality with the US Navy, ensuring that upgrades and improvements will be financed outside of Canada.

Australia also flies the Super Hornet, and a 3rd option would be for Canada to take a leaf from their playbook, buying a mix of Super Hornets and F-35As or some other fighter. Australia’s response to delays in the JSF program started in 2007 with an order for 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets. That order was modified to include 12 F/A-18Fs wired for conversion to EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, then changed to include 12 fully equipped Growlers, and finally increased to 36 aircraft: 24 F/A-18F – now in service – plus 12 E/A-18G to be delivered before end-2017. The Growler capability is unique to the Super Hornet platform, and it will always be in demand among international coalition partners. Fortunately, Canada is one of just 3-4 countries that could get EA-18G export clearance from the USA.

(click to view full)

Canada’s large and remote territories have traditionally pushed their air force toward twin-engine fighters, and the Europeans offer a pair of advanced options. Of the two, EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon has far better odds, because it’s compatible with the American weapons that Canada’s air force currently stockpiles, and is used by a number of NATO countries who will help to modernize it over time. The cockpit’s sensor fusion and voice commands got high marks from Canadian evaluators, and Libyan operations demonstrated their ability to Mach 1.2 supercruise at 40,000 feet with air-to-air weapons mounted. On the industrial front, Eurofighter’s connections with firms like Airbus and Thales offer it a good starting point to fulfill industrial offset requirements.

The Eurofighter’s flip side includes a cost that’s at or above current totals for the F-35A. It also has a very limited set of integrated weapons, with significant gaps in key areas like suppression of enemy air defenses and naval attack. Fortunately for Eurofighter, Canada’s arsenal is pretty basic, but the cost issue won’t go away as easily. Based on sales to date, Eurofighter costs are comfortably above USD$ 100 million. That will make it difficult for them to position themselves as a better deal than Canada’s existing F-35 commitment.

Rafale with MICA
missiles, Reco-NG pod
(click to view full)

Dassault’s Rafale is a capable, combat-proven multi-role plane, but it comes with a number of problems from Canada’s point of view. Industrial presence and offsets may prove to be a challenge for Dassault, and the plane has no confirmed export sales yet, despite promising signals from India and the Middle East. Unless that promise turns into orders by the time Canada needs to make a decision, long-term modernization costs must also be a serious concern for the Rafale.

Then, there’s the question of absolute purchase cost. The Rafale was judged to be slightly cheaper than the Eurofighter by India’s evaluators, but it’s still a high-end fighter in the $100 million range. Worse, weapon incompatibilities mean that Canada would need either new stocks of missiles, or an expensive integration program. The combined purchase cost would be unlikely to beat the Eurofighter, let alone the F-35.

JAS-39 Gripen Demo
(click to view full)

Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen could certainly beat the F-35 on price. It’s compatible with Canada’s existing weapons, has the requisite cold-weather pedigree, can be bought for around $60 million, and is built for very low maintenance costs compared to competitors like Eurofighter. It’s a single-engine fighter, like the F-35, but offsets that slightly with an exceptional reliability record in service. Saab’s undeveloped industrial presence in Canada will be a challenge, but using the same GE F414 engine as the Super Hornet helps, and their international record for industrial offset programs is good. The plane is fully NATO-compatible, and earlier model JAS-39C/D Gripens already serve with NATO countries Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The Gripen’s problem is that its JAS-39E/F models won’t be available in numbers until 2023 or so, which is too late for Canada. The Swiss and Brazilians are solving a similar problem by getting leased JAS-39C/D aircraft on very attractive terms, until their more advanced JAS-39Es arrive. Sweden has cut its own active fleet size quite sharply, so there may be enough Gripens in storage to meet Canada’s needs. If not, a life extension program similar to the US Navy’s Hornet SLEP plans could keep 65 CF-18s flying for another 5 years, at a cost of about $1 billion. If the F-35’s schedule continues to slip, that may be necessary anyway.

There are reports that Saab pulled out of the competition in June 2013. Saab’s issue, if it gets an opening, is how to compete with a Super Hornet option whose production volume gives it a similar price, plus twin engines, long-term modernization assurance, local allied and expeditionary commonality, and lobbying from Canada’s biggest aerospace firm?

Contracts and Key Events 2014 – 2016


CF-18 & VVS MiG-29
(click to view full)

May 16/17: A Canadian senate committee on defense has urged the Canadian government to drop the planned acquisition of F-A/18 fighters from Boeing, describing it as as a “political decision” that fails to serve either the air force or taxpayers. The government announced its plans to purchase 18 Super Hornets as an interim measure following its pulling out of a deal to buy 65 F-35s as a replacement for its ageing CF-188s. Citing a letter from 13 former senior Royal Canadian Air Force officers which argues that the acquisition of such a small fleet – sharing only limited commonality with its current fighters – will be needlessly costly, the senators stated that the government’s “decision not to proceed with the procurement process for a new fighter fleet and purchasing an unnecessary and costly interim capability will leave the taxpayers with a significant burden and [RCAF] with a duplicate support system that will cost billions of dollars in equipment, training, and technical know-how.” The committee recommended that the defence ministry “immediately” begins a contest to select the CF-188’s replacement, with a decision to made by 30 June 2018.

December 14/16: Justin Trudeau has said that the F-35 will be considered in an upcoming competition for new fighter jets. The Canadian PM previously backed out of the F-35 program due to costs, and Canada has now bought 18 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets as an interim measure. “It’s an open and transparent competition we’re going to be engaged in and the various aircraft and aircraft producers will have an opportunity to make their best case,” Trudeau told a news conference when asked whether Canada might be more likely to opt for the F-35 if the costs fell.

November 28/16: Canada will purchase 18 Super Hornets from Boeing as an interim solution to its CF-18 fleet replacement. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan made the announcement adding that Ottawa will also launch a brand new competition for a multi-role fighter. On the interim procurement, Sajjan said the Super Hornets would allow Canada to maintain NATO operational standards.

October 7/16: Canada’s Air Force will request $379 million from the government in order to fund the upgrade of avionics on its CF-18 fighters. Once installed, the modernization will keep the fighters flying until 2025, giving leaders in Ottawa some much needed breathing room on making a decision on the aircraft’s eventual successor. First bought in 1982, almost $2 billion has been spent on upgrading the fighters since 2001. (Values in USD)

September 29/16: The Canadian government is currently assessing data from defense manufacturers for this summer’s request for up-to-date information on options for the replacement of its CF-18 fighters. Specifics wanted by the government were on areas including fighter capabilities and potential economic benefits any sale would bring. In a bid to be selected, Boeing has been citing the work opportunities that would be available to Canadian firms across the country if the federal government were to purchase their F/A-18 Super Hornet, with other competitors coming in the form of France’s Dassault, Sweden’s Saab and the Eurofighter consortium. Data from Lockheed Martin is also being considered, even though Ottawa has vowed not to select its F-35.

September 20/16: With nearly a year in office under his belt, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will have to make some tough choices over the next year with analysts warning they could effect popularity and political capital. The biggest question in relation to the defense industry is of course the decision over the replacement of CF-18 fighters following the valiant vow to drop of the F-35 during the election campaign. It’s expected that the Liberals will soon announce whether they intend to break this pledge to launch a new competition for fighter jets, with talk inside military circles believing that Ottawa could announce a sole-source contract.

July 29/16: While Canada’s government continues to flounder on its CF-18 fighter replacement, it still continues to contribute to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Since the Liberal Party’s campaign promise to ditch the F-35 and launch a new replacement competition, they continued paying $33 million into the program. Meanwhile, consultations have taken place with fighter manufacturers which some see as simply giving the Liberals political cover to buy a plane other than the F-35 without holding a competition. If a fair and free competition were to include Lockheed Martin, a fair bet would be on the F-35 winning.

July 12/16: A total of five defense manufacturers have expressed an interest in supplying the replacement to Canada’s CF-18 fighters. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter and Saab all took part in a conference call with Canadian officials last week, with Dassault planning to meet and discuss the matter at the Farnborough International Airshow this week. Lockheed, whose F-35 was dropped by the Canadian government, welcomed the meetings as a first step towards a new competition.

July 8/16: Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has called for a return to the drawing board on Canada’s CF-18 replacement by reaching out to fighter manufacturers for consultations this summer. The news comes amid reports that Canada was going to purchase Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets as a stop gap (or kicking the can down the road) without the new competition promised by the Liberals during the election campaign. However Sajjan refused to commit to a new competition or independent oversight raising concerns that the bold promises made to ditch the F-35 is causing a capability crisis.

May 31/16: A new sense of urgency has been injected into Canada’s CF-18 fighter replacement by Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, saying that the issue “needs to be dealt with quickly.” Speaking at the CANSEC defence and military trade show in Ottawa last week, Sajjan didn’t forget to remind reporters that the issue was inherited from the previous government while seemingly forgetting that it was the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s promise to ditch its participation in F-35 procurement in favor of a more affordable aircraft.

June 5/14: Decision, under wraps. Reuters reports from 3 unnamed sources that Canada’s NFPS report recommended sole-sourcing the F-35, but adds that the Conservative Party government is waiting until Parliament is dismissed for the summer before announcing the decision. That’s one way to try and avoid criticism.

The next question becomes how quickly the government signs a contract. If the government buys the jets before the 2015 elections after all (q.v. April 6/14), the F-35 will become an election issue again, and this time it could hurt the Conservatives. That’s Lockheed Martin’s best situation, because high cancellation costs would likely force the next government to keep the contract in place. If the Conservative Party government doesn’t sign a contract, on the other hand, the election issue loses its bite, but the F-35 buy would be at very grave risk if the Liberal and/or NDP parties win. Sources: Reuters, “Exclusive: Canadian review will recommend buying Lockheed F-35 fighter jet – sources”.

April 13/14: NFPS done. The Harper government has accepted the “options analysis” report from its National Fighter Procurement Secretariat (NFPS) panel, after more than 18 months. As noted earlier (q.v. April 6/14), Canada won’t be able to order F-35s until 2015, and probably won’t do so until after the 2015 elections, if they place any orders at all. Sources: Postmedia News, “F-35 decision back in government’s court as air force completes major study”.

April 11/14: Stealth risks. The December 2012 report concerning Canada’s F-35 buy had a lot of cuts, including passages that highlighted ongoing problems with the program.

“But the Citizen has obtained more than a dozen earlier drafts of the report showing defence officials had originally laid out many of the issues surrounding the F-35’s development, and their potential impact on Canada [only to have them removed later].”

Issues that were removed from the Canadian report included fuel consumption that’s 26% higher than the CF-18s, problems with the Helmet-Mounted Display that have been cited in multiple US GAO and US DOT&E publications, and serious software delays involving the fighter’s 8+ million lines of code. That last item was the subject of a March 2014 report from the US GAO., “Final report on F-35 dropped references to fuel, IT problems”.

April 7/14: CF-18 Engines. Magellan Aerospace has been responsible for F404 engine maintenance & repairs for over 30 years, and that isn’t changing. Their latest contract is a C$ 55 million, 1-year award with an option for an additional year. Sources: Magellan Aerospace, “Magellan Aerospace Awarded Engine Maintenance Contract for CF-188 F404”.

April 6/14: Stall. Canada’s “buy profile” for the F-35 has been moved from 2017 to 2018, which means there won’t be a decision before the 2015 elections. That’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives the Conservative Party plausible deniability to say that it hasn’t made any decisions, which will keep the F-35 from becoming an issue again. On the other hand, the process itself has so alienated the other parties that unless the Conservatives win a majority, the F-35 buy will probably be canceled. Sources: Defense News, “Canada: No F-35 Buys Before 2018”.

Jan 22/14: Rafale. Dassault SVP of NATO affairs Yves Robins is quoted as saying that they’re offering Canada unrestricted transfers of technology if it picks the Rafale, including software source codes for servicing the planes. That’s something Canada won’t get with the F-35, and it’s being touted as a long-term cost savings that will let Canadian firms do more of the required maintenance. They’re also pushing the government to declare a competition.

CBC goes on to show that they don’t really grasp the issues, asking about the Rafale’s ability to operate alongside the USAF. France replies that this worked over Libya, but that isn’t the real question. The question is whether Canada could use its American weapons with the Rafale, without having to buy new weapons or conduct expensive integration and testing programs. In most cases, the answer is no. Sources: CBC News, “Dassault Aviation ramps up CF-18 replacement pitch”.

Jan 15/14: DND’s former assistant deputy minister for procurement, Alan Williams, explains why he thinks the entire review is a sham. The government hasn’t released its requirements for the fighter buy, and hasn’t solicited the full cost and performance data that would be required for an informed comparison. Williams is probably correct in his conclusion, but full price data would only come about as a result of an RFP – which is to say, after a competition is declared. Sources: Embassy magazine, “Feds haven’t changed perspective on F-35: Williams”.

Jan 2/14: Paperwork in. According to documents posted on a federal website on Thursday, the Canadian Forces have already prepared draft reports to the “National Fighter Procurement secretariat” on the price, the technical capabilities and the strategic advantages of the 4 fighter jets considered (F-35A, Eurofighter, Rafale, Super Hornets). Actually, the price isn’t included, except as a rough order of magnitude. That information wasn’t forthcoming from all manufacturers, and even Boeing would likely be quoting an Advanced Super Hornet model that isn’t being bought under its current multi-year Navy contract. A competition would be necessary in order to really know, and the key question from the start has been whether the Conservative government has ever had any genuine interest in a competition.

The RCAF is also reportedly finishing up its “Integrated Mission Risk Assessment,” though the quality of their work has been less than stellar in the past. Source: The Globe and Mail, “Military’s fighter-jet reports to put ball in Ottawa’s court on F-35s”.



EA-18G: key systems
(click to view full)

Dec 10/13: Industrial. The federal government’s Industry Canada department releases a report detailing Canadian contracts to date from the F-35 program, explaining their calculation approach, and estimating future opportunities.

Contracts to date as of summer 2013 amount to C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters (a very dubious proposition, based on order cuts to date), plus another 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities. Sources: Canada IC, “Canadian Industrial Participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program”.

Nov 7/13: Sub-contractors. One modification shared by Canada and Norway’s F-35As will be drag chutes, which help with landings on short and/or ice-covered runways. Airborner Systems, “Airborne Systems Canada Supports Development of F-35 Drag Chute Program”:

“Airborne Systems is currently providing technical assistance to Lockheed Martin during the F-35 drag chute development. Their experience and expertise have contributed to the drag chute concept development which has led to the baseline design currently being finalized for the F-35A. Airborne Systems plans to continue supporting the drag chute development, flight test, certification and eventual production for the F-35 fleet.”

June 4/13: This headline from the [Parliament] Hill Times sums it all up, which is good, because the rest is subscription-only: “Prime Minister Harper, Cabinet to decide on F-35 fighter jets without advice from Public Works Procurement Secretariat, say Public Works officials.”

Saab’s decision looks very rational if this is true. Hill Times.

May 31/13: No Saab. “Senior government officials” confirm to Quebecor’s QMI news agency that Saab has decided not to participate in Public Works Canada’s market analysis phase.

That doesn’t keep Saab from entering a competitive process later, if there is one. Saab has told QMI that they will re-evaluate the decision once there’s a clear way forward in Canada. QMI, via Sun News.

April 28/13: Expected losses. Canada’s Postmedia News reports:

“In December 2011, the Defence Department’s research arm, Defence Research and Development Canada, published a report in which it said “that the probability of having 63 or more (F-35s) remaining at this time (when the last one is delivered) is approximately 54 per cent.”

Canada plans to order 65 F-35As, for delivery from 2017-2022. Their expectation is 7-11 destroyed aircraft over the fleet’s expected 42-year lifespan, with losses fitting the standard fighter pattern and being heavier in the early years. So they’re claculating a 46% chance that 2 or more F-35As are crashed or lost in the first 6 years. Not unusual, or unreasonable.

Where the math becomes more questionable is the expectation that Canada can order 65 F-35As plus accompanying spares, training equipment, etc. with its budgeted funds, while placing orders in the program’s early production years from 2014-2020.

March 3/13: RFI. Canada’s issues its official RFI/ “Industry Engagement Request”:

“Five identified companies with aircraft in production—The Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, EADS Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab Group—were previously sent a draft of the questionnaire on January 25, 2013, for comment. The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat received input from all five companies and their feedback is reflected in the final questionnaire, which the companies are being asked to complete within six weeks. A second questionnaire to obtain information on costs will be sent in draft form to the five companies for comment at a later date.”

See: Release | Final Industry Engagement Request: Capability, Production and Supportability Information Questionnaire.

Feb 27/13: Lifetime costs. Media traction for the Super Hornet, as Boeing has an opportunity to publicly tout their Super Hornet in a CBC TV report, which feature Boeing’s (Canadian) lead Super Hornet test pilot. The report also brings sustainment costs into Canada’s public debate for the first time, claiming $23 billion in lifetime savings from a Super Hornet buy:

“[Half] sounded too good to be true – so CBC News dug into Boeing’s figures to see how credible they are. According to the GAO, the Super Hornet actually costs the U.S. Navy $15,346 an hour to fly. It sounds like a lot – until you see that the U.S. Air Force’s official “target” for operating the F-35 is $31,900 an hour. The GAO says it’s a little more – closer to $32,500. CBC also asked Lockheed Martin to say if it had any quarrel with these numbers – and it did not…. Super Hornets, which Boeing says are 25 per cent cheaper to run than Canada’s “legacy” CF-18s.”

At this late point in the CF-18’s life, that’s certainly possible. At Lockheed Martin, they won’t publicly argue with the GAO, but they’re hopeful that its estimate will drop as the jet gains experience. At the same time, F-35 program manager Lt. Gen Bogdan has publicly pegged F-35 support projections as “just too high”, and vowed to bring them down.

With that said, the math using KPMG’s F-35 estimate as a starting point, and the GAO’s figures as the relative baselines, is that a Super Hornet buy might save Canada around $19.53 billion in ownership costs to 2042 ($37 – 17.47 billion operations). It will actually be less than that, because upgrades should be assumed to factor in at the same cost. So let’s say $15 billion. CBC also mistakenly assumes that an F/A-18E/F purchase price of around $60 million would also save half of the F-35 program’s $9 billion maximum purchase price, but it wouldn’t. Rather, it would allow Canada to buy all 65 fighters that the RCAF says are the minimum required, including 12 EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, instead of buying fewer than 65 F-35As. Of course, even $15 billion is a large enough figure to make a dent in the public debate. CBC article | CBC video: The Super Hornet.

Feb 14/13: More estimates. Canada’s government orders another cost estimate connected to their fighter replacement program:

“In December 2012, KPMG presented the Next Generation Fighter Capability: Life Cycle Cost Framework to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat—a life-cycle cost framework for the F-35 program. The purpose of this new review is to ensure that the framework is appropriately applied by National Defence and that the cost estimates in the upcoming 2013 Annual Update are sound…. The notice of proposed procurement about the review is posted on the Government of Canada’s tendering system hosted on MERX. The contract is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.”

Feb 13/13: Library of Parliament Report. Canada’s Library of Parliament issues “Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets,” which chronicles the various cost estimates submitted to Parliament and in major published reports. One interesting change is noted by The Globe and Mail:

“The amount National Defence has set aside for weapons has been cut to just $52-million for the estimated 30-year operational life of the jets, compared with estimates in two previous reports of $270-million and $300-million.”

The key driver is a December 2012 Public Works report that said existing weapons in Canadian stocks wouldn’t be adequate over the fighter’s full 40-year life cycle. Which is reasonable. Compatibility with American weapons saves money in the near-term, but doesn’t change the need to buy items over the long term. Paveway laser-guided bombs last a long time, but existing AIM-120 missiles will need upgrades at the very least, and new weapons will become necessary over the next 40 years. Hence the statement that “over the life cycle of the replacement fleet, the acquisition of newer weapons will be considered and funded as separate projects.”

So, on the one hand it’s reasonable. On the other hand, weapons are a reasonable part of a fighter fleet’s cost, and the sudden change in terms is an obvious way to lower the published cost by a quarter billion dollars. Sources: Library of Parliament, Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets”, Globe and Mail, “National Defence to buy fewer bombs if F-35 selected as new air force fighter”.

Feb 12/13: Whitewashed report? Comparing a Nov 1/12 copy of the draft Parliamentary Public Accounts committee report with the final November 2013 product shows the removal of important information that was shared during Spring 2011 hearings. Opposition members are incensed.

CP chronicles omissions including references to the F-35’s selection without competition, a caveat that the price tag per aircraft could almost double from the claimed USD $75 million to $138 million, and passages critical of the F-35’s industrial benefits program. More explosively, it dropped Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s testimony that the Conservative Party government had seen the full cost of the plan, as opposed to the final report that blamed DND for omissions. Ferguson’s stated concern that F-35 ownership costs could create problems for future defense budgets was also edited out, along with a passage of cost-related testimony from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who has an unfriendly relationship with the current government. Sources: CBC News, “F-35 committee report strategically edited, draft suggests”.

Feb 11/13: Postmedia obtains documents from Canada’s 2005-2006 look at its fighter options, and discovers what DND thought of each option.

Eurofighter: “Remarkable” sensor fusion and fine cockpit, a powerful aircraft with effective air-to-air capabilities and reduced RCS, though it isn’t a full stealth aircraft. Might even be considered a borderline “5th generation” plane. The report worried about interoperability, and it also talked more bluntly about buying aircraft from anyone other than the USA. Relayed contents don’t mention Eurofighter’s low variety of integrated weapons and sensors, which is still an issue in 2013.

F/A-18 Super Hornet: Credible option with a lot of integrated weapons and bolt-on sensors, seen as a smaller shift for Canadian CF-18 maintainers. It seems to be the default backup for many nations that were considering the F-35 – and since then, the USN and Australia have proven them right. On the other hand, “It makes several compromises between approach speed, weight and structure.” The EA-18G electronic warfare option pursued by Australia is not reported, and seems not to have been mentioned.

JAS-39 Gripen: A “fairly stealthy” platform due to its small size, design, and use of radar-absorbing materials, but not a full stealth aircraft. They also liked its low maintenance costs. Its system for emergency landings and landings on short airfields is different from Canada’s, which would require changes. Doesn’t seem to have discussed the new JAS-39E/F, but then, the design was unclear at that time. It’s a lot clearer now.

Rafale: Seen a fast and maneuverable, with above-average range that’s a plus for Canada. Weren’t so impressed with the cockpit, and wondered about the Snecma M88 engine’s cold-weather performance. Relayed report contents didn’t focus on Rafale’s unique weapon incompatibilities with the American gear that fills Canada’s existing stores, and which can be diverted from US stocks for emergencies and joint efforts. That’s a big omission, but the relayed contents also missed Rafale’s strong SPECTRA electronic protection system, which proved itself over Libya 5 years later.

F-35: Saw its stealth features as unique. Flip side of this is that security at Canadian bases would become more elaborate and expensive. Worried that “many of the capabilities and performance features (of the F-35) such as signature, payload, speed, range and manoeuvrability, could change due to the U.S. focus on keeping the costs down.” Which is indeed happening. On the other side of the coin, F-35 sensors and sensor fusion are uniquely excellent, but that isn’t in the relayed report contents.

Canada’s competitor conclusions

Jan 29/13: Bridge buy? Canada’s Hill Times reports that Canada is considering a short-term bridging fighter buy. The key piece of information comes from the letter announcing the Industry Engagement Request, which also asked respondents to talk about options in to the 2020-2030 frame, and then options beyond 2030:

“The evaluation of options will review and assess all available fighter aircraft and will result in a comprehensive report with the best available information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of each option, including bridging and fleet options…”

That would put them in the same boat as Australia’s RAAF, which also flies upgraded F/A-18 Hornets. They’ve already received 12 F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters as a bridge, plus 12 more that will be converted to EA-18G electronic warfare and air defense suppression planes. Australia is finding that F-35 delays are creating the need for a longer bridge, and the RAAF could end up with a 50/50 long term split between the Super Hornet family and the F-35. In practice, a similar logic is likely for Canada: every “bridging” fighter bought is 1 fighter subtracted from their eventual F-35 order. Hill Times | CDFAI.



F-35A, eh?
(click to view full)

Dec 16-17/12: Trust busted? An article in the Hill Times magazine quotes former DND assistant deputy minister for procurement Alan Williams, who says that “We know that the fiasco certainly started by the bureaucrats hijacking the process,” while ministers simply went along and didn’t ask questions.

The British TV hit “Yes, Minister” was based on that very premise, but this instance doesn’t seem to have the same comic value. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has had a publicly hostile relationship with the Conservative Party government, and he has been very critical of the CF-35 decision process (q.v. May 3/12), but it still matters when he says things like:

“Trust is broken. I don’t think you get, in terms of a reset, that trust back until you have that debate in front of Parliament…. From my view, the (F-35) process that we had up to date, certainly our experience in 2010-11, was a complete failure, and, I think, a lack of leadership both politically and I think by public servants as well…. There were numbers that existed at DND (Department of National Defence) that were much higher than what was presented to Parliament. Canadians saw the lower set of numbers… So in that sense, they were misled”

Dec 7/12: KPMG’s cost estimate. The precise figure for KPMG’s cost estimate is reported to be C$ 45.802 billion, based on an in-service life of 42 years. Current F-35 industrial participants are becoming worried, and a soon-to-be released companion study will take a second look at real figures for industrial benefits. Those estimates have already been quietly scaled back from C$ 12 billion to C$ 9.85 billion, and may drop further. The government defends their 20-year cost estimates, and they do have a point. Former treasury board official Michelle d’Auray:

“Going beyond 20 years is considered too high-risk to ensure that the value in contracting with industry would be sustained, or the costs would be going beyond the 20-year mark… So that, for us, is considered to be reasonable, and as the deputy minister of National Defence indicated, all of the submissions to date have been presented to the Treasury Board have used a 20-year cost estimate.”

Periods over 20 years are chancy for contracts, and wide potential variations in core inputs like fuel prices makes those estimates little better than guesses. Even guesses can still be of value, but only if they’re comparing components like fuel costs with other alternatives, using the same baseline pricing assumptions. See: Canadian Press | CTV | The Globe and Mail | National Post.

KPMG’s F-35A lifetime cost estimate

Dec 6/12: Not cancelled. Postmedia, which usually has good sources within the government, says Canada will pull out of the Joint Strike Fighter program. It turns out not to be true. Canada is about to analyze its options, and as noted earlier, Public Works has thrown out the specifications straightjacket. Early reports indicate that Boeing (Super Hornet) and Eurofighter have been approached for detailed information, with the possibility of broadening the invitation.

The other revelation in their article is that KPMG is done with their audit, which exceeds even the $29 billion maximum estimate from previous studies. Reports are pegging the potential 36-year lifecycle cost at C$ 40+ billion, though that involves a longer service life than previous estimates, and includes fuel costs. CBC | The Globe and Mail | National Post | Flight International.

Nov 30/12: Stealth. Gen. Tom Lawson, a former fighter pilot and Canada’s new chief of defence staff, tells a Parliamentary committee that the F-35 isn’t the only aircraft able to meet stealth requirements. The F-35 is better, he says, but when asked by Liberal defence critic John McKay whether there is only 1 airplane that can meet the Canadian military’s requirements in this area, Lawson said “no.” He later added, correctly, that “Fourth and fifth generation is not a very helpful way of looking at that aircraft.”

Canada’s exact “low observability” requirements, such as they are, have never been made public. It is true that even 4+ generation fighters like the Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, and Super Hornet will all have significantly smaller radar cross-sections that the current CF-18 fleet, even though several of them are bigger aircraft. The F-35 will be smaller again. See above for a more detailed discussion of “stealth.” CBC.

Nov 22/12: 1st cracks. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose tells Canada’s House of Commons that Canada’s “review of options will not be constrained by the previous statement of requirements.” That seems minor, but it isn’t. DND’s requirements had been crafted to make the F-35 the only available choice, per the department’s standard pattern over the last 7-8 years. Breaking that lock opens up other options for consideration.

A serious analysis hasn’t been performed yet, but this statement is a sign that it could start. Much will depend on the exact people chosen to do the analyzing. CBC | CDFAI |

Oct 22/12: New RCAF chief Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin tells the Canadian Press that DND hasn’t really begun looking at other fighter options beyond the F-35. A thorough examination of other possible aircraft would require a more detailed study by military planners, and he said that the order hasn’t been given. Blondin was asked twice during the interview whether other aircraft had been considered, and he replied: “No.”

That examination was central to the government’s promises after the negative 2011 Auditor General Report, so the government replied by saying that “work continues on the evaluation of options… The options analysis is a full evaluation of choices, not simply a refresh of the work that was done before.” None of which actually means that a serious evaluation is underway.

DID’s verdict: Lt-Gen. Blondin told the truth, and the government is being dishonest. There isn’t a serious analysis taking place. To date, any analysis has been a hasty and less-than-professional justification for a decision that’s already made. There is no sign yet that this pattern is changing. Canadian Press | Canada DND.

Sept 28/12. Requirements. Canada’s CBC obtains a redacted copy of Canada’s official Statement of Requirements for its next-generation fighter, and makes it available for download. As they explain:

“The Statement of Operational Requirements for Canada’s next jet fighter was produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force Directorate of Air Requirements in June, 2010. It wasn’t submitted to Canada’s Public Works department until after the government announced its decision to purchase 65 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in July, 2010. Normally Public Works is responsible for procuring hardware for the military after they have submitted their statement of requirements. [CBC Program} The Fifth Estate obtained this highly redacted copy through an Access to Information request.”

Sept 7/12: Auditor hired. KPMG has been given a $643,535 to review/audit projections for the CF-35. Their offer was 1 of 2 bids reviewed by Treasury Board and Public Works and Government Services Canada. CBC.

Aug 9/12: Delayed audit. Almost 2 months after its self-imposed deadline, Public Works quietly re-issued a tender, asking for an audit firm to come forward and take on the politically explosive task of verifying the F-35 figures provided by DND. The minister’s office tells Postmedia that the original tender was the problem, as it didn’t give accounting firms enough flexibility to sub-contract portions of the project. This might be important, in order to gain in-depth expertise in defense procurement.

The new tender doesn’t close until the end of August, which means the review might not even arrive in 2012. Postmedia.

May 24/12: Industrial. Lockheed Martin vice-president Steve O’Bryan talks to Canada’s Postmedia News about the F-35. They’re working on the understanding that Canada will place a production order in FY 2014

“Right now we will honour all existing contracts that we have. After that, all F-35 work will be directed into countries that are buying the airplane… What we have is the official statement out of the government and we’re working with the government. They’re committed to the F-35, they’ve selected it, and we haven’t had any change in that official position.”

That commitment has underpinned the JSF program’s work with Canadian firms, which the National Post reports as C$ 435 million to 66 Canadian companies since 1997. Even if those partnerships stop, however, Canadian procurement policies will require industrial offsets from the winner worth 100% of purchase value. The industrial question for the F-35 involves the perceived long term technical and financial value of their work to Canada’s aerospace industry, vs. the offsets their competitors might offer. That makes for a complex evaluation, but it’s often a component of big-ticket defense competitions around the world. Postmedia.

May 15/12: Gone Rogue? Following a round of Parliamentary hearings, in which senior DND bureaucrats are grilled about their CF-35 program estimates and conduct, NDP MP Malcolm Allen goes so far as to say that:

“This is a department that’s really gone rogue… [the minister] has totally lost control of that department… There’s no faith in this department anymore. None whatsoever.”

Allen is the Official Opposition party’s shadow minister for Agriculture, but he’s involved in the F-35 issue through his role on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. It’s expected that opposition members will oppose the government of the day, and the NDP’s socialism has always been coupled with an aversion to the military. With that said, for an MP in his position to level that kind of criticism at a government department, and use words like “no faith” and “out of control,” is a very rare thing. No political party rules forever, and if DND is seen as institutionally untrustworthy and dishonest by Canada’s other major parties, they will have created very dire future for themselves. Postmedia.

May 3/12: Was DND honest? Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page tells its Public Accounts Committee that the government withheld key information about the full costs of the F-35 in 2011, against explicit requests, in an effort to present a lower price tag to Canadians.

“Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that the Department of National Defence provided the PBO with figures that did not include all operating costs… The PBO understood that it had been provided with full life-cycle costs from DND as required… It seems difficult to understand how there could have been any confusion as to whether or not the PBO included operating costs within its estimate.”

DND officials say they understood that operations and maintenance costs should be excluded, but Page drew attention to the November 2010 committee motion that prompted PBO’s report. It specifically called for the release of all documents that outline life-cycle costs. Postmedia.

April 3/12: Auditor General report. The office of the Auditor General of Canada delivers its 2012 Spring report, including a chapter covering Canada’s process for selecting and then budgeting for the F-35. Based on previous stories concerning leaked drafts, the report has been softened and made more vague.

On the one hand, it describes how the F-35 program itself was built to circumvent normal procedures in participating governments, and make any subsequent competitions difficult to execute fairly. This is true, and beyond Canada’s influence. On the other hand, the report describes a number of instances where Canada’s DND has deliberately misled Parliament, a situation that past OAG reports have now detailed in almost every major Canadian defense procurement program over the last 5 years. Beyond deliberate deceptions, DND also made repeated assertions about both the F-35’s costs and its air needs that were not backed by any substantive analysis. Public Works Canada, which is supposed to serve in an independent oversight role, utterly failed in this duty, and was often hampered by DND’s refusal to provide information when it did attempt to act.

In response, the government “accepts the Auditor General’s recommendation and conclusions,” and commits to a number of steps. None of them imperil the F-35 program yet, or punish past misconduct, but the government is leaving themselves an official out.

The biggest apparent commitment is a freezing of funding at C$ 9 billion procurement and C$ 7 billion for support, followed by a statement from Associate Minister of National Defence Fantino that they “will acquire the F-35 only if and when we can operate within that budget.” This is less of a concession than it seems. First, it reiterates stated policy. Second, it freezes only the purchase cost. Support costs are even more likely to see serious cost inflation, but are the easiest to falsely assume away in advance. If they double to C$ 14 billion in real costs, Canada would have no option but to pay. Finally, it offers no other fighter options, or even preparation to make another fighter option feasible. Canada’s DND will “continue to evaluate options,” but the C$ 16 billion is still described as an F-35 acquisition budget, not a fighter acquisition budget. Likewise, the program’s new coordinating Secretariat in Public Works Canada is the F-35 Secretariat, though the effect clearly shifts authority out of the Department of National Defence, and away from Minister for National Defence Peter Mackay.

Annual updates to Parliament have now been promised, to be delivered within 60 days of receiving revised costing forecasts from the USA’s F-35 program. The question is whether these Parliamentary reports will continue to omit pertinent information that is not mentioned by the US office, or will otherwise improve the past record of incomplete and misleading reports. It’s more encouraging that Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat will have to commission an independent review of DND’s acquisition and sustainment project assumptions and potential F-35 costs, and make that public, before a purchase contract is signed. OAG 2012 Spring Report. | Canada PWGSC/DND response | Canada’s CBC: video of OAG presentation.

OAG criticizes the program

April 3/12: F-35 schedule & costs. Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman takes a deep look into the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Reports, which was released on March 30/12. Some of the conclusions are very relevant to Canada’s choices:

“Another three-year slip to initial operational test and evaluation, the culmination of system development and demonstration, which now is due to be complete in 2019 – the target date is February but the threshold date is October… it appears that the main culprit is software and hardware, mainly in terms of… sensor fusion and emission control – that take place in the fighter’s main processor banks… In what follows, I’m going to use average procurement unit cost (APUC)… recurring flyaway is the lowest cost, but neither the US nor anyone else can put an aircraft on the ramp for that money. And all numbers are base-2012… The APUC for the F-35A in 2013-14 is $184-$188 million, versus $177m (2009 dollars) for the last F-22s. And that is at a much higher production rate.”

Most ominously for the F-35’s future cost structure:

“Although the basis of the numbers has been changed, the SAR still compares the F-35A with the F-16, and shows that the estimated CPFH [DID: Cost Per Flight Hour] for the F-35A has gone from 1.22 F-16s in the 2010 SAR to 1.42 today – versus 0.8 F-16s, which was being claimed a few years ago. Where is that operations and support money going to come from?”

March 20/12: Plan B? As Canada’s government gives conflicting signals about its F-35A commitment, and braces for a scathing Auditor General report about their pledged buy, other planes may get an opening:

” The likeliest contenders, should there be a competition, are U.S.-based Boeing, maker of the F-18 Super Hornet, and Dassault of France, maker of the Rafale… “In our world we’re already in a competition,” one industry insider said. “(Associate Defence Minister) Fantino himself said we’re basically looking at our options. There’s a team at (Department of National Defence) looking at the market. So it’s already on.”

Despite this report, Canada’s considerable stockpile of American-made air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons adds huge additional switching costs to an already-expensive Rafale aircraft, and makes it a very unlikely challenger. Post Media.

March 15/12: Auditor General. Canada’s Auditor General is carving out a respected niche in Canadian politics, and that may be bad news for the F-35. The office is due to deliver a report on Canada’s F-35 plans by April 3rd, and a draft copy has been circulating. It reportedly says that the air force relied more or less exclusively on Lockheed Martin for all key pricing and performance assertions, even as government officials failed to follow procurement rules. Globe and Mail | Macleans magazine | National Post | Post Media | UPI.

March 13/12: If? Deputy defense minister Julian Fantino tells the House of Common Defence Committee that Canada has made no commitment to the F-35A, and uses the word “if” with respect to any proposed buy. While he maintains Canada’s interest in the aircraft, the comments are seen as a marked change in tone. A later release by Canada’s DND highlights Fantino’s March 16/12 CADSI speech, in which he affirms the industrial benefits of the F-35 program. Canadian Broadcasting Corp. | Globe and Mail | | Toronto Star | Reuters || Canada’s DND.

March 2/12: Canada hosts a meeting of international F-35 program partners in its Washington Embassy, to discuss the future of the program. Canada’s DND | Canadian Press | Post Media | Reuters.

F-35 summit



CF-18 ACES sim
(click to view full)

Nov 24/11: Norway’s costs. Norwegian MP Roger Ingebrigtsen [Troms, Labour Party], and Rear Admiral Arne Røksund, head of their Department of Defence Policy and Long-Term Planning, visit Canada. They respond to Canadian MP Christine Moore [Abitibi-Temiscamingue, NDP], who asks about Norway’s planned F-35 purchase:

“Mr. Roger Ingebrigtsen: It’s about $10 billion U.S. That’s for 51 or 52 air fighters. That’s $10 billion today…

RAdm Arne Røksund: …The life cycle costs will be, I think, about–this is not public yet, so I have to be careful – $40 billion U.S. over 30 years. So that’s life cycle costs over 30 years, all included.

Ms. Christine Moore: …So the $10 billion is simply to purchase the aircraft themselves.

RAdm Arne Røksund: That is for the planes, initial logistics included, repair kits, and so on, for the first few years.”

The purchase figures are consistent with accounts of NOK 61 – 72 billion, but the 30-year sustainment costs are new. Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch.

Oct 28/11: Canada’s National Post reports that Canada’s F-35A purchase may not be a sure thing, even though the majority government could easily force the sale through. Excerpts:

“This minister has a knack for projecting blithe confidence. But in this instance he is increasingly offside with other members of the cabinet and with the Prime Minister’s Office, sources familiar with the situation say… Indeed in defence circles, it is believed that Julian Fantino was installed as under-minister in charge of procurement partly to offset MacKay’s tendency to defer to the senior military brass… “The reaction is, where’s the competition, where’s the bidding, and what do you mean you don’t know the price?” acknowledges Senator Colin Kenny, former chair of the Senate defence committee and a strong proponent of the F-35… there are three elephants in the room…”

One is Canada’s 20-year, C$ 33 billion national military shipbuilding strategy, which is politically untouchable. The 2nd and 3rd issues refer to the effect of a possible slowdown and/or cut of F-35 buys in America and in Europe, which would raise the price for Canada’s planes. Our analysis: it’s too early to call Canada’s F-35 deal into serious question. On the other hand, if these reports are true, it’s no longer the sure thing that it seemed to be when Prime Minister Harper won his majority government.

Oct 23/11: Communications frozen? A Global TV News article reveals that the F-35 will have issues communicating during arctic patrols, because its satellite communications capability will be worse than the current CF-18 fleet’s when it’s delivered:

“Military aircraft operating in the high Arctic rely almost exclusively on satellite communications… The F-35 Lightning will eventually have the ability to communicate with satellites, but the software will not be available in the initial production run, said a senior Lockheed Martin official, who spoke on background… It is expected to be added to the aircraft when production reaches its fourth phase in 2019, but that is not guaranteed because research is still underway.”

Sept 6/11: CF-18 Sims. L-3 Link Simulation & Training announces a foreign military sale contract through US NAVAIR’s Training Systems Division, to upgrade Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 flight simulators located at Cold Lake, AB; Bagotville, PQ; and Ottawa, ON. The contract’s value was not disclosed.

L-3 Link is the original supplier for Canada’s 6 existing CF-18 Air Combat Emulators (ACEs), and 10 CF-18 Part Task Trainers, plus instructor/operator stations and brief/debrief systems. They will be upgraded with the latest F/A-18 training system capabilities, creating a common F/A-18 training solution with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps’ Tactical Operational Flight Trainers. Key upgrades to the trainers will include a new photo-texture visual system database, and enabling the Mission Operation Center to conduct multi-plane training. The CF-18 training systems will also include Canada-specific modifications.

Aug 31/11: CF-18 support. Canada adds up to C$ 111 million (currently around $112 million) to its CF-18 Primary Air Vehicle contract with L-3 Military Aviation Services (L-3 MAS), converting the previous arrangement to a full Optimized Weapon System Support program.

The contract breaks down as another C$ 80 million to 2017 in the base contract (now C$ 547 million), plus a set of extension options that could extend the additional work out to 2020 and raise the total by C$ 111 million, taking the overall contract to C$664 million (currently $676 million). OWSS adds new items to the previous contract’s list of maintained components (vid. Sept 1/10), consolidating them under this 1 contract, but doesn’t change contract length or other particulars. Public Works Canada | L-3 MAS [PDF].

CF-18 support extensions

May 2/11: Election. Canada’s Conservative Party wins an election forced by the opposition parties, and ends a string of minority Parliaments by taking 167 seats and gaining a Parliamentary majority.

The structure of the Canadian system ensures nearly complete party discipline. The Prime Minister can refuse to sign the nomination papers for any party candidate, forcing them to run as an independent or quit. Canada also requires whole-party leadership conventions to remove a party leader or Prime Minister, as opposed to the British tradition where it can be done by a majority of party MPs. In other words, Canada will buy any jet the Prime Minister approves. That means the F-35A. CBC Election Day coverage.

Majority government

DND shoots back
(click to view larger)

March 10-21/11: As Canada’s upgraded CF-18s join allied operations over Libya, Canada’s government and Department of National Defence exchanges fire with the Parliamentary Budget Officer over the F-35 report, in the media and via detailed statements. Bottom line? Both parties are standing firmly by their figures. The Canadian DND’s F-35 mini-site includes release and comparison of figures table, among others. See also PBO’s detailed rebuttal [PDF] | Macleans magazine | Ottawa Citizen’s “Let’s be honest about the price tag on those planes“, written by the person who signed the F-35 Phase 2 MoU on Canada’s behalf.

March 10/11: PBO F-35 report. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer releases its independent report on the F-35 buy. Its conclusion: that the government’s figures for buying and maintaining the plane were based on essentially no research, and that instead of costing $16 billion ($9 billion to buy 65, and $7 billion for 20 years of operations and maintenance at $350M/year), the total will be more like $29.3 billion. They forecast $9.7 billion or more for 65 fighters, plus $19.6 billion in operations and maintenance over 30 years ($1.7 billion initial logistics and setup, $14 billion O&M, plus $3.9 billion upgrades & overhaul over 30 years, or about $650M/year). That works out to a total package cost of about $450.75 million per fighter over 30 years, exclusive of weapons and other ancillaries. This passage was especially interesting, with implications well beyond the F-35, or Canada:

“There has been an exponential increase in the cost to manufacture one kilogram of fighter jet over the last six decades. This cost has risen from under US$ 1,000/kg in 1950 to approximately US$ 10,000/kg today (both in 2009 dollars). This represents a real [DID: inflation-adjusted] annual rate of increase of approximately 3.5%.

During the same period, the average weight of jet fighter aircraft has increased by about 0.5% per year. Given this, the cost of fighter aircraft has increased 4% per year in real terms since 1950 – doubling roughly every 18 years.”

The report’s impact is magnified in 3 ways. One is that it states that its own purchase and maintenance figures are likely to be revised upward if its 75% confidence level fails, based on program trends and official reports from the USA, as well as elimination of the competitive dual-engine program. The 2nd is that an election is now imminent in Canada, and the F-35 purchase is a key source of differences between the minority Conservative Party government and its opposition parties. On the flip side, Parliament’s dissolution will end opposition attempts to see the program’s statement of operational requirements justifying the F-35’s sole-source choice, which was classified by the DND in 2010, around the time the F-35 became a major political controversy. The 3rd factor is that the report was peer reviewed by a panel of experts that included the US Congressional Budget Office and Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The unintended result of that peer review has been wider publicity and impact around the world. “An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter” | Liberal Party release and pre-election ad | CTV News | Globe & Mail | Postmedia’s | SunMedia’s Canoe | Aviation Week.

C$ 29.3 billion?

Jan 6/11: As part of a plan detailing $150 billion in service cuts and cost savings over the next 5 years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates states that he is placing the Marine Corps’ F-35B on the equivalent of a 2-year probation, extends the program’s development phase again to 2016, and cuts production of all models over the 2012-2016 time period, including 47 fewer F-35As. During the low-rate initial production phase, cuts in the number bought mean that the price for each plane doesn’t drop as quickly, making purchases more expensive. Canada’s DND responds directly to these changes, saying:

“Canada is not purchasing the STOVL variant. Canada will order the conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant, which is the lowest-cost option that the majority of JSF partners will also acquire. The CTOL variant is progressing very well. Canada does not anticipate the announcement by the US Government regarding the STOVL variant will affect the schedule or cost of Canada’s Joint Strike Fighter Program.”

See also: Pentagon release re: overall plan | Full Gates speech and Gates/Mullen Q&A transcript | F-35 briefing hand-out [PDF] || Aviation Week | Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sky Talk blog.



(click to view larger)

Oct 14/10: CF-18 support. The Canadian government has contracted Calgary-based Harris Canada Inc. to continue avionics and electronics maintenance of its CF-18 fighter jets, until their replacements are ready to fly. The contract is worth up to C$ 273.8 million (currently at rough parity with American dollar) until 2020, and covers nearly 2,300 components.

It is more focused than the larger L-3 MAS contract (q.v. Sept 1/10), which covers the entire aircraft, but it’s a similar sort of extension. Public Works Canada | Canadian Press | The Globe and Mail.

Sept 20/10: According to 2009 Defence Department documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, Canadian officers working on the Next Generation Fighter Capability project called for a “competitive process” for both the aircraft and the long-term maintenance contract. The aircraft competition was to be run in 2010, with a contract to be awarded by 2012, aircraft delivery in 2015-16, and operational fighters between 2018 – 2023. The revelations will place further pressure on the Conservative government to justify their sole-sourcing decision, which has become the crux of a political controversy. Postmedia News via Montreal Gazette.

Sept 15/10: Hearings begin in Parliament, as the Standing Committee on National Defence calls witnesses to discuss the F-35. SCND/NDDN page | Canadian Press, via Winnipeg Free Press | CBC | CTV News (incl. video) | The Globe and Mail | Postmedia interview with Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose | Toronto Sun.

Sept 12/10: Sitting MP Laurie Hawn [Cons – AB – Edmonton Centre] will be an important voice in the upcoming Parliamentary fighter debate. He’s a former CF-18 pilot. Postmedia, via Montreal Gazette.

Sept 1/10: CF-18 Support. Canada needs to keep its existing fleet flying, and that cost money, too. A late F-35 means a longer set of support contracts, and so the Prime Minister’s Office announces the extension of its CF-18 Systems Engineering Support Contract to L-3 Communications MAS of Mirabel, Quebec, until at least 2017. This 7-year contract extension is valued at C$ 467 million, and 3 additional 1-year extension optionscould add another C$ 86 million (C$ 553 million total). the options would also stretch the contract until the end of the fleet’s estimated service life in 2020.

The contractor’s primary responsibility for the CF-18 Hornet fleet is development and maintenance work that includes mission software, structural testing, depot-level inspections and repairs, technical support teams, and other engineering services. In addition to their Canadian maintenance work, they’ve also been involved in Australia’s HUG [PDF] Hornet upgrade and life-extension program. Canadian PMO | L-3 MAS [PDF] | CBC | National Post.

CF-18 support

July 16/10: Sole-source F-35, eh? Canada’s Conservative Party government declares that it will buy the F-35A, without a competitive process. The jets would begin to enter service around 2016, and the initial budget is C$ 9 billion for 65 F-35 aircraft and associated weapons, supporting infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds and project operating costs. That budget has not been confirmed by an actual contract, however, something that reportedly led to unpleasant surprises when Canada bought C-130Js from Lockheed Martin. DND statements indicate that an F-35 contract would not be negotiated until about 2014-2015.

The government’s defense of its decision revolves around economic and industrial benefits:

“To date, Canada has invested approximately CAD$168 million in the JSF program. Since 2002, the Government’s participation in the JSF program has led to more than CAD$350 million in contracts for more than 85 Canadian companies, research laboratories, and universities – meaning that Canada has already seen a two-to-one return on its investment.

Now that Canada has committed to purchasing the F-35, Canadian industrial opportunities could exceed CAD$12 billion for the production of the aircraft. Sustainment and follow-on opportunities for Canadian industry are emerging and will be available over the 40-year life of the program. For instance, in accordance with the industrial participation agreements, all 19 Canadian companies manufacturing items for the F-35 will also repair and overhaul those components for the entire global fleet.”

The government needs that defense. They’re a minority government, and the opposition Liberal Party objects to the lack of competition and the cost. The Liberals are promising to freeze the agreement if they take power, and an election will be due by 2013 at the latest. This sort of thing has happened before, when an incoming Liberal government froze Canada’s EH101 helicopter contract, leading to a 20 year delay in fielding Sea King replacements. See: DND backgrounder | DND release | Lockheed Martin | Magellan Aerospace | Canadian Press (CP) | CTV TV | Toronto Star | Winnipeg Free Press re: local industry | BBC | NY Times | Reuters || Political angle: CBC | National Post | Toronto Star.

F-53A, yes. Competition, no.

June 11/10: The Globe & Mail newspaper reports the contents of secret documents it has acquired related to Canada’s F-35 purchase. For starters, the purchase price is expected to reach C$ 16 billion once 20 years of maintenance are factored in. The report adds:

“According to secret cabinet documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, officials are well aware that any move to open up the process to a competition could push the manufacturers of rival jets, such as the Boeing Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon, to lower their prices. In addition, the government is expecting a “negative reaction” to the fact that the contract is set to be awarded without a competition… One of the government’s major arguments is that a competition could hurt Canada’s reputation among the other countries that have been involved in Lockheed-Martin’s massive Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program since the 1990s…”

June 7-8/10: Canadian media reports indicate that the government is about to launch single-source negotiations to buy up to 65 F-35A fighters, at a cost of about C$ 9 billion. The government says that its rationale is to “lock up the cost,” but the jet’s maintenance costs would be a moving target. Canada had a similar experience with Lockheed Martin and maintenance costs when it sole-sourced its C-130J buy.

The move is politically controversial, to the point that the topic was removed from the cabinet committee on economic growth’s June 9 agenda, then reinstated. CP | The Globe and Mail | The Globe and Mail re: controversy | Winnipeg Free Press | UPI.

Jan 4/10: Reporter David Pugliese’s sources say that Canada’s Harper government, which is currently running a $55 billion deficit, is not moving to start the CF-18 replacement program, or to make a sole-source commitment to Lockheed Martin’s F-35. Boeing, which has a substantial industrial presence in Canada, continues to lobby for a competition.

According to Canadian Air Force documents, any competition needs to start no later than 2010. That allows a contract with the winning aircraft manufacturer to be signed by 2012, in order to receive initial deliveries in 2015-2016, and reach initial operating capability in 2018. That would be 38 years after the F/A-18 Hornet won Canada’s last fighter competition, and 36 years after initial Hornet deliveries. Under this timeline, full operating capability for the Hornet’s successor would be achieved by 2023.

2009 and Earlier


Sniper pod on CF-18
(click to view full)

Oct 8/09: Canada’s Ottawa Citizen newspaper reports that Boeing has stepped up its lobbying to create a competition:

“Some DND officials are concerned that a competition would drag on for too long and because of that Canada would not have new fighter aircraft in place when the current fleet of CF-18s is ready to be retired starting in 2017.

But representatives with U.S. aerospace firm Boeing are arguing that it makes more sense to hold a competition and let the best aircraft win. It has been involved in meetings with defence officials.

In addition, Canadian industry representatives who support Boeing have approached government officials to question the idea of a sole-source deal.”

Aug 22/09: Canada’s Ottawa Citizen newspaper reports that the government is preparing a presentation to cabinet for approval of a sole-source, multibillion deal to to buy 65 F-35s, even though military leaders had earlier claimed that a competitive process would be followed in any replacement of Canada’s F/A-18A/B Hornets.

The Ottawa Citizen cites Lockheed Martin officials who say they expect Canada to make its decision over the next 12 months. Canada is currently a JSF Tier 3 member, who has committed $150 million to the project thus far. Meanwhile, officials from Boeing (F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet) and Gripen International (JAS-39NG) are interested in competing for Canada’s follow-on order.

Dec 11/06: F-35 Production MoU. In a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, Canada’s Department of National Defence formalizes their continued partnership in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program. Canada was the 2nd of 8 partner nations to sign the MoU for the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development phase. The Department of Industry also signed MoUs with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Pratt & Whitney and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team.

The Canadian Department of National Defense had this to say regarding the F-35’s status as the follow-on to its current CF-18 (F/A-18A) fighter fleet:

“While participation in this next phase does not commit the Department to purchasing the multi-role aircraft, it is helping to define and evaluate DND’s future requirements for the next generation of fighter aircraft to replace the CF-18 and its capabilities. It is also contributing to improved interoperability between Canadian, American and allied forces and is enhancing the competitiveness and technological capability of Canada’s aerospace sector.”

See: DID coverage | Pentagon DefenseLINK | Canada’s DND: release | Canada’s DND: Backgrounder.

F-35 Production MoU

Additional Readings The Program

The Fighters

Competitive Possibilities

Official Reports/ Presentations

News & Views

Categories: News

AN-132D to get maritime patrol variant | Boeing to remanufacture Apaches for UK | Japan moves forward with Aegis Ashore

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 17:21

  • Raytheon has been awarded a $52.7 million contract for the supply of its Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long Range Radar (3DELRR) to the US Air Force. As part of the deal, the contractor will provide engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) work for three 3DELRR production representative units, with work to be completed by November 30, 2020. The system utilizes a C-Band Gallium Nitride radar which provides operators with long-range detection capabilities and has the advantage of not congesting airwaves in the electromagnetic spectrum excessively, reducing interference with other systems.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine have signed an agreement that will see all three parties collaborate on the development and manufacture of a maritime patrol variant of the AN-132D. Contracts were signed towards the end of the IDEF 2017 expo in Istanbul, where officials from Ukroboronprom, Havelsan, and Taqnia agreed to move forward with the project which comes comes two years after Saudi Arabia agreed to procure two AN-132D aircraft for use in airborne electronic warfare roles and four for search and rescue operations. Developed as a Western variant of the AN-32, the aircraft uses engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada, avionics form Honeywell, life-support systems from Germany’s Liebherr, propellers from Messier Bugatti Dowty (Safran Landing Systems), and auxiliary power units fromHamilton Sundstrand.

  • A prototype tank co-developed by Turkish and Indonesian industry has been unveiled at IDEF. Made by Turkey’s FNSS and Indonesia’s PT Pindad, the six-wheel KAPLAN MT was created as part of a government-to-government cooperation program. Fitted with a CMI Cockerill 3105 turret which integrates the Cockerill 105 millimeter high-pressure gun with an advanced autoloader, the companies said that the medium-weight tank features precision direct fire capability and a configuration power pack, heavy duty suspension system, double pin tracks and advanced electronic control systems that contribute to its superior maneuvering capability. The tank will begin serial production once it is qualified by the Indonesian army, and it is expected that the firms will look to market it for export.

  • The US State Department has cleared the sale of 100 PAC-3 and 60 GEM-T missiles to the UAE. Valued at an estimated $1 billion, Lockheed Martin will act as lead contractor for the PAC-3 missiles while Raytheon will provide the GEM-Ts. Also included are canisters, tools and test equipment, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, spare and repair parts, U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support.


  • Boeing has been contracted by the US Army Command for the remanufacture of 38 AH-64 Apache aircraft for the UK. Valued at $488 million, the foreign military sale will also include the provision of Longbow crew trainers and associated spares. Work will be carried out at the firm’s plant in Mesa, Arizona, with an estimated completion date of May 31, 2024.

Asia Pacific

  • The Indian Air Force has successfully test-fired a Darby radar-guided air-to-air missile from one of its LCA Tejas fighters. Conducted on May 12, New Delhi’s announcement stated that “the missile launch was performed in Lock ON after Launch mode for a BVR target in the look down mode and the target was destroyed,” and that aircraft avionics, fire-control radar, launchers and Missile Weapon Delivery System all performed as required. The test is one of several steps needed to clear beyond visual range (BVR) capabilities for the LCA.

  • India has also tested the first of its newly acquired Spyder air-defense system. Three rounds of firing were conducted during the May 11 test, where both Surface-to-air Python and Derby (Spyder) missile system were fired against a Banshee unmanned aerial target made by Meggit PLC. New Delhi made moves to acquire a number of Spyder systems in a deal with Rafael and Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) after their indigenous system, the Akash, fell out of favor with military officials.

  • The Japanese government has completed its study into the possible procurement of the land-based Aegis Ashore system, concluding that developing a new missile defense layer with the system is more cost-effective than purchasing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. At present, Tokyo operates a two-tier missile defense system with the first being SM-3 interceptors onboard Aegis-equipped destroyers, while the surviving missiles will then face a Patriot battery firing Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles. Discussions on the procurement are expected to last into the summer and will likely take several years to implement. It is expected that two fixed Aegis Ashore sites equipped with the SM-3 Block 2A missile would be sufficient to cover the country, at a cost of $705 million.

Today’s Video

  • An Indian Tejas fighter tests a Darby air-to-air missile: 

Categories: News

Israeli “SPYDER” Mobile Air Defense System – First India, now Vietnam

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 17:18

SPYDER Mobile Firing Unit
(click to view full)

Israel’s SPYDER air defense system follows a recent trend of using advanced air-air missiles designed for fighter jets as ground-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAM). This truck-mounted system mixes radar and optical tracking with any combination of short to medium-range Derby 4 and ultra-agile short-range 5th generation Python 5 air to air missiles, in order to create a versatile system adapted for a wider range of threats. Hence its inclusion in in our AMRAAM FOCUS article’s “international competitors” section.

India has become the system’s inaugural export customer. SPYDER will reportedly replace India’s Russian-made OSA-AKM/SA-8 Gecko and ZRK-BD Strela-10M/ SA-13 Gopher SAM systems, and the purchase has decisively shelved the Indian DRDO’s failed Trishul project.

More success may be on the way. As India’s Air Force gears up, the Army is reportedly about to follow suit with an even bigger contract.

The SPYDER System

SPYDER Systems
(click to view full)

Each SPYDER ADS-SR Mobile Firing Unit can slant-launch up to 4 missiles in either lock on after launch (LOAL) mode, or lock on before launch (LOBL). This short-range version offers 360 degree quick engagement capability and 60-target tracking via IAI’s Elta EL/M 2106 ATAR 3D surveillance radar and TOPLITE optical sensor, a kill range of over 15 km, and openly advertised effectiveness from 20 – 9,000 meters (65 – 30,000 feet).

A new SPYDER ADS-MR 6×6 truck version was unveiled at Eurosatory 2006. It’s restricted to LOAL but offers 8 vertical-launch missiles in any mix, adds a dedicated radar vehicle with a more powerful radar, and puts boosters on all missiles, in order to improve advertised range to 50 km/ 30 miles, and performance to 16 km/ 52,000 feet.

A typical SPYDER squadron consists of 1 Mobile Command and Control Unit, plus 4 Mobile Firing Units with their own built-in power supplies and missile sets of 4-8 missiles.

Contracts and Key Events

(click to view full)

May 14 /17: India has also tested the first of its newly acquired Spyder air-defense system. Three rounds of firing were conducted during the May 11 test, where both Surface-to-air Python and Derby (Spyder) missile system were fired against a Banshee unmanned aerial target made by Meggit PLC. New Delhi made moves to acquire a number of Spyder systems in a deal with Rafael and Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) after their indigenous system, the Akash, fell out of favor with military officials.

May 26/16: Israel’s Rafael Advanced Systems looks set to win the Indian Army’s short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) contest with its Spyder system. According to the Economic Times, the Spyder seems poised to win after offerings from Sweden’s Saab and Russia’s Rosoboronexport failed to comply with the Army’s requirements during technical trials. The competition has been running for five years.

October 26/15: Vietnam has purchased [Vietnamese] SPYDER air defense systems, manufactured by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The surface-to-air missile system is capable of launching the company’s advanced Derby beyond visual range and Python-5 missiles, with it unclear whether the Vietnamese military has purchased the Short Range (SPYDER-SR) or Medium Range (SPYDER-MR) version, with respective ranges of 20km and 50km.

Aug 18/09: Indian Army’s QR-SAM. The Times of India reports that India’s Ministry of Defence has finally given the go-ahead for the army’s INR 40 billion (about $820 million) Quick-Reaction SAM program. These mobile missiles would protect Indian maneuver elements like armored columns and troop concentrations, as well as important areas and installations. The Army seeks to equip 3 regiments with this contract, which is over twice the size of the IAF’s 18 squadron purchase. The Times of India:

“With the indigenous Akash and Trishul air defence projects not meeting its “user-requirements”… The Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by defence minister A K Antony, discussed the entire matter on Monday. Though there was no official word, sources said the Israeli SpyDer QR-SAM systems had been selected for the project.

…The projects were in a limbo for quite some time now, with one of the main reasons being the naming of Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael in the Rs 1,160-crore Barak-I deal kickbacks case by the CBI. The government, however, was reluctant to blacklist these Israeli armament firms because it held that it would prove “counter-productive” since there were several “crucial” defence projects underway with them.”

Jan 20/09: SR-SAM – Revenge of DRDO? India Defence reports that neither MBDA nor India’s state-run DRDO have given up on their “SR-SAM” short range air defense proposal. Rumors peg it as a combination of DRDO’s Trishul and MBDA’s VL-MICA system, though Trishul’s failure and VL-MICA’s techologies mean that claims regarding Trishul technology are likely to be about saving face as much as anything else.

The “Maitri” LLQRM proposal’s positioning would be directly competitive with RAFAEL’s SPYDER, and VL-MICA is deployable as a mobile system. That could affect SPYDER’s future expansion within the Indian military, and might even affect its prospects if program problems crop up. MICA’s capabilities mean that SR-SAM/Maitri would also be directly competitive with India’s indigenous Akash, and might even impinge on the proposed medium range MR-SAM deal involving a longer-range Barak missile.

Dec 11/08: The Indian Ministry of Defence confirms that it has signed the Spyder contract – and canceled Trishul. Defence Minister Shri AK Antony, in a written reply to Shri Tarini Kanta Roy in Rajya Sabha:

“Ministry of Defence has signed a contract with M/s Rafael, Israel to procure Spyder Low Level Quick Reaction Missile System (LLQRM) for the Indian Air Force.

The proposal for Trishul system was foreclosed due to its inability to meet certain critical operational requirements. However, it served as a technology demonstrator and the expertise acquired with the technologies developed during design and development phase of Trishul Missile System are being utilized for developing state-of-the-art Short Range Surface to Air Missile System.”

Costs were not disclosed, though some reports place the deal at $260 million; previous reports of R 18,000 crore would be about $362 million at current exchange rates. Nor was the future composition of India’s Spyder force; Spyder systems now come in the 8-pack, booster-enabled SPYDER ADS-MR, and the 4-pack SPYDER ADS-SR. Indian MoD | domain-b.

Oct 13/08: DNA India reports that a new order from the Union government downgraded both IAI and RAFAEL’s position as weapon suppliers to India, and may place the Spyder contract in jeopardy. The issue is not expected to sort itself out until after the 2009 Parliamentary elections. Read “India Downgrades Vendor Status of IAI and RAFAEL” for more.

Sept 1/08: The Spyder contract was delayed for almost 2 years by political accusations, but those have apparently been put to rest. Defense News reports that a $260 million contract has now been signed with Rafael. The Indian Air Force will receive 18 Spyder systems, with deliveries beginning in early 2011 and finishing by August 2012. Unusually, the contract will not include any mandatory industrial offsets.

March 19/07: Reports indicate that MBDA is working on a deal with the DRDO, whose Trishul short range anti-aorcraft missile project continues to flounder. DRDO’s Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) would team with MBDA to develop a “new-generation low-level, quick-reaction missile (LLQRM) system” known as ‘Maitri’, for the Indian Navy and Air Force. India Defence.

The project is said to be worth $500 million and is to be signed in May between the Hyderabad-based DRDL and MBDA. It is retry to revive the work done under the unsuccessful Trishul LLQRM project,

October 2006: India Defence quoted Air Chief SP Tyagi as saying India is close to wrapping up a deal to purchase quick reaction surface-to-air missiles from Israel as a mobile air defense system. Under the deal, India proposed to buy 18 SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) missile systems and accompanying missiles in a deal worth more than Rs 1,800 crores (18 billion Indian rupees, or about $395.4 million at the time). RAFAEL would be the prime contractor, and Israel Aircraft Industries the major subcontractor.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

SM-3 BMD, in from the Sea: EPAA & Aegis Ashore

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 17:17

Land-based SM-3 concept
(click to view full)

SM-3 Standard missiles have been the backbone of the US Navy’s ballistic missile defense plans for many years now, and are beginning to see service in the navies of allies like Japan. Their test successes and long range against aerial threats have spawned a land-based version, which end up being even more important to the USA’s allies.

In July 2008 the US Missile Defense Agency began considering a land-based variant of the SM-3, largely due to specific requests from Israel. Israel currently fields the medium range Arrow-2 land-based ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) system, and eventually elected to pursue the Arrow-3 instead of SM-3s. Once the prospect had been raised, however, the US government decided that basing SM-3 missiles on land was a really good idea. The European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense is being built around this concept, and other regions could see similar deployments.

EPAA & The SM-3 Option

Aegis Ashore
(click to view full)

The European Phased Adaptive Approach aims to use a combination of naval and land-based missile defense systems, which hope to share a common architecture and missile set. The core physical component is a “deckhouse” enclosure, containing the command and control center and a BMD-enhanced SPY-1(D) radar that’s similar to those aboard US Navy destroyers and cruisers. The software will be taken from the Aegis combat system on US Navy ships, beginning with version 5.0.1 and upgrading over time. A connected vertical launching system building will contain 24 SM-3 missiles, which will become more advanced as newer variants are fielded.

The USA is building 3 Aegis Ashore sites: one test site in Barking Sands, Hawaii, USA, and sites in Deveselu Air Base, Romania and Redzikowo, Poland. The GAO estimates that building these sites and bringing them to operational status will cost the USA about $2.3 billion. Our own tracking includes R&D into land-based SM-3 options, and tracks obviously related categories in MDA’s shifting budget lines.

The European Phased Adaptive Approach

The European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) currently envisions 4 phases:

EPAA Phase 1, 2011-2015

In 2011, the US Navy expected to have naval SM-3 Block 1A missiles and ships fully in place, on more BMD-capable ships than the 2 Atlantic Fleet destroyers available in 2009, to pair with land-based AN/TPY-2 radars that are also used in the THAAD system. Another 4 destroyers are being forward-deployed to Rota, Spain in FY 2014-2015. Unfortunately, naval SM-3 Block 1 missiles cannot cover the Czech Republic at all, and can offer only limited coverage for Poland.

The Obama administration bowed to Russian pressure and picked the THAAD system’s AN/TPY-2 radar as the system’s ground accompaniment, to limit the distance they could see into Russian airspace. The Russians simply saw weakness, and kept up the pressure, but couldn’t make any more headway. Turkey agreed to host the AN/TPY-2 radar near Diyarbakir in SE Turkey, though they added conditions that the data must not be shared with Israel.

This will be the only EPAA option until 2015, which is beyond the Obama administration’s current term of office. During that interim period, THAAD continues to receive upgrades. At sea, AEGIS BMD system 4.x is being rolled out beyond USS Lake Erie [CG 70], offering some capability improvements on board ship, and laying an open architecture foundation for future upgrades.

In parallel, NATO has fielded an initial version Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) command and control architecture. They declared an “interim” BMD capability in May 2012, after a successful multinational test.

ALTBMD will also have European components to draw upon, including the national early-warning system under development by France. In August 2012, Poland announced that it was pursuing its own national BMD system, which may mirror many of France’s components. France (11 systems) and Italy (6 systems) can also contribute with their land-based SAMP/T Mamba and its Aster-30 missile, which is designed to address threats in the SRBM (<1,000 km) class.

On the naval front, the Netherlands is upgrading its 4 top-tier air defense frigates with ballistic missile tracking capability, and its ships are compatible with SM-3 missiles if they decide to purchase some. Elsewhere, Aster-30s are already found on advanced air defense destroyers: the Franco-Italian Horizon Class, and Britain’s Type 45 Daring Class. The naval system hasn’t been tested against ballistic missiles yet, but the systems could all be upgraded to do so.

EPAA Phase 2, 2015-2018

In Parallel:
SAMP/T launch
(click to view full)

If progress continues per plan, 2015 would see advances on 2 fronts.

One front involves improved SM-3 Block 1B missiles, which will expand the range of coverage for American ships. Serious orders for the Block 1B missile began in 2011, but technical issues have delayed full production. That delay means that US Navy ships based in Europe will be competing with other priorities in Asia and around the USA, as they seek to host the new missiles. A slower phase-in that extends to 2018 now looks most likely.

The other element was to be a land-based “Aegis Ashore” site at Deveselu Air Base, Romania, hosting SM-3 missiles instead of Boeing’s longer-range, fixed-location GMD system. Aegis Ashore designs appear to have shifted from an easily-deployable configuration, toward high-investment fixed sites that are similar to the GMD program they replaced. The Romanian deployment would use SM-3 Block 1B missiles from an emplaced Mk.41 VLS launcher, and be controlled by a SPY-1D radar and AEGIS BMD 5.0.1 combat system. An interim setup was formally commissioned in October 2014.

If successfully deployed, this is a defense against short and medium range missiles (SRBMs & MRBMs), with some capability against intermediate range missiles in the 1,850-3,500 mile class (IRBMs). On the other hand, the location of these defenses still leaves central Europe mostly unprotected.

During Phase 2, NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) command and control network will be operational at an initial level. France, Italy, and possibly Poland will have armed land-based BMD systems of their own deployed, and it’s likely that ALTBMD compatible BMD-capable ships will be fielded. The Netherlands is already preparing its vessels for missile tracking and SM-3 hosting, and the Aster-30/ PAAMS combination is fielded on British, French, and Italian ships.

EPAA Phase 3, 2018-

SM-3: EPAA phases
(click to view full)

Around 2018, America expects to deploy the longer-range, 21″ diameter SM-3 Block II missile, on ships and (if deployments have been accepted) on shore. The US MDA would add Redzikowo, Poland to its list of land-based sites, defending Northern Europe with SM-3 Block 1B & Block IIA missiles, controlled by an AEGIS BMD 5.1 combat system.

This system would be intended to kill SRBM, MRBM, and IRBM threats, with some capabilities against full intercontinental range missiles (ICBMs). Gen. Cartwright has stated that just 3 SM-3 Block II locations would be able to cover all of Europe, but that missile is an earlier-stage R&D effort, with all the expected implications for dates and certainty of capabilities.

EPAA Phase 4, 2020+

Effectively cancelled.

The USA was going deploy a new Next-Generation Aegis Missile (SM-3 Block IIB) design, to improve performance and begin to field a credible anti-ICBM capability. Technical issues became a serious problem, once experts concluded that the initial sites picked for EPAA aren’t all that helpful for defending the USA. A liquid-fuel booster could be used to boost interceptor speeds, but that isn’t safe to use on ships. Even though the best place to defend the USA against an ICBM launched from Iran is from the middle of the North Sea. Now throw in a planned development schedule defined by a wild-guess political promise, rather than solid information. The whole thing was a mess, and in March 2013, it was “restructured” into into an R&D program by the Pentagon.

Aegis Ashore

(click to view full)

Making these things happen requires a number of additional steps. AN/TPY-2 radars will provide initial services during Phase 1, and will continue to play a supplemental role thereafter in both EPAA and NATO’s ALTBMD.

Beyond Phase 1, the USA has shifted to a larger and more permanent basing structure, which removes some of the benefits of switching away from GMD. The US Missile Defense Agency is building an “Aegis Ashore” test complex near Moorestown, NJ, and another at its missile defense testing center at Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. The Hawaiian complex is hosting a land-based Mark 41 launcher, a 4-story building with a SPY-1 radar, and three 125-foot tall test towers.

Poland is being considered for Aegis Ashore deployment in 2018, but the country is beginning to diversify its options. The September 2011 agreement with the USA is still in force, but Poland is determined to have its own missile defense infrastructure, and may choose to place their bets on a parallel NATO/ European system. Their other option would likely involve American PATRIOT and/or THAAD systems.

Beyond Europe

Aegis Ashore may spread beyond Europe. In the Pacific, Japan is already deploying SM-3s at sea, and may find land-based counterparts useful. Its neighbor South Korea shares Japan’s worries about North Korea’s evil and semi-stable regime; the ROK intends to load shorter range SM-6 missiles on its AEGIS destroyers, is buying and deploying Patriot PAC-2 GEM+ missiles, and has contracted with Israel for “Green Pine” air and missile defense radars. Its cruiser-size KDX-III AEGIS destroyers could be modified for a ballistic missile defense role, but land-based SM-3s linked to air and naval systems offer an option that doesn’t require naval upgrades.

The other country that has been linked to land-based SM-3s had a more complicated set of choices, and possible rationales. See Appendix A’s coverage of Israeli deliberations, which ended with a decision to deploy their own Arrow technology instead.

The Missiles

SM-3 seeker: target!
(click to view full)

With a maximum range of about 300 miles/ 500 km, the Standard Missile 3 Block I (SM-3) has just 1/5th to 1/6th the reported reach of GMD’s Ground Based Interceptors, but a longer reach than current mobile land options like THAAD. SM-3 has 4 stages. The booster motor and initial stage launch the missile, and take it out of the atmosphere. Once it goes “exo-atmospheric,” the 3rd stage is used to boost the missile higher, and also corrects its course by referencing GPS/ INS locations. The final stage is the LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to pick out the target, then guides itself in to ram it. That target is expected to be an enemy ballistic missile, but America’s shoot-down of its own ailing satellite in 2008 showed that the same technology can be used against any low earth orbit object.

The introduction of Raytheon’s SM-3 Block II variant will widen the missile’s diameter from 13.5″ to 21″, greatly extending its range and speed. That means better performance against longer range missiles that move faster, and offer different trajectories. Block II weapons will add the ability to handle longer-range, higher-flying IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles, usually 3,000-5,000 km range), and even offer some hope against global-strike threats like ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile) warheads. SM-3 Block IIA is currently expected to debut around 2015, but testing and other requirements mean it won’t be part of EPAA until 2018 or later.

Contracts & Key Events

Europe scenario

Because of the intertwined nature of the EPAA system, many contracts will be covered elsewhere. The AN/TPY-2 radar has its own article, as does the THAAD theater air defense system the TPY-2s were originally developed for. Standard Missile family contracts also have their own FOCUS article, as does the ubiquitous Mk.41 vertical launching system that will be part of the Aegis Ashore complex.

Unless a contract of these types specifically notes dedicated assets for EPAA/Aegis Ashore, or is directly germane to key program technologies, they will not be covered here.

FYs 2015 – 2017

NSF Devesulu opens.

May 14/17: The Japanese government has completed its study into the possible procurement of the land-based Aegis Ashore system, concluding that developing a new missile defense layer with the system is more cost-effective than purchasing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. At present, Tokyo operates a two-tier missile defense system with the first being SM-3 interceptors onboard Aegis-equipped destroyers, while the surviving missiles will then face a Patriot battery firing Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles. Discussions on the procurement are expected to last into the summer and will likely take several years to implement. It is expected that two fixed Aegis Ashore sites equipped with the SM-3 Block 2A missile would be sufficient to cover the country, at a cost of $705 million.

May 16/16: The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS) in Romania was declared as operationally certified. A ceremony on May 12 marked the occasion with the facility covering an area that protects allied countries in Southern and Central Europe, significantly reducing the risk of potential attacks with ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic space. Construction of a second Aegis Ashore site in Poland has recently commenced as part of the final phase of NATO’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).

February 12/16: The US Army has awarded AMEC a $182.7 million contract with option to support the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Poland. The contract comes as part of Phase III of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) program, which aims to boost land based missile defense systems for NATO allies against ballistic missile threats. The Polish installations will be placed to protect nations in northern Europe and follows the installation of an interceptor site in Romania during Phase II. The deployment of the Aegis systems will act as part of NATO’s forward deterrence policy in Europe in ally nations that border Russia.

December 22/15: Raytheon has been awarded a $2.35 billion contract to deliver 52 SM-3 Block IB missiles. The contract finalizes a preliminary one for 44 missiles valued at $541 million. The addition of 8 further missiles comes as the US military is increasing its stocks of SM-3s in the wake of increased missile threats, and orders by foreign allies of its weapons systems.

December 10/15: Raytheon has been awarded a not-to-exceed $543,337,650 undefinitized contract action modification to a previously awarded contract to manufacture, assemble, test, and deliver 17 Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missiles. The deal, initially set at $87 million, has now been extended to $543.3 million. The news comes after the US Navy and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced the second successful flight test on Tuesday. The SM-3 is the only ballistic missile killer to have the capability to be launched from both land and sea, and is being jointly funded and developed by US Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces. Future development of the program will see the interceptor be tested for the European missile defense system and hopeful deployment in Poland by 2018.

Oct 10/14: Romania. NATO formally inaugurates Naval Support Facility Devesulu, the new Aegis Ashore facility in Romania. Capt. William Garren becomes the site’s 1st commander, and construction continues on site. It’s scheduled to become fully operational in 2015. Stars and Stripes, “Navy to commission missile defense base in Romania” | Romnaia TV, “Vin americanii! SUA preia vineri baza de la Deveselu” [picture is wrong] | Iran’s PressTV, “US will commission missile base in Europe amid tensions with Russia” | Russia Today, “US commissions ‘crucial’ NATO missile shield facility in Romania”.

NSF Devesulu, RO opens

FY 2014

GAO & CRS reports cite software issues, spectrum frequency conflict in Poland, question operating cost estimates and cost-sharing; Initial Turkish deployment was very ragged; 1st launch from AA facility; DDGs deploying; SM-3 Block IIA passes CDR.

NATO BMD concept
click for video

June 2/14: DDG Deployment. USS Ross [DDG-71, uses BMD 3.6.1] steams out of Norfolk to its new base in Rota, Spain, where it will join USS Donald Cook [DDG-71, uses BMD 4.0.2] as part of EPAA efforts. Sources: WVEC Norfolk, “Photos: 2nd Navy destroyer leaves Norfolk for Spain”.

May 22/14: SAMP/T. France and Italy carry out a test of their own at the French DGA’s Biscarosse test range, with SAMP/T Mamba systems from each country firing an Aster-30 missile and destroying a target drone. The larger story is the successful interconnection of their systems, within a broader test campaign that also involved French air force Crotale SHORADS batteries, French Army man-portable Mistral VSHORADS, and a French E-3F AWACS plane, all connected to the French 3D Defense Management Center (CMD3D) and control centers at Lyon and at Mont de Marsan.

France is building a national air defense and anti-missile system, which needs to inter-operate with NATO. Italy is another natural partner for missile defense, as they’re also using Aster-30 missiles on land in SAMP/T Mamba systems, and using them at sea in Franco-Italian Horizon Project frigates. Sources: French DGA, “Vidéo : reussite d’un double tir SAMP/T franco-italien” | defense-aerospace, “Surface-to-Air Campaign at Biscarosse: “Barrois” Squadron from Saint Dizier Fires First Mamba, Demos Interoperability”.

May 20/14: AA CTV-01. The 1st SM-3 launch from an Aegis Ashore facility takes place at the Pacific Missile Range Facility test site in Kauai, Hawaii. It’s a live SM-3 Block IB launch, but not a live intercept, since they’re only using a simulated target. The main goal is ensuring that all systems work when they’re transferred to land. Sources: US MDA, “Standard Missile Completes First Test Launch from Aegis Ashore Test Site” | Lockheed Martin, “Aegis Ashore Achieves Major Test Milestone for Worldwide Ballistic Missile Defense System” | Raytheon, “Aegis Ashore Launches Standard Missile-3 for First Time”.

1st Aegis Ashore launch

April 11/14: GAO Report. The Pentagon has been reluctant to develop a life-cycle cost estimate for BMD in Europe, on the dubious grounds that it isn’t a separate program. that’s why GAO-14-314 concerns itself with EPAA’s costs and implementation issues.

PATRIOT and AN/TPY-2 deployments have already shown weaknesses. The Turkish PATRIOT batteries faced roadblocks involving deployment when they arrived in December 2011. Other issues included training to different NATO engagement procedures, information-sharing uncertainties, soldiers deployed to cold mountaintops in tents that couldn’t handle the conditions, and poor local roads that could be dangerous. Build-out of longer-term infrastructure won’t even begin until mid-2014. The TPY-2 radar deployments to Turkey (2011) and CENTCOM (2013), meanwhile, still can’t share information and work together, because that hasn’t been worked out.

For Aegis Ashore, previous reports (q.v. April 26/13) have mentioned the AN/SPY-1D radar’s conflicts with local civil frequency usage. That’s largely worked out now in Romania, but not in Poland. Indeed, the Poles are about to issue commercial licenses for key radar frequencies, which would complicate things even more. It doesn’t get easier to handle all of this when US Strategic Command, European Command, MDA, and the Navy all claim roles in each deployment.

On the cost side, the US Navy will take over maintenance and operation of both European Aegis Ashore sites in 2018, but they haven’t developed a joint 25-year O&M estimate. There are also gaps concerning other BMD elements. The Army is estimating $61 million to support the Turkish TPY-2 radar, and $1.2 billion over 20 years. This assumes contractor support throughout, but different arrangements might be better and cheaper. A full analysis is expected in FY 2015. THAAD batteries have an estimated O&M cost of $6.5 billion over 20 years, but that $325 million per year involves basing in the USA. Costs for basing in Europe are expected to be higher. How much higher? We don’t know, because the US MDA and US Army can’t agree on how to do the analysis.

April 9/14: Speed up? Vice Adm. James Syring of the US Missile Defense Agency responds to speculation by saying that they could speed up the deployment of Poland’s Aegis Ashore installation in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, but:

“We’d need some additional funds in the budget, and we’d need to move up the development of the [SM-3 Block] IIA,”

The first part of the statement is true. Given the likely cost of the SM-3 Block 1B missiles, and known costs for the facility, it will take somewhere between $400 – 500 million to fully pay for an operational site. The second part of Syring’s statement, however, is wishful thinking. Unless development is being slow-walked and funds are the primary bottleneck, extra funds have a very limited effect in moving up a project’s development. The SM-3 Block IIA isn’t the type of project that will get much benefit. Sources: Defense News, “US May Accelerate Deployment of Missile Defense System in Poland”.

April 8/14: CRS Report. The Congressional Research Service updates their backgrounder covering the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, which includes the EPAA. They confirm DID’s charts regarding these areas, though CRS doesn’t divide general naval BMD from the land-based European implementation.

They do have some pointed questions for Europe, however, proposing a calculation of relative American vs. European total contributions to European missile defense, and asking “Why should European countries not pay a greater share of the cost of the EPAA, since the primary purpose of the EPAA is to defend Europe against theater-range missiles?” That’s a different attitude.

Meanwhile, the FY 2015 budget cuts 132 SM-3 missiles from the FY 2014 budget’s 2015-2018 buys, and it will also change the composition and makeup of the naval BMD fleet via slower upgrades, and the mothballing of 4 BMD cruisers. Congress will want to know what effect that will have on overall capabilities, but asking the military will be pointless.

April 1/14: GAO Report. GAO-14-351 focuses on acquisition goals and reporting for missile defense in general. Most of the key findings for EPAA have already been covered recently, but the program is concerned about flight test delays and cancelations affecting Aegis Ashore, while adding that a 17 month delay in the modernized Aegis system is at a problematic point:

“Discovery of software defects continues to outpace the program’s ability to fix them; fixes may have to be implemented after software is delivered.”

March 25/14: AA Poland. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, Moorestown, NJ receives a $93 million contract, exercising options for the core radar and equipment in Poland’s Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS), and providing multi-year procurement funding for Aegis Weapon System (AWS) MK 7 equipment sets.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 budgets and FY 2013 shipbuilding budgets. Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (85.5%), Clearwater, FL (13.1%), and Akron, OH (1.4%), and is expected to be complete by September 2021. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-14-C-5114).

March 21/14: AA Poland. Raytheon IDS in Sudbury, MA receives a $45 million modification for 1 AN/SPY-1D(V) Transmitter Group and select Missile Fire Control System MK 99 equipment, which will become part of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System in Poland.

Work will be performed in Andover, MA (78.3%); Sudbury, MA (19.3%); Canada (1%); Moorestown, NJ (0.9%); and Norfolk, VA (0.5%), and is expected to be completed by March 2016. All funds are committed immediately, using FY14 funds. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-13-C-5115).

March 14/14: GAO report. The GAO releases GAO-14-248R, regarding the USA’s EPAA plans for defending Europe from ballistic missiles. The bottom line? There are a lot of moving parts, they’re being developed in parallel, and some of them aren’t moving as fast as others. Which means the system as a whole is going to be a bit behind. The MDA isn’t interested in acknowledging that, but the GAO makes a strong case by citing all the promised capabilities that are being removed from the beginning of each phase.

Phase 1, 2011. A TPY-2 radar is deployed in Turkey, but C2BMC systems still haven’t tested scenarios where they’re managing more than 1 TPY-2 radar, and GAO says that “Key capabilities for Phase 1 will not be fully available until 2015.”

Phase 2, 2015. The biggest issue is C2BMC S8.2 software, which has been delayed until 2017. It was supposed to improve the integration of incoming missile tracks for Phase 2, and provide a Lock-On After Launch firing capability for AEGIS BMD systems. Without it, radars like the TPY-2 will perform below their planned potential, and so will the missiles. Especially since the Romanian site’s Aegis Ashore system will only be an interim version, which will also wait until 2017 before it has all of the initially promised capabilities. On the mobile front, THAAD’s ability to distinguish incoming warheads in debris fields won’t reach desired capability until 2017, either.

Phase 3, 2018. The 2-year delay of full Phase 2 Aegis Ashore capability leads one to wonder if AEGIS BMD 5.1 will really be ready for 2018 deployment. The same might be said of the SM-3 Block 2A missile, even though MDA says it’s on track. Meanwhile, C2BMC is the biggest issue again. S8.4 is meant to let AEGIS BMD systems intercept incoming missiles without using their own radars, thanks to faster integrated tracks, more precise tracking, and resilience in more “complex” conditions. It won’t arrive until 2020 or later, forcing the MDA to deploy an S8.2.x build instead. That lateness will affect THAAD as well as Aegis Ashore, and THAAD’s own upgrades will happen in a timeframe that means any issues found in testing will delay them until after Phase 3 has begun.

Dec 27/13: Aegis multiyear. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training in Moorestown, NJ receives a multi-year $574.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for Aegis MK 7 equipment sets. All confirmed orders will be used in destroyer production and refits (DDG 117 – 123), but there’s 1 option that can be used for Poland’s Aegis Ashore complex, along with associated engineering services. Lockheed Martin confirms that the core of all sets will be Aegis Baseline 9, which includes missile defense features.

$308.4 million in FY 2013 shipbuilding funds is committed immediately, to enable advance buys in bulk. Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (85.5%); Clearwater, FL (13.1%); and Akron, OH (1.4%), and is expected to be complete by September 2021. As one would expect, this is a sole source contract under 10 U.SC 2304(c)(1). US NAVSEA in Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-14-C-5114). See also Lockheed Martin, Jan 7/14 release.

Oct 31/13: SM-3-IIA. Raytheon and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have completed the SM-3 Block IIA’s Critical Design Review (CDR), and the USA and Japan have agreed on workshare arrangements that allocate development responsibility between each country. SM-3-IIA is the key new piece in EPAA Phase 3, and the successful CDR keeps it on track for flight test in 2015.

Raytheon made the announcement at the 2013 AIAA Multinational Ballistic Missile Defense Conference in Warsaw, Poland. Sources: Raytheon, “New, Larger Standard Missile-3 Moves From Design to Testing” | Raytheon, Oct 31/13 release.

Oct 28/13: AA Romania. American, Romanian and NATO officials break ground on the Aegis Ashore facility at Devsulu AB, based on the September 2011 accord between the United States and Romania.

Romania’s SC Glacial PROD SRL has already done $3.3 million in site-activation work, including temporary offices, container housing units, a warehouse, and a vehicle inspection area. US Navy, “US, Romania begin work on Aegis Ashore missile defense complex”.

FY 2013

SM-3 Block IIB canceled; European multi-system test; GAO Report; MBDA’s Aster-30 SAMP/T and USA’s GBI advance in parallel.

2013 BMD conference
click for video

July 18/13: AA Romania. KBR announces a $134 million Aegis Ashore build-out contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Europe District. The 269-acre site on Romania’s Deveselu Air Base will include a 4-story radar deckhouse structure relocated from New Jersey, security fencing, plus facilities and infrastructure including roads, support buildings, communications, security and utilities.

April 26/13: GAO Report. The GAO looks at the Missile Defense Agency’s full array of programs in report #GAO-13-342, “Missile Defense: Opportunity To Refocus On Strengthening Acquisition Management.” With respect to EPAA/ Aegis Ashore, the report reiterates concerns from the GAO’s March 30/12 and April 20/12 reports (q.v.): unstable cost baselines, concurrent testing & development, and questions about the ability to use the SPY-1’s radar frequencies without creating spectrum interference problems for the host nations.

The program office sees its greatest risks as (1) integration testing in Hawaii and New Jersey, (2) potential shipping or transportation delays, and (3) construction delays for the operational and test facilities. The disconnect stems from a fundamental disagreement about the project’s level of risk. With the program citing similarity to sea-based Aegis BMD as a reason for low risk. If the GAO’s concerns re: spectrum issues come true, however, the similarity will drop quickly. An analysis for Romania is due in 2013, but Poland will present its own independent situation. Meanwhile, knowledge gained from flight tests that begin in 2014 can’t be used to guide construction. Under a new plan, even Poland’s 2018 site will be ordering advance construction components in January 2014.

The GAO estimates the cost to develop and build the Polish facility at $746 million, from R&D to operational status. As such, the MDA reported costs of all 3 Aegis Ashore facilities is $2.3 billion. The GAO wonders about the US MDA’s portfolio balance, given R&D needs for multiple missiles, plus full build out of Aegis Ashore and full production of the SM-3 Block IB, plus operation, support, and testing for the iffy GMD system. The GAO recommends Analysis of Alternatives studies as one way to help manage that portfolio.

April 18/13: Poland. US State Department official Frank Rose (Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance) speaks to the Polish National Defense University in Warsaw about Aegis Ashore. Poland is looking to build a national missile defense architecture, so Rose stresses the important of interoperability with NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) command-and-control system (q.v. May 21/12). He adds that:

“The Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement between the U.S. and Poland entered into force in September of 2011. This agreement places a land-based interceptor site, similar to Phase 2, in Redzikowo, and includes the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. This EPAA Phase 3 site is on schedule and on budget for deployment in the 2018 timeframe. The interceptor site here in Poland will be key to the EPAA. Not only will it protect Poland itself, but when combined with the rest of the EPAA assets, Phase 3 will be able to protect all of NATO Europe against ballistic missile threats from the Middle East.”

March 15/13: Following North Korea’s 3rd nuclear test attempt, the new US Secretary of Defense announces that the USA will add 14 more ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, AK and Vandenberg AFB, CA, boosting the total number from 30 back to the 44 planned by the previous administration. At the same time, they’re re conducting Environmental Impact Studies for a potential additional GBI site in the United States.

They’re paying for this by “restructuring” the SM-3 Block 2B Next Generation Aegis Missile program, whose 2020 deployment date was never realistic (vid. April 20/12 GAO report). It’s effectively canceled.

Japan will continue to collaborate with the USA on the SM-3 Block 2A program, and they’ll get a 2nd AN/TPY-2 radar on their territory. Pentagon AFPS | Full Speech Transcript | Boeing | CS Monitor re: Russian angle.

No EPAA Phase 4

March 6/13: SAMP/T. MBDA’s SAMP/T system is operated by a joint French & Italian crew, and successfully intercepts a 300 km (short range) tactical ballistic missile target. Eurosam describes it as:

“…the first SAMP/T firing test in a NATO environment, close to what would be an operational use… [within] the alliance ALTBMD programme…. DGA sensors did provide the firing units and the command levels long-range detection data on A L16 radio network. DGA MI, in Bruz, acted as a L16 [Link-16] national C2, interfacing in L16 both with NATO BMDOC [in Ramstein, Germany], via L16 JREAP and with SAMP/T.”

The SAMP/T system is now widely deployed in France & Italy, with 15 land-based units equipped, alongside naval use of its Aster-30 missile from the countries’ Horizon Class frigates. We won’t be covering it here beyond this initial milestone, but it will be part of NATO’s missile defenses going forward. France’s DGA [in French] | Eurosam.

Feb 11/13: GAO Report. GAO-13-382R: “Standard Missile-3 Block IIB Analysis of Alternatives” throws cold water on the idea that the SM-3 Block 2B can defend the USA from bases in Poland or Romania. The geometry isn’t very good, and success may require a boost-phase intercept. Those are very tricky, and have limited range, because you have to hit the enemy missile within a very short time/ distance.

Some members of the military think it’s possible, at an initial estimated budget of $130 million extra. The problem is the tradeoffs. Liquid propellants can boost speed, but are unsafe on Navy ships due to the fire risks. On the other hand, the middle of the North Sea offers much better missile intercept geometries. Maybe Block 2B shouldn’t be land-based at all, but then why replace Block 2A in such an expensive way? MDA still needs to set the future missile’s performance requirements and limits. Where should the tradeoffs be made?

This brings us to the GAO’s point about the MDA developing the SM-3 Block IIB under a framework that dispenses with a good chunk of the usual paperwork, including an Analysis of Alternatives. On reflection, this is more than a bureaucratic point driven by “records show that programs doing the paperwork usually fare better.” One of the EPAA’s key underlying assumptions is now in question, and the proposed solution must now be in question as well. Is the best solution for land-based European missile defense still SM-3 Block IIB? What are the tradeoffs vs. using a system like the NRC’s recommended GMD-I from the USA (vid. September 2012 entry), and making Block 2B a ship-deployed missile? Does Block 2B even make sense now? Without good answers regarding capability, options, and maintainability, how does the MDA decide – or pick the right winning combination among the Block 2B competitors? A full AoA could improve those answers, and hence the odds of a smart pick.

Dec 21/12: Radar components. Raytheon IDS in Sudbury, MA receives $19.7 million for firm-fixed-price delivery order for radar components: Stabile Master Oscillator ordnance alteration kits, Radio Frequency Coherent Combiner ordnance alteration kits and associated spares, and material and installation services in support of the modernization effort on Navy ships and Aegis ashore units. This contract includes options which could bring the contract’s cumulative value to $22.9 million.

Work will be conducted in Norfolk, VA (63%); Andover, MA (27%); and Burlington, MA (10%), and is expected to be complete by June 2015. $19.7 million will be obligated at time of award. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-11-G-5116, #0020).

Dec 21/12: AA Romania. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors in Moorestown, NJ receives a $57.3 million contract modification for an Aegis Weapon System in support of DDG 116 and the purchase of material assemblies to support Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System Host Nation #1, Romania.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (85%), Clearwater, FL (14%), and Akron, OH (1%), and is expected to be complete by January 2017. All contract funds in the amount of $57,336,086 are committed immediately. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington DC manages the contract (N00024-09-C-5110).

Dec 20/12: Trainer SDD. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors (MS2), Moorestown, NJ receives a $20.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, firm-fixed-price contract for the Aegis Ashore Team Trainer. This trainer will be designed to meet the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS) individual watch station and watch team training, qualification and certification requirements. This contract will also fund information assurance requirements for the trainer, an information assurance training course, an instructor operator training course, and travel associated with the trainer’s development.

$4.7 million are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ and is expected to be complete in October 2014. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL (N61340-13-C-0007).

Dec 10/12: AA Romania. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors (MS2) in Moorestown, NJ receives a $45.9 million a contract modification for Aegis Ashore Engineering Agent engineering support and skid integration for “host nation” (which would be Romania) though “this is not a Foreign Military Sales [FMS] acquisition.” If the US military is buying it, it isn’t an FMS, even if they’re preparing to base it at a foreign location. This award raises the total contract’s value to date from $209.9 million to $255.8 million.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ through Dec 31/15, and $7.8 million FY 2013 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will get things going. The US Missile Defense Agency in Dahlgren, VA manages this contract (HQ0276-10-C-0003, PO 0044).

Nov 5/12: Networking. Boeing in Huntington Beach, CA receives a $16.7 million firm-fixed-price and time-and-material contract for gigabit ethernet data multiplex systems. They’ll be used in the DDG modernization program, new ship construction, and Aegis Ashore Systems. This contract includes options which could bring its cumulative value to $30 million.

Work will be performed in Camarillo, CA (57%), Smithfield, PA (33%), and Huntington Beach, CA (10%), and is expected to be complete by May 2015. $475,975 will expire by the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract was procured on a limited competition basis via the and Navy Electronic Commerce Online websites, with 2 proposals solicited and 2 offers received. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Dahlgren, VA manages this contract (N00178-13-C-2000).

Oct 2/12: C2 Integration. ALTBMD. NATO’s NCI announces that “Ensemble Test 2” has been successful, using NATO’s Combined Federated Battle Lab Network (CFBLNet) as a test bench. Participants included 12 laboratories from 5 Nations across 2 continents, and the systems included:

  • An Italian AN/TPS-77 transportable long range radar, built by Lockheed Martin
  • French and Italian land-based SAMP/T systems, using MBDA’s Aster-30 missile
  • Italy’s Horizon Class high-end air defense frigate, which uses the PAAMS combat system and Aster-30 missile
  • US, Dutch and German PATRIOT missile defence systems
  • A Dutch ADCF (De Zeven Provincien Class) high-end air defense frigate
  • A German SAM Operations Centre from Germany,
  • An American Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System
  • The USA’s C2BMC (Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications) system
  • The AN/TPY-2 radar that accompanies THAASD, and is part of EPAA
  • The USA’s huge Shared Early Warning System (SEW) radars
  • NATO’s Air Command and Control System (ACCS), the Air Command and Control Information Services (AirC2IS), CRC System Interface (CSI), and Interim Command and Control (ICC) system.

Firing missiles is the easy part. Having different command and control systems work together, which is required for any sort of coordinated defense, is difficult. Ensemble Test 3 is scheduled for May-June 2013. NATO NCIA.

FY 2012

NATO declares interim defensive capability; EPAA won’t really defend USA; SM-3 Block IIs may not meet EPAA schedule; Costs keep rising; Poland independent, but not out.

click for video

Sept 25/12: AA Romania. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Sudbury, MA a $43.6 million contract modification “for the production and integration of an Aegis Weapon System (AWS) and Missile Fire Control System in support of DDG 116, and an AWS in support of Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System Host Nation #1” (HN-1, i.e. Romania). Raytheon makes the AN/SPY-1 radar transmitters and MK99 FCS illuminators.

Work will be performed in Andover, MA (80%), Sudbury, MA (15%), and Portsmouth, RI (5%), and is expected to be complete by September 2017. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington DC manages the contract (N00024-09-C-5111).

Sept 14/12: AA Romania. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors in Moorestown, NJ receives an $18.5 million contract modification for the production and integration of an Aegis weapon system in support of DDG 116, and the purchase of material assemblies to support Aegis ashore missile defense system Host Nation 1 (Romania).

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (85%); Clearwater, FL (14%); and Akron, OH (1%); and is expected to complete by January 2017. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington DC manages the contract (N00024-09-C-5110).

September 2012: NRC report. The US National Research Council publishes “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives.” The report staff have deeply impressive backgrounds related to missile defense, and their main conclusion is that very fundamental reasons of geography and physics make boost-phase defense systems a waste of time.

This includes AEGIS BMD systems. The report explains very clearly that the window for stopping a warhead before it has enough energy to hit “defended” areas makes it difficult to impossible to position a ship in a place that allows even future SM-3 Block II missiles to hit their target.

It also states that EPAA Phase IV is not likely to be an effective way to defend the United States, and recommends that the USA make changes to its own GMD system and radar set. They’re not advocating the dismantling of EPAA, just saying that the USA should have a system in which EPAA is about Europe’s defense, and the USA has a system that doesn’t depend on it.

Aug 30/12: AA Kauai. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors in Moorestown, NJ gets an $8.3 million contract ceiling increase, to provide Aegis Ashore Engineering Agent (AAEA) long-lead-time materials for the complex being built at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii. This brings the total contract value from $200.1 to $209.3 million.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ through April 30/13, and $5 million in FY 2012 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will be used as initial funding. The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in Dahlgren, VA manages the contract (HQ0276-10-C-0003, PO 0038).

Aug 10/12: CRS Report. The US Congressional Research Service issues its latest update of “Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” [PDF]. Key issues highlighted or examined by Mr. O’Rourke include the cost of forward-deploying 4 destroyers to Spain, the FY 2013 budget’s proposal to slow the 2013-2020 ramp-up rate for BMD ships, the potential for European contributions to naval BMD, the inability to simulate China’s DF-21 ship-killing ballistic missile, SM-3 Block IIB risks, and concurrency and technical risk in the AEGIS BMD program generally.

With respect to the Spanish deployment (vid. Feb 16/12 entry), Rota can accommodate all of the new personnel, but infrastructure upgrades will be required. In total, the Navy estimated that it would incur approximately $166 million in up-front military construction, personnel, and maintenance costs; a small annual increase in operations and maintenance; and personnel costs of approximately $179 million – though really, you have to pay them wherever they are.

Aug 6/12: Poland fixing its “mistake”. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski states that Poland is prepared to create its own anti-aircraft and missile defense system as part of a NATO shield, at a cost of $3-6 billion. With respect to the USA’s defensive plan, which Poland hasn’t rejected yet:

“Our mistake was that by accepting the American offer of a shield we failed to take into account the political risk associated with a change of president. We paid a high political price. We do not want to make the same mistake again.”

The missile and air defense system proposed by the Polish president would target all short and some medium range missiles, just like the initial 2 stages of the EPAA. The system would be part of NATO’s broader air defense systems, as well as the emerging NATO ALTBMD Missile Defense shield. Germany and France are specifically mentioned as potential partners, and MBDA’s naval PAAMS system and Aster-30 missiles have already been converted to a land equivalent of their own. Their SAMP/T is the logical competitor if Poland wants to buy a non-American system. Its weakness is that it wouldn’t be able to grow into a counter against IRBM or ICBM missiles, but that could make it a very good complement to an American system that did. Relations with Israel are close, but David’s Sling is a joint development with Raytheon, and past American behavior has been to use its weapon export rules against potential competitors. Read “Alone, If Necessary: The Shield of Poland” for full coverage of Poland’s WISLA and NAREW air defense competitions.

June 27/12: FTM-18 test. USS Lake Erie [CG-70] with its AEGIS BMD 4.0.1 system successfully launches an SM-3 block IB missile to hit a separating ballistic missile target. This is the same configuration that will be used for the land-based Phase 2 of the USA’s European missile defense plan, and represents an important success for the SM-3 block IB after the FTM-16 failure. This firing makes the AEGIS & SM-3 combination 23/28 in intercept tests so far (82.1%), vs. 31/40 (77.5%) for all other missile defense system intercept tests. US MDA | Lockheed Martin | Raytheon.

June 7/12: AA Romania. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors (MS2) in Moorestown, NJ gets a contract ceiling increase of $9.8 million, increasing the total contract value to $197.4 million from $187.6 million. Under this modification, they’ll provide Aegis Ashore Engineering Agent Phase 2B support for the Host Nation 1 (Romania) skids and skids accessories.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ, and Akron, OH through Oct 31/13. $6.9 million in FY 2012 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will be used as incremental funding. The US Missile Defense Agency in Dahlgren, VA manages this contract (HQ0276-10-C-0003, PO 0032).

June 4/12: Aegis Ashore. URS Group, Inc. in San Antonio, TX wins a $129.5 million firm-fixed-price task order to build the Aegis Ashore test complexes in Moorestown, NJ and the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, HI.

In Moorestown, they’ll build a radar deckhouse and support building, and do related work to test the government-furnished, government-installed MK41 missile launchers. The Pacific Missile Range facility involves full site construction of a radar deckhouse, support building, launch pad, electrical power, potable water, sewer connection, synthetic natural gas system, and communications systems, in addition to testing their success in integrating government-furnished, government-installed MK41 missile launchers. The task order also contains 1 unexercised option, which, if exercised, would increase cumulative task order value to $130 million.

Work will be performed in Kauai, HI (72%), and Moorestown, NJ (28%), and is expected to be complete by November 2013. Three proposals were received for this task order by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (N62742-09-D-1174, HC02). See also Aug 24/10 entry.

May 21/12: NATO ALTBMD. NATO leaders declared that the Alliance now has an interim ballistic missile defence capability, via a basic ALTBMD command and control system capability which has been tested and installed at Headquarters Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.

At present, ALTBMD is just a C2 network. NATO members need to provide sensors and interceptors to connect to the system. Full Operational Capability isn’t expected until the end of the current decade, or the early 2020s. NATO.

ALTBMD interim capability

April 20/12: GAO report. The US GAO releases report #GAO-12-486, “Opportunity Exists to Strengthen Acquisitions by Reducing Concurrency.” The implications for missile defense belie the bland title:

“To meet the presidential 2002 direction to initially rapidly field and update missile defense capabilities as well as the 2009 announcement to deploy missile defenses in Europe, MDA has undertaken and continues to undertake highly concurrent acquisitions. Concurrency is broadly defined as the overlap between technology development and product development or between product development and production. While some concurrency is understandable, committing to product development before requirements are understood and technologies mature or committing to production and fielding before development is complete is a high-risk strategy that often results in performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, and test problems. It can also create pressure to keep producing to avoid work stoppages… During 2011, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, the Aegis Standard Missile 3 Block IB, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense experienced significant ill effects from concurrency.

…Aegis Ashore began product development and set the acquisition baseline before completing the [Preliminary Design Review]. This sequencing increased technical risks and the possibility of cost growth… The program has initiated procurement of components for the installation and plans to start fabricating two enclosures called deckhouses – one for operational use at the Romanian Aegis Ashore installation and one for testing at the Pacific Missile Range Facility – in fiscal year 2012, but does not plan to conduct the first intercept test… until fiscal year 2014. Further, the program plans to build the operational deckhouse first, meaning any design modification identified through system testing… will need to be made on an existing deckhouse and equipment. As we have previously reported, such modifications on an existing fabrication may be costly.”

March 30/12: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” for 2012. For Aegis Ashore, RDT&E costs have increased from $835.1 million in April 2010 to $1,418.6 million as of October 2011. The reconstitutable deckhouse design for the sites had not been included in its baseline, and the addition of hardware for a 3rd site in Poland also had to be paid for.

GAO sees concurrency risks from the program’s decision to begin system development before the preliminary design review, and from its plan to buy operational components before testing is done. the Navy defends their practice by saying that all of these systems are in advanced testing or deployed on Navy ships already. The program’s last milestone was a Critical Design Review in December 2011, and flight tests aren’t expected to begin before Q2 2014. The 1st “deckhouse” with radar, missiles, etc, is expected to be ready in December 2015, and the 2nd by December 2018. GAO:

“The SPY-1 radar requires modifications for its use on land and other changes may be necessary due to host nation radar frequency issues… In addition, the maturity of SM-3 Block IB may be overstated because some of its component technologies have not been flight tested or have experienced failures in testing. The multimission signal processor also faces development challenges, and the Defense Contract Management Agency has identified its schedule as high risk. We have previously reported that a significant percentage of its software still needs to be integrated.”

March 30/12: SAR. The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 31/11 includes elements of EPAA:

“Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) – Program costs decreased $3,596.4 million (-3.1%) from $122,362.6 million to $118,766.2 million, due primarily to a reduction in the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile production rate (-$1,247.2 million), the elimination of seven AN/TPY-2 radars (from 18 to 11) (-$1,237.2 million), and the placement of the Sea Based X-band (SBX) radar in limited test and contingency operation status (-$666.3 million). There were additional decreases for the reduction of three THAAD batteries (from 9 to 6) (-$540.8 million), reductions in Special Programs funding (-$408.2 million), a reduction of Aegis Standard Missile-3 Block IB missiles in FY 2013 (-$298.1 million), cancellation of the Airborne Infrared Program (-$239.3 million), and reductions in the Directed Energy Program (-$194.2 million). These decreases were partially offset by the application of revised escalation indices (+$684.8 million), increases to the Israeli Cooperative Program for FY 2011-2012 (+$217.8 million), increased construction estimates for Romania and Poland Aegis Ashore sites (+$213.0 million) [emphasis DID’s], and increases for Iron Dome in FY 2011 (+$205.0 million).”

Program costs

March 29/12: AA Romania. BAE U.S. Combat Systems in Minneapolis, MN receives a $23 million contract modification for MK 41 Vertical Launching System mechanical modules and related equipment and services for DDG 116 and Aegis Ashore, Host Nation One (Romania). Contract modification efforts includes requirements to procure MK41 VLS mechanical systems, production of support material, interim support parts, and equipment in support of DDG51-class new construction, and Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Systems requirements.

Work will be performed in Aberdeen, SD (43%); Farmingdale, NY (19%); Aiken, SC (15%); Fort Totten, ND (10%); York, PA (7%); Minneapolis, MN (5%); and Louisville, KY (1%). Work is expected to complete by September 2015. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-11-C-5301).

March 28/12: Beyond Europe? Hurriyet Daily News reports that EPAA could soon have other regional counterparts:

“The US seeks to expand its missile systems to Asia and the Middle East by building regional shields against ballistic missiles, similar to the NATO shield already in Europe. A senior Pentagon official says the Obama administration will hold talks with South Korea, Japan, Australia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Feb 23/12: AA Romania. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Sudbury, MA receives a $106.5 million modification to previously awarded contract for the production of an AN/SPY-1D-V radar transmitter group for Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System Host Nation 1 (Romania), as well as 2 AN/SPY-1D-Vs and a MK 99 Mod 14 targeting illuminator to equip the future DDG 116 destroyer.

Work will be performed in Andover, MA (80%); Sudbury, MA (15%); and Portsmouth, RI (5%), and is expected to be complete by September 2017. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contracts (N00024-09-C-5111).

Feb 18/12: Turkey(s). During meetings with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu states the TPY-2 radar based at Diyarbakir (vid. Sept 3/11) must not have any of its data sets shared beyond NATO, with a specific reference to Israel. The radar is positioned in a way that makes it easy to see into Iran, for early detection of ballistic missile launches. Voice of America | UPI.

Feb 16/12: Phase 2 ships. The US Navy announces the 4 Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyers which will be forward deployed to Rota, Spain in FY 2014 and 2015. See also DoD Buzz.

“The four include three from Norfolk, Va; USS Ross, USS Donald Cook, and USS Porter, and one from Mayport, Fla., USS Carney. The ships are in support of President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach to enhance the security of the European region… Ross and Donald Cook will arrive in fiscal 2014 and Carney and Porter in fiscal 2015.”

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

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

FY 2010 – 2011

Europe grapples with BMD; Czechs out, Turkey in; Aegis Ashore shifts the plan and the costs; Progress report.

(click to view full)

Sept 15/11: Progress report. The White House offers an update on progress made so far on its European missile defense plans. By Phase:

Phase 1: “In March of this year the USS Monterey [CG-61] was the first in a sustained rotation of ships to deploy to the Mediterranean Sea in support of EPAA. Phase One also calls for deploying a land-based early warning radar, which Turkey recently agreed to host as part of the NATO missile defense plan.”

Phase 2: “This week, on September 13, the United States and Romania signed the U.S.-Romanian Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement. Once ratified, it will allow the United States to build, maintain, and operate the land-based BMD site [and SM-3 deployment] in Romania.”

Phase 3: “Poland agreed to host the [SM-3] interceptor site in October 2009, and today, with the Polish ratification process complete, this agreement has entered into force.”

Russia: “As an initial step, NATO and Russia completed a joint ballistic missile threat assessment and agreed that the [NATO-Russia Council] would resume theater missile defense cooperation. The United States and Russia also continue to discuss missile defense cooperation through a number of high-level working groups at the State and Defense Departments.”

Sept 9/11: Aegis Ashore. The US Missile Defense Agency in Dahlgren, VA awards a $115.5 million sole source cost-plus-award-fee/ cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to Lockheed Martin MS2 in Moorestown, NJ, for continued Aegis Ashore Combat System adaptation efforts, site planning, transportation planning, technology initiatives and studies. This award of contract line item number (CLIN) 0001, and increase in the amounts for CLINs 0011 (material) and 0012 (travel), increases the total contract value to date from $61.2 million to $176.7 million.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ, through Sept 30/12. FY 2011 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used to incrementally fund this effort (HQ0276-10-C-0003, PO 0019).

Sept 2/11: Turkey in. Turkey has agreed to emplace an AN/TPY-2 early warning radar, facing Iran and linked to US Navy systems via Cooperative Engagement Capability. Turkish reports place it near Diyarbakir in SE Turkey, which also hosts Patriot missile batteries. Col. David Lapan tells Stars & Stripes that the agreement has some further required approvals to clear, but “The hope is to have it deployed by the end of this year.” Zaman Dis Haberler [in Turkish] | Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance | Stars & Stripes | Russia’s RIA Novosti.


Aug 23/11: Phase 3. Raytheon Missile Systems Co. in Tucson, AZ receives a $9.8 million sole-source, cost-plus-award-fee contract modification. The CLIN 0008 option, “Future Upgrades and Engineering Support,” will help the Missile Defense Agency execute technical analysis for the Aegis BMD 5.1/SM-3 Block IIA combination, which is critical to PAA Phase 3. Exercising CLIN 0008 increases the total contract value from $276.7 – $286.5 million.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ through Sept 30/16, and will be incrementally funded by FY 2011 research, development, test, and evaluation funds. Though the SM-3 Block IIA is a cooperative program with Japan, this is not a foreign military sales acquisition. The US MDA in Dahlgren, VA manages the contract (HQ0276-10-C-0005, PO 0015).

July 6/11: DSB Report. In an open letter, the US Defense Science Board aims to dispel impressions that they recommended against the SM-3, which by its nature is a mid-course or terminal phase interceptor:

“The DSB concluded that the Missile Defense Agency is on the right track in developing European Phased Adapted Approach (EPAA) options, including continued evolution of the SM-3 family of missiles… The DSB also examined the potential in the EPAA context for EI [Early Intercept] in regional defense against short-range missiles before threat payloads could be deployed, and concluded that this was not a viable option because of technical constraints… The fact that this form of EI is not viable in shorter-range regional applications does not imply that either SM-3 family interceptors or the EPAA concept are flawed… MDA is on the right track in pursuing this capability for national missile defense, and examining the potential application in regional defense as a function of the range of threat missiles.”

June 23/11: CRS Report. The US Congressional Research Service releases the latest update of “Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” [PDF]. Key excerpts:

“Some observers are concerned – particularly in light of the EPAA – that demands from U.S. regional military commanders for BMD-capable Aegis ships are growing faster than the number of BMD-capable Aegis ships. They are also concerned that demands from U.S. regional military commanders for… BMD operations could strain the Navy’s ability to provide regional military commanders with Aegis ships for performing non-BMD missions… MDA states that SM-3 Block IAs have a unit procurement cost of about $9 million to $10 million, that SM-3 Block IBs have an estimated unit procurement cost of about $12 million to $15 million, and that SM-3 Block IIAs have an estimated unit procurement cost of about $20 million to $24 million.”

June 15/11: Czech Republic. The Czech Republic formally abandons its proposed role in the U.S. “Phased Adaptive Approach” to missile defense. Defense Minister Alexander Vondra told visiting Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn that his country no longer wanted to participate in the American system, but would continue working within NATO on potential European defenses. Stars & Stripes.

Czech out

April 15/11: Testing. Flight Test Standard Missile-15 (FTM-15) begins to test the European Phased Adaptive Approach architecture, firing an SM-3 Block 1A missile against an intermediate-range (officially, 1,864 – 3,418 miles) target, based on AN/TPY-2 ground-based radar data, before the USS O’Kane (DDG 77, equipped with AEGIS BMD 3.6.1) could pick the target up using its own radar. Initial indications are that all components performed as designed, and the missile recorded the 21st successful AEGIS BMD intercept in 25 tries.

The target missile was launched from the Reagan Test Site, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, approximately 2,300 miles SW of Hawaii. The AN/TPY-2 radar, which is also used as part of the THAAD missile system, was located on Wake Island, and crewed by Soldiers from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. It detected and tracked the missile, then sent trajectory information to the 613th Air and Space Operations Center’s C2BMC(Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications) system at Hickam Air Force Base, HI. That was relayed to USS O’Kane, sailing to the west of Hawaii, which launched the SM-3-1A missile about 11 minutes after target take-off. O’Kane’s own AN/SPY-1 radar eventually picked up the incoming missile itself, and controlled the missile until impact.

As an important sidebar, the 2 demonstration Space Tracking and Surveillance Satellites (STSS), launched by MDA in 2009, successfully acquired the target missile, providing stereo “birth to death” tracking of the target missile.

FTM-15 was less dramatic than the 2008 satellite kill using an SM-3, but it’s equally significant. The successful full integration of ground and naval defenses, remote launch, and supplementary satellite track confirmed that EPAA Phase I, which has already deployed, works. It did so even though launch on remote track was supposed to wait for AEGIS BMD 5.1, and IRBMs were supposed to wait for SM-3 Block II. Instead, the test also combined to extend the current system’s proven capabilities, while validating the difficult connections that make a missile defense system more than the sum of its parts, and proving out an important early warning element (STSS) in the system. US MDA | Lockheed Martin | Raytheon | Lexington Institute.

April 3-18/11: The Russian Question, Take 2. Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin describes the issue of NATO-Russian missile defense cooperation as “a complicated matter, but it is not hopeless.” Nonetheless, differences run very deep. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov roiled the waters recently when he said that:

“We insist on only one thing: that we’re an equal part of [a joint missile defense arrangement]. In practical terms, that means our office will sit, for example, in Brussels and agrees on a red-button push to start an anti-missile, regardless of whether it starts from Poland, Russia or the U.K.”

It’s not 100% clear if he meant veto power over launches, though it certainly sounds that way. In response, Sen. Mark Kirk [R-IL] sent a letter to President Obama, co-signed by 38 Republican senators. Excerpt:

“In our view, any agreement that would allow Russia to influence the defense of the United States or our allies, to say nothing of a “red button” or veto, would constitute a failure of leadership… ask for your written assurances that your Administration will not provide Russia with any access to sensitive U.S. data, including early warning, detection, tracking, targeting, and telemetry data, sensors or common operational picture data, or American hit-to-kill missile defense technology…”

They’re not likely to get those things, but it’s a warning shot that any agreement along these lines would face a Senate backlash, and become a 2012 election issue. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also poured cold water on the concept, saying “We are thinking about two systems – one NATO’s and one Russian – that will cooperate and exchange information to make us more secure.” Bloomberg re: Lavrov | Agence France Presse | right-wing Heritage Foundation | Russia’s ITAR-TASS | Moscow Times re: NATO | The Telegraph (UK) | Voice of Russia re: Rogozin | AEI’s Weekly Standard (incl. full text of Senators’ letter).

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

“In 2010, MDA was able to meet or exceed its delivery goals for several MDA activities, such as missile defense upgrades to Aegis ships… MDA finalized a new process in which detailed baselines were set for several missile defense systems… [but] GAO found its unit and life-cycle cost baselines had unexplained inconsistencies… DOD has not fully implemented a management process that synchronizes European missile defense acquisition activities and ensures transparency and accountability. Without key management and oversight processes, there is a limited basis for oversight, and there is a risk that key components will start production before demonstrating system performance… GAO makes 10 recommendations for MDA to strengthen its resource, schedule and test baselines, facilitate baseline reviews, and further improve transparency and accountability. GAO is also making a recommendation to improve MDA’s ability to carry out its test plan. In response, DOD fully concurred with 7 recommendations. It partially concurred with 3…”

Feb 7/11: Turkey. With Turkey seen to be demurring on proposals to host one or more American AN/TPY-2 radars, as part of a European missile defense shield, US Senators Jon Kyl [R-AZ], James Risch [R-ID], Mark Kirk [R-IL] and James Inhofe [R-OK] have sent a joint letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, asking him to consider Georgia as one of several potential alternate hosts.

Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister David Dzhalagania says the country has not formulated a concrete position, but thinks the proposal is interesting. The very thing that makes it interesting to Georgia – a major US asset that America would feel compelled to protect if hostilities begin again with Russia – is also the potential down-side to its placement in that country. On the other hand, a radar there would be very well positioned to monitor Iran. Civil Georgia | Georgia’s The Messenger | Russia’s RIA Novosti.

Dec 27/10: AA Kauai. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors in Moorestown, NJ receives a $65.6 million contract modification for production of the Aegis Weapon System, tooling, test equipment, and associated technical services for the Aegis Ashore test site at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (87%), and Clearwater, FL (13%), and is expected to be complete by October 2014. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-09-C-5110).

Nov 3/10: AA Kauai. Black & Veatch Special Projects Corp. in Overland Park, KS receives a $6.5 million for firm-fixed price Task Order under an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for architect-engineer services in support of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. They’ll prepare plans, specifications, cost estimates for design-bid-build requests for proposal contract documents, and other related services for FY 2011.

Work will be performed in Barking Sands, Hawaii, and is expected to be complete by June 2011. One proposal was received for this task order by NAVFAC Hawaii in Pearl Harbor, HI (W912GB-09-D-0062, SR02).

Aug 24/10: AA Kauai. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors (LM MS2) in Moorestown, NJ, is being awarded a sole-source, not-to-exceed $69.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee letter contract to serve as the “Aegis Ashore” Engineering Agent. In accordance with the AA Program of Record. Contract finalization is expected to be complete by Nov 19/10. The work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ, and the performance period is from August 2010 through April 2011.

This project is part of a $278 million program to increase missile testing on Kauai. LM MS2 will provide the engineering and necessary material to support the design of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex; the deployment sites; the integration of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS) into the removable deckhouse; the installation, test and checkout of the AAMDS at these sites; and initial site maintenance and logistics support during site transfer to the lead service. This unfinalized contract will allow LM MS2 to assist in the development of the Aegis Ashore Combat System (AACS) requirements, to include supporting program planning, element capability specification, and concept of operations development. LM MS2 will begin the AACS adaptation, design efforts associated with the configuration of the AAMDS in the removable structure, and designing the enclosures for transport.

LM MS2 will begin those activities associated with validation and verification of the deckhouse requirements and will facilitate system requirements review in September 2010, and system design review in January 2011. FY 2010 Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds will be utilized to obligate $10.1 million for this effort. The Missile Defense Agency manages this contract (HQ0276-10-C-0003). See also Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

April 1/10: SAR. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009:

“Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) – Program costs decreased $10,068.9 million (-9.7%) from $102,912.4 million to $92,843.5 million, due primarily to the following: cancellation of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Multiple Kill Vehicle Program (-$5,304.2 million); cancellation of the Airborne Laser Program (-$2,634.7 million); elimination of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System follow-on constellation (-$1,972.0 million); transition of the sensor content to procurement (-$1,223.7 million); general infrastructure reductions (-$1,216.7 million); revised estimates for special classified programs (-$1,155.4 million); application of revised escalation indices (-$1,169.1 million); reduced Ground-Based Interceptor inventory due to the change of European site architecture (-$88.0 million); and infrastructure reductions (-$1,216.7 million). These decreases were partially offset by the change in European architecture to Aegis Ashore (+$2,493.5 million) [emphasis DID’s] and the consolidation of targets and revised Integrated Master Test Plan (+$1,646.4 million). In addition, procurement costs of $9,520.3 million, which were previously excluded from the SAR due to its pre-Milestone B Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E)-only status pursuant to section 2432 of title 10, United States Code, were added as an adjustment to the program in accordance with Congressional direction. RDT&E and Military Construction (MILCON) costs of $14,340.1 million were also added as adjustments to reflect the addition of two years to this program, which is considered Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) limited and has been allowed to add two years of cost to the program with each biennial budget. These adjustments are not considered to represent cost growth.”

Program costs

Dec 7/09: Europe BMD. Aviation Week notes several undercurrents involved in discussions around Europe’s missile defense.

One is “consequences of intercept,” which are certainly less than the consequences of a missile strike, but could well fall outside the launching country. Another is the compressed time frames, which means authority will reside in the commander – who will that be, and where will that commander be based?

A 3rd question is how the proposed SM-3 phases mesh with European NATO plans, including NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) program command and control hub, and proposed land-based radars. Which are going to be an issue all their own, since the system requires them, and the American TPY-2s may not be the only players. Finally, there’s the question of whether European navies will join the program, which would further blue the question of whether this is an American system with NATO ancillaries, or a NATO system with American assets.

Nov 17/09: Early intercept. Northrop Grumman announces a 3-month $4.7 million task order from the US Missile Defense Agency, under an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity Joint National Integration Center Research and Development Contract. Under the Sept 29/09 task order, the firm will help the MDA integrate and demonstrate an early-intercept capability using existing SM-3 and GBI missiles. This kind of capability is especially relevant for forward-based SM-3s.

The Early Intercept effort aims to address renewed focus by the U.S. Department of Defense on dealing with large raids and countermeasures. Early Intercept will demonstrate an integrated architecture of early warning sensors, including space, airborne, land and sea; regional fire control and battle manager systems; and secure communications. This integrated architecture will enable current systems to engage threats earlier in the battle space to improve protection against large raids and facilitate “shoot-look-shoot” opportunities.

Northrop Grumman will begin by assessing existing sensor and battle management systems’ ability to support missile interception in the difficult boost phase, including technology developed for programs like the now-canceled Kinetic Energy Interceptor and battle management projects. The firm will plan demonstration experiments, leading toward the design and development of an experimental, plug-and-play architecture for battle management, command and control.

FY 2008 – 2009

Israeli interest in land-based SM-3; EPAA plan unveiled.

SM-3 launch from CG 70
(click to view full)

Sept 17/09: Plan B – EPAA. The Obama administration announces revised plans for its European missile defense architecture. Instead of positioning Boeing’s Ground-Based Interceptors, which could intercept even the longest-range ballistic missiles, they choose an architecture based around the SM-3.

According to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright, the new plan begins with the current deployment of Patriot PAC-3 point defense systems in Europe, which may be adjusted. Those adjustments will bear watching, as early indicators of seriousness.

  • In 2011, the US Navy is expected to have naval SM-3 Block 1A missiles and ships fully in place, on an expanded fleet of BMD-capable ships versus the 2 Atlantic Fleet destroyers available today. Unfortunately, naval SM-3 Block 1 missiles cannot cover the Czech Republic at all, and can offer only limited coverage for Poland. This will be the only option until 2015, which is beyond the Obama administration’s current term of office.

  • 2015 would see progress on 2 fronts. One is SM-3 Block 1B missiles, and an improved AEGIS BMD system that will expand the range of coverage for American ships. The other would be land-based SM-3s in an easily-deployable configuration, based in Europe, instead of the longer-range Boeing Ground Based Interceptors. Political support for that land-based deployment is likely to become a political flash point, again.

  • The final iteration would take place in 2018 or so, with deployment of the much larger SM-3 Block II missile, on ships and (if deployments have been accepted) on shore. Gen. Cartwright stated that no more than 3 SM-3 Block II locations would be able to cover all of Europe, but cautions that it’s an earlier-stage R&D effort, with all the expected implications for dates and certainty of capabilities.

Cartwright and Gates also added several additional considerations that affected their decision. One was Russian concerns about having large X-band BMD radars that could peer deeply into Russia. By using shorter-range, directional TPY-2 radars deployed in the Caucasus, Iranian aggression can also be hedged without covering Russia so deeply – something that allies like Poland may not necessarily see as a plus. The other, more significant Russian concern was that the GBI missile was powerful enough to be fitted with a nuclear warhead, and become an offensive MRBM with very low warning time. American denials did little to dissuade the Russians, since one must plan on the basis of capabilities rather than intent. That concept becomes technically ridiculous with an SM-3, removing that issue from the table.

Another issue for the USA was cost and flexibility. Gen. Cartwright cited a cost-per-missile of $3.3 million for a Patriot PAC-3, about $9 million for THAAD v1, $9.5-10 million for SM-3 Block I, about $13-15 million estimated for SM-3 Block II… and $70 million for the GBI interceptors. In a global environment that was seeing rapid growth of medium-range offensive missiles, that cost disparity had implications for strategic flexibility, as well as budgets. According to Gates and Cartwright, the GBI deployment was really designed to deal with 3-5 incoming intercontinental missiles, rather than larger salvos of medium-range missiles that are now possible. GBI is also silo-based and so immobile, as opposed to mobile ships and redeployable land-based SM-3s. The question is whether the USA will actually increase its planned buys of SM-3 in response, something that Information Dissemination’s report suggests hasn’t really been thought through yet. The US Navy’s next 5-year budget plan will tell the tale.

With that cost and architecture change comes a 3rd consideration: greater capacity for allied burden-sharing. Several other nations deploy and will deploy AEGIS ships that could be upgraded to SM-3 BMD capability, including Japan (Kongo class, being upgraded), South Korea (KDX-III), Spain and Australia (F100), plus the non-AEGIS F124 frigates fielded by Germany and the Netherlands. The SM-3 missile has already been exported, and could easily be exported more widely. Gen. Cartwright cited the potential for development of a common architecture linking land and naval systems, which would be deployed in Europe, Asia, Israel, and elsewhere. The architecture is being developed to incorporate non-American systems, and Israel’s IAI/Boeing Arrow was specifically cited. Gates added that talks along these lines had begun with Arab Gulf states, who are already developing their own missile defense preparations based on regional command and control systems, Patriot missiles, and possibly THAAD and MBDA’s comparable Aster-30 SAMP/Ts.

Meanwhile, THAAD missiles are still scheduled to deploy to Europe in 2009, as part of operational testing, and the system is still planned for roll-out as the Army’s area-defense weapon. The USA is also still interested in adding 2-stage capability to its GMD/GBI interceptors in Alaska and California, in order to improve their speed and increase their range. The big winner in these changes, however, is unquestionably Raytheon’s SM-3. Pentagon: Gates/ Cartwright press conference | Pentagon: DoD/ Czech MoD press conference | Aviation Week | Aviation Week Ares | Defense Tech called it early | Information Dissemination | Lexington Institute.

Switch to EPAA

August 18/09: Onto land. In a presentation at the 2009 Space and Missile Defense Conference & Exhibition in Huntsville, AL, Raytheon announces that it is developing a land-based system SM-3 system that would work with THAAD’s Raytheon-made AN/TPY-2 long range radar, and could be ready as early as 2013.

The presentation states that this solution could provide Israel a near-term solution to counter ballistic missiles from Iran, given the deployment of TPY-2 radars in Israel by the US government. It is also reportedly under consideration for use in Europe as the missile component of planned deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic.

It’s no accident that this comes just as Boeing announces a “mobile GMD” proposal for Europe by 2015, and Lockheed Martin has gone farther by submitting a modified THAAD proposal to the US Missile Defense Agency for consideration in the 2011 budget. Lockheed Martin has already invested privately funded R&D into a 21″ wide THAAD variant that would nearly double the Army interceptor missile’s range. Current SM-3s are 13.5″ in diameter, current THAADs are 14.5″, and the proposed SM-3 Block II being developed in partnership with Japan will also be 21″ in diameter. It would appear that a competition for the forward-deployed theater defense role may be brewing. Arutz Sheva | Reuters | Aviation Week re: shifts in doctrine | Aviation Week re: THAAD | Jerusalem Post re: Boeing’s “mobile GBI”.

April 27/09: Study. Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has started studying a new missile defense system capable of launching the Standard Missile-3 from the ground.

Aug 4/09: Study. Colin Clark of DOD Buzz publishes a short video interview with Raytheon VP of advanced missile defense and directed energy Mike Booen. The interview took place at the 2009 Paris Air Show, and the topic is the $50 million FY 2010 US military budget request to study land-based SM-3 deployment.

July 17/08: Israel. Aviation Week reports that the US Missile Defense Agency is considering a land-based variant of the SM-3 Standard missile, at Israel’s request:

“SM-3 prime contractor Raytheon is examining a range of options — including a moveable, but not highly mobile, system that could fill Israel’s needs. Very few modifications would be needed for the missile and some tweaks would be required in the command and control system. The system would employ the same vertical launch modules, in an eight-pack configuration, used in the Aegis ship-based system.”

Appendix A: EPAA – The Rationale for The Switch

GBI Missile loading
(click to view full)

When it was first announced in 2009, land-based deployment of SM-3 missiles was seen as a political move. That’s partly true. The proposed GBI missile is so powerful that it could be fitted with a nuclear warhead, and become a serviceable MRBM itself. This made Russia very uneasy. Then, too, a massive American investment in fixed site deployments, in countries that could cave in to pressure and ask the USA to leave later on, was both politically and financially problematic.

There’s also a valid military rationale in the European theater for replacing the longer-range Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system used in the USA itself, with the shorter-range and seemingly less-capable SM-3. The bottom line is more missiles, in semi-mobile locations. SM-3 missiles cost about 80% less than GMD’s GBI missiles, and the ground-based infrastructure of adapted Mk.41 vertical launchers and mobile radars is also less expensive than GMD’s full multi-silo complex and fixed radar. Now throw in the ability to move those assets once they’re built, and to quickly bulk up defenses using similar systems deployed at sea. That’s very useful against an enemy who is building a lot of MRBM/IRBM missiles, and could easily use a mass rush offense to overwhelm limited numbers of GBI interceptors – possibly coupled with terrorist operations against their fixed GMD launch complexes.

All of the rationales regarding mobile options vs. fixed sites evaporated when the US MDA switched to the Aegis Ashore configuration, which shares all of the same drawbacks inherent to fixed GMD deployments. The cost benefits remain intact, however, and so does the rationale for deploying more missiles in theater.

Meanwhile, the switch had political costs. Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are out of range for naval SM-3 Block 1 coverage, and would require too many THAAD batteries on land. That had prompted the push for GBI missiles, and those governments had held firm in the face of domestic political controversy. The USA’s revised plans dealt them a political setback, and delayed meaningful local missile defenses until around 2015 or later. The shift was somewhat jarring, and the Czech Republic subsequently dropped out of US missile defense plans. In 2012, Poland followed with a declaration that it would deploy its own parallel system.

Israel’s Possible Rationales

Arrow test concept
(click to view full)

Statements from Raytheon indicated that Israel was already doing research into a land-based SM-3, despite its existing Patriot PAC-2 GEM+ and Arrow-2 architecture. In the end, however, Israel maintained of its focus on an improved “Arrow-3” interceptor, and America agreed to support that program in the FY 2010 budget. Those developments leave dim odds for land-based SM-3s in Israel.

The question is why they were interested in the first place. Several possibilities exist that might justify an Israeli desire to retain an active Arrow missile fleet, and still deploy the SM-3s.

One is the naval defense option. While Israel has apparently decided on a different direction, its proposed LCS-I frigates would have possessed the ability to fire SM-3 missiles, and their proposed MEKO derivatives might still have that if they’re equipped with strike-length Mk. 41 VLS launchers. The Arrow missile has not been integrated with the Mk.41 VLS, and the program has not described navalization plans.

The 2nd possible justification for an Israeli SM-3 buy revolves around and command-and-control developments. Like the LCS-I, any new Israeli frigates firing an SM-3 would need to link to an anti-ballistic capable radar for guidance. Israel already fields ABM-capable land radars like its “Green Pine” system, and the USA has reportedly moved manned AN/TPY-2 THAAD radars into Israel as additional insurance against a Second Holocaust perpetrated by Iran. Linkage of a naval missile’s guidance to those kinds of land platforms would involve many of the same modifications required by a fully land-launched and controlled SM-3, and statements by America’s General Cartwright say that the USA’s land-based anti-missile command and control systems that will work with land-based SM-3s, are also being developed to include the Arrow.

The 3rd possible justification is range. The SM-3 boasts a range about 5x longer than the Arrow-2, at 300 miles vs. 50-60 miles. A tripartite system of SM-3, Arrow-2, and Patriot missiles would effectively offer the 3 layered tiers required by a country of Israel’s size: national defense/ first line of defense, defense of key regions/ second shot, and defense of specific sites/ final attempt.

Fourth, deployment would coincide with a growing shift in the USA to focus on “ascent-phase intercept” of medium (MRBM) and intermediate-range (IRBM) missiles. If the launchers are deployed close enough to the firing missile, interceptions become possible sometime between the boost and mid-course phases during entry into space, right before the target missile can begin deploying decoys. The Middle East’s compressed distances are a threat, due to low warning times and the resulting hair-triggers. They might also be an opportunity.

Finally, the SM-3 is an active production item for the USA and Japan, which leverages the infrastructure created by a large-scale, full-rate production set of programs. This means that SM-3s can be produced far faster than additional Arrow missiles. If developments in Iran are leading Israel to conclude that it needs to deploy many more theater-range defensive missiles within a short period of time, the THAAD and Arrow programs are unlikely to be able to handle that request due to the stage they’re at, and the industrial framework around them. That would leave the SM-3 as Israel’s only realistic rapid plus-up option.

In the end, as noted above, Israel decided to improve its Arrow system and create the Arrow-3, with funding assistance from the USA. The country clearly considers ballistic missile defense to be a strategic technology capability, has yet to purchase ships that would make naval SM-3 deployment possible, and have already spent the money to integrate the Arrow system with Israel’s air defense architecture. The SM-3’s land-based progress will happen elsewhere.

Additional Readings Background: EPAA Systems

Official Reports

News & Views

  • Breaking Defense (Oct 17/13) – Why Russia Keeps Moving The Football On European Missile Defense: Politics. “Ironically, moving the technology further away from Russian borders could increase the potential for its successful use against Russian missiles. So, whether or not Russian technical concerns could ever really be assuaged must be questioned.”

  • Commentary Magazine (December 2009) – The Missile Defense Betrayal. The revised European missile defense plan was not universally well-received on the political front, with many conservatives sharply critical. Commentary Magazine’s article includes coverage of the political dynamics at work in Poland and the Czech Republic.

  • Lexington Institute (Nov 5/09) – Aegis Ashore: The Navy’s New Missile Defense Mantra.

Categories: News

Brazil orders C4ISR system for marines | Saab targets Gripen C/D sales in Europe & Africa | China tests new missile in response to THAAD

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 04:00

  • The US Navy has awarded Rolls Royce a $78.7 million contract to provide logistical and engineering support for originally manufactured engines on the KC-130J tanker aircraft. Under the contract, aircraft in use by the US Marine Corp as well as the government of Kuwait will be affected. The work will primarily be completed in Indianapolis, with smaller contracts spread through other states, as well as Japan and Kuwait. The project is expected to be completed by May 2022.

  • Elbit Systems has received a contract from the Brazilian marine corps to provide the service with an advanced C4ISR electronic warfare and communications system. Valued at $40 million, the C4ISR has Battle Management Systems application, C41 systems for artillery units, and advance EW capabilities. It can be mounted on vehicles such as tanks and armored personnel vehicles, and is integrated with command centers. The procurement of the system comes as the Brazilian marine corp transition to the doctrine of Network Centric Warfare—a high-technology concept that integrates command-and-control, logistics, targeting and navigational information, and communications into one system. Work on the contract will be performed over the next two years.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Turkey’s Undersecretary for Defence Industries (SSM) has signed a deal with the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) for the supply and deliver of 52 Super Mushshak trainers to the Turkish armed forces. The deal was one of three bilateral defense agreements signed between Turkay and Pakistan with the second being a letter-of-intent (LoI) for the sale of four MILGEM corvettes for the Pakistan Navy and the third a LoI for fresh collaboration between PAC and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). The contracts were inked on the second day of this year’s IDEF 2017 exhibition in Istanbul.


  • Sweden’s Saab is looking to finalize a number of near-term sales of the C and D variants of its JAS-39 Gripen fighter. Upcoming competitions in Botswana, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, have all been targeted as potential clients for the C/D models, which if agreements are reached, will boost sales and ensure the continuation of the Gripen’s production line into the future. Of the three countries, Bulgaria is the closest to moving forward with a deal, after its government announced Saab as the preferred option for its MiG-29 replacement program. Slovakia have been in negotiations with Saab since 2015, while in Botswana, a Gripen package is facing off against an offering from Korea Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) FA-50—the fighter version of its T-50 trainer.

  • Leonardo and the UK government have reached an agreement to develop the next generation of decoy counter-measures for fighter aircraft. The firm will partner with the British Royal Air Force’s Rapid Capability Office—an office created to bring new technologies to UK warfighters—and will use Leonardo’s BriteCloud EAD technology for the development of new expendable active decoys. BriteCloud is a second-generation, radar jamming decoy that uses enhanced on-board jamming techniques. It can be deployed from a standard chaff and flare dispenser, and draws an incoming missile away from the targeted aircraft.

  • In a world first, Airbus has successfully completed the first test of its automatic air-to-air refueling (AAR) contact system. During the flight, the company’s A330 MRTT demonstrator was successfully steered into the receptacle of a Portuguese air force F-16 using image processing software that the company has been developing for more than a year. As many as six contacts were made over a 75 minute period, at 25,000 feet and 270 knots. The AAR system requires no additional equipment on the receiver and could be introduced on current production A330MRTTs as soon as 2019.

Asia Pacific

  • Amid rising tensions and sabre-rattling in the region, China has announced that it has successfully tested a new missile, launching it into the waters of the Bohoi Gulf, near the Korean peninsula. While the Ministry of National Defense did not mention the new missile by name, analysts believe that it could be the DF-26—an intermediate missile capable of sinking warships, including US aircraft carriers. The test comes a month after Beijing said that is would respond to the deployment of the US THAAD system in South Korea by continuing to test new types of weapons under conditions simulating actual combat. China’s opposition to THAAD comes from the allegation that its radars are capable of peering deep into China, allowing the US and its allies to better detect rocket launches and aircraft movements.

  • Israel Weapon Industries and Indian private sector firm Punj Lloyd have began a venture to jointly produce a variety of small arms from the Israeli firearm manufacturer’s product line, of which some are for use by Indian armed forces. Known as Punj Lloyd Raksha Systems (PLR), the new venture is the first private manufacturer of small arms in India that produces equipment for both use by the Indian defense forces and for export, and is expected to take a sizeable portion of India’s $5 billion small firearms market. IWI-designed weapons to be manufactured at the plant include the Tavor carbine, X95 assault rifle, the Galil sniper rifle, and Negev light machine gun. The foundation of the venture also comes as New Delhi faces an immediate requirement for 66,000 assault rifles, with a total requirement is 250,000, and it’s expected that in the next two months, an assault rifle tender worth an estimated $1 billion will be released by the Indian Army.

Today’s Video 

Categories: News

The C-130J: New Hercules & Old Bottlenecks

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 03:59

RAAF C-130J-30, flares
(click to view full)

The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?

C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.

The (Private) Labors of Hercules: the C-130J Family

C-130J Hercules
(click to view full)

Most American planes rely on their huge home market as their base, then seek exports. The privately-developed C-130J “Super Hercules” was different. Australia, Britain, Denmark, and Italy were all ahead of the curve, and have been operating this heavily redesigned upgrade of the popular C-130 Hercules transport aircraft for several years. By the time the C-130J finally reached “initial operating capability” for the US military late in 2006, these faster-moving foreign customers were already banding together to create a common upgrade set for their serving fleets. A number of variants are currently flying in transport (C-130J), stretched transport (C-130J-30), aerial broadcaster (EC-130J), coast guard patrol (HC-130J), aerial tanker (KC-130J), special forces (MC-130J), and even hurricane hunter weather aircraft (WC-130J).

The C-130J looks a lot like its predecessors, except for the new 6-bladed Dowty propeller. In reality, a number of changes have been made to its construction and components, and its internal systems are almost wholly new. Unlike most defense programs, however, the C-130J was not a government contract. Lockheed Martin spent almost $1 billion of its own funds developing the update, then began selling it in the USA and abroad.

Base Platform: The C-130J

Super Hercules Promo
click to play video

The C-130J’s improvements are mostly clustered around 2 key characteristics: performance, and operational costs. Instead of Rolls Royce 4,600 shp T56 Series III turboprop engines, it uses lighter Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 engines, coupled with a 6-blade Dowty R-391 propeller system made of composite materials. The overall system generates 29% more thrust, while increasing fuel efficiency by 15% and offering improved reliability and maintenance. Compared to the 1960s-era C-130E (note: there was an intermediate C-130H version), maximum speed is up 21%, climb-to-altitude time is down 50%, cruising altitude is 40% higher, and range is about 40% longer.

The enhanced capacity of the “J” variant is especially noteworthy in hot climates and/or high altitude operations, where the new plane can deliver 40% better payload/range performance than earlier versions. US experience in places like Afghanistan and Iraq indicates that as many as 3 C-130H models may be required to do the job of 1 C-130J in these “hot and high” conditions.

C-130J Cockpit
(click to view full)

The C 130J only requires 2-3 crew members for most missions instead of 4, and avionics have been changed to incorporate more advanced capabilities into the night-vision-system compatible “glass cockpit” (computer screens, not dials) and heads-up display. A pair of mission computers and 2 backup bus interface units provide dual redundancy. Equally important, they host an integrated diagnostics system to assist with maintenance and reduce long-term ownership costs.

The interior of the C-130J has also seen a number of improvements, simplifying and automating key cargo tasks. An automated airdrop system, for instance, delivers parachute loads more precisely. These kinds of additions have dropped the crew required for airdrops from 4 to 2 (pilot, co-pilot). In addition, innovations such as flip-over rollers allow loaders to reconfigure the cargo area in about 5 minutes instead of the traditional 25, getting planes out of airstrips quickly and maximizing overall loading/unloading efficiency during larger operations.

An optional dorsal aerial refueling system can extend the C-130J’s range significantly, while optional aerial taker kits can convert the C-130J into a flying gas station that offloads fuel faster than previous KC-130 versions, and can handle both helicopters and jets due to its range of flight speeds.

Finally, the C-130J Maintenance and Aircrew Training System (MATS) is designed to complement the C-130J, adding a high-tech simulation angle to both flying and maintenance training.

The worldwide fleet of C-130Js exceeded 355,000 flight hours As of August 3/07.

C-130J vs. C-130J-30
via CASR
(click to view full)

The stretched C-130J-30 adds 15 feet of fuselage length over its C-130J counterpart, most of which is placed forward of the wing as the plane stretches from 97’9″ (29.3 m) to 112’9″ (34.69 m). The extra cargo space allows it to add adds 2 standard pallets (to 8), 23 litters (to 97), 8 CDS bundles (to 24), 36 combat troops (to 128), or 28 paratroopers (to 92) over C-130H/J models, and the aircraft’s maximum weight increases by 9,000 pounds (to 164,000 pounds/ 74,393 kg).

Maximum allowable cargo payload rises by a ton over the C-130J, from 42,000 pounds to 44,000 pounds/ 19,958 kg); the 36,000 pound maximum normal C-130J-30 payload is 2,000 pounds higher than the C-130J, but 500 pounds lower than the C-130H’s 36,500 pounds. Even so, the extra space comes in handy. C-130J-30s can carry 33% more pallets of equipment or supplies, 39% more combat troops, 31% more paratroopers, or 44% more aeromedical evacuation litters than previous unstretched Hercules versions. The stretched C-130J-30 also shares the C-130J’s ability to use much more of its theoretical cargo capacity in hot or high altitude environments than previous C-130 versions.

In exchange, the stretched C-130J-30 suffers a speed drop of 7 mph (410 mph at 22,000 feet) vs. the C-130J, a 2,000 foot lower ceiling (26,000 feet with full payload), and maximum range at full payload that falls by 115 miles to 1,956 miles. It does outshine the smaller C-130J when carrying only 35,000 pounds of cargo, however: its 2,417 miles is a 576 mile increase over the C-130J, and a 921 mile increase over the C-130H.

Note that except for maximum normal payload, all of the C-130J’s figures remain significantly better than the C-130H, with statistics of 366 mph cruise speed at 22,000 feet, a 23,000 foot ceiling, and range at maximum normal payload of 1,208 miles.

C-130J Variants

As one might imagine, Special Forces variants are undergoing the most change, but the platform’s versatility is also pushing Lockheed Martin toward an advanced naval variant.

AC-130J “Ghostrider”. This new gunship will be based on the MC-130J, but it won’t carry hose-and-drogue refueling pods. It will have a 400 Amp power supply, added defensive systems, more surveillance sensors, terrain-following radar, and a Precision Strike Package (PSP).

The PSP includes a side-firing 30mm GAU-23A chain gun, wing-mounted GBU-39 GPS-guided SDB-I bombs, and laser-guided AGM-176 Griffin missiles launched from a “Gunslinger” attachment on the rear cargo door. It may eventually add a side-firing 105mm howitzer like existing AFSOC AC-130H/Us, and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles like the USMC’s KC-130J Harvest Hawks, but those aren’t currently funded. These weapons will be controlled from a dual-console Mission Operator Pallet in the cargo bay, which will include multiple video, data, and communication links.

Ghostrider surveillance equipment will include 2 day/night surveillance and targeting pods and a ground-looking synthetic aperture radar pod, tied into the pilot’s helmet-mounted display. Defensive systems will include the AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver, AN/AAR-47(V)2 missile warning system, and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system, along with standard options like fuel tank foam, system redundancy, and some armoring.

One sore point is its comparative lack of armor compared to the AC-130H/U, with no armoring for the Mission Operator Pallet and just 7.62mm level protection elsewhere. Most AC-130s brought down in Vietnam were killed by 37mm guns.

HC/MC-130J Increment 1. Modifications include additional defensive countermeasure dispensers, high-altitude ramp and door hydraulics, a 4th flight deck crew member station, an extra intercom panel and 60-Hertz electrical outlets in the cargo compartment.

HC/MC-130J Increment 2. Includes increased 28-volt direct current internal power capacity, crash-worthy loadmaster scanner-position seats, and provisions for Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures defensive systems. This is as high as the HC-130J Combat King IIs are expected to go, though they’ll also receive a T-1 communications modification with a Specialized Automated Mission Suite/Enhanced Situational Awareness system (SAMS/ESA: SADL data link, High Power Waveform, and Air Force Tactical Radio System-Ruggedized), Blue Force Tracker, and the Joint Precision Airdrop System.

HC/MC-130J Increment 3. Includes a 400 Amp power supply, dual special mission processors, and a secure file server. MC-130J Commando IIs will be improved to Increment 3.

SC-130J Sea Herc

SC-130J MPRA. A proposed maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, created by moving a number of P-3 Orion systems onto and into the C-130J. A Magnetic Anomaly Detector boom is installed in the tail for submarine detection, along with a sonobuoy storage pallet and 2 rotary launchers in the rear interior. A day/night surveillance turret goes under the nose, a 360 maritime radar is mounted under the fuselage, and ESM electronics for pinpointing and geolocating radars, communications, etc. are mounted via on wingtip pods and fore and aft fuselage points. A set of roll-in console modules would contain the necessary electronics and screens to manage it all.

Countries that wanted to go beyond surveillance would push further development to add wing hardpoints for torpedoes and missiles, and/or a weapons bay and torpedo racks in the front fuselage.

C-130J operator Britain is Lockheed Martin’s biggest SC-130J target, and the plane’s flexibility could appeal to others who see the value in fleet commonality and good mid-range performance, with easier upgradeability than standard MPAs. The downside is that the C-130J is designed for short-field performance first, and efficient cruising operation second. That will make it expensive to operate compared to smaller twin-engine competitors, which are typically derived from commercial light cargo and passenger aircraft. The Airbus ATR-72 MPA is an example of a larger competitor that also follows this pattern; ATRs have won significant share in the mid-range regional airline market on the strength of their operating efficiency.

The Value of Variants

KC-130J’s “gunslinger”
(click to view full)

These variants and kits give the C-130J an edge in the global market, and will help Lockheed Martin retain that edge as the 20-ton tactical transport market starts to get crowded in 2020 or so. The type’s strong Special Forces niche has already helped to close orders with export clients like India, who could easily have chosen additional orders of plane types already in its fleet (AN-32, IL-76). The second big edge for the platform is a related niche: multi-role armed transports that can deliver troops and supplies, then provide close-air support for counterinsurgency fights. The KC-130J’s Harvest HAWK kits, and C-130H-derived MC-130W Dragon Spear, offer prospective customers an important set of clip-on capabilities that none of its major competitors (A400M, KC-390, MRTA) are even designing, let alone fielding. The SC-130J maritime patrol option could become a similar kind of selling point.

Those “ecosystem strengths” are going to become more important in future. The C-130XJ, unveiled in December 2011 at the Credit Suisse aerospace and defense conference in New York, NY, may not offer enough savings by itself to prompt orders from target customers like South Africa. A cheaper base aircraft, plus existing modifications available on the market, is more appealing. Likewise, the C-130NG could sell among existing C-130J customers, but its changes by themselves might still leave it lagging behind the price of low-cost turboprop options like China’s Y-9, behind the performance of new jet-powered rivals like Embraer’s multinational KC-390 and HAL/Irkut’s MRTA, and very much behind the capacity of Airbus’ larger A400M.

The existence of clip-on kits and proven specialty variants may have to sell it, instead. Especially if the C-130NG also fails to resolve the biggest limitation in today’s medium tactical transport field…

Turbulent Flight: The C-130J Program

(click to view full)

The privately-developed Hercules variant has been the subject of heavy criticism and a 2005 near-death budget experience, followed by its reinstatement by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on the stated grounds that canceling the contract would be almost as expensive as completing it – though a later government report established that its cancellation costs were wildly overstated.

In order to comply with the FY 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, however,Air Force Print News reported that the C-130J contract was converted from the existing commercial item procurement to a traditional military procurement in FY 2006. In technical terms, it was converted from a Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12 to an FAR Part 15 contract, which includes much more extensive Congressional oversight and cost reporting requirements. In bottom line terms, this involved repricing 39 aircraft, resulting in net savings anywhere from $170-245 million (reports vary). Under the restructured contract, the Air Force said Lockheed cut the program cost by 8% for the remaining 26 Air Force C-130Js, and nearly 12% for 13 Marine KC-130Js.

The Wall Street Journal reported this as a decision by Lockheed Martin to cut its profit margins on the plane, after investing $1 billion in private funds to develop it. Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky was quoted as saying that “national defense outweighs the continued recovery of funds we invested in its development.” It’s widely suspected in reports from Associated Press et. al. that direct criticism of the FAR Part 12 contract by Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] played a role as well.


Since FY 2006, American C-130J orders have continued, and the aircraft has continued to expand its export successes as well. C-130J aircraft are now flown and/or under contract by the USAF and Air National Guard, US Marines, and US Coast Guard; and by Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Italy, Iraq, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Tunisia. DSCA requests that have yet to become publicly-announced contracts include Mexico (2012), Libya (2013), and Brunei (2014).

According to official Pentagon documents, the C-130J’s past and planned American budget breakdowns include:

Note that each year’s procurement budget almost always includes advance “long-lead time material” orders for the next fiscal year. That way, once the main contract is issued, construction isn’t delayed by long waits for predictable items.

The C-130J and the 20-ton Bottleneck

RAF C-130J & friends
(click to view full)

The C-130J offers a genuine improvement over past versions of the Hercules, especially in hot and/or high-altitude environments where all aircraft lose lift and carrying capacity. It has proven these capabilities during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, where its additional reserves of power have come in very handy on the front lines.

On the other hand, the ability to fit into tactical transports is a very common requirement and benchmark for ground systems, including armored personnel carriers. Billions have been spent on R&D for the wheeled Stryker armored vehicle family, and for the USA’s $160+ billion Future Combat Systems MGV armored vehicle family. Both vehicle families were sold as options that would fit into US tactical transports, in order to meet the military’s timeframe goals for deploying units to crisis situations. Both projects failed to meet their goals after spending billions in R&D, leaving the USA’s expensive C-17 fleet overworked, and achievement of the USA’s strategic deployability goals unlikely.

Unlike the pending Airbus A400M, therefore, which offers a larger interior and a 33-35 ton vehicle capacity, the C-130J doesn’t solve the sub-survivable 20-ton armored vehicle limit that has stymied multiple US armored vehicle programs. As such, it represents an improvement that fails to address US tactical airlift’s key bottleneck limitation. Meanwhile, reports from the USAF indicate that C-130Js are often flying with very little weight and/or small cargo, because the demands of counterinsurgency airlift lead to more and smaller requests from a number of front line sources.

The C-130J thus finds itself in the odd position of offering capabilities that are both too great for many tactical needs, while being too small to meet important American strategic goals. Even Special Forces worry that future air defense threats will make the C-130 non-survivable in future gunship and insertion roles.

(click to view full)

That’s the bad news. On the other hand, its major competitor the Airbus A400M went through major delays and contract re-negotiation in System Design & Development, and has a production backlog of over 180 aircraft as deliveries are beginning. Future competitors like the Indo-Russian MRTA, and Embraer’s multinational KC-390 are currently in even earlier R&D stages. Which means that any nations needing to replenish a 20+ ton tactical airlift fleet any time soon are limited to a choice of buying the C-130J, or purchasing old designs like Russia’s AN-12 or China’s Y-8 aircraft.

As the A400M becomes available, and the 20-ton segment begins to crowd with new offerings, the C-130J will face a very different competitive environment. Without major American C-130J buys, or establishment of the C-130J as a market leader in key segments like Special Operations, recouping its $1 billion investment would have been challenging for Lockheed Martin. Fortunately for the firm, they’ve made considerable progress toward both of these goals.

Contracts and Key Events

C-130J: SIGINT roll-on
(click to view full)

The USA’s JMATS contracts for C-130J simulators and training are a critical but separate component, and are covered in their own article. International customers aren’t part of JMATS, so their arrangements may be covered here.

DID has covered C-130J buys in Canada, India, Israel, Iraq, and Norway; and the UAE’s potential buy, as dedicated articles. Important milestones from those purchases may also appear here.

DID also has a separate article covering training and simulators, under the MATS, JMATS, and JMATS-II programs.

Unless otherwise noted, all contracts are issued by the Headquarters Air Force Material Command (AFMC) in Wright Patterson AFB, OH; and the contractor is Lockheed Martin Corporation in Marietta, GA. Note that coverage is complete only from Jan 1/06 forward.

FY 2016 – 2017

Requests: Denmark.

Kuwaiti KC-130J
(click to view full)

May 12/17: The US Navy has awarded Rolls Royce a $78.7 million contract to provide logistical and engineering support for originally manufactured engines on the KC-130J tanker aircraft. Under the contract, aircraft in use by the US Marine Corp as well as the government of Kuwait will be affected. The work will primarily be completed in Indianapolis, with smaller contracts spread through other states, as well as Japan and Kuwait. The project is expected to be completed by May 2022.

February 15/17: German initiatives to deepen defensive ties with its neighbors continues as it moves forward with a plan set up a joint fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J transport planes with France and join a Netherlands-led fleet of Airbus A330 tanker planes. The plans join other collaborative agreements with Norway, Romania and the Czech Republic, and come at a time when NATO members face increasing pressure from the United States to spend more for their own military and reach NATO’s target of devoting 2 percent of gross domestic product to defense spending.

January 19/17: The Israeli Air Force has tested a new self-protection system on its Lockheed Martin C-130Js to protect from surface-to-air missiles. Once equipped with the updated self-protection package, the air force’s new transporters will be able to operate in areas where terrorist groups have ready access to shoulder-launched heat-seeking missiles. At present, Israel operates four C-130Js, with plans to purchase three more.

December 5/16: Lockheed Martin has been contracted to supply two US government-configured C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft to France. Work on the $133.4 million deal is expected to be completed by August 2020. A stretched-out version of the C-130J, the Super Hercules acquisition comes as France tries to fill a cargo and refueling capability gap created by problems related to the development and delivery of the A400M by Airbus.

October 20/16: The fourth C-130J “Samson” tactical transporter has been delivered to Israel. Operated by the Israeli air force’s “Elephants” squadron, the aircraft has already been tested during aerial refuelling missions with a Boeing 707 tanker, and is currently testing its low-level flight capabilities using some Israeli-developed systems. Two more will be delivered by the end of the year.

October 6/16: A pooling initiative is to commence between the French and German defense ministries for the purchase and joint use of C-130J transport aircraft following the signing of a declaration of intent in Paris. Berlin announced plans to purchase between four and six of the aircraft from Lockheed Martin which would be added to those recently ordered by France. The move is part of a solution to fill a German cargo and transport aircraft capability gap caused by delays and limitations of the larger A400M from Airbus and the retirement of their older Transall cargo planes.

October 3/16: A decision on Germany’s small transport requirement is expected for later this fall. The winner will replace existing Transall aircraft, due to be retired in 2021, for missions that the new Airbus A400M could not perform due to its larger size. A likely candidate touted by Reuters is Lockheed Martin’s C-130J, which could be purchased and used jointly with France or bought second-hand from the UK.

August 30/16: Lockheed Martin is to provide five additional C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to the USAF. The $287 million modification contract is expected to be completed by April 2020. An update of the C-130 Hercules, the C-130J has attracted a wide number of interested customers, with orders received from at least 15 nations since induction in 1999. It’s expected that the company could see another 100 units produced for US and international customers.

August 22/16: Approval has been given for the Indian ministry of defense to procure one additional C-130J Super Hercules, adding to six recently ordered by New Delhi in a $1 billion deal. The new aircraft was earmarked to replace one that crashed during an exercise in 2014, resulting in the death of five crew members. Once delivered, the aircraft will most likely be based in West Bengal’s Panagarh, which has been slated to be the base of the Indian Air Force’s second C-130J hub.

Last week ended on an extremely good note for both Boeing and Lockheed Martin after the companies were awarded major multi-billion contracts by the USAF. For Boeing, an impressive $2.8 billion award was granted on Thursday as part of the low rate initial production of the KC-46A following the tanker’s Milestone C decision earlier this month. 19 aircraft will be produced alongside spare parts, engines and refueling pods. However, this was astronomically dwarfed on Friday when Lockheed Martin was handed a $10 billion deal for all future orders of the C-130J Super Hercules production program as well as any foreign military sales for the aircraft.

August 19/16: All 13 C-130Js operated by the Australian Defense Forces are now installed with the latest networked battlespace system. Engility’s Joint Range Extension (JRE) TDL system will see its first operational use during exercises at training ranges in the country’s Northern Territory. This marks the first time that a C-130 has integrated Link 16 with a loadmaster station on board.

July 7/16: A laser is to be mounted on the side of the AC-130J Ghostrider instead of on the gunship’s belly in order to increase its fielding time. While this will limit the area of coverage of the weapon, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) believe they will still learn a lot about how to employ a laser in AFSOC missions. AFSOC chief Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold is also aggressively pushing the schedule for the laser gunship and plans to field a testbed by 2020 saying “Let’s go simple, let’s shoot it off the left side and eventually it will evolve.”

June 7/16: According to Joseph Fountain, supervisory contract officer with Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Mobility Directorate, a multi-year contract has been signed with Lockheed Martin to procure 78 C-130J Super Hercules with the option to buy up to 83 over the next five years. Under the contract, the second multi-year deal for the C-130J, the Defense Department will save about $680 million and provide the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard with important airlift capabilities. The contract also funds an affordability program in which Lockheed receives $35 million up front and agrees to $65 million in labor reductions over the life of the contract, which according to Fountain will allow the company to assemble the aircraft more efficiently.

May 13/16: A scheduled to be retired KC-130R Hercules has been transferred to the Chilean Air Force. The plane was delivered on May 2 after being sold to Chile via the foreign military sales (FMS) route. Prior to its transfer, the plane was part of the Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20, at Patuxent River, Maryland as a test evaluation/range support platform.

An ambitious plan is being proposed by the USMC to convert all of its 79 KC-130J aerial refueling aircraft into gunships, equipped with the Harvest Hawk weapons system. The package will also be added to the service’s MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor fleets and will allow both aircraft multi-mission capabilities. For the V-22, the most obvious “Osprey Hawk” benefit is the much-improved strike capability, while the C-130J, would become a multi-mission craft, with a sensor ball allowing for route reconnaissance missions when needed.

May 11/16: South Korea is about to induct four modified C-130s into service. The program to upgrade the aircraft so that they can deploy special operation troops behind enemy lines has been delayed since 2007. Issues causing delays involved malfunctions including the land detection capabilities in multi-purpose radars on the aircraft. The planes will allow South Korean special forces to fly at low altitudes and drop special forces troops and supplies deep behind enemy lines such as North Korean nuclear and missile facilities.

February 3/16: French procurement agency DGA announced the finalizing of an order with Lockheed Martin for four C-130 aircraft. The models to be delivered are two standard C-130J transports, and two KC-130Js equipped for in-flight refueling of helicopters. While the exact figure of the deal is unknown, the core value of the deal is around $355 million, slightly more than the $340 million set aside in the revised multiyear defense budget for acquiring four C-130s. The orders will plug a growing capability gap in the French military caused by the Airbus A400M program. Development of the multi-purpose A400M has seen delays in delivery as Airbus looks to fix technical problems over inflight helicopter refueling capabilities, and for paratroopers to be able to jump from the side door.

January 29/16: Rolls-Royce Corp has been awarded two contracts by the DoD for a combined total of $153 million. The first will see the company supply twenty-four engines for Saudi Arabia’s C-130J Super Hercules aircraft in a foreign military sale worth $77 million. The engines will be delivered by the end of this year. Rolls will also supply C-130J propulsion system sustainment to the USAF in a deal worth $76 million. Due to be completed by this time next year, they will provide logistics support, program management support, engineering services, spares, and technical data for the system.

January 21/16: Pakistan’s C-130 fleet is set to get a series of upgrades with Rockwell Collins selected to carry out the work. The Pentagon awarded the company a $30 million contract to carry out the work including the design, manufacture, integration, training, provision of technical support during installation, and delivery of 11 C-130E model kits and five C-130B integrated avionics suites and kits to Pakistan. Furthermore, they are to develop, validate, and deliver consolidated B/E flight manual and associated checklists, and maintenance supplements required to operate, maintain, and sustain the PAF C-130 fleet. All work will be carried out in Islamabad, and will be completed by the end of 2020.

January 6/16: Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems have been selected to develop a new self-protection suite for Lockheed Martin’s AC-130J and MC-130J gunships. The two electronic super weights will equip the aircraft with next-generation radio frequency countermeasure (RFCM) systems that can “detect, disrupt and defeat” anti-aircraft weapons, radars and other threats that use electromagnetic signals. While the value of the contracts are worth $32.8 million and $20 million respectively, the potential earnings for both companies could rise to $400 million each if the eight potential follow-on contracts are activated. By 2021, the USAF is expected to have thirty-seven MC-130Js and thirty-two AC-130Js ready for combat duty.

January 5/16: France has confirmed that it is to buy four C130 Hercules transport planes from Lockheed Martin. Plans to procure that aircraft are said to have been in the works since May 2015, coinciding with the crashing of an Airbus A400M that month. France, along with several other European NATO members, are set to buy the European A400M, but production delays and technical errors have seen these governments become wary of the planned procurements. Deliveries of the C130s could start as early as 2017 and would see service in missions conducted by France in Syria.

January 4/16: Multi-year funding for orders of C-130 procurement by the Pentagon has been awarded to Lockheed Martin. The first thirty-two aircraft were ordered on December 30 in a deal worth $1 billion. Up to seventy-eight will be delivered by 2020 in contracts potentially worth $5.3 billion of the company. The total order will see the US Air Force receive thirty MC-130Js, thirteen HC-130Js and twenty-nine C-130J-30s. The Marine Corps will get six KC-130Js and the Coast Guard will have the option to buy five HC-130Js.

December 18/15: France is planning to purchase four brand new C-130Js after authorization was given from the French Defense Minister. The news comes as the option to purchase second-hand C-130s from the British RAF failed to get the green light. The deal is said to exceed the $357 million set aside for the acquisition, but the remaining funds will come from adjustments made to other portions of the budget. While it is unlikely that anything will be signed before early 2016, Paris is hoping to receive delivery of the aircraft as soon as possible. The order will fill France’s need for tactical transport and in flight fueling. Other European nations such as Germany and Sweden have been helping coalition air strikes in Syria by offering refueling and transport aircraft.

November 12/15: France is looking to buy four C-130J transport aircraft through the US’ Foreign Military Sales program, with the State Department approving the sale. Previous reports indicate that the sale could be intended to plug a gap in Airbus A400M delivery schedules to the French Air Force, with French officials meeting with Lockheed Martin in June. The French defense budget for FY16 includes the provision of $1.7 billion for four C-130s, with the FMS request running to $650 million, including communications and self-protection systems and support services.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $968.7 million contract action modification for the production of 17 C-130J variants, including six C-130J-30, one HC-130J, nine MC-130J and one KC-130J aircraft. The Air Force and Lockheed Martin reached an agreement in October to fund a five-year deal for C-130Js, covering 83 aircraft for the Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

October 19/15: Lockheed Martin and the Air Force have reportedly reached an agreement on the acquisition of C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. The five-year contract will see 83 C-130Js delivered to the Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps and is anticipated to be finalized by the end of this year. Lockheed Martin sunk nearly $1 billion into the development of the aircraft, with the type seeing significant export success; sixteen countries have purchased the C-130J, including Canada, India, Israel and Norway.

October 5/15: 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.

October 1/15: 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.

FY 2015

Requests: Brunei.

September 18/15: Air Force Special Operations Command is reported to be looking to acquire an expendable unmanned system capable of acting as remote sensors deployable from C-130 gunships. A Coyote UAV is currently being used as a concept-demonstrator, with a longer-term solution also reported to be underway. AFSOC also wants to see lasers incorporated into the gunship of the future, retaining some aging C-130s to use as test beds. The Air Force wants industry to come up with a solution for an electric-powered laser weapon to equip the AC-130J by the end of the decade, the first aircraft of which was delivered at the end of July.

July 29/15: The Air Force has reportedly retained some ageing C-130U Hercules aircraft for use as airborne laser testbed aircraft. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) plans to use the aircraft to test both offensive laser weapons and defensive lasers designed to act as less-than-lethal options. DARPA has been field testing the use of lasers against hostile projectiles, with the Air Force expecting to field airborne lasers on larger cargo aircraft models from 2021. However, the further development of these capabilities could be hamstrung by sequestration and a lack of political will.

March 24/15: The Air Force is adding one HC-130J to its original 2012 contract, at a cost of $72.7 million.

Oct 7/14: The US DSCA announces Brunei’s export request for 1 C-130J aircraft, 6 AE2100D3 turboprop engines (4 installed and 2 spares), Government Furnished Equipment, communication equipment, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US Government and contractor support.

The C-130J would become Brunei’s largest aircraft, far bigger than its 3 ordered CN-235MPA maritime patrol planes. why does such a tiny country need it? Not to haul the Sultan’s famous fleet of over 300 top-end cars, but:

“This proposed sale of a C-130J to Brunei will provide a critical capability to assist in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions. The aircraft will enable Brunei to provide aid and assistance in greater capacities to regional allies and partners in need. The aircraft will also provide the ability to execute maritime patrol missions and contribute to search and rescue missions in the region.”

The principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin-Aerospace in Marietta, GA, and the estimated cost is up to $343 million. That’s over 5x the standard flyaway price for a C-130J, a huge differential given that the notice that no additional contractors will be needed in Brunei. Perhaps they plan to perform long-term support elsewhere; it’s hard to think of another explanation if the notice’s facts are correct. Sources: US DSCA #14-37, “Brunei – C-130J Aircraft”.

DSCA request: Brunei (1 C-130J)

FY 2014

Orders: USA (7 SOCOM etc.), Saudi Arabia (2 KC-130J), India (6 C-130J-30), Israel (2 C-130J-30), Civil (10 LM-100J); Long-term engines supply contract; Indian crash; ROKAF deliveries done; AC-130J flies; DOT&E testing report.

C-130J at work
click for video

Sept 29/14: Engines. GE Aviation Systems (actually Dowty Propellers) in Sterling, VA receives a sole-source $20.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for 42 C-130J propellers (P/N 69703900) and spare parts. All funds are committed immediately using FY 2012-2014 USAF aircraft budgets, and funds from Foreign Military Sales – but the announcement doesn’t identify the foreign customers.

Work will be performed at Gloucester, UK and is expected to be complete by May 31/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (SPE4A1-14-G-0009-RJ03).

Sept 29/14: Software. A $6.6 million contract modification to integrate system and Mission Computer (MC) software changes into SOCOM’s HC/MC-130J Increment 2 aircraft. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 USAF RDT&E budgets.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by March 31/17. Fiscal 2013 research, development, test and evaluation and procurement funds in the amount of $6,568,120 are being obligated at the time of award (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0277).

Sept 26/14: +7. A $413.2 million finalization for 1 HC-130J and 6 MV-130J aircraft, subsuming previous advance procurement funding into full production efforts. That works out to $59 million per aircraft, plus the cost of government-furnished equipment for these special forces planes. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 & 2013 USAF aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 30/15 (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0239).

USA: HC-130J & 6 MC-130Js

Sept 26/14: Sensors. Raytheon in McKinney, TX receives an $18.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 12 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (AN/AAS-54) and spare parts for the Air Force C-130 program. Short version: it’s for Special Forces HC/MC-130s. Long version: the AAS-54 combines long-range day and night cameras for high-altitude target acquisition, and adds tracking, range-finding, and laser designation for all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 & 2013 USAF aircraft budgets; $7.7 million will expire on Sept 30/14.

Work will be performed in McKinney, TX, and is expected to be complete by September 2016. The US Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana manages the contract (N00164-12-G-JQ66).

Aug 6/14: FY15 long-lead. A $116.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy long lead parts for 14 FY 2015 C-130Js. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 USAF advance procurement budgets.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by June 30/15. The USAF Nuclear Weapons Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8625-14-C-6450, PO 0001).

July 23/14: Counter-fighter. Defensive tactics against enemy fighters isn’t the first thing you normally associate with a C-130, but a pair of 317th Airlift Group C-130Js had to do just that en route to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, TX. The exercise demonstrated C-130J capabilities that will be used during the multinational fighter meet at Red Flag-Alaska.

Here’s how it worked: The loadmasters sat high in the flight decks of their aircraft, looking through a bubbled window in the ceiling. They communicated to the pilots, who reacted and maneuvered to delay the fighter pilot’s ability to locate and lock on the C-130Js. 39th AS assistant director of operations for tactics Maj. Aaron Webb described the tactics as “pretty effective,” adding that a casual observer “doesn’t expect a 130,000-pound cargo plane to be able to maneuver as nimbly as the J-model does.” Sources: USAF, “Dyess C-130Js successfully evade F-16”.

July 18/14: India. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Marietta, GA receives a maximum $564.7 million contract modification to to fund 6 more India foreign military sales C-130J-30s, field service representatives and 3 years of post-delivery support after the first aircraft delivery. $50.9 million of this contract is committed immediately, and this brings the total cumulative face value of the contract to $2.067 billion; but the contract itself applies to orders beyond India’s.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA and is expected to be complete by April 30/20. Once all 6 planes are delivered, India’s fleet will rise to 11, given the March 2014 crash of KC3803. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract as India’s agent (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0273).

India: 6 C-130J-30

July 16/14: LM-100J sale. ASL Aviation Group in Dublin, Ireland signs a Letter of Intent with Lockheed Martin to order up to 10 LM-100J commercial freighters. Their Safair subsidiary in Johannesburg, South Africa currently operates 6 L-100-30 (C-130E/H) aircraft, but the LM-100J will be an entirely new type for their Air Contractors subsidiary in Dublin. Lockheed Martin adds:

“Engineering and detailed design of the LM-100J is currently underway. Assembly of the first aircraft will begin in 2015 and first flight of the LM-100J is expected by early 2017. Because much of the flight test done to civil certify the C-130J in the late 1990s will be directly applicable to the LM-100J, testing and certification of the newest Hercules variant is expected to take about twelve months.”

Which means deliveries can be expected in 2018, unless problems arise in testing. The firm sold 115 L-100s from 1964 through 1992, positioned to address the oversize cargo market and unimproved airfields. They’ve also been used for airdrops and humanitarian aid, VIP transport, aerial spraying, aerial firefighting, etc. Unfortunately, Lockheed acknowledges that legacy L-100s have higher direct operating costs relative to Russian An-12s, or even relative to 737 freighters when the 737’s special ground-handling cargo equipment is available. The LM-100J is intended to address that, while adding CNS/ATM compliance that will allow them to fly in civil airspace after 2015.

The firm predicts double-digit growth in the Latin American, African, and Middle Eastern air freight industries over the next decade, as a subset of overall 4% per year growth in the global market. Sources: Lockheed Martin Code One Magazine, “LM-100J: Airlifter For Hire” | Lockheed Martin, “ASL Aviation Group Signs Letter of Intent To Procure Lockheed Martin LM-100J Freighters”.

Civil: 10 LM-100Js

May 30/14: Korea. The ROKAF’s final 2 C-130J-30s fly out from Marietta, GA, to join their fellows in South Korea (q.v. Dec 2/10, March 27/14). Lockheed Martin is still working under an initial 2-year support and training program for the 4 planes, and is also involved with the ROKAF’s C-130H fleet. Sources: Lockheed Martin, “ROKAF Receives Additional C-130J Super Hercules Aircraft”.

Korea deliveries done

April 25/14: Extended Life. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA receives an initial $27.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for extended service life center wing boxes [DID: the section of the fuselage that connects to the wings] on 5 C-130J aircraft. Aging C-130E/H planes have received replacements; USAF C-130Js only began entering service in February 1999, but it’s the mileage that matters. Lockheed Martin would say only that replacement decisions are “based upon the service life of the part”, which can be shorter if a plane is subjected to heavy operational use. Meanwhile, the ESL wing boxes are equipping production line aircraft as well.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 budgets. Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 30/16. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition by the USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLKCA at Robins AFB, GA (FA8504-14-C-0003).

March 28/14: Crash. An Indian Air Force C-130J-30 (tail #KC 3803) hits a hillock during low-level flight training, and crashes in a riverbed 116 km west of Gwailor. Everyone dies, including the 2nd-in-command of the 77 ‘Veiled Vipers’ squadron, Wing Commander Prashant Joshi, 2 pilots, and a trainee.

The C-130J was reportedly part of a 2-plane formation that had taken off from Agra. Sources: The Indian Express, “5 officers killed as IAF’s new showpiece Super Hercules crashes near Gwalior”.


March 27/14: Korea. The ROKAF takes delivery of 2 of its 4 ordered C-130J-30s (q.v. Dec 2/10), in a Marietta, GA ceremony. This makes them the plane’s 14th customer. Sources: Lockheed Martin, “Republic Of Korea Air Force Accepts First C-130J Super Hercules”.

March 6/14: Sensors. Raytheon in McKinney, TX receives a $10.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for 10 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems, to be installed on AFSOC HC/MC-130Js.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY12 aircraft procurement budgets. Work will be performed in McKinney, TX and is expected to be complete by April 2015. There’s 1 set source for these, so this contract was not competitively procured per FAR 6.302-1. The US Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in Crane, IN manages the contract (N00164-12-G-JQ66-0045).

March 4/14: FY15 Budget. The USAF and USN unveil their preliminary budget request briefings. They aren’t precise, but they do offer planned purchase numbers for key programs between FY 2014 – 2019. The C-130J program is still waiting for the full FY 2014 contract (q.v. Dec 6/13, Feb 12/14), but that budget introduced a multi-year contract (q.v. April 10/13), which makes cuts in FY 2015-2018 very difficult.

The USAF’s FY 2015 budget request involves 13 C-130Js (7 regular USAF, 2 MC-130J, 4 HC-130J), while the USMC plans to buy 1 KC-130J. The overall effect will drop US annual production from 17 in FY 2014 (6 C-130J, 1 KC-130J, 5 AC-130J gunships, 1 HC-130J, 4 MC-130J) to 14 in FY 2015, but steady exports should cushion that.

The USAF’s initial materials don’t delve beyond FY 2015, but the USMC plans to order another 5 KC-130Js from FY 2016 – 2019. They’ll finish the FY 2014-2018 deal 1 KC-130J short of their maximum, though, with only 6 planes bought, and make up the 7th in FY 2019. Sources: USN, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF] | USAF, Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Overview.

Feb 28/14: Support. Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $54.3 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for depot level repair of 50 KC-130 aircraft engines, propellers and other propulsion system components for the US Marine Corps (47 planes/ $50.2M / 92%) and the government of Kuwait (3 planes/ $4.1M/ 8%).

$24.5 million is committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy O&M budgets. Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN (92%), Al Mubarak, Kuwait (2.1%); various locations in Japan (2%); Cherry Point. NC (1.3%); Miramar, CA (1.3%); and Fort Worth, TX (1.3%), and is expected to be complete in February 2015. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-14-D-0007). See also Rolls Royce, “Rolls-Royce supports US Marine Corps KC-130Js through $50 million contract”.

Feb 25/14: Support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta, GA receives a sole-source $12.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide spare parts that are unique to US SOCOM’s HC/MC-130Js, and can’t be drawn from general C-130J fleet spares.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 aircraft budgets. Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Feb 16/16. USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WISK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0209).

Feb 12/14: Engines. Lockheed Martin and Rolls-Royce complete a long-term agreement worth up to $1 billion, to deliver approximately 600 AE2100 turboprop engines for American and international contracts from 2014 through 2018. That works out to about 150 aircraft, but it’s probably closer to 125 with spares added in. Rolls Royce benefits from more predictable demand, while Lockheed Martin presumably benefits from lower prices.

Rolls Royce adds that “the agreement secures the Rolls-Royce AE 2100 as the engine of choice for all variants of the C-130J to 2025.” That was never really in doubt. The most likely break-point for an engine upgrade would be the design of a new C-130NG variant, in order to address competition from jet-powered 20-ton class transports after 2020. Sources: Rolls Royce, “Rolls-Royce and Lockheed Martin agree US$1BN deal to power future C-130J aircraft”.

Multi-year engine contract

Jan 31/14: AC-130J. The USAF flies a fully-converted AC-130J gunship for the 1st time, at Eglin AFB, FL. They also appear to have scales the program back a bit:

“A total of 32 MC-130J aircraft will be modified for AFSOC as part of a $2.4 billion AC-130J program to grow the future fleet, according to Capt. Greg Sullivan, the USSOCOM AC-130J on-site program manager at Det. 1.”

The Pentagon’s recently-released DOT&E report for FY 2013 had placed the AC-130J program at 37 aircraft. Sources: USAF, “New AC-130J completes first test flight”.

Jan 31/14: Support. A $105.3 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contract modification, exercising the 3rd option under the USAF’s C-130J Long Term Sustainment Program. It’s a 2-year ordering period for sustainment services including logistical support, program management support, engineering services, spares, and technical data. Funds will be committed as needed through task orders.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Jan 31/16. USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLKCA at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract (FA8504-06-D-0001, PO 0026).

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). Their focus is on US SOCOM’s variants: HC-130J/MC-130J Combat King II CSAR/ Commando II transports, and AC-130J “Ghostrider” gunships. The USAF intends to field 37 HC-130J Combat King IIs developed to Increment 2 capability, 57 MC-130J Commando IIs developed to Increment 3 capability, and 37 AC-130J Ghostrider gunships that will be converted from MC-103Js (TL: 94 MC-130Js produced).

All: The core problem across this fleet involves the enhanced electrical system and in 400 Amp power supply, which is required for Increment 3 upgrades and AC-130J gunship conversions. At present, the fleet is limited to a 200 Amp system. Minor issues include Mean Time to Diagnose a Fault of 119 minutes (30 required), and just 83% probability of completing a 4-hour mission without a failure (95% required). The good news is that DOT&E deems the HC/MC-130J to be operationally effective and operationally suitable, with a 95% mission availability rate (89% required) and survivable in the low to medium threat environments it was meant for.

AC-130J: The program conducted a Preliminary Design Review in March 2013 and a Critical Design Review in August 2013, and 1st flight was expected in January 2014. The PSP weapon set is planned in 3 increments, and both development and the Live Fire Alternative Test Plan (ATP) will leverage some data from the C-130H-based AC-130W. This was concerning, though:

“Armor requirements and the amount of armor differ significantly between the AC-130U and AC-130J aircraft. The AC-130U armor was designed to provide protection to the aircrew stations, personnel, ammunition, and critical systems against a single 37 mm high-explosive incendiary round at a range of 10,000 feet, while the AC-130J’s primary crewmember positions and oxygen supplies should be protected against single 7.62 mm ball projectile at 100 meters [DID: just 330 feet, where bullet velocity is higher] …. The planned armor layout on the AC-130J does not include the Mission Operator Pallet, which should be considered a “primary crewmember” position and protected in accordance with the associated Force Protection Key Performance Parameter (KPP).”

The 37mm criterion isn’t random: most AC-130 kills over Vietnam involved 37mm guns. It isn’t rare for gunships to face enemies that can deploy 14.5mm – 23mm guns, to say nothing of the common .50 cal/ 12.7mm caliber. Even an unarmored C-130J would be a difficult kill for a 12.7mm machine gun. With that said, it sounds like they’ve left the crew nearly unprotected, in an aircraft that’s designed to go where the enemy is shooting. That does require an explanation.

Jan 27/14: Engines. Rolls Royce in Indianapolis, IN receives an $182.7 million firm-fixed-price, requirements contract modification, exercising the 7th annual option for AE2100-D3 engine logistics support, program management support, engineering services, spares, and technical data.

Funds will be spent as needed. Work will be performed at Indianapolis, IN, and is expected to be complete by Jan 31/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLKCA at Robins AFB, GA, manages this contract (FA8504-07-D-0001, PO 0023).

Jan 21/13: LM-100J. No, it’s not gamerspeak for iRobot’s “Looj” gutter cleaner, or for a fast sled. It’s Lockheed Martin’s new civil variant of the C-130J, and the FAA just received Lockheed Martin’s Program Notification Letter for a type design update. FAA documents refer to it as an L-382J, but it will be marketed at the LM-100J. Sources: Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin Files For FAA Type Design Update”.

Dec 26/13: Support. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA ereceives an $11,060,628 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for logistics and engineering services in support of the C/KC-130J Aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps/Marine Corps Reserve, U.S. Coast Guard and the Kuwait Air Force.

Work will be performed in Marietta, GA (65.3%); Afghanistan (12%); Palmdale, CA (9.2%); Kuwait (3.3%); Okinawa, Japan (3%); Miramar, CA (1.8%); Cherry Point, NC (1.7%); Elizabeth City, NC (1.6%); Fort Worth, (1.5%); and Greenville, SC (.6%); and is expected to be completed in December 2014. No funds are being obligated at time of award. Funds will be obligated against individual delivery orders as they are issued. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Marine Corps/Marine Corps Reserve ($8,886,223; 80.3%); U.S. Coast Guard ($1,423,148; 12.9%); and the Government of Kuwait ($751,257; 6.8%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.SC 2304(c)(1). The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-14-D-0006).

Dec 6/13: long-lead. A sole-source, maximum $169.7 million firm-fixed-price advance procurement contract for funding related to 18 C-130Js. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 procurement budgets.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Oct 31/16. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages this contract (FA8625-14-C-6450).

Dec 3/13: long-lead. A $48.5 million advance procurement contract modification for funding related to 5 more C-130Js. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 procurement budgets.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 aircraft budgets. Work under this multi-year contract will be performed at Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA until Dec 31/16. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0230).

Dec 3/13: #4. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA receives a not-to-exceed $81.2 million modification to an existing contract to fund Israeli C-130J-30 aircraft #4, advance long-lead procurement of C-130Js #5 and 6, and external fuel tank modification kits.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be completed by June 30/16. This contract is 100% foreign military sales for Israel, with the USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH acting as Israel’s agent (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0231).

Israel: 4th C-130J-30

Oct 10/13: DMS Redesign. Lockheed Martin Corp., Marietta, Ga., was awarded a $21.6 million contract modification to redesign the C-130J’s Color Multipurpose Display Unit and Multi-Function Color Display for C-130J aircraft. Computer equipment goes out of production quickly, and the CDU & MFCDs need new central processor and graphics processor chip sets, in order to cope with “diminishing manufacturing sources.”

Sure beats trying to source spares from grey traders whose supply chain includes Chinese counterfeits.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA and is expected to be complete by Sept 30/15. This contract actually includes 15% foreign military sales to C-130 customers Norway, Israel and Kuwait, on top of the $21.6 million in FY 2012 in USAF procurement funds that are committed immediately. USAF Force Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0228)y. (Awarded Oct. 10, 2013)

Oct 3/13: A maximum $181 million not-to-exceed contract modification lets Saudi Arabia buy 2 KC-130J transport and tanker aircraft under the US umbrella deal, along with associated non-recurring engineering support. It’s just a small part of the 25-plane, $6.7 billion request (q.v. Nov 9/12).

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be completed by April 2016. This contract is 100 percent foreign military sales for Saudi Arabia. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0177).

Saudi Arabia: 2 KC-130J

FY 2013

US order; Saudi request; DOT&E report.

Saudi C-130
(click to view full)

July 25/13: Israel. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Marietta, GA receives a maximum $13 million unfinalized contract for the advanced procurement of a 4th Israeli C-130J-30 and field services representatives, out of an FMS case for up to 9 planes (q.v. July 30/08). The total cumulative face value of the contract it’s bought under is now $1.631 billion, but most of that contract doesn’t involve Israel.

Work will be performed at Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 30/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract as Israel’s FMS agent (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0172).

July 11/13: Engines. Rolls Royce in Indianapolis, IN a $22.4 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification for more USMC KC-130J Power-by-the-Hour support.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. US Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00019-09-D-0020).

July 2/13: Training. IKBI Inc. in Choctaw, MS receives a maximum $7.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for a Special Forces HC-130J Simulator Facility at Moody AFB, GA. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 1 bid received by the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, GA (W912HN-13-C-0011).

June 10/13: Libya. The US DSCA announces the new government of Libya’s official export request [PDF] for 2 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, 10 Rolls Royce AE 2100D3 engines (8 installed and 2 spares), aircraft modifications, Government Furnished Equipment (including radios), support and test equipment, personnel training package, and a 3-year package for other forms of US Government and contractor support. Libya would join their neighbor Tunisia as a C-130J-30 customer.

The DSCA request cites “a mix of legacy C-130s” in operation, but pre-revolution reports weren’t clear on their airworthiness, and it’s unclear if the new government has working C-130s to fly alongside its (former Air Libya) BAe-146. The estimated cost for the 2 stretched C-130Js is $588 million, which is a tremendous amount, but they’ll need to build up the associated infrastructure from a very damaged base. The scale of the support is made clear by the request. A USAF logistics specialist will help Libya establish supply systems for flight operations, supply management, inventory control, and documentation procedures. At the same time, 4 contracted Field Service Representatives (FSR) and 1 Logistics Support Representative (LSR) will need to have expertise in airframe, avionics/electrical systems, propulsion systems, ground maintenance systems, and logistics support. As expected, Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.

Libya has been making a number of announcements about rebuilding its air force, and favoring countries that helped them during the war. It’s hard to give much credit to reports that the country will be buying both Rafale and Eurofighter jets in the near future, though one understands why they might want to repay France and Britain in some way. Meanwhile, transport is a higher priority for a large country with lots of hostile terrain, and a weak central government.

DSCA request: Libya C-130J-30s (2)

May 31/13: LAIRCM. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA receives a $16.4 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to finish designing LAIRCM aircraft modification kits (A-Kits) for the USMC’s KC-130Js, to protect them against shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. This modification includes 10 LAIRCM A-Kits, a test kit installation of a LAIRCM A-Kit, and a validation installation of a LAIRCM A-Kit.

Work will be performed in Marietta, GA (51%); Greenville, SC (31%); and Rolling Meadows, IL (18%), and is expected to be completed in November 2015. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 and 2013 contract dollars. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-13-C-0017).

April 29/13: Iraq. Lockheed Martin announces that it has ferried Iraqi C-130J-30s #4-6 to the USAF, as an interim step in delivering them to Iraq. Once the planes arrive in Iraq, they will complete the order, though the contract itself will continue with support services. Lockheed Martin.

Iraqi C-130J-30s all delivered

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

The C-130J program submits a proposed $5.809 billion multi-year buy from FY 2014 – 2018, which would purchase 79 planes: 43 aircraft for SOCOM (25 MC-130J + 13 HC-130J + 5 AC-130J), 29 C-130Js for the USAF, and 7 KC-130Js for the US Marine Corps.

All aircraft would be fully funded with initial spares in their order years, and the multi-year deal would include a priced option for 5 more United States Coast Guard HC-130Js – whose base aircraft and array of radars and equipment are very different from SOCOM’s HC-130Js.

Multi-year buy proposed

April 4/13: Tunisia. Lockheed Martin announces that they’ve delivered the 1st of 2 stretched C-130J-30 Super Hercules to the Republic of Tunisia, marking the first delivery to an African country.

Tunisia currently operates a fleet of C-130Hs and C-130Bs, but they were bought in the mid-1980s. Lockheed Martin’s 2010 contract involved 2 planes between 2013 – 2014, plus training and an initial 3 years of logistics support. The Tunisian government fell in the meantime, but the new government still needs the planes.

Feb 22/13: Engines. Rolls Royce in Indianapolis, ID receives a $16.8 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for more additional power-by-the-hour work in support of the USMC’s KC-130Js.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN, and is expected to be complete in July 2013. Funds will be committed by individual delivery orders, as needed. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-09-D-0020).

Jan 17/13: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The report covers the C-130J platform generally, as well as the HC/MC-130J special forces variants.

The biggest take-away is that the USAF is scrapping plans to field the Block 7.0 upgrade, or incorporate the set into the production line. Block 7.0 has been experiencing delays, and is expected to enter test & evaluation in early 2013, but the results will probably just be used to plan the USAF’s Block Upgrade 8.1.

On the bright side, the C-130J family’s DTADS maintenance support system is a “significant improvement” in multiple areas, but the Windows XP operating system means it can’t connect to government networks. Windows 7 is apparently the minimum.

With respect to the special forces platforms, the HC/MC-130J got a preliminary rating of being as good or better than previous variants, and availability/ maintenance rates were also improvements (vid. Nov 1/12 entry). Key strengths include better takeoffs from short or unimproved runways, expanding the flight envelope for aerial refueling, and improved cargo loading and unloading features. Despite that latter assessment, airdrops create very high workloads and head-down time for the pilot monitoring the drops. The new HC/MC-130Js may also have to do some retrofits to add standard search and rescue equipment: flare launcher tubes, large forward scanner windows, additional oxygen regulators, and intercom panels.

Survivability and situational awareness were another area mentioned, though the specific survivability issue wasn’t detailed. With respect to situational awareness, pilots would like a tactical datalink such as Link 16, so they’re more aware of what’s around them. Inside, the loadmasters want more control over cargo lighting, especially since the night vision lighting is a bit problematic for covert operations. On an audible level, the loadmasters want the intercom system to transmit system tones for diagnostic or defensive system alerts.

Jan 16/13: India support. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $6.7 million contract modification for Power by the Hour support to the IAF’s C-130Js.

Work will be performed at Hindan Air Station in New Delhi, India, and is expected to be complete by Jan 30/13. The AFLCMC/WLKCB at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract on behalf of their FMS client (FA8504-07-D-0001-0501-09).

Aug 6/12: Made in India. The Hindu reports that the offset program has begun to bear fruit, with some components now made in India:

“The latest feather in the Tata cap is that certain critical components for the C-130 are now being ‘Made in India’… on the outskirts of Hyderabad. That is the promise held out by Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Ltd., (TLMAL), a joint venture between Tata Advanced Systems and Lockheed Martin. The Friday gone by was a landmark day with TLMAL delivering the first C-130 Center Wing Box (CWB) to Lockheed.”

Nov 9/12: Saudi Arabia The US DSCA announces [PDF] Saudi Arabia’s DSCA request for up to 25 C-130J family aircraft, in a deal that could be worth up to $6.7 billion once a contract is negotiated.

The RSAF currently operates 30 C-130H medium transport aircraft, and another 7 KC-130H aerial refueling tankers with secondary transport capabilities. External engine fleet and depth maintenance contracts take care of them, but as the hours pile up, replacement looms. The Saudis would replace their fleet with just 20 stretched C-130J-30s, and another 5 KC-130Js. On the other hand, the stretched planes offer more room, and the C-130J’s extra power makes a big difference to real cargo capacity in Saudi Arabia’s lift-stealing heat. The request includes:

  • 20 C-130J-30 stretched transports
  • 5 KC-130J aerial tankers, which could be armed in future
  • 120 Rolls Royce AE2100D3 Engines (100 installed and 20 spares)
  • 25 MIDS-LVT Link-16 systems
  • Plus support equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and U.S. Government and contractor support.

The prime contractors will be Lockheed-Martin in Bethesda, MD (C-130Js); General Electric Aviation Systems in Sterling, VA; and Rolls Royce Corporation in Indianapolis, IN (engines). Implementation of this sale will require the assignment of U.S. Government and contractor representatives to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for delivery, system checkout, and logistics support for an undetermined period of time.

DSCA request: Saudi C-130J-30 & KC-130J (25)

Nov 1/12: MC/HC-130J. Lockheed Martin announces that their HC-130J Combat King II and MC-130J Commando II special operations planes have been formally certified as “Effective, Suitable and Mission Capable” by the USAF’s Operational Test and Evaluation Center.

Oct 23/12: 13 more. An $889.5 million contract modification for the USA’s FY 2012 production aircraft buy of 13 planes: 7 MC-130J CSAR planes and 4 HC-130J Commando IIs for SOCOM, 1 KC-130J for the USMC, and 1 USAF C-130J production aircraft.

Work will be performed in Marietta, GA, and run to July 31/15 (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0139).

FY 2012 main buy

FY 2012

Israel buys #3/9; USCG buys 3; Senior Scout SIGINT kit; India’s follow-on request for 6 more; Mexican request; C-130XJ, C-130NG, and SC-130J “Sea Hercules” concepts unveiled; AC-130J gunship appears.

Norwegian C-130J
(click to view full)

Sept 28/12: A $218 million contract modification to buy 3 more US Coast Guard HC-130J Long Range Surveillance aircraft, which will bring the USCG fleet to 9, and add 2 more roll-on mission suites. The 3rd plane will get its mission equipment from a future contract, scheduled for FY 2013. By 2016, the Coast Guard plans to accept these aircraft and base them at Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii.

The HC-130J’s special mission suite is comprised of a 2-person mission system operator station located behind the pilot and co-pilot, a belly-mounted 360-degree Seaspray 7500 long range search radar, nose-mounted day/night surveillance turret, and an advanced mission communications suite. Work will be performed in Marietta, GS, and Greenville, SC. The contract runs until May 31/16 (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0069).

The current Coast Guard C-130 LRS fleet includes 23 HC-130Hs, and 6 HC-130Js based at Air Station Elizabeth City, NC. The USCG’s HC-130Hs are running out of useful service life, and by 2027, the USCG is planning to have a uniform fleet of 22 HC-130Js. See also USCG | Lockheed Martin.

3 USCG HC-130Js

Sept 25/12: Mexico. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Mexico’s official request for 2 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, 10 AE2100D3 engines (8 installed and 2 spares), aircraft modifications, communication equipment, other Government Furnished Equipment, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment and publications, personnel training and training equipment, and other US Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $412 million, which is very expensive for 2 C-130Js, but there are a number of add-ons to consider, and actual cost will depend on contract negotiations.

The DSCA notice says that Mexico will use the planes as “Presidential support,” but local defense expert Inigo Guevara says that they’re mostly intended for regular defense use. The FAM’s existing tactical transport fleet of 7 old C-130E/K/Ls is reaching its limits, and the recent buy of 4 new C-27J Spartan light tactical transports replaced an original requirement for 5 used C-130H aircraft to upgrade that fleet. The 2 C-130J-30s offer a heavier-lift option with some C-27J engine and avionics compatibility. Guevara says that current requirements will eventually add another 2 Super Hercules transports, leaving a tactical transport fleet of 4 C-27Js and 4 C-130Js. Any VIP modules are likely to be “roll-on, roll-of” options. Guevara adds that:

“The Presidential fleet is getting a new aircraft in the form of a strategic transport (very likely a Boeing 787 Dreamliner), which will replace the current B757 and should arrive by 2016. It is apparently being acquired through a [full turnkey] wet lease.”

DSCA request: Mexico C-130J-30s (2)

Sept 21/12: The Air Force’s 19th Special Operation Squadron is retiring its MC-130E Combat Talon I simulator, and they are waiting for an MC-130J simulator to replace it. They do not quite seem to know what to do with it. Any takers? It would be quite the living room conversation piece.

Sept 10/12: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $9.7 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract modification, to meet increased requirements for the USMC’s “power by the hour” per-engine support contract. Translation: the USMC is flying its KC-130J fleet for more hours than the contract had expected.

Work will be performed in Cherry Point, NC, and is expected to be complete in February 2013. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-09-D-0020).

Sept 5/12: Iraq. The 1st of 6 C-130J-30 Super Hercules for the Iraqi Air Force has completed its first flight, at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, GA facility. Lockheed Martin.

Aug 30/12: Oman delivery. The 1st C-130J ordered by Oman is formally accepted by the country at a signing ceremony in Marietta. Lockheed Martin initially told DID that the delivery of this plane was likely to happen in early November, but the Sultanate sped up the process and flew its plane home on September 12. Lockheed Martin.

Aug 28/12: Sea Hercules? Defense News reports that Lockheed Martin is working on an SC-130J Sea Hercules modification. It’s designed as a $150 million alternative, to be developed in 3 stages. Stage 1 will involve roll-on/ bolt-on radar and electro-optical sensors, and accompanying processing workstations. Stage 2 would add wing-mounted surface attack weapons, along with upgraded workstations and weapon control systems. Stage 3 would be a full anti-submarine conversion, including sonobuoys, a magnetic anomaly detector boom, extra fuel pods, and 2 added bays for 6 Harpoon missiles.

Lockheed Martin reportedly says they expect to sign at least one contract “in North Africa”. Tunisia, who already has a contract for 2 C-130J-30s that was signed shortly before their revolution, could certainly use that capability. So could Britain, which has its own fleet of C-130s, but no maritime patrol planes since they retired the Nimrod fleets.

Lockheed Martin will have no shortage of competitors around the world. Established competitors include EADS’ CN-235 Persuader, C-295 MPA, ATR-42 MP, and ATR-72 ASW turboprops; and Embraer’s P-99 MP jet. On the development front, Boeing is starting to look at options beyond its P-8A Poseidon, because their customers are saying that they don’t need its full versatility, and find its $200 million price tag prohibitive. Bombardier’s Challenger 600 seems to be the target platform. There’s also some talk in Britain of adding maritime patrol capabilities to its Sentinel R1 ground surveillance jets, based on Bombardier’s Challenger. Saab has options are in development based on the Saab 2000 regional turboprop and Piaggio P-180 executive turboprop, and Russia has a unique offering in development based on its Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft.

Aug 8/12: Oman. Flight testing begins for the 1st of Oman’s 3 ordered C-130Js (1 C-130J-30, 2 C-130Js). Oman currently operates a fleet of 3 C-130Hs purchased in the early 1980s, and their first new Hercules is scheduled for delivery later in 2012. Lockheed Martin.

July 23/12: AC-130J. Production begins in Marietta, GA, but the gunship is actually built as an MC-130J Commando II. It will become an “AC-130J” (vid. Feb 19/12 contract) when it’s equipped with a “Precision Strike Package. When queried, Lockheed Martin representatives said that:

“The initial contract is to cross-deck the current MC-130W [DID: link added] equipment to the new AC-130Js. The PSP referenced here is a new package.”

AC-130J Initial Operating Capability is scheduled for 2015, and AFSOC expects to order 16. Lockheed Martin.

AC-130J begins

June 7/12: Norway request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Norway’s formal request to buy 2 C-130J-30s equipped to the USAF baseline, 9 Rolls Royce AE2100-D3 Engines (8 installed and 1 spare), plus aircraft modifications for Norwegian specifications, Norwegian-compatible communication equipment and support, defensive countermeasure systems, other Government Furnished Equipment, tools and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US government & contractor support.

If a contract is signed, Norway’s C-130J-30 fleet will rise to 5 planes. The prime contractor will be Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA, but the proposed sale won’t require any more representatives in Norway. The estimated cost is set at up to $300 million, however, which is about the cost of Norway’s first 4 planes (vid. Nov 7/07 entry). Actual amounts will depend on negotiations, but it looks like Norway is thinking about a significant support contract as well.

DSCA request: Norway C-130J-30 (1)

June 4/12: Norway. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, ID receives a $14.3 million (face value) firm-fixed-price contract to purchase spares, field services support and program management, return and repair support, and engineering services support for the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s C-130J fleet at Gardermoen AFB, Norway. Work is to be complete by Jan 31/14. The WR-ALC/GRBKB at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract, on behalf of its Norwegian client (FA8504-07-D-0001-0602).

May 8/12: Canada. The Royal Canadian Air Force formally accepts the 17th CC-130J Super Hercules at a Marietta, GA ceremony, completing the order placed in December 2007. Lockheed Martin.

Canada: all delivered

April 2/12: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $25 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification for contractor logistics support and technical engineering support of USMC KC-130Js’ AE2100-D3 turboprop engines, and R391 propellers.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN, and is expected to be complete in February 2013. All funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract (N00019-09-D-0020). Navy/USMC C-130Js fall under a separate engine maintenance agreement than the USAF – see also April 6/10, Feb 27/09 entries.

March 9/12: MC-130J “Commando II”. USAF officials announce that the MC-130J’s designation will change from “Combat Shadow II” to “Commando II”.

The 1st aircraft with the “Commando” designation was the C-46, which flew missions “over the hump” from Burma to China in World War II, conducted covert missions during the Korean War, and flew many missions for the CIA’s “Air America”. Some still fly to this day, for civilian airlines in remote areas. Hopefully, the MC-130J won’t also be adopting the C-46’s reputation as a maintenance nightmare that was dangerous to fly on military operations. USAF.

MC-130J becomes “Commando II”

March 15/12: Norway crash. Norway’s newest C-130J-30 crashes into Sweden’s Mount Kebnekaise at an altitude of almost 5,000 feet, during the international military exercise “Cold Response.” All 5 crew are killed, and the RNoAF is left with just 3 C-130J-30s. Read “Norway Renews Its Tactical Transport Fleet” for full coverage.


Feb 29/12: AC-130J, etc. A $70 million firm-fixed-price advance procurement contract, buying long-lead items for US AFSOC: 2 AC-130J gunships, 1 HC-130J “Combat King” Combat Search And Rescue, and 4 MC-130J “Combat Shadow” transport aircraft. This is the FY 2013 budget request, but long-lead materials to ensure on-time construction are always in the previous year’s budget.

The AC-130J is new, and hasn’t been talked about much. The current AC-130H “Spectre” and AC-130U “Spooky” gunships remain vulnerable to even light defenses like anti-aircraft cannons, and are often restricted to night flying. On the flip side, they offer unparalleled fire support volume and accuracy, up to and including 105mm howitzer fire, to help special forces and friendly troops out of jams. SOCOM’s heavy gunship fleet has seen predictably heavy usage in recent years, and needs replacement. The hanging question is what capabilities a full C-130J gunship option might have.

Work will be performed Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete during calendar year 2016. The USAF/AFMC Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0081).

Feb 22/12: Israel #3. Israel buys its 3rd C-130J-30, out of a formal October 2008 FMS request for up to 9 special forces capable planes. It does so by exercising a maximum $58.3 million firm-fixed-price option, on top of previous planning and advance long lead procurement funding (vid. April 8/11).

Work will be performed in Marietta, GA, and expected to be complete by Nov 30/14. The ASC/WLNN at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH is Israel’s Foreign Military Sales agent for these buys (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0085).

Israel: 1 C-130J-30

Feb 22/12: Support. A $7.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for C-130J and HC/MC-130J spares for at Moody Air Force Base, GA. Work will be performed in Marietta, GA, and the contract runs through Dec 31/13. USAF AMC’s Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0085).

Feb 22/12: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $45.2 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification, exercising an option for AE-2100D3 turboprop engine and R-391 propeller contractor logistics and technical engineering services, for the USMC’s KC-130Js.

Funds will be committed only as services are needed, and work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN until February 2013. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract (N00019-09-D-0020).

Feb 16/12: #250. The 250th C-130J Super Hercules variant ever built is delivered to Dyess Air Force Base, TX. It’s the 15th of 28 planes that will ultimately be delivered to Dyess AFB by 2013.

To put that in perspective, a Jan 30/11 MC-130J delivery to US Special Operations Command marked the 2,400th C-130 delivered, of all types, since production began. Lockheed Martin.


Jan 31/12: Engines. Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $112.2 million firm-fixed-price, requirements type contract, exercising Option V/ Year 6 of the C-130J’s AE2100D3 engine and R-391 propeller support contract. That includes logistics support, program management support, engineering, spares and technical data are included.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN until Jan 31/13. The Warner Robbins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB, GA manages this contract (FA8504-07-D-0001, #0600).

Jan 31/12: Support. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA receives a $63 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-award-fee, time-and-material, and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to support systems unique to the C-130J. Their work will include logistics support, program management support, engineering services, repairs, spares and technical data.

Work will be performed in Marietta, GA until Jan 31/14. The Warner Robbins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB, GA manages this contract (FA8504-06-D-0001, PO 0020; Delivery order 0700).

Jan 31/12: Norway. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA receives a $7.8 million firm-fixed-price, time-and-material contract for spares, field support representatives, program management, return and repair support, and engineering services from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, to support their new 4-plane C-130J fleet.

Work will be performed in Marietta, GA until Jan 31/14. The Warner Robbins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB, GA manages this contract (FA8504-06-D-0001, #0606).

Dec 28/11: Support. An $8.5 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for spares and material in support of the USMC’s KC-130Js. Funds will be obligated by individual delivery orders as they are issued. Work will be performed in Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete in December 2013. US NAVAIR manages this contract (N00019-09-D-0015).

Dec 13/11: Engines. A $10.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for 9 spare C-130J quick change engine assemblies, under the terms of the Fiscal Year Orientation Committee IV contract. The units are a split buy: 5 units for the U.S. Air Force; and 4 as a Foreign Military Sales effort for Kuwait (q.v. May 27/10, July 20/09 entries). Work will be performed in Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 28/14 (FA8625-11-C-6597, PO 0068).

Dec 7/11: SIGINT kit. Lockheed Martin delivers the USAF’s 4th Senior Scout containerized roll-on, roll-off signals intelligence (SIGINT) system. Senior Scout was 1st fielded in Operation Desert Storm (Iraq) in 1991, but the latest model is enhanced to be structurally compatible with the newest C-130J, adds updated system interfaces and technology enhancements, and offers better maintenance access. Lockheed Martin considers Senior Scout to be part of its DRAGON Shield series of modular ro-ro ISR offerings.

Acceptance testing is about to begin, and if all goes well, the USAF’s other 3 Senior Scouts will be converted to the same standard over the next 2 years. Lockheed Martin.

Dec 2/11: New variants. Flight International reports on Lockheed Martin EVP Ralph Heath’s presentation to the Credit Suisse aerospace and defense conference in New York. The presentation mentions 2 new variants: the stripped-down C-130XJ, without the automatic loading system and other niceties; and a more streamlined C-130NG concept aimed at the market beyond 2020.

Oct 27/11: India request. The US DSCA announces India’s official request to buy up to 6 more C-130Js, which would bring its fleet to 12. The previous May 25/07 request also asked for C-130J USAF baseline aircraft, but the order involved stretched C-130J-30s. It remains to be seen whether India will order more stretched C-130J-30s (likely), or 6 of the smaller C-130Js. The estimated cost is up to $1.2 billion.

Read “India Buys C-130J-30 Hercules for Special Forces” for full coverage.

DSCA request: India C-130J (6)

FY 2011

Israel buys #2; MATS II training contract; Block 7.0 software contract; Australian software innovation; Oman’s request; Crashworthy seating; What India left out. Deliveries: 1st SOCOM HC-130J & MC-130J, Qatar’s 4; India’s induction.

MC-130J enhancements
(click for video)

Sept 29/11: 1st MC-130J delivered. Lockheed Martin delivers the 1st of 20 MC-130J Combat Shadow IIs to United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), at Cannon Air Force Base, NM. Delivery had been scheduled for August.

While the HC-130J is the combat rescue model, the MC-130J is the standard special operations insertion and cargo plane. It’s also based on a KC-130J tanker, with the UARRSI boom refueling receptacle, Enhanced Service Life Wing, Enhanced Cargo Handling System, a surveillance and targeting turret, a combat systems operator station on the flight deck, and dual SATCOM. They’re more or less the same planes, actually, just with different roles, and different operators. Initial operational capability is planned for 2012.

Sept 28/11: Qatar. Lockheed holds a delivery ceremony in Marietta, GA for Qatar’s 4 ordered C-130J-30s. Arabian Aerospace.

Qatar – full delivery

Sept 24/11: 1st HC-130J delivered. US Air Combat Command officials receive their 1st HC-130J Combat King II, at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. Delivery had been scheduled for August.

The new HC-130J will be flown by the testing squadron, then members of the 79th Rescue Squadron will complete the 8 months of training needed to fly and operate the new model. USAF officials expect HC-130Js to begin regular duty at the base in early 2013. USAF.

Sept 16/11: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract modification to increase the ceiling on engine support contract line items for the KC-130J fleet. They include power by the hour, which pays a fixed fee per engine flight hours, and spares. The KC-130J fleet are triple-role aircraft: cargo, aerial refueling, and on-call strike aircraft (with the Harvest Hawk roll-on kit).

Work will be performed in Cherry Point, NC, and is expected to be complete in February 2012. No funding is being committed at time of award, but it’s available if needed. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract, as the KC-130Js are USMC birds (N00019-09-D-0020).

July 11/11: A not to exceed $89 million firm-fixed-price contract modification commits FY 2011 Congressionally-mandated advance procurement funding for 9 C-130J family planes: 1 USAF stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, and 8 US SOCOM HC-130J/ MC-130Js.

These 9 planes will receive their main orders in FY 2012, but advance ordering ensures that manufacturing can start when that order does come in (FA8625-11-C-6597 PO 0029).

May 2/11: Qatar. The 1st of 4 Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130J-30s has completed production at the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, GA. It would make its first flight on June 8th. See also Oct 7/08 entry.

April 8/11: Israel #2 & 3. Israel exercises $76.2 million in fixed-price not-to-exceed (NTE) options to buy a 2nd C-130J-30 aircraft, and begin planning and advance long lead procurement for the 3rd Israeli aircraft.

This unfinalized contract also includes recurring in-line production modifications for the 2nd aircraft to include but not limited to the following: Block 6X Operational Flight Program (July 30/08 DSCA cited Block 7.0, looks like Israel-specific mods), enhanced service life wing, 2 embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System Embedded Module IVs with Precise Positioning System and GAS-1 controlled radiation pattern antenna, and a UARRSI receptacle on top of the plane to accept aerial refueling booms. The 657th AESS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597).

Israel: 1 C-130J-30

April 5/11: MC-130J i3. A $21.4 million contract modification for MC-130J increment 3, to develop 1 trial kit installation, and perform developmental tests of this capability on 1 MC-130J increment 2 aircraft. The overall scope of this effort is to add the C-130J Block 7.0 software upgrades, and “a special mission processor capability that include both developmental [work] and integration of known/low risk improvements.” The ASC/WLNNC at Wright Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8625-11-C-6597 PO0002).

March 31/11: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA receives a $10 million firm-fixed-price contract to obligate FY 2010 advance procurement funding for 1 FY 2011 C-130J aircraft. Work will be performed at Marietta, GA (FA8625-06-C-6456-P00243).

March 29/11: MC-130J rollout. Lockheed Martin officially rolls out the 1st MC-130J Combat Shadow II for the U.S. Air Force’s Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Contracts have been placed to build 15 MC-130Js, and AFSOC is authorized to buy up to 20, against an approved long term requirement for 37 to replace the aging MC-130H fleet. Initial Operational Capability with the new type is expected in 2012.

All C-130J special forces configurations are based on the KC-130J aerial tanker, as they also have aerial refueling roles for SOCOM helicopters. Beyond that, MC-130Js will have the Enhanced Service Life Wing, a boom refueling receptacle (UARRSI) so they can be refueled in mid-air, more powerful electrical generators, a day/night surveillance turret, a combat systems operator station on the flight deck, and provisions for LAIRCM missile defense systems, among others. Technically, it’s basically the same as the HC-130J, it just performs a different role. Lockheed Martin.

MC-130J rollout

March 29/11: India. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives an $8.5 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide “spares, fuser, and program management support” for the Indian Air Force, to support the arrival of their new C-130J fleet. Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN, and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract (FA8504-07-D-0001-0501).

March 22/11: USAF Air Combat Command’s HC-130J personnel recovery aircraft, completes developmental testing by receiving fuel from an aerial tanker boom. This test point also applies to AFSOC’s MC-130J Combat Shadow II aircraft.

Rollout of the first MC-130J is later celebrated at the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, GA on March 29/11, and the first HC-130Js and MC-130Js started deliveries in September 2011, instead of August. Initial Operational Capability for both is scheduled for 2012.

March 18/11: Support. An $8.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide C-130J logistics support through Jan 31/12. Work will be performed at Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA (FA8625-11-C6597).

March 1/11: Australia – C-17 or C-130Js? Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith confirms that the government is looking into buying a 5th C-17, and has sent a Foreign Military Sale Letter of Request to the United States asking about costs and availability.

The tradeoff under consideration was whether to buy 1 more C-17A, or buy 2 more C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical transports between 2013-2015 under project AIR 8000 Phase 1. One C-17A can carry up to 4 C-130 Hercules loads in a single lift, and cover twice the distance in three-quarters of the time. On the other hand, it costs over 3 times as much, and can’t be in 4 places at once. In the end, Australia chose to buy the C-17 instead.

Feb 14/11: The 1st MC-130J Combat Shadow II for US AFSOC completes manufacturing, and will begin flight tests after additional special mission equipment like the chin-mounted sensor turret is installed. MC-130Js work insertion missions, almost always at night. Their missions can include low-level aerial refueling missions for special operations helicopters, along with infiltration/ exfiltration, and resupply for special forces teams.

Feb 5/11: India induction. The 1st Indian C-130J-30 with Special Forces enhancements is inducted in a special ceremony at Air Force Station Hindon, India. There’s still work to do, however. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik says of the American communications and security systems that were left out: “We have our own communication system and yes, we will be integrating them on the aircraft. They are already being made and they will be put on the aircraft.” Andrha News | MSN India.

Jan 31/11: Engines. Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $203 million contract modification to cover support services for the C-130J’s AE-2100D3 engines and R-391 propellers, under the Option Year IV (5th overall year) of their support contract. Sustaining services will include logistics support, program management support, engineering services, spares and technical data.

At this time, $49.6 million has been committed by the Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center GRBKA, at Robins Air Force Base, GA (FA8504-07-D-0001, 0500).

Jan 31/11: Support. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA receives a $69.8 million contract modification to cover support for systems unique to the C-130J fleet, as opposed to systems that are common to C-130Js and earlier model Hercules. The contract exercises the 2nd option, covering years 6 through 8 of logistics support, program management support, engineering services, repairs, spares and technical data.

At this time, $20 million has been committed by the Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center GRBKA, at Robins Air Force Base, GA (FA8504-06-D-0001, PO 0015).

Jan 28/11: Iraq, Norway. A $16.9 million contract modification exercises an option to purchase support equipment and spares for Iraq, as well as logistic support services for Norway. Both are C-130J customers, and Norway has already received its 4 aircraft. At this time the entire amount has been obligated by the ASC/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8625-06-C-6456).

Jan 11/10: USA, Norway. Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems in Marietta, GA receives a $13.3 million contract modification, exercising an option to purchase support equipment and spares for the United States and Norway.

While the platform is not named, the contract number is the C-130J contract. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the ASC/WLNNC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8625-06-C-6456).

Indian C-130J-30
(click to view full)

Dec 21/10: Sub-contractors. BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services in Rockville, MD receives a $12 million contract for C-130J/J-30 Loadmaster crashworthy seats systems. The contract will buy 101 systems: 7 “first article” systems for testing, then up to 88 systems and 6 systems of spares. $8.5 million has been committed by the WR-ALC/GRBK at Robins AFB, GA (FA8504-11-D-0003).

Dec 17/10: India. India’s 1st C-130J is formally delivered in a ceremony at Marietta, GA.

Dec 2/10: South Korea. Lockheed Martin announces a contract with the Republic of Korea for 4 stretched C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft, which are a one-for-one replacement of the ROKAF’s 4 C-130H-30s in its 12-plane Hercules fleet. Deliveries will take place in 2014, and the contract also contains a 2-year support program including aircrew and maintenance training.

The absence of a previous DSCA announcement indicates that this is a Direct Commercial Sale. Prices were not disclosed, but the flyaway cost of a C-130J-30 is around $65 million, and the modifications and maintenance agreement will be extra.

South Korea: 4 C-130J-30

Nov 30/10: Training. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Orlando, FL receives a $23.3 million contract for the HC/MC-130J Special Operations variant’s weapon systems trainer. At this time, $2,044,798 has been committed by the ASC/WNSK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8621-06-C-6300).

Nov 18/10: Oman request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] The Sultanate of Oman’s request for equipment, support and training associated with 1 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft being bought through a separate Direct Commercial Sale (see June 5/09 entry). The RAFO C-130J-30 would receive 1 AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures System, 7 AN/AAR-54 Missile Approach Warning Systems, 2 AN/ALR- 56M Radar Warning Receivers, 2 AN/ALE-47 Countermeasure Dispenser Sets, plus communication and navigation equipment, software support, repair and return, aircraft ferry and refueling support, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is $76 million.

Lockheed Martin sells the C-130, but for this request, the prime contractor will be Northrop Grumman Corporation in Rolling Meadows, IL. Implementation of this proposed sale will require annual trips to Oman involving up to 10 U.S. Government and 10 contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, and program management for a period of approximately 6 years.

DSCA request: Oman support & defensive

Nov 10/10: A $160 million contract modification that commits FY 2010 advance procurement funding for 16 C-130J aircraft that will have their contracts completed in FY 2011. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8625-06-C-6456; P00174).

Nov 8/10: Production accelerating. Flight International reports that Lockheed Martin has entered the final 12 months of F-22A production in Marietta, GA, and details the shifts underway. They add that the plant is also working to treble the C-130J’s production rate, to about 36 aircraft per year.

Oct 7/10: Australian innovation. Australian Defence magazine reports that Australian software investments are about to benefit global C-130J fleets, thanks to strong support from RAAF No. 37 squadron and the DSTO. The software is estimated to save about $2 million in maintenance hours and fuel over the plane’s lifetime. How?

Multi-engine propeller planes need to “balance” their propellers, in order to reduce vibration levels. That’s normally a labor-intensive process involving up to 5 maintenance staff, and multiple ground runs, over 1-2 days. Australia’s DSTO decided to look into a software solution that drew on an existing advanced engine monitoring capability, and coupled it with algorithms that take the flight data. Balancing now takes 2 hours, without the need for engine ground runs.

Flight tests before and after were promising, and the UK, Italy, Denmark, Canada and Norway will begin using the software soon. The USA is still reviewing the software license.

Oct 6/10: India omissions. Indian defense journalist Shiv Aroor lists the technologies that he says will not be in India’s C-130J-30 special forces aircraft, as a result of India’s refusal to sign the USA’s CISMOA End-User Monitoring agreement: AN/ARC-222 SINCGARS radios, KV-119 IFF Digital Transponder (Mode 4 Crypto Applique), TACTERM / ANDVT Secure Voice (HF) Terminal, VINSON KY-58 Secure Voice (UHF/VHF) Module, and no SINCGARS/crypto features in the embedded AN/ARC-210v SATCOM Transceiver.

Oct 5/10: India. The 1st of 6 Indian C-130J-30 special forces aircraft takes flight from Lockheed Martin’s plant and airfield in Marietta, GA.

FY 2010

USA plans to increase buy; Israel buys 1st; Kuwait buys 3; Oman requests 2 and buys 2; Tunisia buys 2; Australian modernization plan; Italian 5-year support deal; US multi-year contract proposal; Deliveries: Canada accepts 1st; Norway’s 4th and last; HC-130J rollout.

Danish C-130J
(click to view full)

Sept 13/10: A $59.8 million contract modification to buy 1 more FY 2008 OCO C-130J aircraft. At this time, $39.6 million has been committed (FA8625-06-C-6456; PO0193).

DID offers our readers the usual caveats, and reminds them that buying an aircraft doesn’t necessarily include “government furnished equipment” niceties like engines, etc.

Sept 2/10: A $315.6 million contract modification buy 3 FY 2008 “Overseas Contingency Operations” (supplemental wartime funding) C-130Js; 1 FY 2008 OCO KC-130J aerial tanker/ transport for the US Marines; and 1 FY 2010 HC-130J aircraft for US SOCOM. At this time, $250.8 million has been committed (FA8625-06-C-6456; PO0178).

Aug 31/10: Sub-contractors. UK firm GKN Aerospace announces that they have delivered the 1,000th C-130J engine nacelle. The firm has been supplying these since 1993, and plans to increase production from 18 aircraft sets (72 nacelles) per year in 2008 to “near double that” in 2011. GKN has set up a new state of the art production line at their Isle of Wight facility.

To meet this significant production rate increase GKN Aerospace has moved manufacture to an entirely new, state of the art production line at the Company’s site on the Isle of Wight, UK.

Aug 16/10: Oman contract. The Sultanate of Oman buys 2 C-130J aircraft, to complement the stretched C-130J-30 that’s already under contract for delivery in 2012. When this buy is complete, they will have replaced their existing fleet of 3 1980s-vintage C-130Hs with 3 C-130Js.

The 2 new C-130Js will not be the stretched J-30 version discussed in the July 2/10 DSCA announcement, and will be delivered in 2103 and 2014. Price is not disclosed, and the DSCA announcement referred to a “direct commercial sale” of the aircraft themselves, to accompany Oman’s request to buy up to $54 million worth of defensive equipment and support through the Foreign Military Sale procedure.

Oman: 2 C-130J

Aug 5/10: Italian support. Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia Aeronautica signs a 5-year, EUR 155 million (about $203 million) contract with the Italian Air Force to provide technical and logistical support services to their fleet of 20-21 C-130Js and C-130J-30s.

Alenia will partner with Avio and Lockheed Martin to offer a fully integrated service that will be responsible for the supply of spare parts, management of the supply chain, equipment maintenance including landing gear, the maintenance of the Air Ground Equipment (AGE), and engineering support activities, including responsibility for the C-130J flight simulator based at the 46th Air Brigade of Pisa.

Alenia will have overall responsibility, and will execute most of the work. Avio will be in charge of the complete propulsion system, including overhaul and technical/logistical and engineering assistance to the Aeronautica Militare’s 92 Rolls Royce AE2100D3 engines. C-130J builder Lockheed Martin will be responsible for the supply of repair components produced in the U.S. and for any modifications. These 3 companies have been providing support and technical and logistical assistance to the Italian C-130J fleet since 2007.

Italy support

click to play video

July 29/10: The 1st production HC-130J personnel recovery variant flies at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Marietta, GA. It’s due for delivery to USAF Air Combat Command in September 2010, and is scheduled to reach initial operational capability in 2012. An Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOCOM) MC-130J variant of this aircraft will fly in early 2011.

July 20/10: Canada Engine support. Rolls Royce announces a contract from Lockheed Martin. The base contract to support the Canadian CC-130Js’ AE 2100D3 engines is worth USD $70 million, and the entire contract could be worth up to $260 million over the CC-130J fleet’s lifetime.

Under this contract, Rolls-Royce will be providing all engine management and repair, logistics support and on-site technical support for the engine. It is paired with the long-term fleet support contract mentioned in the Dec 18/09 entry. Read “Replacing Canada’s Failing CC-130s: 17 C-130Js” for full coverage.

Canada engine support

July 1/10: Norway. The last of 4 ordered RNoAF C-130J-30s heads off to Norway. Read “Norway Renews Its Tactical Transport Fleet” for full coverage.

Norway: all delivered

July 2/10: Oman request. The US DSCA announces Oman’s request to buy additional equipment, logistics support, and training for 2 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, which are being bought via a Direct Commercial Sale outside of the DSCA’s Foreign Military Sales process. Additional military equipment bought under FMS rules includes 2 AN/AAR-47 Missile Approach Warning Systems, 2 AN/ALR-56M Radar Warning Receivers, 2 AN/ALE-47 Countermeasure Dispenser Sets, plus communication equipment, software support, repair and return, installation, aircraft ferry and refueling support, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of U.S. government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $54 million.

The Royal Air Force of Oman currently operates 3 C-130H aircraft, and has already bought 1 C-130J-30 (q.v. June 5/09). They can absorb the new equipment, but a sale would require annual trips to Oman involving up to 10 U.S. Government and 10 contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, and program management for a period of approximately 6 years.

DSCA request: Oman support & training

June 18/10: Multi-year proposal. The Hill reports that Lockheed Martin continues to work on a multi-year C-130J buy, and that the current negotiations for 65 C-130Js would serve as a starting point. Lockheed Martin’s international VP for air mobility business development, Jack Crisler, says the key target is 10% savings demonstrated, adding that his firm plans to propose the multi-year contract in September-October 2010.

The proposal could also become more inclusive, potentially adding US Special Operations and US Coast Guard aircraft. If other multi-year deals serve as any guide, the deal might also end up including foreign buys, which would benefit from the US government’s volume pricing. USAF acquisition chief David Van Buren says the USAF is receptive to the idea, but past discussions haven’t shown that 10%+ savings over the existing year-by-year contracts. The USAF reportedly pegs the current price of a C-130J, without spares or Government-Furnished Equipment such as engines and some electronics, optional refueling pods, etc. at $57.6 million.

June 4/10: Canada acceptance. Canada formally accepts the first of 17 CC-130J Super Hercules aircraft, to the Canadian Forces 8 Wing in Trenton, ON, 6 months ahead of the original delivery schedule. The remaining 16 aircraft will begin delivery in winter 2010 as planned, with deliveries running into 2012. Canadian DND.

May 27/10: Kuwait contract. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA announces a $245 million contract to provide 3 KC-130J aerial tankers to the government of Kuwait. This order is part of a larger approved request to buy up to 8 KC-130Js and associated equipment (see July 20/09 entry).

KC-130Js will provide aerial refueling for the Kuwait air force’s F/A-18 C/D fighter fleet, and augment its current airlift fleet of 3 L-100s (civilian C-130). Kuwait’s KC-130Js also will perform air mobility, disaster relief and humanitarian missions throughout the world.

Kuwait: 3 KC-130J

April 30/10: Israel +1. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA receives a $98.6 million contract, to provide one C-130J aircraft for the government of Israel. The contract also includes additional non-developmental items for the aircraft, and $18.5 million of foreign military financing has been committed by the 657th AESS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8625-06-C-6456).

This order has been some time in negotiation, and follows a July 30/08 DSCA announcement that covered up to $1.9 billion for 9 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, with Special Operations features.

Israel: 1 C-130J-30

April 19/10: HC-130J rollout. Lockheed Martin rolls out the first HC-130J combat rescue tanker, at an official ceremony in Marietta, GA. The 563rd Rescue Group, based at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ and at Kirtland AFB, NM will be the first bases to receive the new model for training purposes once it has undergone initial testing, which typically takes about a year. Initial Operational Capability is slated for 2012. Maj. Gen. Thomas K. Andersen, USAF Air Combat Command’s director of requirements, said that:

“The recapitalization of the C-130 fleet is a big deal and the new model represents a quantum leap in technology which allows us to continue completing the mission. Right now, the C-130 has one of the lowest availability rates [emphasis DID’s] in the Air Force and the introduction of the J-model will increase that rate by 46% as well as decrease needed crewmembers from 7 to 5.”

The HC-130J, like all of the Special Forces C-130Js, uses a KC-130J tanker baseline. It adds the Enhanced Service Life Wing, Enhanced Cargo Handling System, a dorsal aerial refueling boom receptacle, an electro-optical/infrared sensor, a combat systems operator station on the flight deck, and provisions for the large aircraft infrared countermeasures system (LAIRCM) missile defense system. The maintenance techs especially appreciate the C-130J-standard improved diagnostic systems, as opposed to the C-130H models’ more manual approach. Lockheed Martin is currently contracted to build 21 HC/MC-130Js, and the USAF is currently authorized to buy up to 31 (11 HC-130J, 20 MC-130J). USAF | Lockheed Martin.

HC-130J rollout

April 6/10: Engines. Rolls-Royce announces $51 million engine production and MissionCare services contract for the AE 2100D3 engines on the USMC’s KC-130J tanker. The award falls under a 4-year contract with US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), which is administered at NAS Patuxent River, MD.

Rolls-Royce will provide engines, engine management, support, trouble shooting, parts supply and logistics support for aircraft operating at 3 US Marine Air Stations: Miramar, CA; Cherry Point, NC; and Okinawa, Japan.

April 3/10: The first HC-130J combat rescue tanker leaves Lockheed Martin’s main assembly building in Marietta, GA. The plane next steps include a trip to the painting facility, production flight testing, and formal presentation to the USAF on April 19/10. The HC-130J will be delivered later in 2010, then undergo operational flight testing to meet an Initial Operating Capability target of mid-2012. Lockheed Martin release.

April 1/10: Support. Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA received a $77.1 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-09-D-0015) to provide additional funding for logistics and engineering services in support of the US Marine Corps KC-130J aircraft.

Work will be performed in Cherry Point, NC (36%), Miramar, CA (36%), and Okinawa, Japan (28%), and is expected to be complete in December 2010. The Naval Air Systems Command manages the contract.

April 1/10: SAR – more C-130Js. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. The C-130J is featured, because the US military wants more of them:

“C-130J – Program costs increased $3,148.8 million (+26.2%) from $12,029.3 million to $15,178.1 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of 34 aircraft from 134 to 168 aircraft (+$2,749.3 million), and increases in other support costs (+$972.8 million) and initial spares (+$394.7 million) associated with the quantity increase. These increases were partially offset by decreases for actual contract values for aircraft costs (-$541.5 million), to properly account for advanced procurement that was erroneously reflected in the previous report (-$246.0 million), and for funding reductions in fiscal 2010 through fiscal 2015 (-$140.9 million).”

SAR – more C-130Js

March 2/10: Tunisia contract. Lockheed Martin announces an unspecified contract with Tunisia for 2 C-130J-30 stretched transports, and says the contract was signed in February 2010.

Deliveries are scheduled for 2013-2014, and the Tunisian contract also contains an initial 3 years of logistics support. The country currently operates a fleet of C-130Hs and C-130Bs, first purchased in the mid-1980s.

Tunisia: 2 C-130J-30

Feb 25/10: Australia upgrades. Australia’s government announces that they have approved AUD $45 million to upgrade and modernize their C-130J fleet, as part of a multi-national Joint User Group Global Project Arrangement with United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Italy. The “Block 7.0” upgrades will address system obsolescence, maintain international compatibility, and enable these aircraft to comply with new global air traffic standards. Defence minister Sen. Faulkner is quoted as saying that:

“Importantly, there is likely to be significant opportunity for Australian Industry to be involved in the national installation and support of the upgrade. Funding for these elements will be considered by Government following successful testing of the first modification kit on an Australian C-130J. [as a] risk management strategy.”

Feb 1/10: Engines. Rolls-Royce Corp. of Indianapolis, IN receives a $146 million firm-fixed-price contract, exercising Option III (year 4) of logistics support, program management support, engineering services, spares and technical data in support of the C-130J propulsion systems. This includes the AE2100D3 engine, and the R-391 propeller as well.

At this time, $42.7 million has been committed by the 330th ACSG/GFKA at Robins AFB, GA (FA8504-07-D-0001, Delivery #0400).

Jan 22/10: Support. A $16.7 million contract completely funds an “engineering change proposal” (ECP) to replace the C-130J’s Star VII mission computer. (FA8625-06-C-6456).

Jan 13/10: Canada. The 1st Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules produced for Canada leaves the company’s paint facility in Marietta, Georgia.

CC-130J: just painted
(click to view full)

Dec 18/09: Canada support. The Government of Canada signs a C$ 723 million (currently $698 million) contract amendment with Lockheed Martin. This initial CC-130J fleet support funding covers an initial 5 1/2 year period ending June 30/16.

The contract also includes a mechanism to extend the period of in-service support throughout the fleet’s service life, to 20 years or more. Public Works Canada release.

Canada support

Dec 22/09: Support. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Orlando, FL receives a $14.5 million contract to provide FY 2010 operations and maintenance services for the C-130J. At this time, $3.5 million has been committed (FA8621-06-C-6300, P000046).

Dec 19/09: The 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein AB, Germany, flies its first C-130J Super Hercules mission in support of U.S. Air Forces Africa to bring home 17 American troops from a training mission in Mali. 37th Airlift squadron of the 86th Airlift Wing, 17th Air Force flew the mission.

The USAF release cites the C-130J’s increased range as a helpful factor in Africa, and also cites the aircraft’s improved cargo capacity, especially in hot and/or high-altitude conditions. A pickup of this nature exercises the former but not the latter, expanding operational familiarity with the aircraft, in return for higher operating costs to perform this particular mission.

Nov 23/09: Italian crash. Italian air force C-130J #MM62176 crashes and burns after a touch-and-go landing, during a routine training sortie from Pisa. The crash kills both pilots, and all 3 passengers. It could have been worse – the plane crashed on a nearby railway line, but an oncoming train managed to stop.

C-130J MM62176 was delivered to Italy in 2000 as its 1st of 12 regular C-130Js, but was later adapted for tanker applications. The Italians have not halted flying operations with their remaining 21 C-130Js, which include 1 KC-130J and 10 stretched C-130J-30s.

This is not the 1st C-130J lost. On Feb 12/07, A UK Royal Air Force C-130J was extensively damaged by 2 land mines that were detonated while it was landing on a semi-prepared strip in southern Iraq. The British decided to destroy the plane. Flight International.


Nov 9/09: Engines. Rolls-Royce announces an $8.5 million contract to provide AE 2100D3 spare engine parts to power the C-130J military transport aircraft for the US Air Force. As part of this order, deployable kits and initial provisioning spares will be delivered to Cannon AFB in NM, Dyess AFB in TX and Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

The contract, which is managed by Robins Air Force Base in GA, involves an initial 956 AE 2100D3 spare engines parts for delivery through 2011.

Oct 20/09: Industrial. Lockheed Martin CFO Bruce Tanner, discussing Q3 2009 earnings, reveals that global C-130J deliveries will grow from 12 aircraft in 2008 to 16 in 2009 and 26 in 2010. Q3 Earnings slides [PDF] | Flight International.

Oct 19/09: Shadow Harvest. Flight International reports that Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division wants clearance to export its “Shadow Harvest” roll-on/roll-off suite of intelligence sensors for the C-130 Hercules, which was developed for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) with sponsorship from the Miami, Florida-based Southern Command.

Shadow Harvest is designed to identify targets concealed under camouflage or foliage, and reportedly includes BAE’s SPIRITT hyperspectral camera, and a low frequency/ multi-band synthetic aperture radar (MB-SAR), among other sensors, plus containerized roll on/off controllers and displays. It’s expected to become an official USAF program of record by 2012.

Oct 19/09: C-130 plans. Flight International has a video of 2 USAF Colonels who are answering questions regarding a number of C-130-related programs, including potential future gunships, programs to add weapons to C-130s beyond the USMC’s KC-130Js, SOCOM programs, etc.

Oct 16/09: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA received an $827.4 million contract for advance procurement funding for 3 FY 2010 C-130J aircraft, 4 FY 2010 HC-130J aircraft, and 4 FY 2010 MC-130J aircraft. An option is being exercised for the acquisition of 1 HC-130J aircraft to be fully funded with FY10 funds. Note that MC/HC-130Js are Special Operations aircraft.

At this time, $8.3 million has been obligated. The 657 AESS/SYKA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8625-06-C-6456, P00087).

Oct 5/09: Lockheed Martin officially launches production of its HC/MC-130J special forces search-and-rescue aircraft. Future upgrades involve an internal investment to design a retractable housing for the aircraft’s MTS-A turret, in order to reduce drag and extend range. Other possibilities reportedly include airframe changes to accommodate more equipment, possibly including an enlarged nose section, and a wider cross-section for the fuselage. Flight International.

FY 2009

Qatar orders 4; Iraq orders 4; USA begins arming C-130Js; UAE says “maybe”; France interested – really?!?; Australian 5-year support deal; Canadian 5-year support deal; Shadow Harvest kit clearance?; Italian crash; Video re: USAF thinking.

AE2100 engine
c. Rolls-Royce plc 2009
(click to view full)

Sept 30/09: Support. Lockheed Martin Corp., of Orlando FL received a $9.9 million contract which will provide for FY 2010 C-130J maintenance and training, as orders are placed by the 677th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8621-06-C-6300).

Sept 10/09: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives an $11.1 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-09-D-0020) from the U.S. Marine Corps, for 3 of the C-130J’s AE2100D3 turboprop engines. Work will be performed in Cherry Point, N.C., and is expected to be complete in May 2012. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract.

Aug 24/09: Engines. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta, GA receives a $30.2 million modified contract to purchase the quick engine change assemblies for American C/KC/BC/HC/MC-130J aircraft, and Foreign Military Sale aircraft for Norway and India.

“At this time $31,972,726 has been obligated.” The US Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages this contract (FA8625-06-C-6456).

Aug 11/09: Iraq order. A $140.3 million unfinalized firm-fixed-price contract modification for 2 more Iraqi C-130J-30s, completing their 6-aircraft request. The contract also includes engineering and integration tasks associated with Iraq’s distinctive C-130J-30 configuration.

At this time no funds have been obligated. The 657 AESS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages this contract (FA8625-06-C-6456/P00098). Read “Iraq Orders C-130Js” for all contracts and requests related to that program.

Iraq: 2 C-130J-30

July 20/09: Kuwait request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Kuwait’s official request to buy up to 8 KC-130J cargo/refueling aircraft and associated equipment, parts and support for an estimated cost $1.8 billion. This would significantly upgrade Kuwait’s air force, which currently lacks aerial refueling aircraft, and depends on just 3 L100 civilian C-130E equivalents for transport duties. Kuwait’s purchase would reinforce a trend in the Gulf Cooperation Council, which has seen similar purchases and requests in the last year from Saudi Arabia (A330s), Qatar (C-130J-30s), and the UAE (C-17s, C-130Js pending).

Kuwait has requested 8 KC-130Js with the accompanying 32 AE-2100D3 Turbo propeller engines, plus 8 spare AE-2100D3 Turbo propeller engines, 4 AN/ALR-56M Radar Warning Receivers, 4 AN/AAR-47 Missile Approach Warning Systems, 4 AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispenser Sets, and 20 AN/ARC-210 (RT-1851A(U)) Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency HAVEQUICK/SINCGARS Radio Systems. The contract, to be negotiated, would also include spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, and other related elements of program support.

The principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Marietta, Georgia. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

DSCA request: Kuwait KC-130J (8)

June 5-15/09: France? With the A400M program seriously behind schedule, and a fleet of C-160 and Lockheed Martin C-130H tactical transports that continue to see heavy demand, France is apparently looking at the one option its government had said would not be considered.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin is quoted as saying that the government has expanded its stopgap options to include lease or purchase of some C-130Js; and Bloomberg reports that France has officially requested C-130J availability and performance data for review. Other possibilities for France include stepped up per-hour leasing of Russian AN-124s under NATO’s SALIS pool, per-hour C-17 leasing under NATO’s SAC pool, acquisition or lease of EADS’ smaller C-295Ms, or advancing their planned Airbus 330 MRTT aerial tanker & transport buy. France has also approved the modernization of its 10 newest C160 Transalls so they can remain in service until the first A400Ms arrive, which is now expected to happen in 2014-15.

These options group themselves by tradeoffs. Some contenders (C-295M, A330 MRTT) lack the reinforced floors required for dense tactical loads like armored vehicles. Others (AN-124, A330 MRTT, C-17s to lesser extent) require longer runways to operate from, which removes some of their utility as front line delivery aircraft. Range and refueling capability are potential issues for some (C-295M, some C-130Js), while maintaining overall fleet strength and front line airlift availability is a concern in other cases (AN-124, C-17, A330 MRTT to some extent). The C-130J sits in the middle of many of these tradeoffs, which may be why it has climbed back into consideration. Bloomberg.

June 5/09: Oman order. Lockheed Martin announces that the Sultanate of Oman has ordered a single stretched C-130J-30, to complement its 3 existing C-130H aircraft which were bought in the 1980s. Price is not disclosed.

The Lockheed Martin release doesn’t mention the UAE as a customer, despite earlier reports that contracts had been negotiated at IDEX 2009 (see Feb 25/09 entry). Company representatives informed DID that they are in final negotiations with the UAE, but have no contract yet, adding that negotiations are also underway with Israel (see July 30/08 entry).

Oman: 1 C-130J-30

May 27/09: Engines. Rolls-Royce announces an $80 million contract to provide AE 2100D3 spare engines and parts to power the C-130J military transport aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the Indian Air Force.

The contract, which is managed by Robins Air Force Base in GA, involves an initial 27 AE 2100D3 spare engines and parts for delivery through 2011.

May 8/09: Armed C-130Js. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta, GA received a $22.8 million firm-fixed-price contract to develop a roll-on, roll-off armed targeting capability for the Marine Corps’ KC-130J. The program is known as Harvest Hawk.

Work will be performed in Palmdale, CA and is expected to be complete in December 2009. Contract funds in the amount of $15.5 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-09-C-0053).

May 4/09: Armed C-130Js. The USAF is also interested in roll-on armament for its C-130 fleet, and issues a PIXS solicitation for a “Precision Strike Pkg 360 Degree Situational Awareness Camera System.” The solicitation adds that:

“This system would operate at altitudes at or above 10,000 feet and act as a hostile fire indicator system to provide aircrew with the ability to virtually scan the outside of the aircraft for hostile ground threats that would possibly target them. This system is part of a broader Persistence Strike Package (PSP). The purpose of the PSP program is to add a modular PSP to a medium lift cargo aircraft, to include a medium caliber gun and Stand-Off Precision Guided Munitions (SOPGM).”

April 30/09: Iraq order. Lockheed Martin of Marietta, GA receives a maximum $292.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy 4 C-130J-30 aircraft for the Iraqi government. At this time, $6.9 million has been obligated. The 657 AESS in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8625-06-C-6456,P00080).

Note the July 25/08 entry. The initial request was for 6 aircraft. Since the DSCA request went unchallenged, Iraq’s government has the freedom to buy up to 2 more aircraft at a later date.

Iraq: 4 C-130J-30

April 30/09: The Air Force is modifying a fixed price contract with Lockheed Martin Corp., of Marietta, GA for $15.8 million. This contract modification will exercise options to purchase Special Forces configuration equipment for 6 MC-130J Global War on Terror aircraft. At this time, the entire amount has been obligated. 657 AESS, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio is the contracting activity (FA8625-06-C-6456).

March 11/09: Australia support deal. Australia’s Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) announces a contract to EADS Eurocopter subsidiary Australian Aerospace to provide Through Life Support services for the RAAF’s fleet of 12 C-130J and stretched C-130J-30 Hercules aircraft. Australian Aerospace already supports the RAAF’s AP-3C maritime patrol aircraft, so this is not a huge departure for the firm. Lockheed Martin will be the sub-contractor for aircraft maintenance, engineering, and supply chain management; and engine support will continue to be provided by Dubai Aerospace Enterprise subsidiary StandardAero under an existing contract arrangement.

The contract is worth up to A$ 292 million, and is structured as a 5-year rolling contract whose continuation will reportedly be linked to demonstrated performance and cost containment, with an eye to: improved delivery of services; performance-based, long-term, support arrangements; relationship with the Commonwealth; price disclosure; and meaningful transfer of risk. Contract extensions can continue under these arrangements, through to expected life-of-type in 2030.

RAAF Air Vice-Marshal Thorne says that the contract will create over 80 additional industry jobs in the Sydney/Richmond area over the next year. Australian DoD.

Australia support

March 5/09: Britain. Britain’s RAF is under strain, trying to sustain an aerial supply bridge for 8,000 deployed troops in Afghanistan. With its 20 C-130Ks (C1/C3) being forced toward retirement, Aviation Week reports [link now broken] that Britain is looking at the possibility of leasing 5 C-130Js as a potential “bridge” until the A400Ms can begin to arrive, and/or finding ways to add to their 6-plane C-17 fleet.

Senior British Defense Ministry officials are believed to have met on March 4/09 to examine proposals for the ministry’s next “Planning Round 09.” Airlift and budget issues would have been prominent within those discussions.

Feb 27/09: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives a $106 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for logistics support, technical engineering support services, and spare engines and associated parts for the U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J, which includes the AE2100D3 turboprop engine and Dowty R391 propeller.

The KC-130J MissionCare contract is a single contract line item number is used to pay a fixed price based on aircraft hours flown. Under the terms of the agreement, Rolls-Royce will provide engine management, support, trouble shooting, parts supply and logistics support for the aircraft, operating at 3 U.S. Marine Air Stations: Miramar, CA, Cherry Point, NC and Okinawa, Japan.

The contract covers a base year plus 3 option years, with the base year funded at $39.1 million and running to February 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-09-D-0020).

Feb 26/09: Norway engine support. Rolls-Royce announces a $23 million MissionCare support services and spares contract for AE 2100D3 engines. The engines are installed on the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s (RNoAF) C-130Js.

The contract is modeled after the USAF’s Power By The Hour contract, providing a comprehensive support package to the RNoAF on a per-engine flight-hour basis. The contract covers on-site technical support, maintenance support, training, provision of spare parts, supply replenishment with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for the engine, and supply of an R391 Dowty propeller.

Feb 25/09: UAE. The UAE announces an AED 5.9 billion (about $1.6 billion) deal for 12 of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J medium-range tactical transports, which will accompany a deal for 4 of Boeing’s larger C-17s. Abu Dhabi’s privately-owned Waha Capital usually finances airline purchases, and has been tapped to finance the C-17 and C-130J contracts.

Neither deal is finalized, and the C-17 contract takes a while. The C-130J contract remains unsigned as of September 2012.

Feb 2/09: Engines. The USAF is modifying a contract to Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN for $120 million, in return for spares, program management support, engineering services, and technical data in support of the C-130J’s AE 2100D3 engine and R-391 propeller. At this time $17.5 million has been committed, and the contract will be managed by 330 ACSG/GFKA at Robins AFB, GA (FA8504-07-D-0001, P00004).

Dec 16/08: Industrial. Reuters reports that Lockheed Chairman and CEO Robert Stevens told the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington that the company expected to sell “hundreds [of C-130Js] domestically and hopefully hundreds internationally” in coming years. “We’re building one airplane a month and our goal is to maybe double that…” he said.

Dec 12/08: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN received a $6 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract (N00019-03-D-0002). The Us Marine Corps is buying 2 more AE2100D3 turboprop engines for their KC-130Js.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN and is expected to be complete in July 2010. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract.

Dec 3/08: Canada. The Ottawa Citizen’s defense reporter Davd Pugliese reports that Canada has signed a contract for early delivery of 2 of its 15 ordered C-130Js. One aircraft will arrive in June 2010, and the other will arrive in July 2010.

This still misses the RFP’s original must-deliver date of early 2009, but that was based on a contract being signed in 2006, instead of in 2008. Under the signed 2008 contract, the delivery deadline for the first Canadian C-130J would have been January 2011.

Dec 1/08: MC-130J mods. The USAF is modifying a firm-fixed-price not-to-exceed $74.9 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp in Marietta, GA. It includes time and material and cost reimbursement, and covers an Engineering Change Proposal for one-time efforts to incorporate Special Operations Forces-unique modifications in the MC-130J. At this time, $19.6 million has been committed (FA8625-06-C-6456).

See also the related June 13/08 entry.

Oct 7/08: Qatar order. Qatar recently moved to upgrade its military transport capabilities by buying 2 C-17 strategic airlifters, and 18 AW139 utility helicopters. Now it will also add 4 stretched C-130J-30 tactical transports, under a recent $393.6 million deal with Lockheed Martin.

Qatar has never flown C-130s, so the package includes 4 aircraft, training of aircrew and maintenance technicians, spares, ground support and test equipment, servicing carts, forklifts, loading vehicles, cargo pallets, and a team of technical specialists who will be based in Qatar during an initial support period. See also July 29/08 entry.

Qatar: 4 C-130J-30

FY 2008

Canada orders 17; India orders 6; HC/MC-130J special forces configurations unveiled, get initial US orders; Qatar orders 4; Italian 3-year support deal; Israel request; Iraq request; 1st US Coast Guard C-130J delivered; As US SAR points to program growth, Lockheed confident C-130J will make it.

(click to view full)

Aug 14/08: Sub-contractors. Rockwell Collins Aerospace and Electronics, Inc. in Portland, OR received a $7.2 (in total ceiling amount) firm-fixed-price, Basic Order Agreement (BOA) for spares, repairs, and engineering services and support of HGS-3000 heads-up display system for the C-130J aircraft sustainment program.

Work will be performed 100% in Portland, Ore and is anticipated to be complete at the conclusion of the BOA in August 2013. Funds will be obligated as each job order is identified. This contract was competitively procured via Federal Business Opportunities, Navy Electronic Commerce Online, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane website with one offer received by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division in Crane, IN (N00164-08-G-WT00).

July 30/08: Israel. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notifies Congress [PDF] of Israel’s request for up to 9 stretched C-130J-30s, including a number of ‘non-standard’ equipment items associated with Special Forces use. The total value could be as high as $1.9 billion.

Read Israel Orders ‘Special’ C-130J-30s for full coverage.

DSCA request: Israel C-130J-30 (9)

July 29/08: Qatar. DACIS reports [link now broken] that The Qatari Ministry of Defense has awarded Lockheed Martin an undisclosed contract for C-130J Hercules transports. While no DSCA announcement has been issued, there are civilian versions of the C-130 that would not require a Foreign Military Sale request. Later announcements reveal that Qatar ordered 4 planes.

The move comes just a couple of weeks after Qatar signed deals with an estimated $1.5 billion value, acquiring 2 C-17 strategic transport aircraft, and 18 AW139 light/medium utility helicopters. The Persian Gulf sheikhdom doesn’t have a real military transport fleet at the moment, just a VIP flight of business and passenger jets. With these 3 contracts, Qatar has now modernized its aged utility helicopter fleet, and acquired longer-range military transports to back that up. See subsequent announcement on Oct 7/08.

July 25/08: Iraq request. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Iraq’s official request for 6 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, which will supplement the 3 refurbished C-130E’s that currently form Iraq’s medium transport fleet.

The estimated cost is $1.5 billion, and the prime contractor will be Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, TX and Rolls-Royce Corporation in Indianapolis, IN. Going forward, up to 10 U.S. Government and 10 contractor representatives will participate in 2-week long annual technical and program management reviews. Lockheed Martin and Rolls Royce aren’t the only contractors for this request, however, which also includes defensive equipment from Alliant Techsystems and BAE Systems. The detailed request includes:

  • 6 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft identical to the USAF baseline standard
  • 28 Rolls Royce AE 2100D3 engines, (24 installed, 4 spare)
  • 8 of ATK’s AN/AAR-47 Missile Warning Systems (6 installed, 2 spare)
  • 8 of BAE’s AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing Systems (6 installed, 2 spare)

Plus a stock of spare and repair parts, configuration updates, integration studies, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, technical services, personnel training and training equipment, foreign liaison office support, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics personnel services, construction, and other related elements of logistics support.

DSCA request: Iraq C-130J-30 (6)

July 17/08: Industrial. It was touch-and-go for a while, but the C-130J’s future now looks much more assured. Ross Reynolds, vice president of C-130 Programs for Lockheed Martin, announces that the company has notched 221 C-130J orders, with a current backlog of 58 aircraft. Flight International’s article adds that:

“Having dropped plans to upgrade its ‘Legacy Herks’ under Boeing’s troubled avionics modernization programme (AMP) the USAF has instead opted for new aircraft, based on a common airframe derived from the US Marine Corps’ KC-130J. The new requirement initially calls for 115 aircraft; initially comprising 78 HC-130Js for Air Combat Command and 37 MC-130Js for AFSOC. In anticipation of the huge new USAF requirement, Lockheed Martin says that it is ready to ramp up production to 24 aircraft per year from the current 12.”

July 15/08: Sub-contractors. Lockheed Martin holds a briefing at the Farnborough International Airshow 2008 concerning its new HC-130J and MC-130J configurations. In addition, Lockheed Martin discussed 3 new technologies that will become part of all future C-130Js: (1) a Global Digital Map Unit built by Israel’s Elbit Systems; (2) a TacView Portable Mission Display for mission planning and in-flight replanning, built by Canada’s CMC, who recently finished a delivery to US AFSOC for its AC-130H/U gunships; and CMC’s InegriFlight commercial GPS Landing System Sensor Unit to give the planes an Instrument Flight Rules and civil-certified Global Navigational Satellite System. CMC Electronics | Flight International re: TacView.

June 13/08: +6 SOCOM. The Air Force is modifying a firm fixed price contract with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Marietta GA by $470 million, as an unfinalized contract to buy 6 HC/MC-130J special operations aircraft. The aircraft will be bought in FY 2009, and this contract includes associated long lead material and non-recurring aircraft production efforts using FY 2008 advance procurement funding. At this time $75 million has been committed by the USAF/AFMC, Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8625-06-C-6456 P00037).

The new variant will add several features to the baseline KC-130J, including Block 6.5 flight-control software, an extended service life wing, an enhanced cargo handling system, a boom refueling receptacle, and electro-optical/infrared camera, a combat systems station and armor.

This move effectively abandons an earlier option of holding a competition to replace existing HC/MC-130s. The USAF is authorized to replace the 68 oldest HC/MC-130N/Ps, including some that entered service in 1964. Whether it chooses to replace its entire inventory with C-130J variants remains an open question at this point; a future competition is not impossible. See also USAF release | Flight International.

May 30/08: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN received a $9.7 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-03-D-0002) for logistics support, technical engineering support services, and spare engines and associated parts for the U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J, which includes the AE2100D3 turboprop engine and R391 propeller.

Work will be performed at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC and is expected to be completed in November 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD is managing the contract.

May 28/08: HC/MC-130J. Lockheed Martin unveils its privately-developed HC/MC-130J at the ILA exhibition in Berlin. It can be refueled in flight, ad can also mount the KC-130J’s refueling pods to act as a tanker itself. Advanced imaging and radar systems for low-level night flights and battlefield surveillance, modern electronics including the addition of a dual-display combat systems operator station, and a wing with longer service life round out the enhancements.

This tailored common core special operations variant is intended to the HC-130N/P King Bird CSAR/tanker, MC-130E/H Combat Talon special forces transports, and MC-130P Combat Shadow special forces transports/tankers. Lockheed also hopes that this hopes new common core airframe will form the basis of a future gunship to replace existing AC-130s; see the Additional Readings section, however, for questions about the design’s appropriateness to the future Special Operations environment.

SOCOM has issued an official acquisition decision memorandum for 68 aircraft has now been issued to replace the older MC-130E, MC-130P and HC-130P aircraft, with an overall program target of 115 aircraft and an initial operational capability (IOC) date of 2012. In the absence of orders, Lockheed Martin has used private funds in order to ensure timely development, though India’s recent billion-dollar order of 6-12 MC-130J type aircraft has helped ease the risk. Lockheed Martin is also keenly aware that the larger Airbus A400M’s biggest disadvantage is the fact that deliveries are expected to begin in 2011, with a substantial order backlog of about 180 aircraft. By accelerating its own efforts, they place their future competitor at maximum disadvantage for the prestigious US SOCOM contract, which can then be levered into niche-role contracts with other countries looking to boost their special forces and search-and-rescue capabilities. Flight International.

HC/MC-130J design unveiled

May 9/08: Support. GE Aviation Systems LLC of Sterling, VA received a firm fixed price contract for $9.4 million to establish organizational level propeller repair capability for the C-130J aircraft at 8 different bases. At this time all funds have been committed. Robbins AFB, GA issued the contract (FA8504-080C-0002).

April 7/08: SAR. The USA decides to buy more C-130Js, and that means higher overall program costs which must be note in the Pentagon’s Selected Acquisition Reports release:

“Program costs increased $3,958.2 million (+49.0 percent) from $8,071.1 million to $12,029.3 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of 52 aircraft from 82 to 134 aircraft (+$2,937.8 million) and associated estimating and schedule allocations

  • (+$399.6 million). There were additional increases in initial spares (+$85.7 million) and other support costs (+$546.9 million) associated with the higher aircraft quantity. These increases were partially offset by decreases from the acceleration of the procurement buy profile (-$18.1 million) and withholds for higher Air Force priorities and programming changes (-$12.6 million).

…Quantity changes are estimated based on the original SAR baseline cost-quantity relationship. Cost changes since the original baseline are separately categorized as schedule, engineering, or estimating “allocations.” The total impact of a quantity change is the identified “quantity” change plus all associated “allocations.”

SAR – more C-130Js

April 2/08: Lockheed Martin announces delivery of a 6th C-130J Super Hercules to 41st Airlift Squadron, 463rd Airlift Group, at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR. The 41st, also known as the “Black Cats,” is the first active-duty C-130J combat squadron in the Air Force.

March 18/08: +2 KC-130J. A $133.2 million “undefinitized contract action” (UCA) for 2 FY 2009 KC-130J aircraft and the associated long lead materials and parts. At this time $30 million has been obligated. Kirtland AFB in NM issued the contract (FA8625-06-C-6456 P00033).

March 11/08: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN received a $6.5 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-03-D-0002) for logistics support, technical engineering support services, and spare engines and associated parts for the U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J, which includes the AE2100D3 turboprop engine and R391 propeller.

Work will be performed in Cherry Point, NC, and is expected to be complete in May 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.

Feb 29/08: USCG. Lockheed Martin delivers the first “missionized” HC-130J long-range surveillance maritime patrol aircraft to the U.S. Coast Guard for maritime search and rescue, maritime law enforcement and homeland security missions. Mission equipment includes installation of a belly-mounted surface search radar, a nose-mounted electro-optical infrared sensor, a flight deck mission operator station and a mission integrated communication system. The mission system installed on the HC-130J is derived from the same software series developed for the mission system pallet onboard the HC-144A (EADS-CASA CN-235) maritime patrol aircraft concurrently in testing.

Lockheed Martin is working within the Deepwater acquisition framework to deliver 3 fully-equipped HC-130Js under a under a fixed-price contract, and is on schedule to complete the aircraft In March 2008. A contract modification is expected to begin work on a 4th aircraft, which would give the Coast Guard an inventory of 6 HC-130Js.

USCG 1st missionized HC-130J LRSM

Feb 1/08: Support. A firm fixed price contract for $103.1 million for services that include logistics support, program management support, engineering services, repairs, spares and technical data in support of systems that are unique to the C-130J. This modification exercises option 1 of the contract, covering years 3-5. At this time, $12.5 million has been committed.

Parts that are shared with the rest of the C-130 Hercules fleet tend to be bought through pre-existing maintenance programs – partly because this is easiest, and partly because more aggregation improves the military’s bargaining position. The 330th ACSG/GFKA at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contract (FA8504-06-D-0001, PO 0006).

Jan 30/07: India order. The USA and India reportedly sign a Letter of Agreement for 6 C-130J-30 transports, plus additional communications equipment, spares, etc. (q.v. May 25/07 request).

There’s an additional option for 6 more planes in this contract, which the Indian government can buy at the same agreed-upon price.

India: 6 C-130J-30

Jan 16/08: Canada order. Canada signs a USD $1.4 billion contract for 17 C-130J aircraft, as replacements for about 23 aging CC-130 Hercules aircraft.

A 20-year maintenance deal with Lockheed Martin is also in the works, and will be finalized at a future date; the entire program is estimated to be worth about C$ 4.9 billion (currently $4.8 billion).

Canada: 17 C-130J-30

Nov 30/07: Engines. Rolls Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN receives an $11.1 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-03-D-0002). It exercises an option for logistics support, technical engineering support services, and spare engines and associated parts for the US Marine Corps’ KC-130J aerial tankers/ transports, which are powered by Rolls Royce’s AE2100D3 turboprop engine and the R391 propeller.

Work will be performed in Cherry Point, NC, and is expected to be completed in May 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD.

Oct 25/07: USA multi-year deal offer. The Hill reports that Lockheed Martin has offered the US military a 5-year, $6+ billion deal for 120 C-130J, KC-130J, and C-130J-S (short) aircraft. What are the deal’s parameters? Why now? Short answer: a rival’s delays make a lock-in possible that would guarantee the aircraft’s future.

Oct 12/07: Britain. The UK Parliament’s Defence Committee examines Britain’s airlift capacity in light of current usage, A400M schedule slippages, and future needs. Key C-130J related excerpts from the document’s Q&A and government responses include:

“We share the Committee’s concerns regarding the medium and longer term consequences of the current high levels of use of the C-17 and C-130 fleets. We wish to reassure the Committee that we already monitor very closely the impact that flying rates have upon the expected life of our aircraft. We constantly monitor the fatigue that our aircraft are subject to in order to reassess our ability to maintain military capability in the future and enable early action to be taken where necessary. In the long term, the MoD is taking account of the reduced life-expectancy of its aircraft as a result of increased flying hours… The Department agrees with the Committee that some aircraft are incurring additional maintenance and repair activity as a result of the conditions in which they are employed. For example, the use of the C-130 Hercules onto natural surfaces rather than paved runways results in some unavoidable damage to the under-belly surface of the aircraft… . While the replacement of [earlier version] C-130K with 25 A400M will, overall, result in a one-for-one replacement, the increased payload and range of A400M roughly doubles the relative airlift capability offered by C-130K.”

See the full report: “14th Special Report. Strategic Lift: Government Response to the Committee’s Eleventh Report of Session 2006-07; HC 1025” [PDF]

Oct 10/07: Italy support deal. Lockheed Martin, Alenia Aeronautica and Avio SPA have signed a EUR 97 million ($137.5 million) agreement to provide Long Term Support (LTS) for the Italian Air Force’s C-130J Super Hercules fleet. This Raggruppamento Temporaneo d’Impresa (RTI) is led by Alenia Aeronautica, and will provide joint support of the Italian C-130J/J-30 fleet of 22 aircraft for a period of 3 years.

Lockheed Martin’s portion of the contract is about $47 million; its responsibilities include integrated logistics support management, avionics/mechanical line replaceable unit repair service, on-site resident support , field service support, supply chain management, engineering support and technical publications updates.

Italy support

Oct 9/07: Delivery. Lockheed Martin announces that it has recently delivered the first KC-130J Tanker to US forces in Japan. Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, took delivery of its first KC-130J on Sept 30/07, representing the 27th KC-130J to be delivered to the USMC.

The USMC Air Expeditionary Force has had 6 KC-130Js in theater since February 2005, which have flown 8,854 sorties totaling 17,398 flight hours. August 2007 set a deployment one month record with 318 sorties, 621.9 flying hours, just over 6 million pounds of fuel offloaded, and 127,014 pounds of cargo carried.

Oct 3/07: Support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems of Marietta, GA received a contract modification for $6.9 million, incorporating Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) 06-0700076R1 entitled, “Block 6.0 Installations and Production Non-Recurring.” This ECP will retrofit and install Block 6.0 on all currently fielded US Air Force and US Air Force Reserve C-130J, EC-130J, and WC-130J aircraft. A separate ECP is currently in work at the 657th AESS for production incorporation of Block 6.0, which will enable C-130J aircraft to be produced in the Block 6.0 configuration. At this time all funds have been obligated. For more information please call (937) 255-4599. USAF/AFMC Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base OH (FA8625-06-C-6456, P00014).

FY 2007

US contract restructured; US JCA competition loss; Canada win; India request; Norway request. Deliveries: Denmark’s 4th & last.

(click to view full)

Aug 3/07: +5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems in Marietta, GA received a firm-fixed-price contract modification for $322 million. This contract modification is an unfinalized contract for 5 more C-130J aircraft under the US Congress’ FY 2007 Global War on Terrorism supplemental funding. At this time, $161 million has been obligated. Work will be complete in December 2010 (FA8625-06-C-6456/P00021). Note that this figure has not yet been added to the budgetary totals above.

Aug 3/07: Lockheed Martin announces delivery of a 3rd “C 130J Super Hercules” to the 41st Airlift Squadron “Black Cats” at Little Rock Air Force Base, AK. The Black Cats are the first active-duty C-130J combat squadron in the Air Force, and one of the most highly decorated airlift squadrons in U.S. military history.

This was a minor tidbit, but the release also quoted Lt. Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon. He accepted the new C-130J on behalf of the “Black Cats” and said that: “As our aging intra-theater airlift and tanker fleets need replacing, we anticipate that the C-130J will be a competitive contender for those missions.”

Interesting. Note the use of the word “contender.”

July 11/07: Denmark. Lockheed Martin announces delivery of the 4th C 130J Super Hercules to the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF), completing the current order. Denmark’s first C-130J was delivered in March 200,4 and began operational service only one month after arriving at the RDAF’s 721 Squadron in Aalborg, Denmark.

RDAF C-130Js are being deployed and used in missions around the world and have already accumulated nearly 5,000 flight hours. One RDAF C-130J operating in Kuwait over the past six months has flown 250 missions, transported 1,600 passengers and moved 500,000 pounds of cargo. RDAF C 130Js were also deployed in support of the tsunami humanitarian relief effort in Southeast Asia and to support the United Nations in Africa. In addition to operating in the hot, harsh conditions of both Southwest and Southeast Asia, RDAF C-130Js have successfully performed in extremely cold conditions as well. They fly to “Station North” in Greenland, the Danish Navy’s most remote base located only 580 miles from the North Pole.

Denmark – all 4 delivered

June 28/07: Support. Lockheed Martin Simulator, Training and Support in Orlando, FL received a firm-fixed-price contract modification for $7.65 million for C-130J Training, Block 6.0 (USAF) and Block 6.5 (USMC) upgrades. This work will be complete by September 2009. To date, total funds have been obligated. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8621-06-C-6300/P00009).

June 18/07: +1 KC-130J. A firm-fixed price contract modification not to exceed $64.2 million, for 1 additional KC-130J aircraft for the United States Marine Corps. The aircraft is being added to those awarded under contract FA8625-06-C-6456 P00008, on Dec 8/06 – see below. To date $32.1 million has been obligated (FA8625-06-C-6456/P00015).

This additional aircraft is being funded entirely by dollar savings realized by the USMC as a result of the conversion of the C-130J Multi-Year Procurement (MYP) contract from FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) Part 12 to FAR Part 15. This total of 5 aircraft will now be specified under one single proposal, and work will be complete by March 2010.

May 25/07: India. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notifies Congress [PDF] of India’s request for 6 C-130J Aircraft in Special Forces configuration, as well as associated equipment and services. The planes are destined for India’s special forces, and the total value if all options are exercised could be as high as $1.059 billion.

See full DID coverage of India’s buy.

DSCA request: India C-130J (6)

April 18/07: Norway. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notifies Congress [PDF] of Norway’s request for 4 stretched C-130J-30 aircraft, as well as associated equipment and services. Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, TX will supply the aircraft, and will be responsible for procuring and integrating the defensive systems. Rolls-Royce Corporation in Indianapolis, IN will supply the engines. The total contract values, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $520 million. DSCA adds that:

“Norway intends to use the C-130J aircraft for intra-theater support for its troops involved in worldwide operations. Additionally, the aircraft will be used for humanitarian relief operations in various locations to include the Sudan, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.”

The purchase encountered some political controversy, but American bureaucrats made extra efforts to expedite key approvals and move the sale forward. In the end, a deal was completed.

DSCA request: Norway C-130J-30 (4)

Jan 31/07: Support. A $33.6 million firm-fixed-price with time & material and cost reimbursement contract modification. This contract modification will exercise period 2 options to purchase the following items: program and management data for 1-year, technical and engineering data for 1-year, engineering drawing for 1-year, logistics support data for 1-year, technical manual contract requirements data for 1-year, initial C-130J aircraft peculiar spares for 9 aircraft, reliability and maintainability program for 1-year, field service representative support for 1-year, ground maintenance station admin. support for 1-year. At this time, total funds have been obligated, and work will be complete January 2008. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8625-06-C-6456).

Dec 20/06: Support. A $37.5 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-04-D-0001) to exercise an option for logistics and technical engineering support and spares for the U.S. Marine Corps’ KC-130J aircraft and other Government C-130J aircraft. Work will be performed in Cherry Point, N.C. (85%); Miramar, CA (10%); and Okinawa, Japan (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2007. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.

Dec 8/06: +3 Js, +2 KC-130J. A $256.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to purchase 3 C-130J-30 transports and 1 KC-130J aerial tanker, as authorized and funded by the FY 2006 Global War on Terror (GWOT) supplemental authorization. This modification is an undefinitized contraction action (UCA) that will obligate 50% ($128.1 million) of the $256.2 million not-to exceed amount. These aircraft, slated for delivery in 2010, were authorized and funded by the FY06 Global War on Terror supplemental authorization. This contract brings the total number of C-130Js ordered to date to 186 (FA8625-06-C-6456/P00008).

A June 2007 modification brought the FY 2006 supplemental value to $320.4 million, for 3 C-130Js and 2 KC-130Js. See above. These figures have not yet been added to the budgetary figures above, pending question to the US military.

Nov 22/06: Canada. Ottawa Citizen – Lockheed wins $4.9B contract. The story contends that DND representatives did not seriously examine Airbus’ bid, and gives these details:

“The Conservative government has quietly named Lockheed Martin’s C-130J aircraft as the winner of a $4.9-billion bid to replace the military’s aging Hercules transport planes… The Canadian government will spend $3.2 billion to buy 17 of the aircraft and another $1.7 billion for a 20-year service contract for the planes. Lockheed, as the prime contractor, will be responsible for the maintenance contract as well. The contract for the planes is expected to be signed by the summer of 2007. The first aircraft will be required to be delivered three years after that.”

DID has a detailed, in-depth spotlight article covering Canada’s tactical airlift competition, its requirements, the proposed alternatives, and ongoing developments: “Canada’s CC-130s to Fail In 3 Years — $4B RFP for Replacements (updated)

Nov 21/06: No JCA joy. Lockheed Martin’s JCA protest is not successful. The reason their “shortened C-130J” was disqualified from the finals?

Their bid wouldn’t have provided jam-resistant GPS instrumentation until 2012, and its incorporation required the USAF to sign on to the existing upgrade contract for the C-130J fleet (FA8625-04-D-6425). The RFP, on the other hand, wanted the planes delivered with those systems installed. The other competitors complied, and even a clarification request to Lockheed didn’t wake them up. The GAO seemed none too happy with Lockheed Martin’s protest, either, stopping just sort of calling its arguments dishonest.

Nov 3/06: Support. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Orlando, FL received a $17.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for C-130J training, FY 2007 contractor logistic support, aircrew, training system support Center and FY 2007 change management. At this time, $17.25 million have been obligated, and work will be complete September 2007. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8621-06-C-6300).

Oct 25/06: US C-130J contract converted. The multi-year procurement contract for the C-130J Hercules is converted from a commercial item Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12 to a FAR Part 15 military contract, with increased contractor overhead for costing data etc.

Read “C-130J Acquisition Program Restructured” for full coverage.

US restructuring

FY 2006 and earlier

24-year British support deal; Multinational upgrade; Cancellation threat in USA; Inspector General report says cancellation fee estimates wildly overstated; USMC’s KC-130Js operational; USAF accepts 1st C-130J; Delivery #100.

UK C-130 C5
(click to view full)

Oct 16/06: International block upgrades. Lockheed Martin announces a $110 million upgrade contract to bring the C-130J Super Hercules transports flown by Australia, Britain, Italy and Denmark to an agreed standard. See “C-130J Reaches USAF IOC, Adds $110M for Multinational Upgrades” for full coverage.

International upgrades agreement

Aug 14/06: JCA GAO protest. Lockheed Martin files a protest with the GAO and urges a freeze on the Joint Cargo Aircraft program until its complaint is resolved, following the exclusion of its shortened-fuselage C-130J from the JCA competition.

August 2/06: JCA loss. C-130J, CN-235 eliminated. The US Army informs Lockheed that its shortened C-130J does not qualify for the JCA, and also eliminates the EADS/Raytheon CN-235.

July 18/06: Support. A $10.5 million firm-fixed-price, time and material, and cost-reimbursement contract for production and installation of stepped frequency microwave radiometer modification kits for 10, WC-130J. This work will be complete August 2007. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8625-06-C-6456)

June 23/06: IG Report. The Washington Post reports on a Pentagon inspector general report, which claims that the purported $1.78 billion cancellation costs may have been overstated by up to $1.1 billion. According to the report, the estimate Rumsfeld was given was “incomplete and did not provide reliable information for making an informed decision,” leaving decision-makers incapable of rationally deciding the cost-effectiveness of continuing or terminating the contract.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had bowed to strong Congressional pressure when he decided not to terminate the C-130J program as he and the Pentagon had originally proposed. At the time, the cited reason was cancellation costs.

June 21/06: Support. The USAF issues a $112 million firm-fixed-price with time & material and cost reimbursement contract for:

  • C-130J Peculiar Spares (Initial) Existing Bases: (8 kits)
  • C-130J MATS Peculiar Spares: (1 Lot)
  • C-130J Readiness Spares Packages Air Force (Little Rock): (1 Lot)
  • C-130J Readiness Spares package ANG (Rhode Island): (1 Lot)
  • WC-130J High Priority Mission Spares Kits USAFR Keesler AFBG: (1 Lot)
  • EC-130J Quick Engine Retrofit Kit – FY06 (1 each).

At this time, $33.1 million has been obligated. Solicitations and negotiations were complete March 2006, and work will be complete January 2007. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8625-06-C-6456)

June 7/06: JCA bid. Lockheed Martin announces that they have proposed their in-production short-fuselage variant of the combat tested C-130J for the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) program. JCA requirements called for an aircraft capable of short-field performance, able to transport a payload of 12,000 pounds, and designed to accommodate new technology such as defensive systems and state-of-the-art avionics.

Lockheed had been partnered with Alenia Aeronautica on the C-27J Spartan/”Baby Herc,” but that went awry. In the end, the shortened C-130J would be disqualified from the competition, which the C-27J won.

US JCA loss

June 2/06: Britain support deal. The UK MoD announces a GBP 1.52 billion contract ($2.86 billion at conversion) to Marshall Aerospace in order to support its fleet of C-130 Hercules transport aircraft over the next 24 years. As prime contractor, Marshall Aerospace will work in partnership with the UK Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO), the Royal Air Force, Lockheed Martin and Rolls-Royce to deliver the Hercules Integrated Operational Support (HIOS) programme. The HIOS programme will provide guaranteed levels of aircraft availability to a fleet that includes both older C3/C1 models (C-130K stretched and normal) and C4/C5 models (C-130J-30 and C-130J). See full DID coverage.

British support

May 24/06: Training. Lockheed Martin Simulator, Training and Support in Kennesaw, GA received a $32.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for C-130J Training Device Fuselage Trainer #2, Loadmaster Part Task Trainer, Aircraft Interface Monitor, Visual Awareness Recognition Screen, Weapon System Trainer Local Networking, Training System Support Career (5-months), Contractor Logistics Support (5-months), aircrew training (5-months) Instructor Operation Stration course, ISO Computer Base Trainer, Premium Training Time, and U. S. Marine Corps proposal prep. At this time, $20.2 million has been obligated. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8621-06-C-6300).

April 17/06: Engines. Lockheed Martin announces that the Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 engine powering the C-130J Super Hercules transport fleet has reached the 1,000,000 flight hour milestone. The engine also powers Alenia’s C-27J, but Lockheed’s figure is derived from 250,000 flight hours for the worldwide C-130J fleet (4 engines per C-130J). The “common core” AE engine line is manufactured in Indianapolis, IN.

As of this date, a total of 182 C-130Js are on order, and 136 have been delivered to the U.S., Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard, USMC, Coast Guard, the Royal Australian Air Force, Britain’s Royal Air Force, the Royal Danish Air Force, and the Italian Air Force.

1 million engine flight hours

Feb 1/06: Support. A $164 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price award-fee, cost-plus fixed-fee, time-and-materials, and cost-reimbursement contract for sustaining services including logistics support, program management support, engineering services, spares and technical data in support of systems peculiar to the C-130J family.

At this time, $13.5 million has been obligated. Solicitations began August 2005, negotiations were complete in January 2006, and work will be completed by 2 years of sustainment service performance. The Headquarters Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contract (FA8504-06-D-0001).

Feb 1/06: Engines. Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis, IN received a $72.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for sustaining services in support of the C-130J propulsion system which includes the AE 2100D3 engine and Dowty’s R-391 propeller system. The contract includes logistics support, program management support, engineering services, spares and technical data. At this time, $18.9 million has been obligated. The Headquarters Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contract (FA8504-06-C-0004).

FY 2005 and earlier (incomplete)

KC-130J refueling CH-53E

April 29/04: The U.S. Marine Corps announces that the commander of Operational Testing and Evaluation (OT&E) has “recommended full fleet introduction of the Lockheed Martin KC-130J [aerial tanker] for operational use.”

April 16/04: US Acceptance. The U.S. Air Force formally accepts its first Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules.

USAF acceptance

Aug 6/03: Delivery #100. Lockheed Martin announces the delivery of the 100th C-130J Super Hercules airlifter. The customer is the Italian Force’s 46th Air Brigade based in Pisa, Italy.


Additional Readings & Sources

News & Related Developments

  • Deutsche Welle (Nov 6/07) – Report: Half of Germany’s Military Planes are in Shambles. Germany isn’t alone with this problem, and: “…corrosion and wear and tear have turned over half of Germany’s [C-160] Transall planes into decrepit machinery. The sources apparently said that it was becoming more difficult to locate spare parts for the planes, some of which are more than 40 years old… Germany had originally planned to replace the remaining Transall planes with Airbus’ new A400M model by 2014, but that schedule may have to be revised due to recently announced delays in delivery.”

  • Defense News (Oct 29/07) – Airplanes on Life Support. Moseley, Wynne Plead: Let USAF Pull the Plug [dead link]. They’re talking about aircraft that can’t fly but must be kept per Congressional directives, which includes a number of C-130E Hercules and KC-135E Stratotankers. “One C-130E Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is so old and in such bad shape it cannot safely fly. Yet U.S. Air Force maintainers must tow it around the tarmac every so often to make sure its tires don’t go flat, and crank up the engines every month to make sure they still run… More than 20 percent of the service’s C-130Es are grounded or have significant flight restrictions…”

  • Aviation Week’s Defense Technology International (Jun 13/07) – A400M Could Dominate Strategic Lift [link now broken]. Also covers the C-17 program, and C-5 AMP/RERP upgrades. “The trend in airlift demand is going to place a premium on aircraft that carry more than a C-130. The goal of carrying Future Combat Systems vehicles on the C-130 has been abandoned. Even the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are so heavy that a C-130 will carry only one of them. And plans call for the Army to get bigger. If there is an airlift crisis in 2015-20, you read it first here.”

  • DID (April 4/07) – Keeping the C-130s Flying: Center Wing Box Replacements. On February 14, 2005, the US Air Force announced that they were grounding nearly 100 C-130E models because of severe fatigue in their wings, including a dozen that had been flying missions in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. By November 2006, the USAF had kept 47 aircraft under flying restrictions, plus another 30 completely grounded because of the cracks. Other aircraft are expected to wear out as they fly, however, and the replacement program doesn’t expect to get ahead of the “grounding-restriction curve” until 2012.

  • National Defense Magazine (February 2000) – Industry Titans Vying for Early Lead in Cargo Aircraft Markets.


Special Forces

  • Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments: Robert Martinage, Senior Fellow – Stealthy Mobility & Support: Aircraft for US Special Operations Forces. [PDF] Feb 22/07 Presentation at CSIS – Future of SOF Aviation Project. Note payload requirements of only 20,000-30,000 pounds, less than the C-130.

  • StrategyPage (Aug 22/09) – Fly Hard, Pay Later. “…adding $4 billion worth of new aircraft… over the next five years. The 1st Special Operations Wing… 37 new C-130J… converting 17 of the aircraft to AC-130 gunships, to replace the 25 currently available… The 1st SOW flew 3,200 combat sorties last year, each of these averaging about four hours over hostile territory. There were also 4,200 training sorties, which mainly served to provide 3,200 new air crew for 1st SOW aircraft.”

  • Military Aerospace Technology (March 16/05) – Next Generation Gunships. Includes significant details re: Lockheed Martin’s MACK concept, which may have a significant influence on future SOCOM aircraft.

  • Jane’s (Feb 7/03) – Concepts vie to win US special ops aircraft race. But the designs, including Lockheed’s MACK concept, are also aimed at the medium transport market.

Categories: News

Britain’s A330 Voyager FSTA: An Aerial Tanker Program – With a Difference

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 03:57

Voyager & friends
(click to view full)

Back in 2005, Great Britain was considering a public-private partnership to buy, equip, and operate the RAF’s future aerial tanker fleet. The RAF would fly the 14 Airbus A330-MRTT aircraft on operational missions, and receive absolute preferential access to the planes. A private contractor would handle maintenance, receive payment from the RAF on a per-use basis – and operate them as passenger charter or transport aircraft when the RAF didn’t need them.

The deal became politically controversial, and negotiations on the 27-year, multi-billion pound deal charted new territory for both the government, and for private industry. Which may help to explain why a contract to move ahead on a “Private Financing Initiative” basis had yet to be issued, and procurement had yet to begin, over 7 years after the program began. In March 2008, however, Britain issued the world’s largest-ever Defence Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract. This FOCUS Article describes the current British fleet, the aircraft they chose to replace them, how the new fleet will compare, the innovative deal structure they’ve chosen, and ongoing FSTA developments.

A330-200 MRTT: The RAF’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft

Voyager K3 & C-130J
(click to view full)

The A330-200 MRTT is a derivative of the Airbus A330, and was designed from the outset to be able to function as an aerial tanker and a transport aircraft at the same time. Obviously, hauling full loads over long distances would reduce its ability to offload fuel to other aircraft, but many deployments could still be accomplished. Deploying a fighter squadron along with its ground crew and other personnel, for instance, becomes a real possibility with this aircraft. Britain’s A330s will be equipped with Rolls Royce’s Trent 700 engine.

The UK’s A330 “Voyagers” will have up to 3 hose-and-drogue refueling points (2 wing, 1 center), using Cobham plc subsidiary Sargent Fletcher’s FRL900 systems. All 14 will sport 2 wing-mounted 905E aerial refueling pods each, which extend to 28m / 90 feet when fully trailed and can transfer up to 1,200 kg/minute. The Voyager K2s will be limited to that configuration, but half (7) will be 3-point Voyager K3s which also host 805E center-line Fuselage Refueling Unit that can transfer up to 1,800 kg per minute. The RAF will buy just 5 805E FRUs, however, leaving 9-10 aircraft to use just the wing pods.

Voyager 02 will temporarily offer a 3rd type, which is essentially an unconverted civil A330, until it’s fed back into the conversion program around 2015.

Unlike other A330 MRTT customers, Britain’s planes will lack the EADS ARBS refueling boom along the rear centerline. It’s used to refuel planes with dorsal indents, like F-16 and F-15 fighters, C-17 transports, etc., and will be present on A330 MRTTs operated by Australia (KC-30B), Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The UK’s current tankers are all hose-and-drogue only, and except for its C-17 and RC-135 Rivet Joint planes, Britain has generally bought aircraft to suit. While continuing with this approach will limit flexibility with some allies, removal of the boom greatly simplifies civilian conversion and employment.

So, too, does the more problematic omission of full defensive systems to protect against radar-guided threats. Without such systems, however, Britain is unlikely to be able to deploy its new tankers over zones that are rated as dangerous.

FSTA vs. VC10
(click to view full)

The A330 MRTT has a maximum fuel capacity of 111,800 kg, or over 246,000 pounds. In the tanker role, the A330-200 provides twice as much fuel to receiver aircraft as the VC-10. The aircraft also has the capacity to carry 43,000 kg of cargo, including up to 32 463L cargo pallets, or up to 272 passengers, while carrying a full fuel load. AirTanker offers a scenario in which the A330 can fly 270 troops and 8,000 kg of their equipment some 4,700 miles, while also operating as an aerial tanker. Fuel capacity is slightly less than the TriStar’s 139,700 kg, but it carries slightly more passengers (272 vs. 266) and has slightly greater cargo capacity (43t vs. 31t). What it will not have, is the ability to take on more fuel in the air itself, in order to extend its own missions.

Based on the figures in this article, the FSTA program’s 14 A330-200 MRTT aircraft would provide only 50% of the aircraft compared to its present fleet, while offering 71% of the fuel capacity. Carriage on much more efficient aircraft will increase the percentage of fuel available for dispensing, though this may not close the refueling gap completely. On the other hand, the smaller FSTA fleet will boast 116% of the legacy fleet’s total troop carrying capacity, and 185% of its total cargo capacity.

UK FSTA: Program Details & Industrial Team

Making FSTA
(click for video)

The program will offer 14 A330-200 aircraft configured to UK specifications, under a 27-year, GBP 13 billion deal. As noted above, they will not be able to refuel in mid-air themselves, and will use only hose-and-drogue refueling that excludes some client aircraft.

As of July 2014, all 9 “core fleet” aircraft were delivered and in service: 4 x Voyager K2s, and 5 x Voyager K3s. Another 5 A330 Voyagers will serve in a surge fleet, and can operate as civilian aircraft unless called upon by the RAF for extraordinary duties. If called up, they may be fitted with Voyager K2 equipment. The balance of the 14-aircraft fleet is expected to become available to the RAF by 2016.

(click to view full)

The first A330-200 FSTA aircraft in-service flight took place in April 2012 (back in 2005, it was expected in 2010), and began air-to-air refueling duties in 2013.

When the A330 arrangements were first announced, the RAF operated a very identifiable set of 28 VC10 and L-1011 tanker aircraft, which were entirely retired before the FSTA program even stood up its core fleet of 9 A330s. All of the RAF’s aerial tankers were operated out of RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, and that will continue. AirTanker will be based at a new, purpose-built facility at the same location used by the existing fleet: RAF Brize Norton. AirTanker will then provide an integrated all-inclusive service to the RAF that includes full maintenance, flight and fleet management, ground services and state-of-the-art training for RAF FSTA personnel.

Corporate structure
(click to view full)

AirTanker Ltd. holds the contract with the UK MoD, and formally owns the aircraft. It is a UK company, and its current shareholders are EADS (40%), Rolls-Royce (20%), Cobham (13.33%), Thales UK (13.33%) and VT Group (13.33%). While EADS and Thales are non-UK firms, the use of Thales’ UK subsidiary ensured that majority ownership would be held by British companies. The related AirTanker Services will operate the aircraft, and has a slightly different shareholding, at EADS (28%), Rolls Royce (22%), Thales UK (22%), VT Group (22%), and Cobham plc’s Flight Refueling Ltd. (5%).

Once fully operational, the FSTA service will employ around 500 personnel, with a 60:40 split between military and civilian.

Despite BAE’s divestment of its Airbus share, Airbus manufacturing still goes on in Britain. AirTanker Ltd. claims that around 7,500 jobs (3,000 direct, 4,500 indirect) will be directly or indirectly dependent on the FSTA project. The first 2 A330 aircraft will be converted at Airbus Military facilities in Madrid, but after that approximately 50% of the basic aircraft and 100% of the conversion work will be carried out in the UK. Principal work locations will include:

  • RAF Brize Norton (construction of facilities and service delivery)
  • Airbus Military at Getafe, Spain (conversion of planes 5-14)
  • Airbus UK at Broughton and Filton (wing manufacture)
  • Cobham at Wimborne (refuelling equipment) and Bournemouth (conversion of planes 1-4)
  • Rolls-Royce at Derby (Trent 700 engine assembly) and Bristol (project management)
  • Thales UK at Crawley (mission simulators, crew training, defensive aids), Raynes Park (avionics) and Wells (mission planning systems).

UK FSTA: Contracts & Key Events 2015 – 2016

Queen’s Birthday
(click to view full)

May 12/17: In a world first, Airbus has successfully completed the first test of its automatic air-to-air refueling (AAR) contact system. During the flight, the company’s A330 MRTT demonstrator was successfully steered into the receptacle of a Portuguese air force F-16 using image processing software that the company has been developing for more than a year. As many as six contacts were made over a 75 minute period, at 25,000 feet and 270 knots. The AAR system requires no additional equipment on the receiver and could be introduced on current production A330MRTTs as soon as 2019.

May 20/16: The UK has sent a RAF Voyager tanker to NAS Patuxent River to participate in air-to-air aerial refueling trials of the F-35B. Since arriving on April 18, the British tanker has participated in five flights out of a scheduled 20, which are due to be completed in mid-June. It remains unclear whether the Voyager’s deployment to the US was caused by refueling issues that arose from the B variant being unable to take fuel from the wing pods of KC-10 and KC-135 tankers.

November 4/15: The Pentagon is urgently trying to gain the necessary clearances required for combat aircraft to refuel from Airbus A330 MRTTs, used by coalition partners operating above Syria and Iraq. The Navy is also looking to gain clearances to use hose-and-drogue refueling systems installed on Royal Air Force Voyager tankers to certify the F-35B for this type of refuelling method. A Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A (a modified A330 MRTT) has already been used to conduct trials with a F-35A in September, with tests planned on a variety of other platforms.

2013 – 2014

TriStars retire; Full Voyager core fleet in service; 1st lease to a civil operator; Mechanical incident; Are the projected costs reported by NAO just fiddled figures?

July 14/14: Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Philip Dunne greets a Voyager aircraft that has arrived for its Farnborough display, and confirms that the entire core fleet of 9 planes is fully in service after being delivered on time and on budget. He’s encouraging about that, saying:

“These events provide evidence that DE&S is becoming a higher-performing delivery organisation, better able to deliver vital equipment and support to the armed forces on time.”

It certainly beats failure, though FSTA’s structure suggests that AirTanker LLC also deserves a fair bit of credit. Sources: UK MoD, “RAF Voyager aircraft arrive on schedule”

June 24/14: Civil lease. One of AirTanker’s 5 “surge” fleet Voyagers has been leased by Thomas Cook Airlines under a 3-year agreement, as the airline becomes AirTankers 1st civil customer. The single A330-200 will be configured for an all-economy 323-seat configuration, and will operate in airline livery with seconded Thomas Cook Captains, First Officers, and cabin crew flying alongside AirTanker’s own civilian pilots. Beginning in May 2015, it will fly scheduled routes from Glasgow, Manchester and Stansted to Las Vegas, Cancun and Orlando.

The plane will be operated by AirTanker under its civil Air Operator’s Certificate, with base maintenance provided, but Thomas Cook will provide line maintenance. Sources: AirTanker, “AirTanker and Thomas Cook Airlines agree landmark civil leasing deal”.

1st civil lease

May 29/14: Core complete. RAF Brize Norton accepts the 9th Voyager, ZZ338. This completes the RAF’s core fleet, which will consist of 4 K2s with wing pods, and 5 x K3s with an added centerline hose.

The other 5 will be “surge capability” planes that can be leased to the civil market unless and until the RAF needs them. AirTanker, “ZZ338 arrival completes the RAF Voyager core fleet”.

Core fleet delivered

April 7/14: France. An AirTanker release highlights the efforts of Armee de l’Air pilot Capitaine Francois Gilbert, who is on secondment to RAF No.10 Squadron at Brize Norton:

“The French Air Force is expected to place its first order for the MRTT later this year. With the first of 12 tankers built by Airbus Defence and Space to be delivered by 2018, they will replace France’s 14-strong [refueling and transport] fleet of C135 FR jets, three A310 and two A340.

“I’m here to build an understanding of the MRTT, its capability and training required to fly it so that when I go back, the knowledge and understanding that I have gained here, can be applied to the French AAR programme”, he says.”

It also provides a solid foundation if France should need to buy FSTA flight hours before 2018, though that’s looking less likely. Sources: AirTanker, “Entente [Most] Cordiale”.

March 24/14: TriStar retires. A pair of 216 Squadron TriStars fly from RAF Brize Norton on an air-to-air refuelling mission over the North Sea, then one conducts flypasts at airfields associated with its history. It marks the end of the L-1011 TriStar’s service with the RAF. The 4 remaining TriStars will fly to Bruntingthorpe Airfield, Leics for disposal.

Over the last 8 years, 216 Sqn flew to Afghanistan 1,642 times, carrying around 250,000 troops into and out of theater. Its 139,700 kg fuel load will also missed, but it’s worth remembering that this fuel is for the parent aircraft as well. The Voyager’s flight efficiency means that its 110,000 kg fuel load can’t be used as a direct comparison. Sources: RAF, “TriStar Retires After 30 Years Service with the RAF”.

TriStar fleet retired

Feb 13/14: NAO Report. Britain’s National Audit Office releases their 2013 Major Projects Report. They’ve changed the cost basis slightly, as fuel isn’t normally part of program reporting. Even with that discrepancy normalized, the program has still seen its overall whole-life cost to 2035 drop by GBP 386 million from initial approval, to GBP 11.393 billion. Poking deeper into the report, the largest sources of savings involve changes toward a risk-based method for costing equipment obsolescence and projected refinancing savings (GBP 398 million total). On the flip side, this year saw GBP 45 million added because of revised inflation estimates. Time will tell whether those changes are valid.

The program remains on schedule. Infrastructure at Brize Norton is complete, and the training service is operating. This was interesting:

“MoD placed on contract the enhanced FSTA Aircraft Platform Protection system (EDAS). Embodiment is under way, as planned in the programme and is also reflected in wider defence capability planning.”

Feb 9/14: Incident. An AirTanker Voyager aircraft suddenly plummets about 5,000 feet while in flight from RAF Brize Norton to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The pilot regained control, the aircraft was diverted to a landing at Incirlik AB in Turkey, and passengers were treated for minor injuries.

The military fleet remains grounded while an investigation takes place, and AirTanker may have to reimburse the Ministry for lost flying hours. The civil Voyager 02 will keep flying, which will keep the Falklands air bridge open, but it isn’t cleared to fly to Afghanistan. AirTanker, “Incident 9/2/14: Flight between RAF Brize Norton and Camp Bastion” | Daily Mail, “RAF grounds all Voyager planes after one aircraft plummets several thousand feet during flight to Afghanistan” | Dailt Mirror, “Voyager planes grounded after aircraft carrying 190 people plummeted thousands of feet during flight” | Reuters, “Britain grounds Voyager military fleet after in-flight incident”.

Jan 29/14: #7 arrives. Voyager 07 (ZZ337) arrives at Brize Norton. Like 04 – 06, it’s a Voyager K3 tanker with wing and belly-mounted refueling systems, giving AirTanker 4 of the K3 tankers and another 2 K2s with just wing pods. Voyager 02 is a civil charter aircraft. Sources: AirTanker, “Voyager 07 flies into RAF Brize Norton”.

Dec 21/13: Operations. RAF Voyager aircraft have begun flights into Afghanistan, airlifting soldiers from Camp Bastion in Helmland, Afghanistan back to Britain. The accompanying pictures show the planes loading at night, which is one way to handle poor defensive systems.

101 Sqn Wing Commander Ronnie Trasler says that 6 Voyager aircraft are already in service with the RAF, and the core fleet of 9 aircraft is on track to be in service by May 2014. Sources: RAF, “Voyager Flies to Afghanistan”.


VC10s retire; RTS for Eurofighters; Program on schedule; Britain creating an operational refueling gap?

Voyager & friends
(click to view full)

Sept 30/13: Typhoon update. Progress with the Eurofighter Typhoon (q.v. Dec 6/11) and Tornado GR4 strike fighter (q.v. April 5/12) fleets has been slow, so AirTanker is eager to offer a progress update. The UK MoD gave Voyager clearance to begin air-to-air refuelling (AAR) operations with Typhoon in late May 2013, with a formal Release to Service (RTS) on Aug 15/13. “Voyager and Typhoon have now completed more than 350 contacts, offloading 840 tonnes of fuel to the end of this month [Sept].” Tornado GR4 refueling has also been problematic, with clearance received only “at the beginning of summer,” and 1,460t of fuel offloaded since then.

Transport is seeing more action, with the entire military fleet clocking a total of 5,400 hours, carrying more than 110,000 passengers and 6,300 tonnes plus of freight. The civil Voyager 02 is now up to 1,200 hours, almost 30,000 passengers, and more than 1,600 tonnes of freight.

Summer 2013 also saw AirTanker receive its Extended Twin (Engine) Operations (ETOPs) clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority, which lets the civilian airline take on long-range routes and fly up to 180 minutes from the nearest suitable airport. This is a precursor for its expected October 2013 role in support of the Falklands air bridge. Sources: AirTanker, “Voyager and Typhoon complete more than 350 contacts”.

Sept 20/13: Final Flight. The VC10 performs its last operational flight for the RAF. The 2-ship VC10 K3 sortie (tails ZA147 and ZA150) included the full range of counterparts: Typhoon and Tornado GR4 fighters, Hercules transports, even extending the mission by refueling one VC10 from the other. To mark the tanker’s long service, a VC10 flew over various RAF stations, including RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Coningsby, RAF Marham and RAF Leuchars, as well as sites in Warton, Birmingham and Prestwick.

The formal retirement ceremony is Sept 25/13, but in our books, the last flight is the end. Sources: UK MoD release.

VC10s retired

May 29/13: #5 arrives. Voyager 05 (ZZ333), which is also a K3 3-point tanker, arrives at RAFB Brize Norton.

April 26/13: #4 arrives. Voyager 04 arrives in Brize Norton, where it becomes the 1st The first of 7 Voyager K3 tankers configured to include a centerline fuselage tank and hose, in addition to wing pods. The new A330 will join existing Voyager K2s (01 and 03) on the Military Aircraft Register, and operate as ZZ332.

Since the start of operational service in April last year, Voyager 01 (ZZ330) and 03 (ZZ331) have totaled more than 1,700 hours, carrying more than 25,000 passengers and over 2,000 tonnes of freight. The civil Voyager 02 (G-VYGG) has flown more than 230 hours, carrying more than 5,000 passengers and more than 300 tonnes of freight. It forms the core of AirTanker’s airline operation, which began operations with an inaugural flight to Akrotiri in January 2013. Sources: AirTanker, “AirTanker takes receipt of first ‘three-point’ tanker”.

March 14/13: Say what? UK minister for defence equipment, support and technology Philip Dunne confirms to Flight International that new A400Ms won’t have in-flight refueling pods added to let them perform as aerial tankers, because:

“The Ministry of Defence has recently refreshed its study into requirements for air-to-air refuelling capability. This concluded that Voyager will meet all requirements; therefore, there is no need for an air-to-air refuelling capability by the A400M Atlas.”

The RAF’s new A330 Voyager MRTTs lack key defensive systems, in order to avoid conflicts with their secondary use as civil charter planes. Those kinds of warning and decoy systems are necessary for refueling aircraft in even mildly hazardous environments. As tactical military transports with good range and no other uses, the A400Ms would have been well qualified to fill that gap. Flight International.

Jan 24/13: The Little Prince. A Voyager aircraft brings Prince Harry back to England, along with the rest of his Apache attack helicopter unit. Having said that, note the flight points:

“The Prince, who is known as Captain Wales in the Army, touched down at RAF Brize Norton late yesterday afternoon [23/1/13] on an inbound flight from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.”

Akrotiri is considered a “safe” airfield – unlike Kandahar in Afghanistan, which would have been Capt. Wales departure point. There are also certifications required to fly those kinds of distances. AirTanker.


1st service flight; Britain facing capability crunch; Conversion work switches to Airbus in Spain.

Tornado contact
(click for video)

Dec 19/12: #3 arrives. Voyager 03 flies into RAFB Brize Norton, to join the Voyager fleet on the Military Aircraft Register. Source: AirTanker, “Voyager 03 flies into RAF Brize Norton”.

In contrast, Voyager 02 will be flown on the Civilian Aircraft Register and operated by AirTanker, using its own pilots and supported by AirTanker cabin crew.

Dec 13/12: AOC. AirTanker successfully demonstrates its full service capability to the Civil Aviation Authority in a proving flight to Reykjavik, in order to secure its Air Operating Certificate (AOC). Source: AirTanker, “Voyager 03 flies into RAF Brize Norton”.

June 25/12: Deadline pressures. Flight International explains the deadline pressures facing the transport and tanker fleet:

“By the end of this year, the last of the UK’s Lockheed Martin C-130K Hercules will be retired from use, while the replacement Airbus Military A400M won’t start appearing on the ramp at RAF Brize Norton until during 2014… But it is in the tanker sector that the biggest headache is emerging. The RAF’s last nine Vickers VC10s… [will be] retired in March 2013, with its Lockheed TriStars (including four tankers) to follow by the end of the same year… Only one [A330 Voyager] is currently in service, initially in an air transport capacity only, and I’m hearing that fuel venting problems encountered during earlier refuelling trials have yet to go away… The RAF needs tankers to sustain quick reaction alert duties… as well as supporting deployed examples defending the Falkland Islands and allied strike aircraft flying over Afghanistan. With the noise of the VC10’s “Conway [engine] quartet” to fall silent in only nine months, the pressure is really on for the Voyager to deliver.”

DID is going out on a limb, and predicting that either or both of the VC10 and L-1011 TriStar fleets will remain in service past their current retirement dates. Even private aerial tanker services like Omega wouldn’t be able to fully cover those needs, though a mix of TriStars for distant missions and contractors for Quick Reaction Alerts might work for a limited time.

June 22/12: Conversion switched. Cobham plc and AirTanker Ltd. (in which Cobham is a 13.33% shareholder), issue a joint statement that yanks A330 conversion work from Cobham’s UK facility back to Airbus Military in Spain. Cobham tries to minimize the decision, saying that there are “no technical issues with the conversion process,” adding to co-locating the conversion with the design office in Spain is only about “greatly improving efficiency and shortening the supply chain.” The net effect is to kill 320 British jobs at Bournemouth: 237 Cobham employees, and 83 contractors.

A step like this isn’t taken unless there were serious problems, and significant customer pressure. The core problems are hinted at by AirTanker’s release, which mentions a need “to ensure the timely delivery” of the planes, as part of a focus on delivery “on time and on cost.” The Cobham and AirTanker, they say, “have mutually recognized that this is the best way of meeting their own commitments and have taken the responsible decision…” This is all a kind way of saying that Cobham may not have had technical problems, but they aren’t performing to schedule or cost targets, and the problem is bad enough that the project is in danger of missing its commitments. Two industry sources contacted by The Sun newspaper cited Cobham delays as a problem, and one offered a stark assessment: “Basically, Cobham can’t do the job. They haven’t invested.”

The customer pressure revolves around the schedule. With the VC10 tankers slated to leave service in March 2013, delays to the Voyager fleet would be both an operational problem for the RAF, and a financial problem for AirTanker Ltd. due to penalty clauses. Cobham plc | AirTanker Ltd. | Dorset Echo | Flight International | Reuters | The Sun.

Airbus Military takes refueling conversions from Cobham

May 31/12: Monarch Aircraft Engineering (MAEL) has completed the first C check for the UK’s Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport “Voyager” fleet, on behalf of AirTanker Services. AirTanker’s in-house capability isn’t available yet.

The C-Check is a full-aircraft inspection, usually done every 15-21 months or after a specific amount of actual Flight Hours. In the Voyager’s case, it’s a matter of time and not flight hours. Flight International.

April 5/12: Hosed? Reuters reports that the A330 Voyager’s hose and drogue system has experienced leakage problems when refueling RAF Tornado fighters:

“A source close to AirTanker said the problem was in pipes which connect the Voyager to Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado warplanes which leaked when fuel was pumped through them during mid-air testing. The source said the refuelling trial was continuing.”

Failure to meet requirements could result in contract penalties. In response, AirTanker issued a statement via YouTube, while showing a refueling contact with a Tornado GR4:

“The Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (ACAS) signed the Voyager Release to Service and Certificate of Usage yesterday (05 Apr 12) and the aircraft will commence flying operations On the Military Aircraft Register with the RAF next week. Voyager is already a certified tanker and Air to Air Refuelling trials to clear RAF receiver aircraft to receive fuel from Voyager continue. As would be expected with a new aircraft, there have been some technical problems, but these are being addressed. AirTanker fully expects to deliver the core fleet of nine aircraft by 2014 in line with the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) Contract.”

April 4/12: 1st service flight. The aircraft took off from RAF Brize Norton for a training sortie around the United Kingdom, in its 1st service flight for the RAF.

The type was granted a Release To Service for Air Transport, and was placed on Military Aircraft Register the next day. AirTanker LLC | Airbus Military.

1st service flight, Release To Service

Feb 22/12: France. Defense Aerospace reports on a 2012 news conference involving French DGA head Lauren Collet-Billon. He leaves the door open to FSTA participation, but makes it clear France will have its own tankers:

“Although it may buy tanker capacity from the Royal Air Force “if the flight hour price is affordable,” France intends to buy its own fleet of A330 tankers which are required to support the French air force’s sovereign nuclear strike mission. These will be ordered in 2013.”

Feb 2/12: Certification. AirTanker receives Type Certification Exposition version 5 for Air Transport & Aeromed 3. Sources: UK NAO, Major Projects Report.


1st FSTA arrives.

A330: Voyager 01
(click to view full)

Dec 6/11: Delay. The British Forces Broadcasting Service reports that:

“The first A330 Voyager had been due to be handed over in October, but isn’t now expected at its new home of Brize Norton until the New Year. The private company that will operate the aircraft says it is down to the availability of Typhoon fast jets for air-to-air refuelling tests.”

The RAF Typhoon fleet’s base availability rate been a subject of some controversy lately. This problem could also stem from the need to have Typhoons on Libyan operations and home patrol missions, which would leave few planes available for other tasks like testing.

Nov 18/11: France. AIN reports that Libyan lessons learned have made new Airbus A330 MRTT aerial tankers a bigger priority for France, alongside their aging C-135FRs.

An interim contract for 5-7 A330 MRTTs planes is now expected in 2013, which means AirTanker LLC is less likely to see any French leasing contracts.

Sept 4/11: Airbus Military delivers the 1st Airbus A330-200 aircraft to Bournemouth, UK, where Cobham Aviation Services will handle conversion into the RAF’s Voyager tanker configuration. It’s actually the 3rd FSTA plane built so far, but the first 2 were built and converted entirely by Airbus Military in Spain.

The conversion program will include 2 wing-mounted 905E aerial refueling pods for each plane, and half (7) of the “Voyagers” will also be fitted for 805E center-line fuselage refueling units. Airbus Military | Cobham Plc [PDF].

Aug 8/11: The 1st Voyager aircraft arrives at RAF Brize Norton. It’s involved in a flight testing program to certify it as a refueler for Tornado strike fighters. The visit was actually more of a stopover from Airbus Military’s home in Getafe, Spain, before departing for MOD Boscombe Down the next day. AirTanker LLC.

April 18/11: 1st FSTA arrives. The 1st FSTA aircraft arrives in the UK, touching down at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. The aircraft also picks up a formal military name: Voyager.

Boscombe Down will host 2 of the Voyager aircraft for an intensive program of testing and trials in the refuelling role, set to continue into 2012 with Tornado, Sentry, Typhoon and Hercules aircraft. Those first 2 development aircraft had their military conversion process and initial flight testing done at Airbus Military’s facility near Madrid, Spain, but the next 12 Voyagers will be converted by Cobham at their facility in Bournemouth, UK. UK MoD | Airbus Military | AirTanker.

March 31/11: RAF Brize Norton’s 2-bay hangar and support building officially opens. It will become the FSTA program’s maintenance facility, flight operations centre and office headquarters. AirTanker.



FSTA production
(click to view full)

Dec 20/10: Due to extreme bad weather at RAF Brize Norton, 2 of RAF 99 Squadron’s C-17s end up spending the night on aeromedical standby inside AirTanker’s hangar, which has been built but not fully fitted out yet. AirTanker.

Dec 13/10: Testing. Britain’s 1st A330 MRTT performs the type’s 1st fuselage-mounted hose-and-drogue aerial refueling dry contacts, using an F/A-18 Hornet fighter. Airbus Military. The 1st wet refueling took place on Jan 21/11, transferring over 6 tonnes of fuel at an altitude of around 15,000 feet, and at speeds from 250 – 325kt. AirTanker.

Cobham’s belly-mounted 805E FRU (Fuselage Refueling Unit) is part of the proposed USAF KC-45’s 4-point refueling system, which shares the 2 removable digital underwing hose-and-drogue refueling pods with FSTA aircraft, but also adds a fly-by-wire ARBS boom for UARRSI dorsal receptacles. Both the belly-mounted FRU and underwing hose-and-drogue refueling pods share the same modular architecture, and all 4 systems are controlled from the Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) console in the cockpit.

Nov 2/10: France. The “UK-France Summit 2010 Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation” has this to say:

“15. Air to air refuelling and passenger air transport. We are currently investigating the potential to use spare capacity that may be available in the UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme to meet the needs of France for air to air refuelling and military air transport, provided it is financially acceptable to both nations.”

France currently flies 14 C-135FRs for aerial refueling, and will probably need to keep these Boeing 707 relatives in service for refueling in combat zones and nuclear strike missions. Their planned replacement buy of A330 MRTT refueling and transport planes has been pushed back due to budget concerns, however, creating a need for a stopgap than can lower the C-135FR fleet’s flight hours, and fill some of the gaps. The FSTA tankers will be downgraded versions of France’s own future buy, making it an attractive option that could even result in a reduced future purchase of A330s for the Armée de L’Air.

On the British side, more hours bought by military users beyond Britain makes key modifications like defensive systems easier to justify, and easier to handle operationally because the need for civilian conversions and removal/ modification is reduced.

Oct 26/10: Maiden flight of Britain’s 2nd AirTanker A330 MRTT, which was converted from a basic A330-200 by Airbus Military in Getafe, Spain. Airbus Military.

Sept 16/10: FSTA PFI Rubbished. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee releases its study of the tanker PFI arrangement, and it is not positive. Excerpts from “Delivering Multi-Role Tanker Aircraft Capability” :

“PFI works best where activities and demand are predictable. This is clearly not the case for FSTA. For instance, it is simply astonishing that the Department did not decide until 2006 that FSTA should be able to fly into high threat environments such as Afghanistan. Yet the Department is inhibited from changing the specification because of the implications to the cost of the PFI. Just two years after the deal was signed, the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review is likely to change the demand for the services AirTanker has been contracted to deliver. As the Committee’s previous work shows, dealing with changes on PFI deals is expensive and the Review may question whether this PFI deal is sensible or affordable. The fact that no other country has chosen to procure air-to-air refuelling and passenger transport using PFI type arrangements is further indication that PFI is not a suitable procurement route for such important military capabilities.

There are significant shortcomings in the Department’s procurement of FSTA and we do not believe the procurement was value for money. The shortcomings include…”

See also: British Forces News (incl. video) | BBC | Daily Mail | The Guardian | The Independent | Public Finance magazine | Sky News (incl. video) | The Telegraph | Think Defence.

Sept 16/10: Maiden flight. The first FSTA A330 completes its maiden flight from the Airbus Military facility at Getafe, Spain. Airbus Military | Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Aug 27/10: Rollout. The first A330-200 FSTA plane rolls out of Airbus Military’s hangar in Getafe, Spain, at the end of its indoor conversion and testing. First flight is expected in September 2010. AirTanker Services.

July 7/10: France. French defense minister Hervé Morin tells the parliamentary defense committee that France will postpone program contracts worth EUR 5.4 billion, in an effort to slash EUR 3.5 billion from the military budget over the next 3 years. France’s plan to replace its aged C-135FR aerial tankers with 14 A330-200 MRTT aircraft by 2015 is one of the delayed programs, even though it’s critical to many of the goals in the government’s 2009 defense white paper.

The parliamentary committee reportedly asked Morin if sharing the British FSTA service might help as a stopgap. If so, it would be a partial one at best. Not only is FSTA unable to operate in even low-threat areas, a commercial service cannot be used to refuel nuclear-armed strike aircraft. That was not an issue for Britain, whose nuclear weapons are limited to submarine-launched Trident missiles. Defense News.

March 20/10: NAO report. Britain’s NAO auditors publish their report “Ministry of Defence: Delivering multi-role tanker aircraft capability.” The key takeaway: “The National Audit Office has been unable to conclude that the Ministry of Defence has achieved value for money from the procurement phase of its £10.5 billion private finance deal for the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA).” Excerpts:

“During the negotiation of the deal… testing showed that the PFI solution was between 15 per cent better and 5 per cent worse than the [public sector] Comparator depending on which aircraft, discount factor and delivery confidence level was selected, and offered better value for money in seven of the eight scenarios presented… the Department never gained visibility of detailed sub-contractor costs and margins for the aircraft and their modification… until 2004, the project team had insufficient staff with PFI experience and frequent changes of team leader… there has been no compensating reduction in the support costs for the TriStar and VC10 fleets, which stood at approximately [GBP] 105 million in 2008-09.

…Since contract signature, the project has achieved its delivery milestones and is on budget… The Department is undertaking a large scale re-development at RAF Brize Norton with the intention that new facilities are operational by 2012, shortly after FSTA’s entry into service [in 2011]. However, there is little timescale contingency in these plans.

…The Department managed the later stages of the procurement of FSTA well, including making effective use of advisers and skilled Departmental staff in the latter stages of the negotiation, and transferring the risk to AirTanker for the introduction of the service. The Department did well to close the deal in difficult market conditions… [but, in earlier phases] The Department chose a PFI strategy for FSTA with no realistic assessment of alternatives… The Department was forced to narrow the field to one bidder while a number of significant issues remained… The Department never gained visibility of sub-contractor costs and margins… Neither did the Department undertake any “should-cost” modelling… Between the start of the formal assessment phase and contract signature, the Department spent [GBP] 48 million managing the project, including [GBP] 27 million on advisers, [GBP] 10 million on supporting the bidders and [GBP] 11 million on internal costs.”

March 29/10: Progress report. AirTanker Services offers a program update 2 years in, saying that all major milestones have been met since the Contract was signed on March 27/08. Construction at RAF Brize Norton continues to plan; the exterior work on the modern 2-bay hangar and support building was completed at the end of 2009, the interior fit out is well underway, the first milestone on the training center was completed 7 weeks ahead of schedule, and the Main Operating Base is scheduled to finish early in 2011. AirTanker is preparing for the first test flight in military configuration later in 2010. AirTanker Services release [PDF].


Program on track.

FSTA-1 to Getafe
(click to view full)

July 10/09: The FSTA program’s first Airbus A330-200 flies from Airbus’ Toulouse, France, factory to the Airbus Military facility at Getafe, Spain, on schedule, today. Conversion of this first FSTA aircraft with military avionics and refuelling capability will now commence, in a new, purpose-built, permanent hangar. AirTanker Services release [PDF].

June 4/09: The first A330-200 aircraft built for the FSTA partnership completes its 3-hour maiden test flight on schedule. As the aircraft was put through a series of maneuvers covering its entire flight envelope, engineers conducted various compliance tests on the engines and onboard systems. UK MoD | AirTanker Services release [PDF].

April 1/09: Progress report. The UK MoD issues a release, covering the state of the FSTA program. In mid-November 2008, ATrS completed and handed over improved facilities at RAF Brize Norton that included bulk diesel and waste fuel tanks, air side motor transport parking, wash pan drainage facilities; and a petrol, oil and lubricants store.

Work has started on a 2-bay hangar and associated workshops, as well as what will be a 4-floor office. the office will host the RAF’s 2 FSTA squadrons, the MOD’s Integrated Project Team, and AirTanker corporate personnel. On which topic, ATrS has hired over 30 new recruits.

Feb 25/09: The first FSTA wingset is completed at Airbus UK’s Broughton factory, and is loaded onto an Airbus Beluga aircraft for the journey to Bremen, Germany, for final equipping. Toulouse, France, will be the site for final assembly. Source.


PFI. LAIRCM selected.

FSTA A330-200
(click to view full)

July 16/08: LAIRCM picked. Northrop Grumman announces that their AN/AAQ-24V Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures Systems (LAIRCM) system has been selected to defend the UK’s aerial tanker fleet. Under the terms of the $93 million contract, Northrop Grumman’s Defensive Systems Division will provide LAIRCM system hardware and support to Thales U.K., a member of the AirTanker consortium.

LAIRCM’s system used laser pulses that hit incoming missiles to confuse their infrared guidance systems, and it has become a very popular system for protecting VIP flights and large aircraft like the C-17, E-3 AWACS, C-130, et. al. NGC’s partnership with EADS to build the A330 variant KC-30B for the American tanker competition didn’t hurt their chances, either.

March 27/08: PFI Contract. Rolls Royce announces that “As a shareholder and sub-contractor to AirTanker, the value to Rolls-Royce over the lifetime of the 27-year programme is estimated at over GBP 700 million.” The firm adds that “In line with its shareholding Rolls-Royce will contribute approximately 20 per cent of the equity investment required for the programme, the majority of which is not payable until the operational phase of the programme.”

Rolls-Royce will source components from its global supply chain, then assemble and test the engines at their Derby facility. It will then provide Mission Ready Management Solutions support for the engines once they’re in service. Program management and real-time, proactive diagnostic support will be provided from Rolls Royce’s Defence Aerospace headquarters in Bristol, with additional personnel based at RAF Brize Norton.

According to Rolls Royce, the Trent 700 engine has 53% of firm and option orders for global A330 fleets, including 70% of orders over the last 5 years. Competitive virtues cited include higher thrust, and a full-length cowl that reduces infra-red signature. While the RAF’s program is large in absolute terms, within the overall context of Rolls Royce’s business, one should consider that Trent 700 manufacturing and service in 3 months of 2008 (about $5 billion/ GBP 2.5 billion) is about 3 times the value of the RAF’s 27-year program. Rolls Royce release.

March 27/08: PFI Contract. AirTanker and its Shareholders (Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce, Thales UK and VT Group) sign a GBP 13 billion (about $26.04 billion), 27-year contract with the UK Ministry of Defence for 14 new aerial tanker aircraft based on the Airbus A330-200 MRTT, and powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. The aircraft will enter service beginning in 2011, with aerial refueling services beginning in 2014 and full service beginning in 2016. They will replace Britain’s surviving fleet of 19 VC-10 and 9 L-1011 TriStar aircraft.

The FSTA contract also includes the provision of all necessary infrastructure, including a state of the art 2-bay hangar, training, maintenance, flight operations, fleet management and ground services to enable worldwide Air-to-Air Refuelling and Air Transport missions. An infrastructure program will begin in May 2008 at at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, and the program as a whole is expected to sustain up to 3,000 long-term direct jobs, plus another 4,500 indirect jobs. You may even end up flying in one:

“A number of the aircraft will be operated on the civil register flying commercial Air Transport tasks when not subject to operational requirements, thereby enabling greater productivity for the fleet. Within the PFI agreement, the MoD will only pay for the service once it is available and then only for the capacity that it uses, subject to agreed minimum usage levels.”

The final stage in the process of preparing for contract closure was a financing competition conducted over the last 6 months by the AirTanker consortium, which raised approximately GBP 2.5 billion ($5 billion). UK MoD release | AirTanker Ltd. release [MS Word] | EADS release.

2006 – 2007

Contractual progress.

Tanker fuel systems
(click to view full)

Nov 8/07: In its earnings guidance release, EADS says that:

“In response to the UK PFI Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) requirement, the AirTanker consortium (EADS is 40 percent shareholder and platform provider) has made significant progress in the finalising of contractual arrangements with the UK MoD and in the selection of lenders and financing structure. In the other tanker variant that the Division is currently introducing into the market includes the air-refuelling boom system which is now nearing completion of its development phase and continues flight testing.”

June 6/07: Financing. AirTanker Ltd. announces [PDF format] that it has begun work on the Financing Competition to raise almost GBP 2 billion (about $4 billion) in initial capital, in conjunction with Deutsche Bank. It will be used to start up the business as a fully operational concern, buy the aircraft, and build the new facilities at RAF Brize Norton.

June 6/07: PFI approved. Defence Equipment and Support Minister Lord Drayson announces government approval a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for the FSTA program. UK MoD release.

July 16/06: AirTanker announces [PDF] that the US State Department has granted umbrella approval, in the form of a brokering licence, which will allow AirTanker to provide the FSTA service to the RAF with aircraft containing US-supplied military equipment.

2000 – 2005

Program start. Final bids. A330 picked.

RAF TriStar KC1
(click to view full)

July 11/05: AirTanker announces [MS Word format] that Phill Blundell has been appointed as the firm’s Chief Executive. He had joined AirTanker from BAE Systems at the start of May 2005 and has been assuming greater responsibilities leading up to his formal appointment. His last role at BAE Systems was Group Managing Director C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), with a focus on non-platform and complex systems integration.

Feb 28/05: Following revisions to AirTanker’s proposals, and its re-assessment to the same evaluation criteria used for the January 2004 assessment, the UK government names the AirTanker consortium as its preferred bidder for the FSTA program, which is expected to be worth GBP 13 billion (about $25 billion in March 2005) over its 27-year lifetime. AirTanker release [PDF] | DID coverage.

January 2004: A330 picked. AirTanker is selected by the UK Ministry of Defence as the bidder most likely to provide a value for money solution, and contractual negotiations on key commercial terms begin.

August 2003: Final bids. Final bids are received from the TTSC (BAE, Boeing, Serco, Spectrum Capital) and AirTanker (EADS, Rolls Royce, Cobham, Thales UK) consortia. The delay from the initial bids is due to the MoD’s 2002 Equipment Planning process.

July 3/01: The MoD receives 2 initial bids: one from a BAE/Boeing consortium, another led by EADS.

Dec 21/2000: An Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) is issued to industry

Dec 19/2000: FSTA begins. The FSTA Program is given initial gate approval by Ministers and enters a formal Assessment phase.

Appendix A: PFI – The Art of the Deal

Tony Blair
(click to view full)

Under Prime Minister Blair, Britain’s Labor government made far greater use of Public-Private Partnerships/ Private Financing Initiatives, which kept key projects wholly or partly “off the books,” and could make some use of private sector efficiency incentives. When the need to replace their aerial tanker fleet arose, therefore, budgetary provisions were made in 1997 for a PFI. In a June 2/07 Economist article (“What I’ve Learned”), Tony Blair says:

“Public services need to go through the same revolution – professionally, culturally, and in organization – as the private sector has gone through. The old monolithic provision has to be broken down. The user has to be given real power of preference. The system needs proper incentives and rewards…”

The first step in the UK’s tanker PFI process was to select a preferred bidder, but here the government ran into a trap of its own making. Negotiations proved problematic. AirTanker (A330 MRTT) and TTSC (KC-767: BAE, Boeing, Serco, and Spectrum Capital) submitted proposals in July 2001, but the bids were not to the MoD’s liking. By September 2002, they decided to offer to pay the losing bidder up to GBP 10 million, in order to keep the competitors interested in a long and increasingly expensive bid process. After several iterations, the 2 consortia submitted revised bids in August 2003.

The TTSC consortium’s bid was 19% more expensive than AirTanker’s, and 6% above the notional public sector baseline. It also had stringent time limits, requiring a buy by 2005. In January 2004, TTSC was “de-selected” from the competition, and negotiations began with the remaining competitor, AirTanker. Those negotiations also proved difficult, and in May 2004, the FSTA project team recommended cancellation of the entire program.

By this time, however, the focus had moved from competition to financing, and the trap had closed. Working publicly on a public sector fallback plan would create uncertainty in the market, which could raise the cost and difficulty of the required finance deal, making failure a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the political end, the PFI concept itself was based on a practice that has been successful in Britain, but FSTA had surface similarities with the USA’s controversial and canceled KC-767 lease deal, which came to be associated with a corruption scandal. A mirrored failure in the UK, for whatever reasons, would have drawn those comparisons even tighter, and damaged PFIs as a whole. Committed by ideology and also by the threat of loss of face if the deal were scrapped, the government and the Ministry chose to plow ahead. they even sought to avoid planning for fallback options, doing so only in 2007 – and then in an incomplete fashion.

The AirTanker consortium was finally selected as the Preferred Bidder (vice default bidder) in February 2005, along with its proposed A330-200 Multi-Role Tanker-Transport aircraft. Yet even this step did not result in a contract.

The next step was ratification of a Private Financing Initiative as the way forward, as this is a significant departure from the usual buy and own approach for military aircraft. Nevertheless, reform of the defense sector in Britain has been wide-ranging. Huge progress has been made in the spread of “future contracting for availability,” as a common model for changing contractor incentives and supporting key weapons platforms like the RAF’s Tornados throughout their service life. The first decade of the new millennium had also seen significant organizational shifts within the Ministry of Defense.

It also saw shifts within government. Tony Blair’s retirement, and the ascension of the more left-wing Gordon Brown to the prime minister’s post, left a question mark of sorts over the future of service provision reform; the PFI concept is not popular in many parts of the ruling Labour Party. As such, the eventual confirmation by Lord Drayson that a PFI approach would be pursued for a huge program like FSTA had implications that reached beyond the UK’s military.

What it could not do, was make up for lost time. With that approval out of the way, step 3 of FSTA required agreement on a final deal with AirTanker.

(click to view full)

In order to make the deal work from AirTanker’s point of view, however, financing terms were almost as important as its terms with the government. AirTanker Ltd. worked with Deutsche Bank as its primary advisor, and held a competition among lenders to finance the initial capital outlay. That competition raised GBP 2.5 billion (about $5 billion) to start up the business as a fully operational concern, buy the aircraft, and build the new facilities from which AirTanker will provide the FSTA service. The firm’s June 6/07 release added that:

“The goal will be to ensure that the final terms agreed with the chosen lenders transfer the risk away from the taxpayer, while guaranteeing full value for money for the MOD.”

This had been the goal since 1997. But a contract was not forthcoming until March 2008. It had taken so long, that the entire plan was 5.5 years behind at the beginning of the program contract.

Under the deal, the A300-200 aircraft will be owned and supported by AirTanker, while the service will be staffed by a mixture of armed services and civilian personnel. As noted above, under the PFI (Private Financing Initiative) concept the RAF would fly the 14 Airbus A330 FSTA aircraft on operational missions and receive absolute preferential access to the planes, while the contractor handled maintenance and operated them as passenger or transport aircraft when the RAF didn’t need them.

The UK MoD would pay for the provision MRTT aircraft on the basis of an agreement that combined per-use payments, plus incentives and penalties. These would be issued on the basis of aircraft availability, and AirTanker’s ability to meet key measurements of performance under the PFI agreement.

Revenues will be generated over time, via the performance-based, pay-per-use contract negotiated with the UK MoD. The NAO laid out expected costs in a 2010 report:

“Across the term of the contract, the Department will pay on average [GBP] 390 million per annum for the baseline FSTA service, which includes the cost of related services and infrastructure. Of this amount, AirTanker expects the cost of operating the service to be [GBP] 80 million, leaving [GBP] 310 million to cover financing, profit and the capital cost of the project… In addition, the Department expects to spend a further [GBP] 60 million per annum on personnel, fuel and other related costs, resulting in a total estimated spend over the life of the project of [GBP] 12.3 billion.”

TriStar & USN F/A-18Cs
over Afghanistan
(click to view full)

As always, the devil will be in the details – and in a PFI, any agreement that offers too much of an advantage to either side will ultimately prove to be in the best interests of neither party.

Blind spots can be equally costly, of course. Surprisingly, the original FSTA requirements did not envisage the aircraft flying into dangerous environments – even danger on the minimal scale of Afghanistan. When the need for possible additional aircraft protection measures arose, requirements were not changed; negotiations were proving difficult enough as it was. The UK MoD is now considering the technical requirements, costs that Britain’s NAO auditors estimate as “hundreds of millions of pounds,” and an in-service schedule that could be several years after the tanker service is “operational.” The existing British tanker fleet would have to cover the gap for areas most likely to see sustained aerial operations, or allies would have to cooperate, until that could be achieved.

In retrospect, Britain’s Parliament has been sharply critical of the deal, citing it as a god example of when not to use PFI. These arrangements only work, they say, when demand is predictable and changes are rare. That unpredictable demand was actually seen as an initial plus for the PFI, by making use of otherwise “wasted” time. The problem is that civilian and military carriage requirements aren’t harmonized yet, and many of the protective systems the military would want to install have too many classified technologies on board for use on civilian aircraft in civilian airports. Meanwhile, the RAF can no longer depend on operating tankers only “behind the front lines,” as long-range missiles and irregular warfare mean that the front lines themselves are disappearing.

That kind of collision, say the critics, is exactly why military systems are poor candidates for PFI arrangements. Given the rapidly changing nature of military operations, they say, the Labour government’s prioritization of political face over “plan B” options has been especially damaging and expensive. With so many contracts signed, and so little extra money on hand to cover the expenses of both cancellation and replacement, FSTA is the only option Britain has left. Somehow, the RAF will have to make it work – and extend the life of the existing TriStar and/or VC10 fleets to cover immediate front line needs.

Appendix B: Britain Former Refueling Fleet

Over the course of the FSTA acquisition process, the RAF has worked to phase out its legacy fleet of refueling aircraft.

By the time the FSTA contract was signed, both of the RAF’s legacy aircraft types had been out of production for over 20 years. A few commercial fleets still operated the L-1011 TriStar, but the RAF’s fleet had begun to show its age, and was nearing the end of its operational lifespan. By then, the RAF was the only global operator of the VC10s. Hence the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft program, which received its formal go-ahead in 2000. It was a hard slog (q.v. Appendix A), but the fleet is now in active service.

Tri-version TriStars

TriStar & Tornados
(click to view full)

The RAF’s 9 Lockheed L-1011 TriStars previously served with British Airways and Pan-Am. They have a unique 3-engine profile that includes an air intake on top, in front of the tail stabilizer. The TriStars and are the larger of the 2 major tanker classes, with more fuel capacity and range. They were operated by No 216 Squadron until March 2014, and broke down into 3 different models.

K1 and KC1 aircraft could perform air-air refueling. A total fuel load of 139,700 kg could be carried, which can be used by the aircraft itself, or given away to receivers. Although the aircraft had 2 hosedrum refueling units, only 1 could be used at a time, restricting aircraft to single-point refueling. On a typical AAR flight from the UK to Cyprus, or Gander (Canada), the RAF 4 TriStar KC1 aircraft could each refuel up to 4 fast-jet aircraft, while carrying up to 31 tonnes/ 34.1 tons of passengers and/or freight.

The addition of a large, fuselage freight-door and a roller-conveyor system allowed outsized palletized cargo to be carried on the KC1s, but the RAF’s 2 TriStar K1 aircraft weren’t fitted for this. TriStar K1s carry up to 187 passengers instead, in addition to their refueling equipment.

The KC2/KC2A TriStars were ex-Pan Am transport aircraft that remained largely unchanged from their airline days. They carried up to 266 passengers, and were used for transport duties only.

VC10s: Distinctive, but Discontinued

VC10 & Tornado F3s
(click to view full)

The RAF’s 19 Vickers VC-10s were famous for having 4 engines – 2 mounted on each side of their rear fuselage. This has the happy side-effect of minimizing turbulence for pilots taking up refueling stations behind their wings. Unlike the TriStars, VC10s were equipped with a probe-and-drogue refueling system capable of refueling 2 aircraft simultaneously from the 2 underwing pods; they could also use a single fuselage-mounted Hose Drum Unit (HDU). They also differed from the TriStars in that they could be refueled themselves, thanks to the installation of a fixed refueling probe in their nose. Only 11 were serving by 2002, in 3 tanker versions:

The VC10-C1Ks were converted to the aerial refueling role in 1993 with the fitting of a Mk32 refueling pod under the outboard section of each wing. They carry their internal fuel, and can also accommodate 124 troops plus 9 crew, or aero-medical evacuation of up to 68 stretchers. A large, cabin-freight door on the forward left side of the aircraft allows combi passenger/freight or full-freight configuration. In its full-freight role, the cabin could hold up to 20,400 kg/ 22.4 tons of palletized freight, ground equipment or vehicles, on its permanently strengthened floor. They were operated by 10 Squadron.

The RAF’s 4 VC10-K3s were equipped with fuselage fuel tanks mounted in the passenger compartment, and could carry up to 78,000 kg of fuel. They had very limited passenger-carrying capacity, which was used almost exclusively to carry ground crew and other operational support personnel. The K3s and K4 are operated by 101 Squadron.

The RAF’s 4 VC10-K4s carried 69,800 kg of fuel using their original 8 fuel tanks, and add another 1,750 gallon tank in the fin. The aircraft had been purchased in 1981 from British Airways, and were converted by BAe in 1990. These VC10s went through almost a complete rebuild, emerging without the airframe fatigue flight restrictions placed on many of the other VC10s in the fleet.

Additional Readings & Sources Background: A330 Voyager Tanker/ Transports

Background: FSTA Program

News & Views

  • AirTanker (April 30/14) – V[oyager]-Force. Discusses aerial refueling progress since the RAF V-Force’s landmark “Operation Black Buck” bombing raid from Ascension Island to the Falklands, and offers some useful technical details.

Background: Britain’s Other Tankers

Categories: News

G/ATOR delivered to USMC | Trump administration to further arm Syrian Kurds | Sweden interested in Boeing/Saab T-X trainer offering

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 04:00

  • Northrop Grumman has received a $332 million modification to an existing contract for work at the Joint National Center Research and Development for the Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense. Under the terms of the agreement, work to be carried out includes the integration of Ballistic Missile Defense System (BDMS) and testing programs for the program, as well as the provision of logistical services, wargame and readiness exercises, and the development of doctrine, as well as information technology support for the Chief Information Officer for the BDMS. The additional DoD funding will increase the funding maximum from $3.85 billion to $4.18 billion, and may extend task orders until May 2018.

  • The USMC has received its first low rate initial production (LRIP) AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. Developed and produced by Northrop Grumman, five additional systems will be delivered under the terms of the October 2014 contract. G/ATOR will replace five legacy systems operated by the Marines, providing significant improvements in performance when compared with the legacy radar families in each of its modes. The systems take advantage of Northrop’s expertise in C4ISR, and includes software loads that optimize the multi-mission capabilities of the radar to perform each mission.

Middle East & North Africa

  • The Trump administration has said that it will move ahead with a plan to further arm Kurdish militias fighting the Islamic State in Syria. The move has once again angered Turkey, who see Kurdish groups like the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—who make up part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces—as an extension of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed terrorist organization in Turkey. However, policymakers in both the Obama and Trump cabinets see the Kurdish forces in Syria as the only reliable partners on the ground capable of defeating IS. It is now likely that YPG elements could receive mortars, heavy machine guns and armored tactical vehicles as part of the administration’s help with an offensive to reclaim the the city of Raqqa, the jihadist’s de facto capital.

  • Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and BAE Systems have announced that they will ink the TFX design and development agreement that was signed by both companies in January at this year’s International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF) 2017. Valued at almost $130 million, the deal will see BAE assisting TAI with the design and development of the TFX next-generation multi-role fighter. It has also been reported that Pakistan may be interested in participating in the project, with Turkish industry and Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production speaking on what future collaboration would look like. However, the Pakistan Air Force has yet to comment on whether it would be interested in participating in producing and procuring such an aircraft.


  • The Swedish government has indicated that it would be interested in procuring a jet trainer designed by Boeing and Saab, if the offering is selected by Washington as the winner of the US Air Force’s T-X trainer competition. However, Stockholm would not be interested in procuring any of the other T-X trainer offerings if they were to win, instead opting for a cheaper turboprop training aircraft. Sweden currently has an inventory of 50 Saab 105 trainers, which were introduced in the late 1960s, and plans are underway to retire the ageing fleet by 2026.

  • Germany is moving forward with a plan to take 104 used Leopard 2 battle tanks out of storage and have manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann conduct upgrades from the A4 configuration to the newest A7V standard. The $832.7 million project will see improvements made in the areas of information technology, armaments and armor. Under the agreement, KMW will also provide 32 tank chassis frames that can later be turned into additional vehicles of the Leopard 2 series, such as variants capable of launching bridges across rivers and other chokepoints. Work on the tanks is expected to commence in 2019 and last through to 2023. Berlin’s moves to upgrade its tank fleet comes on the expectation that future conflicts will rely heavily on ground warfare with armored vehicles.

  • Following on from their selection of the F-16 as their next fighter, the Romanian government has contracted Lockheed Martin to deliver comprehensive simulator systems based on the fighter jet. The SciosTrain simulator system will combine full combat tactics and mission training scenarios, while providing for networking to allow Romanian Air Force pilots to train together virtually. Delivery of the simulators is expected to be completed by 2019.

Asia Pacific

  • Almost a year on from the infamous misfiring and sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat by the Republic of China Navy, Taiwanese military officials have said that they are still looking for the whereabouts of the Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missile that caused the deadly incident. Officials reports on the incident, which killed the fishing vessel’s captain, claimed that the missile’s warhead did not explode on impact and that it instead sunk in the water. However, an anonymous source told the press that the missile could have detonated and therefore exploded into pieces. The search continues.

Today’s Video

  • Airbus conducts automatic air-to-air refueling contact:


Categories: News

C2BMC: Putting the ‘System’ in Ballistic Missile Defense

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 03:58

Monitors went black
Sell everything!

C2BMC puts the “system” in the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System. At least that’s how the US Missile Defense Agency describes the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) element. Basically, C2BMC synchronizes individual missile defense systems, sensors, and operators, which is essential to the layered missile defense approach the agency is working to develop. Since no one system is foolproof, layered system is designed to destroy enemy ballistic missiles by tracking and engaging them in all phases of flight, from boost, mid-course, and terminal phases of ballistic missiles. Tying all that together is a real challenge, since these systems weren’t all designed from the outset to operate together.

Some elements of the USA’s current missile warning and defense architecture include DSP and SBIRS satellites, Aegis BMD ships, Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), Patriot anti-air missile defense, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries, along with flexible dual-use elements like the Patriot PAC-3, other sensors that might be plugged into the network, and other elements that will be developed in future…

What C2BMC Does

(click to view full)

The C2BMC system receives, processes, and displays tracking and status data from these elements so that commanders at various locations have the same integrated operating picture and can make coordinated decisions about deploying weapons. This allows the central command structure to use the most effective weapons to engage threat ballistic missiles in all flight phases.

The BMDS C2BMC includes 3 parts: C2, battle management, and communications. Its capabilities [PDF] include:

  • Planning capability to locate sensors and weapons systems to counter identified threats;
  • Situational awareness;
  • Battle management to pair sensors and shooters for BMD asset utilization and engagement;
  • Sensor netting to detect, identify, track, and discriminate threats; and
  • Communications networks to manage and distribute data.

More than 70 C2BMC workstations are fielded at US Strategic, Northern, European, Pacific, and Central Commands (USSTRATCOM, USNORTHCOM, USEUCOM, USPACOM, and USCENTCOM); numerous Army Air and Missile Defense Commands; Air and Space Operations Centers; and other supporting warfighter organizations.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for C2BMC, with Northrop Grumman serving as the principal subcontractor.

Contracts and Key Events

May 11/17: Northrop Grumman has received a $332 million modification to an existing contract for work at the Joint National Center Research and Development for the Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense. Under the terms of the agreement, work to be carried out includes the integration of Ballistic Missile Defense System (BDMS) and testing programs for the program, as well as the provision of logistical services, wargame and readiness exercises, and the development of doctrine, as well as information technology support for the Chief Information Officer for the BDMS. The additional DoD funding will increase the funding maximum from $3.85 billion to $4.18 billion, and may extend task orders until May 2018.

March 14/14: GAO report. The GAO releases GAO-14-248R, regarding the USA’s EPAA plans for defending Europe from ballistic missiles. The report mentions C2BMC, and the news isn’t so good.

C2BMC S6.4 was fielded in 2011 as part of EPAA Phase 1. The issue is S8.2, which is needed to improve the integration of incoming missile tracks for Phase 2, and provides a Lock-On After Launch firing capability for AEGIS BMD systems. It was supposed to be ready in 2015, but current plans now say it won’t be ready until 2017 – and software projects like this are always at risk for further delays. That delay creates follow-on delays for planned improvements to AN/TPY-2 radars.

C2BMC S8.4 has also been changed from its original deployment in 2018 with Phase 3. It’s supposed to provide the ability for AEGIS BMD systems to intercept incoming missiles without using their own radars, thanks to faster integrated tracks, more precise tracking, and resilience in more “complex” conditions. Instead, a 2013 decision by MDA pushed S8.4 to 2020 or later. Phase 3 will now use S8.2x, with unspecified upgrades. That delay creates follow-on delays for planned improvements to AN/TPY-2 radars and THAAD missiles, and AEGIS BMD.

March 4/14: MDA Budget. The MDA finally releases its FY15 budget request, with information spanning from FY 2014 – 2019. C2BMD is slated to receive $2.281 billion over this period based on current plans, and is very consistent at $405 – 466 million per year. The MDA adds:

“In addition to continuing the enhancement of global BMD survivable communications and support for operations and sustainment of C2BMC at fielded sites, in FY 2015 we will integrate Overhead Persistent Infrared data into C2BMC to support cueing of BMD sensors worldwide. We will also improve sensor data integration and battle management in C2BMC to support Aegis BMD cueing and launch-on and engage-on remote capability.”

Sources: US MDA, PB 2015 Appropriation Summary | US MDA, Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget Estimates.

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). C2BMC is included, and their report focuses on testing of C2BMC S6.4 Maintenance Release 1 and 2 (MR1 and MR2). MR1-2 are focused on “debris mitigation,” helping defensive systems separate the warheads from the chaff.

C2BMC can control and direct 1 AN/TPY-2 radar, and some lab tests have involved more than 1 simulated radar, but that hasn’t been fully tested yet. DOT&E wants the Missile Defense Agency to perform tests with multiple TPY-2s within in a single Area of Regard or theater. They want that single focus in order to test tracking coordination.

In addition, C2BMC experienced “some minor latency issues during stressing test cases with large numbers of threats,” especially if more friendly forces are in theater to add complications. The GTI-04e Part 1 test also found “interoperability and command and control deficiencies… that affected track processing, situational awareness, and battle management.”

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

The test involved full inter-operation. A land-based TPY-2 radar was positioned forward as the warning radar. It acquired the targets, and passed that onto the joint C2BMC system. C2BMC cued DDG 74 USS Decatur, outfitted with AEGIS BMD 3.6.1 and the SM-3 Block IA missile. Decatur acquired the track, then launched the SM-3 and killed its target. C2BMC also passed the track to a land-based THAAD battery’s own TPY-2 radar, which provided the intercept guidance for a successful pair of THAAD missile shots. The 2nd THAAD missile was actually aimed at the SM-3’s MRBM, in case it had failed to achieve intercept, but that turned out not to be necessary this time.

C2BMC has been used in a number of other tests, but this complex test was included as an excellent illustration of the system’s intended capabilities. Sources: US MDA, Sept 10/13 release | Lockheed Martin, Sept 11/13 release | Raytheon, Sept 10/13 release.

March 20/12: Northrop Grumman announces a $96 million follow-on contract as part of Lockheed Martin’s Missile Defense National Team, which is responsible for the C2BMC program. Under the 38-month contract, Northrop Grumman will support integrated product teams, provide engineering expertise, and provide test and exercise support for C2BMC systems.

Dec 23/11: Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions in Gaithersburg, MD receives a sole-source 5-year, $980 million incentive-based, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to work with the US Missile Defense Agency to develop C2BMC. Lockheed Martin ISGS will develop, model, fabricate, integrate, test, verify, evaluate, validate, document, deliver, field, train, operate, sustain, and support updates and new capabilities.

Work will be performed in Arlington, VA from Jan 1/12 through Dec 31/16, with initial orders funded from FY 2012 research, development, test and evaluation funds. The US Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, AL manages the contract (HQ0147-12-D-0003). Lockheed Martin.

Aug 18/10: Northrop Grumman announces that it received from MDA a $90 million, 30-month task order to develop techniques for sensor management and data processing and fusion for future sensors that will be used by the C2BMC system. The company said the techniques will provide more accurate tracking information for intercepting a missile earlier in flight using current and future interceptor systems. These new capabilities will be built on an open systems infrastructure so that any sensor and weapon system can be incorporated into the BMD system, the company said.

April 15/10: Lockheed Martin announces a $424 million 2-year contract modification to beef up the C2BMC system’s security, situational awareness capabilities, and integrate sensors and weapons systems. Work will be conducted in Arlington, VA; Huntsville, AL; and Colorado Springs, CO.

Jan 8/08: Lockheed Martin announces that it received $458 million contract modification in 2007 for development, integration, and installation of the C2BMC capability.

December 2007: Lockheed Martin said C2BMC Spiral 6.2 was promoted to operational status. With this spiral, capabilities provided include Link 16 track, parallel staging of networks for support to development/ integration and operations, new communication capabilities for Aegis UHF/EHF and situational awareness and planner capability enhancements.

Additional Readings C2BMC

Some Related Systems

Categories: News

Flexible G/ATORs: The USMC’s Multi-Mission AESA Ground Radars

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 03:58

G/ATOR diorama
(click to view full)

The US military’s long run of unquestioned air superiority has led to shortcuts in mobile land-based air defenses, and the US Marines are no exception. A December 2005 release from Sen. Schumer’s office [D-NY] said that:

“Current radar performance does not meet operational forces requirements… consequences could potentially allow opposing forces to gain air and ground superiority in future operational areas.”

One of the programs in the works to address this gap is the AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR mobile radar system. It’s actually the result of fusing 2 programs: the Multi-Role Radar System (MRRS), and Ground Weapons Locator Radar (GWLR) requirements. When the last G/ATOR software upgrade becomes operational, it will replace and consolidate numerous legacy radars, including the AN/TPS-63 air surveillance, AN/MPQ-62 force control, AN/TPS-73 air traffic control, AN/UPS-3 air defense, and AN/TPQ-36/37 artillery tracking & locating radar systems.

The G/ATOR System

click to play video

G/ATOR systems were supposed to be transportable in C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft, and by MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors (underslung), CH-53 heavy helicopters (underslung or internal), or CH-47 heavy lift helicopters (underslung or internal). That’s still sort of true.

The radars themselves were originally slated be mounted on HMMWV jeeps, which would have fit all of these requirements. Issues with weight and protection eventually pushed the Marines to abandon the system’s 3-jeep model, and to make the radar itself a towable trailer.

My ride’s here…
(click to view full)

The system can still be carried in a single C-130, and consists of: (1) a Radar Equipment Group trailer, (2) a Power Equipment Group 60kW generator in an ISO container, and (3) a Communication Equipment Group mounted on a HMMWV. The PEG container will usually be mounted on an MTVR truck, which will also tow the REG trailer. The USMC will also have the option of leaving the truck behind, and airlifting the radar trailer, power container, and C2 HMMWV in 3 separate CH-53 helicopter or MV-22 tilt-rotor loads.

Flexible Fielding: G/ATOR Increments

(click to view full)

The AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR is intended to be a software-based radar. This idea has become common for radios, and many fighter radars offer a number of different modes (air scan, ground looking SAR maps, etc.) via software. The idea for G/ATOR is similar: common hardware that can switch in the field from air traffic control, to aerial volume search and targeting, to artillery counterfire tracking. Northrop Grumman says that some specific switches would require a radar shutdown and restart as the new software is loaded.

This kind of flexibility also lets the USMC field the radar, then add new capabilities via 3 blocks of upgrades:

Initial Increment I/ Block 1 – in testing. supports 2 distinct mission areas: Short range air defense, and air surveillance in tactical air operations centers (TAOC), including baseline IFF (identification, friend or foe). It replaces the AN/UPS-3, AN/MPQ-62, and AN/TPS-63 radar systems. G/ATOR program manager Capt. Lee Bond (USN, ret.) explains one of the advantages it offers:

“There are threats out there today – like small hovering UAVs – that were not envisioned when our legacy radars were developed and fielded a generation ago. So the performance of our legacy radars against those emergent threats on the modern battlefield is spotty at best. The smaller and slower the target gets and the lower to the ground it flies, the trickier it is for the traditional radar to find it. G/ATOR absolutely wipes out those limitations and gives you complete situational awareness of everything in the sky.”

Increment I engineering will allow growth to accommodate all following increments without equipment re-design, and will provide an open architecture that makes it easier to upgrade the computers, computer programs, and firmware in all subsequent increments. Its development phase was supposed to end at the end of April, 2012, but Milestone C approval didn’t come until January 2014.

Increment II/ Block 2 – development underway. will address the Marine Expeditionary Force counter fire/targeting missions, adding ground counter-battery and target acquisition against enemy mortars, rockets, or artillery. It replaces the AN/TPQ-46 radar system.

The baseline requirements remain, and the Marines have added program R&D funding to investigate the potential for additional capabilities within this area.

Increment III – planning only. This set of improvements will actually come after IV. It adds tactical enhancements for the air mission, including decoy/electronic counter-counter measures capabilities, electronic protection equipment and software, sensor netting, an advanced radar environmental simulator (RES), and a logistics integrated data environment (IDE, a computer system for managing and monitoring fleet health, spares supply, maintenance instructions, etc.). “Non-cooperative target recognition” capabilities are very useful for identifying enemies, and they’re even more useful if a Marine Corps Hornet’s IFF system has a problem on the way back in.

There’s no firm timeline for Increment III yet, and its components could change. Future plans involve sensor netting and integration with the USMC’s shoulder-fired Stinger air defense missiles, or their successors.

Increment IV/ Block 4 – RFI out. will add an air traffic control (ATC) capability, which is extremely useful in disaster relief situations like Haiti. IFF Mode 5/S capability has also been moved here. The baseline requirements remain, and the Marines have added program funding to investigate the potential for additional capabilities in this area.

Development will come before Increment III. Existing radars and software for this task are already well-understood, so this was seen as a safer step with a quick payoff. 2015 is the target for development to begin, with late 2018 or 2019 the target for entering service. It will replace the AN/TPS-73 radar system.

The G/ATOR Program

At present, the Marine Corps’ Approved Acquisition Objective is a total of 45 G/ATOR systems, about a 30% drop from the 2005 baseline of 64 systems. The Marines had wanted 81 systems before G/ATOR became a formal program.

G/ATOR began in 2007, and has left the System Design and Development (SDD/EMD) Phase to begin low-rate production. Formal government developmental testing (DT) is underway. Initial DT1B1, DT1B2, and DT1B3 phases have been completed at Wallops Island, VA, and Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ.

Tactically, the TPS-80 G/ATOR will fit below the USMC’s existing AN/TPS-59 long-range radars, offering less range, but finer detail within its scan radius. An evolved version may even replace the USMC’s longer-range radars, under the joint service 3DELRR (“3-dealer”) program, though the initial 2014 award went to a Raytheon offering before GAO challenges were filed.

G/ATOR TPS-80: Technology Challenges

Now: TPS-63
(click to view full)

Once all of these increments are implemented, AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR will use its active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology to provide aircraft detection, tracking, and engagement; cruise-missile detection and engagement; ground-weapon location; and military air-traffic control – all in one package.

Radars are all about time & energy management. That has traditionally involved electronic hardware, but these days it relies more on software: marshaling and directing the energies required, placing them high or low as needed, emitting signals at precise times to shape them. The electronics and software must collect and analyze the results, in order to create the right kind of “complete” picture. G/ATOR’s various tasks have very different, even contradictory time/energy requirements. Fulfilling those tasks would require a radar that offered new levels of flexibility.

Both the Marines and Northrop Grumman acknowledged the challenges up front. It has been treated as a technologically difficult program since its inception in 2007.

Making G/ATOR thinkable

APG-81 test mount
(click to view full)

A trio of technology developments made G/ATOR thinkable.

The 1st was a growing trend toward active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, which are composed of thousands of individual solid state transmit/receive modules that can operate individually or in assigned groups. In addition to the flexibility they offer, AESA radars have smaller sidelobes beyond the main beam focus, which helps to reduce false alarms for applications like counterfire targeting.

The 2nd trend is the growing dominance of software over hardware, especially in controlling and interpreting information from AESA-type radars. Northrop Grumman already had experience implementing different modes in its AESA fighter radars, including a project to turn them into high-bandwidth communications relays.

In G/ATOR’s case, the connection was very direct. Northrop Grumman personnel have confirmed that the F-35 fighter’s AN/APG-81 radar technologies were adapted for use in G/ATOR, and that it will use the APG-81 facility and production line.

The 3rd trend is Moore’s Law, which makes an exponentially-increasing level of computing power available to control radar systems and analyze their returns.

These advances make G/ATOR thinkable, but actually developing it requires very advanced engineering expertise. This is especially true when the radar in question will face the kinds of ground environments and general unpleasantness associated with the US Marines, as opposed to clean air force maintenance hangars and navy decks.

Northrop Grumman’s management made a decision that the benefits of a successful program justified a significant corporate commitment, and gave the program access to top talent within the firm. Now, all they had to do was execute.

Execution, Without Dying

The new G/ATOR
(click to view full)

Every program encounters engineering and financial challenges, and G/ATOR has been no exception.

Creating a radar that can do all of these things, while taking Marine Corps level abuse, required new engineering. To offer just a few examples:

Weight. The ability to take Marine Corps level abuse also requires survivability. Which meant extra weight. The program’s shift away from 3 unarmored and integrated HMMWVs to a “MTVR truck + trailer + HMMWV” configuration cost the development team about a year for re-design, refining, and approval.

Temperature. G/ATOR is designed to operate in ambient temperatures of -40 to +55 degrees Centigrade, and must keep its electronics at a common temperature to avoid data errors. Instead of using heavy 2-stage cooling systems, however, the radar uses forced circulation from fans blowing ambient uncooled air through the array. As a side-benefit, that made the radar lighter.

Scope. These basic design challenges were exacerbated by scope increases, as potential flexibility became thinkable and then real. This is exciting, because new capabilities create additional growth opportunities, and new potential uses. On the other hand, it’s also taxing to a design team already challenged by the core project.

Upgradeability. Then there’s the double-edged sword that is Moore’s Law of geometrically expanding processor chip power.

If a chip is obsolete in 5 years, and may not be produced at all in 10, but the radar must last 30 years, what is one to do? One option is to switch to a processor with 100% more growth capacity early in the project. Given Moore’s Law, that only buys you about 5 more years, maybe 10 at the most. The US military’s growing insistence on open systems architectures and modularity (OSA/ MOSA) will help make future swap-ins easier, but OSA/MOSA implementations are not created equal. Engineering design quality is the difference, which takes time.

Gallium Nitride. Quality engineering also opens new doors, because base technology matters. Thinning air for the generator’s carburetor currently pushes the TPS-80’s PEG below its full 60 kW power output at altitude. Back in 2007, the US military was near the beginning of its efforts to use Gallium Nitride (GaN) as a more efficient semiconductor material. More efficiency equals better performance, so the promise was clear, but the development risks weren’t. In response, the program stuck with conventional Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) electronics, but conducted studies and planned for a switch down the road.

Those studies showed that GaN circuits could draw just 50 kW for full radar power, allowing full effectiveness at 10,000 feet or beyond. Higher altitude naturally improves a radar’s field of view, and is a defining feature in places like Afghanistan, so the tactical impact is significant.

By 2012, research had made considerable advances thanks to investments by DARPA, the US Army, the USAF, and defense firms. The USMC kept its promise to set aside funds for the GaN switch, and USAF development dollars from the 3DELRR program built on good engineering and early planning to help complete the shift. In late FY 2013, the G/ATOR program office began the technology switch from to GaN.

Not cheap.
(click to view full)

Finally, there’s the financial end.

On the bad news front, the deliberate devaluation of the US dollar pushed a huge rise in gold’s American dollar price from 2007, which has backed off somewhat for now. Gold’s rise has been the subject of many reports, but few link that to gold’s industrial use in the kinds of high-fidelity connectors needed by a radar’s advanced electronics.

On the good news front, G/ATOR has made enough progress that it’s attracting interest in early deployment. That can be dangerous to a program, because the system will still have gaps, which can be exploited by politicians as an excuse to remove funding. The G/ATOR team has had to think hard about this, and one of their conclusions was that they could leverage Urgent Operational Requirements to finish the production program 3 years early. Faster replacement means less money spent maintaining earlier radars, which aren’t in ideal shape. It would also cut 3 years of variable costs out of production.

The current trend is to stretch defense programs out into costlier timelines, in order to save a bit of money each year. Events get a vote, however, and it remains to be seen whether G/ATOR manages to buck the general trend.

G/ATOR TPS-80: Industrial Partners

Industrial partners for the G/ATOR TPS-80 program include:

  • Northrop Grumman (prime contractor)
  • Caterpillar Logistics in Morton, IL.
  • CEA Technologies, Inc. in Canberra, Australia (radar expertise, also involved in the CEAFAR/CEAMount project for Australia).
  • Curtiss Wright.
  • Moog Industries.
  • Saab-Sensis Corporation in Syracuse, NY.
  • Stanley/Techrizon in Lawton, OK. Formerly Telos.

G/ATOR: Beyond the Marines


G/ATOR began with the Marines, but its team doesn’t expect it to stay there.

When their Highly Expeditionary Long-Range Surveillance Radar program fell victim to budget constraints, the Marines joined the USAF’s 3DELRR air and ballistic missile defense program. In a 2012 interview, G/ATOR program manager Capt. Lee Bond said that G/ATOR’s scope would provide 85% of 3DELRR’s specifications, with the additional capabilities from increments II & IV thrown in for free. He believes that using G/ATOR as a base could cut 2 years from development time, and lower costs by 20% due to economies of scale. Northrop Grumman has openly stated their intent to pursue this path.

Bond also believes that G/ATOR would exceed the expected specifications for the US Army’s coming Multi-Mission Radar solicitation, depending on how the Army defines “simultaneous” multi-mission capability.

Northrop Grumman remains interested in future naval applications, which could lead to scaled G/ATOR technologies equipping smaller ships like the USA’s Littoral Combat Ships, or being incorporated into emerging multi-band radar naval arrays like AMDR. Northrop Grumman will say only that they’re looking at naval applications, and a November 2013 ONR study will look at replacing many of the US Navy’s older air surveillance radars with a G/ATOR derivative.

Then, there are foreign buys. The USA isn’t the only country worried about finding a very different set of targets on modern battlefields, or needing high-performance artillery-tracking radars for deployments abroad. Budget cuts in some countries make multi-mission radars attractive, and Northrop Grumman’s experience has been that ground-based radar exports have been worth 2.0x – 2.5x the value of American orders.

Official expressions of interest aren’t possible until a new system is cleared for those discussions, but Northrop Grumman says that they’ve receive a number of unofficial expressions of interest. Once G/ATOR passes Milestone C and can move into Low-Rate Initial Production, the USMC will be freer to respond to official inquiries from foreign governments. That happened in January 2014.

TPQ-53 on truck
(click to view full)

Northrop Grumman’s competitors haven’t been idle, of course. Lockheed Martin is busy introducing its new AN/TPQ-53 counter-battery radar, while Raytheon has its MPQ-64 Improved Sentinel series of air defense radars. Abroad, Saab’s Giraffe series of land and sea radars already fuses air surveillance and counter-battery targeting, and their Giraffe 4A is designed as a next-generation capability with the same capabilities as G/ATOR Block 2. All of these radars can also take advantage of new technologies, and some variants offer features within G/ATOR’s proposed set.

On the other hand, the TPS-53 grew out of an Army RFP that optimized its architecture for the counter-battery mission, making future additions and changes more difficult. The MPQ-64 Sentinel is a widely-used air defense radar, but its parameters re: range, elevation angle, power, etc. create their own limitations. Both competitors are likely to see continued improvement, but G/ATOR’s level of back-end integration remains unique, and its architecture is likely to give it rate-of-improvement advantages per dollar spent. To date, the TPS-80 G/ATOR remains the only Pentagon JROC-approved program that has funded integration of all of these capabilities into 1 system.

Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, US Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA issues all contracts to Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems unit in Linthicum Heights, MD.

FY 2014 – 2017

LRIP contracts begin; Tracking works well, but TPS-80 has reliability issues; 3DELRR loss is appealed; Contract to examine TPS-80 as a ship radar; G/ATOR to get BMD capability?

(click to view full)

May 11/17: The USMC has received its first low rate initial production (LRIP) AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. Developed and produced by Northrop Grumman, five additional systems will be delivered under the terms of the October 2014 contract. G/ATOR will replace five legacy systems operated by the Marines, providing significant improvements in performance when compared with the legacy radar families in each of its modes. The systems take advantage of Northrop’s expertise in C4ISR, and includes software loads that optimize the multi-mission capabilities of the radar to perform each mission.

December 6/16: As part of efforts to upgrade USMC radar capabilities, Saab has received an $18.6 million contract to provide supporting AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar components. The contract was awarded by lead contractor Northrop Grumman, work will include major subsystem delivery and assembly in addition to software for the next 9 low-rate initial production units. Saab delivered the first six systems for the program in previous contracts. Its next deliveries are expected to begin in 2018.

September 8/16: Northrop Grumman is to produce and deliver nine AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) AESA air defense radar systems to the USMC. The manufacturer already had an order for six G/ATORs under the low rate initial production (LRIP) phase, this latest contract brings the total number ordered to 15. It’s expected that the first AN/TPS-80 will be delivered in February 2017.

September 2/16: Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $375 million Navy contract for procurement of the Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. Due for completion in 2020, the contract will cover nine G/ATOR low-rate initial production systems. G/ATOR provides a highly mobile, multi-mission radar system designed to support global expeditionary requirements and offers multi-faceted detection and tracking capabilities to engage a range of hostile threats while providing robust air traffic control.

Nov 3/14: USMC Plan. The USMC’s Aviation Plan to 2030 deals with radars as well. G/ATOR may have lost the 3DELRR competition for now (q.v. Oct 21-22/14), but it might gain a ballistic missile defense capability anyway:

“TPS-80 Block III is not a formal acquisition program, but consists of software developments that will enhance the radar’s performance and capabilities. Threats will continue to evolve over the course of the radar’s lifecycle and maintaining currency to detect emerging threats will remain a priority…. These software upgrades may include but are not limited to, Non-Cooperative Targeting Recognition (NCTR), Electronic Protection (EP) and Theatre Ballistic Missile (TBM) Tracking.”

If the USMC does go ahead with Increment III, they’ll have some interesting choices to make. Sources: USMC, Marine Aviation Plan 2015 [PDF].

Oct 23/14: A $207.3 million contract modification for 4 G/ATOR low-rate initial production systems, including operating spares, contractor engineering services and support, developmental and operational test support, and transition to production. $175.6 million is committed immediately, using FY 2013 and 2014 USMC RDT&E and Procurement funds; $94.7 million will expire on Sept 30/15.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, Maryland (55%); East Syracuse, NY (24%); Stafford Springs, CT (5%); San Diego, CA (5%); Big Lake, MN (3%); Londonderry, NH (2%); High Point, North Carolina (2%); Wallingford Center, CT (2%); Camarillo, CA (1%); and Woodbridge, IL (1%), and is expected to be complete by October 2017 (M67854-07-C-2072).

4 LRIP radars

Oct 21-22/14: GAO PRotests. The USAF confirms that Northrop Grumman has formally issued a protest against the USAF’s 3DELRR award to Raytheon. The next day, Lockheed Martin confirms that they are also filing a protest.

That halts the program until the challenge receives a ruling, which could take up to 100 days. In order to succeed, the challengers need to show that either Raytheon’s radar isn’t technically acceptable, that it wasn’t the lowest priced – or that something in the process went awry, ensuring that that competitors were treated differently or criteria weren’t applied fairly. Sources: See DID’s GAO Primer | Defense News, “Northrop Challenges 3DELRR Contract Award” | Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Lockheed Martin challenges contract to Raytheon”.

Oct 6/14: Raytheon wins. Raytheon is on quite the radar streak lately, adding the USAF’s 3DELRR area air and missile defense radar to its naval AMDR win.

3DELRR loss, and appeal

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. Our program dashboard has been updated accordingly. G/ATOR technologies are mature and its design is stable and demonstrated, but its production processes are not yet mature. Fortunately, the performance-boosting GaN technology for the T/R modules is maturing on schedule. Unfortunately, G/ATOR has a number of issues with system startup, random crashes, operator control console freezes, and an unstable command and control interface (q.v. Jan 28/14). In response:

“The G/ATOR program office has put together a plan to incorporate software fixes to correct system start up and prevent crashes. Some hardware alterations may be required. The program office plans to increase and improve system performance by upgrading the software integration lab to support accelerated testing and conducting field testing with users every six months to demonstrate reliability growth and operational relevance….

The program is authorized to procure 57 G/ATOR systems; however, only 45 were funded in the fiscal year 2014 President’s budget. According to the program office, the 12 unfunded G/ATOR systems will require funding by fiscal year 2016 in order to meet initial operational capability…. In addition, the concurrent development and production of G/ATOR may be adversely affected by personnel shortages caused, in part, by the impending retirement of highly experienced acquisition workforce staff.”

January 2014: Milestone C approval is given to the AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR Block 1 radar, which allows low-rate initial production contracts to begin. Sources: GAO-13-294SP, “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” (q.v. March 31/14).

Milestone C

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). G/ATOR is included, and it seems to be having serious software issues, creating MTBOMF of 42.8 hours in the Field User Evaluation instead of the 500 hour goal:

“G/ATOR reliability-related software deficiencies have continued and have kept the radar from meeting its Mean Time Between Operational Mission Failure (MTBOMF) requirements. After allowing additional time for the software to further mature prior to the program’s Milestone C decision (scheduled for 1QFY14), the program added a fourth developmental test period to assess improvement…. it remains unclear if G/ATOR will meet key reliability metrics by the start of IOT&E (scheduled for 3QFY17)….

500 hours MTBOMF cannot be realistically achieved within the context of the current G/ATOR test schedule through IOT&E…. The program has not yet finalized an acceptable reliability growth strategy, has not completed an adequate test design for the IOT&E…. Over 80 percent of the Block 1 and Block 2 procurement is planned with GaN radar modules, yet it remains unclear if adequate production representative versions of the system will be available in time for IOT&E.”

Dec 4/13: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that G/ATOR tests at MCAS Yuma have been successful, including support for 2 Weapons and Tactics Instruction (WTI) events. The firm says that the TPS-80 “detected and tracked targets that other systems at the exercise were not able to”, extracting targets from heavy clutter backgrounds and exceeding its objective-level (best case) availability requirements.

We’ll have to wait until early in 2014 to read the DOT&E’s report, but it sounds like the program is headed to Milestone C and Low-Rate Initial Production. Sources: Northrop Grumman, Dec 4/13 release.

Nov 6/13: Saltwater G/ATOR? Northrop Grumman announces an 18-month, $6 million study to explore replacement options for the US Navy’s AN/SPS-48 (all carriers, LHA/LHD amphibious air support, and LPD-17 amphibious ships) and AN/SPS-49 (all carriers, FFG-7 frigates, CG-47 cruisers, LHD amphibious air support, LSD-41/49 amphibious ships) air surveillance radars.

The Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) Study’s terms of reference would modify an existing radar to act in this capacity, and Northrop Grumman states that they’ll be using their AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR. Existing FFG-7 frigates are too old and limited to be good upgrade candidates, and the CG-47 cruisers and LSD ships are currently in the middle of major modernizations. With that said, the pace of major ship maintenance periods still leaves the USN with a number of options if they decide that this is a good idea. EASR is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research under its Integrated Topside program. Sources: NGC, Nov 6/13 release.

FY 2010 – 2013

System development extended; Testing begins; Increment II begins.

(click to view full)

Sept 11/13: GaN. A $10.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification will raise the EMD Phase cost ceiling, in order to fund G/ATOR’s transition to Gallium Nitride electronics. GaN improves the radar’s performance, which allows the Marines to either push it harder or throttle back the generator. Fueling generators adds to both logistics burdens and operational risk, and even with full fuel, G/ATOR was falling short at higher altitudes that sap its generator’s power. GaN electronics offers full performance at just 50 kW, instead of the generator’s sea-level limit of 60 kW. Since higher altitude equals a wider field of view, the difference matters on the battlefield.

The G/ATOR program has always known about this difference, but it chose to wait until the underlying electronics were more proven, and the industrial infrastructure made it a low-risk switch. Time has delivered both changes, and development financing from the 3DELRR program (q.v. Aug 26/13) appears to have bridged the last technical gaps within the TPS-80 design.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/14. This contract wasn’t competitively procured, as it’s within the scope of the current contract and its changes clause (M67854-07-C-2072, PO 0115).

GaN transition

Aug 26/13: 3DELRR. Northrop Grumman announces that they completed their 3DELRR radar demonstration back in July. They refer to it as “The U.S. Air Force system variant of the Department of Defense AN/TPS-80 radar…” but unlike the USMC’s current G/ATORs, this S-band radar uses Gallium Nitride transmit/receive modules. That technology is in the USMC’s plans, and the development work may pay off for the Marines, just as all the work on the USMC’s TPS-80 G/ATOR would offer dividends to the USAF.

As one might expect, given their design’s lineage, Northrop Grumman also touts “successful system ambient air cooling under extremely hot operating conditions,” as well as the radar’s well-developed system self-test and calibration capabilities. Sources: Northrop Grumman Aug 26/13 release.

June 28/13: More SDD. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Linthicum Heights, MD receives a $24.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification that increases the G/ATOR EMD phase’s estimated ceiling cost.

These price hikes parcel out as $21.1 million for development using FY 2013 funds, with $13.6 million committed immediately. EMD work will be performed Linthicum Heights, MD (88%); Yuma, AZ (10%); and Syracuse, NY (2%), and is expected to be complete by April 25/14.

The added $3.4 million for extra production engineering support uses FY 2012 funds, with all funds committed immediately. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (81%), and Syracuse, NY (19%), and is expected to be complete by Feb 16/14.

This brings announced EMD contracts to around $533.7 million, but the GAO’s August 2012 figures already had G/ATOR development spending pegged at $539.5 million of a planned $893.1 million. The gap is easily explained, as announcements only cover contracts above a certain threshold. Note that the original baseline for G/ATOR development was $364.3 million in $FY13 (M67854-07-C-2072).

May 24/13: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/12 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF]. The news isn’t good for the G/ATOR program, which is shrinking sharply, again, even as the number of Marines has risen. G/ATOR numbers have now shrunk by about 30% since the program’s inception:

“Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) – Program costs decreased $912.1 million (-27.4%) from $3,325.9 million to $2,413.8 million, due primarily to a decrease in quantity of 12 systems from 57 to 45 systems (-$464.0 million) and associated estimating allocation (+$0.9 million) and a revised cost estimate for anticipated production efficiencies associated with funded design investments (-$447.0 million). Other decreases were attributable to a reduction in support costs (-$52.2 million) and initial spares requirements (-$12.9 million) resulting from investment in efficiencies and economic order discounts. These decreases were partially offset by increases to the cost estimates for investments in the production efficiency initiative (+$33.3 million) and technology refresh assumptions and associated potential future change orders (+$18.8 million), and the application of revised escalation indices (+$27.5 million).”

SAR – another radar cut

April 15/13: Budget. The FY14 request submitted by the Navy barely changes from the previous year’s budget, at $78.2 million. FY16 also remains stable, but FY15 and FY17 are lower by $19 million and $26 million respectively. Air Defense/Air Radar AD/SR Capability System Demonstration (DT)(1B) and Operational Assessment (OA) are extended by 2 quarters, while LRIP and Milestone C both slip by 1 quarter. Milestones further out in the plan (IOT&E, IOC, FRP decision) are supposed to be unaffected by these changes earlier in the schedule. US Navy PE 0204460M [PDF].

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. G/ATOR appears for the 1st time, and the overall report is good.

GAO acknowledges that performance requirements for G/ATOR have grown from 5 key performance parameters in 2005, to 16 in 2012. Program officials describe this as a “clarification,” but there’s no question that KPP expansion creates more development work. This explains some, but not all, of the program 145% RDT&E jump since the 2005 baseline. Overall program cost is up 101.2%, to $3.034 billion as of June 2012, despite a drop from 64 to 57 radars.

On the bright side, things have been much more stable since the program was re-baselined in January 2010. All 6 critical TPS-80 technologies are approaching full maturity, with 100% of design drawings released, using GaAS (Gallium Arsenide) electronics. The GAO gives no specific timeline for incorporation of better GaN (Gallium Nitride) electronics, but does say the program could save as much as $500 million from the change, while reducing weight and power demand.

Dec 21/12: More SDD. An $8.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to increase G/ATOR’s estimated EMD (same as SDD) phase cost ceiling, in light of an expected cost overrun. $2.1 million is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and Syracuse, NY (11%); Wallop’s Island, VA (11%) and Yuma, AZ (3%); and is expected to be complete April 25/14 (M67854-07-C-2072).

July 26/12: Testing. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s initial AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR Increment 1 system has been delivered to Surface Combat Systems Center (SCSC) Wallops Island in Eastern Virginia for G/ATOR’s 1st and 2nd phases of developmental testing. Yuma, AZ will host the 3rd and final DT phase, and operational assessment. NGC.

June 6/12: Increment II. The USMC is asking Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector in Linthicum Heights, MD to begin developing G/ATOR’s Increment II Ground Weapons Locating Radar (GWLR) software, which will track incoming shells and rockets back to their point of origin. The amount of the contract has yet to be negotiated. Military Aerospace & Electronics.

Dec 7/11: More SDD. A $32.3 million contract modification for the continuation of GATOR Increment I, to support the changes made to the risk reduction change order.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (95%), and Syracuse, NY (5%), and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/13. This contract modification was not competitively procured, as the contract effort is within the scope of the current contract and is entered into pursuant to the changes clause (M67854-07-C-2072).

Nov 17/11: Northrop Grumman Corporation announces that its 1st Ground Based Radar Conference drew more than 90 attendees over 3 days, representing 10 nations. Besides the G/ATOR system, Northrop Grumman also sells AN/TPS-78 and AN/TPS-703 solid-state tactical mobile radar systems; and the Highly Adaptable Multi-Mission Radar (HAMMR) AESA radar for on-the-move, 360 degree coverage.

Feb 7/11: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that they’ve integrated all subsystems of the AN/TPS-80 Ground / Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. This 1st complete system is currently undergoing system-level integration, performance, and live target testing at the company’s Electronic Systems sector engineering and manufacturing complex, located next to Baltimore’s Washington International Marshall Airport.

As noted above, G/ATOR’s subsystems include the Radar Equipment Group (REG, AESA antenna and all associated control and processing electronics) mounted on a lightweight tactical trailer, the Communications Equipment Group (CEG) and the Power Equipment Group (PEG).

1st complete G/ATOR I

Feb 4/11: More SDD. A $38.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification, extending the GATOR Increment I development program. It will support the agreed-upon expansions to the original integrated performance baseline, and extend the contract’s period through April 30/12.

Work will be performed in a contractor facility at Linthicum Heights, MD (85%); and by Northrop Grumman’s subcontractor, Sensis Corp., located in Syracuse, NY (15%). Work is expected to be complete in April 2012 (M67854-07-C-2072).

April 5/10: Testing. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces the next system test phase.

This phase will use a fully populated G/ATOR array, complete with all transmit/receive modules, radiating elements, prime power and distribution, RF manifold, and associated control and processing electronics. This newest series of tests includes detailed verification that the G/ATOR’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) hardware will support all of the system’s multi-mission capabilities, and demonstration of all required AESA functions including beam generation, steering and control, performance at full rated power, operating bandwidth and automated array calibration techniques.

Testing of this array is taking place at the company’s antenna test facility in Norwalk, CT; in 2009, a prototype partial G/ATOR array was tested at the same facility, and expanded testing on that prototype radar array continues at NGC’s engineering and manufacturing complex in Baltimore. Once the 2nd, full array completes testing, it will be integrated with the other G/ATOR components for the next levels: full systems-level integration testing, and subsequent environmental testing.

January 2010: G/ATOR program is re-baselined due to cost and requirements growth. Source: GAO.


Dec 29/09: More SDD. A $35.5 million contract modification increases the estimated cost ceiling and target cost of CLIN0001, finalizing change orders to the configuration the G/ATOR’s new up-armored MTVR carrier trucks. It also covers the modification and implementation of the upgraded UPX-40 as the identification-friend-or-foe system, and a change of the IFF system from government furnished property to contractor-acquired government property.

Approximately 80% of the work will be performed by Northrop Grumman in Linthicum Heights, MD, and approximately 20% will be performed by Northrop Grumman’s subcontractor, Sensis Corp. in Syracuse, NY. The contract modification was not competitively procured, as the contract cost increase is within scope of the current contract and is entered into pursuant to the changes clause (M67854-07-C-2072).

Dec 10/09: Program support. General Dynamics Information Technology in Fairfax, VA received a $5.8 million task order under a firm-fixed-price contract. They’ll provide on-going technical, managerial and logistics support for Program Executive Office – Land Systems, Program Manager Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR).

Emerging development efforts include engineering, architecture and logistical analysis of G/ATOR. Support requirements include supporting the G/ATOR Milestone C processes, and engineering and technical reviews (since Milestone B is complete). Additional support requirements include development and maintenance of programmatic information to be displayed in a G/ATOR Program Operations Center, information security, admin support, information assurance, joint interoperability, family of system definition/development and business analysis to define investment strategies, contract administration, planning programming and budgeting planning, logistics support, equipment specialist, earned value management system, program management plan support and cost/risk assessments. Due to in-sourcing, cost proposal and analysis efforts will not be required.

Support requirements include for the contractor to conduct/complete the logistics assessment of the manpower, personnel and training requirements and facilities analysis needed to support G/ATOR, the development of Manpower Training Integrated project team, to use as input and/or the development of the Manpower Personnel and Training plan. Work will be performed in Quantico, VA, and the contract will end in December 2010. The Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA manages the contract (M67854-02-A-9014, #0042).

Nov 16/09: More SDD. A $44.5 million modification under previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract. It increases the estimated cost ceiling for the G/ATOR’s SDD phase, target cost, and target cost plus target fee of contract line item number 0001 by $17.5 million to reflect “undefinitized change orders for the UPX40,” which is an identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%), and Syracuse, NY (25%), and is expected to be complete on Sept 15/11. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

That alternation also confirms a change in G/ATOR’s intended towing vehicle, from Humvee jeeps to up-armored MTVR medium trucks. Experiences in Iraq caused the Marines to re-think their intended use of Humvees, and their MTVR trucks with TAK-4 suspension for all-terrain mobility were the natural next step up. The change would improve the radar’s mobility and survivability, at the cost of added weight and limited helicopter portability. The radar module itself will remain helicopter-portable, but its accompanying vehicle will not be – unless the USMC decides to mount G/ATOR on a modified M-ATV MRAP, or future vehicles like the JLTV Category C.

Another contract modification increases the estimated cost ceiling, target cost and target cost plus target fee of contract line item number 0001 by an additional $27 million, to reflect the estimated cost increase associated with the 9-month schedule extension (M67854-07-C-2072).

New vehicle platform

Oct 6/09: More SDD. A $14 million modification under a previously awarded contract to increase the estimated cost ceiling for G/ATOR system development and demonstration to reflect its anticipated cost overrun. The contract modification was not competitively procured, as the cost overrun is within scope of the current contract, and is entered into pursuant to the changes clause. Discussions with US MARSYSCOM indicate that this increase is cumulative with the March 2009 ceiling increase.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and Syracuse, NY (25%), and is expected to be complete in September 2011. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (M67854-07-C-2072).

Oct 5/09: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that a prototype G/ATOR partial array antenna has completed successful testing at a company antenna test range in Norwalk, CT. The partial array is now being integrated with additional radar subsystems for follow-on testing at Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector headquarters in Baltimore, MD. Meanwhile, a 2nd G/ATOR AESA is scheduled for testing at the Norwalk, CT test facility later in 2009.

The G/ATOR AESA array can be thought of as “networked mini-radars,” so meeting all test objectives with a partial array that includes transmit/receive functionality, hardware and software communications, array tuning, and calibration techniques gives Northrop Grumman a high degree of confidence that the first fully populated array (currently under integration/test) will likewise be a success. Northrop Grumman representatives told DID that some test objectives were exceeded, and all were met. They added that their goal was, and is, to field a test radar that is as close to Full Rate Production versions as possible, using the same people and processes.

FY 2006 – 2009

SDD re-award, after initial award canceled; Additional funds and cost overruns, incl. early finding for interaction design.

G/ATOR concept
(click to view full)

March 3/09: More SDD. A maximum $40.5 million contract modification reflect the anticipated cost overrun associated with completion of the G/ATOR’s SDD phase. The contract modification was not competitively procured, as the cost overrun is designated as being within the scope of the current contract.

Northrop Grumman estimated an additional $36 million to complete the SDD phase, of which the Government is immediately funding $16.8 million to support contract requirements for completing the Critical Design Review (CDR) scheduled from March to mid-April 2009. In addition, the contract modification increases the contract value by $4.5 million for engineering services and support over the life of the contract through June 2012. Those engineering services will be requested on an as-needed basis, and the Government has begun by requesting $238,695.

Work will be performed by Northrop Grumman Corp., in Linthicum Heights, MD (69%), and by Northrop Grumman’s subcontract, Sensis in Syracuse, NY (31%). Of the total funds obligated with this contract modification so far, $120,215 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (M67854-07-C-2072, P00024).

Dec 19/08: Sub-contractors. A $6.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for Human Systems Integration (HSI) work, to be completed by June 2012. Work will be performed by Northrop Grumman Corporation in Linthicum Heights, MD (69%), and by their subcontractor Sensis, in Syracuse, NY (31%). The modification was not competitively procured, sine it’s classified as an engineering change within scope of the current contract (M67854-07-C-2072):

“The contractor shall develop and implement a plan to effectively apply HSI principles during G/ATOR design, production and integration. The contractor shall ensure Human Factors Engineering, Manpower, Personnel, Training, System Safety, Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health (ESOH), and Personnel Survivability requirements are incorporated into the layout, design, and arrangement of equipment having an operator or maintainer interface.”

As technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are beginning to realize, serious interaction design generally needs to begin earlier in the process. This is an improvement over the frequent practice of saving HSI for last, when it’s very difficult to change anything no matter what the findings show.

June 26/08: PDR. Northrop Grumman announces that G/ATOR has completed its 3 1/2 day Preliminary Design Review (PDR) at Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Electronic Systems sector headquarters, granting approval to proceed to critical design. The PDR involved an extensive U.S. government review and subsequent approval of the G/ATOR system and subsystem design for both hardware and software, including a program management review of cost and schedule.

The PDR was attended by more than 70 Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and other Department of Defense officials and civilian subject matter experts. NGC release.


June 17/08: More SDD. A $28.2 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to extend the schedule by 8 1/2 months and increase the level of effort for G/ATOR system development and demonstration.

At this time, no additional funds are being committed, but the option is there if additional support and engineering effort is needed. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%) and is expected to be complete December 2016 if all options are exercised (M67854-07-C-2072).

March 10/08: Sub-contractors. Curtiss-Wright Corporation announces a contract from Northrop Grumman to provide their new VPX boards and subsystems, high density digital signal processing products and optimized software tools.. The result will be a rugged air-flow-through radar processing subsystem using open architecture-based standards and software.

The initial $4.3 million contract is for development, which is expected to be complete in 2010. This subsystem will be designed and manufactured at Curtiss-Wright’s motion control facility in San Diego, CA, and will include products from its Leesburg, VA and Ottawa, Canada locations. The production phase of the G/ATOR program will be executed as an option under the current contract, and is planned to start in 2010.

Feb 27/08: No fries, chips. A $10.7 million modification to previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for design and development of a new Serial Rapid I/O processor for the G/ATOR. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%), and is expected to be complete March 2011 (M67854-07-C-2072).

Sept 6/07: SRR. Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) successfully reviewed and agreed upon 768 G/ATOR contractual design requirements during the recent System Requirements Review (SRR) held at Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector headquarters in Baltimore, MD. NGC release.

March 30/07: Northrop Grumman wins again, with a $256.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for System Development and Demonstration of the USMC’s Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR), Increment I. The contract includes a Radar Environmental Simulator (RES); alternative generator; the G/ATOR Technical Data Package; Model Driven Architecture Models; interim contractor logistics support; and performance based logistics; Other direct costs and travel; and engineering services and support.

The Pentagon DefenseLINK’s announcement also cites production of 2 G/ATOR Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) systems, and 13 full-rate production (FRP) G/ATOR systems. Northrop Grumman’s release cites 2 LRIP and 15 FRP systems. A 2012 change revised that to just 8 LRIP systems.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%) and is expected to be complete in March 2016, if all options are exercised. This contract is a result of a full and open competition solicitation available to industry via the Navy Electronic Commerce Office, with 5 offers received (M67854-07-C-2072).

Main System Development

Sept 16/05: Initial SDD. A $7.95 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) Increment I system development and demonstration. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%) and is expected to be complete September 2009. The award is a result of a full and open competition solicitation that was available via the Internet, with 5 offers received (M67854-05-C-2000).

Northrop Grumman’s Sept 22/05 release estimated the total value of the contract at $125 million over 4 years and 4 system capability increments. It doesn’t matter, because the award is protested, and the Navy decides to re-compete it.

Canceled SDD

Additional Readings & Sources Background: AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR

DID thanks the personnel of Northrop Grumman for multiple interviews over the life of this article.


News & Views


Related Systems

  • DID – USA Developing New 3DELRR Long-Range Ground Radar. Northrop Grumman believes that a scaled-up version of G/ATOR would fit, but lost to Raytheon before submitting a GAO challenge.

  • Northrop Grumman – AN/APG-81 AESA Radar. Its technical design contributed to Northrop Grumman’s G/ATOR solution.

  • DID – TPQ-53 Counterfire Radars: Incoming…. Originally developed to track incoming artillery and rockets, and locate their source. It stemmed from a 2002 research effort whose scope was similar to G/ATOR’s, and the Army is now talking about extending the Lockheed Martin radar’s capabilities to include air defense. Other extensions may follow.

  • Saab – Giraffe 4X. Truck-mounted AESA radar for air defense and counterfire missions.

  • ThalesRaytheon – AN/MPQ-64F1 Improved Sentinel. Integrated into NASAMS/ SL-AMRAAM air defense systems, but they’ve developed an additional C-RAM counterfire mode.

  • US Marine Corps (July 3/07) – New radar system brings the fight back to terrorists. They’re talking about the 150 lb. Lightweight Counter-Mortar Radar deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Its convenient, tactically-useful size means that it may continue to exist alongside the vehicle-mounted G/ATOR Increment III, despite have some function overlap.

  • DID (July 20/06) – Germany Orders New AESA Battlefield Radars. Cover the German BUR system, which will be mounted on blast-resistant Dingo 2 vehicles.

Categories: News

USS Ronald Reagan commences sea trials | Turkey to unveil new missiles at IDEF 2017 | German woes over delayed A400M

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 04:00

  • Boeing has received a $89.2 million US Navy contract to conduct maintenance on various F/18 series fighter and EA-F18G electronic warfare aircraft. Included in the agreement are a wide variety of inspection and engineering projects, including High Flight Hour programs designed to keep aging airframes flying. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, Florida, and is expected to be completed in December 2017.

  • The USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, has commenced sea trials after leaving Command Fleet Activities Yokosaka base over the weekend. The ninth to be built in its class, the massive nuclear-powered ship can maintain and launch more than 85 aircraft, displaces nearly 97,000 tons of water, and is one of the only forward deployed aircraft carriers in the Navy at this time. While at sea, crew will undergo a number of qualification and certification exercises, including engineering and medical drills as well as air, flight deck and hangar bay operations to evaluate the performance of Sailors and their departments.

  • Kratos Defense & Security Solutions has revealed that it has successfully completed a number of demonstration flights for an unnamed customer of a new jet-powered, high-subsonic UAV. While the designation of the UAV has yet to be announced, Kratos said the UAV was developed by the company’s “secret, special programs group,” and that the vehicle has had several successful demonstration flights with the government agency, adding that it is the most capable aircraft ever developed by the firm. The UAV’s publicly disclosable altitude performance ranges between 10ft and 45,000ft and possesses a payload capacity of 136kg (300lb), which is lighter than the 226kg carried by the XQ-222 Valkyrie proposed for the US Air Force’s Low-Cost, Attritable Strike Unmanned Air System Demonstration (LCASD).

Middle East & North Africa

  • Turkey will use the 13th International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF) to unveil two new indigenously developed missiles designed for its F-16s. The GÖKDOGAN—a short-range infrared-guided dogfight missile— and the BOZDOGAN— a missile that has an active radar seeker for long-range engagement—were developed by the Scientific and Technological Research Council’s (TÜBITAK) Defense Industry Research and Development Institute (SAGE). Making the announcement, Science, Industry and Technology Minister Faruk Özlü added that projects developed by TUBITAK, and later transferred to companies in the manufacturing defense industry, have made important contributions to Turkey’s defense industry’s localization.

  • Israel has contract Elbit Systems to provide military land vehicles with its satellite-on-the-move (SOTM) systems. The two-year agreement will see Elbit provide dozens of its ELSAT 2100 SOTM family of systems, which allow high-data rate broadband capabilities on a wide variety of platforms operated by the IDF. Features of the system include advanced tracking capabilities which can allow for communications anywhere and at any time. The value of the contract was not disclosed.


  • USAF F-35As, sent to Europe to participate in a series of training exercises, have completed their deployment. While based at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, UK, eight aircraft from the 34th Fighter Squadron flew 76 sorties and tallied more than 154 flying hours alongside F-15s from the 48th Fighter Wing. The fighters also experienced forward deployment to Estonia and Bulgaria in order to maximize training opportunities, build partnerships with allied air forces and familiarize Airmen with Europe’s broad and diverse operating conditions. It has also been reported that the F-35A will take part in the Paris Air Show after it was earlier said to have not been invited.

  • A report by the German Defense Ministry has raised concerns over the military readiness of the A400M due to contractual wrangling with manufacturer Airbus, as well as ongoing technical issues with the aircraft. First ordered in 2003, the A400M aimed to give European nations an independent transport capability but costs have since spiraled and Airbus has warned of “risks ahead” for the continent’s largest defense project. The report warns that Airbus may request delays ranging between 12 and 18 months in order to fix the issues, which could lead to a German capability gap when Berlin retires its fleet of C-160 Transall aircraft in 2021. In response to this gap, Germany and France have decided on a plan to jointly procure and operate a number of C-130J aircraft from Lockheed Martin in order to augment their A400M fleets.

Asia Pacific

  • The Royal Malaysian Air Force has refuted earlier reports that it has received an offer by Japan to transfer refurbished second-hand P-3C maritime patrol aircraft to Malaysia. Speaking to media, RMAF chief Gen. Affendi Buang said that the service “have not received any formal offer or decision so far.” It was reported last week that Japan was looking to donate retired P-3Cs to Malaysia, letting that Southeast Asian country keep closer watch over the South China Sea to rein in China’s maritime expansion. However, due to its pacifist constitution, Japan is unable to transfer defense equipment to other nations at no cost.

Today’s Video

  • A tour of the USS Ronald Reagan:

Categories: News

Navy announces first test of UMCS | Saudi Apaches to receive upgrades | India & Russia close to FGFA milestone

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 04:00

  • GKN Aerospace will produce and provide a new fuel bladder system for the first production model of General Atomic’s Predator B MQ-9B UAV, scheduled for 2018. An agreement signed between the two firms has a full potential value of $15 million when it enters service with NATO’s UAV airworthiness Requirements. According to GKN, the fuel bladder system will be made in a vacuum forming process using poly-urethane material for shapes that better fit available space on the aircraft airframe.

  • Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $36.8 million contract to integrate radar systems on the MQ-8C Fire Scout UAV for the US Navy. The pre-existing contract will include software updates, testing programs, and installation and support systems, and work will be carried out both in the US and in the UK through to May 2020. Research and development funds previously allocated for Fiscal 2016 will include $11.8 million set to expire at the end of the fiscal year.

  • The US Navy has reached the first round of testing of its Unmanned Carrier Mission Control System (UMCS), with an aim to validate its software, communications, advance electro-optical camera, as well as to determine how well the system software and hardware linked up with carrier-based networks. Includeing various versions of the Navy Sea Systems Command’s Common Display System and the Common Control System, UMCS is an upgraded and adapted version of what is used on the Navy’s new Zumwalt-class destroyer. The final goal will be to allow unmanned drones to refuel Navy strike fighters reliably from aircraft carriers, in addition to the standard roles of reconnaissance, attack missions and electronic-warfare missions.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Boeing has received a $143.4 million US Army contract to deliver unique Block II and III modifications to AH-64E Apache attack helicopters operated by the Saudi Arabia National Guard. 24 Apaches will be covered under the agreement with $3.9 million in foreign military sales funding obligated at the time of the award. Work will be undertaken at Boeing’s facility in Mesa, Ariz., and is scheduled for completion by April 2022. Saudi-owned AH-64D Apaches have played a pivotal role in the kingdom’s ongoing combat operations in Yemen against Houthi militants.


  • DCNS will upgrade three of the five La Fayette-class frigates operated by the French navy, coinciding with a French MoD decision to build new intermediate-size frigates to maintain a fleet of 15 first-rank frigates during a transition period accompanying the delivery of the FTI frigates, which will start in 2023. France’s Directorate-General for Armaments (DGA), said the La Fayette frigate modernization will begin in 2020, with the first modernized vessel planned for delivery in 2021. Work to be carried out by DCNS includes to the platform itself, with work to include modernizing the vessel’s structure and electronic and computer systems that manage propulsion, steering gear, and power plant. The ship’s combat system—which manages sensors and weapons—will be replaced by a system derived from the one used on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The tactical data links will be upgraded, and Crotale anti-aircraft defense systems will be replaced by two upgraded SADRAL launchers. The value of the award was not disclosed.

Asia Pacific

  • The Bangladeshi government has selected the Sukhoi Su-30SME as its new fighter. Contracts signed between the government and Russian manufacturer Rosoborenexport call for the manufacture and delivery of 8 units of the multi-role fighter, with an option to add a further four units in the future. It will also include training of pilots and maintenance crew as well as the provision of related systems and armaments. In March, it was reported that Bangladesh was also looking at a procurement of FC-20 fighters from China as a solution to its ageing fleet of F-5 interceptors.

  • After years of delay, India and Russia are close to signing an agreement for the further development of the PAK-FA fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). An inter-governmental pact on the FGFA project was initially signed in 2007, however negotiations over workshare, technology transfer, and IPR have hampered discussions but are now said to be mostly resolved. New Delhi has insisted on a full technology transfer, saying that it must get all the required codes and access to critical technology so that it can upgrade the aircraft as per its requirements.

  • The saga surrounding Indonesia’s acquisition of the Leonardo AW101 helicopter continues with reports that the government has refused to take delivery of a helicopter already in the country. In February, photographs surfaced of an AW101 surrounded by police tape at a hanger in Jakarta, as a military investigation into the procurement was conducted. Now, defense officials say the helicopter had failed to meet the specifications laid out in the contract, with media reporting that there are issues with the helicopter’s cargo door. Three units were initially requested to serve as VVIP transport, but the procurement faced a massive public backlash due to its expense, before the deal was temporarily cancelled. Indonesian military officials have since then picked up the procurement out of its defense budget, saying that the helicopter will be used for military purposes instead.

Today’s Video

  • Egyptian Ka-52 flying for the first time:

Categories: News

MQ-9 Reaper: Unfettered for Export

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 03:59

Reaper, ready…
(click to view full)

The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).

The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…

The MQ-9 Reaper, and its Little Brothers

MQ-1 landing –
1 Hellfire fired?
(click to view full)

The MQ-9 Reaper was once called “Predator B,” but it is only loosely based on the famous MQ-1 Predator drone. The Reaper is 36 feet long, with a 66 foot wingspan that can be modified to 88 feet. Its maximum gross takeoff weight is a whopping 10,500 pounds, carrying up to 4,000 pounds of fuel, 850 pounds of internal/ sensor payload, and another 3,000 pounds on its wings. Its 6 pylons can carry heavier reconnaissance payloads, as well as an impressive array of weapons including GPS-guided JDAM family bombs, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Sidewinder missiles for air-air self defense or ground strike use, and other MIL STD 1760 compatible weapons, in addition to the Hellfire anti-armor missiles carried by the Predator. The Reaper becomes the equivalent of a close air support fighter with less situational awareness, lower speed, and less survivability if seen – but much, much longer on-station time.

The MQ-1A/B Predator. This UAV is flown by the USAF and Italy. It’s 27 feet long, with a 55 foot wingspan. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 2,3000 pounds, and it can carry 625 pounds of fuel, 450 pounds of internal payload (sensors), and another 300 pounds on its wings for up to 2 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads. Its service ceiling is 25,000 feet, which can keep it well above the 10,000-15,000 ceiling above which most guns are ineffective. The piston engine is a Rotax 914 turbo that runs on aviation fuel, and pushes the Predator at a slow speed of 120 KTAS. It’s controlled by UHF/VHF radio signals.

US Army MQ-1C ER/MP. The Gray Eagle looks a lot like the Predator but is a little bit bigger, can carry more weapons, and has an engine that can run on the same “heavy fuel” that fills up the Army’s land vehicles. It’s 28 feet long, with a 56 foot wingspan and a service ceiling of 29,000 feet. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 3,200 pounds, carrying up to 600 pounds of fuel, 575 pounds of internal payload (sensors, plus a communications relay), and another 500 pounds on its wings. This doubles weapon capacity, to 4 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads.The piston engine is a Thielert 135hp that runs on heavy fuel or higher-grade aviation fuel, and gives it a slightly faster speed of 135 KTAS. The Improved Gray Eagle substitutes a higher-power Lycoming DL-120 engine, while adding fuel and payload.

The USAF also had an MQ-1B Block X/ YMQ-1C project to develop a Predator system that would run on heavy fuel and carry up to 4 Hellfires. They canceled it, and their Predator buys in general, in favor of the MQ-9 Reaper.

MQ-1 vs. MQ-9
(click to view full)

The MQ-9 Reaper. This UAV is far more of a fighter substitute or close-air support complement than other UAVs. Larger than its companion MQ-1 UAVs, its reinforced wings give it far greater weapons carrying capacity of 3,000 pounds. Since most manned jet fighters aren’t carrying that many precision weapons for close support missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, that limit lets the MQ-9 fulfill close-air support roles in most low-intensity conflicts.

Its service ceiling is reportedly 50,000 feet unless it’s fully loaded, which can make a lurking Reaper very difficult to find from the ground. That wouldn’t have been useful to UAVs like the Predator, given the Hellfire missile’s range. On the other hand, the ability to drop GPS and laser-guided bombs makes precision high altitude Reaper strikes perfectly plausible. As one might expect, the MQ-9 Reaper’s default sensor package is more capable than the MQ-1 family’s; it includes General Atomics’ AN/APY-8 Lynx I ground-looking radar, and Raytheon’s MTS-B (AN/AAS-52) surveillance and targeting turret.

The engine is a Honeywell TPE 331-10T, which pushes it along at a rather speedier clip of 240 knots. Not exactly an F-16, or even an A-10, but the Reaper’s extra speed does get it to the problem area faster than a Predator could. A total fatigue limit of 20,000 safe fight hours is about double that of a life-extended F-16, and around 20% higher than an EMB-314/ A-29 Super Tucano counter-insurgency turboprop. The flip side is that UAVs have about twice as many accidents as manned fighters.

Horsham AS brief

Reaper ER. This upgrade adds stronger landing gear, a pair of “wet” hardpoints that can handle a pair of fuel tanks, and a stretched 88′ wingspan that includes the ability to carry fuel in the wings. The standard Reaper is configured for 30 hours in surveillance mode, and roughly 23 hours if armed with Hellfire missiles. General Atomics believes the ER model will raise that to 42 hours for ISR and 35 hours with the Hellfire.

Block 5. The latest MQ-9 version is the Block 1+, soon to be known as Block 5. Improvements focus on 3 areas: power capacity, payload capacity, and communications capacity. Power is improved via a new high-capacity starter generator, and an upgraded electrical system whose new backup generator can support all flight critical functions with a triple redundancy. Payload is improved using new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear (TA-MLG), and a weapons kit upgrade from BRU-15 [PDF] bomb release units to ITT Exelis’ BRU-71/A [PDF]. Finally, communications upgrades include encrypted datalinks, bandwodth improvements, upgraded software to allow the 2-person aircrew to operate all onboard systems, and dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas that allow simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties.

SOCOM. US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) flies the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predators. Both are referred to as Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical (MALET) platforms, and the 160th SOAR added the MQ-1C Gray Eagle in November 2013. If SOCOM has to bring the MALET down to hammer a target, they fly in enhanced variants with improved video transmission, infrared modifications, signals intelligence payloads, and “delivery of low collateral damage weapons.” The latter presumably includes precision mini-missile options like Raytheon’s Griffin, and precision glide bombs like Northrop Grumman’s GBU-44 Viper Strike and Lockheed Martin’s Scorpion, all of which allow a single Hellfire rail or weapon station to carry multiple weapons. SOCOM does want the Reaper to be more transportable, though, for quick delivery and use in theater.

Other. General Atomics’ Mariner/ Guardian maritime surveillance variant and FAA-certified high-altitude Altair research UAV are both derived from the MQ-9 Reaper. So, too, is NASA’s Ikhana.

Program Highlights

A basic MQ-9 Reaper system consists of 4 UAVs, each with a Raytheon MTS-B day/night surveillance and targeting turret, General Atomics AN/APY-8 Lynx ground-looking SAR/GMTI radar, and satellite communications equipment; Weapon kits with integrated hardpoints for certified weapons; 1 Ground Control System; and Ground Data Terminals.

Operational squadrons will also have appropriate support equipment, simulator and training devices, and Readiness Spares Packages (RSP) on hand. A lot of support is still handled by contractors, but some is being moved inside the military.


The average flyaway cost of an MQ-9 is between $17-21 million, based on FY 2015 budget documents. Note that flyaway cost subtotals also include shares of Ground Control Stations (GCS), Ground Data Terminals (GDTs), and Predator Primary Satellite Links (PPSLs), which means that buying different numbers of ancillary systems or UAVs changes the cost number from year to year.

Export buyers will incur higher costs, as the few UAVs they buy need the entire set of back-end infrastructure and support systems. Co-location with the USAF or Britain in a satellite-linked operations center can help defray the biggest expenses, but costs will still be far higher than they would be for a USAF purchase.

American budget totals reflect the number of individual UAVs purchased, though each year is also buying the other equipment needed to make the Reapers work, and making long lead-time buys for the following year. Note that both RDT&E funding and procurement funding beyond FY 2015 reflect the USAF only, and don’t include the minor contributions of US SOCOM.

A complete timeline of the MQ-9 program, including export sales and requests, and planned milestones:

Competitors & Prospects

USAF on UAV futures

The MQ-9 has few competitors at the moment. Other UCAVs like the US Navy’s X-47 UCAS-D, the European nEUROn project, and Britain’s Taranis all focused on the stealthy fighter replacement role, and conventional UAVs optimized for surveillance rather than strike, Serious competition would involve existing UAVs that begin integrating and proving a variety of weapon sets, and have the capacity to carry a substantial payload. The challenge is that many of those UAVs will hit limits to payload carriage or endurance before they can match the Reaper, or run afoul of the 300 mile range/ 500 pound ordnance limit embedded in the Missile Technology Control Regime treaty.

The BAE Mantis/ Telemos UAV, whose twin pusher-propeller design and T-tail make it look like the unmanned offspring of an A-10 “Warthog” and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft, was well positioned to compete. Instead, it was sidelined by lack of funding and commitment from Britain and France. Israel has UAVs in a similar size class (Heron-TP, Hermes 900, Dominator), but they don’t routinely carry weapons, and heaven’t been exported as armed UAVs. Italy and the UAE are building Piaggio’s fast Hammerhead P.1HH, but the MCTR cripples its payload, and plans to arm the UAV remain distant. The UAE touts their Yabhon United 40 Block 5, but it needs to be inducted and proven in operational service. China has begun to export its Wing Loong armed UAV, but its peer comparison is the MQ-1 Predator.

That’s the good news for General Atomics. The bad news is that is that MQ-9 export approval beyond NATO and similarly close allies seems unlikely. MQ-9s are currently in service with the USAF, Britain (10), France (2), and Italy (4). The Netherlands has committed to buy 4, but hasn’t placed a contract yet. Poland is also said to be considering a purchase, and Germany was a strong export candidate before its current government backed off buying any drones at all. Note that even within this group, Britain has been the only country allowed to arm their Reapers.

Future Planning & Developments

MQ-9 Block 5
(click to view full)

As of March 2013, the USAF intends to fulfill the MQ-9 Increment One CPD requirements with a final UAS configuration consisting of the MQ-9 Block 5 UAV with OFP 904.6, and the Block 30 GCS. The program will be reducing or deferring 12 required block 5 capabilities related to aircraft endurance, radar performance, and reliability, and other areas. The UAV’s core OFP flight software has been a development issue, and DOT&E expects further delays, along with added risks because cyber-vulnerabilities haven’t been heavily tested.

AFOTEC hoped to conduct formal operational testing of the final MQ-9 Increment One UAS in late 2014, but the addition of manufacturing issues has pushed things back to early 2016.

“Increment II” upgrades beyond the MQ-9 Block 5 were slated to include GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb integration, Automatic take-off and landing, Deicing, and National Airspace certification for flights in American civil airspace. At present, those upgrades languish in an unfunded limbo.

Contracts & Key Events, 2005 SDD – Present

MQ-9, Kandahar
(click to view full)

Some support contracts are common to the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleet. They are not covered here. Britain’s MQ-9 Reaper program has its own DID Spotlight article, but its items are reproduced here as well.

Unless otherwise indicated, all contracts are managed by Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, where the 658th AESS/PK is the Predator Contracting Group. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. of Poway, CA (near San Diego, north of MCAS Miramar) is the contractor. Note that, for whatever reason, many USAF orders don’t seem to be announced through standard channels. See budgets, above, for a clearer sense of the numbers involved.

FY 2014 – 2017


Afghan Pre-Flight
(click to view full)


May 9/17: GKN Aerospace will produce and provide a new fuel bladder system for the first production model of General Atomic’s Predator B MQ-9B UAV, scheduled for 2018. An agreement signed between the two firms has a full potential value of $15 million when it enters service with NATO’s UAV airworthiness Requirements. According to GKN, the fuel bladder system will be made in a vacuum forming process using poly-urethane material for shapes that better fit available space on the aircraft airframe.

May 8/17: A MQ-9 Reaper UAV has dropped a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) at a range in Nevada, USA for the first time. By adding the JDAM to the UAV’s arsenal, operators will have a greater opportunity to track targets in bad weather as it utilizes a GPS-guidance system instead of the laser-guided munitions that are currently used, like the AGM-114 Hellfire and GBU-12. The JDAM is also liked by aircrews as it takes ten minutes less to load when compared to the GBU-12, taking 20 minutes to load instead of 30.

March 28/17: A number of US senators have come together in a bipartisan effort to pressure the Trump administration into approving two key defense deals with India. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Mark Warner, D-Va urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in joint letters to approve co-production of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 in India and to approve the export of General Atomics’ Guardian, a nonlethal maritime version of the MQ-9 Reaper. Speaking on the F-16 negotiations, the letters stated that a successful deal “will increase interoperability with a key partner and a dominant power in South Asia, build India’s capacity to counter threats from the north, and balance China’s growing military capability in the Pacific,” while on the Guardian UAV deal, the men warned that a failure to go through with the sale “will not only have implications for regional security in the Asia-Pacific, but could also significantly impact the MQ-9 production line and put thousands of US manufacturing jobs at risk.”

February 28/17: Competitor Wing Loong II. China has received their largest foreign order for the indigenous next-generation Wing Loong II UAV. However, the report did not disclose the identity of the buyer or the size of the order. Beijing has been driving to increase their market share of the military drone market at the expense of US and Israeli products, by offering lower-cost technology to customers and a willingness to sell to governments to which Western states will not sell. The Wing Loong II’s predecessor is marketed for $1 million, while the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, to which it has sometimes been compared, is priced at around $30 million.

January 11/17: General Atomics will provide MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the Spanish government, following a $53 million contract award by the USAF. The order is an adjustment to an existing basic ordering agreement between the United States and Spain. In 2015, Madrid selected the Reaper over the Heron TP to perform homeland security, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism operations. The procurement is expected to cost some $181 million over five years.

January 6/17: General Atomics has been contracted by the US government to provide MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to Spain. The $56 million is an adjustment to an existing basic ordering agreement between Washington and Madrid and work is expected to be complete by January 31, 2019. Last February, Spain ordered four aircraft and associated control stations from General Atomics, in what the company says represents one complete Reaper system. The total value of Spain’s Reaper package, along with associated support and equipment, could reach as much as $243 million.

December 6/16: Contracts have been signed between General Atomics and the UK government to develop new UAVs. The company will equip existing drone technology into new remotely piloted aircraft for the RAF, in a deal worth $127 million. 20 Protector UAVs will be developed under the program and will replace the current fleet of 10 MQ-9 Reapers.

October 28/16: It’s been reported that the US military is using bases in Tunisia to conduct surveillance drone operations against Islamic State militants in Libya with unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. However Tunisian sources have denied that the drones have been in Libyan airspace and instead are being used for training Tunisian forces and protecting the country’s borders. Following attacks by jihadists in a popular vacation destination in 2015, Washington has given more than $250 million in security assistance to Tunisia while the UK has provided personnel to train Tunisian forces.

September 30/16: Building is underway by the US military of a $100 million facility for the use of MQ-9 Reaper operations in the region. The news comes less than a year after the announcement was made that Reaper and Predator bases in Ethiopia and Djibouti would be closed. MQ-9s operated from East African bases are used primarily for missions against Islamic insurgents such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and AQAP in Yemen.

August 24/16: General Atomics has been contracted by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to develop a laser tracking system for the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Valued at $9.6 million, the contract will set the company to design, build and test in the lab key laser subsystems to demonstrate precision tracking. Furthermore, the company will develop and demonstrate an MQ-9 flight representative laser system with the beam train optics required to upgrade a multi-spectral targeting system for use as an active tracking sensor.

August 19/16: General Atomics is to provide 30 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the USAF. The $370.9 million contract will be completed by May 31, 2019.

August 8/16: MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots are to undergo a fifteen-day course in electric warfare missions. The USAF program will see pilots gain training so that they can continue to operate their UAV when under electronic attack such as jamming of their satellite uplinks. Once completed, they will be known as Electronic Combat Officers.

June 27/16: India has issued a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US government over the potential purchase of 22 General Atomics Guardians, a maritime patrol variant of the MQ-9 Predator B. A letter of acceptance from the US will follow later in the year which will trigger the commencement of price negotiations over the UAVs with a final contract to be signed sometime in 2017-18. It is unclear, however, whether the Indian Navy will acquire the non-weaponized Guardian variant – featuring intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities – the weaponized one, or both.

June 3/16: MQ-9 UAVs operated by the Italian Air Force are to be fitted with General Atomics integrated Rafael RecceLite reconnaissance pod. Flight testing will be carried out in early 2017 at Amendola Air Base, Italy. The company believes that the adoption of the system “could lead to similar efforts with other NATO customers that operate MQ-9.”

May 5/16: An upgrade to automate takeoff and landing of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs is being pursued by the USAF, making training Reaper pilots easier and allowing access to more runways. A similar upgrade already exists on US Army MQ-1C Grey Eagles. According to General Atomics’ senior director of strategic development, Chris Pehrson, the air force tried last year to shift money from other accounts to begin implementing the automatic takeoff and landing system, but the request was denied by Congress.

April 28/16: After numerous delays in its maiden flight which occurred last week amid much excitement from manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the X-2 stealth demonstrator will have a year long test campaign involving around 50 flights. With the maiden flight described as “ordinary” by Hirofumi Doi, manager of Japan’s Future Fighter Program at the defence ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), future testing will help ATLA gather data on advanced fighter technologies such as stealth, thrust vectoring, data links, and other areas. Depending on this data, flight testing of the X-2 could easily be extended, leading the way for a potentially busy period for the demonstrator.

March 22/16: The USAF and Honeywell are investigating a still-undetermined problem with the starter-generator on the MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 version’s Honeywell turboprop engine. Seventeen MQ-9 crashes have been avoided since last April, however, thanks to a backup electrical system that has been installed as a safeguard, which allows for the aircraft to fly for another ten hours. Since the UAV’s first flight, the USAF have lost dozens during missions, at a cost of $20-25 million per aircraft. This has intensified in 2015, as the steeping up of anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa saw 10 MQ-9 and 10 MQ-1 crashes in that last year alone.

February 19/16: General Atomics has received a contract to provide four unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and two Block 30 ground control stations to Spain. While Madrid may seek to arm the UAVs in future, it requires authorization from the US government before it can do so. However, this may not be too much of an issue, as both the UK and Italy have already been granted permission to arm their fleets with precision guided missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire. While the initial foreign sales notice posted by the US in October cites the cost of the hardware at $80 million, the total cost of procurement, training and logistical support could see that cost more in the region of $243 million.

January 21/16: A second MQ-9 Reaper UAV system will be delivered to France by October 2017 after the US DoD announced contracts on Tuesday. Work and delivery of the system is set to cost $47.7 million and will be carried out by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The awarding of the contract follows the December order of a third batch of Reaper systems by France set for delivery in 2019. France has been operating the UAVs on missions on the African continent, primarily in the Sahel-Saharan region. The MQ-9s will most likely continue to be operated until a pan-European UAV development project is completed which will see a drone developed jointly by France, Germany and Italy.

December 28/15: After two decades, General Atomics will cease production of the RQ-1 Predator UAV after the final two were delivered to the Italian Air Force. While not officially confirmed, it is believed that the Italians operate nine RQ-1s for intelligence gathering. Furthermore, they have procured six of the RQ-1’s successor, the MQ-9 Reaper which have recently been approved by the US government to carry weapons. The aircraft are primarily utilized by the Italians over the Mediterranean Sea and in support of NATO operations.

November 6/15: The State Department has approved a Foreign Military Sale contract to weaponize the Italian Air Force’s fleet of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. The DSCA request included AGM-114R2 Hellfire II missiles, JDAM guided bombs and launchers, with the possible deal estimated to value $129.6 million. General Atomics will be the prime contractor for the potential sale, the US government having relaxed export restrictions in February, with the weaponization of the Italian Reapers representing the second international customer to operate armed MQ-9s. The Royal Air Force is the sole weaponized operator outside of the US.

November 4/15: Spain’s cabinet has approved a proposed acquisition of four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs from the US, following State Department approval of a DSCA request by the country’s Defense Ministry in October. The $177 million procurement saw the General Atomics design – favored by the Spanish Air Force – beat off competition from Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP. The contract’s value will be spread over a multi-year contract until 2020, with Spanish firm SENER acting as General Atomics’ partner. Elsewhere in Europe, the Netherlands also requested four of the same aircraft in February, with the United Kingdom operating armed Reapers.

October 30/15: The deputy head of the Air Force ISR wants to counteract a shortfall in MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper operators by compressing the current two-person arrangement into a single role. The conversion would require changes to the system’s ground station, with Air Force officials keen to maximise manpower efficiency in the face of high drop-out rates for drone pilots.

October 8/15: The State Department has given the green light to Spain acquiring four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs, through a potential acquisition valued at $243 million along with auxiliary equipment and services. The Spanish Defence Ministry set aside money in its 2016 budget for the four UAVs, which it reportedly opted to sole-source from manufacturer General Atomics. The Reapers will be used exclusively for ISR, with the United Kingdom the only nation currently operating armed Reapers outside of the US, with the Netherlands also requesting four MQ-9s in February. Spain’s proposed sale will now be referred to Congress for approval.

September 28/15: General Atomics has unveiled a new capability for its MQ-9B Guardian maritime UAV, presenting a sonobuoy capability along with other modifications to the Royal Navy in a bid to market the Guardian as an unmanned maritime patrol aircraft to supplement the likely procurement of a manned maritime patrol aircraft. Calls from industry for the UK’s Defence Ministry to run a competition for its future maritime patrol aircraft are growing louder, with Northrop Grumman thought to be considering an offer of their RQ-4C Triton as another unmanned option in addition to the Guardian.

August 7/15: Spain has decided to buy four unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, along with two ground stations. The fifth European country to purchase the Reaper, the Spanish defense ministry has allocated $186.9 million for the acquisition. The United Kingdom, France and Italy operate the Reaper, with the Netherlands requesting four in February.

August 5/15: The Air Force’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) has recommended adding new sensors, weapons and countermeasures to MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs to increase survivability and lethality in contested airspace. The SAB is also pushing for Manned-Unmanned Teaming, something already baked into the latest iteration of the AH-64E Block III Apache, with tests in June demonstrating the helicopter operating alongside a MQ-1C Gray Eagle, with the UAV assisting in target-painting and surveillance. A full report on the topic – ‘Enhanced Utility of Unmanned Air Vehicles In Contested and Denied Environments’ – will be published in December.

June 5/15: The UK and France are exploring the possibility of collaborating for Reaper UAV training, logistics and support services. The British operate ten of the aircraft, with these all deployed on operations over Iraq, with France taking delivery of a third Reaper at the end of May, with twelve set to be delivered by 2019.

May 21/15: General Atomics was awarded a production contract for eight additional MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs on Wednesday, with this $72.1 million contract following a similar $279.1 million order for 24 of the aircraft last month.

July 2/14: Germany. The whole subject of UAVs remains very contentious along left-right lines (q.v. Nov 14/13), as a long Defence Committee hearing on June 30/14 demonstrated once again. But German Defence Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen [CDU] has now stated her support for buying UAVs that can carry weapons, on the condition that the German Bundestag would vote to send them on any foreign missions, and decide whether they should be armed.

That would seemingly favor the MQ-9 in the short term, but she stated her satisfaction with the current leasing program for Heron-1 UAVs, which can be continued without sparking a divisive armed UAV debate in the Bundestag. Over the longer term, she also spoke in favour of developing “a European armed drone.” The NSA remains the political gift that keeps on giving to non-American defense sector competitors:

“Once again, the NSA affair has made it clear to me what it means to lie dormant through 10 to 15 years of technological development and suddenly face the bitter reality of how dependent one is on others…. Europe needs the capabilities of a reconnaissance drone so it is not permanently dependent on others.”

The challenge is that European partners want a UAV that can carry weapons, so Germany probably needs to accept that in order to find partners. Time will tell. Source: Euractiv, “German defence minister backs ‘European armed drone'”.

June 26/14: Upgrades. General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $15.3 million firm-fixed-price sole-source contract for the MQ-9 Fuel Bladder Retrofit Kits, Time Compliance Technical Orders (TCTO) and initial spares. The certified O-level TCTOs enable the removal of existing Aero Tech Labs fuel bladders, and enable the installation of the new fuel bladders on MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 aircraft. GA-ASI will also update existing technical orders and manuals, and deliver initial retrofit spares. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 & 2013 USAF aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 6/17. USAF Life Cycle Management Center’s, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0071).

May 9/14: Australia. Air Marshal Geoff Brown tells Fairfax Media that he’d like to see Australia buy some MQ-9s. Australia has trialed MQ-9s in a maritime border patrol role (q.v. May-September 2006). Their military intends to move ahead with the jet-powered MQ-4C Global Hawk derivative that won the US Navy BAMS competition, but an MQ-9 fleet bought to support the Army would likely find itself on call to support Coast Guard duties as well. That could be done with standard equipment, as Italy has done (q.v. Jan 15/14), or via additional buys to obtain SeaVue radars like the MQ-9 Guardians operated by US Customs (q.v. Dec 7/09). Brown:

“I’m a great fan of capabilities that have a very multi-role aspect to them, and I think Predator-Reaper does have that… I think the combination of a good ISR platform that’s weaponized is a pretty legitimate weapon system for Australia…. I’d love to have [MQ-4C] Triton tomorrow… I’d certainly like to have Predator-Reaper capability as well, and I’d like to bring [our rented fleet of IAI’s] Heron back so we build on those skills that we’ve got.”

He’s thinking in terms of the next 5 years, and the place to set that in motion would be the coming Force Structure Review. Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, “Air Force wants to buy deadly Reaper drones”.

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report. For the MQ-9:

“Program costs decreased $1,451.8 million (-10.9%) from $13,318.2 million to $11,866.4 million, due primarily to a quantity decrease of 58 aircraft from 401 to 343 (-$962.1 million), associated schedule, engineering, and estimating allocations (+$66.9 million), and areduction of initial spares and support equipment related to the decrease in quantity (-$432.9 million). There were additional decreases for the removal of the Airborne Signals Intelligence payload 2C (ASIP 2C) requirement (-$280.1 million) and sequestration reductions (-$142.5 million). These decreases were partially offset by increases for a warfighter requirement for extended range retrofits and communications requirements (+$138.9 million) and the addition of production line shut down costs that were not previously estimated (+$132.7 million).”

Program cuts

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. The MQ-9 Block 5’s manufacturing issues include “delinquencies in completing technical data, software delays, and fuel tank issues”; the latter were severe enough that they required production line changes and fleet retrofits. As a result, deliveries were slowed, operational testing had to move back from October 2014 to January 2016, and Block 5 software won’t be fully fielded until March 2016. Meanwhile,

“As of December 2013, 21 Block 1 aircraft have been produced, but are still awaiting the necessary software capability upgrades before they can be delivered. Until these software upgrades are complete, aircraft are only being delivered based on urgent needs. According to program officials, the program has developed an aircraft delivery recovery plan that should allow deliveries to be back on track by April 2014.”

Since more than half of the planned fleet will have been manufactured before a “Full Rate Production Decision” is made, the Pentagon has decided to have an “in-process review” in February 2016 instead.

March 26/14: Weapons. An MQ-9 successfully finishes December 2013 – January 2014 tests at US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, CA, firing MBDA’s dual-mode radar/laser Brimstone missile against a variety of targets. The Brimstone is similar to the Reaper’s regular laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire, with a slightly longer range, a fire-and-forget radar seeker, a “man in the loop” feature, and the ability to deploy on fast jets. Consolidating on the Brimstone would let the RAF use a single weapon type for short-range light strike.

The test was a cooperative effort between Britain and the United States (q,v, May 3/13), and all of the RAF’s primary and secondary trial objectives were met. Brimstone isn’t formally integrated onto the MQ-9, but it looks as if that’s about to change. Sources: MBDA, “MBDA’s Brimstone Demonstrates its Precision Low Collateral Capability from Reaper”.

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The FY 2015 request supports the procurement of 12 MQ-9 UAVs and 12 fixed ground control stations, while funding MQ-9 Extended Range fleet modifications. Deliveries out to 2019 are being cut, but the budget isn’t changing that much because of required investments in spare parts, support infrastructure, and technical data rights.

There are currently 143 MQ-9 aircraft in USAF inventory, with an estimated designed service life of 20,000 hours each. For comparison purpose, that’s about double the total lifespan of an F-16 with life-extension refits, and slightly longer than a manned Super Tucano turboprop’s ~16-18,000 hours.

Near-term upgrades include new Linux processors, high definition monitors, and ergonomic improvements. Future planned upgrades include integrating improved human-machine interfaces, open systems architecture, improved crew habitability, and multiple aircraft control. Future GCS configurations will leverage the Unmanned Aerospace System (UAS) Command and Control (C2) Initiative (UCI) government-owned open system standard to enable improved capabilities for situational awareness and multi-mission management monitoring and oversight.

Feb 24/14: Budgets. Chuck Hagel’s FY 2015 pre-budget briefing explains that cutbacks are on the way for the drone fleet, but perhaps not the Reapers:

“The Air Force will slow the growth in its arsenal of armed unmanned systems that, while effective against insurgents and terrorists, cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses. Instead of increasing to a force of 65 around-the-clock combat air patrols of Predator and Reaper aircraft, the Air Force will grow to 55, still a significant increase. Given the continued drawdown in Afghanistan, this level of coverage will be sufficient to meet our requirements, and we would still be able to surge to an unprecedented 71 combat air patrols under this plan. DoD will continue buying the more capable Reapers until we have an all-Reaper fleet.

If sequestration-level cuts are re-imposed in 2016 and beyond, however, the Air Force would need to make far more significant cuts to force structure and modernization. The Air Force would have to retire 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 tanker fleet and the Global Hawk Block 40 fleet, as well as slow down purchases of the Joint Strike Fighter – resulting in 24 fewer F-35s purchased through Fiscal Year 2019 – and sustain ten fewer Predator and Reaper 24-hour combat air patrols [DID: down to 45]. The Air Force would also have to take deep cuts to flying hours, which would prevent a return to adequate readiness levels.”

Sources: US DoD, “Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel FY 2015 Budget Preview Pentagon Press Briefing Room Monday, February 24, 2014”.

Feb 5/14: Bandwidth innovation. The USAF touts changes they’ve made to the MQ-9 Reaper, allowing it to relay data through inclined orbit satellites that have become slightly unstable. The satellites’ wobble cuts their leasing costs sharply, so UAVs can cut operating costs by integrating updated satellite location data with software to point their receivers, and having procedures to manage the associated situations. The USAF has successfully tested exactly this kind of system on the MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs.

The Jan 28/14 DOT&E report gave the MQ-9 program both barrels for what it saw as lack of organization, and a development culture that pursued off-record efforts at the expense of their planned capabilities. Announcements like this one, and the Feb 5/14 AFSOC report, remind us that less-planned but potentially significant enhancements can add up to important steps forward. Read “I.O. Satellites for UAVs? USAF Reaping Savings” for full coverage.

Feb 5/14: 38 ER conversions. A maximum $117.3 million unfinalized contract will finance conversions to create 38 MQ-9 Extended Range UAVs, with larger wings and more fuel.

$41.5 million committed immediately, using a combination of FY 2013-2014 RDT&E budgets, and the FY 2014 aircraft budget. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 7/16. USAF Lifecycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0118).

MQ-9 ER conversions begin

Feb 5/14: AFSOC Support. A $166 million delivery order for “Lead-off Hitter AFSOC MQ-9 Software Line,” which will provide MQ-9 software engineering support for the AFSOC fleet of MQ-9 unmanned aerial systems. In an interesting note about some of the changes underway, the FY 2013 DOT&E report mentioned that:

“AFSOC demonstrated the successful transmission of encrypted, high-definition full motion video from the RPA to remote video terminal-equipped ground units in support of urgent AFSOC capabilities needs. AFOTEC will conduct formal evaluation of full motion video transmission during FOT&E of the MQ-9 Increment One system.”

Work will be performed in Poway, Calif., and is expected to be completed by Feb. 6, 2015. Fiscal 2013 research and development funds in the amount of $2,063,006 are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0114).

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The MQ-9 is included, and the report paints the program as a mess, getting UAVs out the door but tripping over itself elsewhere thanks to the lack of an Integrated Master Schedule, inability to prioritize or meet timelines, and only limited Information Assurance cyber-testing.

The result of these failings, in conjunction with “competing schedule priorities for non-program of record capabilities,” is that the program formally acknowledged an Acquisition Program Baseline (APB) breach in May 2013 and said they couldn’t meet the program of record schedule. The Increment 1/ Block 5 system can’t undergo Full OT&E in FY 2014 as planned, and integration of the GBU-38 JDAM was postponed. Indeed:

“Development, operational testing, and fielding of Increment One program of record capabilities will likely experience continued delays until the program is able to better prioritize and control maturation of these capabilities in accordance with a predictable schedule. Ongoing schedule challenges, combined with RPA production emphasis, increase the likelihood that the MQ-9 UAS will complete the delivery of all planned MQ-9 RPAs under low-rate initial production. FOT&E of the Increment One UAS configuration, originally planned for 2013, will likely be delayed several years beyond FY14.”

Jan 22/14: EW. General Atomics and Northrop Grumman conduct the 2nd USMC demonstration of MQ-9s as electronic warfare platforms (q.v. Aug 13/13), using NGC’s Pandora low-power, wideband electronic warfare pod. They tested Pandora’s compatibility with the Reaper’s avionics and command and control architecture, including control of the Pandora pod’s operations, and tested the entire system’s integration into a Marine Command and Control (C2) network.

A Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (CEWCC) located at MCAS Yuma ran the pod and UAV, which supported a large aircraft strike package that included EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft. General Atomics sees this as an important way to broaden the Reaper’s usefulness, in order to keep it from budget cuts (q.v. Jan 2/14). Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and Northrop Grumman Showcase Additional Unmanned Electronic Attack Capabilities in Second USMC Exercise”.

Jan 15/14: UAV SAR. General Atomics touts the use of its MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs in search and rescue scenarios, which will become much easier once civil airspace rules are changed to provide clear requirements for UAVs.

MQ-9 UAVs were used in New Mexico to find missing kayyakers in April 2012, and MQ-1s and MQ-9s were both used in October 2013 to find a missing German mountain biker who was stranded and injured in the Lincoln National Forest. Interestingly, their main role was to search less-likely areas, ensuring that they were covered while allowing humans to search the most likely areas.

The Italian jobs were a bit different, because they were conducted under Operation Mare Nostrum (“our ocean,” also colloquial Roman for the Mediterranean), which aims to find and rescue migrants who are trying to cross the sea in makeshift boats from North Africa. They use radar more extensively, and the Italian MQ-9s’ AN/APY-8 Lynx Block 30 multi-mode radars will soon add software to give them a new Maritime Wide Area Search (MWAS) mode. Sources: GA-ASI, “Predator-Series Aircraft Pivotal to Search and Rescue Missions”.

Jan 2/14: Budgets. quotes Pentagon director of unmanned warfare and ISR Dyke Weatherington, who says of the new UAV Roadmap that the 24% reduction in UAV spending of from 2012-2013, and 30% cut from 2013-2014, is a trend that will continue. The shift to the Pacific is likely to hurt UAVs below the top end, but:

“This roadmap is two years since the last one. We knew budgets would be declining. I don’t think two years ago we understood how significant the down slope was going to be so this road map much more clearly addresses the fiscal challenges…. We can generally say that from 2014 to 2015 the budget… will be reduced”…. there was about a 24-percent reduction from 2012 to 2013 and a 30-percent reduction from 2013 to 2014…. the Pentagon’s shift to the Pacific and overall Defense Strategy articulates a need to be prepared for more technologically advanced potential adversaries…. “EW is one of those areas where we are going to see opportunities for unmanned systems, likely in tandem with manned systems…”

In this environment, the program to add MALD-J loitering jamming decoys is promising for the MQ-9, but further budget cuts are not. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Pentagon Plans for Cuts to Drone Budgets”.

Jan 1/14: France. Defense World reports that French MQ-9s arrived “in the Sahel Region” on this day, for operations over Mali. Defense World, “France Receive First MQ-9 Reaper Drone”.

Dec 31/13: UK Support. A sole-source, unfinalized $31.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price option for Phase 1 & 2 contractor logistics support: urgent repairs and services, logistics support, field service representative support, contractor inventory control point and spares management, depot repair, flight operations support and field maintenance.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 31/15. The USAF acts as Britain’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080, 09).

Dec 24/13: Support. A $362.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee sole-source contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor support, including program management, logistics support, configuration management, technical manual and software maintenance, contractor field service representative support, inventory control point management, flight operations support, depot repair, and depot field maintenance.

$90 million in USAF O&M funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/14. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIKBA at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract (FA8528-14-C-0001).

Dec 19/13: France. The DGA procurement agency receives its 1st Reaper UAV, which is being readied for deployment to Mali along with a 2nd UAV, associated ground systems, etc. The DGA praises the USA’s help in getting personnel trained, helping with communications planning, etc. A record of six months from order to delivery is impressive, and demands nothing less.

French delivery

Nov 21/13: Dutch OK. The Dutch MvD delivers a report to the legislature, announcing the results of their MALE UAV program study phase, which began in 2012. Their requirements included 24 hour endurance, and payload options that included the standard surveillance and targeting turret and SAR/GMTI ground scanning radar, plus a wide-area ground-scanning radar and a SIGINT/COMINT interception pod. Weapons aren’t part of their plan, but they did want an option to add them later, if necessary. The MvD intends to buy 4 Reapers for fielding on expeditionary operations by 2016, and achieve full operational capability from their base at Leeuwarden by 2017. The budget for this purchase is just EUR 100 – 250 million.

That budget could be a problem.

The brief to Parliament lists European airworthiness certification as a major budget risk. It is. The fact that Britain, France, and Italy will also be MQ-9 customers was an argument for a Dutch buy, because they create a pool of partners who can benefit from each other’s work. Cost pooling is an even bigger factor for eventual certification beyond restricted airspace, whose success will involve sense-and-avoid technologies, and certifications whose cost can’t be predicted. Past estimates have involved hundreds of millions of dollars.

The other source of significant risk to the program involves integration the wide-area ground scanning radar, and SIGINT/COMINT payloads. The scope of that effort will have to be assessed. It’s worth noting that payloads are subject to network effects: a larger customer list in Europe makes it easier or more attractive to add payloads, which then provide another reason for new customers to sign on. Sources: Dutch MvD, “Defensie kiest Reaper als onbemand vliegtuig” and “Kamerbrief voorstudie project MALE UAV”.

Nov 20/13: Euro MALE. Defence Ministers committed to the launch of 4 programs during the EU European Defence Agency’s Steering Board session, 1 of which centered around a 4-part program for UAVs. “Ministers tasked EDA to prepare the launch of a Category B project” to develop a Future European MALE platform, to be introduced from 2020 – 2025. Other documents, noting the obvious potential for ridicule since Future European MALE = FEMALE, refer to it as “MALE 2020” – a timeline that would be imperative for industrial and competitive reasons. EDA hasn’t launched the project yet. Once it does, can Europe’s traditionally fractious program negotiations and fragmented execution hit a 2020 target date?

In parallel, a coalition of countries also plan to create an operator community of UAV users, so they can share experiences and improve the foundation for future cooperation. Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland have all joined.

Other areas of cooperation will include streamlining UAV certification in European airspace, now that its costs and uncertainties have already killed Germany’s major Eurohawk UAV program. In a related move, Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Spain signed a joint investment program around technologies required for UAV use in civil airspace. Sources: EDA, “Defence Ministers Commit to Capability Programmes” | Les Echos, “Drones : des pays europeens s’engagent a collaborer”.

Nov 14/13: Germany. Chancellor Merkel’s narrow victory has an important military consequence. A draft version of the coalition agreement between Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats reportedly says that:

“We categorically reject illegal killings by drones. Germany will support the use of unmanned weapons systems for the purposes of international disarmament and arms control…. Before acquiring a qualitatively new arms system, we will thoroughly investigate all associated civil and constitutional guidelines and ethical questions.”

Translation: Don’t expect a purchase of Reaper or Heron UAVs during the lifetime of this 4-year legislative session. Sources: The, “Germany halts purchase of armed drones” | See also the left-wing Truthout, “How Europeans Are Opposing Drone and Robot Warfare: An Overview of the Anti-Drone Movement in Europe”.

Nov 9/13: Support. The USAF Sustainment Center and General Atomics reach an enterprise-level, public-private partnership agreement which allows the 2 organizations to partner in the maintenance of MQ-1B/C and MQ-9 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Work can be performed at AFSC logistics complexes in Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah:

“The WR-ALC is expected to begin work on UAS batteries in 2014 and interim modem assemblies in 2015. The battery workload is estimated to bring in 5,000 repair hours and grow to 9,600 repair hours by 2016. The modem workload is estimated to bring in 2,600 repair hours in 2015, growing to 4,500 in 2016. By the end of fiscal 2016, Warner-Robins will have more than 15,000 repair hours from the Predator/Reaper/Gray Eagle workload…”

It’s the 1st center-wide UAS partnership agreement implemented since the stand-up of the Air Force Sustainment Center in June 2012. Sources: Pentagon DVIDS, “Increased unmanned aircraft workload on the horizon thanks to new partnership”.

Nov 1/13: France. A maximum $27.6 million unfinalized delivery order for Phase I of France’s MQ-9 UAS Contractor Logistics Support program. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and run until Oct 31/14.

This sole-source acquisition is handled by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, acting as France’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0113).

FY 2013

France commits to buying 2, considers up to 16. Competitions in Canada, Netherlands, possibly Poland. FAA tests for civil airspace, and a European effort too; Deliveries stalled by fuel tank problem; JDAMs still a problem; MQ-9 Increment II in limbo; CAE will develop the sim/training system; OMX partnership in Canada as the future of local supplier efforts; Plans aside, what’s the real future of the Reaper force?

RAF Reaper Refuels,

Oct 15/13: FY13 main order. GA-ASI receives a maximum $377.4 million, unfinalized delivery order for 24 MQ-9 Block 5 Reaper aircraft, shipping containers, initial spares and support equipment. It’s paid for with $305 million in FY 2013 procurement funds, with the rest coming from FY 2012 leftovers.

Though it is now technically a new fiscal year, the federal government shutdown was just the cherry on the cake for a messy FY 2013. This explains delayed orders, and their likewise late public announcement, like this one (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0050).

“USA buys 24

Sept 30/13: Reaper. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a not-to-exceed $49.8 million unfinalized cost-plus-fixed-fee contract action for France’s MQ-9 Reaper urgent request program of 2 UAVs. That seems about right.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 15/15. USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, acts as France’s FMS agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0112).

Just days earlier the first of 3 crews from the French air force had taken its initial training flight at Holloman AFB, NM. They want to be ready when 2 UAVs and 1 GCV are delivered at the end of the year. Sources: Pentagon | French Air Force, “Premier vol d’un equipage francais aux commandes d’un drone Reaper”.

France orders 2

Sept 25/13: Sensors. Raytheon Co. in McKinney, TX, has been awarded a $13.2 million delivery order, buying another 24 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems High-Definition Infrared (MTS-B HD IR) turrets for the MQ-9 Reaper. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed at McKinney, TX, and is expected to be complete by May 30/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contracts (FA8620-11-G-4050, #0008, modification 12).

Sept 16/13: SOCOM. US SOCOM wants its MALET MQ-9s to have the same kind if easy transportability as its MALET MQ-1s. The Predators can be boxed, shipped in a C-17, and re-assembled in 4 hours. SOCOM wants its Reapers to be packable in under 8 hours, and assembled in less than 8 hours, but it’s going to take some work to get there.

As an aside, one of the most challenging aspects of a new MALET base is actually the ground station. That has to be present for launches and landings, since remote control from the USA is only suitable during the flight. Source:, “SOCOM Wants to Deploy MQ-9 Drones to Remote Areas”.

Aug 25/13: Help Wanted. The USAF has a pilot recruitment problem for drones, driven by lower recognition and a true perception that promotions are less likely in that service. Here’s the math:

The USA has 61 round-the-clock UAV Combat Air Patrols, and plans to increase that to 65 by 2015. That increase is now suspect. If it’s maintained, the Pentagon’s April 2012 “Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability” says the USAF will require, at minimum, 579 more MQ-1/9 UAV pilots from December 2011 – 2015. In 2012, the 40 USAF training slots attracted just 12 volunteers, and training attrition rates are 3x higher than they are for regular pilots. Unlike the USAF’s manned aircraft training slots, only 33 RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) training slots were filled (around 82%), triggered in part by the correct perception that those who succeed will have less career success. Based on present rates, 13% fewer RPA pilots have become majors, compared to their peers.

The US Army has an easier time of things with their MQ-1C fleet, because they tap enlisted and non-commissioned soldiers: 15W Operator and 15E Repairer are enlisted soldiers positions, and 150U technician positions involve a warrant officer. Sources: Stars & Stripes, “Unmanned now undermanned: Air Force struggles to fill pilot slots for drones” | See Additional Readings section for full Pentagon report.

Aug 16/13: Block 5 Testing. An $11.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to buy initial MQ-9 Block 5 spares and support equipment, to support 2 Block 5 UAVs. Technically, it’s an engineering change proposal (ECP) to calendar year 2011 spares and support equipment buys. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 28/16. USAF Lifecycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0001-01).

Aug 13/13: EW. General Atomics touts a successful April 12/13 successful demonstration of the MQ-9 as an electronic warfare platform, during the USMC’s Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course at MCAS Yuma. A company-owned Predator B equipped with a Digital Receiver/Exciter pod and controlled by a GA-ASI Ground Control Station (GCS) was among over 20 aircraft participating. The Northrop Grumman pod “proved to be effective and seamlessly integrated with the Predator B avionics, command and control architecture.”

That’s a minimum baseline. Future demonstrations will work with other unmanned aircraft systems and USMC EA-6B Prowler EW aircraft at places like NAWS China Lake, directing the MQ-9’s EW payload and other assets from the Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (C/EWCC) located at MCAS Yuma. Work to integrate the jet-powered MALD-J jamming missile onto the MQ-9 will be another area of future focus, giving the UAV a range of EW capabilities ranging from jamming remote land mine detonators along convoy routes, to supporting attacks on enemy air defense systems. Source: General Atomics Aug 13/12 release.

Aug 12/13: A maximum $26.2 million, unfinalized sole-source contract for the MQ-9’s Extended Range Phase 2 project, which involves adding longer 88′ wingspan wings that carry internal fuel (q.v. March 12/13). About $7 million is committed immediately from a range of budgets, including FY 2012 R&D, procurement, and repair funds, and FY 2013 R&D funds.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Aug 12/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0106).

June 27/13: France wants more? The US DSCA notifies Congress [PDF] of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France for 16 unarmed MQ-9s and the necessary equipment and support, for a potential $1.5B total. Such a commitment would further damage the prospects for a future European UAV, but this is a possible sale at this stage, not a contract yet. This will surely get Dassault and EADS howling.

Le Figaro (a newspaper incidentally owned by Dassault) explains [in French] that the size of the request is just a reflection of the FMS process, but that the maximum quantity France would buy is 12 UAVs – in line with the latest whitepaper – for a maximum of 670 million euros (about $875M). But this gives France the option to meet more than its urgent operational requirement. If not directly off-the-shelf as some amount of “francisation” would be expected, at least from a supplier with an already well-established program.

The package would include 48 Honeywell engines (2 spare engines for each installed one), 8 ground control stations, 40 ground data terminals, 24 satellite earth terminal substations, 40 ARC-210 radio systems, and 48 IFF systems. Again, these quantities are very unlikely to happen.

DSCA: France request

June 26/13: Civil certification. In the wake of Germany’s Euro Hawk cancellation (q.v. May 14/13 entry), General Atomics makes an ambitious commitment to civil certification. This theme was also touched on in the Dutch MoU with Fokker (q.v. June 19/13 entry), and General Atomics has a signed a similar agreement with its German partner RUAG to pursue an:

“Independent Research and Development (IRAD) effort to develop a variant of its Predator B RPA that is fully compliant with the airworthiness requirements of the U.S. Air Force and anticipated NATO foreign customers, as well as offers enhanced capabilities for integration into domestic and international airspace. It is envisioned that the system solution will be a multi-nation, certifiable, exportable configuration built upon the company’s Block 5 Predator B aircraft capabilities and Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station (GCS) layout.”

Which is all well and good. General Atomics’ team can probably develop the technical means, and Europe’s government are in fact working toward a framework for including UAVs in civil airspace. The problem is that the framework does not exist yet, and getting the bureaucrats to certify something totally new is estimated to cost EUR 500 – 600 million. That sum has to be paid by a customer government or governments, who probably don’t have it lying around in their budgets. If they do put the funds together as some kind of multinational consortium, local projects like the proposed EuroMALE are more likely to get that investment, because the certification becomes a big barrier to entry for foreign firms. Which means more jobs at home. General Atomics.

June 19/13: Netherlands. At the 50th Paris Air Show, General Atomics and Fokker Technologies announce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to bid the MQ-9 as a solution for Dutch UAV requirements. Fokker has a very strong position in Dutch aerospace, and should be able to improve the Reaper’s chances.

In the MoU, Fokker commits to help adapt the UAV to Dutch national standards; offer guidance and support for Dutch airworthiness certification requirements; provide design, manufacturing, and support for the Electrical Wiring Interconnection system; offer engineering support related to landing and arresting gears; and support the UAV after delivery. GA-ASI.

June 18/13: Sub-contractors. For the past 2 years, General Atomics and Canada’s CAE have been teamed for Canada’s JUSTAS high-end UAV program, offering MQ-9/Predator B and/or Predator C Avenger UAVs. CAE is also a top-tier global simulation and training firm, however, and so GA-ASI is partnering with them to develop the global Mission Training System for the unarmed Predator XP, MQ-9 Reaper, and jet-powered Predator C Avenger.

As a bonus, sales and support of future training systems in Canada and abroad would count toward Canada’s required requirement for 100% industrial offsets against the purchase contract’s value. GA-ASI.

May 31/13: MQ-9. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian writes an article for Les Echos, stating his commitment to buy 2 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs from the USA, for delivery before the end of 2013. After so much procrastination, with only 2 Harfang drones operational, and with pressing commitments in Mali and elsewhere, he says that France must take the immediately available choice. Defense Aerospace suggests that the French Air Force finally got their way, after stalling other options.

The Americans’ reluctance to allow even key NATO allies like Italy to arm their drones suggests that French MQ-9s will also be unarmed, which Le Drian explicitly confirmed in an interview with Europe 1. France’s reputation for pervasive industrial espionage, even during combat operations, may also get in the way of advanced sensor exports, leaving their Reapers with 3,000 pounds of ordnance capacity that doesn’t get used. The other unresolved issue involves long-range control. If France wants to operate the Reapers via the preferred satellite link method, they’ll need to either spend the time and money to build their own control facility, make arrangements to share Britain’s newly-built RAFB Waddington facility, or co-locate with the USAF at Creech AFB, NV.

Ultimately, Le Drian argues for a European partnership that will share expertise and develop a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV like the Reaper. The Italians must be happy to hear that, and Le Drian seems to be referring to their discussions when he says “Cette ambition est d’ores et deja en chantier” (loose trans. “we’re already working on it”). The question in Europe is always whether talk will lead to action, so we’ll wait until we see a contract. Les Echos | Defense-Aerospace | Europe 1


France will buy 2 MQ-9 Reapers, and pursue a European MALE UAV project

May 14/13: Germany. Germany has decided to end the RQ-4 Euro Hawk project. Not only would it cost hundreds of millions to attempt EASA certification, but reports indicate that German authorities aren’t confident that they would receive certification at the end of the process. Rather than pay another EUR 600 – 700 million for additional UAVs and equipment, and an equivalent amount to attempt EASA certification, Germany will attempt to find another path.

This is bad news for General Atomics’ hopes of selling Germany MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Reapers also lack anti-collision electronics, and would face many of the same certification problems. Read “RQ-4 Euro Hawk UAV: Death by Certification” for full coverage.

May 9/13: Italy. Foolish American intransigence may be about to create a Reaper competitor.

Aviation Week interviews Italy’s national armaments director Gen. Claudio Debertolis, who reveals that Italy asked to arm its MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs 2 years ago. The USA has refused to cooperate, halting Italian efforts, while allowing the British to arm their Reaper UAVs. Italy is responsible for wide swathes of territory in Afghanistan, and was the point country for NATO’s campaign against Libya in 2011.

Arming their UAVs is a high priority, and Debertolis confirms that Italy is in talks with potential European partners to move forward with a covert “Super MALE” weaponized UAV program. If they don’t develop a new UAV from scratch, the existing nEUROn program could fill this niche with a full stealth UCAV, and BAE/Dassault’s Mantis/ Telemos is a natural competitor to the Reaper. A 3rd option would be to just buy Heron UAVs from Israel, which that country has reportedly armed. France’s Harfang is a Heron derivative, and Germany is already operating them as rent-a-drones, so an armed Heron and conversion kit could offer a quick solution for all concerned.

The question for any of these options, and even for going ahead and converting existing MQ-1/9 UAVs with American permission, revolved around funding. America may have delayed Italy for so long that it doesn’t have the budget to do anything, even convert its existing UAVs. Aviation Week.

May 3/13: Brimstone for Reapers? With JAGM fielding still some way off, if ever, the USAF’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group rapid acquisition office is being prodded by the UK to add MBDA’s competing dual laser/ MW radar guided Brimstone missile to the MQ-9’s arsenal. It’s real attraction is a ‘man in the loop’ feature that lets the firing aircraft abort an attack after launch, or correct a missile that locks on the wrong target. In Libya, those characteristics reportedly made it one of the few weapons NATO commanders could use to hit enemy armored vehicles in urban areas.

Brimstone already serves on RAF Tornado GR4 strike jets, and was an option for Britain’s Harrier GR9s before the entire fleet was sold to the US Marines. With Britain’s MQ-9s deployed, they’ve reportedly asked for tests using USAF MQ-9s, and also hope to interest American armed services in the weapon. Defense News | Defense Update.

April 23/13: Canada. General Atomics announces a 2-year agreement with OMX, who has developed the largest, amalgamated structured database of suppliers in the Canadian defence, aerospace, and security industries. Their searchable database has gathered and collected almost 50,000 companies “from existing information available on the Internet by a series of proprietary algorithms,” and has been live since December 2012. Why is this a great deal for OMX? Because:

“Canadian companies interested in becoming suppliers to GA-ASI are encouraged to claim their complimentary company profiles on and update their information, including Canadian Content Value (CCV) percentages per product.”

It’s a different approach to finding local suppliers, but one that we expect to quickly become the norm around the world.

April 11/13: Support. General Atomics AIS in Poway, CA receives a sole-source $18.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for MQ-1/MQ-9 organic depot activation at Hill FB, UT; Warner-Robins AFB, GA; and Tinker AFB, OK.

Work is expected to be complete by April 4/15. The contract uses FY 2011 monies. USAF Life Cycle Management Command /WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0044).

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

With respect to the MQ-9, the FY 2014 budget cuts 12 Reaper systems. It will buy just 12 MQ-9 Block 5s this year, then pursue the same schedule as the FY 2013 plan. That’s the official line, anyway. FY 2018 adds another 24 Reapers as it moves the planning horizon forward a year, with 65 systems left in the planned program to bring the total to 401.

Delivery of the last 3 FY 2010 and the first 26 FY 2011 UAVs is delayed due to a General Atomics fuel tank manufacturing issue. The Government isn’t accepting aircraft until the manufacturing issue is corrected, but a solution was approved. Correction of tech data, spares and support equipment will be complete in May 2013.

April 2/13: What now? Defense News aptly summarizes the key question facing the USA’s MQ-9 plans:

“On the one hand, the work in Mali shows that the signature weapon of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is outlasting that conflict. On the other, the detachment is a tiny fraction of the Predator/Reaper fleet – and just where are the rest of them going to go?”

With flights below 60,000 feet heavily restricted within the USA, there aren’t that many options stateside, and most of the MQ-9 fleet’s $8,000 per flight hour operations are funded by wartime OCO appropriations. AFRICOM may have the best combination of circumstances abroad, but it can’t absorb all of them, and the $6,000 per flight hour manned MC-12s are a natural competitor.

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish.

The MQ-9 Block 1 Reaper is in production, and the USAF has bought 117, or roughly 30% of their envisioned requirements. Block 5 production decision was delayed 2 years to July 2013, in part due to concerns about software delays, and integration and testing backlogs. Despite the extra time to mature key technologies, the program is currently incorporating several Urgent Operational Requirements from the front lines, including the Advanced Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP).

Block 5 operational testing is currently planned for November 2013, and the program will be reducing or deferring 12 required block 5 capabilities related to aircraft endurance, radar performance, and reliability, and other areas.

Meanwhile, the USAF is currently re-evaluating its requirements and strategy for managing future Reaper upgrades – which puts the increment II program (GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb integration, Automatic take-off and landing, Deicing, and National airspace certification) in an unfunded limbo.

March 4/13: Reaper-ER plans. Gannett’s Air Force Times reports that the USAF wants to go ahead with the full suite of MQ-9 Reaper ER refits (vid. April 18/12 entry) to extend the UAV’s range and endurance, even in the middle of budget cuts. The USAF wouldn’t confirm FY 2014 budget plans, but GA-ASI director for strategic development Chris Pehrson has told Defense News that “They’ve approved it; it’s a matter of details now.” The report adds that:

“The ER model could allow incursions into Pakistan despite the loss of the Afghan bases that have been home to many unmanned launches in the past decade…. The standard Reaper is configured for 30 hours for the ISR model, and roughly 23 hours if armed with Hellfire missiles. General Atomics believes the ER model would up those to 42 hours for ISR and 35 hours with the Hellfire.”

Some of the ER’s modifications, like winglets on the wingtips and upgraded landing gear, are already slated for fielding in the MQ-9 Block 5. What the ER model adds is upturned instead of parabolic winglets (based on graphics shown to date), and longer wings (+22 feet wingspan, to 88 feet) with 2 “wet” hardpoints that can take fuel tanks. Gannett’s Air Force Times.


Jan 17/13: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). Despite “incremental progress,” the MQ-9 remains in limbo for GBU-38 500-pound JDAM integration, and hasn’t resolved the fuzing and weapons envelope discrepancies identified in 2010.

The Air Force intends to fulfill the MQ-9 Increment One CPD requirements with a final UAS configuration consisting of the Block 5 RPA, Block 30 GCS, and OFP 904.6. The UAV’s core OFP flight software has been a development issue, and DOT&E expects further delays, along with added risks because cyber-vulnerabilities haven’t been heavily tested. AFOTEC hopes to conduct formal operational testing of the final MQ-9 Increment One UAS in 2014.

Dec 21/12: Support. A $337.1 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee and time and material contract to procure logistics services for the USAF’s MQ-1 and MQ-9 Predator/Reaper fleets. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/13. The AFLCMC/WIKBA at Robins AFB, GA manages this contract (FA8528-13-C-0002).

Beyond the original manufacturer GA-ASI, Battlespace Flight Services LLC is also a major support provider for Predator family fleets. Their most recent award was a $950 million contract issued to cover MQ-1/9 fleet support from January 2013 – March 2014.

Dec 20/12: UK. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA, is being awarded a $42.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract for Phase 1 and 2 contractor logistics support to the British MQ-9 fleet.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA; Creech AFB, NV; Waddington, United Kingdom; and Afghanistan. Work is expected to be complete by March 31/15 (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080).

Dec 19/12: France. DGA chief Laurent Collet-Billon confirms to reporters that France is discussing the option of buying MQ-9s through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, modifying them to carry European sensors and weapons. Collet-Billon believes that this proposition could interest existing operators in Britain and Italy, as well as potential future operators in Germany and Poland.

IAI’s Heron TP also remains in the running. Aviation Week.

Nov 30/12: Support. A $12.6 million option for the MQ-9 Reaper’s FY 2010/2011 retrofits. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Sept 30/15 (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 001302).

Nov 30/12: NASA upgrade. GA-ASI announces an agreement with NASA’s Dryden Flight Center to upgrade their MQ-9 “Ikhana” UAV with new satellite link capabilities. It’s part of a no-cost Space Act Agreement signed in September 2012, and will let the UAV operate in places like the Arctic, where communications can be spotty. NASA Dryden center director David McBride:

“The system improvements enabled by this agreement expand the utility of the Ikhana MQ-9 for NASA science and the development of technology required for unmanned air systems to fly in the national airspace. Both are key national priorities that benefit from this government/industry cooperative effort.”


Nov 5/12: + 10 A $125.5 million contract for 10 MQ-9 “modified Block 1” (Block 5) UAVs. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 28/14 (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0052).

USA buys 10 Block 5s

Oct 25/12: FAA. GA?ASI announces that they’ve successfully demonstrated BAE’s reduced-size AN/DPX-7 Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)-based system, using a US Customs and Border Protection MQ-9 Guardian (maritime Predator B) flying off of the Florida coast. The test follows GA-ASI’s successful 2011 test of a prototype airborne X-band “Due Regard” AESA Radar aboard a manned aircraft, and is another step toward civil airspace certification.

The FAA has mandated that all aircraft flying above 10,000 feet or around major U.S. airports must be ADS-B equipped by 2020. ADS-B is a GPS-based surveillance system, and DPX-7 combines military IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) with civilian ADS-B compatibility. The goal of these tests, and of the broader program, is to have a UAV that knows when other aircraft are approaching, and can likewise inform them of its own presence and location. The Guardian UAV did that with ADS-B in the tests, but a Due Regard radar would give it a secondary backup that could also find aircraft whose ADS-B was absent or malfunctioning.

Oct 22/12: UK. The Guardian reports that RAF XIII Squadron being stood up on Oct 26/12 will operate its 5 Reapers from a new control facility at RAFB Waddington. They’ll have 3 control terminals at Waddington, and all 5 UAVs will deploy to Afghanistan. The 5 Reapers already in service there will continue operation from the USAF’s Creech AFB, NV, but Britain wants to consolidate all of its MQ-9 operations to Waddington later on.

XIII Squadron’s deployment will place all 10 British Reapers in Afghanistan. The question is how many of them, if any, will remain there after 2014, when all NATO combat operations are due to end.

FY 2012

GA-ASI develops Reaper ER, adds auto-takeoff and landing.

Here’s looking
at you, kid…
(click to view full)

Sept 17/12: Auto-land. GA-ASI announces that the MQ-9 Reaper has successfully completed 106 full-stop Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) landings, with no issues.

The core ATLC system comes from the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and the move represents a departure for the USAF. The approach to date has been to have pilots fly the Reaper, so of course the tradition is to let them fly all aspects. The problem is, the Army found that they had far fewer accidents with automated landings, than the USAF was having with pilots at the controls. The Army also appreciated the ability to use lower-ranking individuals as UAV controllers. Reapers aren’t cheap, and lowering accident rates took priority. So here we are.

The tests took place at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA. The next steps will include envelope expansion for takeoffs and landings at higher wind limits and greater maximum gross weights, differential GPS (dGPS) enhancements, and terrain avoidance with adjustable glideslope. GA-ASI.

Sept 13/12: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $297 million cost plus fixed price, firm-fixed-price and time and materials contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor logistics support. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/12. The ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract.

The mystery revolves around who it’s for. The original Sept 10/12 release mistakenly said that the contract involved foreign military sales to Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. The Sept 13/12 “correction” said it involved foreign military sales to United Kingdom.

GA-ASI, who should know, says that neither of those descriptions is accurate. It finalizes a December 2011 contract to support the USAF and British RAF’s deployed MQ-1 and MQ-9 units, and includes field support representatives at remote sites. General Atomics is already 9 months into fulfilling it, and this is the revised dollar amount (FA8620-10-G-3038, 002403).

Sept 5/12: MQ-9 block 5. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announces a successful 1st flight of the MQ-9 Reaper Block 1-plus. With the completion of development, testing, and expected Milestone C decision this fall, the MQ-9 Block 1-plus configuration will be designated “MQ-9 Block 5.”

Block 5 flies

Aug 28/12: GCS. A $46.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for ground control stations. Work is to be completed by Feb 28/14 (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0031).

Aug 20/12: Upgrades. An $87.3 million combination firm-fixed-price, cost-plus fixed-fee contract for retrofit kits and their installation on up to 80 FY 2010/2011 MQ-9 Block 1 aircraft, to be completed by August 2016 (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0013).

When asked, GA-ASI clarified that these kits have 2 main components. One involves installing new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear (TA-MLG), to increase weight capacity. The other big change involves upgrading the weapons kit from BRU-15 [PDF] bomb release units to ITT Exelis’ BRU-71/A [PDF]. These new pneumatic bomb racks are meant to be safer, easier to maintain, and more capable.

Note that this retrofit does not update these Reapers to the future Block 5 standard, which will also encompass other upgrades such as redesigned avionics.

July 10/12: Sensors. Raytheon announces a $191 million contract to provide 149 MTS-B multispectral surveillance and targeting turrets for the USAF’s MQ-9 Reaper. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2013, and the contract also includes support equipment and spares.

The MTS-B is used aboard MQ-9s operated by the USAF, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Britain, and Italy, and has been picked for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton/ BAMS Global Hawk UAV variant.

June 20/12: POGO, stuck. James Hasik undertakes a thorough analysis of MQ-9 costs, and comparables for the USA’s F-16 fleet, as a riposte to a paper by Winslow Wheeler of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO, vid. March 1/12). To put it charitably, he doesn’t think very much of Wheeler’s analysis. Hasik’s argument and analysis are worth reading in full, but the core sums to this:

“Actually, 29.5 hours is 17 percent of a week… a tad below the objective of 21 percent, and… With proceed time, it could be more like 12/7 coverage [for a 4-UAV set]. But honestly, I don’t know of any other military aircraft that spends 17 percent of its life airborne… For a 7,300-hour per year four-ship CAP, the estimated costs for MQ-9s are $10.5 million in manpower, $17.2 million in variable flying expenses, and $ 9.2 million in depreciation, for a total of $36.9 million. The estimated costs for F-16Cs are $14.5 million in manpower, $37.3 million in variable flying expenses, and $34.1 million in depreciation, for a total of $85.9 million… [even] operating and dumping four old F-16Cs [would cost] ($51.8 million). In peacetime… F-16 aircrews would still need to get in their 200+ hours to maintain proficiency. How much flying is required for Reaper aircrews to maintain the same? Possibly zero… [and] the per-hour cost of the MQ-9 is so much lower than that of the jets that it’s still clearly the better choice.

…In short, including these aircraft in the force structure is good idea simply to save unjustified wear-and-tear on the fighters, which might actually, someday, again be needed for the big war.”

May 29/12: Arming the Italians. There’s no formal DSCA announcement yet, but media reports indicate that the US government wants to approve Italy’s request to arm its MQ-9 fleet.

If that comes to pass, all 3 Reaper customers (the USAF, Britain, and Italy) will have armed their UAVs. The clear implication would also follow that any NATO member, or close allies like Australia, would be authorized to buy armed American UAVs. That has been a source of controversy in the past (vid. Dec 15/11), and until approval and work take place, this can’t be seen as a completely done deal just yet.

Italy’s military has responsibility for a wide area of northern Afghanistan, and arming its MQ-9s would certainly be helpful to them. So far, Italy appears to have bought 4 MQ-9s, out of their approved total of 6.

April 18/12: Reaper ER. General Atomics announces a pair of “extended range” MQ-9 versions, developed with its own funds. Step 1 is heavyweight landing gear, which increases maximum landing weight by 30%, and maximum gross takeoff weight to 11,700 pounds (+12%). Step 2 is a pair of “wet” hardpoints that can handle a pair of fuel tanks. With those enhancements, aerial endurance without other payloads rises from 27 hours – 37 hours. That endurance also translates into range, but endurance is usually the bigger issue for UAVs.

Step 3 could add a bigger change, replacing the Reaper’s 66 foot wingspan with new wings that have internal fuel tanks. The new wingspan becomes 88 feet, with winglets at the tips, and a UAV with this configuration would raise endurance without other payloads to 42 hours. Both sets of changes can be made as upgrades to existing drones. GA-ASI | AIN | WIRED Danger Room.

strong>March 2/12: +2. A $38.4 million firm-price-incentive-firm (FPIF) and firm-fixed-price (FFP) contract for 2 modified MQ-9 Block 1 UAVs (FPIF) and 2 Aircraft Containers (FFP). Work is expected to be complete in November 2013 (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0051).

USA buys 2

March 1/12: How many crashes? Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information asks how many Predators and Reapers are being lost to crashes. He has to extrapolate to great lengths because of less-than-transparent information sharing from the Pentagon and the Air Force. Wheeler himself doesn’t seem to factor in training and maintenance needs, except to say that he believes that MQ-9s may require more maintenance than advertised. That could be a sufficient explanation for the “excess” ordered drones all by itself, if the Pentagon’s goal is to maintain the required number of combat patrols.

As of February 2012, there are 87 MQ-9 aircraft in inventory according to the Air Force’s latest P-40 document. DID doesn’t have the precise number of deliveries to date, but this probably leaves room for a dozen or more missing aircraft, based on the 101 units ordered to the end of FY10, and delays between orders and deliveries that range between 6 – 24 months.

Though the Air Force doesn’t publicly report all its UAV crashes, Mr. Wheeler’s estimate that the Air Force has “anticipated” an attrition rate of up to 35% strikes us as quite the stretch.

Feb 13/12: FY13PB Bad News. the FY 2013 President Budget cuts the order rate per year from 48 to 24. This would go back to the rate executed in FY 2009 and FY 2010, leaving only FY11/12 at the full rate of 48 units per year. Gross weapon system cost for FY13 is at $553.5 million, down from $719.6 million planned for FY 2012. This, as well as a number of aircraft and system upgrades, should drive unit cost above $15 million. The total number of units by the end of FY 2017 would reach 317 aircraft. If Congress agrees with these quantities this will mean that the program peaked in FY 2011 slightly above $1.2 billion in combined procurement and RDT&E, with spending decreasing to about $650-$800 million per year starting in the coming fiscal year. See spreadsheet above.

While procurement takes a hit, total RDT&E over the next 5 years increased by about $200 million vs. the set of numbers communicated by the Air Force in the FY12PB. Finally the budget for modifications is expected to reach a peak of $238.4 million in FY 2013, up from $149.7 million for FY 2012. Modifications would reach $1.15 billion for 2012-17 out of a total $2.5 billion over the life of the program.

Jan 12/12: GCS. The Register – which never has any love lost for Microsoft – reports that recent pictures show that GCS block 30 Predator-Reaper Ground Control Stations are partly switching over from Windows to Linux computer operating systems, after successful keylogger hacking attacks reported in October 2011.

In reality, using Linux in Block 30 was already in the pipeline months before said security incident (Air Force PDF). Work on the next-generation Block 50 continues.

Dec 15/11: Dis-armed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] is lobbying against selling armed UAVs to any other countries beyond Britain, even key allies. This news is bracketed by announcements that EADS is expanding its UAV cooperation agreements to include Italy’s Alenia, and that those agreement include the possible development of armed UCAV platforms. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter if Feinstein succeeds. The mere fact that she is trying, and that the Obama administration is seen to be vacillating on the issue, will cause other countries to step up their own independent efforts. Wall Street Journal [subscription] | Alenia | EADS.

Dec 8/11: +40 A $319.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for 40 MQ-9 Block 1 UAVs, and 40 aircraft containers. Work is expected to be complete in September 2013. This was a sole-source acquisition (FA8620-10-G-3038 0017).

USA buys 40

Dec 7/11: CIA Reapers? Flight International discusses Google Earth photos that appear to show an MQ-1 or MQ-9 being towed on a runway at Yucca Lake, NV, which is owned by the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Their report collates what is known from a variety of sources, but the core speculation is that Yucca Lake may be a CIA base, capable of holding 10-15 drones. The CIA is known to operate both MQ-1s and MQ-9s, alongside the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone which recently ended up in Iran’s hands. An earlier Google Earth image, showing what appear to be a Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air on the ramp, has also fueled speculation that Yucca Lake is used by Lockheed Martin.

Dec 2/11: Protests. DeWitt Town Justice David Gideon rules that 31 protesters are guilty on 2 charges of disorderly conduct, and sentences 4 to jail time, for blocking the main entrance to the New York Air National Guard’s Hancock Field on April 22/11. They were protesting the base’s MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing has been remotely flying over Afghanistan, from Syracuse, since late 2009. Syracuse Post-Standard.

Dec 1/11: Away from the FAA. The US Army confirms that the MQ-9 Reaper has begun training missions at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield in Fort Drum, NY, which allows it to use that site’s restricted airspace without having to get FAA waivers. The cockpit sits at Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport, in order to make takeoffs and landings near-real time, after which the MQ-9 remains connected via satellite.

Nov 28/11: France. The French Senate adopts its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s recommendation to re-route EUR 109 million in funding from France’s 2012 UAV budget, and remove French industrial policy as a decision factor. The move is explicitly designed to favor the MQ-9 Reaper as France’s interim drone, over the more expensive Heron TP picked by France’s DGA. The way France’s political system is structured, however, makes this a long-odds shot at changing the DGA’s mind. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAVs” for full coverage.

FY 2011

US ramps up Block 1 orders, analyzes limitations; Air Force defers Milestone C decision for Block 5 RPA. Program continues to lack an approved Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP). France loss might still be reverted.

Click for video

Sept 14/11: Un-American MQ-9. GA-ASI and SELEX Galileo complete initial testing of a new UAS open payload architecture for their Sovereign Payload Capability (SPC) Demonstration, using GA-ASI’s System Integration Lab (SIL). The broad goal is to be able to add 3rd party sensors and control software without the need to modify software on the MQ-9 or its ground controllers, while letting on-board systems access aircraft data links and communication buses, control certain aircraft power switching, and receive vehicle and sensor data feeds.

The narrower goal involves supporting SELEX Galileo’s sophisticated SeaSpray 7500E AESA maritime radar into the MQ-9, which fits with wider efforts to demonstrate the MQ-9/Predator B’s attractiveness as a maritime surveillance platform.

SPC is a privately-funded Independent Research and Development (IRAD) effort between GA-ASI and SELEX Galileo. GA-ASI is performing the software and hardware modifications, while SELEX Galileo is developing the airborne payload control software, and delivering the radar for integration. A live flight demonstration over the Pacific Ocean is expected in early December 2011. GA-ASI.

Oct 17/11: Italy +2. A $15 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Italian Air Force MQ-9 Reaper Program. This gets production going for 2 MQ-9 Reapers, 3 Lynx Block 30 radars, and 1 spare engine. ASC/WIIK, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0006).

In 2008, Italy’s original $330 million DSCA request was for 4 UAVs and 3 ground stations. A Nov 19/09 DSCA request looked to pay up to $63 million more, in order to raise the order limit to 6 equipped UAVs and 4 ground stations. This buy makes 4 UAVs, and 2 ground stations so far. General Atomics’ support contracts (about $30 million so far, vid. Nov 30/10, Aug 26/09) are likely to expand along with the fleet.

Italy buys 2

Oct 14/11: FAA training OK. The FAA has decided to allow MQ-9s from the Hancock Air National Guard to fly training missions in Fort Drum’s special use airspace at all times, rather than on a case-by-case basis. This has been required up until now, because UAVs lack basic “sense and avoid” safety measures, and so have very restricted flight certifications.

The next step is a plan that would allow the 174th Fighter Wing to fly its Reapers from Hancock, NY to Fort Drum, instead of being loaded onto trucks and driven. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand [D-NY] | Read Media | WSYR | YNN Central NY.

Oct 7/11: Virus! WIRED Danger Room reports that a “keylogger” virus has infected the USAF’s MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleets. This is a surveillance virus that records keystrokes, and may periodically send the results elsewhere:

“The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say… “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

See also Las Vegas Review-Journal.

MQ-9, armed
(click to view full)

Aug 19/11: R&D. An $11.6 million cost-plus-incentive and firm-fixed-price contract for development of the MQ-9’s aircraft structural improvement program master plan; a left set synthetic aperture radar; and a high definition integrated sensor control system (FA8620-05-G-3028, 0049-19).

General Atomics’ Lynx SAR ground radar, developed in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories, is widely used on MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, and operates aboard MQ-9s flown the Italian Air Force and US Customs & Border Patrol.

July 21/11: Loss in France. The French Defense Ministry enters into talks with Dassault Aviation to adapt IAI’s Heron TP for use by the French military, starting in 2014, to plug the gap before a “new generation” of drones becomes available in 2020. Reports cite General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper drones as the military’s preferred choice, but the high-value workshare for Dassault and Thales SA clinched the Heron TP as the Ministère de la Défense’s interim choice instead.

France eventually changes its mind, and buys MQ-9s. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for full coverage.

“Loss” in France

July 1/11: Wildfires. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Air and Marine has begun using its MQ-9 and the agency’s “Big Pipe” video service, to help agencies fighting Arizona’s wildfires. NASA’s Ikhana has also been used in a fire survey role, and USCBP appears to have formalized the capability.

The UAV, launched from National Air Security Operations Center-Sierra Vista, is using both its electro-optical and radar sensors, then sending the results down to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Interior (DOI), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). USCBP Big Pipe images can be viewed anywhere there is an internet connection, including smart-phones. Reviews from the field have been positive. GA-ASI.

May 25/11: Canada. General Atomics and CAE announce an exclusive teaming agreement to offer the MQ-9 as a contender for Canada’s JUSTAS UAV program. GA-ASI.

April 27/11: Germany. General Atomics signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with RUAG Aerospace Services GmbH. They plan to offer the MQ-9 as a successor to Germany’s SAATEG program, which is leasing IAI Herons and services from Rheinmetall to cover Germany’s Afghan deployment (vid. Oct 28/09 entry). GA-ASI.

March 31/11: UK. A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems UK Ltd (GA-UK) subsidiary is established with an office in London, managed by Dr. Jonny King. Britain has received 6 MQ-9s, and will grow that fleet to 10 as the December 7/10 orders arrive. GA-ASI.

March 21/11: +6. A $50.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 6 production MQ-9 Reapers, and 2 MQ-9s that will become ground maintenance trainers. Work will be performed in Poway, CA (FA-8620-10-G-3038, 002801).

Feb 2/11: +24. A $148.3 million contract for 24 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-10-G-3038 0028).

USA buys 31

Feb 2/11: MQ-9 Issues. 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, but General Atomics will also be submitting its own Avenger/ Sea Avenger.

Having said all of that, the MQ-9 Reaper would be superior to jet-powered UAVS in an environment where airspace is secure and the USA needs lower-cost, long endurance UAVs that combine surveillance and hunter-killer capability. There, it doesn’t need higher-end capabilities, and can deliver the same or better results for less money.

Dec 7/10: Prime Minister David Cameron announces that Britain will “double” its current MQ-9 Reaper fleet, under a GBP 135 million contract. That would place the fleet at its full requested size of 10 UAVs. UK MoD | Flight International.

UK buys 5 more

Dec 1/10: Military support. About 75 airmen from the USAF 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assume responsibility for MQ-9 Reaper maintenance operations at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, replacing a civilian contract force. They become the first USAF servicemembers to maintain MQ-9s since they entered combat operations in Afghanistan. USAF.

Nov 30/10: Italy. An $18.1 million contract modification, covering contractor logistics support for the Italian Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper program, including all logistics necessary to support the Italian Air Force main operating base and possibly a forward operating base. At this time, $5.4 million has been committed (FA8620-10-G-3038).

Oct 5/10: Support. A $34.4 million contract modification which will provide organizational maintenance support for MQ-9 Reapers and related systems at Creech Air Force Base, NV; Holloman Air Force Base, NM; and deployed locations worldwide. ACC AMIC/PKC at Langley Air Force Base, VA issued this contract (FA4890-07-C-0009, PO 0041).

FY 2010

RAF MQ-9 to Afghanistan
(click to view full)

Sept 15/10: Support. A $51.5 million contract for Initial Spares, Deployment Readiness Packages, and Ground Support Equipment to support the FY 2008 MQ-9 Reaper buy. At this time, all funds have been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028; 0066).

Sept 10/10: UK. Britain has sent an extra MQ-9 Reaper UAV to Afghanistan:

“This latest addition to the Royal Air Force’s Reaper fleet will allow 39 Squadron to fly multiple Reaper aircraft at any one time over Afghanistan. A total of 36 hours of video surveillance can now be delivered in support of troops on the ground every day of the year, which marks an 80 per cent increase over the past 12 months. Reaper has been supporting ground forces in Afghanistan since October 2007 and has now flown over 13,000 hours in direct support of operations.”

Sept 9/10: +6. A $38.3 million contract modification which will buy 6 MQ-9 Reaper aircraft. Which is not the same thing as 6 Reaper systems (which would include all ancillaries), or even 6 fully-armed Reapers (sensors and weapons are separate contracts). At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028; 0050012).

Aug 25/10: Support. A $7.8 million contract modification for the MQ-9 System Development and Demonstration Increment I program. The contract includes a credit for stopped work, a cost overrun for on-going activities, additional scope for a high capacity starter/generator, and the AWM-103 for Hellfire development effort. The AN/AWM-103 is a release and control test set used for pre-flight operational checks of various missile and ordnance launch interfaces, and will also be used for the AIM-9X Sidewinder.

At this time, $3.6 million has been committed by the ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (F33657-02-G-4035, 0023 36).

June 25/10: France. France’s future UAV options are coming into clearer focus as they prepare to release their new “DTIA” RFP. The MQ-9 is still seen as a contender, but it isn’t alone by any means. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for in-depth coverage.

June 24/10: New GCS bases. The USAF will create additional ground control bases for its MQ-1 and MQ-9 fleets. Whiteman Air Force Base, MO is expected to reach Initial Operational Capability by February 2011. Ellsworth AFB, SD will achieve IOC by May 2012. Each base will add about 280 people, but no UAVs. USAF.

June 15/10: +4. A $24 million contract for 4 more MQ-9 Reaper (2 production aircraft and 2 ground maintenance trainers). At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028).

A conversation with General Atomics confirms that these 4 MQ-9s are for the USAF, which is exercising a FY 2009 option for more UAVs.

USA buys 5

June 9/10: Italy. Defense News reports that Italy’s 2 ordered Reaper systems will be delivered in July 2010 to Puglia air base in southern Italy, and are expected to start serving in Afghanistan before year-end. The original delivery schedule for the February 2009 order was before 2009 year end, but that has slipped.

An Italian Air Force source told Defense News that 2 more Reapers will be delivered by the end of 2010. The Italian Air Force reportedly wants to have 2 UAVs (Predator or Reaper) ready to fly at all times in Afghanistan, or 1 permanently flying. Italy already operates a small set of MQ-1 Predator UAVs. See also Feb 5/09 ad Dec 19/09 entries.

June 4/10: Automatic? A $9 million contract which will provide “for MQ-9 auto take-off and landing capability modification to the system development and demonstration bridge effort.” US Army UAVs have tended to use automatic take off and landing, which allows them to use non-commissioned officers as UAV controllers. It has also led to lower crash rates, compared to USAF UAVs.

At this time, $1 million has been obligated by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028).

May 19/10: UK. The UK MoD announces that The RAF’s MQ-9 Reaper program has now exceeded 10,000 hours of armed overwatch in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Reapers are flown by 39 Squadron via satellite from a UK operations facility at Creech AFB, NV, USA. Its primary role is surveillance, but from May 2008 the system has been armed with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. In the last 12 months alone, 39 Squadron has more than doubled its operational flying output, and more RAF MQ-9s are expected to arrive in theater in 2010. UK MoD.

March 30/10: Euro-competitor? The UK’s Labour Party Minister of Defence Quentin Davies says that the U.K., France and Italy have commissioned a set of firms including Dassault Aviation SA to study a multinational project for an armed UAV with surveillance capabilities. The goal is “an improvement on [MQ-9] Reaper, the next generation,” and the report is due for completion in June 2010.

BAE’s Mantis UAV project is one possible basis for an effort of this type, and the UK MoD has confirmed that “Mantis will be one contender in the assessment phase [but] no firm commitments have been made.” Other possibilities might include widening the current French/ German/ Spanish Talarion UAV project, or merging the UK’s stealthy Taranis UCAV project into the similar nEUROn consortium, which already includes France and Italy. A great deal depends on the specifications laid out for the new UAV. BusinessWeek.

Feb 1/10: +2 test. A $12.8 million cost plus fixed fee term contract to provide 2 MQ-9 Reaper test aircraft. They will support immediate and future development tests needs on the Reaper Increment I program. All funds have been committed by the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028-005005).

December 2009: Hacked! Media reports reveal that MQ-1 Predator UAVs have had their surveillance footage intercepted, using an inexpensive satellite receiver and low-cost SkyGrabber software. The reason? No encryption between the UAV and its ground receivers. The Wall Street Journal adds that:

“The US government has known about the flaw since the US campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”

Some reports added that retrofits are now underway to fix this problem, beginning with deployed UAVs. General Atomics confirmed to DID that the Reaper has used the same SATCOM setup as its Predators. See Wall St. Journal | Ars Technica | cnet | Defense Tech | John Robb’s Global Guerrillas | Flight International.


Dec 7/09: US CBP. US Customs and Border patrol takes delivery of its first MQ-9 “Guardian” variant in Paldale, CA, as part of a joint program with the US Coast Guard to investigate UAVs for maritime patrol roles. Australia has already done similar work, as part of its Coastwatch program.

The Guardian has been modified from a standard MQ-9 with structural, avionics, and communications enhancements, as well as the addition of a Raytheon SeaVue Marine Search Radar, and an Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Sensor that is optimized for maritime operations. Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) is expected to begin in early 2010 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, and if all goes well, the UAV will be sent out on counter-narcotics operations beginning in spring 2010. General Atomics release.

These UAVs are bought by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. By 2014, US CBP has 11 MQ-9s, including 2 “Guardian” maritime patrol variants with the SeaVue radar.

US Customs & Border Patrol

Nov 19/09: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Italy’s official request for 2 more unarmed MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, plus maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related support. The estimated cost is up to $63 million. The contractors would be:

  • General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. San Diego, California (UAV)
  • Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, CA (surveillance/targeting turret)
  • General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, CA (SAR radar)

Italy has already ordered 2 MQ-9s and 2 ground stations (vid. Feb 5/09, Aug 26/09), and its original Aug 1/08 DSCA request was for 4 UAVs and 3 ground stations. This request would raise the order limit to 6 UAVs and 4 ground stations.

DSCA request: Italy (2)

Nov 2/09: Seychelles. Voice of America quotes U.S. Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley, who says several MQ-9 Reapers will be based in the Seychelle Islands (just north of Madagascar) by late October or November 2009. The UAVs will be based at the international airport in the capital Mahe, and are there at the request of the Seychelles government. AFRICOM says they will not be armed, which makes the MQ-9 Reaper an odd choice versus the MQ-1 Predator.

The request came after Somali pirates began extending their operations more than 1,000 km away from Somali shores. Two Seychelles-flagged vessels have been hijacked in 2009, and several others attacked in waters near the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands. India also has close relations with the Seychelles, and sent a warship to the area in May 2009. Voice of America | Stars and Stripes | Crossed Crocodiles.

Oct 28/09: Germany. In contrast to Italy’s buy, Germany leases Israeli Heron UAVs for use in Afghanistan. At least one report suggests that negative experiences with Foreign Military Sales rules tipped Germany away from an MQ-9 Reaper, which was the target of an Aug 1/08 DSCA request. Time will tell if Germany’s procurement policies bear that out.

Germany leases Heron UAVs instead

Oct 14/09: Losing my connection. Esquire Magazine’s “We’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Unmanned” article includes an excerpt covering MQ-9 operations that may raise a few eyebrows:

“During “lost link” episodes, when communication with the air crew is broken, the plane circles on a preset course and waits for direction. “We have to find it. It’s like hide-and-seek,” Dowd said. The week Gersten took command at Creech, a power surge hit the base and he lost contact with several Predators and Reapers over Afghanistan and Iraq. His crews told him this was nothing to worry about, and in fifteen minutes all the planes were back online. Two weeks later, another power surge hit Creech and he lost contact with more Predators and Reapers. Within a half hour, all were found. But systems so technology-dependent will be vulnerable to exploitation, whether through hacking or physical interruption of data – shooting down a satellite, perhaps, along its round-the-world journey. And in increasingly wired war zones, everyone will be fighting for bandwidth.”

See also Sept 13/09 entry, re: the forced shoot-down of an MQ-9 over Afghanistan.

Oct 10/09: France. Reports surface in the French media that France is considering an urgent purchase of 2 MQ-9 Reaper systems (4 MQ-9s, 2 ground stations) for use in Afghanistan at a cost of up to $100 million, because 2 of its 3 deployed EADS SIDM/ Harfang UAVs are grounded for repairs, and have had issues with human error and contractor support.

France has advanced UAV programs in development, in collaboration with other European countries, at the medium, heavy, and UCAV levels. A recent test of the jet-powered Barracuda UAV demonstrator in Canada, and ongoing progress on the multinational Talarion and nEUROn UCAV underscores the seriousness of those efforts, but they are not realistic fielding options. Assuming that France does not wish to lease a UAV service as the Australians, British, Canadians, and Dutch have done, the MQ-9 offers commonality with the American, British, and Italian contingents in theater, as well as a UAV with strong weapons options that set it apart from the rest.

A wild card in this situation is France’s reputation for pervasive industrial espionage, even during combat operations. With a number of advanced French-led UAV programs in development, it would certainly be possible to make very good use of full access to America’s most advanced serving UAV. Reuters || In French: Le Point magazine EXCLUSIF | France-Soir | Le Monde | TF 1.

Oct 9/09: Sensors. Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp., of San Jose, CA, receives a $9.6 million contract to perform preliminary design for a scaled communications intelligence/ Airborne signals intelligence (COMINT/SIGINT) payload system for the MQ-9. At this time, $7.6 million has been committed by the 659th AESS/SYKA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-08-C-3004).

FY 2009

MQ-9 at Kandahar
(click to view full)

Sept 30/09: Support. A $19.5 million contract to provide various MQ-9 Reaper equipment and items including aircraft supplemental spares, 30 day pack-up kits, and ground support equipment. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028, DO 0034).

Sept 23/09: Weapons. An AIM-9X Sidewinder advanced air-to-air missile fired from a U.S. Air Force F-16C fighter sinks a rapidly moving target boat in the Gulf of Mexico. The missile had received a software upgrade, allowing its imaging infrared seeker to engage land targets as well as other aircraft. This is the 3rd success of the missile in ground-strike mode, following tests in April 2008 (F-16 vs. maneuvering boat), and March 2007 (F-15C vs. moving armored personnel carrier).

This test is especially significant for the MQ-9, as the AIM-9X is one of its permitted weapons. More to the point, unlike helicopter-fired missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire, Sidewinders are specifically designed to deal with the cold and conditions found at high altitude, where helicopters do not fly. That makes the AIM-9X a very useful dual role option for Reapers that want to make full use of their 50,000 foot flight ceiling. Raytheon release.

Sept 13/09: Kill it. The USAF reportedly sends fighters to shoot down an MQ-9 over Afghanistan, after the UAV stopped responding to pilot commands. The Reaper would not have been a danger to anyone, but the Air Force is not willing to allow the UAV and its systems to fall into untrusted hands. See also Oct 14/09 entry. Popular Science | Aviation Week.

Rogue shot down

Aug 26/09: Italy. A $10.25 million modified contract for 1 year of Contractor Logistics Support for the Italian purchase of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft under the Foreign Military Sales program (q.v. Feb 5/09 entry). At this time $5 million has been committed by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028 0058030).

March 10/09: Weapons. The USAF announces that a series of GBU-38 JDAM drops have gone well, and they expect certification for the Reapers to use the 500 pound GPS-guided bombs soon. USAF 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group Commander, Col. Chris Coombs says that:

“Our next step is to add the GBU-39B Small Diameter Bomb which will further increase the types of target sets the warfighter can engage.”

The GBU-39 is a 250 pound glide bomb with similar GPS guidance, but its shape and fuze make it good at penetrating hardened bunkers or exploding in the open. The current launcher carries 4 bombs, and will be interesting to see if the GBU-39 ends up needing a smaller launcher for MQ-9 use.

Feb 5/09: The USAF is awarding a maximum $81.3 million firm-fixed-price contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego, CA for 2 MQ-9 Reapers and 2 Mobile Ground Control Stations. Italy is the buyer, and $40 million has been committed. The 703 AESG/SYF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH officially manages this Foreign Military Sales contract (FA8620-05-G-3028).

Per the Aug 1/08 entry, Italy’s DSCA request involved 4 MQ-9 UAVs, 3 Mobile Ground Control Stations, and 5 years of maintenance and other support. The approach taken by Britain’s RAF has been to secure the authorization and then buy UAVs at a gradual pace (See Sept 5/08 entry); Italy appears to be following that model as well.

Italy buys 2

Feb 3/09: Training. Members from the 432d Wing complete a successful test flight from Holloman AFB, New Mexico after flying an MQ-9 Reaper over Fort Irwin, California training air space using “remote split operations.” This approach, which is used extensively on CENTCOM’s front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, involves Predator aircraft launched by crews at one location, while flown by crews from another location via satellite link.

Holloman AFB is the USAF’s preferred location for future MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1B Predator formal training units, which will move from Creech AFB near Las Vegas once Holloman is ready. Shephard report | USAF re: remote split operations.

Jan 29/09: Turkey. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkey is looking to buy MQ-9 Reapers, and submitted a formal request in December 2008. The ultimate decision by the United States on whether to accept and present this formal export request to Congress through the US DSCA is expected in the next 6 months – and as of 2012, no such request had been published.

A refusal can be expected to have an impact on Turkish procurement policy. The Hurriyet article does not believe that Turkey’s membership n the F-35 program would be affected, but it does suggest that Turkey would step up existing efforts to diversify its weapon sources.

Nov 26/08: A firm-fixed-price, not-to-exceed $115.2 million contract for 16 “Global War on Terror” MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. At this time $52.9 million has been committed. This contract is managed by the 703 AESG/SYK at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028).

FY 2008

Mariner UAV
(click to view full)

Sept 5/08: UK. Britain’s Royal Air Force is set to expand its fleet of Reapers to 5 after Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agreed to buy 2 more airframes from the US, and to replace the MQ-9 that crashed in April 2008. Shephard:

“According to DE&S’ Strategic UAV Experimental Integrated Procurement Team, which is heading up the UK’s Reaper procurement activities, the DSCA notice allows the UK to procure the aircraft in batches as required. Effectively this means that the UK has a further seven aircraft to draw on before it would have to go back through the Foreign Military Sales Process.”

Aug 18/08: Training. USAF Air Combat Command commander Gen. John D.W. Corley announces that Holloman AFB, NM, is the preferred potential location for an additional unmanned aircraft system Formal Training Unit (FTU). This is the first step that could lead to the initial stand-up of FTU operations for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper combat operators, in 2009, pending a favorable environmental impact analysis.

The current MQ-1/MQ-9 FTU is at Creech AFB, NV. USAF release.

Aug 8/08: Performance problems. A US GAO decision denies Lockheed Martin’s bid protest over the BAMS maritime surveillance UAV contract – and cites ongoing performance issues with its key partner General Atomics as the reason. The GAO summary for Bid Protest B-400135 states that:

“Agency reasonably determined, in procurement for unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft, that awardee [DID: Northrop Grumman] had significant advantage over protester [DID: Lockheed Martin] with respect to past performance where: protester’s subcontractor [DID: General Atomics], responsible for approximately 50 percent of contract effort, had recent past performance history of being unable to resolve staffing and resource issues, resulting in adverse cost and schedule performance on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft; record did not demonstrate that protester’s subcontractor had implemented systemic improvement that resulted in improved performance; [in contrast] operating division of the awardee also had performance problems on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft, many had been addressed through systemic improvement; and overall performance of awardee’s team on most evaluated contract efforts was rated better than satisfactory, while the overall performance of protester’s team on 11 of 26 contract efforts was only marginal.”

The Lockheed Martin team’s BAMS entry was built around the Mariner UAV, an MQ-9 variant. The GAO decision then goes on to discuss these issues in more detail:

“In contrast, however, GA-ASI’s contract performance was a matter of great concern to the agency. Specifically, while recognizing that GA-ASI had demonstrated a willingness and ability to respond on short notice to evolving Global War on Terror (GWOT) warfighter requirements, the SSEB found that GA-ASI’s performance demonstrated: inadequate staffing, resulting in performance problems on SDD contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (a second-generation, Predator B model) and the MQ-1C Extended Range/Multipurpose (ER/MP) UAS (a second-generation Predator model); unfavorable schedule performance on four of seven relevant GA-ASI contracts, including very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS (a version of the Predator with some differences for the Army), and MQ-1 baseline Predator; poor performance in meeting technical quality requirements on three of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS; and workload exceeded the firm’s capacity on five of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS, and MQ?1/MQ-9 maintenance support. In summary, the SSEB found the overall performance of GA-ASI on its very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (most delivery orders), UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS to be marginal.”

Aug 1/08: Italy. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Italy’s formal request to buy 4 MQ-9 UAVs, 3 Mobile Ground Control Stations, 5 years of maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.

The estimated cost is $330 million, and will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Italy. That country already operates some of General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator systems.

The principal contractors will be: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA (UAVs); General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, California (lynx ground viewing radar); and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, California (surveillance turrets).

DSCA request: Italy (4)

Aug 1/08: Germany. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Germany’s formal request to buy 5 MQ-9 UAVs, 4 Mobile Ground Control Stations, 1 year of maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.

The estimated cost is $205 million, and will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives. The principal contractors will be: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA (UAVs); General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, California (lynx ground viewing radar); and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, California (surveillance turrets).

In the end, however, the Germans chose to lease IAI’s Heron-1 UAVs, and left its option to buy MQ-9s on the table. Germany will also operate up to 5 RQ-4 Eurohawk UAVs from Northrop Grumman for strategic reconnaissance.

DSCA request: Germany (5)

July 15/08: UK support team. General Atomics and Cobham plc announce a teaming agreement with Cobham plc to cover whole life support arrangements for Britain’s “GA-ASI products.” This teaming arrangement will initially focus on supporting the UK’s existing MQ-9 Reapers currently in operation with the Royal Air Force (RAF) over Afghanistan.

The MQ-9s are currently the British military’s only significant GA-ASI products. The release says that this arrangement “will develop support solutions that could be used by the UK MoD to offer increased flexibility and sovereignty over existing arrangements.” Immediate dividends will be small, but if competitors fail to match these kinds of arrangements, it could give General Atomics an important advantage as it seeks to sell more MQ-9s to Britain and offer other products like the derivative Mariner maritime UAV or other members of its signature Predator family. GA-ASI release | Cobham release [PDF].

Mantis UCAV
(click to view larger)

July 14/08: Mantis vs. Reaper? The UK Ministry of Defence operates MQ-9s, but it has also entered into a jointly funded 1st phase of the Mantis UAS Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program with BAE Systems. The mockup unveiled at the Farnborough 2008 air show shows a UCAV that’s clearly in the MQ-9 Reaper’s class, with up to 6 weapons pylons for Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs and Brimstone missiles. The design looks less like a high-altitude strike UAV, however, and more like the offspring of the USA’s A-10 “Warthog” battlefield support plane and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft.

BAE will work with the MoD and key UK industrial parties including Rolls-Royce (RB 250 turboprops for now), QinetiQ, GE Aviation, SELEX Galileo and Meggitt, and the design and manufacture of the twin-engine Mantis and associated ground control infrastructure are already underway. Assembly, vehicle ground testing and infrastructure integration testing will take place later in 2008, with first flight currently scheduled for early 2009. In the end, BAE would add Dassault to its team, and make Mantis the core of their Telemos future UAV’s bid to supplement or replace Britain’s MQ-9s. BAE release | Flight International | Defense Update | Defense News | Aviation Week | domain-B | WIRED Danger Room.

June 6/08: Weapons hot. A British MoD article states that the UK’s Reapers have crossed the line, and become weapons platforms as well:

“An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan for the first time this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement… RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)… 39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing. The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA… Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39 Squadron is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army.”

UK – armed.

March 31/08: A firm fixed price contract for $28.9 million, to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs. All funds have been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028 ORDER 0031).

USA buys 4

March 7/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that Britain’s MQ-9 DSCA request has “not survived the planning round 2008 [PR08] process.” If true, there will be no further orders.

Jan 16/08: A firm fixed price contract for $16.2 million to build, test, and deliver one (1) MQ-9 Reaper along with containers, a 30-day pack-up kit, and initial spares. At this time $12.1 million has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0041).

USA buys 1

Jan 3/08: The US DSCA announces the United Kingdom’s official request for “10 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) aircraft, 5 Ground Control Stations, 9 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B/AAS-52), 9 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) systems, 3 Satellite Earth Terminal Sub Stations (SETSS), 30 H764 Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems, Lynx SAR and MTS-B spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $1.071 billion.”

The principal contractors will be General Atomics’ Aeronautical Systems (MQ-9) and Lynx Systems (Lynx ground scan radar) subsidiaries in San Diego, CA, and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B/AAS-52).

Britain decided to stand up a Reaper flight in 2007, after early experience with 3 unarmed MQ-9s in Afghanistan proved positive. These aircraft would form the B Flight of a new UAV squadron, while A flight will comprise the existing RAF detachment within the UK-USAF Joint (MQ-1A) Predator Task Force located at Nellis AFB, NV. At present, the British say they are looking at the MQ-9 only as a high-end surveillance drone to complement their mid-range Watchkeeper Mk450 UAVs and short-range Deseert Hawk and RQ-11 Raven UAVs.

DSCA request: UK (10)

RAF MQ-9, Kandahar
(click to view full)

Nov 9/07: UK. The UK MoD publishes “Reaper takes to the air in Afghanistan,” confirming that the RAF’s first MQ-9 has been deployed and is performing surveillance missions in theater. The UAVs will be operated by personnel from the RAF’s 39 Squadron Personnel, which in addition to the RAF personnel also has Army and Navy personnel working in a number of functional areas. The release adds that:

“The Reaper capability is still being developed. Training will continue alongside operational missions and there will be a steady build up to a full UK capability. The Reaper UAV is currently unarmed. It is capable of being armed and the MOD is investigating arming options.”

Britian arranged to buy a 3rd UAV in 2007 as part of the UK’s Urgent Operational Request, and all 3 MQ-9s were delivered into theater in October 2007.

Nov 7/07: 1st bomb drop. The USAF confirms that the MQ-9A Reaper demonstrated its hunter-killer capability by dropping its first precision-guided bomb over the Sangin region of Afghanistan.

“[The UAV] was on the hunt for enemy activity when the crew received a request for assistance from a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. Friendly forces were taking fire from enemy combatants. The JTAC provided targeting data to the pilot and sensor operator, who fly the aircraft remotely from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The pilot released two GBU-12 500-pound laser-guided bombs, destroying the target and eliminating the enemy fighters.”

Oct 28/07: Boom! The USAF reports that In Afghanistan, the MQ-9 Reaper conducted its first precision combat strike sortie, targeting enemy combatants in Deh Rawod with a Hellfire missile. The strike was reported as successful.

1st Reaper strikes

Oct 07: Initial operating capability reached.


Oct 1/07: Support. A $21.9 million contract modification for MQ-9 organizational maintenance support at Creech AFB, NV and deployed sites worldwide. This support includes aircrew duties/responsibilities, maintaining equipment in accordance with approved applicable AF technical engineering data, quality assurance, parts/supplies ordering and accountable and flying and maintenance schedule development.

At this time all funds have been committed. Air Combat Command AMIC/PKC in Newport News, VA manages this contract (FA4890-07-C-0009-P00006).

FY 2005 – 2007

US orders; Britain requests Reapers.

MQ-9 w. Paveways
(click to view larger)

Aug 31/07: Support. A $65 million firm fixed price contract for various MQ-9 Reaper equipment and items including Aircraft Initial Spares, 30 Day Pack-up Kits, and Ground Support Equipment. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028, Order 0034).

June 22/07: +4. A firm-fixed-price contract modification for $44 million to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs AVs and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, and 30-day pack-up kits.

Solicitations began in January 2006, negotiations were complete in April 2007, and work will be complete by December 2009. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0007, PO 0001).

USA buys 4

May 7/07: +4. A $59 million firm-fixed-price contract to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, and 30-day pack-up kits.

Solicitations began in January 2006, negotiations were complete in April 2007, and work will be complete by December 2009. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0007).

USA buys 4

March 15/07: +2. A $43.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to build, test, and deliver 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 mobile ground control stations, and associated equipment to include initial spares, ground support equipment, pack-up kits, and Ku SATCOM antennas. At this time, $32.7 million has been committed. Work will be complete in December 2008 (FA8620-05-G-3028, order number 0024/no modification number at this time).

USA: 2

Sept 27/06: UK. The US DSCA announce’s Britain’s formal export request for 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B) surveillance & targeting turrets, 2 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (airborne), 1 Ground Control Station, 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, Ku-Band Communications spares, Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar Spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, and other forms of support and assistance.

The principal contractors will be General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA; General Atomics Lynx Systems in San Diego, California; and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B). Implementation of this proposed sale won’t require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the United Kingdom.

Instead, RAF 39 Squadron began operating out of Creech AFB near Vegas in January 2007, alongside the American Reaper force. Sources: DSCA.

DSCA request: UK (2)

Sept 22/06: Support. A $27.6 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract modification for 4 field compatible aircraft maintenance test stations, 2 MD-1A mobile ground control stations, 2 MD-1A fixed ground control stations, 5 MD-1B dual control mobile ground control stations, and non-recurring engineering per FY 2006 Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 requirements. At this time, $20.7 million has been obligated. Solicitations began in June 2006, negotiations were complete September 2006, and work will be complete September 2008 (FA8620-05-G-3028 Delivery Order 0022)

Sept 22/06: Support. A $15.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 18 ground data terminals, ground support equipment, 2 remote split operation kits, 1 replenishment spares package kit, 1 initial spares package, and 2 primary Predator sitcom link modem assemblies per FY 2006 Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 requirements. Solicitations began in June 2006, negotiations were complete September 2006, and work will be complete June 2010. At this time, $11.8 million has been obligated (FA8620-05-G-3028 Delivery Order 0010)

According to Pentagon documents, FY 2006 Predator UAV budgets were $153.8 million from the US Army, and $64.1 million from the US Air Force. These figures would not include supplemental funding budgets, which are intended for use to replace war materials and sustain equipment in the field.

MQ-9 trials
(click to view full)

May-September 2006: Australia. Australia’s government announces a September 2006 trial across Australia’s North West Shelf region, using a General Atomics MQ-9 Mariner Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and an Armidale Class patrol boat. Australian DoD release | Spacewar | DSTO mini-site.

June 30/06: Upgrades. a $5.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for the retrofit of 5 MQ-9 Predator aircraft with upgraded landing gear for increased landing capacity, Hellfire/EGBU-12/Special Project A Payloads, and interim modem assembly capabilities. Also included in the cost of this effort is one lot of spares and system integration lab upgrade work.

Solicitations began April 2006, negotiations were complete June 2006, and work will be complete June 2007. All funds have been committed (F33657-02-G-4035/order #0028, modification #13).

Jan 25/06: +5. A $41.4 million fixed-price incentive firm contract to build, test, and deliver 5 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, pack-up kits, and Ku SATCOM antennas.

Solicitations began November 2004, negotiations were complete in December 2005, and work will be complete by March 2008. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028 Order 0004).

USA buys 5

March 29/05: A $68.2 million cost plus incentive fee contract for the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) of the MQ-9 Hunter-Killer Aircraft. The effort includes options for the retrofit of 4 aircraft to the SDD configuration, along with communications and ground and flight test facility upgrades. At this time, $15.6 million of the funds have been committed (F33657-02-G-4035, Order 23).

MQ-9 Ancillaries

Ikhana fire image
(click to view full)

The Reaper’s technical maturity and 3,000 pound payload limit make it a very attractive platform for testing advanced military surveillance payloads, even as NASA’s MQ-9 Ikhana is used to test advanced civil payloads for monitoring wildfires, etc. Tested payloads can be added to the MQ-9s arsenal of options, enhancing its value. Once tested, however, they can also be added to other platforms, from manned aircraft like the USA’s MC-12W Liberty King Air twin-turboprops, to other high-end UAVs, and even pending airships like the Army’s LEMV.

The following set of entries is meant to be illustrative of the payloads under active consideration, rather than being an exhaustive list of milestones & contracts.

Jan 22/14: Pandora EW. General Atomics and Northrop Grumman conduct the 2nd USMC demonstration of MQ-9s as electronic warfare platforms, using NGC’s Pandora low-power, wideband electronic warfare pod. They tested Pandora’s compatibility with the Reaper’s avionics and command and control architecture, including control of the Pandora pod’s operations, and tested the entire system’s integration into a Marine Command and Control (C2) network.

A Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (CEWCC) located at MCAS Yuma ran the pod and UAV, which supported a large aircraft strike package that included EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft. General Atomics sees this as an important way to broaden the Reaper’s usefulness, in order to keep it from budget cuts. Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and Northrop Grumman Showcase Additional Unmanned Electronic Attack Capabilities in Second USMC Exercise”.

Feb 13/13: MALD-J EW. Raytheon Company and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announce that they’re working to integrate MALD/MALD-J decoys onto the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Ground Verification Test phase completed in November 2012 at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA. Integration is estimated to conclude in 2013.

The Reaper’s slow speed means that their use would need to be timed well, and arranged carefully so as not to make their mission obvious. On the other hand, the Israelis have made an art form out of using drones to provoke air defense batteries into using their radars and communications, then harvesting the emissions for analysis and counter-programming. Enough of that in advance, and the MALDs could just look like the big killer strike wave has finally arrived. Throw in MALD-Js for jamming, and the potential uses multiply further.

Aug 5/11: Missile Defense? The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announces a maximum $48.4 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to General Atomics Aeronautical in Poway, CA to develop and demonstrate “precision three-dimensional tracking of ballistic missiles from a long endurance, high-altitude unmanned air system.” General Atomics has confirmed the identity of the HALE test system as the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Read “Ballistic Missile Tracking with UAVs: HALE, Well Met” for full coverage.

Jan 27/11: Gorgon Stare. The twin-pod Gorgon Stare payload for UAVs and aircraft is supposed to let troops cover square kilometers with surveillance, instead of looking through a soda straw, and had been slated for deployment on MQ-9s. But the left-wing CDI reveals that a recent testing report gave it a terrible rating.

The US Air Force has some disagreements with that assessment, but probably regrets their recent boasting to the Washington Post. So does Chuck Spinney, albeit for a different set of reasons.

Nov 1/10: ASIP-2. Northrop Grumman Space and Missions Systems Corp., San Jose, CA receives a contract modification which will “provide for a prototype sensor for the MQ-9 installed in a pod to support a limited flight demonstration of the ASIP-2 functionally. The contractor shall support the General Atomics effort to certify the pod for air worthiness on the MQ-9.”

ASIP is the Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload. This electronic eavesdropping pod from Northrop Grumman has been in testing for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, as well as aircraft like the U-2 and RC-12, but it is also within the Reaper’s payload limit. At this time, $5.4 million has been committed by the ASC/WINK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-08-C-3004).

Oct 27/10: TRACER. Lockheed Martin’s tree-penetrating Tactical Reconnaissance and Counter-Concealment-Enabled Radar (TRACER) flies for the 1st time aboard NASA’s Ikhana MQ-9, because the Army Gray Eagle MQ-1C fleet that will eventually host the external unpressurized TRACER pods are all busy on operations.

TRACER is a dual-band synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), designed to detect vehicles, buildings and other man-made objects that are buried, camouflaged or concealed under trees and other foliage. The flight tests on Ikhana focused on the radar’s performance in the harsh environment of the unpressurized pod, as the TRACER system will eventually be installed on a variety of manned and unmanned aircraft. Lockheed Martin.

Dec 16/09: Gorgon Stare. The first 3 “Gorgon Stare” surveillance pods are reportedly slated to deploy to Afghanistan in March-April 2010, mounted on MQ-9 Reapers. Reapers can carry the 1,100 pound pods, MQ-1 Predators cannot, and this was reportedly one of the reasons for the USAF’s shift toward the Reaper as its future mainstay UAV.

Using a UAV for surveillance is often like looking through a soda straw. Gorgon Stare begins to fix this issue. Sierra Nevada Corp’s The ISR pod uses 5 high-zoom cameras and 4 infrared cameras to take pictures from different angles, then combines them into a larger picture. Tranche 1 pods can reportedly scan a 4km square area, provide 10 video images to 10 different operators at the same time, and support up to 12 independent ROVER/OSVRT queries, in contrast to an MQ-1 Predator’s one. The next 6 Tranche 2 pods will raise those numbers to 30 clips and 30 different operators by late 2010. By fall 2011, Gorgon Stare Tranche 3 will use 6 of each sensor type, expand the “stare” to 8 square kilometers from 4, and is expected to offer up to 30 ROVER queries, with up to 65 video images deliverable to up to 65 different operators. Gorgon Stare is designed to be platform-agnostic, and to integrate into the USA’s Distributed Common Ground System.

Ultimately, the USAF reportedly wants the Gorgon Stare system to become its standard sensor pod for wide-area, persistent surveillance – though the ARGUS-IS program is reportedly delivering a 92-feed, 1.8 gigapixel camera for Special Forces use, which would mount on the A160T Hummingbird VTUAV. See also DoD Buzz | Flight International | Gannett’s Air Force Times | LA Times | Popular Science | WIRED Danger Room.

Oct 25/07: Firefighter. As large wildfires rage around San Diego, CA, NASA’s “Ikhana” MQ-9 UAV helps out with an interesting new payload. The UAV carries special thermal-infrared imaging equipment that can look right through smoke and haze, and record high-quality imagery of key hot spots. The imagery is processed on board, downlinked, and overlaid on Google Earth maps at NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California. From there, the National Interagency Fire Center makes it available to incident commanders in the field, so they can assign their fire-fighting resources more intelligently.

Lest anyone think this doesn’t affect military customers, it’s worth noting that there are a lot of military facilities around San Diego. Abroad, potential customers like Canada and Australia face serious wildfire dangers within their vast territories. A UAV that promised to help with that civil problem when it isn’t deployed abroad becomes much easier to support as a military buy. Read: “NASA MQ-9 Imaging California Wildfires” for more.

Additional Readings & Sources Background: The Reaper Family

Background: Reaper Ancillaries

Specific Countries

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: News

The Reaper drops a JDAM | Saudi seeking several THAAD batteries | Japan jostles to obtain Tomahawks

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 04:00

  • A MQ-9 Reaper UAV has dropped a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) at a range in Nevada, USA for the first time. By adding the JDAM to the UAV’s arsenal, operators will have a greater opportunity to track targets in bad weather as it utilizes a GPS-guidance system instead of the laser-guided munitions that are currently used, like the AGM-114 Hellfire and GBU-12. The JDAM is also liked by aircrews as it takes ten minutes less to load when compared to the GBU-12, taking 20 minutes to load instead of 30.

  • Shipyard Huntington Ingalls has launched the second ship in the America-class of amphibious assault ship 13 weeks ahead of schedule. The future USS Tripoli can carry 12 Osprey aircraft and six F-35s and is fitted with .50 caliber machine guns and 20mm CWIS cannons. It can also support AV-8B Harriers, Cobra attack helicopter, cargo carriers, and other equipment. More America-class vessels are expected to be built in 2018, with the next vessel to be named after the WW2 Bougainville campaign.

  • USAF F-22 Raptors have completed a series of operational tests as part of massive upgrades to the fighters. During the tests, the aircraft fired inert AIM-9 and AIM-120 missiles against multiple BQM-167A sub-scale aerial targets, a “significant effort” along the 3.2B initial operational test and evaluation upgrade timeline, the Air Force said, adding that the added capability enhances the service’s air superiority but did not offer specifics. The F-22s are due for a weapons systems upgrade in Summer 2019, which will include enhanced target location capabilities and new antennas for the aircraft’s stealth abilities, among other developments.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in procuring several batteries of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) air defense missile system as part of ongoing negotiations with US officials over arms contracts valued in the tens of billions of dollars. As part of the package, THAAD manufacturer Lockheed Martin is also looking to sell a C2BMC software system for battle command and control and communications as well as a package of satellite capabilities, while BAE Systems is looking to provide its combat vehicles such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M109 artillery vehicle. Those close to the talks added that Riyadh is also pursuing to conclude a $11.5 billion contracts for four multi-mission surface combatant ships and accompanying services and spares, that had been initially approved in 2015, but never completed. The flurry of negotiations come ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia this month, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

  • DJI, the Chinese firm that is the world’s largest producer of commercial drones, has released new firmware for its Phantom quadcopters so that they will be disabled in Iraq and Syria. The move comes as reports surfaced that the drone had been modified and used by militants of the Islamic State to drop explosives on security forces trying to oust the group from the Iraqi city of Mosul. Known as “geo-fencing,” the update has been used to protect airports and sensitive locations from intrusion from commercial drones, but this is believed to be the first time that it has been used to prevent flights in territory controlled by the jihadists. Earlier this year IS announced the formation of the Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen unit with a fleet of small commercial UAVs modified to drop explosives.


  • The first F-35 to be produced outside of the US has rolled off the assembly line at a Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. Owned by the Italian Defense Ministry and operated by the Italian defense giant Leonardo in conjunction with the fighter’s lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, the FACO will churn out 30 F-25B and 90 F-35A type fighters for the Italian armed forces, as well as 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The facility will also produce 835 full wing sets that will be distributed across all participants in the program, along with other parts and maintenance equipment.

Asia Pacific

  • Japan is considering the procurement of Tomahawk cruise missile for its Aegis-equipped destroyers. While the missile would give Tokyo the capabilities to strike North Korean missile launch sites from afar, officials working on the proposal are looking at ways to get the missiles without going against the country’s pacifist constitution. For some time, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been calling for significant measures to boost Japan’s defence capabilities, garnering much support from its nationalist right. However, there are fears that deploying such weapons could prompt a strong backlash from domestic opposition parties against the ruling establishment.

  • The Malaysian government may move to benefit from a Japanese parliamentary plan to change its laws that would allow for the free transfer of defense equipment to foreign nations. Current laws forbid Tokyo from donating its defense equipment to other countries, but new legislation would allow the free transfer of equipment. As a result, Malaysia is seeking second-hand Kawasaki P-3C maritime patrol aircraft that will be refurbished by Japan prior to transfer. The aircraft will be used to boost the Southeast Asian nation’s efforts to monitor its coastal waters against Chinese expansion into its neighbor’s waters.

Today’s Video

  • Ingalls Shipbuilding launches the PCU Tripoli:

Categories: News

Boeing pulls Harpoon out of OTH cruise missile contract | 6th KC-46 begins testing | PAK-FAs to be armed anti-ship missile

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 23:58

  • Boeing has pulled its Harpoon anti-ship missile out of a US Navy contract aimed at procuring an over-the-horizon (OTH) cruise missile for its Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and frigates. Proposed upgrades to the current Harpoon Block II would have initially extended its range to 150 miles, along with providing a new, more powerful warhead. However, the company stated that changing service requirements “would have to take a lot of capability out of this existing system and really deliver a less-capable weapons system.” Boeing added that they would continue to deliver upgrades for the missile. This leaves the Raytheon/Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) as the likely candidates in the OTH effort.

  • However, Boeing has reached an important milestone in bringing its KC-46 tanker program closer to serial production, announcing that it now has a total of six units ready for its testing program. The newest, of the planes, which is the second to be produced under a low-rate production order, conducted its first test flight on April 26, and future testing will be largely focus on ensuring that the tanker can stand up to electromagnetic fields—radars and powerful radio towers are capable of scrambling aircraft electronic systems if they are not carefully shielded. Boeing intends to eventually produce as many as 179 KC-46 tankers for the USAF.

  • Raytheon has claimed that its Patriot air defense systems have downed more than 100 ballistic missiles in worldwide combat operations since January 1, 2015. Of those 100 or so intercepts, more than 90 involved the low cost Raytheon-made Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM) family of interceptors. First introduced as an improvement to earlier PAC-2 missiles, early GEMs added a new, faster proximity fused warhead, alongside upgraded seekers to improve performance, and has been subsequently improved into four variants over the last two two decades. The missile operates by flying at extremely high speeds to close in on the threat and then detonating a blast-fragmentation warhead at precisely the right moment.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is looking to use its facilities to provide engine sustainment and support for Pratt & Whitney F135 engines used on Israeli F-35i Adir fighter jets. Yosi Melamed, general manager of IAI’s Bedek group subsidiary, believes its engine division is the right place to maintain and overhaul F135 engines, and while Israeli F-35s would be the first receive maintenance, the company suggests that this could be expanded to include overhaul work for other aircraft that utilize the US-made engine, but only once an agreement has been reached with Pratt & Whitney. IAI already manufactures wings for the F-35 as a subcontractor to Lockheed.


  • Russian media has reported that the Sukhoi T-50/PAK-FA stealth fighter will be armed with the upgraded Kh-35UE anti-ship missile. An upgrade of the Kh-35, the integration of the tactical cruise missile will give the fighter an added anti-surface mission capability, and add to the aircraft’s weapons load which includes the Kh-38 air-to-surface missile and Kh-58UShK anti-radiation missile. Nikolai Vasilyev, chief designer of the Kh-35UE at the Korolev-based Tactical Missiles Corporation, said that the missile has already demonstrated itself effectively on the carrier-based variants of the MiG-29K and MiG-29KUBR fighter planes, and on the Ka-52 attack helicopter.

Asia Pacific

  • India has conducted two successful tests of the BrahMos Block III land attack cruise missile in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Conducted on May 2 and 3, an MoD statement confirmed that both missiles were were in full operational land-to-land configuration and fired from Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL). This is the fifth consecutive time that the Block-III version of the munition has been successfully launched against a land-based target in “top-attack” mode. Developed in conjunction with Russia and based on the P-800 Oniks cruise missile, both governments are planning on the development of a BrahMos variant capable of operating in the 600 km-plus range.

  • Rheinmetall Defense Australia has picked NOIA as its supplier of ammunition and armament services as part of its bid to win an armored vehicle competition launched by the Australian government. The firm is offering its Boxer CVR armed with a LANCE turret and Northrop Grumman’s C4ISR architecture as a solution to Canberra’s Land 400 Phase 2 program, and faces competition from BAE Systems, who have teamed with Patia to offer the AMV35 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV)—a solution that combines Patria’s Armoured ModularVehicle (AMV) and BAE Systems Hägglunds’ E35 turret system. Rheinmetall is also starting a military vehicle center of excellence, creating a program for the design, building and support for its military vehicles in Australia and the Asian region.

  • China’s Hongdu Aviation Industry Group (HAIG) has unveiled a B variant prototype of its L-15A Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) aircraft. The new model is said to be a more combat capable and better armed version of its predecessor and is being touted as potential competition for Korean Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) FA-50. Additions to the L-15B include two afterburning turbofans with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), an extended nose section housing a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar with a reported 75 km range, and an electronic systems structure, which is most likely to be a radar warning receiver (RWR), located atop the vertical stabiliser. The jet also has nine weapon hardpoints and attachments for a 3.5-tonne payload, with reports stating that the aircraft’s wingtip mounts are strong enough to carry heavy short-range air-to-air missiles.

Today’s Video

  • Indian Army test firing of BrahMos Block III:

Categories: News