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Updated: 3 hours 59 min ago

Through a Glass, Darkly: Night Vision Gives US Troops Edge

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 23:50
Night raid
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A USA Today article, dramatically demonstrates the advantage night vision capabilities provide to US troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was Christmas Eve 2007, and US Army Rangers were searching for suspected Al-Qaeda members in Mosul, Iraq. Using their night vision goggles to avoid alerting the enemy, the Rangers found 2 Al-Qaeda suspects who were holding an 11-year-old Iraqi boy hostage. Thanks to their night vision capabilities, they were able to shoot the suspects without harming the boy. After that encounter, a firefight erupted between the Army rangers and Al-Qaeda insurgents, with 10 insurgents killed, including the head of an assassination cell. Army ranger losses? Zero. As former General Barry McCaffrey, commander of the US Army’s 24th Infantry Division in the 1991 Desert Storm conflict, commented: “Our night vision capability provided the single greatest mismatch of the war.”

It still does. This free DID Spotlight Article will examine how this technology works, how its military application has developed over years, how the technology is used by troops in the field, as well as major contracts for procuring night vision goggles.

Night Vision Technology Thermal image of tank
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Night vision technology uses image intensification (I2) to see details at night because it works by intensifying the existing light spectrum. Low levels of ambient light pass through a photocathode that converts the light photons to electrons, then amplifies them. Sensitivity levels to various infrared, ultraviolet and visible spectrum wavelengths vary with the exact device. They then hit a phosphor screen (read: “TV screen”) where they are converted into visible light (read: “picture”).

The phosphor screen is colored green because the human eye can differentiate more shades of green than other phosphor colors. Like cameras, night vision devices have various image magnifications. The distance at which a human-sized figure can be clearly recognized under normal conditions (moon and star light, with no haze or fog) depends on both the magnifying power of the objective lens and the strength of the image intensifier.

A complementary technology – infrared (IR) or thermal imaging – uses heat sources (aka. “deep infrared” spectrum) instead. Because infrared is actively emitted and not just reflected, and isn’t blocked as easily as visible light, this form of “infravision” works in no-light conditions that may prevail underground and inside dark buildings, or in conditions like dust storms, fog, etc. The more sophisticated night vision systems for US soldiers also incorporate IR technology to provided another way to see things at night.


The night vision industry has evolved through three generations of development. Each generation offers more sensitivity and can operate effectively on less light.

Generation I
Amplification: 1,000x

AN-PVS-2 scope
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The early 1960s witnessed the beginning of passive night vision. Technological improvements included vacuum-tight fused fiber optics for good center resolution and improved gain, multi-alkali photocathodes and fiber optic input and output windows.

Generation I devices lacked the sensitivity and light amplification necessary to see below full moonlight and were often staged or cascaded to improve gain. As a result, Generation I systems were large and cumbersome, less reliable, and relatively poor low-light imagers. They were also characterized by streaking and distortion. Operating life expectancy of Generation I image intensifier tubes was about 2,000 hours. Generation I technology is obsolete in the US market.

An example of a Generation I device is the AN/PVS-2 scope [pdf].

Generation II
Amplification: 20,000x

AN-PVS-5 goggles
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The development of the microchannel plate (MCP) led to the birth of Generation II devices in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Higher electron gains were now possible through smaller packaging, and performance improvements made observation possible down to 1/4 moonlight.

The first proximity focused MCP image intensifier tube was an 18mm used in the original AN/PVS-5 night vision goggles. Generation II tubes had a life expectancy from 2,500 hours to 4,000 hours.

Generation II+ provided improved performance over standard Generation II by providing increased gain at high and low levels. Generation II+ equipment provided the best image under full moonlight conditions and was recommended for urban environments.

Examples of Generation II devices include:

  • AN/PVS-3 miniscope
  • AN/PVS-4 individual weapon sight
  • AN/PVS-5 night vision goggles

Generation III
Amplification: 30,000-50,000x

AN/PVS-14 monocular goggles

A Generation III intensifier multiplies the light gathering power of the eye or video receptor up to 30,000 times. Requiring over 460 manufacturing steps, the Generation III intensifier is typically characterized by a gallium arsenide (GaAs) photocathode. The photon sensitivity of the GaAs photocathode extends into the near-infrared region, where night sky illumination and contrast ratios are highest.

Sealed to an input window that minimizes veiling glare, the photocathode generates an electron current which is proximity focused onto a phosphor screen, where the electron energy is converted into green light that can then be relayed to the eye or sensor through an output window.

Continuing improvements have increased the operating life expectancy of Generation III tubes to 10,000 hours. This is an important consideration when the intensifier tube normally represents 50% of the overall cost of the night vision system.

Generation III’s high infrared response complements this phenomenon, creating a sharper, more informative image.

Examples of the Generation III devices include:

  • AN/PVS-7 binocular night vision goggles
  • AN/PVS-10 night vision scope
  • AN/PVS-14 monocular night vision goggles
  • AN/PVS-15 submersible night vision binoculars
  • AN/PVS-23 binocular night vision goggles
  • AN/AVS-6 goggles for helicopter pilots are now produced at the Gen III standard
  • AN/AVS-7 aviator’s night vision imaging system
  • AN/GVS-5 laser rangefinder
  • AN/AAS-32 airborne laser tracker
  • MX-10160 image intensifier assemblies for NVD use

Generation III+

Helmet-mounted ENVG
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Generation III+ devices differ from standard Generation III in 3 ways. First, an automatic gated power supply system regulates the photocathode voltage, allowing the device to adapt instantaneously to changing light conditions.

The 2nd way is a removed or greatly thinned ion barrier, which decreases the amount of electrons that are usually rejected by the standard Generation III MCP, resulting in less image noise and the ability to operate with a luminous sensitivity at 2850K of only 700, compared to operating with a luminous sensitivity of at least 1800 for Generation III type image intensifier.

And the 3rd way is combining the I2 and IR technologies to enable troops to use the goggles in any environment.

Examples of a Generation III+ device are AN/PVS-22 scope and Enhanced Night Vision Goggles (ENVG).

Riding the Omnibus AN/PVS-7D

Since 1985, the US Army has procured night vision devices through a series of Omnibus multiyear contract vehicles.

Under Omnibus I, the Army awarded multiyear production contracts to Litton for AN/PVS-7A binocular night vision goggles and a joint venture of ITT/Varo for AN/PVS-7B binocular night vision goggles.

This contract set the stage for subsequent omnibus contract packages that covered the multiyear procurement of AN/PVS-7 series and AN/AVS-6 and AN/AVS-9 aviator’s night vision systems and associated I2 tubes. Omnibus II was awarded in 1990; Omnibus III in 1992; Omnibus IV in 1996; Omnibus V in 1998; and Omnibus VI in 2002.

The most recent contracts, Omnibus VII, were awarded to Northrop Grumman and ITT in 2005. The indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts have a potential value of an estimated $3.2 billion during the 5-year contract period.

Each of contractors received the same total potential award of up to 370,486 AN/PVS-14 monocular goggles and 34,300 AN/PVS-7 binocular goggles and associated MX-10130/UV image intensifier tubes, and MX-11769/UV intensifier tubes.

Night Vision Limitations Helicopter dust impairs
I2-based night vision goggles
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As former General McCaffrey said, night vision provides a significant advantage to US troops in the field. However, with benefits come risks. Some of the risks include accidents caused as a result of poor device design or inadequate training. For example, night vision devices cause problems with soldier’s depth perception, peripheral vision, and color-based vision.

The I2 technology used in night vision devices can increase distortion of light and limit the soldier’s field of vision. In addition, the technology does not work in no light environments.

The visual clearness provided by I2 technology rapidly diminishes for objects over 400 feet away, particularly if they are moving quickly. Also, weather can significantly diminish the functioning of night vision equipment. Rain, clouds, mist, dust, smoke, and fog all affect performance. For example, if a helicopter lands in a dusty area, the dust blown up by the rotors can make I2-based night vision systems virtually useless. Also, a bright moon can significantly degrade performance; it is the equivalent of looking at the sun with the naked eye.

While IR technology can be used effectively in no light environments, it too has limitations that could lead to accidents in the field. For instance, IR technology cannot be used to identify precise details of remote objects, particular if they have similar heat footprints. In addition, IR technology cannot distinguish facial features.

Although IR technology is better at seeing through rain and fog, it has problems distinguishing objects that have been cooled by rain, such as runways. Also, high humidity impairs the ability of IR devices to distinguish heat signatures.

The Way Ahead

One solution to the shortcomings of the I2 and IR technologies is to combine them in one system. This is the approach taken by the Generation III+ night vision devices discussed above. When it is raining or foggy, the soldier can switch from I2 to IR technology. When facial features need to be seen, the soldier can switch back.

In addition, by digitizing the images, night vision goggles would not only enable the fusion of I2 and IR technologies, but also allow those images to be sent via a communication link to other soldiers as well as back to the command post.

Going digital does come at a price. Just as earlier versions of digital electronics, such as the cell phone, were larger, heavier and more power hungry than their analog counterparts, so the new digital night vision devices that fuse I2 and IR capabilities electronically. Further development will needed so that these devices do not become a burden, instead of an aid, to the soldier in the field.

All in all, the benefits of night vision technology far outweigh the problems and give US forces a vital advantage in close quarters’ combat.

Contracts and Key Events

A broad range of contracts have been issued by the US military for night vision devices over the years. Below is a list of the major contracts issued since 2004. Note that orders for PAS-13 thermal weapon sights are covered in full elsewhere, as they are properly weapon scopes.

FY 2016 AN/AVS-6 NVGs
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May 6/16: Elbit Systems has announced the successful testing of their new BrightNite multi-spectral panoramic vision system. The system was installed on an Airbus Twin-Star helicopter and trialed by a dozen pilots from various Air Forces. BrightNite’s function is to allow utility helicopters to successfully operate in poor visibility missions, and was tested during moonless and pitch-back night-time conditions, when missions are rarely executed.

FY 2011 – 2012

Sept 19/12: In September 2012, the The US Army Contracting Command in Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD issues a pair of contracts for Enhanced 3rd Generation Aviator’s Night Vision Imaging Systems. Army systems are focused on systems for helicopter pilots, and the $200 million firm-fixed-price contract is a multiple-award vehicle, which means that the 2 winners will compete for each task order from the date of issue to Sept 3/17.

The firms involved have since confirmed to DID that this contract covers the AN/AVS-6, which can be mounted to a variety of aviator helmets, including the SPH-4B, HGU-56P, and Alpha. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 3 bids received, but just 2 winners:

  • L-3 Communications Corp. in Tempe, AZ (W91CRB-12-D-0014)
  • [ex-ITT] Exelis Inc. in Roanoke, VA (W91CRB-12-D-0015).

Sept 30/11: FLIR Boston Systems, Inc. in North Billerica, MA receives an $18.1 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for the “clip-on night vision device, thermal, short-range”, and accessories in support of U.S. Special Operations Command.

$420,920 will be obligated at time of contract award. Work will be performed in North Billerica, MA, and is expected to be complete by September 2016. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 9 offers received by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division in Crane, IN (N00164-11-D-JN68).

Sept 30/11: FLIR Government Systems Pittsburgh, Inc. in Freeport, PA receives a $30.1 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for the “clip-on night vision device, image intensified”, and accessories in support of U.S. Special Operations Command.

$65,100 will be obligated at time of award. Work will be performed in Freeport, PA, and is expected to be completed by September 2016. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 5 proposals received by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division in Crane, IN (N00164-11-D-JN67).

June 13/11: ITT Corp. in Roanoke, VA received a $36.2 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for AN/AVS-9 night vision image intensifier sets, for use by USMC and US Navy helicopter pilots. The AN/AVS-9 system is a night vision system consisting of a binocular imaging assembly, a helmet mount, a low profile power pack, a carrying case, and ancillary equipment.

Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA, and is expected to be completed by June 2016. $1,719,720 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 2 offers received by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN (N00164-11-D-JQ00).

April 13/11: L-3 in Garland, TX receives $7 million firm-fixed-price indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for 2,588 Enhanced Third Generation Image Intensification Ground Night Vision Imaging Systems. Work will be performed in Garland, TX, with an estimated completion date of May 22/14. Two bids were solicited with 2 bids received by U.S. Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W91CRB-11-D-0083).

Dec 16/10: All Native Service Co. in Bellevue, NB received a $22.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for technology advancement support services to the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate at Fort Belvoir, VA. This effort provides the Army and Department of Defense with technology solutions for night vision and electronic sensors and sensor suites for target acquisition, engagement and defeat of enemy forces day or night, and under all battlefield and weather conditions.

Work will be performed at Fort Belvoir, VA (23%); Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ (11%); Fort AP Hill, VA (11%); Eglin Air Force Base, FL (11%); Fort Hunter Liggett, CA (11%); Jefferson Proving Grounds, IN (11%); White Sands, NM (11%); and Aberdeen, MD (11%). Work is expected to be completed by December 2011. The contract was not competitively procured by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, MD (N00174-11-D-0006).

Oct 20/10: EOIR Technologies announces that it received a $245 million contract from the US Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate to provide engineering support and technology assistance. The contract supports research, development, experiments, engineering, prototyping, and field support to develop quick reaction war support services and material related to the directorate’s efforts at Fort Belvoir and Fort AP Hill, Quick Reaction Programs, Overseas Contingency Operations, as well as operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FY 2008 – 2010 PM SMS: ENVG
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Aug 12/10: ITT Corp. in Roanoke, VA wins a $260.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for 220 enhanced night vision goggles test articles, and associated contracts date requirement lists. Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 9/13. Bids were solicited on the web with 6 bids received by the US ARDEC Contracting Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W91CRB-10-C-0177).

The USA’s ENVG, or AN/PSQ-20, is the first helmet-mounted night vision monocular to combine the strengths of both image intensification (I2) and infrared (IR, or thermal) technologies into one device. ITT competed in the second ENVG follow-on proposal with an updated version that it calls the Spiral Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (SENVG) that incorporates the 18 mm image intensifier tube, utilizes several qualified ENVG subassemblies, and is powered by 3 AA batteries/. It also adds a digital upgrade capability that will allow the goggle to export fused imagery for transmission via battlefield networks.

In 2005, ITT was one of the firms awarded the initial ENVG contract, with the U.S. Army beginning fielding of the units in April 2008. As of August 2010, ITT has provided over 2,400 ENVG systems to the U.S. Army, with another 6,500 to be delivered on the current contract. See also ITT release

Aug 12/10: DRS Systems, Inc. in Parsippany, NJ receives a $255.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 220 enhanced night vision goggles test articles, and associated contracts date requirement lists. Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 9/13. Bids were solicited on the web with 6 bids received by the US ARDEC Contracting Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W91CRB-10-C-0178).

Aug 12/10: L-3 Insight Technology, Inc. in Londonderry, NH wins a $255.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 220 enhanced night vision goggles test articles, and associated contracts date requirement lists. Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 10/13. Bids were solicited on the web with 6 bids received by the US ARDEC Contracting Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W91CRB-10-C-0179).

April 15/10: L-3 Communications completes its acquisition of Insight Technology in Londonderry, NH. Insight develops and manufactures night vision and electro-optical devices, including laser aiming and illumination devices, laser rangefinders, laser markers and designators, night vision goggles and monoculars, and thermal imaging systems. Insight employs approximately 1,100 people and has $290 million in annual sales. L-3 said that the purchase price represents 9 times Insight’s estimated 2010 EBITDA (see Feb 19/10 entry). L-3 expects the acquisition to add $200 million to its sales. The company will be renamed L-3 Insight Technology. Terms were not disclosed.

April 5/10 The DoD’s Joint Improvised Explosives Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) issued a broad agency announcement asking for industry proposals on ways to integrate night vision devices into explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) bomb suits for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to JIEDDO, the face shields on the EOD bomb suit helmets currently do not allow for the use of night vision devices, such as the PVS-7 and PVS-14. Proposals are due June 4/10.

March 30/10: L-3 Communications’ EOS Division in Garland, TX received a 2-year, $30 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for the purchase of MX 10160 image intensifier assemblies in support of US Special Operations Command Headquarters Procurement Division. The work will be performed in Tempe, AZ and is expected to be complete in 2012 (H92222-10-D-0012).

March 1/10: Insight Technology in Londonderry, NH received a $34.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Fusion Goggle System Version 4 (FGS V4) from the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The command requires the FGS V4 for special operations force elements currently engaged in the overseas contingency operations. The application for this item is combined thermal imaging and image intensification. Work will be performed in Londonderry and is expected to be completed by March 2015. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in Indiana manages the contract (N00164-10-D-JQ58).

Feb 22/10: The US State Department announces that on Feb 4/10 it lifted a 3-year export debarment imposed on ITT for export rule violations regarding its night vision systems.

In March 2007, ITT plead guilty to violating the US Arms Export Control Act when the company released technical information to China, Singapore and the United Kingdom for night vision systems without proper export licenses. In December 2007, ITT agreed to pay penalties and institute remedial compliance measures to address its lax export control compliance. Under the debarment, the State Department restricted certain exports of night vision equipment and technical data to specific countries.

According to the Feb 22/10 Federal Register announcement:

“The Department of State has reviewed the circumstances and consulted with other appropriate U.S. agencies, and has determined that ITT Corporation has taken appropriate steps to address the causes of the violations and to mitigate any law enforcement concerns.”

In response, ITT said in a statement:

“ITT has spent a tremendous amount of effort, time and resources to ensure that its export compliance program is effective and fully compliant with government law and regulations. The reinstatement of export privileges reinforces our commitment to ensure that we are following both the letter and intent of all U.S. laws and regulations.”

Feb 19/10: L-3 Communications announces that it agreed to acquire Insight Technology in Londonderry, NH, for an undisclosed consideration. Insight develops and manufactures night vision and electro-optical devices, including laser aiming and illumination devices, laser rangefinders, laser markers and designators, night vision goggles and monoculars, and thermal imaging systems. Insight employs approximately 1,100 people and has $290 million in annual sales. L-3 said that the purchase price represents 9 times Insight’s estimated 2010 EBITDA. It expects to complete the acquisition in the second quarter of 2010.

Feb 8/10: Irvine Sensors in Costa Mesa, CA announces a subcontract worth up to $18 million to supply clip-on thermal imagers (COTI) to Optics 1 under a $37.8 million COTI contract awarded by the Naval Surface Warfare Center of Crane, IN (see Jan 20/10 entry).

Irvine Sensors and Optics 1 jointly developed the COTI technology. The COTI has been designed to clip onto existing military night vision goggles and provide users with thermal images to complement the amplified low-light images that the goggles currently provide. There are about 1 million night vision goggles in US military inventories that could potentially be retrofitted with the COTI system, according to Irvine Sensors.

Jan 20/10: Optics 1 in Manchester, NH won a $37.8 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 6,600 Clip on Thermal Imager (COTI) systems, repairs, spares and associated data. The COTI clips onto the AN/PVS-15A night vision goggle to give special operation forces an optically fused device providing a thermal image into either the right or left side of the PVS-15A goggle. Optics 1 will perform the work in Manchester, NH, and expects to complete it by January 2015. This contract was competitively procured via FedBizOpps with 2 offers received by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN (N00164-10-D-JQ48).

Jan 12/10: ITT Night Vision Division in Roanoke, VA received a $7.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for various night vision equipment for the Canadian military. ITT will perform the work in Roanoke, VA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/10. CECOM Acquisition Center at Fort Monmouth, NJ manages the contract (W15P7T-10-C-D214).

Oct 16/09: ITT Corp. received a $72 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract for its aviator’s night vision goggles (AN/AVS-6), night vision tubes and spare parts. The company competitively won 100% of the contract awarded by the US Army Research Development and Engineering Command. With this most recent award, ITT said it remains the sole supplier of aviation goggles and tubes to the US Army.

Oct 16/09: ITT Corp. received a $19.3 million delivery order from the US Army’s Research Development & Engineering Command Acquisition Center under the OMNI VII contract (see Sept 15/05 item) for AN/PVS-14 night vision monocular devices – 80% of these goggles are destined for the US Air Force with the remaining quantities for the US Navy and US Army.

The AN/PVS-14 is a night vision monocular that provides enhanced resolution for mobility and target identification. For use by ground forces, these devices can be hand-held, head- or weapon-mounted or fitted to a camera. The AN/PVS-14 operates on a single AA battery and comes equipped with ITT’s thin-filmed proprietary Generation 3 Pinnacle image intensifier tube that has the ability to detect available light more than 10 times the power of previous generations.

Aug 12/09: ITT Corp. received $43 million in follow-on orders for Enhanced Night Vision Goggles (ENVG) and associated spare parts from the US Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command Acquisition Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground in MD. The original contract (W91CRB-05-D-0012), awarded in 2005, has a potential value of $560 million. ITT partnered with Raytheon in developing the ENVG, which combines a number of night vision technologies.

The ENVG, or AN/PSQ-20, is the first helmet-mounted night vision monocular to combine the strengths of both image intensification (I2) and infrared (IR, or thermal) technologies into one device, according to ITT. The US Army’s first unit equipped with ENVG was introduced in April 2008.

Jan 8/09: L3 Electro-Optical Systems (EOS) in Garland, TX won [pdf] a maximum $48.9 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for Submersible Binocular Night Vision Systems (SBNVSs). The SBNVSs will be used by US Navy personnel to provide night vision capability. Work will be performed in Garland, TX and is expected to be complete by January 2014. This contract was competitively procured via FedBizOpps, with 4 offers received. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN manages the contract (N00164-09-D-JQ69).

Sept 29/08: Small business qualifier Norotos in Santa Ana, CA won a maximum value $15 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for ruggedized night vision mounting hardware. The night vision mounting hardware will be procured for surface US Navy operational use with current night vision devices as well as future procurements of night vision devices. The helmet-mounting system will be universal to support AN/PVS-15B binocular, AN/PVS-7C goggle, AN/PVS-18 monocular, and F6015 monocular.

Work will be performed in Santa Ana, CA and is expected to be complete by June 2013. Contract funds in the amount of $194,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via FedBizOpps, with 2 offers received by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane IN (N00164-08-D-JQ23).

Sept 17/08: Science Applications International Corp. in San Diego, CA won a $6.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. The primary objective of the Advanced Night Vision System program is to develop core technologies for improving night vision capability in urban operations. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA; Elk River, MN; Bull Shoals, AZ; Palo Alto, CA; Watertown, MA; and Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, with an estimated completion date of March 15/10. Bids were solicited via a Broad Agency Announcement and 3 bids were received by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, VA (HR0011-08-C-0144).

June 18/08: ITT Night Vision in Roanoke, VA received a $6.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for PVS-7D night vision and AN/PVS7 night vision devices. Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/09. For this contract, 1 bid was solicited by the US Army’s CECOM Acquisition Center in Fort Monmouth, NJ (W15P7T-08-C-D236).

June 9/08: Information Network Systems in Alexandria, VA received a $9.2 million task order (#0030) under a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (M67854-02-A-9013) to provide analytical, acquisition, administrative and logistics support for the Program Manager, Optics and Non-lethal Systems, Infantry Weapons Systems, Marine Corps Systems Command. PM ONS develops, demonstrates, procures, fields, and provides life-cycle management support for electro-optical systems, optics tools and test equipment, and non-lethal and force protection (NL/FP) systems to support USMC warfighting forces. This includes all day and night scopes, laser pointers, laser illuminators, thermal weapons sights, night vision enhancement devices, and NL/FP systems. Work will be performed in Stafford, VA and is expected to be complete in June 2009. The Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA manages the contract.

FY 2004 – 2007

Sept 28/07: ITT Night Vision in Roanoke, VA received a $10.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for procurement of AN/AVS-9 Aviator’s Night Vision Goggles and associated data. The AN/AVS-9 Aviator’s Night Vision Goggles are helmet-mounted goggles that will be used on US Navy ships for nighttime flight operations by both aircraft pilots and ship crew members. Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA and is expected to be complete by September 2012. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, IN (N00164-07-D-8540).

Sept 6/07: ITT Night Vision in Roanoke, VA received a maximum $37.1 million fixed-price indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for a maximum of 5,200 submersible monocular night vision systems (US Navy); 2,500 submersible monocular night visions systems (US Coast Guard); 3,000 head-mount face mask assemblies; 7,500 head mounts; 3,000 head straps for personnel armor system for ground troops helmet; 3,000 head straps for modular integrated communications helmet (MICH); 3,000 low profile 3-hole MICH mounting brackets; and associated data.

Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA and is expected to be complete by September 2012. Contract funds in the amount of $5.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured by a request for proposals with multiple firms solicited and 1 offer received by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, IN (N00164-07-D-8550).

July 18/07: Northrop Grumman’s Litton Systems in Garland, TX received a $74 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity letter contract for production and delivery of the AN/PVS-17C miniature night sight, and associated spare and repair parts. The contract provides for a minimum quantity of 100 and a maximum of 10,000 units. Work will be performed in Garland, TX and is expected to be complete in December 2010. This follow-on contract meets an urgent requirement, and was not awarded competitively by the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA (M67854-07-C-1011).

July 16/07: ITT Night Vision in Roanoke, VA received a maximum $16.6 million firm-fixed-price indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for a maximum of 6,800 18 mm Image Intensifier MX-10160C Tubes. Image Intensifier Assembly 18-mm Microchannel Wafer High Performance Tubes are utilized in night vision goggles.

Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA and expected to be complete by July 2012. This contract was competitively procured by a request for proposals with 2 firms solicited and 1 offer received by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, IN (N00164-07-D-8543).

May 21/07: ITT Corp.’s Night Vision Division in Roanoke, VA received a $6 million firm-fixed-price five-year indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for 18 mm Image Intensifier Tubes for use in night vision goggles, night vision weapon sights, night vision binoculars and night vision monoculars. The tubes magnify and enhance existing natural light or laser illumination to allow users to see in the dark.

Work will be performed in Roanoke, VA, and is expected to be complete by May 2012. This contract was competitively procured and solicited via the web via FedBizOpps with 1 offer received by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, IN (N00164-07-D-8520).

April 24/07: DRS technologies subsidiary Night Vision Systems in Allentown, PA received a maximum $139.3 million fixed-price with economic price adjustment contract for night vision equipment on behalf of the US Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. This is a 5-year contract with 1 base year and 4 one-year options. There were 5 proposals solicited and 4 responded. Date of performance completion is April 19, 2008. Contracting activity is Defense Supply Center Columbus, (DSCC) in Columbus, OH (SPM7AX-07-D-7014).

March 21/07: Columbia Research Corp. in Washington, DC received a $6.3 million term task order (M67854-04-A-5167 Task Order 0003) for acquisition, logistics, and administrative support services for the Program Manager Optics & Non-Lethal Systems (ONS), Infantry Weapons Systems office. The ONS program manager develops, demonstrates, procures, fields, and provides life-cycle management support for optics and non-lethal systems to support USMC warfighting forces. This includes all day and night scopes, laser pointers, laser illuminators, thermal weapons sights, night vision enhancement devices, and non-lethal systems.

Work will be performed in Quantico, VA (81%); Albany, GA (13%); Camp Lejeune, NC (3%); and Camp Pendleton, CA. (3%). Additionally, to accommodate logistics management and training issues, on-site support at Marine Corps Logistics Base, Albany, GA, and other CONUS locations is required throughout the contract duration to support handling of logistics and training requirements in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the expected triple increase in assets. .

Sept 28/06: Insight Technology in Londonderry, NH, received a $9.7 million firm-fixed price contract modification. This contract action is required to assemble and deliver 145 Block I Panoramic Night Vision Goggles, 1,112 snap-on diaper assemblies, and 16 ANV-126-210 adapter kits. At this time, $7.3 million has been obligated. This work will be complete by April 2008. Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8607-04-C-2752/P00011).

Sept 15/05: The US Army Contracting Agency at White Sands Missile Range, NM issued $3.24 billion in contracts to Northrop Grumman in Garland, TX, and ITT Industries in Roanoke, VA for “Omnibus VII enhanced third generation image intensifier ground night vision devices and spare image intensifier tubes.” The US Army and US Marine Corps are using 1 omnibus contract to purchase the following night-vision devices: AN/PVS-14 monocular, AN/PVS-7D binocular, MX-10130/UV image intensifier tubes, and MX-11769/UV image intensifier tubes.

Northrop Grumman received a $1.85 billion contract (W9124Q-05-D-0823), and the company will performed the work in Garland, TX (60%), and Tempe, AZ (40%). ITT received a $1.39 billion contract (W9124Q-05-D-0821), and the company will perform the work in Roanoke, VA.

March 31/04: BAE Systems won a 5-year contract from the US Army’s Communication and Electronics Command (CECOM) to supply a family of next-generation thermal weapon sights for soldiers. The base contract is worth $111 million, and could be valued at more than $250 million if all options are exercised.

Additional Readings

For night vision device limitations, see the following articles by Chris Johnson at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Categories: News

Exelis Wins $70M Contract for Precision Approach Radar | Elbit Brightnite Illuminates the Obscure | Leonardo-Finmeccanica Launches New 360 Airborne Radar

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 23:50

  • Exelis Inc has been awarded a $70 million contract to provide a maximum of 42 commercial-off-the-shelf Precision Approach Radar (PAR) systems to replace the currently fielded AN-FPN-63(V). The Navy contract will see 21 of the systems go to the US Army, 16 to the Navy, and 5 to the USAF; and it also includes the provision of uninterruptible power supplies, training, and ancillary installation support for each PAR system. Work completion is expected for May 2021.

Middle East North Africa

  • Elbit Systems has announced the successful testing of their new BrightNite multi-spectral panoramic vision system. The system was installed on an Airbus Twin-Star helicopter and trialed by a dozen pilots from various Air Forces. BrightNite’s function is to allow utility helicopters to successfully operate in poor visibility missions, and was tested during moonless and pitch-back night-time conditions, when missions are rarely executed.

  • While we often look at the high-tech developments in the industry, the Islamic State’s (IS) “Air Force” has been resorting to more traditional methods. Jordanian border police reported intercepting an IS “Spy Plane” in the form of a homing pigeon. The bird was being used to deliver a letter to a Jordanian, but was caught by authorities along Jordan’s 375km border with Syria.


  • The Cyprus National Guard has commenced destroying its expired Mistral surface-to-air missiles at the Kalo Chorio shooting range in Larnaca. A decision to destroy the French-made munitions alongside other weapons and equipment was taken by the National Guard and Ministry of Defense following the 2011 Mari Naval Base blast. The blast killed 12 people following a fire that ignited caches of confiscated Iranian explosives.

  • Codenamed “Ptitselov,” sources inside the Russian Defense Ministry have announced that the Russian Airborne Forces are to get the world’s first air-droppable missile defense system. Based on the BMD-4M infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) the system is currently undergoing experimental design work but it will be delivered via parachute. The BMD-4M is equipped with the Bakhcha-U combat unit, which comprises two guns (one 100-mm caliber and one 30-mm caliber) and a machine gun.

  • Leonardo-Finmeccanica has launched a new 360 degree airborne radar using fixed panels distributed around the body of aircraft, which it claims is the first of its kind. Known as the Osprey, the fixed radar requires less parts than other 360 degree radar, which would normally sit on a gimbel, located on the belly of an aircraft, running the risk of damage when landing in snow or semi-prepared strips. The radar has already been sold to the Norwegian Air Force for use on their new AW101 search and rescue helicopters.

Asia Pacific

  • Airbus and Finmeccanica’s AgustaWestland have been shortlisted by Singapore as part of a $1 billion military helicopter procurement. The contract will see the winning company provide utility helicopters to replace Singapore’s older Airbus Super Puma fleet. Following the helicopter contract, the city state will look at modernizing its tactical lift helicopter fleet, maritime patrol aircraft, and could potentially obtain the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by the end of the decade.

  • India’s ongoing AgustaWestland helicopter bribery scandal is likely to cause further delay to the country’s perpetual Rafale fighter negotiation with France. An increasingly cautious government in New Delhi still hasn’t finalized an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with France as bilateral discussions continue to drag on. The $8.9 billion deal includes 36 Rafale fighters alongside state of the art stealth, radar, thrust vectoring for missiles, and materials for electronics and micro-electronics from defense companies Dassault, Thales and Safran.

Today’s Video

  • A look at Ebit Systems’ Brightnite system:

Categories: News

AW101 Flies off With Norway’s SAR Helicopter Competition

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 23:40
NH90 NFH: Out
(click to view full)

In September 2001, the NH90 medium helicopter was chosen as the common helicopter for the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme, serving the navies of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Norway’s share was up to 24 machines: 14 NFH naval variants (6 for Norwegian ships and 8 for the coastguard), with an option for 10 more Search & Rescue machines. The follow-on SAR contract would replace Norway’s aging Sea King helicopter fleet.

That plan triggered warnings from people in the rescue service that the mid-range NH90 lacked the range and capacity required. Some Norwegians also pointed to Denmark’s departure from the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme, precisely because the Danes needed the larger EH101 for the SAR role. Norway certainly has a lot of territory to cover. Its own long and deep maritime economic zone over the treacherous North Sea includes shipping, fishing, and abundant oil; and the American withdrawal from Keflavik AFB Iceland is stretching Norway’s patrol zones toward that country. Sikorsky’s Norwegian agent “Aircontactgruppen” has even taken the Norwegian government to court twice, demanding an open competition for the SAR helicopter contract. In 2007, they received their wish, and in 2013, Norway revealed their pick… not the S-92, and not its NH90 competitor.

The NAWSARH Program Program Evolution & Schedule Existing SH-3
(click to view full)

On Feb 1/07, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice announced that Norway’s option to buy 10 SAR versions of the NH90 would be allowed to lapse. Instead, they created the NAWSARH open competition, to begin in fall 2007.

By 2008, Iceland had confirmed that it would be part of the program, but the program’s failed to hit its goal of 2011 for initial delivery. NAWSARH hadn’t even picked its finalists when Iceland backed out in September 2012, and decided to lease 2 helicopters instead.

That left only Norway, but that country’s requirements grew to more than replace Iceland’s planned buy. The SAR fleet looks set to expand from its present set of 12 “Mk.43B” (SH-3B Sea King) machines, flown by No.330 squadron.

Initial requirement: Up to 19 helicopters, with an initial buy of 11 (10 Norway, 1 Iceland), and options to buy up to 8 (6 Norway, 2 Iceland). Value was between 2-3 billion NOK (then about $320-480 million), with an expected in-service phase-in between 2011-2014.

Current requirement: Up to 22 helicopters, with an initial buy of 16 machines for EUR 1.15 billion, and options for 6 more, all for Norway. Initial delivery is expected by 2017, and full capability by 2020.

Competitors UKMCA/CHC S-92
(click to view full)

As it turned out, the original NH90 didn’t even make the final shortlist. Competitors beyond the NH90 included:

AW101 Merlin (Winner!) A larger, 3-engined AgustaWestland machine, whose civilian and military versions both serve in SAR roles. They were a confirmed bidder, with a local advocacy page. Military customers nearby include Britain and Denmark. The AW101’s positives included 3-engine reliability, and excellent range and carrying capacity. Potential issues included a history of low in-service rates, which extends across several militaries.

EC225 Cougar (finalist). Eurocopter’s civil EC225 Cougar is a familiar sight in Norway’s offshore oil & gas industry, and the French use its EC725 military counterpart as their Combat SAR platform. Positives include a notable civil record, an excellent local support network, rock-steady auto-hover even in extreme conditions, and good marks from pilots. Potential issues include range and cabin size, plus accidents that led to an especially ill-timed 2013 grounding of the helicopters in the North Sea. The grounding was lifted, but the damage may have been done.

S-92 Superhawk (eliminated). Sikorsky’s twin-engine H-92 Superhawk is slightly larger than the NH90. It is used by British search-and-rescue partnerships, was picked by South Korea in 2012, and is well known in the offshore oil & gas industry. About half of the type’s flying hours by 2009 had been logged in Norway, with 15 civil-owned machines in country. Positives include strong survivability features, a notable civil record, good commonality with the popular H-60 family, and an excellent local support network. Its potential issue involved questions about its engine power, and whether it could perform to the same level as the NH90. The H-92 option was represented by Norway’s Aircontactgruppen AS, who played a key role in forcing the competition open.

Not Playing CV-22 SEAL extraction
(click to view full)

While US NAVAIR responded to the original RFI, Boeing’s 2 options don’t appear to have been a factor in this competition. Either they did not bid, or were not pre-qualified.

Boeing’s HH-47 Chinook won a combat SAR competition in the USA before CSAR-X was canceled, and is used by American special forces. It was discussed as an early option, and certainly has the heft and capacity Norway needs. On the other hand, the HH-47 uses mostly metal construction, and may have a higher maintenance burden in a predominantly maritime environment.

US NAVAIR reportedly responded with Bell/Boeing’s V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which offers a unique combination of speed and range. It also has a very strong rotor downwash that can be a problem in civil rescue situations, and a long and difficult service record that includes high maintenance costs and high-profile crashes. After beginning to prove its operational capability in Afghanistan, the V-22 has reportedly drawn some interest from Canada as a possible SAR aircraft. Even so, it was always seen as an outsider in the Norwegian competition, and wound up being a non-factor.

Contracts & Key Events 2011 – 2013

NAWSARH competitors set; AW101 and EC725 are the finalists, despite civil EC225 crashes and groundings; Civil firms will provide interim SAR service; AW101 wins, receives EUR 1.15 billion contract. Canadian AW101 SAR
(click to view full)

May 6/16: Leonardo-Finmeccanica has launched a new 360 degree airborne radar using fixed panels distributed around the body of aircraft, which it claims is the first of its kind. Known as the Osprey, the fixed radar requires less parts than other 360 degree radar, which would normally sit on a gimbel, located on the belly of an aircraft, running the risk of damage when landing in snow or semi-prepared strips. The radar has already been sold to the Norwegian Air Force for use on their new AW101 search and rescue helicopters.

July 16/14: Kongsberg Defence Systems and Finmeccanica’s AgustaWestland subsidiary sign a protocol for extending and increasing Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) co-operation. Kongsberg will become a Centre of Excellence for MRO of dynamic components in Northern Europe, including a transfer of technology for advanced test equipment that allows full functional testing of NH90 and AW101 gear boxes.

Norway operates NH90 helicopters, and will add AW101’s for the NAWSARH search and rescue contract. This EUR 20-25 million per year agreement over the next 25 years helps cover Norwegian Industrial Participation requirements. Sources: AgustaWestland, “KONGSBERG and AgustaWestland Sign Agreement for Increased Co-operation”.

Dec 19/13: Contract. The NAWSARH contract is signed for 16 AW101 helicopters plus 15-20 years of support, with another 6 helicopter options available. Norway’s AW101s will be equipped with an advanced SAR equipment package, including a 4-axis digital Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS), “a multi-panel AESA surveillance radar system from Selex ES that provides 360° coverage” (presumably from the SeaSpray family), a surveillance turret, 2 rescue hoists, and a searchlight. The helicopters will be assembled in Yeovil, UK, and delivered from 2017 – 2020.

The “turnkey” support includes 15 years of technical support, spares at each of the operating bases, maintenance at the operating bases via Norway’s AIM Aviaiton, helicopter transmission services via Norway’s Kongsberg, and training services that include a full flight simulator in Norway by the end of 2016. The support contract has an optional 5-year extension period.

There’s a bit of a discrepancy between the cost reports, however. The Norwegian government cites a contract figure of NOK 6.25 billion (GBP 621.74 M/ EUR 742 M/ $1.015 B), while the UK government and AgustaWestland cite a GBP 1 billion (NOK 10.5 B/ EUR 1.15 B/ $1.632 B) deal. The difference seems to be too large to be accounted for by simply including the final 5-year support option, and AW’s wording seems to focus pretty clearly on the base deal. Sources: Norway MJPS, “Government signs search and rescue helicopter contract” | AgustaWestland, “AgustaWestland Signs Norwegian All Weather SAR Helicopter Contract For 16 AW101 Helicopters” | UKTI, “Government welcomes £1 billion AgustaWestland helicopter deal”.

NAWSARH contract

Nov 8/13: Winner! The Norwegian Government picks AgustaWestland’s AW101 for NAWSARH, and begins final negotiations for the delivery of new search and rescue helicopters:

“The Ministry of Justice and Public Security has today informed the four bidders Eurocopter, NHI, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland Ltd. that the latter is chosen as the preferred bidder for new SAR helicopters with related equipment and maintenance solutions to replace the current Sea King. The aim is that the contract following final negotiations will be concluded by the end of the year. The contract includes 16 new SAR helicopters with an option for further 6, and ensures that the Sea King will be phased out across the country by the end of 2020.”

Despite the EC725’s finalist status, ongoing crashes involving its EC225 commercial counterpart (q.v. Oct 22/12, Aug 25/13, July 22/13) cannot have been helpful to its chances. Some sources estimate that the final total for the initial 16-helicopter AW101 buy will be more than EUR 1 billion. The Norwegian government says that they expect negotiations to wrap up before 2013 ends, so we should know soon. Sources: Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

AW101 picked

Sept 30/13: Industrial. In the wake of the finalist announcement, Norway’s Kongsberg decided to join AgustaWestland’s NAWSARH team. Kongsberg has been maintaining the Mk.43B Sea King fleet’s rotorheads and gearboxes for the past 30 years. Under this partnership, they’d expand that role for AW101 rotorhead and gearbox maintenance and testing, including transfer of technology for advanced test equipment related to the gearbox and general helicopter maintenance.

If AgustaWestland wins the contract, Kongsberg expects to expand their helicopter activities to around NOK 150 – 200 million ($25 – $33.3 million) in annual revenues, securing about 50 jobs for around 30 years. The capabilities would also position Kongsberg for more work on Norway’s 14-helicopter NH90 NFH fleet, whose main source of support is AgustaWestland. Sources: Airforce Technology, “Kongsberg and AgustaWestland join forces for Norway’s NAWSARH contract”.

Sept 24/13: EC225. Eurocopter teams with CAE to create an approved EC225 “Level D” helicopter training center in Norway, including a CAE 3000 Series flight and mission simulator. Eurocopter would own the center, which would have strong civilian applications for the North Sea oil industry. They haven’t forgotten NAWSARH, however:

“The center’s new EC225 simulator will provide an unprecedented level of realism for pilot mission training – including flight profiles for the offshore oil and gas sector, search and rescue (SAR) operations and other complex scenarios for which simulation training is ideally suited. The EC-225 simulator will be equipped with a CAE Tropos-6000 visual system and a Eurocopter original simulation package.”

Sources: Eurocopter Sept 24/13 release.

Aug 25/13: EC225. An EC225 crash near Shetland kills 4 people, prompting the oil industry’s Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) to ground several models – again (q.v. Oct 22/12, July 22/13). Under the directive:

“…all models of the Super Puma series including: AS332 L, L1, L2 and EC225 should be grounded for “all Super Puma commercial passenger flights to and from offshore oil and gas installations within the UK… [except] search and rescue helicopters for emergency response.”

Sources: BBC, “Shetland helicopter crash: All UK Super Pumas grounded”.

EC225 Crash

July 22/13: EC225. EC225 helicopters will begin flying in key countries without the restrictions that have hobbled them – including Norwegian interdicts against flights over water. Eurocopter release:

“The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulatory authority validated on July 10 these safety measures, which were developed by Eurocopter after an extensive investigation into the main gear box shaft failures of two EC225 helicopters in the North Sea in 2012. EASA’s validation was followed by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority’s lifting of operational restrictions on the same day, with the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway taking the step on July 19. This allows the full return to service of EC225s worldwide.

Also validated by EASA are Eurocopter modifications to the EC225’s main gear box emergency lubrication system that ensure its full performance throughout the flight envelope.”

July 9/13: Finalists. Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security announces the finalists. The NH90 is out. Sikorsky, who forced a competition against the NH90, is also out. Further negotiations will now take place with AgustaWestland (AW101) and Eurocopter (EC725). Norway aims to sign a contract by the end of 2013, and phase out the last H-3 Sea King by 2020.

The EC 725 may seem like a surprising finalist, given its civilian EC225 counterpart’s well-publicized woes. The military versions have been able to remain flying throughout, and have been used by the French in Afghanistan. Norway MJPS.

Norwegian finalists

Sept 18/12: Icelandic freeze. Iceland leaves the NAWSARH project. The working relationship with Norway was good, but they decide on a less expensive option:

“Icelandic authorities have decided to end the co-operation on purchase of rescue helicopters as a consequence of great restrictions on public expenditures in Iceland. New rescue helicopters involve large investment requirements which the Icelandic government cannot guarantee in the coming years. Icelandic authorities will instead enter into a leasing agreement for two helicopters…”

Iceland out

March 2/13: EC225. AIN says the EC225’s flight restrictions since the Oct 22/12 accident are really hurting the offshore oil industry, in which Norway is a major player:

“Eurocopter anticipates that a solution to the main gearbox problem that has grounded the North Sea fleet of EC225s will be available next month. Offshore operators, especially those in the North Sea, have seen major disruption of their activities…. While Eurocopter engineers have found the root cause and developed a fix for false alarms with the main-gearbox emergency lubrication system, sleuthing the shaft cracks has been trickier…. Norwegian and UK authorities continue to prohibit flights over water…. after the British and Norwegian authorities decided to ground EC225s used for overwater flights, other countries followed suit. According to Olivier Claeys, an aviation expert at oil company Total, operators (as opposed to aviation authorities, Bristow officials noted) suspended EC225 flights worldwide. EC225s serving Total oil platforms in Angola, for example, are grounded.”

Not exactly a great advertisement for a SAR competitor that will need to undertake long flights in dangerous conditions. Sources: AIN, “Operators feel impact of EC225 grounding”.

Feb 15/12: Competitors pre-qualified. The Norwegian MoJPS announces that AgustaWestland (AW101), Eurocopter (EC725 military variant of the EC225), NH Industries (NH90) and Sikorsky (H-92) have all been pre-qualified as the competitors for the NAWSARH joint RFP.

“The work to finalize the tender documentation is ongoing. The tentative plan is that the tender documents will be submitted to the Prequalified Candidates early April 2012. It is expected to have the first helicopters delivered during 2016 and Sea King phased out within the end of 2020.”

See also NH Industries.

Feb 2/12: NAWSARH leadership changes. Project leader Kjell Jacob Johannessen steps back from the project, after his son’s position changes within a potential NAWSARH supplier. Deputy project leader Rune Haver will temporary be acting project leader. Norway MoJPS.

Oct 22/12: EC225. An EC225 LP helicopter belonging to CHC Scotia ditches in the North Sea, 32 miles SW of Shetland. It was en route to the West Phoenix oil drilling rig. A 360 degree crack was eventually found on the bevel gear vertical shaft, which kocked out the main gearbox lubrication system. The backup system was actually working correctly, but the displays said that those had also failed, so the pilots ditched the helicopter in the sea.

All of the people on board survived and were rescued. In the wake of the crash, major North Sea operators CHC Helicopter, Bond Offshore Helicopters, and Bristow Helicopters decide to ground all AS 332 and EC225 Super Puma helicopters. This would eventually be backed up by official prohibitions in Britain and Norway, and similar flight suspensions by other operators. Sources: NDT Hub, “Accident investigation finds similar faults on Super Pumas”.

EC225 crash

Oct 24/11: NAWSARH pre-qualification. Norway announces a pre-qualification process for bidders on its NAWSARH join project with Iceland. At the same time, Iceland’s Rikiskaup (State Trading Centre) publishes their procurement process on behalf of the Icelandic Ministry of Interior. The initial buy would be 11 helicopters (10 Norway, 1 Iceland), with options for 8 more (6 Norway, 2 Iceland).

The documents are submitted to the EU’s TED procurement portal. Norway | Iceland | Prequalification documents.

March 3/11: Civil SAR interim. Norway’s MoJPS will be relying on civil Search And Rescue helicopter services from 2014-2020, in order to provide these critical services until the NAWSARH helicopters are ready. But they won’t be buying them:

“The acquisition of backup capacity from a civil SAR- helicopter service provider based on the whitepaper St.prp. 80 S (2010-2011) will be performed by the Norwegian armed forces, thus have no directly link to the NAWSARH project.”

Interim SAR plans

2007 – 2010

Competition opened up; Evolution into NAWSARH program. EC225-SAR, Norway
(click to view full)

Oct 19-20/10: NAWSARH’s 3rd Industry Day. Agenda | Opening speech.

Industry Day #4 happens on June 20/11, and #5 happens on Nov 10/11.

Oct 14/10: Steep requirements. The Norwegian government clarifies further:

“In practice, this means that the future helicopters must have the capacity to fly between 220 Nm and 270 Nm in two hours and pick up 20 people… It is also worth noting that the above has been expressed as a minimum ambition, and if the range of the relevant helicopter candidates is greater than the minimum requirement, this will be weighted accordingly in the further work… As a point of interest: today’s Sea Kings are able to reach 53 Nm out from the straight baseline and pick up 20 persons in distress.

…To the best of our knowledge, there are no other countries that have equivalent or higher ambitions for their rescue helicopter service than the one currently presented by the government, especially taking into consideration the 24 hour on-site duty arrangement. The Ministry of Justice will continue the work with the acquisition process and does not have any preference for particular helicopter candidates.”

Sept 27/10: Delay and Requirements. The Norwegian government has pushed its timelines back, and now hopes to field new search and rescue helicopters by 2020:

“The government’s objective is to have capacity to begin rescue of 20 people in distress within a range of 150 nautical miles directly out from the straight baseline within two hours. In addition, they must be able to assist two people at the far perimeter of the Norwegian search and rescue region… The acquisition process is being continued. It is based on the recommended multi-mission concept consisting of a uniform fleet of 15 to 20 large helicopters (weighing 10-20 tonnes)… The future rescue helicopters will also continue the mission of the current helicopters, such as air ambulance (Medevac) and other services vital to society… The concept has been reviewed by HolteProsjekt AS and Econ Analyse AS as part of the external quality assurance. The total life cycle costs for the new helicopter fleet from procurement until 2050, is estimated to be in the region of NOK 29 – 39 billion [DID: $4.8 – 6.5 billion].”

See also the concept study “Forstudie for ny the rescue helicopter capacity (Pre-study of new rescue helicopter capacity),” prepared by the Rescue department in the Ministry of Justice, and the External quality assurance report.

June 23-24/08: Industry Day 2. NAWSARH holds its 2nd Industry Day. Agenda | Opening speech [PDF].

May 7/09: Candidates? A Teknisk Ukeblad article [in Norwegian] lists the NAWSARH competitors as the NH90, AgustaWestland’s AW101, Eurocopter’s EC725 Cougar, Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk, and Bell/Boeing’s V-22 Osprey.

Sept 3/08: Iceland, too. Delegations from Norway and Iceland meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, and decide that the Norwegian-Icelandic cooperation on acquiring rescue helicopters will continue. This cooperation is based on the Nov 30/07 agreement on new rescue helicopters, signed by Iceland’s Minister of Justice Bjørn Bjarnason and Norway’s Minister of Justice Knut Storberget. Norwegian Ministry of Justice.

Iceland added to NAWSARH

Feb 13/08: NAWSARH RFI. Norway’s Ministry of Justice releases the NAWSARH RFI.

May 16/07: Terje Moland Pedersen, the State secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police announces that they will conduct a seminar for interested vendors at the Paris Airshow on June 18/07. The Ministry of Justice and the Police (MoJ) is responsible for the acquisition program. Quote:

“It is of vital importance that the acquisition program lead to multi engine, long range, wide capacity all weather SAR helicopters suitable for operation over the Norwegian waters in harsh weather condition and in the Norwegian topography with high mountains and low temperatures. It is equally important that these helicopters are equipped with state of the art search and rescue equipment and built to the latest safety standards. The program plan has targeted the implementation phase to be 2011 – 2014.”

Those interested in actual details and requirements will have to be in Paris.

Feb 22/07: Iceland, too? The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Police announces that the NAWSARH project (Norwegian All Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter) project could become a joint acquisition. Iceland can no longer rely on American helicopters, now that the USA has abandoned Keflavik AB, and is reportedly looking for 3 new all-weather helicopters of its own, pushing a joint buy to 13-15 machines. The project is expecting to release an RFP in 2009. Ice News.

Feb 1/07: Competition opened. The Norwegian Ministry of Justice announces [Norwegian] that Norway won’t use its option to buy 10 SAR versions of the NH90, contradicting repeated assurances to date that the NH90 would be their SAR choice.

Instead, they are announcing that an open competition is set to be held between potential suppliers in fall 2007. The contract has a value of between 2-3 billion NOK (currently about $320-480 million), with an expected in-service phase-in between 2011-2014.

Norway opens SAR to competition

Additional Readings Helicopters

NAWSARH: Background and News Key Documents

Related News

Related Reports & Briefings

Categories: News

MQ-9 Takeoff/Landing Automation Pursued by USAF | Indonesia/Russia to Sign Su-35 Deal EOM | NK Gears Up for New Class of Ballistic Missile Subs

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 23:47

  • The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has awarded a $119 million contract to Yorktown Systems Group. Under the contract, Yorktown will provide advisory and assistance services for office administration support to the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) organizations, including foreign military sales, in support of technical, engineering, advisory, and management support. Services will be provided until contract completion in July 2021.

  • Canada’s replacement for the CC-150 Polaris aerial refueling tanker will only be considered after the fighter to replace the Hornet has been selected, according to the head of Royal Canadian Air Force. Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood told lawmakers that its fighter selection will in turn determine its tanker needs saying, “So whether it is a probe-and-drogue, as we use right now, or a boom that flies into a refueling receptacle, we will replace the tanker aircraft with whatever our front-line fighter is at the time.” Canada’s Polaris lifespan is to run until 2026.

  • 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.

Middle East North Africa

  • Testing of newer versions of Israeli-made weapons systems is currently underway, and will be eventually installed on Israel’s coming F-35I Adir fleets. While specifics regarding the systems being tested have not been released, the list includes versions of Rafael’s Spice precision-guided bombs and infrared- and radar-guided air-to-air missiles. Testing has been conducted using Boeing F-15s and Lockheed F-16s.


  • While many European nations have been quick to join the ongoing bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, not all are being fully utilized. Dutch F-16s sent in February seldom fly over Syria as they are not equipped with satellite communication equipment. Instead they need to reply on ground controllers to find targets, and since no NATO ground troops are deployed in Syria, Dutch F-16s are not being used. The Netherlands’s decision to join action in Syria followed after months of debate and appeals from the US and France.

Asia Pacific

  • Inking of contracts between Indonesia and Russia for eight Su-35 fighters is to occur at the end of the month. Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu made the announcement on Tuesday, saying the signing will coincide with the visit to Russia of President Joko Widodo from May 19-20 during the Russia-ASEAN Summit. Jakarta’s new signing follows on the purchase of 24 Su-27/30 aircraft as part of its drive to modernize its fleet.

  • Corruption allegations have been debated in India’s Parliament in relation to the 2010 purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland UK. The $553 million contract allegedly involved payments made to Indian officials by AgustaWestland UK’s parent company, Finmeccanica. Last month, an Italian court ruled that the deal had indeed included payoffs, which has now resulted in Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar giving a chronology of the procurement process from when the Indian Air Force first sought to acquire the VVIP helicopters to replace the aging MI-8 helicopter. The contract was cancelled in 2014 by India on grounds of a breach of the pre-contract integrity pact.

  • North Korea has completed the external renovation of a shipyard dedicated to building and launching a new class of ballistic missile submarines. Satellite photographs indicate that external work on the yard’s submarine construction halls has been completed, and a ramp where new vessels are launched is nearly finished. While experts say no such vessels would be completed before 2020, Pyongyang will eventually be capable of building and launching submarines much larger than the GORAE-class — including a new class of ballistic missile submarines.

Today’s Video

  • Russian Su-24 buzzing the USS Donald Cook:

Categories: News

True North: L-3 Supporting Canada’s A310/MRTT Fleet

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 23:45
CC-150 & CF-18s
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In August 2013, L-3 Communications’ MAS division in Mirabel, PQ received a 5-7 year, C$ 683 million / $669 million continuation of their 2012 complete in-service support (ISS) contract for Canada’s 5 CC-150 Polaris aircraft. The full amount will only be realized if the 2-year option is exercised. L-3 MAS will be responsible for overall program management, materiel management, engineering support, flightline maintenance, and heavy maintenance, plus component maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.

The Polaris fleet are Airbus A310s based at CFB Trenton, ON, and 2 of the 5 have been converted to add probe-and-drogue aerial refueling to their standard roles of VIP transport, passenger/ medical transport, or up to 32 tonnes of standard cargo. The A310 MRTT was Airbus’ 1st foray into aerial tankers, and until recently, the converted German and Canadian air force planes were their only operational examples. In the last couple of years, deliveries of the larger, dual refueling mode A330 MRTT/ KC-30 to Australia, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have changed that picture, placing Airbus on a more even operational footing with Boeing. Sources: L-3, Aug 15/13 release | RCAF.


May 5/16: Canada’s replacement for the CC-150 Polaris aerial refueling tanker will only be considered after the fighter to replace the Hornet has been selected, according to the head of Royal Canadian Air Force. Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood told lawmakers that its fighter selection will in turn determine its tanker needs saying, “So whether it is a probe-and-drogue, as we use right now, or a boom that flies into a refueling receptacle, we will replace the tanker aircraft with whatever our front-line fighter is at the time.” Canada’s Polaris lifespan is to run until 2026.

Categories: News

Russia’s Su-35 Super-Flanker: Mystery Fighter No More

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 23:40
SU-35 flight test, 2009
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The Russian Su-35 was something of a mystery for many years. Pictures from Russian firms showed different fighter jets carrying that label, even as the aircraft remained a prospective design and research project, rather an active program of record.

Revelations after 2007 began to provide answers. This article explains the sources of the widespread confusion regarding the Su-35’s layout and key characteristics, reviews what is now known about the platform, and tracks its development. Those developments are likely to have broad consequences. The aircraft now has a home customer in the Russian Air Force, and the Su-35 is being positioned to replace most Su-30MK variants as Russia’s fighter export of choice within the coming decade. Will its succession bid succeed?

Which Sukhoi? The SU-35 Platform SU-35 ?
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As one of our readers noted, DID’s articles from 2005-2007 seem to describe 2 different SU-35s. One was a mid-life modernized SU-27 Flanker, but there’s also a much more re-engineered “SU-35” variant with canards, thrust vectoring, etc. which has been confused with (and possibly redesignated between) the SU-37. So… what do we mean by “SU-35”?

Until very recently, only KnAAPO had listed the SU-35 as a product on its site; Sukhoi now does so as well, but Irkut does not. If this seems confusing, it’s because Sukhoi subcontracts production to affiliate firms – IAIA (Irkut) and KnAAPO (Komsomolosk un Amur). Each has their own intellectual property, and their own interests. In addition, the designation “SU-35” has been used in several different contexts over the years. It has been referred to, and even photographed, in ways that referred to both mid-life Flanker upgrades, and canard-equipped next-generation aircraft. KnAAPO’s site added the confusion by showing SU-35 pictures on its type page and gallery that display the aircraft both with and without canard foreplanes.

The current “SU-35”, which has been definitively described by Sukhoi, appears to be something of a compromise between the upgrade and full redesign visions. Reader assistance, and sources from Sukhoi and various media, offer an outline of its key systems and characteristics.

SU-35 flight, 2008
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“…(known as Su-35BM by some sources- ie. T-10BM to the original Su-27s internal T-10S designation). Differences and features largely speak for themselves in the video, but a short summary follows as related in various other sources follows:

1 – N035 Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) Radar, a follow-on to the Bars-M.
2 – No canards
3 – Rear-looking self-defense radar in shorter tail sting
4 – AL-37FU/ 117S thrust-vectoring turbofan engines rated at 142-147kN
5 – Extended high-lift devices with large flaperon occupying the full trailing edge of the wing
6 – L175M Khibiny-M electronic-warfare self-defense system
7 – Reduced-area empennage
8 – Larger Air Intakes
9 – New and lighter systems, including quadruple digital fly-by-wire flight-control system.
10- New man-machine interface with fully-glass cockpit with two large LCD screens and helmet mounted display.”

Movable nozzles
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Sukhoi says that the fighter’s structures have been reinforced because of the increased takeoff and landing weight of the aircraft, and the front bearing has 2 wheels for the same reason. Performance is touted as 1,400 km/h (Mach 1.14) at sea-level, and 2,400 km/h (Mach 2.26) at altitude, with a ceiling up to 10 km/ 60,000 feet. Sukhoi has not touted loaded supercruise (Mach 1+, with weapons and without afterburners), which is likely to require improved engines. Thrust vectoring adds new dimensions of maneuverability, however, once pilots understand when to use it and when to avoid it.

The SU-35S will also depend on its sensors. It couples an electronically-scanned array radar with a 2-step electro-hydraulic drive unit, which creates a maximum radar beam deflection angle of 120 degrees. The NIIP Tikhomirov Irbis-E passive phased-array can reportedly detect and tracks up to 30 air targets, simultaneously engaging up to 8. It can also reportedly detect, choose and track up to 4 ground targets, and engage 2. Detection ranges of over 400 km/ 240 miles have been reported for airborne targets, which are the easiest, but resolutions are unspecified. Detecting a 747 passenger jet at 400 km is much easier than detecting a JAS-39 Gripen lightweight fighter, and information about the radar’s resolution would be needed before its real capabilities would be clear.

Full stealth jets like the F-22A Raptor, of course, create drastic reductions in radar detection range that make them a special case. In an emerging age of stealth fighters, therefore, the 80+ km detection range of the SU-35S’ IRST (infra-red search and track) system is very significant.

The SU-30 family has never been especially stealthy, and their overall airframe design limits what one can accomplish in this area. Nevertheless, Sukhoi cites an unspecified amount of “reduced reflectance” for the SU-35 in the X-band, which is a popular choice for modern radars, and in the angle range of plus or minus 60 degrees. Further improvements were made during testing by adding radar-absorbent materials, and removing or modifying protruding sensors that create radar reflection points.

The reported service life of the new aircraft is 6,000 flight hours, with a planned operational life of 30 years. The claimed service life of NPO Saturn 117S thrust-vectoring engines is 4,000 hours. Time will tell.

SU-35: Export Prospects Flanker customers
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The SU27/30 Flanker family was designed and built after American had completed its “teen series” (F-14/15/16/18) fighters, and uses lessons from those designs as well as Russia’s own approaches. The result was a very extensible design that boasted impressive performance, and quickly became the global fighter reference point among global military planners. Exports followed, and Flanker variants quickly surpassed the MiG-29 as Russia’s most popular export fighter.

The SU-35 aims to build on that legacy, as a final bridge to the 5th generation PAK-FA. Three key changes to Sukhoi’s circumstances may make a similar level of export success much more difficult.

1. A globalized market.

When it was first introduced, the S-27 family was the main global competitor to any western offerings, and was sold to countries whose ties and access to western technologies were weak. An array of SU-27s were gifted to breakaway Soviet satellites by virtue of being located on their territory, but India and China were its real anchor export customers. Now, SU-35 exports can expect to compete on 2 fronts. On the one hand, a less balkanized global market means that it must compete globally with western offerings that include upgraded American “teen series” fighters; and matured 4+ generation European designs that include Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, France’s Rafale, and EADS’ Eurofighter. On the other end, it will be competing with Chinese offerings, including the J-11 that Russia correctly accuses China of copying/deriving from the SU-27, the smaller and less expensive 4+ generation J-10, and even the joint Chinese/Pakistani JF-17.

Chinese J-10
(click to view full) 2. The China factor

China has a large inventory of SU-30MKKs, but it’s less than they contracted to produce. They’re also pressing ahead with their own J-11B, which substitutes Chinese electronics, radars, and engines in an SU-27 family airframe. Russia is very upset by this theft of its intellectual property, which has reportedly hindered sales of its carrier-capable SU-33 variant into the Chinese market.

The J-11 has run into some problems, in particular China’s inability to copy Russian engine performance. That has made exports to China thinkable again for some Russian officials, but the J-11 experience remains a barrier to further Chinese sales on both sides of the table. A preliminary agreement has reportedly been signed to negotiate a 24 plane sale, but it’s controversial. China’s questionable status among the roster of future SU-35 customers, and its certain presence as an export competitor, both create more difficult dynamics for SU-35 export success.

(click to view larger) 3. Other decisions by key markets.

With Eastern European countries no longer buying Russian equipment, the Flanker family’s key export markets likely closed, and key emerging markets that have decided to go in different directions, the SU-35’s export potential is likely to be much more limited than its predecessors.

India has fielded, and continues to field, the SU-30MKI, a design that includes locally-built electronics, canard foreplanes, and full thrust vectoring. Malaysia has ordered a less customized SU-30MKM variant that uses Russian and French technologies instead. Both of these designs are highly capable, and comparable to the SU-35. India in particular is unlikely to upgrade, as it continues to produce the SU-30MKI and expects to do so for several more years. That removes a major potential market, and this design is even filtering back into Russian orders, as the SU-30SM.

On a similar note, Algeria and Venezuela are inducting less advanced SU-30MK2 and MKAs, which means that future spending is likely to focus on other military areas.

Elsewhere, South Korea has opted for American F-15Ks instead of the SU-35 or European fighters for its F-X buy, and their next competition has skipped the SU-35 to invite the next-generation PAK-FA/ future SU-50. Saudi Arabia, which has become more receptive to purchases from Russia, bought Eurofighters as the future of their air force. Brazil, which could have significantly expanded Russia’s Latin American penetration, did not shortlist the SU-35 for the final round of its F-X2 future fighter competition.

The Middle East offers limited opportunities for Russian fighters these days, with some potential among long-standing clients in Libya, Syria, and possibly Iran, but competition from France’s Rafale in particular must be expected in Libya, in the wake of Gadhaffi’s ouster. Assuming that Libya buys any high-end fighters at all over the next decade. The SU-35 could be useful to other countries in the Middle East, but most are already committed to other suppliers. Success is possible, and it would be important to the platform, but any win would require a breakthrough.

The newly oil-rich countries around Africa’s Gulf of Guinea offer easier opportunities, but sales will face competition from China, as well as from the west.

Emerging South Asian markets like Indonesia and Vietnam also offer promise, and are less inclined to buy either Chinese or western fighters, but initial orders from that quarter have involved earlier-generation SU-27/30s, and future orders are likely to be limited.

Overall, the numbers add up far less favorably for the SU-35 than they did for its earlier cousins.

SU-35: Contracts and Key Events 2014-2016

Opportunities: Indonesia; Why is Russia buying Su-30SMs and Su-35s? “The UFO” at Paris

May 5/16: Inking of contracts between Indonesia and Russia for eight Su-35 fighters is to occur at the end of the month. Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu made the announcement on Tuesday, saying the signing will coincide with the visit to Russia of President Joko Widodo from May 19-20 during the Russia-ASEAN Summit. Jakarta’s new signing follows on the purchase of 24 Su-27/30 aircraft as part of its drive to modernize its fleet.

April 1/16: A request has been made by Algeria to test the Su-35 as a number of countries have expressed interest in the fighter. This adds a new dimension to the negotiations surrounding the purchase of Su-32 bombers which started last November, expected to cost between $500-600 million. After the Algerian Air Force’s testing of the Su-35, it’s expected they would purchase at least ten of the fighters, which would come with a price tag of around $900 million.

March 11/16: Indonesia will not see delivery of their first Su-35 before 2018. Large scale orders for both domestic and foreign exports has created a production backlog. The Russian military will receive 50 of the multi-purpose fighters, while China has ordered 24. With Jakarta expecting ten of their own, manufacturer Sukhoi said that Indonesia could expect their first two jets in 2018 in a best case scenario. When they eventually are delivered, the planes will go toward replacing the aging F-5 Tiger fleet.

March 7/16: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has approved the purchase of between eight and ten Su-35 fighters. A finalized price and deal will be confirmed during Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu’s visit to Moscow next month, and could cost between $400-700 million depending on the final number and additional options. The planes will go toward replacing the air force’s obsolete F-5 fleet which has been in service for 30 years.

February 22/16: Speculation surrounding Indonesia’s fighter modernization have been put to rest. Jakarta looks set to sign a contract for around a dozen Su-35s to replace its aging Northrop F-5 fighters, and supplement a fleet of 16 Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 fighters that form the backbone of its air force. Russian officials from the plane’s manufacturer United Aircraft Corporation refused to comment on the sale at last week’s Singapore Air Show, but it’s been reported that some of the components for the Su-35 could be made indigenously by Indonesian firms. Contracts for the deal could be ready and signed within a month’s time.

February 11/16: A deal to buy Su-35S Super Flankers will be signed by Indonesia’s defense minister next month when he visits Moscow. General Ryamizard Ryacudu said they would buy ten of the aircraft after it was initially reported that Jakarta would look to buy 16 to replace their fleet of fleet of Northrop F-5Es. His visit to Russia will also include discussions over pilot training and knowledge transfers as well as talks on increasing cooperation in defense, drug trafficking and counter terrorism.

January 18/16: China will receive its first batch of Su-35 fighters by the fourth quarter of this year with completion due in the next three years. It’s unknown how many will be delivered in 2016, but twenty-four fighters have been ordered in total at a cost of $2 billion. Beijing is the first foreign customer of the latest multi-role jet, although there have been fears that the purchase is only being made in order to reverse engineer key technologies for China’s own indigenous fighters.

January 13/16: United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) is to supply fifty more of their Su-35 fighters to the Russian Army. When delivered, this will bring the number of the jets in operation by the Russians to ninety-eight. The deal is estimated to be worth between $787-800 million. UAC subsidiary Sukhoi, who manufactures the jets, looks to have a busy 2016 ahead as the order from the defense ministry adds to a recent agreement to export twelve Su-32 bombers to Algeria.

November 30/15: The Chinese ministry of defense has confirmed the the $2 billion purchase of Su-35 fighters from Russia. China’s plan to also purchase the S-400 missile defense system is also going ahead smoothly according to Colonel Wu Qian and will generate another $3 billion in revenue for Russia. While arms sales between China and Russia are nothing new, the sale of Russia’s most developed military technologies to China represents a policy shift within the Kremlin primarily brought on by financial necessity.

Indonesia has announced that it will order 12 Su-35 fighters following the the $2 billion sale of the aircraft to China last week. The fighters will replace the 16 F-5 Tigers which have been in service since 1980. The Su-35 saw competition from the Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper. The Indonesian Air Force also operate the Su-30 in its fleet and already have an existing maintenance system that will be compatible with the new Su-35.

November 25/15: Russia is to install communications systems for China as part of the $2 billion sale of Su-35 fighters. The deal includes the delivery and installation of the NKVS-27 communications system which will begin in 2016. The delivery of the 24 fighters will follow in 2017. It has been speculated that the Chinese may attempt to reverse engineer and copy the design of the aircraft as it did Su-27SK and could include the communications system. The NKVS-27 is designed to ensure information interaction between CPs and crews of any aircraft. Interaction may be by means of conversations through voice communications radio networks as well as data exchange through data exchange radio networks.

November 20/15: China has signed a substantial contract with Russia to purchase 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighters in a deal that is said to be worth $2 billion. The agreement comes shortly after speculation that a number of countries were interested in purchasing the advanced fighters, including Pakistan, Indonesia and UAE, during the Dubai Air Show. This comes at an important time for Russia who have been suffering economically from falling oil prices and frosty trade relations with western nations and Ukraine. Arms sales have been one constant in this rather bleak financial outlook as the Kremlin looks to find new buyers for its military technologies.

Following China and their inking of contracts for the Sukhoi Su-35 fighters, the Indonesian ambassador to Russia has announced that they too are interested in making a purchase. Ambassador Djauhari Oratmangun told news agency RIA Novosti that a delegation will be sent from Russia to Jakarta to discuss contracts for the purchase of a number of the aircraft. No further details about the deal are known but seem to be part of a plan to increase trade between the two in 2016 by $5 billion.

November 9/15: The United Arab Emirates is engaged in talks with Russia over a potential acquisition of Su-35s, according to Ria Novosti. The discussions are taking place at the Dubai Air Show, with Pakistan also thought to be considering an acquisition of the type, and China and Indonesia also possible export customers for the Su-35.

September 11/15: Pakistan and Russia are reportedly in talks over the supply of Su-35 fighters and Mi-35M helicopters, according to both Pakistani and Russian press reports Thursday. The sale of Mil Mi-35M helicopters was also reported in August, with it unclear whether current negotiations are a continuation of this previous contract or a new one entirely. The two countries signed a bilateral military cooperation agreement last November, with the fourth-generation Sukhoi Su-35 also eyeing potential export customers in China and Indonesia.

Oct 10/14: Delivery. Another batch delivery from Sukhoi, SU-35 and SU-30M2 fighters for Russia’s VVF, handed over at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aviation plant.

Note that the SU-30M2 is the “standard” SU-30, as opposed to Irkut’s SU-30SM which is based on the canard-winged SU-30MKM. Sources: Sukhoi, “Sukhoi handed over a batch of Su-35 and Su-30M2 aircraft to the Ministry of Defense”.

Oct 7/14: Indonesia. Indonesian Military Commander General Moeldoko tells Republika Online that they’re leaning toward the Su-35 as their F-5 replacement, with the JAS-39 in 2nd place and the F-16 a distant 3rd:

“Menurut dia, jet tempur buatan negeri Paman Sam itu sudah tidak layak pakai lantaran teknologinya sudah ketinggalan zaman…. “Untuk udara, ada pengajuan penggantian F-5. Sukhoi Su-35 menjadi pilihan pertama, Saab JAS 39 Gripen pilihan kedua, dan pesawat F-16 pilihan ketiga,”…”

This isn’t the end, because negotiations, budgets and other considerations will still come into play. If that pick does stand, it would keep the Flanker family as the backbone of the TNI-AU, but the fleet would also be fragmented among 3+ types with partial commonality at best: 5 Su27SKM, 11 Su-30 (2 MKs, 9 MK2s), and 16 Su-35SK. The Su-27SKM and Su-30MK fighters will retire first, which will simplify matters, but that’s unlikely to happen before 2025 or so. Sources: ROL, “Helikopter Apache dan Sukhoi Su-35 Segera Perkuat TNI”.

Feb 21/14: No mystery. “Russia’s New Air Force Is a Mystery” wonders why Russia is buying SU-30MK2s, SU-30SMs and SU-35s, in addition to the future PAK-FA. It turns out that the answer is extremely simple: industrial priorities that bought up aircraft the Chinese stopped buying, took advantage of successful advanced SU-30MKx export developments, and aim to provide the SU-35 with a home country order base for potential exports. That sort of thing happens all the time, everywhere. The article ends up stinging itself with this quote re: the PAK-FA:

“The T-50’s schedule has stretched farther and farther to the right. Originally planned for handover to the air force’s Akhtubinsk flight test center for evaluation in 2014, recent announcements suggest this might now slip until the second half of 2016. This would derail plans to declare initial operational capability, and the start of full-scale production, at the end of 2016.

The best-case scenario would have seen 60 production T-50s delivered between 2016 and 2020, but this now seems a distant hope. As a result, the air force is badly in need of supplementary equipment.”

The 1st PAK-FA/ T-50 arrives in Akhtubinsk for testing that same day, but even if the new stealth fighters arrive on time, Russia will still need more warplanes to replace its aging force. Sources: War Is Boring, “Russia’s New Air Force Is a Mystery”.

Jan 7/14: Indonesia. Indonesia wants to replace its 11 remaining F-5E/F Tiger II light fighters with 16 modern aircraft. Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro confirmed that they “have received proposals from several jet fighter manufacturers,” and are evaluating them. Indonesian Military Commander General Moeldoko added that the TNI-AU has studied the SU-35, F-16, F-15, and JAS-39 Gripen.

Moeldoko wants the requisition plan included in Indonesia’s Strategic Plan II for the 2015 – 2020, but the air force’s choice will also depend on available funds. The F-15 is significantly more expensive than other options, and if the air force wants 16 fighters, the state of Indonesia’s economy will influence what they can buy.

There are always extraneous considerations in Indonesia. Still, if commonality matters, the F-16 is the only fighter currently in Indonesia’s inventory. The F-15 and JAS-39 are used by its neighbors, and have Asian support networks in place. Picking the SU-35 seems odd, as it would leave Indonesia vulnerable to becoming the 1st export customer, while worsening the fragmentation within an already-split Flanker fleet. Still, the existing SU-30MK fleet is a known quantity, which means the SU-35 is the only variant would require study for a full consideration of their options. Sources: Antara News, “Defense Ministry looking to replace aging F-5 tiger fighter aircraft”.

2011 – 2013

Russia buys SU-30SMs; Russian plans to 2020; Final SU-35S model flies; Libya derailment; China impasse unblocks, but still no deal. Russian SU-35
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May 20/13: Brazil. RIA Novosti quotes Rosoboronexport’s SITDEF exhibition lead Sergey Ladigin, who says they’ve offered to deliver Su-35 fighters and Pantsir S1 air defense systems to Brazil outside the framework of a tender, and says the offer is being considered.

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

It doesn’t help. In December 2013, Brazil picks Saab’s JAS-39E/F Gripen. Russian Aviation.

March 26/13: China. Media reports say that a deal has been signed for 24 SU-35 fighters, and 4 advanced Amur/Lada Class submarines, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia.

Defence News claims that “During a recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow from Friday to Sunday, no discussions took place regarding “military-technical cooperation” issues, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported Monday.” Our Russian isn’t very good, but the Google Translate version simply quotes the CCTV report of a deal, while saying that there were no problems regarding military-technical cooperation issues. Defense News also quotes outside observers within Russia; readers will have to make up their own minds. ITAR-Tass [in Russian] | CCTV [in Chinese] | South China Morning Post | Defense News | International Business Times.

March 7/13: China confirmed. China and Russia have apparently signed an intergovernmental agreement, as the 1st step toward a contract for 24 SU-35s. Reports credibly place the agreement date as January 2013, but contract negotiations could take a while.

A trickle of reports from November 2012 to February claimed that Russia and China had a preliminary agreement in place, which would let them negotiate a deal for varying numbers of SU-35s. Russia’s Interfax confirmed the existence and date of that agreement in February 2013, but didn’t specify numbers. Now, a March 8/13 article in The Hindu confirms that talks involve 24 planes, a climbdown from Russia’s initial insistence on 48.

The Russians are said to have more confidence that China can’t copy their engines, and are also said to need SU-35 orders. Russia has placed an initial contract, but a deal with Libya fell by the wayside when its regime did, Venezuela has pulled back, and even Russia’s VVS is ordering follow-on buys of SU-30SMs instead. On the other side, there’s speculation that SU-35’s improved AL-117S engine could be “of interest” for China’s J-20 stealth plane. If so, it would be a setback to India on 2 fronts: breaking an old pattern by selling China a more modern fighter than India’s SU-30MKIs, and strengthening a competitor to the Indo-Russian PAK-FA stealth fighter project. South China Morning Post | Defense News | Voice of Russia | The Hindu.

China agreement to negotiate

April 17/12: China. RIA Novosti quotes Russian state-controlled arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on Tuesday, who says that the 18+ month long negotiations to sell Su-35s to China have been put on hold. The Chinese only wanted to buy a few, and the Russians weren’t interested in selling them a few templates for Chinese copying efforts.

Rosoboronexport deputy chief Viktor Komardin characterized Russia as wanting “a large consignment to make [the deal] economically viable.” Translation: China would have to buy large numbers of SU-35s, under a contract with strict and enforceable cancellation penalties. See also Nov 16/10 entry.

March 30/12: Russia plans. Russian Air Force commander Gen. Alexander Zelin discusses their aircraft acquisition plans under Russia’s Weapons Program 2011-2020. Those plans include about 100 SU-35 and SU-30SM fighters put together, and their conflation could be a worrying sign. The VVS also expects to field 60 Sukhoi PAKFA (T-50) stealth fighters by 2020, and intends to buy 140 SU-34 long range strike fighters.

The SU-35’s future may ride on how many of the 70 remaining VVS orders before 2020 request it, instead of more SU-30SMs. AIN Online. See also March 16/10 entry.

March 23/12: Russian setback. Russia’s own VVS moves to buy 30 SU-30SM fighters, for delivery by 2015. These planes are a version of the canard-winged, thrust-vectoring SU-30MKI/M variant that was developed for India, and has since been exported to Algeria and Malaysia. Which raises the question: why didn’t Russia buy 30 more SU-35S fighters? A RIA Novosti article offers one explanation:

“Irkut has been churning out these planes for 10 years thanks to its completely streamlined production method. This means that its products are of high quality, relatively cheap… and will be supplied on time.

It is one thing if, in order to make 30 aircraft, you have to breathe life into an idling plant, to fine-tune (or develop anew) your technological method, buy additional equipment, and – still worse – hire personnel. But it’s quite another if you have been manufacturing standardized aircraft for years and years and can easily divert your workforce to produce an “improved” modification for your own country’s Air Force… This approach (buying quickly and on the cheap what can be produced immediately) has been growing in popularity in the Russian military.”

There is a contract for 48 SU-35s, but the production rate doesn’t appear to be very advanced yet. If Bogdanov’s analysis is correct, the SU-35 could have a problem. It would mean that more SU-30SMs become a very attractive near-term choice for the next few years, as Russia’s rearmament program kicks into gear. Farther down the road, the T-50 PAK-FA stealth fighter (likely to become the SU-50), will be a priority after 2016 or so. In that scenario, the SU-35 could find itself starved of budgetary oxygen at home, followed by avoidance abroad in favor of the SU-30MKx models that have already been exported to Algeria, India, and Malaysia.

Sept 19/11: Testing. Sukhoi says that its SU-35 fighters have carried out more than 300 test flights at the 929th State Flight Test Center (GLITS), and offers a number of data points regarding the aircraft.

“The maximum ground-level speed is 1,400 km/h, speed at altitude – 2400 km/h, the ceiling – 18 thousand meters. The detection range of targets in the “air-to-air” mode is over 400 km. This is significantly higher than that of the combat aircraft currently in service. The onboard OLS (optical locator station) can detect and track multiple targets at ranges exceeding 80 km… a new phased antenna array radar with a long aerial target detection range and with an increased number of simultaneously tracked and engaged targets (30 aerial targets tracked and 8 targets engaged plus the tracking of 4 and engagement of 2 ground targets)… The radar signature of the fighter has been reduced by several times as compared to that of the fourth-generation aircraft by coating the cockpit with electro-conducting compounds, applying radio absorption coats and reducing the number of protruding sensors. The service life of the aircraft is 6,000 hours flight hours… The assigned service life of vectored thrust engines is 4,000 hours.”

May 3/11: Final SU-35S model. Sukhoi begins flight tests for its final series production version SU-35S model. Among other things, it marks the program’s recovery from the April 26/09 accident. Sukhoi [in Russian] | Russia’s RIA Novosti | China’s Xinhua | DefenceWeb | Flight International.

Feb 27/11: Libya. Russia’s Interfax news agency says that a recent UN embargo on arms sales to Libya, in the wake of the regime’s military attacks on demonstrators, could cost Russia $4 billion:

“The already-signed arms deals between Moscow and Tripoli amount to $2 billion, while deals for another $1.8 billion are in the final stage of readiness. In January 2010 the two sides agreed on supply of Russia’s small arms, six operational trainers Yak-130 and some armored vehicles for total of $US 1.3 billion. Libya has been supposed to become the first country to get Su-35 fighter jets, the contract to buy 15 jets for $800 million is fully accorded and ready to be signed. Tripoli also expressed interest in buying 10 Ka-52 Alligator assault helicopters, two advanced long range S-300PMU2 Favorit air defense missile system and about 40 short range Panzir C1 air defense complexes for a total over $1 billion. The Libyan military has also discussed possible supply of modern tanks, multiple rocket launcher systems, high speed missile boats etc.”

If the civil war drags on long enough, don’t be surprised to see a number of these potential sales revived, even as other counter-insurgency related equipment steps to the fore. Russia could wind up finds ways to skirt UN sanctions and support its client, something that has been an issue before with countries like Sudan. China could do the same, and has a long history of supporting civil war factions without regard to human suffering or disposition, in exchange for medium-long term resource deals. Russia Today | AFP.

2009 – 2010

Russia orders 48; KnAAPO gets financing; Crash delays program; Opportunities in China, Libya. Ready for takeoff
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Nov 16/10: China. At Airshow China 2010 in Zhuhai, Rosoboronexport Deputy General Director Alexander Mikheyev tells RIA Novosti that Russia is ready to hold talks with China on selling SU-35 fighter aircraft to the Chinese air force. That’s a bit of a surprise, given China’s consistent record of buying, copying, and then competing with Russian technologies – see “The China Factor,” above. On the other hand, Mikheyev also told RIA Novosti that:

“We have made progress in an understanding of [illegal production of Russian arms in China]. Moreover, all the documents concerning the protection of intellectual property have been signed… China does not refuse to discuss these issues, which are primarily a concern for Russia.”

It would be darkly amusing to many in western defense organizations to have Russia fleeced in arms-related agreements, by a country that follows their own pattern of offering paper guarantees, while doing something else.

Sept 20/10: Financing for KnAAPO. Sukhoi Holding Company the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Industrial Concern (KnAAPO) in , Komsomolsk-na-Amure strikes a financing agreement with Sberbank, the Savings Bank of Russia. The agreement will allow the firm to invest in producing the Russian Air Force’s SU-35S orders. Brahmand | Frontier India.

July 23/10: Update. Aviation Week reports from Farnborough 2010. Sukhoi CEO Mikhail Pogosyan says that the Russian air force is still set to take delivery of its first Su-35S by the end of 2010, and the firm issues its own release with test results.

Preliminary testing of Su-35 has now been concluded with 270 flights and 350 flight hours, using 2 rather than 3 aircraft after a fire destroyed one of the prototypes (vid. April 26/09). The NIIP Tikhomirov Irbis passive phased-array radar was also a focus of testing, and moves were made to reduce radar signature by adding radar-absorbent materials and removing protruding sensors. They add:

“Tripoli will likely be the launch export customer [for the SU-35S]. Alexander Mikheev, deputy head of Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, confirmed at Farnborough that the contract for delivery of undisclosed number of aircraft to Libya, one of the traditional recipients of Soviet armaments, is expected to be signed this year. The first export production slots are available from 2012.”

March 16/10: Russian plans. In “The future of the Russian Air Force: 10 years on“, RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik discusses planned buys and pending recapitalization of the Russian Air Force over the next decade:

“According to various media reports, the Ministry wants to buy at least 1,500 aircraft, including 350 new warplanes, by 2020. The fleet would include 70% new equipment at that point, said Air Force Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Alexander Zelin… The Defense Ministry has now signed contracts for the purchase of 32 Su-34 Fullback advanced fighter-bombers to be delivered by 2013, 48 Su-35 Flanker-E fighters by 2015, 12 Su-27SM Flanker-B Mod. 1 fighters by 2011, 4 Su-30M2 Flanker-C planes by 2011 and 12 Su-25UBM Frogfoot combat trainers. This year, the Defense Ministry intends to sign a contract for the delivery of 26 MiG-29K Fulcrum-D fighters by 2015. Additional contracts for the delivery of at least 80 Su-34s and 24-48 Su-35s are expected to be signed. In all, the Russian Air Force is to receive 240-260 new aircraft of these types. It is hard to say much about the specifications of another 100-110 aircraft, due to be manufactured primarily after 2015. They will probably include 25-30 MiG-35 fighters, another 12-16 Su-30 combat trainers for Su-35 squadrons and 40-60 Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA (Advanced Frontline Aviation Aircraft System) fifth-generation fighters…”

Nov 17/09: Sukhoi announces that it has begun work on Russia’s SU-35S contract.

Nov 15/09: Libya. Interfax quotes Rosoboronexport’s special missions director and Dubai Airshow delegation chief Mikhail Zavaly:

“Libya wants to buy our aircrafts, including Sukhoi fighter jets and Ilyushin Il-76 military airlifters,” Zavaly told Interfax on Sunday. The talks deal with the technical details of the planes offered to Libya, he said. After technical arrangements are approved, “the Russian side will make commercial proposals to Libya,” Zavaly said.”

Oct 19/09: Libya. Russia’s Interfax media agency reports that Libya plans to buy 12-15 Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighters, another 4 Su-30s as an immediate interim order, and 6 Yakovlev Yak-130 trainer and light attack aircraft aircraft. Reports indicate that a contract could be signed with state arms export agency Rosoboronexport by the end of 2009, or early 2010.

Libya has also been in talks with France to buy its Rafale fighters since late 2007. A Sukhoi deal is likely to end the Rafale’s near-term chances in Libya. UPI report.

Aug 18/09: Russia orders 48. The Russian government signs the SU-35’s inaugural production contract at the Russian MAKS 2009 air show. The Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly signed a contract with Sukhoi to deliver 48 SU-35s by 2015, plus an interim buy of 12 single-seat SU-27SM and 4 dual-seat SU-30M2 multirole fighters by 2011.

RIA Novosti cites “open sources” that estimate the flyaway cost an SU-35 at about $65 million. This contract should be larger, since it’s a new type that must carry the additional costs of training spares stocks, etc. Statements place the contract’s value at “over 80 billion” roubles, where RUB 80 billion is currently about $2.51 billion. The contract follows on the heels of RUB 3.2 billion (about $100 million) in capital injected into Sukhoi, and Vnesheconombank head Vladimir Dmitriyev said the national development bank would grant Sukhoi a 3.5 billion-ruble (about $109 million) loan to start SU-35 production. ITAR-TASS | ITAR-TASS re: loans, contract value | RIA Novosti | RIA Novosti’s Russia Today | domain-b | Flight International.

April 26/09: Crash. An Su-35 burst into flames and exploded before take-off at the Komsomolosk-na-Amure Aviation Production Association (KNAAPO) Dzemgi flight test aerodrome. Yevgeniy Frolov, one Sukhoi’s most experienced pilots, managed to eject safely before the aircraft exploded. The crash may jeopardize the SU-35’s expected appearance over Russia’s May Day festivities, and will delay testing. To make matters worse, this 2nd operational aircraft was carrying a new NIIP Irbis-E radar set, which will require some effort to replace. The Weekly Standard adds:

“Su-35 programme representatives told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the crash was the fault of one of the NPO Saturn 117S engine’s PMC units and not a failure of a fuel pump, as had been previously reported. “One of the engine’s control systems failed and the engine was working at only 93 per cent power,” said the representative.”

March 23/09: Flight #100. KNAAPO announces that the Su-35 has made its 100th flight, during which they conducted final tests of the flight control system. Flight tests began Feb 18/08, and in the second quarter of 2009 another test aircraft is expected to join the current 2-plane fleet.

The firm expects to bring the number of flights up to 150-160 on 3 fighters, allowing them to finish static tests and start the super-maneuverability mode testing with the plane’s thrust-vectoring engines. First deliveries to Russian and foreign customers are still scheduled for 2011.

2007 – 2008

Maiden flight; Eliminated in Brazil. SU-35 early concept
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Oct 2/08: 2nd test plane. Sukhoi says they have started flight tests of the second SU-35 production fighter. “The addition of the second aircraft to the testing program will speed up its completion and ensure the beginning of deliveries to our customers in 2011.”

Since its demonstration flight on July 7/08, the first production aircraft has made over 40 more test flights. RIA Novosti.

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

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

July 9/08: A Sukhoi release says that it has presented the newest SU-35 multi-role to the “Flight Scientific Research Institute named after Gromov in Zhukovsky near Moscow,” where earlier test flights have taken place.

It adds that the SU-35 is one of the priority programs of the new United Aviation Corporation (UAC), resulting from the government’s consolidation of Russia’s aerospace industry, and notes that Russia’s 5th generation PAK-FA fighter project will not be fielded before 2015-2017. In contrast, batch production and deliveries of the SU-35 are promised between 2010-2011. Moscow News | Russian release (English version not yet on web).

March 6/08: Maiden flight. Russia test flies SU-35. The first Su-35 prototype made its maiden flight on Feb 18/08, and 2 more aircraft are being prepared for similar tests at an aircraft manufacturing plant in Russia’s Far East. The company expects the jet to enter service with Russia’s military in 2-3 years. RIA Novosti.

Sept 4/07: Clarity? A subsequent Flight International article may begin to offer clarity re: the platform. It states categorically that the SU-35-1 design, unveiled at Russia’s MAKS 2007 air show, is a single-seat aircraft without canard foreplanes, but with a lighter airframe than the SU-27, enlarged fan and engine inlets, 2 NPO Saturn/Ufa MPO Item 117S engines that reportedly offer thrust vectoring and supercruise performance in clean layout, 2t more fuel, modernized electronics at all levels, a Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis (updated N-011M Bars) passive electronically scanned array radar, 6,000 hour airframe life, and 4,000 hour engine life.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

LM Gets $1.2B Contract Mod for 13 F-35s | USN: Summer RFP Release for MQ-25 Stingray | France Requests More Hellfire Missiles Under FMS

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 23:55

  • Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1.2 billion contract for the production of 13 F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Delivery of the fighters will see six F-35Bs sent to the USMC, three F-35As for the USAF and four F-35Cs for the US Navy. Work on the fighters is expected to be completed by December 2019.

  • The US Navy is expected to release a risk-reduction request for proposals (RFP) for its MQ-25 Stingray program this summer. This will help set out the timeline in which the service can realistically expect the tanker system to be deployed on-board its carrier fleet. It is expected that this will be followed by an engineering, manufacturing and design RFP in early FY2017. Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman all have designs they were going to pitch for UCLASS, and are expected to modify them for the Stingray’s new role.

  • Raytheon Apace and Airborne Systems has been awarded a contract for the continued low-rate initial production of the Silent Knight Radar system in support of US Special Operations Command. The value of the contract has the potential worth of up to $49.5 million and will continue for the year. The contract will be funded via delivery/task orders, and depending on the requirement may be funded using research, development, test and evaluation; procurement; and operation and maintenance funding.

  • Boeing has announced that they expect orders of F-15 and F/A-18 fighters to keep production rolling into the 2020s. While the last order of F-15s by Saudi Arabia will be completed by 2019, it is expected that the US Navy will purchase more F/A-18s while export orders of the F-15 will continue to partner nations. The company has recently been implementing a series of cost cutting measures to boost productivity in the wake of losing out on the recent bomber program for the USAF to Northrop Grumman.

Middle East North Africa

  • The first F-35I for the Israeli Air Force will be rolled out by Lockheed Martin on June 22 at the manufacturer’s Forth Worth plant. The ceremony will be met by an Israeli delegation led by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Israel’s order of F-35s will then be fitted with the indigenously developed C4 software system designed to meet the Israel Defense Force’s requirement that all Israeli aircraft have unique electronic systems in order to keep a technological edge.

  • Algeria has commissioned into service the first of its two Meko A-200 frigates, which were ordered from German naval equipment manufacturer ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in April 2012. Among other state-of-the-art armaments and navigational and communication equipment, the vessel features the Saab Sea Giraffe AMB (Agile Multi-Beam) 3-D surveillance radar, Saab CEROS 200 radar/electro-optical fire control directors and a Thales UMS4132 King-klip sonar unit. Armaments on the vessel include one OTO Melara 127/64 LW (Lightweight) 127mm naval gun, two MSI-Defense 30mm cannons, Rheinmetall Defense MASS soft-kill decoy launchers, Denel Dynamics Umkhonto-IR missiles, MU90 torpedoes and Saab/Diehl Defense RBS 15 Mk3 anti-ship missiles.


  • France has requested to amend a previously-approved Foreign Military Sale of AGM-114K1A Hellfire missiles and increase the number ordered from 112 to 200. The estimated cost of the amendment is expected to be around $25 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) says the missiles “will directly support French forces actively engaged in operations in Mali and Northern Africa.”

Asia Pacific

  • The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is to announce its downselect of an unmanned rotorcraft with UMS Skeldar confident its V200 UAV will be among the choices. One system will be acquired by the RAN to carry out land-based risk-reduction testing and training ahead of a full-scale acquisition of a UAV for ship-borne operations onboard the new frigates that it is acquiring. Carl Foucard, deputy head of business development and head of sales for Skeldar, says that the UAV’s Hirth heavy-fuel engine matches the RAN’s propulsion requirement, and the company is ready to supply the system.

Today’s Video

  • 2016 Top 10 Superiority Fighters:

Categories: News

F-35 Lightning: The Joint Strike Fighter Program

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 23:50
F-35B: off probation
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The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE) Lightning jet. Lightning II system development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3), with Singapore and Israel as “Security Cooperation Partners,” and Japan as the 1st export customer.

The big question for Lockheed Martin is whether, and when, many of these partner countries will begin placing purchase orders. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the F-35 program, including contracts, sub-contracts, and notable events and reports during 2012-2013.

The F-35 Lightning II Fighter Family F-35 Family Variants: Door A, B, or C? Figure 1: F-35 Variants.

The above table illustrates the key differences between the baseline F-35A, the Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) capable F-35B, and the catapult-launched F-35C naval variant. Additional explanations follow.

The F-35A CTOL F-35A, doors open
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The F-35A is sometimes called the CTOL (Conventional Take-Off and Landing) version. It’s the USAF’s version, and is expected to make up most of the plane’s export orders. It’s also expected to be the least expensive F-35, in part because it will have the largest production run. The USAF currently estimates its average flyaway cost after 2017 at $108.3 million, but early production models ordered in FY 2012 will cost over $150 million.

Its main difference from other versions is its wider 9g maneuverability limits, though its air-air combat flight benchmarks are only on par with the F-16. Canard equipped “4+ generation” adversaries like the Eurofighter, and thrust-vectored fighters like the F-22A, MiG-35, SU-35, etc., will still enjoy certain kinetic advantages. The F-35 hopes to mitigate them using its improved stealth to shrink detection ranges, the lack of drag from weapons in its internal bays, and its current electronic superiority.

The second major physical difference between the F-35A and the rest of the Lightning family is its internal 25mm cannon, instead of using a weapons station for a semi-stealthy gun pod option. The USAF removed guns from some of its planes back in the 1960s, and didn’t enjoy the resulting experiences in Vietnam. It has kept guns on all of its fighters ever since, including the stealthy F-22 and F-35. Many allies wanted the 27mm Mauser cannon installed instead, as it’s widely believed to offer the world’s best combination of firing rate and hitting power. In the end, however, ammunition standardization benefits involving 25mm land and sea platforms trumped pure performance.

The 3rd difference is that the F-35A uses a dorsal refueling receptacle that is refueled using an aerial tanker boom, instead of the probe-and-drogue method favored by the US Navy and many American allies.

The F-35A was the first variant to fly, in 2009. Unfortunately, it looks like it won’t reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) until 2017 or 2018.

The F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing) F-35B features
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The F-35B is expected to be the most expensive Lightning II fighter variant. According to US Navy documents, even planes bought after 2017 are expected to have an average flyaway cost of $135 million each. It will serve the US Marines, Royal Navy, other navies with ski-ramp equipped LHDs or small carriers, and militaries looking for an “expeditionary airplane” that can take off in short distances and land vertically. To accomplish this, the F-35B has a large fan behind the cockpit, and nozzles that go out to the wing undersides. Unlike the F-35A, it will use a retractable mid-air refueling probe, which is standard for the US Navy and for many American allies.

Those capabilities gives the plane a unique niche, but a unique niche also means unique challenges, and the responses to those challenges have changed the aircraft. In 2005, the JSF program took a 1-year delay because the design was deemed overweight by about 3,000 pounds. The program decided to reduce weight rather than run the engine hotter, because the latter choice would have sharply reduced the durability of engine components and driven life cycle costs higher. Weight cutting became a focus of various engineering teams, with especial focus on the F-35B because the weight was most critical to that design. Those efforts pushed the F-35B’s design, and changed its airframe. The F-35B gives up some range, some bomb load (it cannot carry 2,000 pound weapons internally, and the shape of its bay may make some weapons a challenge to carry), some structural strength (7g maneuvers design maximum), and the 25mm internal gun.

The F-35B completed its Critical Design Review in October 2006, and the 2nd production F-35 was a STOVL variant. Per the revised Sept 16/10 program plan, the USMC’s VMA-332 in Yuma, AZ must have 10 F-35Bs equipped with Block IIB software, with 6 aircraft capable of austere and/or ship-based operations, and all aircraft meeting the 7g and 50-degree angle of attack specifications, in order to declare Initial Operational Capability.

Flight testing began in 2009, and IOC was expected by December 2012, but flight testing fell way behind thanks to a series of technical delays. By 2013, the first operational planes were fielded to the USMC at Yuma, AZ. The USMC is currently aiming for a 2015 IOC, but it would involve just Block 2B software loads that will limit the F-35B’s combat capability. Even then, the Pentagon’s 2012 DOT&E report isn’t grounds for software schedule optimism. Planes with full Block 3 initial combat capability are unlikely to be fielded before 2018.

The F-35C carrier-based fighter USN F-35C
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The F-35C is instantly recognizable. It features 30% more wing area than other designs, with larger tails and control surfaces, plus wingtip ailerons. These changes provide the precise slow-speed handling required for carrier approaches, and extend range a bit. The F-35C’s internal structure is strengthened to withstand the punishment dished out by the catapult launches and controlled crashes of carrier launch and recovery, an arrester hook is added to the airframe, and the fighter gets a retractable refueling probe. According to US Navy documents, average flyaway costs for F-35Cs bought after 2017 will be $125.9 million each.

The US Navy gave up the internal gun, and the aircraft will be restricted to 7.5g maneuvers. That’s only slightly lower than the existing F/A-18E Super Hornet’s 7.6g, but significantly lower than the 9g limit for Dassault’s carrier-capable Rafale-M.

The F-35C is expected to be the US Navy’s high-end fighter, as well as its high-end strike aircraft. This means that any performance or survivability issues will have a disproportionate effect on the US Navy’s future ability to project power around the world.

The F-35C will be the last variant designed; it passed its Critical Design Review in June 2007, and the first production version was scheduled to fly in January 2009. The F-35C’s rollout did not take place until July 2009, however, and first flight didn’t take place until June 2010. Initial Operational Capability was scheduled for 2014, but looks set to slip to 2019.

F-35s: Key Features F-35 Variants
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Stealth. The F-35 is designed as an ‘affordable stealth’ counterpart to the F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter, one that can share “first day of the war” duties against defended targets but can’t perform air-air or air-ground missions to the same standard. The F-35 has a larger single engine instead of the Raptor’s twin thrust-vectoring F119s, removing both supercruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability options. The F-22A is also a much stealthier aircraft from all angles, and independent analysis & modeling has concluded that the F-35’s stealth will be weaker from the sides and the rear. Even so, the F-35 is an improvement over existing ‘teen series’ fighters and even beats Generation 4+ options like the Eurofighter, Rafale, and JAS-39 Gripen.

Engine. The F-35 was set to offer interchangeable engine options. That has been an important feature for global F-16 and F-15 customers, improving both costs and performance, and providing added readiness insurance for dual-engine fleets. Pratt & Whitney’s lobbying eventually forced GE & Rolls-Royce’s F136 out of the F-35 program, and made their F135-PW-100 engine the only choice for global F-35 fleets. A special F-135-PW-600 version with Rolls Royce’s LiftFan add-on, and a nozzle that can rotate to point down, will power the vertical-landing F-35B.

The US military had better hope that an engine design problem never grounds all of their fighters. While they’re at it, they should hope that maintenance contracts somehow remain reasonable in the absence of any competitive alternative.

F-35’s APG-81
AESA Radar
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Sensors. The Lightning II will equipped to levels that would once have defined a high-end reconnaissance aircraft. Its advanced APG-81 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar is smaller and less powerful than the F-22A’s APG-77v1; but still offers the strong AESA advantages of simultaneous air-air and air-ground capabilities, major maintenance & availability improvements, and secure, high-bandwidth communications benefits. The F-35 also shares a “sensor fusion” design advance with the F-22, based on sensors of various types embedded all around the airframe. This sensor set is even more extensive than the F-22’s. Both planes will be able to perform as reconnaissance aircraft, though the F-35 will have superior infrared and ground-looking sensors. Both aircraft will also have the potential to act as electronic warfare aircraft.

These sensors are connected to a lot of computing power, in order to create single-picture view that lets the pilot see everything on one big 20″ LCD screen and just fly the plane, rather than pushing buttons to switch from one view to another and trying to figure it all out. As part of that sensor fusion, the F-35 will be the first plane is several decades to fly without a heads-up display. Instead, pilots will wear Elbit/Rockwell’s JHMDS helmet or BAE’s HMSS, and have all of that information projected wherever they look.

Maintenance. The F-35 has a large number of design features that aim to simplify maintenance and keep life cycle costs down. Since operations and maintenance are usually about 65% or more of a fighter’s lifetime cost, this is one the most important and overlooked aspects of fighter selection.

Stealth aircraft have always had much higher maintenance costs, but the F-35’s designers hope that new measures can reverse that trend. Some of the plane’s stealth coatings are being baked into composite airplane parts, for instance, in the hope that customers will need fewer “Martians” (Materials Application and Repair Specialists) around to apply stealth tapes and putties before each mission. Technical innovations like self-diagnosing aircraft wiring aim to eliminate one of the toughest problems for any mechanic, and the fleet-wide ALIS information and diagnostic system is designed to shift the fleet from scheduled maintenance to maintenance only as needed.

Despite these measure, March 2012 operations and maintenance projections have the F-35 at 142% O&M cost, relative to any F-16s they’ll replace. It remains to be seen if the advantages of F-35 innovations manage to fulfill their promise, or if projections that they’ll be outweighed in the end by increased internal complexity, and by the proliferation of fault-prone electronics, come true. That has certainly been the general trend over the last 50 years of fighter development, with a very few notable exceptions like the F-16, A-10, and JAS-39.

Pimp My Ride: Weapons & Accessories Initial hopes – changed
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The F-35’s internal weapon bay gives it the ability to carry larger bombs and missiles, but the price is that F-35s can carry just 2 internal air-to-air weapons, instead of a maximum of 8 on the F-22A. As the F-35 variant table (Fig. 1) shows, development, testing, and software issues have also combined to give initial F-35 fleets a very narrow set of weapons. The initial operational set that comes with Block III software has about the same weapon options as the single-role F-22A.

That’s expected to change, eventually. A large order base, and a wide international client base, will provide considerable incentive for manufacturers to qualify their weapons for the F-35. MBDA has already pledged a compatible version of its long-range Meteor air-air missile, for instance, and Britain wants to add MBDA’s SPEAR medium-range strike missile as soon as possible. Other manufacturers can be expected to follow. Norway is already developing its stealthy Joint Strike Missile with the F-35 as its explicit target, including the ability to fit the missile into the plane’s internal bays. Denmark’s Terma has turned their 25mm gun pod into a multi-mission pod that can accept a variety of sensors and equipment. Lockheed Martin’s Israeli customer is already incorporating its own electronic counter-measures systems in their F-35i, and they are certain to push for a range of Israeli weapons, including the Python-5 SRAAM(Short Range Air-to-Air Missile) and various other smart bombs and missiles.

The bottlenecks will be two-fold.

The 1st bottleneck is American insistence on retaining all source codes, and having Lockheed Martin perform all modifications at their reprogramming facility. Unless Lockheed produces a full development environment workaround, dealing with the growing queue of requests can easily become a problem. The firm’s new Universal Armament Interface could offer the foundation for a way forward, if they decide to take it. The other question involves conflict-of-interest issues, in which Lockheed Martin or the US government decides to use the bottleneck as a way of shutting competitors out of a potential export market. These kinds of concerns have already led to pushback in Australia, Britain, and Israel.

The 2nd bottleneck involves testing resources. The F-35 testing program has fallen significantly behind schedule, and IOCs for some versions have already slipped by 5-6 years. Test time required to qualify new equipment is going to be a very secondary priority until 2018-2019, and even the few customers buying their own Initial Operational Testing & Evaluation (IOT&E) fighters are going to need them for their assigned training roles.

The F-35 Family: Controversies and Competitions See me, hear me?
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The program’s biggest controversies revolve around 3 issues: effectiveness, affordability, and control. A 4th issue, noise, isn’t significant yet, but could become so.

Effectiveness: When the F-35 Lightning II is compared with the larger and more expensive F-22A, the Raptor is a much stealthier aircraft, and its stealth is more uniform. The F-35’s design is optimized for “low-observable” stealth when viewed from the front, with less stealth to radars looking at it from the sides, and less still when targeted from the rear. It also lacks the Raptor’s supercruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability thrust-vectoring options, which work with stealth to help the F-22 engage and disengage from combat at will. Lockheed Martin claims that the F-35 design is optimized for trans-sonic acceleration, but testing results question those claims, and the Raptor can cruise without afterburners at the F-35’s theoretical maximum speed. That’s important, because fuel usage skyrockets with afterburners on, limiting total supersonic time for fighters like the F-35.

These relative drawbacks have led to questions about the F-35’s continued suitability against the most modern current air defense threats, and against the evolved threats it can expect to face over a service lifetime that’s expected to stretch until 2050 at least.

click for video

Where the F-35 does come out ahead is internal carriage space. F-35A/C variants will offer larger capacity internal bays for weapons, allowing a wider selection of stealth-preserving internal ordnance. The price is that slight bulges were added to the production F-35’s underside profile in order to accommodate that space, making them less stealthy from the side than the original X-35 designs.

Sensors are another F-35 advantage. All F-35s also boast more embedded sensors than the F-22, with an especial advantage in infrared and ground-looking sensors. Though this feature has yet to be tested in combat, the F-35’s all-aspect Distributed Aperture Sensors (DAS) reportedly allow 360-degree targeting of aircraft around the F-35. If that works, the inertial guidance and datalink features of modern infrared missiles like the AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-132 ASRAAM can already take full advantage of it.

Which customers can live with these relative disadvantages as an acceptable trade-off, and which will be badly hurt by them? Will the F-35 be a fighter that’s unable to handle high-end scenarios, while also being far too expensive to field and operate in low-end scenarios? Even if that’s true, could countries who want one type of multi-role fighter still be best served by the F-35, as opposed to other options? That will depend, in part, on…

F-35 commonality
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Affordability: The F-35 family was designed to be much more affordable than the F-22, but a number of factors are narrowing that gap.

One is cost growth in the program. This has been documented by the GAO, and statements and reports from the US DoD are beginning to follow the same kind of “rising spiral of admissions” pattern seen in past programs.

The 2nd is loss of parts commonality between the 3 models, which the GAO has cited as falling below the level required to produce significant savings. In March 2013, the JSF PEO placed the figure at just 25-30%.

A 3rd is production policy. The US GAO in particular believes that the program’s policy of beginning production several years before testing is complete, only adds to the risks of future price hikes and operating cost shocks. It also forces a lot of expensive rewaork to jets that are bought before problems are found. Part of the rationale for accepting concurrency risks and costs involves…

The 4th factor: lateness. The program as a whole is about 5-7 years behind its ideal point, relative to the replacement cycle for fighters around the globe. F-35 program customers thus find themselves in the unenviable position of having to commit to a fighter that hasn’t completed testing, and doesn’t have reliable future purchase or operating costs, while buying the expensive way from early production batches. The program office hopes to drop the flyaway price of an F-35A to $90 million by 2020, but current Pentagon budget documents list an average production cost of $105-120 million per F-35A-C, from 2017 to the end of the program.

Control: This has been a big issue in the past for customers like Britain and Australia, and has now become an issue for Israel as well. Without control over software source codes, integration of new weapons and algorithms can be controlled by the whims and interests of American politicians and defense contractors. On the other hand, America sees wider access to those fundamental building blocks as a security risk. Arrangements with Britain and Australia appear to have finessed this debate, without removing it.

Noise: The F135 engine’s size and power are unprecedented in a fighter, but that has a corollary. Environmental impact studies in Florida showed that the F-35A is approximately twice as noisy as the larger, twin-engine F-15 fighter, and over 3.5 times as noisy as the F-16s they’re scheduled to replace. That has led to noise complaints from local communities in the USA and abroad, and seems likely to create a broad swathe of local political issues as customers deploy them. In some countries, it may add costs, as governments are forced to compensate or even to buy out nearby homeowners affected by the noise.

Each customer must weigh the issues above against its own defense and industrial needs, and come to a decision. In-depth, updated DID articles that address some of these issues in more detail include:

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: The Program 1st British F-35B
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Is the F-35 an industrial program for a fighter, or a fighter with an industrial program? Beyond the initial competition between Lockheed Martin’s X-35 and Boeing’s X-32, the Joint Strike Fighter was envisioned from the outset as a program that would make sense using either interpretation. A wide set of consortium partners and national government investments would form an interlocking set of commitments, drawing on a wide range of global industrial expertise and making the program very difficult for any one party to back out of or cancel.

The JSF program is ‘tiered,’ with 4 possible levels of participation based on admission levels and funding commitments for the System Design & Development (SDD) phase. All Tier 1-3 nations have also signed MoUs for the Production Phase. This is not a commitment to buy, just the phase in which production arrangements are hammered out – subject to revision, of course, if that country decides not to buy F-35s. Consortium partners and customers to date include:

  • Tier 1 Partners: The USA (majority commitment), Britain
  • Tier 2 Partners: Italy; The Netherlands
  • Tier 3 Partners: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Turkey
  • Security Cooperative Participants status: Israel (20-75), Singapore.
  • Exports: Japan (42).

Italy has expressed an interest in a Lockheed-Martin Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) plant for European orders, and Fellow Tier 1 partner Britain is examining a FACO of its own for BAE. The Netherlands, meanwhile, wants to be a center for engine sustainment and heavy maintenance. The Dutch have signed an agreement with Italy to help each country get what it wants; Norway was added to that agreement in June 2007.

Lightning II official rollout
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The first test aircraft, an F-35A model AA-1, had its formal rollout on July 7/06. The F-35’s forced redesign for weight reasons has led to F-35 AA-1 being a unique airframe used to validate design, manufacturing, assembly and test processes. A total of 23 test aircraft will be built for various purposes (15 flight, 7 non-flight, 1 radar signature), but the exact order of build for the variants involved has shifted several times.

The testing phase was originally supposed to end in 2013, but is now officially scheduled to continue until 2018. Funding for the first sets of production-model aircraft is approved, parts fabrication began in June 2007, and component assembly began later in 2007. F-35As have already been delivered to the USAF – a sore point with the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office, which believes this dual-track approach overlapping testing with production increases project risks. Production will continue to ramp up year-to-year, and by the time the F-35 is expected to reach Full-Rate Production, the program intends to build 240 F-35s per year.

To do that, they’ll need orders. So far, only the USA, Israel, and Japan have placed orders for production F-35s that go beyond training & test aircraft.

Delays in fielding the initial set of test aircraft, fewer than expected flights, and questions about that ambitious ramp up schedule have reportedly led the Pentagon to re-examine these schedules. Development is now expected to last into FY 2019 or later.

Industrial Innovation F-35B JSF Cutaway
by John Batchelor
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At present, F-35 production is led by Lockheed Martin, with BAE and Northrop-Grumman playing major supporting roles, and many subcontractors below that.

BAE Systems is deriving substantial benefits from Britain’s Tier 1 partner status, and Northrop Grumman is responsible for the F-35’s important ‘center barrel’ section, where the wings attach to the fuselage, and also provides many of the aircraft’s key sensors.

F-35 main production and final assembly is currently slated to take place in Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, TX plant. To cut F-35 production cycle time, the team produces major sections of the aircraft at different feeder plants, and “mates” the assemblies at Fort Worth. This is normal in the auto industry, but it’s a departure from the usual fighter-building process.

AF-1 center barrel
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The precise tolerances required for a stealthy fighter, however, are much more exacting than even high-end autos. In order to avoid subtly mismatched seams, which become radar reflection points, parts need to fit together so precisely that some machines are compensating for the phases of the moon!

Even the best machines won’t do any good if the various components aren’t already an excellent fit. To cope, Manufacturing Business Technology reports that the JSF manufacturing team has turned to an integrated back-end IT system. It begins with 3D engineering models (Dassault Systemes CATIA CAD), and extends into production management, where the company has rolled out a manufacturing execution system to handle electronic work instructions, workflow and process modeling, serialized parts data, quality records tracking, etc. (Visiprise).

This combination has enabled greater use of techniques like automated drilling, even as other software (Siemens PLM, TeamCenter) enables product record management and electronic collaboration around designs. On the back-end, the team uses a custom system it calls Production & Inventory Optimization System (PIOS) for manufacturing resources planning and supply chain management; it began using ERP software (SAP) in January 2008 for financials, and may eventually use it to handle supply-chain functions too.

This ‘digital thread’ has been very successful for the team, with part fits showing incredible precision, and successful coordination of plants around the end schedule for key events like the Dec 18/07 F-35B rollout. The system’s ultimate goal is to cut a plane’s production cycle time from the usual 27-30 months to about 12 months, and shrink a 15-20 day cycle to just 6-8 days from order creation to printed & matched manufacturing orders.

Testing, Testing F-35C weapon carriage
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The F-35’s development and testing program was originally supposed to end in 2013. Current estimates involve a 2018 finish for all 3 models, with Block 3F software installed and a smaller set of integrated weapons than initially planned.

The F-35’s development schedule has steadily slipped, and a combination of development and production difficulties left Lockheed Martin significantly behind their planned testing schedule. The company has made a point of highlighting testing progress in 2012, as they finally got ahead of the annual curve:

F-35 JSF family: Testing statistics
(click to view full) Excel

Staying ahead of planned testing points and flights is laudable, but it doesn’t guarantee that the fighter itself is ahead of where it should be on the development curve. Bringing test points forward from future years can keep the numbers even. It won’t solve issues like late software delivery, which is preventing F-35s from fulfilling a number of planned testing points, and makes any combat related testing useless. The F-35s will also need changes in a number of areas, from their horizontal stabilizers to the F-35B’s complex system of lift fans and doors. Those changes will require further testing afterward, adding more test points to the program each time an issue is found. The table below outlines key issues as of 2012, and both of these testing-related datasets are available for download by subscribers:

F-35 JSF family: DOT&E’s key 2012 findings
(click to view full) F-35 JSF: Programs by Country Joint Strike Fighter
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The F-35 is a multinational program, and one of its challenges involves keeping all of the program’s partners moving forward. Each partner has its own issues, and increasingly, its own timeline.

Since early-production fighters can add 50-100% to the cost of full-rate production planes, most of these timelines are determined by how cost-sensitive each customer is.

Home Base: The American Program

In many ways, the American F-35 program sets the tone for all others. Countries that want the F-35, like Japan, are already seeing price hikes because of American decisions to slow initial F-35 production. Current per-plane costs are over $120 million, with initial spares and training infrastructure added on top of that. That price is expected to come down, but it requires volume orders. That means someone has to spend the money, and right now, that someone is the USA.

This leaves the United States on the horns of a dilemma.

One nightmare scenario is a fate similar to the high-end F-22A Raptor, which was initially supposed to field 1,000 fighters, but ended up producing just 183 thanks to spiraling development costs, unexpected upgrade costs, and production costs that never benefited from full economies of scale. Cuts led to continued high prices, which led to more cuts. That scenario would spell disaster for other F-35 customers, who would end up paying far more per plane than they had expected. Some would then defect, driving up prices again for the countries who remained.

The other nightmare scenario for the USA involves significant problems discovered in testing, which then require costly and extensive retrofits to the 400+ F-35 fighters that will be produced before the test program ends. This parallel test/production model has been the subject of heavy criticism from the US government’s GAO auditors. It’s a form of “political engineering” designed to make cancellation too expensive for politicians, even if it leads to sharply higher final costs, or hurts the future fleet.

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American purchase decisions can be described as a balancing act between these nightmares. If they spend too much money ramping up production, other countries are more likely to buy as prices drop, but the USAF could be on the hook for a huge retrofit bill that it can’t afford. If they throttle their efforts back too far in order to avoid retrofit risk, it makes defections by existing JSF partners more likely, and hurts the fighter’s chances of landing export sales.

Lockheed Martin has tried to thread this needle by getting multiple JSF consortium members to commit to a joint buy, in order to create a big enough pool of secure orders to drive down purchase costs for everyone. So far, they’ve been unable to get the signatures they need.


Meanwhile, past and planned American F-35 budgets for all variants are graphed below, with an Excel download as a bonus. Note that R&D forecasts aren’t yet published as a single figure beyond FY 2013:

(click to view full) USN: F-35B & F-35C
(click to view full) Australia (Tier 3) The legacy roster
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Australia was originally going to replace its long-range F-111 fighter-bomber and F/A-18 AM/BM Hornet fighter fleets with a single fleet of 100 F-35A aircraft. Current plans for the F-35 are less clear. A change of governing parties hasn’t shifted Australia’s long-term commitment to the F-35A yet, but rising costs could do so.

In November 2009, the Government approved funding for Phase 2A/B (Stage 1) to acquire 14 F-35As, at a cost of about A$ 2.75 billion. In October 2010, they formally submitted a Partner Procurement Request (PPR) to the US Government, and expect a FY 2012 order for 2 initial F-35As, for delivery in 2014-15. Those 2 planes will remain in the United States for testing and pilot training. The next 12 planes would have been based in Australia, and their Year of Decision will now be 2014-15, which may also cover the Stage 2 buy of 58 planes (TL: 72). Deliveries of operational fighters aren’t expected until 2017-2019 now, which means that RAAF F-35As won’t be flying in Australia until around 2020. The AIR 6000 Phase 2C decision to add another 24 F-35s or so, and raise Australia’s total buy to 96+, won’t happen until 2018-19 at the earliest.

As of 2014, The Royal Australian Navy will begin receiving Canberra Class LHD ships that could deploy F-35Bs, but at present there are no plans to host fighters on board. If those plans change, the AIR 6000 Phase 2C decision is the likely inflection point.

The inflection point for a single fighter fleet has already passed. In May 2007, delays to the F-35 program pushed the RAAF to buy 24 F/A-18F Block II Super Hornets as an interim capability. Those aircraft have all been delivered now, and 12 of them are set to convert to EA-18G Growler tactical jamming fighters. F-35 delays may push Australia to order more Super Hornets, and the hard reality is that each new Super Hornet bought probably subtracts an F-35A from future orders.

Britain (Tier 1) RN CVF Concept
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Britain is the only Tier 1 partner outside the USA, and they have invested about $2 billion equivalent in the F-35’s development. They took delivery of their 1st IOT&E training and test aircraft in July 2012.

Britain’s original plan involved buying 138 F-35B STOVL planes for deployment on land and on their new aircraft carriers, but that will now shrink to an undetermined number.

The UK MoD has also switched back and forth between the F-35B and the catapult-launched F-35C. The F-35C’s range and weapon capacity give it significant time-over-target advantages in a Falkland Islands kind of scenario. On the flip side, the F-35B can fly from forward operating bases in situations like Afghanistan, allowing fewer planes to generate more sorties in the same time frame. The determining factor that switched Britain back to the F-35B was the cost of modifying its aircraft carriers.

Canada (Tier 3) CF-18, 20-year colors
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In July 2010, Canada committed to buy 65 F-35As as its future fighter force, with an envisioned budget up to C$ 9 billion for the fighters, plus C$ 7 billion for 20 years of support. All without a competition. That decision has been beset by controversy ever since, and the Conservative Party government claims that they aren’t committed to buy the F-35A yet. On the other hand, they haven’t made any substantive concessions, or meaningful changes to their plans, aside from promising that if F-35 costs continue to rise, Canada will just buy fewer planes within its budget.

Canada will probably sign a contract by 2015, which would make it too expensive for any successor governments to cancel the program. If the Conservative Party government doesn’t sign a contract before the next election, they had better win again. Otherwise, the conduct of this acquisition program has so antagonized the opposition Liberal and NDP parties that the F-35 buy will be a priority target for cancellation.

In November 2012, the first cracks appeared in the government’s stone wall. The Public Works ministry took over the lead role from DND, and said that the military’s original statement of requirements would be suspended while the government reviewed fighter options. Read full coverage, including industrial participants, over at “Canada Preparing to Replace its CF-18 Hornets.”

Denmark (Tier 3) Danish F-16 MLU
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Denmark is a consortium member, but they threw their F-16 fighter replacement order open to competition in 2007. The F-35A was competing against Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Sweden’s JAS-39E/F Gripen, but an April 2010 decision delayed the competition. The Danes reportedly have about 30 operational F-16s in 2013, with another 15 stored in reserve.

The F-16 replacement process has started again as promised, with EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon added to the mix of invitees. A decision to buy 24-32 fighters is now expected by June 2015.

Italy (Tier 2) CVH Cavour
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Italy has made significant investments in JSF development, and the country intends to host a European Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) production line in Cameri, near Milan.

The navy’s ITS Cavour aircraft carrier will need at least 22 F-35Bs to replace its AV-8 Harrier fighters, but Europe and Italy’s slow-motion fiscal calamity makes the rest of its buy far less certain. The original plan involved 131 F-35s for the Army and Navy, but a February 2012 decision has scaled plans back to 90 fighters. The Italians are still discussing whether to buy a mix of F-35As and F-35Bs for the air force, but cost pressures are likely to push the Aeronautica Militare toward F-35As.

Given Italy’s rising borrowing costs, and the air force’s modern fleet of 96 Eurofighter Typhoons, further cuts in Aeronautica Militare F-35 purchases would be a reasonable expectation.

The Netherlands (Tier 2) Dutch F-16s,
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The F-35 is the Ministerie van Defensie’s choice, but instability in successive Dutch governments has prevented a clear decision. The Netherlands plans to buy up to 85 fighters, and as one of the two JSF Tier 2 partners, they want to place a European maintenance hub in the Netherlands. Industry benefits figure heavily in their decision, and participation in the JSF program was structured as a payback scheme. That has sometimes created a strained relationship between the government and participating firms.

Cost is a serious issue. A September 2009 media report revealed that Saab submitted a bid for 85 ready-to-fly JAS-39NL Gripen fighters, at a reported cost of EUR 4.8 billion. In contrast, a December 2010 report to the Dutch Parliament placed the expected purchase cost of 85 F-35As at EUR 7.6 billion, and the government has said that if costs continue to rise, the only change will be fewer fighters bought.

Costs have risen, even as budgets shrank. A 2012 Rekenkamer report revealed that the MvD was admitting a ceiling of just 56 F-35As, given their EUR 4.05 billion budget. That isn’t enough for their current responsibilities, and their notional EUR 68.6 million/ $89 million per plane figure is significantly less than the Pentagon’s post-2017 average cost projection of $108 million – which allows just 48 Dutch F-35As. Throw in the 21% Dutch Value Added Tax, and the real number could be as low as 33-38 F-35As.

Keeping its F-16s flying until the required 2027 date is expected to cost another EUR 335 million, and must be figured into the total cost, even if it comes from a separate budget item. A slip to 2029, or another fighter option that took that much more time, brings that total added cost to EUR 515 million.

Finally, F-35 maintenance and operating costs are expected to be higher than either the current F-16s (+42% American projection), or the Gripen. That affects the number that can be kept flying under future budgets. The 2012 Rekenkamer report says that estimates for 30 years of F-35A operations & maintenance, exclusive of fuel, have risen from EUR 2.9 billion for 85 planes in 2001, to EUR 14.2 billion. Buying 68 aircraft only drops this estimate to EUR 13.2 billion, and that non-linear drop makes it likely that O&M costs for a fleet of 42-48 F-35As, over 30 years, would be well over EUR 200 million per-plane.

A final decision is scheduled for 2015, but successive coalition governments have been pushing through contracts for initial F-35 test aircraft, as a way of entrenching their country’s commitment. A July 2012 vote left only the center-right VVD and Christian Democrats supporting an F-35 buy, and after the elections, a coalition with the opposition PvdA Labour party changed the process for reaching that 2015 decision. Whether it will change anything else remains to be seen.

Norway (Tier 3) RNoAF F-16,
off to Libya
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Norway picked the F-35A in November 2008, after a competition that Wikileaks documents suggest was a sham. Parliamentary opposition finally caved in July 2011, and purchases began in 2012. They will buy 46-52 F-35s, with an initial 4 training aircraft slated to begin delivery in 2015. Another 42-48 planned fighters are slated to begin turning into contracts as of 2017, and the program’s official overall cost currently lists as NOK 60 billion/ $FY12 10 billion. Basing will be at Orland AB, with a satellite forward operating base up north at Evenes.

As part of their program, Norway’s Kongsberg is developing a stealthy, sub-sonic Joint Strike Missile (JSM/NSM) that will be able to hit ships or land targets, and can be carried inside the F-35A/C weapons bay. Its positioning as an internally-carried cruise missile will be unique, and Australia has already indicated interest. At present, however, there’s no firm date for integration.

Read “F-35 Lightning II Wins Norway’s (Fake) Competition” for full coverage.

Turkey (Tier 3) TuAF F-16s
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Turkey had talked about ordering up to 100 F-35A fighters, as the long-term replacement for its 240-plane F-16 fleet. beyond the program’s industrial benefits, they also have a geopolitical rationale. Turkey’s main rival, Greece, has been crippled by its fiscal situation, and is not an F-35 program participant. They’re unlikely to field any fighters with technology beyond their existing F-16s for quite some time, and Turkey wants an edge. The Turks are also beginning to project influence into Central Asia, have neighbors in Syria, Iraq and Iran that bear watching, and are stoking a growing level of friction with Israel, an F-35 customer.

In the near term, a combination of new buys and upgrades will ensure a long life for Turkey’s F-16s. Current plans still involve 100 F-35s, and 2012 saw the first contract – but by January 2013, Turkey was postponing its purchase of 2 training and test aircraft. The overall program is expected to cost around $16 billion.

Israel (Security Cooperation Partner) Israeli F-16C
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With 326 F-16s in the IAF (224 F-16A-D, 102 F-16i), Israel is the largest F-16 operator outside of the United States. Their commitment to regional superiority made them the first country outside the USA to commit to a production F-35 buy in October 2010, with a contract for 20 “F-35is” and options to raise that number to 75 planes. The F-22 Raptor had been their preferred choice, but America refused to export it.

The Israelis got some concessions from Lockheed Martin and the US government, including the ability to insert their own ECM(Electronic Counter Measures) defensive equipment. Their F-35i will also carry compatible communications equipment and some avionics, and the Israelis are expected to push for early integration of their own weapons, like RAFAEL’s Python 5 short-range air-to-air missile and Spice GPS/IIR guided smart bomb. F-35i system development contracts began in August 2012.

Read “Israeli Plans to Buy F-35s Moving Forward” for full coverage.

Singapore (Security Cooperation Partner) RSAF F-16D
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Singapore expects to replace its 74-plane F-16 fleet with F-35s, but they have a lot of timing flexibility. A program of significant fleet upgrades to F-16V status is expected to begin within the next year, giving them a plane that’s more advanced than USAF F-16s. Their new fleet of 20 high-end F-15SGs are already more advanced than the USAF’s Strike Eagles, and their combined fleet size and quality is expected to keep them comfortably ahead of their neighbors for a while.

In the nearer term, their fleet of about 34 upgraded F-5S/T fighters will need replacement. Singapore is reported to be about to announce an order for 12 F-35Bs, as part of a larger export approval request that could go as high as 75 planes. Their alternative would be to order more F-15SGs as F-5 replacements, and wait until it was time to begin replacing their F-16s. An order of 12 Strike Eagles would cost less, and would offer a much wider array of capabilities until about 2025 or later. F-35Bs would offer more risk, and would enter service much later, in exchange for stealth and the ability to take off and land from damaged runways.

Exports: Beyond the Program Team

Japan F-4EJ “Kai(zen)”
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The F-22 Raptor had been Japan’s preferred choice, but America refused to export it. In December 2011, therefore, Japan picked the F-35A over Boeing’s F/A-18E Super Hornet International, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The F-35A was said to have the best capabilities, based only on mathematical analysis of the paper submissions Japan received. It eked out a narrow “Gilligan win” on overall cost by offering dorsal aerial refueling and finishing 2nd in both sub-categories, and was even with the others in terms of maintenance contracts offered. The only major category it lost was domestic industrial participation, but the winning Eurofighter bid had cost issues with that aspect of its submission.

The JASDF has an approved Foreign Military Sale request for 42 F-35As, and has committed to 4 so far. This set of 42 F-35As will replace its fleet of 91 upgraded F-4 “Phantom Kai” fighters. Eventually, Japan will also need to replace about 213 F-15J Eagle air superiority fighters with at least 100 new planes, but the F-35 will have to compete for that.

Past fighter orders from Japan have involved extensive license production. So far, reports and documents indicate that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be involved in work on F-35 aircraft bodies, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. on mission-related avionics, and IHI Corp. on F135 engines.

Read “Japan’s Next Fighters: F-35 Wins The F-X Competition” for full coverage.

Future Sales Opportunities F-15 Silent Eagles
Boeing concept
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Lockheed Martin continues to promote the F-35 in the international market, but its priority is securing production orders from the countries that are already part of the JSF consortium.

South Korea’s F-X-III fighter competition is probably the F-35’s biggest near-term export opportunity. The F-35 is competing against Boeing’s stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon for that 60-plane order.

A number of Middle Eastern countries are shopping for fighter jets, including the UAE, Oman, and Qatar. Kuwait is expected to join them soon. So far, the F-35 hasn’t featured prominently in reporting about these competitions. It isn’t a contender in Oman, and the UAE’s focus appears to be fixed on either France’s Rafale or the Eurofighter Typhoon.

In Europe, Belgium and Portugal will need to replace their F-16s pretty soon, but political and fiscal woes make such buys unlikely. Eastern European countries either have medium-to-long term commitments in place, or are too small and poor to be likely F-35 customers. Lockheed Martin’s brightest hope beyond its existing consortium partners is probably Spain. Like Italy, Spain will eventually need to either buy the F-35B as its only real option to replace the AV-8 Matadors (Harriers) on the Juan Carlos I, or downgrade the ship to a helicopter and UAV carrier. Europe’s slow-motion collapse has pushed its fiscal difficulties close to their limit, however, and there are no Spanish plans at present for an F-35 buy.

The F-35 has been promoted to India, especially as a naval fighter option for its new carriers. It was not a contender for India’s M-MRCA buy, however, and prospects for a future sale seem dim due to competition from a range of existing naval (MiG-29K, Tejas naval) and air force (SU-30MKI, SU-50i FGFA) program commitments.

F-35 Contracts & Decisions

LRIP = Low Rate Initial Production. Unless otherwise noted, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, MD manages these contracts.

FY 2013 – 2016

F-35A & F-22A,
Eglin AFB
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May 4/16: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1.2 billion contract for the production of 13 F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Delivery of the fighters will see six F-35Bs sent to the USMC, three F-35As for the USAF and four F-35Cs for the US Navy. Work on the fighters is expected to be completed by December 2019.

April 28/16: Israel’s eagerness to customize its orders of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has already seen its first app created for the next generation jet. Utilizing the open-architecture software design found in the Lockheed Martin designed fighter, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed its own command, control, communications, and computing (C4) system which will be equipped on the aircraft in December. The software is an upgrade of an existing C4 system the Israeli air force flies on its F-15 and F-16 fighters.

April 27/16: Recent software glitches found in the APG-81 radar for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have not caused any problems for F-35Bs operated by the USMC. The comments were made by Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis as he appeared in front of the US Senate Armed Services seapower committee. Davis said that the glitches, which caused the fighter’s radars to reset mid-flight, only occurred on code found in the 3I software update which the Marine Corps never uploaded onto their jets, instead keeping with the older 2B version.

April 22/16: It doesn’t look likely that the F-35 will be sold to any Gulf nation within the next decade, allowing Israel regional exclusivity to the fifth-generation jet fighter. The widely held, but not often articulated belief by many Israeli officials, is that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members will not have access to the fighter until Israel has fully integrated the F-35 into its arsenal. This belief has been given further weight after US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work indicated such a move was unlikely, saying that “right now, we do not have any expectation for selling the F-35 in the near term, beyond the countries that have already bought into the program.”

April 14/16: A deal has been reached between the Pentagon and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney to provide the ninth low rate production of F135 engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The $1.4 billion deal covers 66 engines, as well as spares, extra parts, and support. Part of the order will include engines for five of the F-35 partners, including Italy, Norway, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

March 31/16: The Pentagon’s joint program office (JPO) is expecting a slimmed down Gen-3 helmet by November for rollout in 2017. The announcement makes the Rockwell Collins design’s introduction sooner than initially expected. Earlier versions of the helmet were revised due to a potential for causing neck injury. Problems with the F-35’s ejector system had resulted in potential injuries for lightweight pilots, however fixes have been made including a switch on the Martin Baker US16E (MK16) ejection seat that delays the parachute’s opening “by milliseconds” when occupied by a lightweight pilot, plus a head support panel sewn between the parachute risers. However, a weight reduction for the third-generation helmet from 2.3kg (5.1lb) to 2.1kg (4.6lb) has also been required.

March 29/16: Despite the delays, spiraling costs, and cynics, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has gone on a global publicity tour to win over hearts and minds for the fifth-generation stealth aircraft. Two planes due for the Netherlands are expected in June, so that they “can tell their story.” This is followed by American and UK planes performing at UK’s Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough Airshow in July. The program has been questioned by several nations, including Australia where their Senate is leading an inquiry into the planned acquisition of up to 72 conventional A-models. The inquiry will report its findings on 29 June.

March 28/16: F-35s are going to be in the sky longer than expected with their service life now extended to 2070. After military branches made tweaks to the number of flight hours their fleets should log before retirement, it was announced that the program may be extended for an additional six years. Between all military branches operating the aircraft, a total of 1.6 million flight hours have been added, which will boost the operating and support (O&S) costs by $45 billion over the 2015 estimate (hiding the 2-4% drop in real 0&S costs over the life of the program).

March 25/16: Software troubles on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program may cause a key milestone for initial operational capability (IOC) to be delayed by up to four months, although that is an improvement over the Joint Program Offices’s projection a year ago. The schedule delay is primarily due to software “stability” issues, seen in both Blocks 3i and 3F, with Block 3F capabilities estimated not be ready for IOT&E until 2018 at the earliest.

March 25/16: Despite potential delays to the F-35 IOC, the Pentagon has dropped the estimated price of its acquisition of 2,457 fighters by $12.1 billion. The drop marks a 3% decrease on the expected costs declared a year ago. This could potentially dissuade the program’s nay-sayers who have often derided the program’s soaring costs, potentially persuading Denmark and Canada who are currently on the fence, to perhaps continue with their participation in the Joint Strike Fighter Program.

March 22/16: Delaying investment into a 6th generation fighter has been recommended by Lockheed Martin, who is instead favoring a “robust” modernization program to keep fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s capable against new counter-air threats. The comments were made by the company’s Skunk Works chief Rob Weiss, who claims such a modernization will achieve the air dominance that America desires for the next 30 to 40 years. Lockheed currently holds dominance in the fifth generation market, and looks to push block upgrades of existing aircraft as the USAF and Navy assess their fighter requirements over the oncoming decades. Meanwhile, competitors Boeing and Northrop Grumman would like to break back into the high-end combat jet market after losing the winner takes all Joint Strike Fighter competition.

March 16/16: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will test the new Generation III Helmet-Mounted Display System this month, as it aims to counter problems with the jet’s ongoing ejection seat issues. Since August, a ban has been placed on lightweight pilots from flying the aircraft, as the current helmet may cause neck injury during low-speed ejections. The later version of the helmet is 8 ounces lighter than its predecessor, and is one of several options being worked on to counter potential injuries. The other options involve modifications to the ejector seat, and are scheduled to enter the production line this November.

March 9/16: Bugs in the F-35A 3i software are forcing pilots to restart the AESA radars while in flight. The glitch represents one of the greatest threats to the USAF’s initial operational capability (IOC), expected sometime between 1 August and 31 December. The root cause of the problem has been identified by lead contractor Lockheed Martin, now in the process of running the software solution through lab tests. The patch is expected to be delivered to the USAF by the end of March.

March 8/16: Canada’s participation in the F-35 program continues to be shrouded in confusion. The government plans to pay an installment of $32.9 million in May to continue its involvement in procuring the Joint Strike Fighter. This runs contrary to promises made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon the project during the run-up to the federal election in October. Trudeau had pledged that a cheaper alternative could be found as a replacement to the country’s aging CF-18 fighters, however, the F-35 has been allowed to participate in the latest replacement competition. The payment will ensure Canada’s place in the program until September 30, 2016, when a more concrete decision on the CF-18 competition may have been made.

March 2/16: Combat-coded F-35sdropped their first live munitons in testing last week. Laser-guided bombs were used by the USAF’s 388th and 419th fighter wings at the Utah Test & Training Range. While Air Force F-35s have dropped weapons in test environments, this is the first time it’s been done on jets designed to deploy once the Air Force declares initial operational capability planned for between August and December.

Lockheed Martin received a $769.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee, fixed-price-incentive-firm contract to provide recurring logistics sustainment services support for all delivered F-35 jets for the USAF, USMC, Navy, non-Department of Defense participants, and foreign military sales customers. Support provided includes ground maintenance activities, action request resolution, depot activation activities, Automatic Logistics Information System operations and maintenance, reliability, maintainability and health management implementation support, supply chain management and activities to provide and support pilot and maintain initial training.

February 17/16: Israel’s tanker procurement plan, and whether it will acquire more F-35s, will depend on how much assistance it will get from the US Foreign Military Funding package over the next ten years. Sources commenting on ongoing negotiations say that the Pentagon is likely to increase funding by up to $1 billion, which will set funds at $4.1 billion annually. The increase would see Israel commit to selecting the Boeing KC-45A tanker which is currently undergoing advanced testing under its Milestone C demonstration. The increase in funding could also see further purchases of the F-35I, adding to the current order of 33, the first of which are due this year.

The executive vice-president of the aeronautics business at Lockheed Martin, Orlando Carvalho, has indicated the Asia Pacific market may see another 100 orders of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over the coming years. With three regional allies; Japan, South Korea, and Australia so far ordering 154 of the aircraft across its three models, further additions could be added to these fleets, although no mention has been made about potential new customers. With Australia indicating that it may bring up its fleet from 74 to 100 and Japan potentially seeking to build more of their own under license, that number may be possible. Another potential purchase may be from Singapore, who is considering the F-35, although there has been no indication of the size of the order under consideration.

February 12/16: The head of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has played down reductions to the F-35A annual procurement quota to 48. Lt. Gen Christopher Bogden said that this would be upped to 60 units annually from fiscal 2018-2020. When adjusted for increased orders for the F-35B & F-35C procurement, the program will see 36 less F-35 aircraft procured overall between 2017-2021. Bogden has claimed however that the overall price per unit to the program will only increase fractionally by 1%. While warnings have been given that the forces aren’t modernizing quickly enough to counter Russia and China, the deferrals in production may come as a financial positive in the long run. With 20% of development testing yet to go in the program, reducing procurement at this stage will save on costly modernization of models produced in the next two years.

February 10/16: MBDA has started deliveries of a number of Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air missiles (ASRAAM) to the US for integration on the UK’s F-35B fighters. The ASRAAMs will be the first British built missiles to be used on the jet, and will be used during test flights and air launches later this year. The missile can be seen in use on the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornados. The British contribution to the manufacture of the F-35 program stands at about 15% of every fighter, with BAE Systems responsible for the production of the aircraft’s horizontal and vertical tails, aft fuselage, and wing tips. 138 F-35Bs will be bought for use by the RAF and Royal Navy.

February 9/16: The first Italian-made, flown and supported F-35A has become the first in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to complete a transatlantic crossing. The AL-1 took off from Portugal’s Azores islands and reached Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland seven hours later after flying 2,000nm. The fighter was flown by former Panavia Tornado pilot, Maj Gianmarco who has accumulated over 80 hours of flight time in the aircraft since graduating to fly the F-35A type in November. Refueling of the jet also took place supported by an Italian crew manning a KC-767 tanker with Gianmarco noting a 100% success rate on all occasions.

February 8/16: The US Department of Defense will acquire 404 F-35 fighters over the next five years. That number is a decrease of 5-7% on last year’s plan. The order will see $40 billion in revenue going to manufacturer Lockheed Martin and engine maker Pratt & Whitney. The deviation from last year’s plan comes as the Pentagon is shifting orders away from models ordered for the Air Force instead giving preference to the Navy & Marine Corps models. The coming years will see a total of 2,457 F-35s spread around all three military branches.

February 5/16: USAF orders of the F-35A jet will drop from forty-eight to forty-three in Fiscal Year 2017. However, the budget will include increased money to purchase ten additional F-35C models for the Navy and three F-35B models for the Marines over what had been planned. It’s unclear whether the total number of total aircraft to be procured under the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program will decrease overall. The move has not been too surprising as analysts and government officials have hinted that changes to JSF procurement could change. The cutting of the F-35As in 2017 is expected to free up millions in savings over the next several years.

February 3/16: A recent report from the Pentagon’s top weapons tester has raised serious questions over the F-35 program’s “unrealistic test schedule”. Michael Gilmore’s annual F-35 report released on Monday follows a recently leaked memo from December 2015 that highlighted issues over the jet’s software development. The report flags these testing issues as potentially delaying the operational evaluation by up to a year, with flight testing not likely to be completed until at least January 2018. It had been initially hoped that testing would be completed by August 2017, after program re-baselining in 2012. As a result of these delays, Gilmore also warned against current block buying of the fighter with 250 planned to be locked-in before the (Initial Operational Test and Evaluation) IOT&E. At present, 150 fully operational jets have been delivered by Lockheed and will all require extensive modification to the Block 3F standard once development concludes.

Ahead of the Pentagon’s February 9 official budget release, Defense Secretary Ash Carter mapped out his spending priorities on Tuesday. Among the plans include a $13 billion plan in funding for a new submarine to carry nuclear ballistic missiles over the next five years. This would be broken down into $4 billion towards research and development of new submarines, with $9 billion spent on procurement funding. The Navy may also see twelve more Super Hornet’s procured to make up for shortages caused by delays to Lockheed’s F-35 program, and longer-than-expected repair times for current Boeing F/A-18 jets. The budget also outlines a total 322 F-35s across its A, B and C models but following the recommendations in Michael Gilmore’s most recent report, this could be more wishful thinking than the eventual reality.

January 27/16: Despite recent successful testing of missiles on the F-35, a DoD weapons expert has expressed concerns over the fighter’s software development. A recently reported December memo from Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, expresses worry that plans to finish work on the F-35’s Block 3F software by July 2017 are unrealistic. Rushing the testing schedule for the software could result in a failure for the crucial IOC testing before the decison is made to put the jet into full production. The Joint Program Office, however, has dismissed the concerns, maintaining that the program is on track and that IOC dates for the Navy and Army will be met.

January 25/16: Falling oil prices and a weakening currency may effect Norway’s participation in the F-35 program. The increase in economic worries has seen Norway look to re-evaluate its defense spending commitments as the Krone falls against the US dollar, making the already expensive F-35 acquisition seem even more pricey. Alternatives to covering the costs of the fifty-two plane commitment may see the order reduced, or spending cut from elsewhere. The slash in other areas would force Norway to rethink its military strategy, and perhaps rely much more heavily on NATO.

January 20/16: The F-35 program will face one of its first live test challenges when a combat-coded F-35A will release an inert, laser-guided bomb at the Utah Test and Training Range between February and March. The releasing of the GBU-12 Paveway II will be the first one conducted outside of development or operational testing, and will mark a milestone in the development of a program plagued by delays, redesigns and spiraling costs. The full compliment of weapons will not arrive until late 2017. Until then, the Air Force will first operate with basic laser and GPS-guided weapons, as well as beyond-visual-range AIM-120 air-to-air missiles. It will also have advanced targeting, surveillance and radar-jamming equipment.

January 19/16: Engine makers Pratt & Whitney will make engines for the F-35 program. Details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, but two contracts will be issued to produce 167 engines to power Lockheed Martin’s latest jet within the next month. Further details of the deals have yet to be realized, but sources close to the deal revealed that the production of the engines alongside engineering support, spare parts and program management, would be worth more than $3 billion to Pratt, a unit of United Technologies Corporation. The USAF said that the latest contracts will help drive down costs of the program which makes it affordable for customers.

January 18/16: All variants of the F-35 fighter jet are to get design overhauls since the discovery that the fuel tanks could over-pressurize in certain flight profiles; 154 F-35s have been delivered to date. Lockheed Martin has already received contracts to implement fixes on F-35A and F-35B, and are currently putting together a proposal for engineering works on the F-35C. Fuel tank ruptures have potentially devastating consequences, especially for fast moving aircraft such as the F-35s, with the potential to cost millions of dollars worth of damage.

January 14/16: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $28 million concurrency modification contract to correct a fuel tank overpressure issue for the F-35A fighter. The award will see them provide services for air vehicle retrofit modifications associated with the F-35A fuel tank overpressure engineering change. Work will be carried out for the Air Force, and the governments of Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway. The modification in design is not expected to effect the IOC of the aircraft.

January 12/16: The USAF will not be lifting weight restrictions on F-35 pilots until at least 2018. The push back comes as ejector seat manufacturer Martin-Baker needs more time to conduct additional testing on the ejector seat safety features in the fighters. The program has been experiencing problems with this specific aspect of the plane’s development since the summer of 2015, but this has just been one of many issues to have dogged the program amid increased delays and spiraling costs. The Pentagon hopes to make the aircraft’s European debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK this summer after engine issues forced it to be omitted from last year’s show. No doubt foreign partners in the program will be following with interest.

A delegation from Israel’s defense ministry has visited a Lockheed Martin production facility in Forth Worth, Texas as the frames of their first F-35I’s enter their advanced production phase. Israeli procurement of the F-35 fighter, dubbed the AS-1, differs slightly from the standard model of F-35A to be exported to other nations involved in the program. Unique features include the integration of Israel’s own electronic warfare systems into the aircraft’s built-in electronic suite, as well as the ability to use indigenously produced guided and air-to-air missiles. Israel has ordered thirty-three F-35I fighters at a cost of $3.6 billion.

December 23/15: Canada’s recent exit of the F-35 fighter program may not be as cut and dried as promised on the campaign trail by the Liberal Party government. During a recent interview, defense minister Harjit Sajjan sidestepped answering questions on whether the Lockheed Martin F-35 jet would be excluded from a competition to replace the CF-18 fleet. The government hopes to replace the aging CF-18 flight before they become obsolete. Recent promises by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to back out of the F-35 development program and find a replacement that was more cost effective has resulted in a new selection process. However, it was unclear whether the F-35 could come under consideration again. Canada has yet to set the terms for the replacement competition, but Lockheed may just have a second chance in 2016.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1.17 billion advance acquisition contract for the F-35 fighter. The contract includes the advance procurement of long lead time materials, parts, components and effort to maintain the planned production schedule for F-35 low rate initial production lot 11 aircraft. It will see the production of 80 of the F-35A variant, seven of the F-35B variant and four F-35C aircraft that are destined for the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as well as sales to foreign allies.

December 18/15: It looks like a very merry Christmas for Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as they came out as the major winners in the announced $1.15 trillion spending bill announced on Wednesday. Funding will see eleven more F-35 Lightning IIs than requested by President Obama in February. The F-35 program will see $1.33 billion additional procurement money as production of the fighters will be ramped up. The F/A-18 production line will also be extended, with seven more EA-18G Growlers and five F/A-18E/F Super Hornets planned.

December 15/15: Israel may potentially increase their orders of F-35 fighters as it holds the option to purchase 17 more, enough for two squadrons. They have already purchased 33 of the F-35A variant which allows for conventional take off capabilities, while the F-35B allows for operations in more austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near frontline combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. The Defense Ministry hopes that the addition will increase Israel’s offensive capabilities and qualitative edge amid regional threats.

Singapore is apparently in no rush to order some F-35s after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen visited the Luke Air Force Base, Arizona on December 13. The minister was there for a demonstration of the fighters capabilities, and to see the Singapore Air Force’s (SAF) F-15s compete in training exercises. While speaking highly of the progress of the F-35’s development, he failed to commit to any future purchase of the aircraft for the SAF. Hen’s comments come at a time when several countries linked to the program are either renewing commitment to the F-35 program (Norway), or hesitating over costs and performance (Australia, Canada). Perhaps Minister Hen just wants to be wooed a little more.

December 14/15: The USS America has been the first west coast Navy vessel to receive upgrades to support F-35 operations. The modifications saw key areas of the flight deck have a thermal spray applied to key landing areas which will allow the ship to fully support the new fighter. The thermal coatings will allow the USS America to handle the new F-35’s thrust; reducing heat sent to decks below, allowing for longer time between deck maintenance. It is expected that other members of the America-class ships will undergo the application, to allow for facilitating the jets as part of the US Navy’s plans to increase air capabilities of fleets.

Norway is to order six more F-35 fighters after the government approved a new defense budget worth $5.6 billion. The approval sees an increase of 9% in defense spending. The move comes as a reiteration of Norway’s commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, and will see the number of jets authorized for purchase increase to 28. Delivery of the jets is expected to take place in 2020.

December 7/15: Denmark has further postponed its selection of a new fighter to replace the F-16 until 2016. After it was initially reported that they would select the F-35 this month, funding issues around the acquisition have caused the new government to put further consideration into the commitment. After contributing an estimated $291 million into the project, issues surrounding technical problems and soaring costs may have the Danes looking elsewhere for their fighter needs. Denmark hasn’t been the only country having a wobble over the F-35. Canada announced last month that it was withdrawing from the Joint Strike Fighter development program, and last week, the Australian Senate voted in favor of an inquiry into their acquisition plans.

Italy has received its first F-35 fighter after it came off the assembly on Thursday. While six other countries have received the planes, Italy is the first to have the final assembly done outside of the US. The unveiling took place at the Cameri Air Base where the final assembly and check out (FACO) line is located. It is owned by the Italian government and operated by Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin. Italy will also have the honor of taking the F-35 on its first ever trans-Atlantic flight in February 2016, when three Italian pilots are set to receive training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

Pakistan has announced plans to acquire 5th generation fighters internationally and still continue to develop its own line of JF-17 planes. The move comes as regional rivals have been upgrading military capabilities, with India recently purchasing 126 Rafale fighters from France. According to Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, the desired choice for the PAF is the Lockheed Martin F-35, but they are also looking at other options. Pakistan will continue to export the JF-17 to other countries with Egypt the latest country to express interest in the plane.

December 4/15: The Australian Senate will launch an inquiry into its planned acquisition of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters after a vote on Monday. The Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade committee will investigate how the fighter will integrate with the air force’s needs, its cost and benefits, performance testing and possible alternatives. The Royal Australian Air Force has planned to purchase 72 of the aircraft with the possibility of increasing to 100 fighters. At $11.7 billion, it is the most expensive defence acquisition program to date. Findings in the report will be presented to the Senate in May 2016.

November 30/15: The Australian senate is to vote on whether it to is examine the purchase of F-35 fighters in a deal worth $24 billion ($17.25 billion US). The vote comes in the aftermath of Canada announcing that it is to back out of its own orders last month. The investigation would look into the deal and what would be the best value for money for Australia and its defense requirements. Canada’s withdrawal from the F-35 program has brought about confusion over pricing as it was announced by US Air Force Lieutenant-General Chris Bogdan that costs of each aircraft were likely to increase by $1 million. This was contrary to previous assurances by the Australian Department of Defence that no extra costs would be incurred by Australia. Australia is one of eight nations working in conjunction with the US to develop and purchase the new fighter. The result of the vote will be watched with interest as the program could see a domino effect of cancellations as confidence in the program wanes.

November 23/15: US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has suggested that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter will take part in Canada’s latest jet selection competition. The announcement comes after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he would not be purchasing the jet as part of Canada’s replacement of older CF-18s. Work’s comments appear contrary to the Canadian administration but seems to be coming across as part of US efforts to rescue Canadian participation in the program.

While rumours continue over the fate of Canada and the F-35 program, Denmark is expected to confirm an order for the aircraft this December. It was reported last year that the order would be for 30 of the aircraft and would be replace the F-16s that are currently in service in the Royal Danish Air Force. Other European countries expected to make purchases include Norway and the Netherlands.

November 17/15: A crack has been found on the wing of the F-35C fighter during durability testing earlier this month. The crack was located on one of the 13 wing spars of the aircraft but the Pentagon has assured that the government and engineering teams are working on a solution and retrofits are being planned for existing aircraft. The US Navy does not see the setback impacting upon the planned Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the C model set for August 2018. One does wonder will this impact upon Canada’s order of the aircraft which has been put into question since the election of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month. Trudeau announced that he would put an end to their participation in the F-35 program for a more costly alternative during campaigning. This may increase the cost by US$1 million per aircraft.

November 9/15: Two Italian pilots have completed initial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training at Luke Air Force Base, allowing them to return to Italy and form a bedrock for the Italian Air Force’s F-35 training program. Italy is a Tier 2 partner in the program, with a planned procurement of 90 F-35s.

November 5/15: Lockheed Martin has been handed a $5.37 billion contract action for 55 Lot IX Joint Strike Fighters, including 41 F-35As, 12 F-35Bs and 2 F-35Cs. Six of the F-35As are to complete foreign sales to Norway, while seven are headed for Israel and two for Japan. Half of the 12 F-35B variants are for the Royal Navy, with the remaining B and C models for the Marine Corps and Navy respectively.

November 4/15: The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter has fired its GAU-22/A internal cannon while airborne for the first time, following ground testing in July. The 25mm cannon was fired in three bursts above Edwards AFB, with further tests involving a production F-35A planned for next year. The Air Force will pass the F-35A’s Initial Operating Clearance (IOC) without the aircraft’s internal gun system, with the weapon scheduled to enter service in 2017 as part of the aircraft’s Block 3F upgrade.

October 23/15: The Pentagon says that the work to fix the F-35’s ejection seat could take another year, with the program office stating that the manufacturer of the seat – UK firm Martin Baker – will have to cover the redesign costs. Issues with the US16E ejection seat grounded lightweight pilots at the end of September, with the risk of serious neck injury in low-speed ejections deemed too high; however, the restrictions only affected one out of the 215 pilots trained to fly the Joint Strike Fighter. The program office intends to install a head support panel in addition to a switch designed to slightly slow deployment of the ejection seat’s parachute.

If Canada’s new Liberal government decides to pull out from the F-35 program, the per-unit cost across the international program could rise by $1 million, according to the head of the Joint Strike Fighter’s program office. While there would be no impact on the F-35’s development program – scheduled to end in 2017 – the loss of Canada’s previous 65-aircraft order could drive up the cost by as much as 1% for the remaining international partners, owing to the requirement to cover future maintenance and modernization costs.

October 21/15: With Canada’s Liberal party securing victory in the country’s national elections, the potential procurement of Canadian F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are likely to be dropped, with leader Justin Trudeau announcing in September that he would scrap the controversy-ridden program. He has promised an “open and transparent competition” to find a replacement for the Canadian fleet of CF-18 Hornets, with work guarantees for Canadian industry built into any future contract. The savings from buying a less expensive fighter are to be funnelled to the Royal Canadian Navy to shore up expensive shipbuilding plans, with Lockheed Martin standing to lose $6 billion from the decision. However, the decision to back out from the F-35 program – which Canada signed up to in 2002 – could see work for Canadian firms in the F-35 supply base disappear completely.

October 15/15: The problems grounding lightweight pilots from flying the F-35 are now thought to be centered on the Joint Strike Fighter’s sophisticated Gen III helmet. The helmet – designed and built by Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems – is now thought to be too heavy to ensure a safe ejection at low speeds. The precise issue of whether the Martin Baker ejection seat or the helmet requires modification – or both – is currently under review by the Joint Project Office.

October 12/15: The Navy has completed testing of the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The two aircraft used in the trials carried out ‘high risk’, heavy launches, involving simulated weapons loads and low airspeeds. These trials build on previous testing (in November 2014) of the F-35C’s ability to land and take off from carriers. When the F-35Cs landed aboard the carrier in early October the trials were also slated to test the JPALS landing assistance system, with no word yet as to whether this was achieved. A third round of at-sea testing is scheduled for summer 2016, with the F-35C developmental testing now approximately 80% complete.

October 5/15: An F-35 released a weapon from its external rack for the first time in late September, according to a Lockheed Martin press release Friday. A test aircraft released four 500lb GBU-12 JDAM bombs over the Atlantic Test Range, building on testing conducted by the Marines in June when GBU-12 and GBU-32 JDAMs were dropped, presumably from the Joint Strike Fighter’s internal weapons bay.

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

October 2/15: An issue with the F-35‘s ejection seat has grounded lightweight pilots from flying the aircraft, according to a report by Defense News. The issue was uncovered during testing in August and the restriction (of pilots weighing less than 136lb) is reportedly only an interim measure until the manufacturer – Martin-Baker – can develop a solution to the problem in cooperation with the F-35’s Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin. Fighter ejection seats are supposed to be capable of accommodating pilots weighing between 103 and 246lbs.

September 25/15: The next set of testing on the F-35C will include new pilot helmets, integration with the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) and operations involving a full internal weapons bay, with these scheduled to take place during the first half of October. The Navy will build on tests conducted at sea in November, which saw the carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter achieve 100% of its threshold requirements.

September 23/15: The Dutch Defense Ministry has penned an agreement with engine-manufacturer Pratt & Whitney for a Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul & Upgrade workshop in the south of the country to support future F-35 operations. The company’s F-135 engine powers the F-35, with the new workshop at the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s Woensdrecht Logistics Centre set to become a dedicated engine support facility from 2019. The country was selected by the DoD in December to support F-35 heavy engine maintenance, along with Norway and Turkey, and placed its first order for eight F-35A fighters in March.

September 18/15: The Dutch F-35 program could rise in cost by an additional half-million euros, bringing the program up to EUR5.2 billion ($5.9 billion). The rising cost has been attributed to the dollar’s exchange rate, something likely to continue altering the program’s costs as the Dutch place incremental orders to eventually fulfill their requirement for 37 F-35s, replacing their fleet of F-16s. The first tranche of eight F-35s was ordered in March, with these scheduled for delivery in 2019.

September 17/15: A leaked memo has uncovered serious concerns over the Marine Corps’ operational testing of F-35B aircraft aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1) in May, undermining the aircraft’s Initial Operating Capability in July. The memo, penned by the director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office, cites a poor availability rate, a lack of realistic operational challenges and an absence of key mission systems. The first has been noted before, with this new memo as critical of how the tests were designed and supported as the aircraft themselves, including the discovery that the Wasp required software upgrades to communicate effectively with the F-35Bs.

September 16/15: The Air Force could deploy F-35As as soon as they reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC), according to the head of the aircraft’s Integration Program Office. With the Air Force scheduled to operate a squadron of operational F-35s by the beginning of August 2016, the three missions likely to be tasked to these 12 to 14 aircraft are close air support, interception of enemy aircraft and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). The first of these is becoming increasingly controversial, given the Joint Strike Fighter’s fist fight with the combat-proven A-10, while SEAD is closer to the original mission set intended for the F-35.

However, the Air Force first needs to rectify its current poor availability rate before IOC and deployment of its F-35s can take place. The Automated Logistics Information System (ALIS) is proving to be a problem for the Air Force and will likely be the most significant obstacle ahead of achieving IOC next year. Despite recent software upgrades, the ALIS system is proving to be a sticking point, with an accelerated production schedule likely to place increasing logistical demands on both the supply base and Air Force.

September 14/15: Lockheed Martin has unveiled a new Advanced Electro-Optical Targeting System for the F-35‘s Block 4 configuration. Designed to replace the current EOTS in operation with existing F-35s, the new version has been a priority for the program, while the Pentagon announced in May that it was to decide which weapon systems it would bake into the Block 4 configuration. A prototype of the Advanced EOTS is expected to make an appearance next year, while the Block 4 configuration is scheduled to be rolled out between 2019 and 2025.

September 11/15: An accelerated F-35 production schedule could stress suppliers, with the program office planning a three-fold increase in the number of Joint Strike Fighters produced each year over the next three years. The pressure on the production line’s supply base is also likely to be compounded by the requirement for incremental upgrades to in-service F-35s, along with a continued issues with the Automated Logistics Informations System (ALIS). Recently updated, the ALIS system saw problems earlier this year which built on persistent schedule delays in 2014. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $430.9 million contract at the end of August to further develop the system.

Aug 14/15: The Navy is reportedly considering reducing the number of F-35C fighters it plans to procure, alluding to budgetary concerns. The Navy is also less enthused by the Joint Strike Fighter compared to the Marines and Air Force because of the Service operating more modern aircraft, including new and upgraded Super Hornets.

Aug 3/15: The Marines announced on Friday that ten F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 have achieved Initial Operating Capability, the first IOC milestone for the F-35 program. The announcement comes after both an Operational Readiness Inspection, which concluded mid-July, and shipborne testing aboard USS Wasp in May. The IOC was announced despite reports that the latter tests uncovered significant reliability issues with the aircraft.

July 30/15: The six Marine Corps’ F-35Bs which underwent testing on USS Wasp in May reportedly showed poor reliability performance, with the aircraft reportedly only achieving availability of around 50%. This is undoubtedly a factor Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford has considered as he finalizes the jet’s paperwork for achieving Initial Operating Capability. A decision on whether the F-35B is ready for limited combat operations is expected imminently, with the USMC deciding in March to push on to a timetabled IOC target of fourth quarter 2015, despite issues with the fighter’s 2B software.

July 28/15: The F-35B’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) – the system designed to monitor and relay critical aircraft system data – has received its final software upgrade ahead of the fighter achieving Initial Operating Capability. The system has also received critical hardware modifications. IOC for the Marine Corps’ first F-35Bs is expected later this year, with the Corps deciding in March to push on according to schedule, despite issues with the jet’s 2B software.

July 24/15: The F-35’s GAU-22/A 25mm cannon has been tested on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base, with the General Dynamics-designed weapon having been developed for both internal and external gun systems of the Joint Strike Fighter. The cannon is mounted on an external pod for the F-35B and C variants, with the Air Force’s F-35A variant positioning the weapon internally. The four-barrel system allows the fighter to let loose just 180 rounds per reload, allowing for three short passes at best. That last problem featured heavily in criticism of the Air Force for floating the idea – since backtracked – that the F-35A could serve as the main ground forces protection platform. The program has been busy testing other weapons in recent weeks, including the Marines testing live JDAM bombs in early July. The Pentagon has been mulling what to include in future F-35 weapon tranches, with options including the Small Diameter Bomb II and Joint Strike Missile, as well as several others.

July 15/15: On Tuesday, Lockheed Martin was awarded a further $718.3 million contract modification for parts, support services and simulators in support of the F-35’s Lot 8 low rate initial production. The LRIP Lot 8 contract was agreed last year, with 43 of the fighters scheduled for production under Lot 8. Also on Tuesday, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $101.3 million advance acquisition contract for 383 Helmet Mounted Displays for use with the F-35 by the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, international partners and the governments of Japan and Israel through Foreign Military Sales.

July 6/15: The Marine Corps conducted its first successful live ordnance drops from a F-35B in late June, the USMC announced on Friday. The Joint Strike Fighters dropped both inert and live ordnance, which consisted of JDAM GPS-guided munitions in both GBU-12 and GBU-32 configurations. The Marine Corps decided in May to push on towards the F-35B’s Initial Operating Capability (IOC) objective timetabled for 1 July, despite the unearthing of software problems. While it appears that the 1 July objective IOC date has now been missed, the jet has until December to achieve this milestone, with the dropping of live ordnance reportedly one of the last remaining items on a checklist of required capability tests required for IOC.

July 1/15: In a damning report obtained by War is Boring, the F-35A was out-performed by a F-16D in a mock dogfight in January. The newer jet failed to manoeuvre fast or agile enough to defeat the older fighter, despite the F-16 flying with two external fuel tanks. The unnamed pilot listed off numerous serious problems with the fighter, including a low nose climb rate and a cramped cockpit space, as well as other manoeuvrability issues reducing the ability of the pilot to see and kill the older jet, an issue that has come up before. On Monday Lockheed Martin was handed a $19.6 million contract modification to provide requirements development and maturation efforts for the Joint Strike Fighter.

June 29/15: With Naval Air Station Lemoore set to become the backbone of the Navy’s future strike capability, the Navy awarded a contract Friday for the construction of infrastructure to support the base’s fleet of F-35Cs. The $20.2 million task order covers the construction of new buildings to house JSF simulators, as well as classrooms and briefing rooms. NAS Lemoore beat out NAS El Centro last fall to become the Pacific Fleet’s F-35 base, with Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA 101), the F-35C replacement squadron, set to relocate to the base in early 2017.

June 25/15: A US-UK team have successfully tested the F-35B’s short take-off capabilities from a replica carrier ski-jump, the British Ministry of Defence announced Wednesday. The testing is currently in its first iteration, with these tests designed to reduce risk before the JSF is launched from the deck of an actual carrier. The new Elizabeth-class carriers under construction for the Royal Navy will feature a ski-jump, in contract to the new Gerald Ford-class carriers which will feature electromagnetic catapults.

June 19/15: Not a single F-35A was downed by “hostile” fire during the Air Force’s recent Green Flag West exercise, the first exercise in which the Joint Strike Fighter has participated. None of the F-35s were shot down, whilst F-16s and A-10s were. The inclusion of the JSF in the exercises has been criticized as a public relations stunt; additionally, the level of operational pressure the F-35s were put under during the exercises compared with other aircraft has not been released. Whether the F-35 genuinely outperformed the other aircraft and as a result received no simulated destruction – or was just exposed to less severe operational testing – is hard to say.

June 4/15: Lockheed Martin saw a $920.4 million advanced acquisition contract on Thursday for the F-35 program. This award covers the production of 94 low rate initial production Joint Strike Fighters, with these spread across the three F-35 variants.. 78 F-35A models will be manufactured and delivered, with 44 of these destined for the Air Force and the remainder earmarked for international partners. The other 16 aircraft are split between the -B and -C models, with fourteen of the former going to the Marine Corps, as well as Italy and the UK, while two -C models will go to the Navy and Marines.

June 2/15: F-35As will take part in USMC exercises for the first time this week, with the fighter also set to drop live ordnance. The Green Flag West exercises will run to June 12, with the Marine Corps’ B model Joint Strike Fighter recently concluding trials aboard USS Wasp.

May 28/15: The Pentagon is currently determining what should be included in the F-35‘s Block 4 configuration, ahead of a review later this year. Weapons that could feature in Block 4 include the Small Diameter Bomb II and the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile, as well as potentially the B61-12 standoff nuclear bomb.

May 20/15: As part of the Marine Corps’ F-35B trials currently taking place aboard USS Wasp, a F135 engine has been flown onto the ship to assess the aircraft’s ability to be repaired at sea. The engine uses a modular design to facilitate the swapping out of components, with this also making the entire engine transportable by a single MV-22 Osprey.

May 20/15: The Marine Corps has begun testing its F-35Bs aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1), with these tests set to last two weeks. Six of the aircraft are being tested for specific abilities as part of Operational Testing (OT-1); these include digital interoperability between aircraft and ship systems, something particularly sensitive given the aircraft’s recent software problems. The USMC decided to push ahead regardless of 2B software issues, with the intention of hitting IOC in July.

March 26/13: Singapore. AOL Defense is reporting that Singapore will order 12 F-35Bs within 10 days, while others take a more measured tone. Agence France-Presse cite Singaporean sources as saying they’re in the final stages of evaluating the F-35, which tracks with statements by Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen. Even so, the plane’s very incomplete capabilities mean that part of Singapore’s evaluation is just paper and promises at this point. Singapore’s RSIS points out that the country has traditionally been cautious in its defense buys, restricting themselves to proven platforms.

Singapore’s fleet of about 34 upgraded F-5S/T fighters were bought in the 1970s, and they do need replacement. The RSAF’s alternative would be to order more F-15SG Strike Eagles as F-5 replacements, and wait several years before ordering F-35s. The Strike Eagles would cost less at present, and would offer a much wider array of weapons until about 2025 or later. F-35Bs would offer more risk, and would enter service much later than F-15SGs, in exchange for better stealth, and the ability to take off and land from damaged runways. Either way, a DSCA-approved export request would be required before any order can be placed. The most we can expect within 10 days is a State Department announcement. AOL Defence | AFP | Reuters | Eurasia Review.

March 26/13: UK. The Ministry of Defence announces that RAF Marham, which had hosted Tornados until the fighters were retired to save on support costs, will become Britain’s main base for F-35s. It will also act as a support center, performing depth maintenance. RAF | BBC.

March 25/13: Engine. Bloomberg reports that Rolls-Royce was an average of 160 days late with its F135-PW-600 LiftFan engine parts deliveries in 2012. Subcontractor errors were part of the problem:

“There have been issues such as corrosion on some of the gears and some undersized holes,” Jacqueline Noble, a spokeswoman for the defense agency, said in the [emailed] statement [to Bloomberg]. While London-based Rolls-Royce and its subcontractors have made progress, the need to fix fan parts that don’t meet specifications “is still a concern,” she said.”

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

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

March 21/13: Netherlands. The 2 Dutch IOT&E F-35As are already slated to go into storage until 2015, because the jets aren’t fit for purpose yet (q.v. Feb 11/13). Now Reuters reports that the Dutch are looking to cut their planned order of 85 F-35As by 17-33 planes. On the surface, this isn’t exactly news, as the MvD was known to be looking at a 56 plane order (-29 aircraft) when the Oct 24/12 Rekenkamer report came out. Reuters gives a figure of 52-68 planes and a budget of EUR 4.5 billion, but full replacement of the RNLAF’s reduced fleet of 68 F-16s with F-35As doesn’t square with that budget. A “defense source close to the talks” is quoted as saying that an F-35A order could drop as low as 33-35 planes (-50 or more aircraft), based on Rekenkamer estimates.

That can’t be welcome news to the F-35 program, which expects to have foreign orders making up half of production after LRIP Lot 8 in 2014 (q.v. March 12/13). For the RNLAF, Defense Aerospace cites Dutch Parliamentary documents which size their operational F-16 fleet at just 24 / 68 planes, due to maintenance issues and lack of spare parts. That’s a bit of a crisis; meanwhile, the larger question is whether 24-35 fighters is even close to adequate for future needs.

The new coalition, sworn into office in November 2012, expects to finalize a new defense policy and fighter purchase plans later in 2013. Defense Aerospace reports that the Dutch Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has already scheduled presentations from Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet family) and Saab (JAS-39E/F Gripen), and the Eurofighter consortium has told the publication that they’re keeping an eye on developments. Reuters | Defense Aerospace.

March 20/13: Australia. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives an unfinalized, not-to-exceed $9.8 million modification for Australian-specific non-recurring support activities. It includes ALIS equipment and sustainment and logistics support, and will be bought under the LRIP Lot 6 contract. $4.9 million is committed immediately.

Australia was set to buy 2 F-35As for IOT&E preparation under LRIP Lot 6. The timing of their follow-on buy of 12 F-35As may be uncertain, but this contract seems to indicate that they’ll buy the 2 IOT&E jets (see also March 5/13). Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in January 2019. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-C-0083).

March 13/13: Denmark. The Danes pick up their fighter competition as promised, following their announced hiatus in April 2010. Invited bidders include the same set of Lockheed Martin (F-35A), Boeing (Super Hornet), and Saab (JAS-39E/F) – plus EADS (Eurofighter), who had withdrawn from the Danish competition in 2007. The goal of a 2014 F-16 replacement decision has been moved a bit farther back, and now involves a recommendation by the end of 2014, and a selection by June 2015.

The Flyvevabnet are reported to have 30 operational F-16s, with 15 more in reserve, out of an original order of 58. Past statements indicate that they’re looking to buy around 25 fighters as replacements, but there are reports of a range from 24-32, depending on price. Danish Forsvarsministeriet [in Danish] | Eurofighter GmbH | Saab | JSF Nieuws.

March 12/13: Issues & allies. JSF PEO Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, USAF, offers a number of important pieces of information at the Credit Suisse/McAleese defense programs conference in Washington, DC. One is that he hopes to have unit cost, including the engine, down to $90 million by 2020 – about 10% lower than current Pentagon estimates beyond 2017. Allies “need to know where their money is going”, especially since orders after LRIP-8 (2014) are expected to be about 50% allied buys. Unfortunately there’s an issue with IOT&E processes, which has been left unaddressed until the issue became a source of buying uncertainty:

“Adding insult to injury, the JSF program office classified all documents as “U.S. only,” which upset partner nations. Even if they are all buying the same aircraft, each country has its own air-worthiness qualification processes and other administrative procedures that require they have access to the aircraft’s technical data. JSF officials are working to re-classify the documentation, Bogdan said.”

Regarding Operations & Support costs, which are over 2/3 of a weapon system’s lifetime cost: “If we don’t start doing things today to bring down O&S now, there will be a point when the services will see this aircraft as unaffordable.”

Most of those costs trace back to design, so changes at this point are possible, but difficult. One design and support issue is that the 80% commonality between variants envisaged at the program’s outset is now closer to 25-30%. That means more expensive non-common parts due to lower production runs, larger inventories for support of multiple types in places like the USA and Italy, more custom work for future changes, etc. Information Dissemination | National Defense.

March 11/13: GAO Report. The GAO releases its annual F-35 program report: “Current Outlook Is Improved, but Long-Term Affordability Is a Major Concern“. Some manufacturing indices like labor hours per jet delivery rate are getting better, but operations and maintenance costs are a serious problem, and F-35 acquisition funding requirements average $12.6 billion annually through 2037.

There’s much, much more. It’s difficult to summarize this report, and worth reading it in full.

March 9/13: Cost sensitivity. Reuters gets their hands on an advance draft of a GAO report, which looks at the F-35’s sustainment and purchase costs. The GAO’s estimate to refurbish produced F-35s to incorporate fixes required by discoveries during testing? $1.7 billion. That’s a lot, but it’s a decision that touches on the next area they examine: what happens if some countries don’t buy, or the USA buys fewer?

Current American plans will average $10.6 billion per year until 2037 [DID: it turns out to be $12.6 billion]. Average costs have already climbed from $69 million to $137 million, and would rise by another 9% if the USA dropped its orders from 2,443 – 1,500 (to $150 million). They would rise by 6% (to $145 million) if all 8 foreign partners cut their planned 697 orders, but the USA kept its own. The combination? More than additive, at 19% (to $163 million).

Here’s the thing. The GAO is calculating averages, but all F-35 partners including the USA, have a limited window of safe remaining life for their fighter fleets. That forces them to place earlier orders, which can cost a lot more than “average over all production” estimates. They’re also more price sensitive to production cuts, since fewer planes per year are being built at this stage. A design that isn’t done testing adds another disincentive, and the combination of unready planes and spiraling costs for near-term buys can force quite a few cancellations and reductions. Each cancellation may be minor in the long term, but it’s a larger cost hike in the short term, which ensures that the long term production figure never arrives.

One response just starts production earlier, and lets the main partner eat most of the concurrency costs. So, was the $1.7 billion concurrency cost worth it, in order to speed up the purchase schedule and production ramp-up by 5-6 years? That’s an individual judgement. Reuters | IBT.

March 6/13: DOT&E OUE. The POGO NGO gets its hands on a copy of the Pentagon’s Operational Utility Evaluation for initial F-35A training, dated Feb 15/13. While DOT&E cautions that you can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from a system this immature, some of their observations and trends are relevant and concerning.

Not training ready. To begin at the beginning, current F-35s aren’t even close to suitable for new-pilot training, and are very marginal even for experienced pilot training. This situation, and the long list of accompanying flight restrictions, is normal for an aircraft mid-way through its testing phase. What’s different is that continued program delays would leave the US military unable to stream new pilots to its production aircraft.

Touch screens. A notable but less urgent design deficiency involves the touch screen display, which may need to be used less. Using it to control radios, for instance, is a bad idea, especially at high Gs and under stress. To duplicate this feeling, have a jumpy 3-year old grab and flail at your arm while you’re trying to operate a computer mouse. MIL-STD-1472G already prohibits this sort of thing as a sole option, and voice recognition is intended to fix the problem. Until it’s ready, of course, we won’t know if it has its own issues.

Visibility. The most serious deficiency remains technical problems with the pilot’s ambitious Helmet-Mounted Display, coupled with a designed-in lack of rear visibility that HMDS needs to overcome using the plane’s embedded sensors. The visibility is poor in order to improve stealth vs. a full bubble canopy; and also to keep design commonality with the STOVL F-35B, which mounts its lift fan and doors behind the pilot. The OUE’s experienced F-16 and A-10 pilots were universal in their criticism, saying that poor to no rear visibility made basic tasks like keeping formation more challenging, and was a deficiency in combat situations.

It’s also a maintenance risk, of course, since all associated systems must be working or the planes will be at a large combat disadvantage. The likely result? Either lower readiness rates, higher maintenance costs, or both. Those are both areas where the F-35 remains behind the curve, with potentially dire fiscal consequences. POGO summary | Full Report [PDF]

March 5/13: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $72.2 million unfinalized LRIP Lot 6 contract modification. It buys F-35A support equipment for Luke AFB’s Pilot Training Center 1. It also covers associated Data Quality Integration Management supplier support tasks, and all other sustainment data products for the USAF and the governments of Italy and Australia. The contract is split-funded by the USAF ($55.0M/ 76.2%); Italy ($10.3M/ 14.3%); and Australia ($6.9/ 9.5%).

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in August 2014. $36.1 million is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083). This brings total LRIP-6 contracts to $5.674 billion.

March 1/13: Return to flight. The Pentagon lifts the grounding order on its F-35 fleets, after inspecting fleet engines. The engine in question belonged to a plane used for flight envelope expansion testing, and had been operated for an extended time at high temperatures.

“Prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stressors on this specific engine were determined to be the cause of the crack [as opposed to high-cycle fatigue, which would force a redesign].”

The engineers believe no redesign is needed. Pentagon | Reuters.

Grounding lifted

Feb 28/13: Block 8 long-lead. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $333.8 million fixed-price-incentive (firm-target), advance acquisition contract, covering early equipment buys for 35 LRIP Lot 8 planes: 19 USAF F-35As ($155.2M/ 46%), 6 USMC F-35Bs ($85.4M/ 26%), and 4 USN F-35Cs ($27.5M/ 8%); plus 4 F-35B STOVLs for Britain ($45M/ 14%), and 2 F-35As for Norway ($20.7M/ 6%). All contract funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-13-C-0008).

Feb 27/13: Unhappy relationship. F-35 PEO Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan criticizes some important decisions, such as concurrent testing and production, and he’s also unhappy with the vendors. There’s some back-and-forth in the news reports regarding production cost, which he pegs at about $120 million for a Lot 5 F-35A with engine, and whether cost reductions per lot have been adequate. His AuBC interview also includes this remark, which got less attention but is more important:

“The real big elephant is how much it costs over the life of this plane to maintain it, and sustain it…. I think today, looking at what we have, the cost to maintain and sustain this plane is too high…. What I’ve told Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney is “you have yet to earn the right to become the product support integrator for the life of this program.” So what I’ve done is, I’ve tried to take pieces of the life cycle, and I’ve tried to introduce some competition [from domestic and foreign companies]….”

The decision to use only 1 engine also comes into play, as he describes the 6 month negotiations to finalize the F135 engine LRIP Lot 5 contract (vid. Feb 6/13 entry), which began shortly after their F136 competitor had been eliminated:

“Now, you would think a company like Pratt & Whitney that was just given the greatest Christmas gift you could ever, ever get for a company would act a little differently…”

In truth, the full tone of Gen. Bogdan’s remarks isn’t fully captured in written reports. He’s adopting classic crisis management recommendations, acknowledging known problems rather than being dishonest, placing them in context when he can, then promising to fix what’s left and deliver a successful jet. The comments in Australia were made shortly after the DOT&E report (vid. Jan 13/13). They’re aired a month or so later in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Reach for the Sky” documentary on the program, just before Australia submits a formal request to buy another 24 Boeing Super Hornet family fighters. Center for Public Integrity | Fox News | TIME | AuBC’s Reach for the Sky.

Feb 22/13: Engine. A crack in an F135-PW-100 engine blade grounds the entire F-35 fleet. The fault was found in an F-35A, but this part of the engine is common to all 3 variants. No one wants to have a blade break off inside and destroy the engine or the plane on its way out the back, hence the grounding.

These kinds of problems aren’t unheard of during testing, but the incident raises 2 big questions. One is the Pentagon’s flawed policy of ordering operational planes during the testing phase, which multiplies the cost of fixes during a fiscal crunch. The other involves the DoD’s decision to have just 1 engine manufacturer for the F-35, unlike its existing fighter fleets. Imagine exactly this sort of fleet-wide grounding, when the F-35 is the main fighter of all 3 armed services. DoD | Reuters.

Engine problems ground the whole fleet

Feb 13/13: Australia. Australian MP Dennis Jensen [Lib-Tangney, near Perth] chronicles the key assertions, decisions, and official reassurances made in Australia concerning the F-35, most of which have turned out to be somewhere between inaccurate and untrue. It’s a sobering account of how far program timelines and costs have gone awry, and effectively eviscerates the credibility of official ADF and DoD analysis.

The former defense research scientist also has the brass to point out that while the military has been busy missing the mark, independent analysts like Air Power Australia laid down key cost and performance markers that are now being vindicated by official reports.

Jensen is a long-time critic of the F-35. His 2009 guest article for DID focused on the F-22 as a better solution for Australia, and one wonders if he still has that view in light of recent events. His skepticism concerning the F-35 has remained, as evidenced by his March 2012 release, “Joint Strike Fighter lemon“. That release goes a step beyond most political releases, whose authors aren’t likely to confront a senior air force officer with step by step analysis of hypothetical 8 vs. 8 air combat engagements. Australian parliamentary transcript | JSF Nieuws has added sub-headers for easier reading.

Feb 13/13: Lot 6 Engines. United Technologies’ Pratt and Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT receives a $65 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for ongoing sustainment, operations, and maintenance to LRIP Lot 6’s F135 engines. This contract combines purchases for the USMC ($43.8M / 69%); the USAF ($17.8M / 26%); and the US Navy ($3.3M / 5%). $55.3 million in FY 2012 and 2013 contract funds are committed immediately, and $11.8 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13.

Efforts include labor and materials required to maintain and repair F135 propulsion systems; sustainment labor consisting of fleet and material management, sustaining engineering, and joint services technical data updates; and material required to support fielded propulsion systems and support equipment after unit and depot activations at production, training, and operational locations.

Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (54%); Indianapolis, IN (31%); and Bristol, United Kingdom (15%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013 (N00019-12-C-0090).

Feb 12/13: F-35B flying. The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office clears the F-35B variant to resume flight operations. Within the fleet, all affected hoses have been inspected, and the ones that are out of tolerance will be replaced beginning in about a week. F-35Bs with properly crimped hoses can resume flying now. Yuma Sun.

F-35B cleared to fly

Feb 11/13: Dutch IOT&E. Minister of Defence Mrs. JA Hennis-Plasschaert sends a written brief to Parliament, covering recent developments with the F-35. It outlines the recent American DOT&E report, and also discusses developments in Canada, where the F-35 decision is under review. With respect to their own order, the first Dutch F-35 is ready, and the 2nd will arrive in summer 2013, but the project’s lateness has started to affect the RNLAF.

The original plan was to use their IOT&E jets with Block 3 software for testing and tactics development from April 2012 – August 2014, and pay EUR 27.1 million. Because the program is so far behind on Block 3 software delivery, per DOT&E, the Dutch will have to store their jets in the USA at their own expense until 2015, run their IOT&E from 2015-2018, and pay EUR 47 – 55 million. All on top of buying their jets several years earlier than they needed to, which raised their cost by many millions of euros.

Turkey was probably thinking of these kinds of issues when they postponed their planned IOT&E buy in January. JSF Nieuws has excerpts from the letter, which has not yet been published on the government’s web sites, and also showed us the full copy.

Dutch IOT&E

Feb 6/13: The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office and Pratt & Whitney announce an agreement in principle regarding the final engine contract for LRIP Lot 5’s planes.

An unfinalized version of that contract was announced on Dec 28/11, and the new contract is reportedly about $20 million lower than the $1.122 billion quoted at that time. Even with that reduction, adding the engine contract to other fighter-related Lot 5 announcements would give an average Lot V flyaway cost across all types of around $170 million per plane. It’s important to note that the engine contract includes things besides fighter engines, but even with no engines at all, Lot V announcements sum to a cost per fighter of $137.5 million.

Final engine figures and divisions won’t be forthcoming until the official Pentagon announcement. Note that some media reports don’t match up with the 32 planes known to be in Lot V (vid. Dec 14/12 entry). American Machinist | Reuters.

Feb 5/13: Britain’s switch costs. The British House of Commons Defence Committee says that the government’s shift from the F-35B STOVL to the F-35C and back cost the country GBP 100 million (vid. section 2, #14 & 15). Most of that money was spent on budgets related to Britain’s new carriers, and the committee faults the government for rushed work on the October 2010 SDSR.

That is quite a lot of money to waste, and it’s true that after the Conservative/ Lib-Dem coalition took power, there was a strong push to get the SDSR out the door in a short period of time. These kinds of decisions are very complex, and the committee faults the Ministry for going along with this recommendation, without really understanding the changes involved.

The Ministry’s defense is that their CVF/ Queen Elizabeth Class carriers had been touted as “future proof”, able to include catapults if that became necessary during the ships’ lifetimes. That proposition was put to the test early with the F-35C switch. The Ministry’s retrospective conclusion is blunt, and discomfiting on its own terms: “It is not my belief that [the carriers] were genuinely designed for conversion, or that the contract allowed them to be designed for conversion.” One wonders, then, why they were touted that way. UK Commons Defence Committee Acquisitions Report | Flight International.

Britain’s type-
switching costs

Feb 2/13: A USAF presentation to Congress says that if sequestration takes effect, F-35 order will be reduced (duh). They add that the program may need to be restructured, too, along with the KC-46A aerial tanker and MQ-9 Reaper Block 5. That would make a few allies grumpy. Flight International.

Jan 31/13: Personnel. AviationWeek reports that Tom Burbage, the executive vice president and general manager of program integration for the F-35, will retire in March 2013, after 32 years at the firm. He had been appointed in that position in 2000.

Jan 30/13: DOT&E – Pilot views. Flight International interviews both experienced pilots and Lockheed Martin personnel, in the wake of the turning & acceleration performance downgrades announced by DOT&E’s 2012 report. One experienced pilot flatly says that those performance figures put the F-35 Lightning in the same class as the 1960s-era F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber, rather than modern high-performance fighters. The Lightning does retain some kinetic strengths, but the overall picture isn’t encouraging when examined closely.

Then a Lockheed test pilot with broad experience takes up the gauntlet, to say that the F-35 is actually kinetically better than other 4+ generation fighters. Some of his fellow test pilots question those claims. Read “The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy” for in-depth coverage of this issue.

Jan 30/13: Japan problem. If Japan wants to make parts for all F-35s, they’re going to have to do something about one of their “3 principles” on arms exports. Those restrictions won’t allow exports to communist countries, countries subject to arms export embargoes under U.N. Security Council resolutions, or countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts. Unfortunately, many potential F-35 customers, especially in the Middle East, fall into the 3rd category.

We’re sure Israel would be perfectly happy to simply have all of the affected parts made in Israel instead, but this is going to be a wider issue. The program could always go to a “second supplier” arrangement for all Japanese parts, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said maintaining consistency with the ban is “under discussion within the government.” Asashi Shimbun.

Jan 30/13: Industrial. Lockheed Martin says that there are 88 F-35s of all versions in various stages of completion on the program’s production lines. When it’s delivered, AF-41 (a USAF F-35A) will become delivery #100.

Jan 28/13: Fueldraulic fault found. Flight International reports that the failure of an F-35B’s Stratoflex fueldraulic line has been traced to a failure to properly crimp it. The F-35 Program Office says that Stratoflex, Rolls-Royce and Pratt &Whitney, have “instituted corrective actions to improve their quality control processes and ensure part integrity.”

The same problem was found on 6 other aircraft, and all 7 will need to be fixed. Until a Return to Flight plan is approved, however, all 25 F-35Bs will remain grounded.

Jan 18/13: F-35B grounded. The F-35B fleet is grounded, after a fueldraulic line (q.v. DOT&E report) fails and forces the pilot to abort a takeoff. There was no danger, and the pilot simply moved his airplane off of the flight line after it happened.

The F-35A and F-35C fleets are unaffected. Bloomberg | Defense News | Flight International.

F-35B Grounded

Jan 13/13: DOT&E Report. The Pentagon’s Department of Operational Test & Evaluation submits its 2012 report, which includes 18 pages covering the F-35. The fleet continues to work through significant technical challenges, which isn’t unusual. What is unusual is the steady stream of deliveries that will have to be fixed later, in order to address mechanical and structural problems found during testing. A summary of the key statistics & challenges can be found above, in the Testing section, but 2 issues deserve special mention.

One issue is software, which may be more important to the F-35 than it is to any other fighter aircraft. Unfortunately, the software development program is late, and is straining to fix and test issues across several developmental versions. Block 1.0 software capability is only 80% delivered, and the Block 2A software for training is under 50%. Block 2B, which adds rudimentary combat capabilities for serious training, was under 10% as of August 2012. Test resources and personnel are both limited, so this problem is likely to get worse.

The other issue is weight. The F-35 was designed with little margin for weight growth, but new capabilities and fixes for testing issues often add weight. One frequent consequence is higher costs, as very expensive but lightweight materials are used to save an extra pound here and there. Another consequence reduced performance, as seen in the F-35B’s drop to 7.0 maximum Gs after its aggressive weight reduction effort. A third consequence involves ruggedness and survivability. The F-35B faced a suspension of structural fatigue life stress testing in 2012, after cracking was discovered in several places. Even this pales in comparison, however, to the fleet-wide problem created by saving just 11 pounds in all variants. Without fuelstatic flow fuses and Polyalphaolefin (PAO) coolant shutoff valves, DOT&E estimates that these flammable substances make the F-35 25% less likely to survive enemy fire. DOT&E report [PDF] | Lockheed Martin re: 2012 testing | Reuters | TIME magazine. | Washington Post.

Jan 5/13: Turkey. The Turkish SSM procurement agency decides to postpone its initial buy of 2 training and test aircraft, which were supposed to be part of the Lot 7 order (q.v. Sept 27/12 entry). The SSM cites capabilities that are behind scheduled expectations and not ready for full training, and cost concerns, while reaffirming Turkey’s long-term commitment to 100 F-35As.

The Pentagon DOT&E report is quite specific about the plane’s delivered software being unsuitable for any combat-related training or test. Block 2B software would be required for that at least, but the program has yet to deliver parts of Block 1, and the Block 2A software on current planes is also just a partial implementation. In light of that information alone, Turkey’s decision to wait seems prudent. Why incur higher costs from an earlier production lot, if the plane isn’t going to be fully useful in its intended test and training role? Turkish SSM [in Turkish, PDF] | AFP | Washington’s The Hill magazine | Turkish Weekly.

Turkey postpones planned IOT&E buy

Dec 28/12: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $3.678 billion unfinalized modification to the low rate initial production lot 6 advance acquisition contract. It covers 29 American planes: 18 F-35As, 6 F-35Bs, and 7 USN F-35Cs, plus “all associated ancillary mission equipment.” LRIP-6 contracts total $5,729.6 million, and include:

  • March 20/13: $9.8 (support for Australia)
  • March 5/13: $72.2 (support infrastructure for USA, Australia, Italy)
  • Feb 14/13: $65.0 (engine maintenance)
  • Dec 28/12: $3,677.9 (USA 29: 18 F-35A, 6 F-35B, 7 F-35C)
  • Dec 28/12: $735.4 (support, unfinalized)
  • Dec 6/12: $386.7 (long-lead)
  • March 12/12: $38.6 (F-35A long-lead)
  • Feb 9/12: $14.6 (F-35B long-lead)
  • Jan 6/12: $194.1 (engines)
  • Aug 8/11: $535.3 (38 long-lead: USA 19 F-35A, 6 F-35B, 7 F-35C; Italy 4 F-35A, Australia 2 F-35A)

Long-lead items contracts can include JSF partner and foreign buys, since the material buys are basically the same. Main contracts for customers outside America are often announced separately, which explains why some are missing from the Dec 28/12 announcement. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in February 2015. $1.839 billion is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083).

LRIP Lot 6 main

Dec 28/12: LRIP-6 support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $753.4 million unfinalized modification to the LRIP-6 advance acquisition contract, for one-time sustainment and logistics support. This modification also includes site stand-up and depot activation activities, Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) hardware and software, training systems, support equipment, and spares.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2015. $375.2 million is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083).

Dec 28/12: LRIP-6 & 7 support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $374.5 million unfinalized modification to the LRIP-6 advance acquisition contract. It covers initial spares in support of 60 F-35s from LRIP Lot 6 and LRIP Lot 7: 37 F-35As, 12 F-35B STOVL, and 11 F-35Cs.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in November 2015. Contract funds in the amount of $374,495,232 is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083).

Dec 28/12: Studies. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $48 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to perform engineering, programmatic, and logistics tasks supporting investigations or studies covering various systems in the F-35 Lightning II.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in December 2015. $7.2 million is committed at the time of award. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-13-D-0005).

Dec 28/12: LRIP-5 support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $17.1 million unfinalized modification the LRIP Lot 5 contract. This modification buys initial air vehicle spares for LRIP-5 F-35As.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in November 2015. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13 (N00019-10-C-0002).

Dec 14/12: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $127.7 million fixed-price-incentive-fee and cost-plus-incentive-fee modification, finalizing the F-35’s LRIP Lot 5 contract for 32 planes. This contract also includes funds for manufacturing support equipment; 2 program array assemblies; ancillary mission equipment, including pilot flight equipment; preparation for ferrying the aircraft; and redesign to change parts with diminishing manufacturing sources.

Some news reports place the contract’s figures at $3.8 billion, but a review of past contracts, and conversation with Lockheed Martin, show that the entire LRIP-5 is actually $6.459 billion so far. The distribution also differs from Reuters’ report: it’s 21 F-35As, 4 F-35Bs, and 7 F-35Cs. Past awards, in millions, include:

  • Dec 14/12: $127.7 (finalize)
  • Aug 6/12: $209.8 (spares)
  • Apr 13/12: $258.8 (add 1 F-35B, 1 F-35C for USA)
  • March 12/12: $56.4 (support of delivery schedule)
  • Dec 28/11: $1,122.3 (30 engines – unfinalized)
  • Dec 27/11: $485 (production requirements, incl. some tooling)
  • Dec 9/11: $4,011.9 (initial 30: 21 F-35A, 3 F-35B, 6 F-35C)
  • Sept 27/11: $187 (system engineering & sustainment support)

$598.2 million in long-lead time item contracts were omitted ($522.2 million on July 6/10, and $76 million on Dec 8/10); Lockheed Martin informs DID that they were superseded by the Dec 9/11 contract for a different number of planes. So $6.459 billion is the entire LRIP-5 set so far, including planes, spares/support and tooling/ manufacturing investments (PNR). The engines, support, and PNR pieces are still unfinalized and in negotiations. For the planes themselves, the announced figures add up to about $4.398 billion ($4,011.9 + 258.8 + 127.7). That’s an average of $137.45 million per plane without engines.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be completed in October 2014. All contract funds were committed on award, and $112.9 million will expire on Sept 30/12 (N00019-10-C-0002).

LRIP Lot 5 finalized

Dec 6/12: LRIP-6 lead-in. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $386.7 million contract modification for the LRIP Lot 6 Advance Acquisition Contract. This will ease some of Lockheed Martin’s cash flow concerns, and funds ground maintenance activities; depot activation activities; ALIS operations and maintenance; reliability, maintainability and health management implementation and support; supply chain management; action request resolution; activities to provide and support pilot and maintainer initial training; and procurement of replenishment spares and depot level repairs in support of flight operations.

Work will be performed in Eglin AFB in Orlando, FL (35%); and in Ft. Worth, TX (25%); El Segundo, CA (8%); Warton, United Kingdom (5%); and various locations throughout the United States (27%); and is expected to be complete in October 2013. $193.3 million is committed immediately, $58,378,517 of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-11-C-0083).

Nov 30/12: Reuters reports that the US government and Lockheed Martin have reached a preliminary $3.8 billion deal for 32 F-35s: 22 F-35As, 3 F-35Bs, and 7 F-35Cs. A deal would safeguard that contract from any sequestration cuts, but engines and some other items would still need to be bought separately.

Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein quoted a 14% reduction in labor costs from LRIP Lot 4 to Lot 5, and said that the overall cost would be lower in total. That second assurance is important, because materials costs are subject to inflation. He also said that Lot 5 aircraft would be over 50% less expensive than LRIP-1’s $220.8 million figure, which doesn’t square with the $118.8 million average cost of the reported Lot 6 deal. F-35B/C aircraft will push the price up, however, so Lot 1 vs. Lot 5 isn’t an apples to apples comparison.

Lockheed Martin has delivered 48 F-35s so far (19 development, 29 LRIP), and is pushing to meet its goal of 30 delivered in 2012. Near-term funding for Lot 6 remains a concern, however (q.v. Oct 25/12 entry).

Nov 20/12: 1st Front-Line Squadron. Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VFMA-121), formerly an F/A-18 Hornet squadron, is re-designated as the world’s first operational F-35 squadron, of any type. For now, the “squadron” is just 3 F-35Bs, but that will grow. They will be part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ. MCAS Yuma.

1st F-35 Squadron

Nov 22/12: Canada. 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. Breaking that lock opens up other options like the Eurofighter, Super Hornet, etc.

Subsequent reports that Canada has canceled the F-35 are premature. Much will depend on the people picked to conduct the review of options. See “Canada Preparing to Replace its CF-18 Hornets” for full coverage.

Nov 16/12: ALIS. Reuters reports that ALIS is at 94% of final capability, but a changing computing landscape has bitten it. A Navy “Red Team” hacked into the ALIS system. ALIS reportedly includes both classified and unclassified data streams, and the 2001 specifications didn’t require separating them to prevent intrusions. That kind of failure to plan for computer attacks doesn’t reflect especially well on all concerned, and it was reportedly all the Navy team needed.

Lockheed Martin was surprised by the result, but say that they’ve developed a “fairly straightforward fix” that did not require major adjustments to ALIS. The bad news? The political exercise of choosing F-35 suppliers in nearly every U.S. state, and beyond the USA, increases general exposure to cyber attacks.

The latest version of ALIS has been in use at Edwards AFB, CA for several months. It’s also scheduled to be used by the Marines at Yuma, CA this year, and by Nellis AFB, NV when Lockheed delivers 4 F-35s for testing within the next month or 2. Meanwhile, The Pentagon is looking to compete ALIS operation, and F-35 maintenance, beyond Lockheed Martin, in an attempt to drive down rising Operations & Maintenance cost projections. Reuters.

Nov 5/12: Affordability. USN Rear Adm. (ret.) Craig Steidle pens an op-ed in Aviation Week. Steidle was the 2nd director of the JSF Program Office, from August 1995 – August 1997. He writes:

“…as the program moved on, the focus on affordability atrophied. Both the government and contractor were at fault. What began as a core pillar didn’t evolve into a culture… In 2008-10, I had the privilege to chair several Independent Manufacturing Review Team (IMRT) assessments of the F-35 program… The kind of cost-avoidance program that should have encompassed lean and producibility initiatives and other affordability improvements did not exist, nor was it asked for. The statements of work that we reviewed did not incorporate cost reduction. Difficulties were to be expected, but resolving development issues had diverted attention from cost control.”

He does say that the current F-35 program leadership has made progress, adding that the F-35 will have “a system performance beyond our initial expectations.” Time will tell.

Oct 30/12: Dutch delay. Instead of trying to gather a majority among the second-tier parties, the Dutch VVD and its largest opponent, the PvdA Labour Party, elect to form a national unity coalition with 79/ 150 seats.

They don’t agree about the F-35, but they do agree that the recent Rekenkamer report requires a full reconsideration of Dutch defense policy and commitments by the end of 2013. Once that’s done, there’s reportedly some language about a “competitive” evaluation of alternatives in 2014, leading to a contract in 2015 as planned. The parties agreed that the 2014 evaluation will include operations and support (O&S) costs, while a 2nd agreement will create a forensic inquiry into why Parliament wasn’t informed of the 390% cost explosion between 2001 and 2012 for 30 years of F-35 O&S (q.v. Oct 24/12 entry).

Depending on the exact wording of the coalition agreement, and on how vigorously the PvdA asserts itself, those agreements may just be a stalling tactic toward lock-in, and a drastically reduced fighter fleet with much smaller responsibilities. There are a number of ways to blunt the accuracy and impact of an O&S assessment, and true competition in 2014 requires a specific procedure. The forensic inquiry will put the MvD in the spotlight, and the VVD party is also at risk, but the VVD would not have accepted a suicide pact. The best bet is an inquiry that mirrors the recent farce in Canada: bureaucratic stonewalling, and refusal of responsibility by all parties. In the meantime, more contracts let to Dutch firms could have the effect of raising termination costs if the country pulls out of the F-35 program. Atlantic Sentinel |

Oct 26/12: EVM penalty. The Pentagon is withholding $46.5 million from Lockheed Martin over Earned Value Management system deficiencies, subtracting 5% of periodic billings against the LRIP-4 and LRIP-5 contracts, and Israel’s F-35i development contract.

Lockheed Martin’s EVM certification at Fort Worth, TX was yanked in October 2010. They have a corrective plan to return to full EVM compliance, but haven’t restored their certification yet. Bloomberg.

Oct 25/12: LMCO 10-Q. Lockheed Martin’s 10-Q filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission says that they are still working to restore the Defense Contracting Management Agency’s (DCMA) earned value management system (EVMS) at the Fort Worth, TX facility. Relations with the US government are actually quite tense overall, and the firm mentions the ongoing failure of contract restructuring negotiations to tie fees to milestones. Not to mention disagreements between contractor and government assessments for the milestones that already exist. Then there’s the issue of payment risk hanging over the program:

“The development portion of the F-35 program is expected to continue into 2017 and currently has approximately $530 million of incentive fees remaining… While our customer has delayed funding for LRIP Lot 6 until the LRIP Lot 5 contract is negotiated, we and our industry team have continued to work in an effort to meet our customer’s desired aircraft delivery dates for the LRIP Lot 6 aircraft. As a result, we have approximately $400 million in potential termination liability exposure as of September 30, 2012. If we are unable to obtain additional funding by year-end, the potential termination liability exposure is estimated to be $1.1 billion and our cash exposure would be approximately $250 million… In the quarter ended September 30, 2012, 12 LRIP Lot 3 aircraft were delivered to the U.S. Government. We have received orders for 95 production aircraft, of which 26 have been delivered through the quarter ended September 30, 2012.”

Lockheed Martin received a $489.5 million contract for Lot 6 long-lead parts on June 15/12. It isn’t clear if those funds have been released, or are being held up over negotiations. See: 10-Q SEC filing | Reuters.

Oct 24/12: Dutch Report. The Dutch Rekenkamer national auditing office releases their report covering the proposed F-35 buy. A decision to buy or reject the F-35A must be made by 2015, per earlier agreements with the US government and Lockheed Martin, but the F-35A IOT&E and arrival of operational Block 3 software will take until 2019, which means another round of testing after 2019. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) would wait until 2022, and it would be at least 2027 (a 6-year slip from 2021) before the Dutch could retire their F-16s.

The bottom line is that even in a study that confined itself to unaudited figures provided by the Dutch government and industry, it’s clear that the planned EUR 4.05 billion Dutch buy won’t be able to afford 68 F-35s, let alone the 85 planned. The MvD is now talking about just 56 planes, and extrapolation using the report’s own charts and Pentagon figures suggests a figure closer to 42-48 F-35As. As the Rekenkamer points out, it isn’t possible to execute the Luchtmacht’s current responsibilities with those numbers. Which means the Netherlands will need to rethink and reduce its long-term defense and alliance commitments. Operations & support (O&S) projections, exclusive of fuel, add even more weight to that conclusion. The 30-year figure has risen from the initial 2001 figure of EUR 2.9 billion for 85, to the 2012 figure of EUR 14.2 billion. It only drops to EUR 13.2 billion at 68 aircraft, and that non-linear drop makes it likely that O&M costs for a fleet of 42-48 F-35As, over 30 years, would be well over EUR 200 million per plane.

Option #2, which involves withdrawing from the testing phase, gets a negative recommendation. The Rekenkamer thinks it wouldn’t make operational or financial sense, since monies “saved” would just create new costs later in the F-16 fleet. They’re almost certainly correct.

Option #3 would involve withdrawing from the F-35 program before 2015, and buying another fighter off the shelf. This could expose the government to termination claims, with Dutch firms filing claims against major F-35 contractors under US Federal Acquisition Regulations, who will go to the US government for payment, who would go to the Dutch government under the JSF program’s 2010 MoU (pp. 28, 117). The Rekenkamer believes that taking this option would also require a reconsideration of the Luchtmacht’s medium-term responsibilities, since it would require operating the F-16 fleet for longer.

That last conclusion may not be correct. The most likely alternative that could offer more fighters, the JAS-39E/F Gripen, isn’t scheduled to enter Swedish service until 2023. Which would push full retirement of the Dutch F-16s beyond 2027. The Swiss are getting leased JAS-39C/Ds as a bridge to their 22 JAS-39Es, however, and Saab could conceivably make the Dutch a similar offer that let them retire the Luchtmacht F-16s in 2027 as planned. The Eurofighter or Rafale would offer similar or greater costs compared to the F-35A, but either aircraft could be delivered and operational several years earlier than the F-35A or the JAS-39E/F. DID’s estimate is that a 2015 contract signing could give the Dutch a Rafale/ Typhoon IOC of 2018, and full retirement of Dutch F-16s by 2022-23. “Uitstapkosten Joint Strike Fighter,” incl. links to full reports [all in Dutch] | JSF Nieuws [in Dutch] | DID thanks VNC Communication for their assistance.

Dutch F-35 report

Oct 19/12: Engines. United Technologies’ Pratt and Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT wins an $81.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for services and materials for the preliminary design, detailed design, and engine performance testing in support of the F135 Fuel Burn Reduction Program. The objective of the program is to demonstrate a 5% mission weighted fuel burn reduction in a F135 experimental engine configuration.

Competition can produce the same kinds of benefits, of course, but the Pentagon has chosen not to do that.

Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT, and is expected to be complete in July 2016. This contract was competitively procured via Broad Agency Announcement, and 3 offers were received by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ (N68335-13-C-0005).

Oct 9/12: Italy. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX received a $28.6 million advance acquisition contract modification, buying long lead-time parts, material and components required to protect the delivery schedule of Italy’s 4 F-35As in LRIP Lot 7 (FY 2013).

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be completed in June 2013. Note that El Segundo is Northrop Grumman’s work, and Warton is BAE’s (N00019-12-C-0004).

Sept 27/12: LRIP-7 Engine lead-in. United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT receives an estimated $89.2 million for long-lead components, parts and materials associated with the 37 engines in LRIP Lot 7. The rest of the contract will follow, but initial purchases involve:

  • USAF: 19 F135-PW-100 base model ($38 million, 43%)
  • Italy: 3 F135 CTOL ($6 million, 7%)
  • Norway: 2 F135 CTOL ($4 million, 4.5%)
  • Turkey: 2 F135 CTOL ($4 million, 4.5%)
  • US Navy: 4 F135-PW-100 Carrier Variant ($35.2 million, 39% for US/ USMC)
  • USMC: 6 F-135-PW-600 Short Take-off and Vertical Landing with Roll Royce’s LiftFan
  • Britain: 1 F135 STOVL ($2 million, 2%)

Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (67%); Bristol, United Kingdom (16.5%); and Indianapolis, IN (16.5%), and is expected to be complete in September 2013. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-12-C-0060).

FY 2012

F-35A armed test
(click to view full)

Sept 26/12: LRIP-3 changes. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $25.9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to add authorized concurrency changes for USAF F-35As in LRIP Lot 3. Many concurrency changes are going to involve software, but they can also involve mechanical changes. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to span multiple years (N00019-08-C-0028).

Sept 26/12: Simulators & RCS. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $79.9 million advance acquisition contract modification to buy 6 F-35 Lightening II Full Mission Simulators, and a radar upgrade at Hill AFB, UT to support of F-35 radar cross section testing.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in April 2015. $716,700 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-10-C-0002).

Sept 20/12: Sub-contractors. Northrop Grumman Corporation enters into a long-term agreement (LTA) with Denmark’s Terma A/S, worth more than $95 million through 2019. The LTA covers production of 34 unique F-35 Lightning II composite components, including doors, panels, skin assembly, and straps through 2019.

This is actually an extension of a partnership that began in 2006. Terma A/S has been producing F-35 components since the LRIP-1 order in 2007. NGC.

Sept 12/12: Dutch Elections. Elections leave the pro-JSF coalition slightly ahead in some respects, but the VVD (+10 seats) and CDA (-8 seats) end up needing 22 more votes to have a 76-vote majority in favor of the F-35. Support from Geert Wilders’ PVV, plus the Christian Democratic leaning CU and SGP, could get them to 77. Wikipedia.

Sept 6/12: Japan’s 4, for much more. More cost hikes for Japan, as Defense Ministry officials cite “lower production efficiency” as the reason its first 4 F-35As will soar again to YEN 15.4 billion (about $195 million) per plane. As a result, the ministry is looking to find the full YEN 30.8 billion, in order to cover the 2 fighters planned for the FY 2013 budget request. The Japan Times.

Aug 28/12: Israel. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX receives a $206.8 million cost-reimbursement contract modification to pay for Phase I Increment 1, of Israel’s F-35i System Development and Demonstration. This modification includes the development of hardware and software, from the initial requirements development to the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). In addition, a hardware-only post PDR will continue through finalized requirements, layouts, and build to prints, including production planning data.

Note that Pentagon contract announcements are often for the 40-50% of the total expected costs, in order to get work underway. As such, previous figures of $450 million to add Israeli radio, datalink, and electronic warfare systems could still be true. Work will be performed at Fort Worth, TX (60%); Los Angeles, CA (20%); Nashua, NH (15%); and San Diego, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in May 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD will manage this effort, on behalf of its Israeli Foreign Military Sale client (N00019-12-C-0070).

F-35i SDD begins

Aug 7/12: LRIP-5. United Technologies subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT receives a $9.6 million contract modification to LRIP Lot 5/ FY 2011 fixed-price incentive and cost-plus-incentive contract line items. It funds part of the cost of 2 F135 engines, plus associated engineering assistance to production, a mock-up engine, slave modules for engine depot test cells at Tinker Air Force Base, initial stand-up repair capabilities at Hill Air Force Base; and additional contractor logistics support. Support will take place at the Fort Worth, TX, and Palmdale, CA, production sites, and at Eglin AFB, Yuma AFB, Nellis AFB, and Edwards AFB.

Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (67%); Bristol, United Kingdom (17%); and Indianapolis, IN (16%), and is expected to be complete in February 2014.Funding will be released as needed (N00019-10-C-0005).

Aug 6/12: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $209.8 million contract modification for initial spares to support 32 F-35 LRIP Lot 5/ FY 2011 fighters.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in June 2015 (N00019-10-C-0002).

June 20/12: LRIP-7 Norway. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $20.1 million advance acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, material and components required for Norway’s 2 F-35As ordered in LRIP-7/ FY 2013.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%). Work is expected to be complete in June 2013. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-12-C-0004).

July 2-5/12: Netherlands. A parliamentary majority opposed to buying the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter has emerged in the Netherlands. Despite lobbying from the MvD, and 2 planes ordered already, the issue came to a vote, and the motion to withdraw from the program was upheld.

Because the government has technically dissolved, this vote doesn’t pull the Netherlands out yet. What it does say is that unless the VVD and SDA parties can form a majority in the next election, the Dutch F-35 buy is in serious danger. The cost of ending the country’s Tier 2 participation in the program could hit EUR 1 billion. Then again, if reported figures regarding Saab’s JAS-39E/F Gripen offer are true, Dutch government budgets could still come out ahead. Industry may be less happy.

June 29/12: Japan. Buy 4, for more. Officials from Japan’s defense ministry say that they have agreed to terms for their first 4 F-35As. Delayed American orders for 179 planes mean that Japan’s planes will reportedly cost 9.6 billion yen (about $120 million) each, up from the original plan of $110 million. That makes the Japanese contract a good bellwether for the real base cost of an F-35A in the near future.

Fortunately for the Japanese, the overall contract remained at the expected YEN 60 billion (about $752.4 million). The cost of the 2 simulators and other equipment dropped to YEN 19.1 billion ($240.83 million) from the expected YEN 20.5 billion. Read “Japan’s Next Fighters: F-35 Wins The F-X Competition” for full coverage.

Japan: 4 of 42

June 15/12: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $489.5 million advance acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, material and components required for the delivery of 35 LRIP-6 fighters. The order involves 19 USAF F-35As, 3 F-35As for the government of Italy, 2 F-35As for the government of Turkey, 6 USMC F-35B STOVL(Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) fighters, 1 F-35B for Britain, and 4 F-35Cs for the US Navy.

This contract also funds long lead-time efforts required for the addition of a drag chute to Norway’s F-35As, which will be ordered as part of LRIP-7 in 2013. Drag chutes are especially useful when landing in cold climates, where runways and tires may fail to provide the same level of traction.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%); and is expected to be complete in June 2013. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to US FAR 6.302-1, by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-12-C-0004).

June 15/12: Norway OK. Norway takes the next step, and formally authorizes the purchase of 2 F-35A fighters, which are intended for delivery in 2015. They will be based in the United States as part of a joint partner training center, which almost certainly means Eglin AFB, FL. The 2 aircraft authorized today are expected to be joined by a second pair in 2016. They are to be followed by up to 48 additional aircraft orders from 2017, which will be based at Orland AB and Evenes FOB in Norway.

This is not a contract yet, but one can be expected in FY 2013. Meanwhile, American support for internal F-35 integration of the JSM strike missile allows Norway to begin preparing it for deployment.

The overall cost of Norway’s F-35’s procurement phase is estimated at NOK 60 billion/ $FY12 10 billion in real terms. This is very good news for Lockheed Martin, which is working through a 2-month long extended strike by its machinists, and a harsh US GAO report concerning the F-35’s progress. Norwegian MoD | Business Insider | Fort Worth Star-Telegram | WFAA Dallas.

Norwegian go-ahead

June 14/12: Norway. Norway’s Storting (parliament) approves a significant increase in defense spending, with the F-35 purchase playing a central role. The country will also be making investments in modernizing and adding CV90 tracked armored vehicles, and purchasing UAVs.

Overall, Norway will see a budget increase of 7% by 2016. Monies spent of the Afghan deployment will be continued and redirected, while “significant” supplementary funds will be added for the F-35 purchase. Source.

June 14/12: US GAO Report. Congress’ Government Accountability Office delivers a report on the F-35 program. Key excerpts from GAO-12-437: “Joint Strike Fighter – DOD Actions Needed to Further Enhance Restructuring and Address Affordability Risks” :

“The new program baseline projects total acquisition costs of $395.7 billion, an increase of $117.2 billion (42%) from the prior 2007 baseline. Full rate production is now planned for 2019, a delay of 6 years from the 2007 baseline. Unit costs per aircraft have doubled since start of development in 2001… Since 2002, the total quantity through 2017 has been reduced by three-fourths, from 1,591 to 365. Affordability is a key challenge… Overall performance in 2011 was mixed as the program achieved 6 of 11 important objectives… Late software releases and concurrent work on multiple software blocks have delayed testing and training. Development of critical mission systems providing core combat capabilities remains behind schedule and risky… Most of the instability in the program has been and continues to be the result of highly concurrent development, testing, and production activities. Cost overruns on the first four annual procurement contracts total more than $1 billion and aircraft deliveries are on average more than 1 year late. Program officials said the government’s share of the cost growth is $672 million; this adds about $11 million to the price of each of the 63 aircraft under those contract.”

June 13/12: Infrastructure. R.L. Reed, Inc. in Las Vegas, NV wins an $11.1 million firm-fixed-price contract, to build an F-35A aerospace ground equipment facility at Nellis AFB, NV. Work is expected to finish by Dec 10/13. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 15 bids received by The US Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angles, CA (W912PL-12-C-0010).

June 4/12: Support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives an $111.6 million cost reimbursement contract modification, which adds more funding for recurring support activities such as initial training, aircraft maintenance operations, stand-up of sustainment capability at specified locations, technical data management, and sustaining engineering for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

Work will be performed at Eglin AFB, FL (60%); and in Fort Worth, TX (15%); El Segundo, CA (5%); Warton, United Kingdom (5%); Orlando, FL (5%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%). Work is expected to be complete in October 2012, but $45.2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-10-C-0002).

May 31/12: Norway JSM. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $19.8 million contract modification, funding a Joint Strike Missile (JSM) Risk Reduction Study for the Norway Ministry of Defence. Efforts include physical fit checks, wind tunnel tests, engineering analysis, and designing and building of an emulator and adapter to determine next steps in integrating the JSM into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

These monies will be applied to the fixed-price-incentive-fee, firm target F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter LRIP-4/ FY 2010 contract. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (70%); Arnold AFB in Tullahoma, TN (20%); and Kongsberg, Norway (10%); and is expected to be complete in May 2014 (N00019-09-C-0010).

May 7/12: LRIP-4 Concurrency. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $237,740,000 fixed-price-incentive-fee, firm target contract modification to the LRIP-4/ FY 2010 contract, in order to raise the limit for government-authorized changes to the plane’s configuration baseline hardware or software. This modification increases the concurrency cap for the USAF’s and Netherlands’ F-35As; USMC’s and Britain’s F-35Bs; and US Navy F-35Cs.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to span multiple years, but $222.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract modification combines purchases for the Navy ($153.2M/ 64.5%); USAF ($69.4M/ 29%); the United Kingdom ($8.2M/ 3.5%); and the Netherlands ($6.9M/ 3%), under contract N00019-09-C-0010.

May 10/12: Britain. Britain’s government confirms long-standing rumors that it would abandon the F-35C and its associated catapult modifications to 1 carrier, returning to the ski-jump deck and F-35B STOVL variant. That will mean reversions and changes to the carriers’ evolved design and lighting, some of which were described in the Jan 25/12 entry. Aircraft are less affected. The UK had already ordered and paid for an F-35B test plane, before the switch to the F-35C. Those flights will now continue, and F-35B flight trials are scheduled to begin from a British carrier in 2018.

A DSTL report has explained some of the capabilities Britain would lose by abandoning the F-35C, but the government justifies their decision by saying that the F-35C’s improved capabilities and compatibility with American and French carriers would come at too steep a cost. Staying with the F-35C, they say, would delay Britain’s return to carrier capability from 2020 – 2023 or later, cost nearly GBP 2 billion to modify 1 of their 2 carriers, and leave the Royal Navy with no carrier capability if their converted ship needs maintenance. In contrast, the F-35B will be compatible with the US Marines and with Italy, and gives Britain the option of taking its 2nd CVF carrier out of strategic reserve, and using it when the primary carrier is out of service for long refits or maintenance dockings. UK MoD.

Britain back to F-35B

May 3-9/12: Australia. Australia’s Defense Force will delay buying 12 new F-35As by 2 years (Project AIR 6000, Phase 2A/B, Stage 2), and delay the 4th Australian squadron (Phase 2C) by one more year, under the Labor Party government’s deficit-reduction plan.

They’ve committed to buy 2 initial F-35As for delivery in 2014-15, but those 2 will remain in the United States for testing and pilot training. The next 12 planes would have been based in Australia. Their Year of Decision will now be 2014-15 for the next 12, which may also cover the Phase 2B buy of 58. Delivery of those planes isn’t expected until 2017-2019 now, which means that RAAF F-35As won’t be flying in Australia until around 2020. The AIR 6000 Phase 2C decision to add another 24 F-35s, and raise Australia’s total buy to 96, won’t happen until 2018-19. Australian DMO Project page | Australian Aviation | Australian Aviation follow-up | The Australian | Bloomberg | Canada’s Globe & Mail.

Australia delays

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

The estimated cost is $10 billion, which works out to $238.1 million per plane. Until a set of contracts are signed, it’s hard to split that accurately between purchase and support costs, and long support deals can add a lot to costs. Japan is also interested in considerably more local assembly than most of F-35 buyers, which is likely to add a number of unique costs of its own. Read “Japan’s Next Fighters: F-35 Wins The F-X Competition” for full coverage.

Japan request

April 24/12: LRIP-2 Concurrency. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $68.3 million modification to the previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) LRIP-2/ FY 2008 contract, to raise the limit for government-authorized changes to the plane’s configuration baseline hardware or software. This contract combines purchases for the USAF ($37.7M/ 55.2%) and the US Navy ($30.6M/ 44.8%)

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to span multiple years. (N00019-07-C-0097)

April 24/12: LRIP-3 Concurrency. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $45.9 million modification to the previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee LRIP-3 contract, to raise the limit for government-authorized changes to the plane’s configuration baseline hardware or software. This contract combines purchases for the US Navy ($37.5M/ 77.8%) and the United Kingdom ($10.2M/ 22.2%).

At this point, both navies were still committed to the F-35C. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX and is expected to span multiple years (N00019-08-C-0028)

April 13/12: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $258.8 million not-to-exceed undefinitized modification to the LRIP-5/ FY 2011 contract adding 1 USAF F-35A and 1 USN F-35C. The modification includes undefinitized line items, which will be finalized as fixed-price-incentive-firm contract line items.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%); and is expected to be complete in February 2014. Funds will be released as needed (N00019-10-C-0002).

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. Excerpts:

“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?”

SAR: dates slip, O&M rises

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

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

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

March 30/12: Infrastructure. Small business qualifier Head, Inc. in Columbus, OH receives a $17 million firm-fixed-price contract to build 5 vertical landing pads and associated supporting taxiways at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, SC, which will base F-35Bs.

Work is expected to be complete by August 2013. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 12 proposals received by Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southeast in Jacksonville, FL (N69450-12-C-1758).

March 20/12: Infrastructure. Harper Construction Co., Inc., San Diego, CA wins a pair of firm-fixed-price task order under a multiple award construction contract, to build the 2-story aircraft maintenance hangars at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ. The buildings will include a high bay space for F-35Bs, crew and equipment space, administrative space and Special Access Program Facility areas for the Automatic Logistics Information System (ALIS) fleet maintenance program.

Task order 003 for the south hangar is $33.2 million, and a planned modification could increase the contract to $35 million (N62473-10-D-5406, 0004).

Task order 004 for the north hangar is $36.7 million, and a planned modification could increase the contract to $38.6 million (N62473-10-D-5406, 0004).

Work is expected to be complete by May 2014, and 9 proposals were received for each task order by US Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest in San Diego, CA

March 12/12: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $56.4 million cost reimbursement contract modification, adding funding for support efforts necessary to meet F-35 LRIP Lot 5’s requirements and delivery schedule.

Work will be performed in Eglin Air Force Base, FL (60%); Fort Worth, TX (15%); El Segundo, CA (5%); Warton, United Kingdom (5%); Orlando, FL (5%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%); and is expected to be complete in May 2012. $18.7 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-10-C-0002).

March 12/12: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $38.6 million modification to the previously awarded low rate initial production Lot 6 advance acquisition contract to provide additional funding for the procurement of long lead items for F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter low rate initial production conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft for the USAF, and for the governments of Italy and Australia.

Work, which will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, is necessary to protect the delivery schedules of CTOL aircraft planned for delivery through January 2015 (N00019-11-C-0083).

March 9/12: Reprogramming Lab. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $24.1 million cost-reimbursement contract modification to develop a data farm for the Joint Strike Fighter US Reprogramming Laboratory at Eglin AFB, FL. It will take feeds from the lab’s existing equipment, and store software and data from the F-35’s mission data testing.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (95%), and Orlando, FL (5%), and is expected to be complete in November 2014. Contract funds will be released as needed (N00019-02-C-3002).

Feb 23/12: Turkey. Turkish Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz says that they’re sticking to plans to buy 100 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets for $16 billion, but could change those numbers or the timing of their orders, depending on how negotiations go.

Turkey’s development phase payments have reportedly hit $315 million so far. Reuters.

Feb 15/12: Italian cuts. Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola tells a joint defense committee of both houses of parliament that Italy is cutting its planned F-35 purchases from 131 to 90, as part of a range of military austerity measures. A review had indicated 1/3 fewer planes would do, but given Italy’s needs all of those cuts are almost certain to be air force jets.

Di Paola said that Italy had spent EUR 2.5 billion/ $3.3 billion on the program so far. Bloomberg.

Italy cuts

Feb 9/12: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $14.8 million contract modification, to buy long lead items for the USMC’s LRIP-6/ FY 2012 buy of F-35B fighters. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is necessary to protect the delivery schedules of STOVL aircraft planned for delivery through December 2014 (N00019-11-C-0083)

Jan 6/12: LRIP-6 engines. United Technologies subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT receives a $194.1 million advance acquisition contract with fixed-price line items for long lead components, parts, and materials required for the delivery of 37 LRIP Lot 6 engines. They will equip the USMC (6 F-135-600s with LiftFan, $84.7M/ 43.6%); USAF (18 F135-100s, $54.9M/ 28.3%); USN (7 F135-100 naval, $37.1M/ 19.1%); Italian Air Force (4 F135-100s, $11.6M/ 6%); and Royal Australian Air Force (2 F135-100s, $5.8M/ 3%); and associated spares.

Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (64%); Bristol, UK (25%); and Indianapolis, IN (11%), and is expected to be complete in September 2012. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 USC. 2304c1 (N00019-11-C-0082).

USN F-35C & F/A-18E,
jet blast testing
(click to view full)

Dec 28/11: LRIP-5 engines. Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT receives a $1.122 billion unfinalized, not-to-exceed contract modification for LRIP Lot V’s engines. The contract includes both fixed price incentive and cost plus incentive contract line items, and covers 21 F135 engines for the USAF’s F-35As ($520.7M / 46.3%), 3 F135 LiftFan engines for the USMC’s F-35Bs ($387.1M / 34.5% is the figure given), 6 F135s for the Navy’s F-35Cs ($166.7M/ 14.9%), plus the usual support and spares for the US and F-35 Co-operative Partners ($47.8M Co-operative Partner Participants/ 4.3%). A total of $358.6 million is committed immediately.

One wonders if the USN & USMC figures were transposed, but the finalized contract will offer more clarity. Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (67%); Bristol, United Kingdom (16.5%); and Indianapolis, IN (16.5%), and is expected to be complete in February 2014 (N00019-10-C-0005).

Dec 27/11: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $485 million not-to-exceed cost-plus-fixed-fee unfinalized contract modification, with $131.5 million obligated at time of award. The contract covers LRIP Lot 5 production requirements, including special tooling/special test equipment, and subcontractor technical assistance. This contract combines purchases for the USAF ($186.7M/ 38.5%); the US Navy ($186.7M/ 38.5%); and JSF Cooperative Partner participants ($111.5M/ 23%).

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (30%); El Segundo, CA (20%); Wharton, United Kingdom (20%); Turin, Italy (15%); Nashua, NH (8%); and Baltimore, MD (7%); and is expected to be complete in December 2013 (N00019-10-C-0002)

Dec 27/11: LRIP-4. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $253 million cost-plus-incentive-fee and cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to finalize the previous LRIP-4/ FY 2010 support contract. This contract covers the US Navy ($140.3M/ 55.5%), the USAF (89.1M/ 35.2%), and the JSF “Cooperative Program participants” ($23.6M/ 9.3%).

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%); and is expected to be complete in May 2014. $169.7 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-09-C-0010).

Dec 20/11: Japan win. Japan’s Ministry of Defense announces that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II has won the F-X competitive bid process for 42 planes. The initial contract will be for 4 F-35A jets in Japan Fiscal Year 2012, which begins April 1/12. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2016. Read “Japan’s Next Fighters: F-35 Wins The F-X Competition” for full coverage.

Japan win

Dec 9/11: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $4.0119 billion fixed-price-incentive, firm target, FPIF contract modification for 30 LRIP Lot 5 fighters for the USAF (21 F-35As, $2.644 b/ 65.9%); the US Navy (6 F-35Cs, $937.3M/ 23.3%) and the US Marine Corps (3 F-35Bs, $426.2M/ 10.6%). In addition, this modification funds associated ancillary mission equipment and flight test instrumentation for those aircraft, and flight test instrumentation for the United Kingdom ($4.1M/ 0.1%). All efforts will be contracted for on a FPIF basis, with the exception of work scope for the incorporation of certain specified concurrency changes that will be contracted for on a cost-sharing/no-fee basis.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (67%); El Segundo, CA (14%); Warton, United Kingdom (9%); Orlando, FL (4%); Nashua, NH (3%); and Baltimore, MD (3%), and is expected to be complete in January 2014 (N00019-10-C-0002).

LRIP Lot 5 main

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Categories: News

US SOCOM’s “Silent Knight”

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 23:42
(click to view full)

Your mission is to fly from 20-100 feet off the ground, at flight speeds, regardless of rain, snow, or dark of night. These journeys often take place within countries that either don’t want you there, or prefer not to admit that you ever were there. Hostile fire is a distinct possibility. You are very probably a special operations pilot, and the most important tool in whatever aircraft you’re flying is something called a terrain following/terrain avoidance (TF/TA) system that helps keep your plane at the requisite height above ground – without hitting trees, ships, and other obstructions.

As the holiday season approaches, US SOCOM is working on a new present for its future pilots. Raytheon Company Precision Attack and Surveillance Systems in McKinney, TX received a Cost Plus Incentive Fee (CPIF) contract with a potential maximum value of $164.2 million for system design and development of the Silent Knight Radar (SKR) in support of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Up to 6 low-rate initial production units are included as an option, and work will be performed in McKinney, TX from Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 30, 2013 (H92222-07-C-0041).

Silent Knight is a next-generation TF/TA system for US SOCOM pilots using fully modern technology. The required capabilities of the Silent Knight radar reportedly include color weather display, a ground map mode experienced as a high-resolution display, detection and location of other aircraft and/or ships; and advances in terrain following and avoidance capabilities; and will be lighter and require less power than predecessors.

As a common system, Silent Knight will eventually be fielded on MH/HH-47 Chinooks, MH-60M Pave Hawks, MC-130H Combat Talon (Hercules variant) fixed-wing transports, and CV-22 Osprey block 30 tilt-rotor aircraft.

Formally signed Dec. 12, 2006, and initially funded at $28.5 million, the contract calls for Raytheon to build, test and integrate the new Silent Knight radar. Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems is performing the work in Dallas and McKinney, TX. Principal partners include AIC in Crestview, FL; DRS Technologies in St. Louis, MO; and Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA.


May 4/16: Raytheon Apace and Airborne Systems has been awarded a contract for the continued low-rate initial production of the Silent Knight Radar system in support of US Special Operations Command. The value of the contract has the potential worth of up to $49.5 million and will continue for the year. The contract will be funded via delivery/task orders, and depending on the requirement may be funded using research, development, test and evaluation; procurement; and operation and maintenance funding.

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Categories: News

Global F/A-18 Hornet Fleets: Keeping ‘Em Flying

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 23:35
CF-18: which way?
(click to see clearly)

The F/A-18 Hornet is the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet‘s predecessor, with the first models introduced in the late 1970s as a spinoff of the USAF’s YF-17 lightweight fighter competitor. Hornets are currently flown by the US Marine Corps as their front-line fighter, by the US Navy as a second-tier fighter behind its larger F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, and by 7 international customers: Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland. The USA’s aircraft were expected to have a service life of 20 years, but that was based on 100 carrier landings per year. The US Navy and Marines have been rather busy during the Hornets’ service life, and so the planes are wearing out faster.

This is forcing the USA to take a number of steps in order to keep their Hornets airworthy: replacing center barrel sections, re-opening production lines, and more. Some of these efforts will also be offered to allied air forces, who have their own refurbishment and upgrade programs.

Contracts & Key Events, 2006 – Present F/A-18 History
click for video

Some of the parts procured under Boeing’s contracts will be produced for allied military services who fly the F/A-18. The Hornet was a McDonnell-Douglas aircraft, so contracts will generally be to that Boeing subsidiary in St Louis, MO, unless otherwise noted.

Note that “center barrel sections” refer to the middle chunk of the plane where the wings joint the body. As one might guess, replacing them is a somewhat involved process, and is also very helpful in extending the airframe’s fatigue-hour limits.

Australian MRO
(click to view full)

There are some gaps in this article’s coverage. National MRO (Maintenance, Repair, & Optimization) initiatives don’t get comprehensive coverage beyond the multi-fleet central contracts announced in the USA, though some coverage and links are present. There’s also a thin line at times between upgrades required to remain survivable and hence useful in national fleets, and airframe life-extension efforts. In theory, they’re different, but in practice they’re often linked. As such, leaving all upgrades out would do readers a disservice, so they occasionally appear when there’s a connection. Again, however, lists of upgrades are not comprehensive.

Note that Hornet fighters use different radars. Raytheon’s APG-65 is installed aboard USN and USMC F/A-18C/D Hornets (both radar types), and the USMC’s AV-8B Harrier II Plus V/STOL fighters. Abroad, it serves in AV-8Bs operated by Spain and Italy, in Spain’s “EF-18A/Bs” and Kuwait’s F/A-18C/Ds, and in German and Greek F-4 Phantom strike fighters.

Raytheon’s APG-73 serves some of the USA’s F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet, and the USN’s F/A-18E/F Block I Super Hornet (APG-73) fighters. It’s also found in Hornets flown by Australia (F/A-18AM/BM), Canada (CF-18AM/BM), Finland (F/A-18C/D), Malaysia (F/A-18D), and Switzerland (F/A-18C/D).

Tests are reportedly going well for active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars to be retrofit to the A, B, C and D F/A-18 models.

2014 – 2016

F/A-18C fires Hydras
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May 4/16: Boeing has announced that they expect orders of F-15 and F/A-18 fighters to keep production rolling into the 2020s. While the last order of F-15s by Saudi Arabia will be completed by 2019, it is expected that the US Navy will purchase more F/A-18s while export orders of the F-15 will continue to partner nations. The company has recently been implementing a series of cost cutting measures to boost productivity in the wake of losing out on the recent bomber program for the USAF to Northrop Grumman.

December 18/15: It looks like a very merry Christmas for Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as they came out as the major winners in the announced $1.15 trillion spending bill announced on Wednesday. Funding will see eleven more F-35 Lightning IIs than requested by President Obama in February. The F-35 program will see $1.33 billion additional procurement money as production of the fighters will be ramped up. The F/A-18 production line will also be extended, with seven more EA-18G Growlers and five F/A-18E/F Super Hornets planned.

July 24/15: Boeing is committing to keep its F-18 production line open in response to new and forecast orders from both the US and international customers. The company was worried that insufficient orders for new Super Hornet and Growler aircraft would fail to materialize and keep the production line economically viable. Boeing considered slowing the production rate in March, to extend the time available for more orders to come through the door. Recent orders from the US Navy and Kuwait have bolstered the company’s confidence in keeping the production line open.

Nov 4/14: Support. Boeing in Jacksonville, FL receives a $25.3 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification for depot-level F/A-18A-D service life extension and remanufacturing activities, including associated maintenance support and sustainment capabilities.

Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL (91.7%), and St. Louis, MO (8.3%), and is expected to be completed in September 2015. Funds will be obligated on individual delivery orders as they are issued. US Navy NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-14-D-0001).

Nov 3/14: Support. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $7.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification, exercising an option for post-production program management, logistics, and engineering services in support of F/A-18 A-F aircraft operated by Switzerland ($2.3M / 31.6%); Finland ($1.7M / 22.9%); Malaysia ($1.1M / 15.8%); Kuwait ($1.0M / 13.7%); Australia ($510,103 / 7%); Canada ($356,677 / 4.9%); and Spain ($298,498 / 4.1%). All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in December 2015. US Navy NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-14-D-0012).

Nov 3/14: USMC Plan. The USMC’s Aviation Plan to 2030 outlines a future in which Hornets will remain in the fleet until 2030, instead of 2025. The main reason? The USMC believes it would be about $1 billion cheaper to retire the AV-8B Harrier fleet 5 years earlier and extend the Hornets 5 years later, based on 2 independent cost/benefit analyses. En route to this future, all West Coast MEUs will have F-35Bs instead of AV-8Bs by the end of FY 2019.

For the Hornet fleet, the Center Barrel Replacement Plus (CBR+) program has already extended the lives of 200 aircraft. A High Flight Hour inspection process is in progress, and a SLEP program will take place in parallel to extend the lives of about 150 hand-picked F/A-18C/Ds to 10,000 flight hours. Unfortunately:

“The USMC F/A-18A-D community is enduring a sustained shortage in excess of 40 aircraft fleet wide due to “Out Of Reporting” (OOR) maintenance. The USMC currently has eleven active squadrons and one reserve squadron that deploy with a full complement of aircraft, but the community is forced to absorb the shortfall during pre-deployment training due to a degraded Primary Mission Aircraft Inventory (PMAI). HQMC AVN is resetting the force by temporarily reducing squadron Flight Line Entitlement (FLE) to 10 aircraft to preserve future combat readiness while meeting today’s current operational requirements. Scalable squadron detachment models are being developed to meet the operational requirement without deploying excess assets, and Marine Corps Aviation is adding a detachment capability to each non-TAI VMFA. Forecasted improvements in aircraft availability will enable USMC F/A-18s to achieve 12 PMAI squadrons beginning in FY 17.”

Meanwhile, a set of fleet upgrades will continue to improve the platform. 2015 will see advanced LITENING G4 surveillance and targeting pods add air-to-air IRST capability, and the addition of the longer-range AIM-120D air-to-air missile with its 2-way datalink and new seeker radar. 2017-18 will add upgraded cockpit displays, AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missiles, and the 70mm APKWS laser-guided rocket. By 2019, APKWS will be able to use the 13.7 pound M822 tri-mode penetrating/ blast/ incendiary warhead. Instead of just 1 AGM-65 Maverick per hardpoint, the Hornet fleet will have 7 anti-armor weapons that can defeat many armored personnel carriers, and all lesser vehicles. Sources: USMC, Marine Aviation Plan 2015 [PDF].

May 18/14: Switzerland. Unsurprisingly, a tepid and convictionless defense of the JAS-39E Gripen NG fighter deal results in a referendum loss, with projections showing about a 53.4% no vote. The only surprise is that the margin was this narrow, indicating a winnable vote. Compare and contrast with the September 2013 referendum, which resulted in the Swiss keeping conscription. Or the government’s success in the referendum that ratified their F/A-18 Hornet buy.

While some governments in Europe will re-run referendums until they get the result they like, the Swiss aren’t like that. The TTE fighter buy is history, but the F-5E/F fleet will still retire, placing more emphasis on their fleet of 30+ Hornets. Switzerland will need to supplement that fleet with French and Italian cooperation for basic airspace protection. Sources: Swissinfo, “Swiss Reject $3.5 Billion Gripen Purchase in Blow to Saab” | Deutsche Welle, “Swiss referendum turns down minimum wage and new fighter jets” | Reuters, “Swiss voters narrowly block deal to buy Saab fighter jets: projection”.

Feb 28/14: Australia. Australia has changed and extended its F404 engine support contract with GE International Inc., to the tune of 4 years and A$ 230 million. This is also good news for local sub-contractor TAE, creating continued employment for 90 people in Williamtown, NSW, and Ipswich, Queensland.

When Australia signed their long-term F404 support contract in 2008, the RAAF’s F/A-18AM/BM fleet was scheduled to begin drawdown in July 2015, and leave service by June 2018. Delays to the F-35 program have forced an interim RAAF buy of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet Block IIs, and will soon add 12 related EA-18G Growlers. It’s also forcing longer service from the “Classic Hornet” fleet, which won’t leave service until 2022. The new fighters are an obvious cost of the F-35 program, but so are forced extensions like this one. Sources: Australia DoD, “Minister for Defence – Jobs remain in Australia under Hornet contract”.

Jan 31/14: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $26.8 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for the repair of various parts in support of the F/A-18 aircraft.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 USN funds. Work will be performed at Lemoore, CA (55%); Cecil Field, FL (44%); and Philadelphia, PA (1%), and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/16. The contract was not competitively procured by the US Naval Supply Systems Command, Weapon Systems Support, Philadelphia, PA, per 10 U.S.C. 2304 (c)(1). The a., is the contracting activity (N00383-11-G-001H, DO 0004).

Jan 22/14: SLEP. Boeing in Jacksonville, FL receives a $17.8 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity delivery order contract to support the F/A-18 A-F Depot Level Service Life Extension Program, including both maintenance and remanufacturing work.

Around $250,000 in FY 2014 USN aircraft budgets is committed immediately. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL (92%) and St. Louis, MO (8%), and is expected to be complete in September 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-14-D-0001).

Dec 30/13: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $46.7 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement for integrated logistics support and sustaining engineering for F/A-18A-D, F/A-18E/F, and EA-18G aircraft for the U.S. Navy ($36.6M / 78.3%) and Australia ($7M / 15.1%); plus $501,289 / 1.1% each from Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland. Support will include logistics, engineering, provisioning, information systems, technical data updates, support equipment engineering, training and software integration support.

All funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%); El Segundo, CA (15%); Oklahoma City, OK (6%); Bethpage, NY (5%); and San Diego, CA (4%), and is expected to be complete in December 2014 (N00019-11-G-0001, 0110).


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Dec 27/13: Raytheon Technical Services Co. in Indianapolis, IN received a maximum $40.9 million delivery order against previously issued basic ordering agreement for the repair of 40 APG-65/73 Radar Weapon Replaceable Assemblies. The contract appears to be limited to the US military.

The APG-65 is installed aboard USN and USMC F/A-18C/D Hornets (both radar types), and the USMC’s AV-8B Harrier II Plus V/STOL fighters. Abroad, it serves in AV-8Bs operated by Spain and Italy, in Spain’s “EF-18A/Bs” and Kuwait’s F/A-18C/Ds, and in German and Greek F-4 Phantom strike fighters.

The APG-73 serves some of the USA’s F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet, and the USN’s F/A-18E/F Block I Super Hornet (APG-73) fighters. It’s also found in Hornets flown by Australia (F/A-18AM/BM), Canada (CF-18AM/BM), Finland (F/A-18C/D), Malaysia (F/A-18D), and Switzerland (F/A-18C/D).

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, Ind. (57%); El Segundo, CA (24%); Forest, MS (17%); Andover, Maine (2%), and work is expected to be completed no later than December 2015. Fiscal 2014 Navy working capital funds in the amount of $20,455,642 will be obligated at the time of award, and will not expire before the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was not competitively procured and is issued on a sole-source basis in accordance with 10 U.SC 2304(c)(1). Naval Supply Systems Command, Weapon Systems Support, Philadelphia, PA manages the contract (N00383-14-G-006D, DO 7000).

Dec 12/13: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a 5-year, maximum $872.8 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for “system upgrades…. deliverables and services based on System Configuration Set life cycle phases for the” F/A-18 A/B, C/D, E/F and EA-18G fighters. Customers include the US Navy ($802.9 million/ 92%) and the governments of Australia ($29.7 million/ 3.4%), Finland ($21.8 million/ 2.5%), Switzerland ($7 million/ 0.8%), Kuwait ($4.4 million/ 0.5%), Malaysia ($4.4 million/ 0.5%), and Canada ($2.6 million/ 0.3%). It is time for USN service life extension work to get going (q.v. Jan 6/11).

Only 100,000 is committed upon award, using FY 2014 USN RDT&E budgets. Work will be performed as required in St. Louis, MO (95%) and China Lake, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2018. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to the FAR 6.302-1; it’s managed by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA (N68936-14-D-0008).

5-year support contract


Aging in the US, Australia; Avionics. Finnish F/A-18D
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May 7/15: Reuters reported Wednesday that Boeing is on the cusp of being awarded a more than $3 billion contract for 28 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, with the potential customer named as Kuwait. The Kuwaitis currently operate the older F/A-18 Hornet fighter. The sale, combined with a USN request for a dozen of the aircraft, should be sufficient to maintain the company’s St Louis production lines past their slated 2017 closure.

Dec 28/12: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives an $81.75 million firm-fixed-price delivery order covering integrated logistics support and sustaining engineering services for F/A-18 A-D Hornet and F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighters, and EA-18G Growler tactical jamming aircraft. They’ll provide in-service engineering, information systems, automated maintenance environment, technical data updates, support equipment engineering, training, and software integration support for the US Navy ($69.5M / 85%); and the Governments of Australia ($9.0M / 10.98%); Canada ($544,992 / .67%); Finland ($544,992 / 0.67%); Kuwait ($544,992 / 0.67%); Malaysia ($544,992 / 0.67%); Spain ($544,992 / 0.67%); and Switzerland ($544,992 / 0.67%)

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%); El Segundo, CA (15%); Oklahoma City, OK (6%); Bethpage, NY (5%); and San Diego, CA (4%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. This contract combines purchases under the Foreign Military Sales Program. All contract funds are committed immediately, and only $342,372 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00383-06-D-001J).

Dec 19/12: Malaysia ATFLIRs. Raytheon SAS in McKinney, TX receives a $25.7 million firm-fixed-price delivery order from Malaysia for 6 Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pods, which will be fitted to their F/A-18 C/D fighters. See “Malaysia Wants ATFLIR Targeting Pods for its F/A-18D Hornets” for full coverage.

Dec 19/12: Engine Improvement. General Electric Aviation in Lynn, MA receives a $17.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for engineering and engine system improvement services, as part of the F414 and F404 Engine Component Improvement Programs. $10.8 million are committed immediately, of which $6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 13/13.

This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($13.3M / 75.6%) and the Governments of Sweden ($1.3M / 7.4%); Australia ($832,277 / 4.8%); Canada ($516,877 / 3.0%); Spain ($514,156 / 2.9%); Finland ($380,856 / 2.2%); Korea ($225,793 / 1.3%); Kuwait ($233,955 / 1.3%); Switzerland ($204,030 / 1.2%), and Malaysia ($48,967 / 0.3%), under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in Lynn, MA, and is expected to be complete in December 2013. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-09-G-0009).

Dec 19/12: Avionics. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives an $8.9 million firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement for 285 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) retrofit kits in support of F/A-18C and F/A-18F aircraft.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (56%); Meza, AZ (37%); and El Paso, TX (7%), and is expected to be complete in June 2015. All contract funds are committed immediately, of which $1.35 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract.

Dec 19/12: Avionics. Boeing in St Louis, MO receives a $16.5 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for CY 2013 Avionics Repair Facility (ARF) labor support to repair various F/A-18 components. This contract also includes work for Spain and Kuwait (<1%). Work will be performed at ARF Lemoore, CA (48%); ARF Cecil Field, FL (49%), and Hornet Control Center in Philadelphia, PA (3%), and will be complete by Dec 31/13. All contract funds are committed immediately. The contract was not competitively procured in accordance with FAR 6.302-1 by US NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-11-G-001H, #0003). Dec 19/12: Avionics. Boeing in St Louis, MO receives $8,366,154 firm-fixed-price delivery order for CY 2013 Avionics Repair Facility (ARF) labor support to repair various F/A-18 components.

Work will be performed at ARF Lemoore, CA (48%); ARF Cecil Field, FL (49%), and Hornet Control Center in Philadelphia, PA (3%), and will be complete by Dec 31/13. All contract funds are committed immediately. The contract was not competitively procured in accordance with FAR 6.302-1 by US NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-11-G-001H, #0002).

Dec 3/12: Engines. General Electric in Lynn MA receives a 3-year, $265 million performance based logistics contract to provide repair, replacement and program support of 35 components used in F404 engines, which equip F/A-18A-D Hornets.

Work will be performed at the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, FL and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/15. Funds will be committed as needed. This contract was competitively procured with 6 offers solicited, but just 1 offer received from the solicitation. US NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-13-D-001M).

Nov 21/12: USN Life Extension. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $9.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for additional engineering analyses in support of the F/A-18A-D Service Life Extension Program.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (58%) and El Segundo, CA (42%), and is expected to be complete in September 2013. All contract funds are committed by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-12-C-2010).

Nov 19/12: Boeing in St. Louis, MO received a $23.3 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for one-time F/A-18 “Generator Converter Unit Reliability Improvement” (ECP 6421SOW) engineering services.

Work will be performed in Vandalia, OH (72%); St. Louis, MO (20%); Grand Rapids, MI (5%); Cincinnati, OH (1%); Youngwood, PA (1%); and Morrow, OH (1%), and is expected to be completed in December 2015. All contract funds will be obligated on this award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-G-0001).

Nov 16/12: Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in Goleta, CA receives a $23.2 firm-fixed-price contract modification for ECM gear. The U.S. Navy is buying another 26 AN/ALR-67v3 radar warning receivers ($22.1M/ 95.5%), and Switzerland is buying 4 of the system’s countermeasure signal processor weapons replacement assemblies ($1.0M/ 4.5%).

The USN flies Super Hornets that use the ALR-67v3, but the Swiss buy can only be for their F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet.

Work will be performed in Forest, MS (32%); Goleta, CA (20%); San Diego, CA (14%); Chatsworth, CA (11%); Sydney, Australia (11%); Lansdale, PA (8%); and McKinney, TX (4%), and is expected to be complete in June 2015. All funds are obligated on this award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-09-C-0052).

Nov 15/12: USN Life Extension. The US GAO publishes GAO-13-51, “Better Cost Estimates Needed for Extending the Service Life of Selected F-16s and F/A-18s.” The lateness of the F-35, and high flight-hour usage over Iraq and Afghanistan, are making it hard to keep fighter numbers up. Current USAF plans involve $2.61 billion to upgrade at least 300 of 1,020 F-16s to fly another 2,000 hours (est. 6-8 years) each, add more advanced radars, etc. The USN would spend about $2.19 billion to keep 150 of 624 F/A-18A-D Hornet fighters flying for another 1,400 flight hours (est. 5 years) each, alongside a separate buy of 41 more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.

The alternative is a more expensive approach that would buy new F-16s or Super Hornets. They would cost much more, but last 4x-5x as long. The problem is that the cost of new planes is known, but costs of fixing existing aircraft to cover for additional F-35 delays or add new capabilities aren’t as clear. F-16 upgrades could rise to 650 planes, and F/A-18 Hornet life extension could rise to 280 planes, with the possibility of added capability upgrades.

The US Navy’s 2011 plan for its Hornet fleet would take place over FY 2013-2017. The planes to be upgraded would be specially chosen, presumably for low wear and structural integrity. They would also be individually evaluated for capability enhancements, but those aren’t in the $2.19 billion budget. Current estimates involve another $1.76 million per Hornet for capability upgrades, and an average of $5.64 million more if the Hornets need structural life extension and obsolescence replacement. That gives us a figure of between $2.19 – $3.3 billion if 150 Hornets are upgraded ($14.6 – $22 million per plane), and the upper ends of that figure offer poorer long-term value for money than buying a new Super Hornet in the mid-$60 million range.

If costs are linear, the total for a 280 plane program would be between $4.09 – 6.16 billion, but costs are often not linear. Hence the GAO’s recommendation to do a full sensitivity analysis, so decision makers can fully understand the range of Navy costs between $2.19 – $6.16 billion.

Sept 28/12: Aging in Australia. The Australian reports that the RAAF has been ordered to scale back its usage of its modernized F/A-18AM/BM Hornets, in order to keep them viable until F-35 begin arriving in the early 2020s. Aging is taking a serious toll, and 62/71 fighters had “structure fatigue above that expected for the airframe hours.”

Meanwhile, annual maintenance costs for Australia’s Hornet fleet were A$118 million in 2001, A$ 170 million in 2012, and is expected to be A$ 214 million by 2018. The ANAO sees costs continuing to climb, and says that keeping the fleet flying beyond 2020 could require more structural modifications program and capability upgrades, as well as more frequent inspections. Maintenance for Australia’s new F/A-18F Super Hornets is a separate effort, and does not affect their conclusions.

Sept 27/12: An unfinalized $33 million contract line item number against delivery order under a previously awarded contract for various quantities of new consumable parts to support the F/A-18 aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and the contract will run until Dec 30/15.

The applicable Navy Working Capital Funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Boeing was the only company solicited for this non-competitive requirement by NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-06-D-001J, #0014).

Aug 29/12: A $27.8 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fee requirements contract modification. Boeing will provide supplies and services for In-Warranty and Out-Of-Warranty depot-level modification installations and In-Service Repairs (ISR).

Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL and is expected to be complete in September 2013. No funding is being obligated at time of award; it will be committed as needed. US Naval Air System Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-D-0013).

June 19/12: Raytheon Technical Services Co. in Indianapolis, IN receives $40.3 million for unpriced deliver order 7284, covering the repair of 35 weapons repairable assemblies and shop replaceable assemblies of the APG-65/73 Radar System used on F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. The AN/APG-73 is also used on a dwindling number of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, as those radars are replaced with AN/APG-79 AESA equipment.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN (56.93%); El Segundo, CA (33.79%); Forest, MS (7.25%); and Andover, MA (2.03%), and is expected to be complete by June 30/14. The contract will use FY 2012 Navy Working Capital Funds, but they won’t expire at the end of the fiscal year. This was a sole-source contract by US NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-07-G-008D).

May 30/12: Multinational. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in El Segundo, CA receives a $14 million firm-fixed-price, sole-source contract for F-18 aircraft rudders, which they’ll supply to the US Navy (using FY 2014-2015 Navy Stock funds), Finland, Spain, and Switzerland. Work will continue until Oct 30/15. The Defense Logistics Agency Aviation in Philadelphia, PA manages the contract (SPRPA1-11-G-002Z, 5036).


USN; Malaysia; Kuwait. Spanish EF-18B
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Dec 29/11: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $9.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for supplies and services to support the USA’s F/A-18A-D Service Life Extension Program. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (58%), and El Segundo, CA (42%), and is expected to be complete in February 2013. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6302.1. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-12-C-2010).

Nov 28/11: Malaysia. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $17.3 million firm-fixed-price order for the design, development, and installation of engineering change proposal (ECP 618) retrofit kits for the RMAF’s 8 F/A-18D Hornet fighters, under the Foreign Military Sales Program. This contract action also includes training for ECP 618 and ECP 624, and the installation of other systems that are part of the Malaysian upgrade. Conversations with Boeing explain that:

“This contract includes design, development, and installation of retrofit kits that will provide enhanced navigation and targeting capabilities, along with associated training for maintenance and air crews. The majority of work to be performed under this contract is within the scope defined in the baseline Foreign Military Sales case and not the May 2011 Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcement for the Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared [targeting pods, see DID coverage] which itself was an amendment to the existing baseline FMS case.”

That scope includes GPS improvements, a colored moving-map cockpit display, changes to IFF, and the addition of the JHMCS helmet-mounted sight. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%), and Butterworth, Malaysia (30%), and is expected to be complete in April 2015. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD will manage the sale on behalf of its FMS client. See also Boeing.

Nov 8/11: Kuwait. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Kuwait’s request to buy continuing Contractor Engineering & Maintenance Services, Hush House Maintenance Support services, Liaison Office Support Services, and related US government and contract support for their F/A-18C/D Hornets. The estimated cost is $100 million.

The principal contractors will be Boeing in St. Louis, MO; Kay and Associates in Buffalo Grove, IL; Industrial Acoustics Company in Winchester, UK; and General Dynamics in Fairfax, VA.

Nov 7/11: Multinational. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $7.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification, exercising options from for F/A-18 Hornet in-service support on behalf of Switzerland ($2.42 million; 30.7%); Finland ($1.8 million; 22.9%); Canada ($925,000; 11.7%); Kuwait ($919,250; 11.7%); Malaysia ($919,250; 11.7%); Australia ($490,800; 6.2%); and Spain ($404,914; 5.1%). Boeing services will include program management, logistics, engineering support, incidental materials, and technical data.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in December 2012. This is a Foreign Military Sales Program contract, managed by US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-09-D-0010).

Sept 28/11: Boeing in Jacksonville FL received a $31.5 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fee requirements contract. It covers supplies and services for in-warranty and out-of-warranty depot-level modification installations, and in-service repairs incident to modification kit installs, including associated material and services as required to support the continued safe, reliable, and improved operation of the F/A-18 series aircraft.

Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be complete in September 2012. Funding will be committed as needed, and this contact was not competitively procured by US Naval Air System Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-11-D-0013).

Aug 31/11: Canada. 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, see also Oct 14/10) by consolidating them under this 1 contract, but doesn’t change contract length or other particulars. Public Works Canada | L-3 MAS [PDF].

Aug 25/11: USN Life Extension. AOL Defense reports that some USMC Hornets are reaching service life limits, which have risen to 9,000 – 10,000 flight hours after the full Service Life Extension Program.

“Headquarters Marine Corps – Aviation, who oversee the service’s aviation budget, were adamant the SLEP effort would go no further than the 9,000- to 10,000-hour extension… [Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Brian] Block told AOL Defense that the highest average flight time on any service F/A-18 Hornet is just over 8,500 hours. “Moreover, not a single F/A-18 Hornet in the Department of the Navy inventory has surpassed the 9,000 hour mark,” Block said… Block said that Marine Corps crews “are conducting routine maintenance at an accelerated pace due to higher utilization”… Maj. Gen. Jon Davis, commander of the 2nd Marine Corps Air Wing [said that] “You cannot keep it up forever.”

March 30/11: A $24.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for “supplies and services to support depot-level modification installations and in-service repairs of [USN/USMC] F/A-18 series aircraft.” Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be complete by September 2011. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00189-08-D-Z028).

March 4/11: Multinational. Martin-Baker Aircraft Co., Ltd. in Middlesex, England receives an $18.3 million firm-fixed price contract modification to exercise an option for 65 Navy Aircrew Common Ejection Seats (NACES). They will equip F/A-18 A+/C+ Hornets and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft flown by the U.S. Navy ($18.2M/ 99.4%), and the air forces of Australia (F/A-18A+ and F/A-18F; $51,920/ 0.27%) and Kuwait (F/A-18C+; $61,730; 0.33%). This option also buys associated hardware, equipment, technical data, and production support services.

Work will be performed in Johnstown, PA (60%), and Middlesex, England (40%), and is expected to be complete in December 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract. See also Feb 25/11 entry.

March 3/11: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives an $8.8 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for integrated logistics support; in-service engineering; information systems; technical data; support equipment engineering; automated maintenance environment; training/software integration support; provisioning; and A-D sustaining engineering services in support of the F/A-18 A-D Hornet, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and EA-18G Growler aircraft.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%); El Segundo, CA (15%); Oklahoma City, OK (6%); Bethpage, NY (5%); and San Diego, CA (4%), and is expected to be complete in December 2011. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00383-06-D-001J).

Feb 28/11: USN Life Extension. A Gannett Navy Times article details the efforts underway to keep the US Navy’s fleet of F/A-18 A-D Hornet fighters in service, until some of them can be replaced by F-35B/C jets.

The USN’s F/A-18 program manager, Capt. Mark Darrah, is quoted as saying that the Hornet fleet is averaging about 330 flight-hours per year, which means they’re consistently about 30% above planned usage. Many have now exceeded even their extended usage figure of 8,000 flight hours. Fortunately, their accident rate remains low.

Carrier Air Wing 7 commander Capt. Roy Kelley adds that the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet is also burning through airframe hours, with 73 of the fleet’s 418 aircraft already over 3,000 hours – wich is about half-way through their safe design lifetimes.

The Navy hopes to extend its Hornet airframes to 10,000 safe flight hours, up from the easier target of 8,600. Each plane costs about $15 million when put through the deep inspections and refurbishment program. It’s accompanied by detailed record-keeping, and a constant juggling act among the squadrons. Darrah says that NAVAIR/NAF’s quarterly modification review “literally makes the decisions every quarter on, bureau number by bureau number, what aircraft will be assigned to what units,” based heavily on flight hour and maintenance issues. Once on the carrier, that juggling continues. Networking has made flight data files compilable and accessible across the fleet, allowing for remote analysis by expert teams, and letting squadrons pick less demanding missions for high-hours airframes, in order to even out wear and tear.

Feb 25/11: A $10.8 million order for the US Navy’s F/A-18 A-D Navy aircrew common ejection seat retrofit: 24 multipurpose display indicators; 12 horizontal situation displays; and 37 install kits (AFC-430, AFC-493, and AYC-1363).

Work will be performed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (57%); St. Louis, MO (24%); Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (3%); Grand Rapids, MI (2%); Sylmar, CA (1%); Tempe, AR (1%); El Paso, TX (1%); El Segundo, CA (1%); and various locations throughout the United States (10%); and is expected to be complete in February 2013. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11 (N00019-11-G-0001).

Jan 6/11: USN Life Extension. As part of a plan detailing $150 billion in service cuts and funding shifts 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 F-35 program’s development phase again to 2016, and cuts production of all models over the 2012-2016 time period.

In response, the Navy will add 41 Super Hornets, and perform service life extension work on another 150 F/A-18 A-D Hornets. 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.


Australia; Canada; Finland; Switzerland. Malaysian F/A-18D:
Bersama Shield 2010
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Dec 30/10: FIRST. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $69.1 million delivery order under the F/A-18 Integrated Readiness Support Team (FIRST) Program for continued support of F/A-18 A-D Hornet, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and EA-18G Growler fleets of the U.S. Navy ($64.6M/ 93.6%); and the governments of Australia ($1.7M/ 2.5%), Canada ($513,996; 0.7%), Spain ($513,996/ 0.7%), Finland ($513,966/ 0.7%), Switzerland ($513,996; 0.7%), Kuwait ($513,996/ 0.7%), and Malaysia ($256,998/ 0.4%).

Under FIRST, which began in 2001, Boeing manages and forecasts spares and repairs, oversees spares inventories, makes supportability improvements within the budget in order to meet its availability targets, and handles obsolescence management and technology insertion. Like the British “contracting for availability” agreements, the objective is to improve fleet support and aircraft readiness while reducing costs. Boeing will be rewarded for having the aircraft meet in-service readiness targets, rather than getting paid for spare parts or hours worked.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%); El Segundo, CA (15%); Oklahoma City, OK (6%); Bethpage, NY (5%); and San Diego, CA (4%); and is expected to be complete in December 2011. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract (N00383-06-D-001J).

Dec 27/10: Finland/ Switzerland. A $66.2 million firm-fixed-price delivery order under the basic ordering agreement for weapon replaceable assemblies and other complex parts used in retrofitting F/A-18C/D aircraft for the governments of Finland (62/ $44.6M/ 67%), and Switzerland (33/ $21.6M/ 33%).

Work will be performed in Cedar Rapids, IA (44.8%); St. Louis, MO (26.8%); Fort Worth, TX (14.9%); Oakland, NJ (6.4%); Grand Rapids, MI (3.3%); Butler, NJ (1.3%); Sylmar, CA (1%); Killdeer, ND (0.5%); Mesa, AZ (0.4%); El Segundo, CA (0.3%); Wallingford, CT (0.2%); and Horsham, PA (0.1%), and is expected to be complete in April 2015. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract on behalf of these Foreign Military Sale clients (N00019-11-G-0001).

Dec 23/10: Multinational. Moog, Inc. in East Aurora, NY receives a $17.3 million order for 1,626 kits required to complete engineering change proposal #1054 for F/A-18 LA-d leading edge flap mechanical drive group system for the US Navy (1,260/ $13.4M/ 77.49%) and the governments of Finland (138/ $1.5M/ 8.49%), Kuwait (94/ $998,374/ 5.78%), Switzerland (68/ $722,228/ 4.18%), Spain (50/ 531,050/ 3.08%), and Malaysia (16/ $169,936/ 0.98%).

Work will be performed in Torrance, CA, and is expected to be completed in November 2014, but $13.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages these contracts on behalf of all customers (SPM4A1-06-G-0002).

Dec 22/10: A $10.3 million firm-fixed-price delivery order #0010 under previously awarded contract (N00383-06-D-001J) for production of nose landing gears used on the F/A-18 aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete by January 2015. This contract was not competitively awarded by the Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, PA.

Dec 22/10: Multinational. Raytheon Technical Services in Indianapolis, IN receives $33 million for a priced delivery order of APG-65/73 radar system components used in support of the F/A-18 aircraft. AN/APG-65 radars are exclusive to the F/A-18 A-D Hornet, including Spain and Kuwait’s models; while the AN/APG-73 equips older F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, as well as F/A-18 upgrades and C/D model Hornets flown by the USMC, Australia, Canada, Finland, Malaysia, and Switzerland. Many Super Hornets with APG-73 radars are having them replaced by next-generation AN/APG-79 AESA models, so Super Hornets will form a diminishing base for the older APG-73.

Work will be performed in Indianapolis, IN (65%); El Segundo, CA (20%); Forest, MS (13%); and Andover, MA (2%), and is expected to be complete by January 2015. This contract was not competitively awarded by the US Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, PA, as there’s just 1 manufacturer for these radars (N00383-07-G-008D, #7152).

Dec 21/10: A $13.4 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for Avionics Repair Facility support, to repair various F/A-18 components. Work will be performed in Lemoore, CA (49%); Cecil Field, FL (49%); and Philadelphia, PA (3%), and is to be complete by December 2011.

This effort includes the governments of Spain, Malaysia, and Kuwait (all less than 1%) under the Foreign Military Sales program, and was not competitively awarded by the US Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-07-G-005H, #0012).

Dec 3/10: Kuwait. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $16.9 million delivery order for supplies and services required to upgrade 39 Kuwaiti F/A-18C/D Hornet fighters. The upgrades will add a Miniature Airborne Global Positioning Receiver 2000 with selective availability anti-spoofing module (SAASM), corresponding improvements to the fighters’ moving map displays, and a cockpit pressurization warning system.

Work will be performed in Ahmed Al-Jaber Air Base, Kuwait (90%), and in St. Louis, MO (10%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD will manage this contract on behalf of the Foreign Military Dale customer (N00019-05-G-0026). Kuwait is currently evaluating long-term replacement options for its Hornet fleet, with France’s Rafale billed as a leading contender.

Nov 22/10: Multinational. Boeing receives a $7.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contract modification, exercising an option for in-service support of F/A-18 Hornet aircraft of the governments of Australia ($464,714; 6%), Canada ($872,514; 12%), Finland ($1.7M; 22%), Kuwait ($874,264; 12%), Malaysia ($864,264; 11%), Spain ($385,847; 5%), and Switzerland ($2.46M; 32%). Services to be provided include program management, logistics, engineering support, and incidental materials and technical data.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and will run to in December 2011. The US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-09-D-0010).

Oct 14/10: Canada. The Canadian government has contracted Calgary-based Harris Canada Inc. to continue avionics 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.

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. Canadian Press | The Globe and Mail.

Sept 24/10: Multinational. A $21.6 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for integrated logistics support, in-service engineering, information systems, technical data, support equipment engineering, automated maintenance environment, training/software integration support, provisioning and sustaining engineering in support of F/A-18 A-D, E/F, and EA-18G aircraft. This modification combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($18.5 million; 85.7%) and the governments of Australia ($2.5 million, 11.5%); Canada ($212,300, 1%); Spain ($147,700, 0.7%); Finland ($98,500, 0.5%); Kuwait ($61,500, 0.3%), Switzerland ($52,300, 0.2%), and Malaysia ($12,300; 0.1%), under the Foreign Military Sales program.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%); El Segundo, CA (15%); Oklahoma City, OK (6%); Bethpage, NY (5%); and San Diego, CA (4%); and is expected to be complete in December 2010. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00383-06-D-001J).

Sept 22/10: Northrop Grumman Corp., Integrated Systems, El Segundo, CA receives a $35.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 33 F/A-18 A-D center barrel sections, and loose and miscellaneous parts. Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA, and is expected to be complete in October 2013. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-10-C-0052).

Sept 1/10: Canada. The Canadian Prime Minister’s Office announces that the government has extended 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, with 3 additional 1-year extension options that could add another C$ 86 million (C$ 553 million total), and 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.

June 24/10: Australia. L-3 MAS announces [PDF] the on-time delivery of the last of 10 Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornet aircraft for which it performed Centre Barrel Replacement (CBR) work, under contract to the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO). See March 6/06 entry, which covered initial prototype work, and was followed by a production and integration contract. See also Aug 22/07 entry.

Under the DMO’s Hornet Upgrade Phase 3 (HUG 3) program, the aircraft systems and wings were removed in Williamtown by BAE Systems Australia. The Hornet fuselages were airlifted to the L-3 MAS CBR-dedicated facility in Mirabel, Canada on a leased AN-124 heavy cargo aircraft, then sent back to Williamtown for final assembly and returned to flight status by BAE. See also BAE Systems Australia.BAE Systems Australia.


Australia; Finland; Kuwait. Kuwaiti F/A-18C
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Dec 28/09: Kuwait. DynCorp International LLC in Fort Worth, TX received a $16.9 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-06-C-0308), exercising an option for maintenance services in support of the Kuwaiti Air Force F/A-18 Program under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in Kuwait (90%) and Fort Worth, TX (10%), and is expected to be complete in December 2010. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.

Dec 8/09: A $6.6 million not-to-exceed order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) for F/A-18 A-D Service Life Extension Program Phase B+ engineering support services. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (55%), and El Segundo, CA (45%), and is expected to be completed in December 2010. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contracts.

Dec 2/09: Kuwait. A $9.5 million order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) for the necessary personnel, material and support to repair or replace damaged components of Kuwait F/A-18 aircraft tail number 421 for the government of Kuwait under the Foreign Military Sales program.

Work will be performed at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, and is expected to be complete in December 2012. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract.

Nov 12/09: Multinational. A $10.8 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-09-D-0010, exercising an option to provide in-service support for Switzerland ($2.7 million; 25%), Australia ($1.6 million; 15%), Finland ($1.6 million; 15%), Canada ($1.6 million; 15%), Kuwait ($1.1 million; 10%), Malaysia ($1.1 million; 10%) and Spain’s ($1.1 million; 10%) F/A-18 Hornets. This effort will include, but is not limited to, program management, engineering and logistics support. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in December 2010. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract.

Nov 5/09: Finland. A $13.7 million firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) for 2 F/A-18C/D Mid-Life Upgrade 2 validation-verification kits for the Finnish Air Force under the Foreign Military Sales program. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in September 2011. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract.

May 28/09: Australia. L-3 MAS and BAE Systems Australia announce a 4-year, A$ 150 million contract to provide long term maintenance and modification support to the Royal Australian Air Force’s F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, with 5 years of additional extension options through 2018. L-3 MAS.

March 18/09: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. received a $6.6 million firm-fixed-price order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-05-G-0026). They will perform for inner wing conversion and reliability improvements required pursuant to Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) 609. This ECP will convert existing F/A-18A/B Lots 5-9 Inner Wing assemblies to be compatible with F/A-18 C/D (Lots 10, 11, 12, and up) aircraft. This ECP also defines changes required to convert existing F/A-18 C/D Lots 10 and 11 Inner Wings to be compatible with F/A-18 C/D Lots 12 and up aircraft, addresses reliability issues with 2 fuel tubes by replacing them with heat treated versions, and defining requirements to improve sealing of the inner wing, in order to prevent stress corrosion cracking of the lower spar flanges.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (74%) and Mesa, AZ (26%), and is expected to be complete in December 2012. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract.

Feb 13/09: Multinational. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. received a $10.4 million cost plus fixed fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract. They will provide program management, logistics, and engineering services and incidental materials and technical data in support of F/A-18s flown by Australia ($927,200/ 8.9%), Canada ($1.6M/ 15.56%), Finland ($2.2M/ 21.32%), Kuwait ($1.3M/ 12.45%), Malaysia ($806,352/ 7.74%), Spain ($362,000/ 3.48%), and Switzerland ($3.2M/ 30.55%). The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract (N00019-09-D-0010).


Cracks in US fleet. Australia; Finland; Switzerland. Swiss F/A-18C
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Dec 19/08: Multinational. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp in St Louis, MO received cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with an estimated value of $905.3 million. In return, the firm will provide the support services required to enhance the F/A-18 A-D Hornet, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and EA-18G Growler aircraft with a series of System Configuration Sets (SCS) for F/A-18 family aircraft operated by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the Governments of Canada, Australia, Spain, Kuwait, Switzerland, Finland and Malaysia.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (95%) and at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA issued the contract (N68936-09-D-0002).

Dec 17/08: Switzerland. The Swiss Standerat approves the defense program, including Hornet modernization. Armasuisse release [in German].

Dec 9/08: Australia. Australia’s government announces that the final Hornet Upgrade (HUG) Phase 2.2 aircraft has now been delivered with modifications to the radar system, avionics system, electronic warfare suite and a Hornet aircrew training system. The last of 14 RAAF Hornets to receive the interim electronic warfare upgrade has been successfully delivered under HUG Phase 2.3 with Raytheon’s ALR-67v3 radar warning system. Both upgrade sets were reportedly delivered on time and on budget. The next stage of HUG 2.3 is set to begin in May 2009, and will add a new countermeasures dispensing system, new data recorder and a further software upgrade. Australian DoD release.

Oct 23/08: Cracking up? The US Navy orders inspections across its 636 plane Hornet fleet, after cracks are found in aileron hinges on 15 aircraft. In December 2008, a crash kills 3 people and destroys several San Diego houses – but it appears to be the result of an engine failure. Read “Aging Aircraft: Cracks in USA’s F/A-18 fleet” for more.

Oct 1/08: General Electric in Lynn, MA received a 5-year, $641 million Performance Based Logistics (PBL) requirements contract for the F404 engine used on the F/A-18 A-D aircraft. PBL contracts are structured with bonuses for meeting key performance requirements like readiness, and penalties for failing to meet them.

Repair, replacement, and program support work will be performed at Lynn, MA, and is expected to be complete by December 2012. This effort combines efforts with the U.S. Navy (97%) and the Government of Switzerland (1%); Finland (1%), and Kuwait (1%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Inventory Control Point.

Sept 26/08: Multinational. A $10.2 million firm-fixed-price order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) for 703 F/A-18 Cockpit Pressure Warning System kits to equip the U.S. Navy, (590, $7.9 million, 77.8%) and the Governments of Finland, (66, $994,999, 9.8%), Kuwait (39, $863,000, 8.5%) and Malaysia (8, $399,854, 3.9%).

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (85%) and Mesa, AZ (15%), and is expected to be complete in October 2012. Contract funds in the amount of $3.9 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Sept 26/08: A $13.6 million modification to a previously awarded firm fixed price contract (N00019-04-C-0014) for incorporation of Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) 6318 “Incorporation of upgraded Solid State Recorder (USSR)” to provide “high fidelity recording of the 14 F/A-18E, 9 F/A-18F, and 22 EA-18G 8 x 10 display that retains and expands on the current Solid state Recorder capabilities.”

Despite the references confining the upgrades to Super Hornet family aircraft, this modification/order is said to combine purchases for the U.S. Navy ($7.6 million, 56%) and the Governments of Switzerland ($3 million, 22%) and Finland ($3 million; 22%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The latter 2 countries, of course, fly only F/A-18C/D Hornets. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in November 2010.

Sept 25/08: Switzerland. General Dynamics Information Technology announces a 5-year contract to provide program management services for the Swiss government’s F/A-18 fleet. The contract has a total potential value of $25.7 million if all options are exercised. General Dynamics will provide logistics, information technology (IT) and engineering support, along with communications management and training services.

Sept 25/08: Switzerland/ Finland. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. received a $20.1 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-04-D-0015) for new cockpit display suites on behalf of Switzerland and Finland. These suites will be used as lab assets for the design and development of a new cockpit display associated with both countries’ F/A-18C/D upgrade programs. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in December 2011. The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) manages the contract.

Sept 24/08: Switzerland. The Swiss House of Representatives rejects the PA08 program, dealing a political blow to defence minister Samuel Schmid, and a program blow to F/A-18 modernization. Switzerland’s Senate will vote on it again in December 2008.

The problem is Swiss party politics. While the left-wing Greens and Social-Democrats are reliably opposed to such measures, the right-wing People’s Party (SVP) has threatened to veto and block all new arms expenditures. Samuel Schmid’s personal break with the SVP appears to be paying negative dividends; without SVP support, the centre-right Radicals and Christian Democrats lack the required votes. ISN analysis | Swiss Info story.

Sept 22/08: Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Council announces approval of the country’s SFR 917 million (about $844 million) Armaments Program 2008 (PA 08). Within that program, SFR 404 million is earmarked to maintaining and upgrading Switzerland’s 33 F/A-18C/D fighters.

“[the fleet] must be prepared for the second part of its 30-year service life… to reduce costs, their modernization will be undertaken in parallel with those of other countries. However, because of cost issues, Swiss F/A-18s will not [be] equipped for air-to-ground missions, nor for aerial reconnaissance.”

Read “Switzerland’s Hornet Upgrade 25 Program” for more.

Sept 9/08: Finland. The US DSCA announces Finland’s official request for equipment, to support the 3rd phase of its F-18 Mid-Life Upgrade Program to modernize its 63 F/A-18C and F/A-18D Hornet aircraft. The contracts could be worth up to $406 million. Read “Finland Requests 3rd Upgrade Phase for its F-18s” for full details.

Sept 4/08: Australia. Australia has initially decide to replace 49 center barrel sections in its Hornet fleet, and has already begun the process. In parallel, however, it also ran a full scale fatigue testing program for removed center barrel sections, courtesy of Australia’s DSTO, QinetiQ-Aerostructures, and Fortburn. The Hon. Warren Snowdon MP, Australia’s Minister for Defence Science and Personnel under Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, announced that in light of this testing:

“…the actual life of the Hornet centre barrels is 10%, or 2 years, greater than originally certified… These findings are thanks to Australia’s internationally recognised world-leading expertise in testing and managing ageing aircraft, and is the result of decades of experience developing this capability.”

In response, Australia’s center barrel replacement program may drop from 49 aircraft to 10, a move that would save up to A$ 400 million (currently about $330 million) and leave more aircraft available for missions.

Aug 14/08: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. received a $17.4 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, cost plus fixed fee contract (N00383-06-D-001J) to incorporate post production and performance based logistics support requirements. This support is designed to ensure the continued safe and effective operations of fielded F/A-18 A-D aircraft in the US Navy and US Marine Corps ($12.6 million; 72%); and by the governments of Australia ($794,520; 5%), Canada ($1.5 million; 8%), Spain ($1 million; 6%), Finland ($677,991; 4%), Switzerland ($360,183; 2%), Kuwait ($423,744; 2%), and Malaysia ($84,749; 1%).

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (76%); El Segundo, CA (21%); Warner Robins, GA (2%); and Santa Clarita, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete in December 2008.

July 10/08: Australia. L-3 Communications MAS in Montreal, Canada announces a contract under Australia’s F/A-18 Centre Barrel Replacement (CBR) program, which is part of their Structural Refurbishment Project Phase 2 (SRP2). L-3 MAS began its SRP relationship with Australia’s DMO in 2002, and Australia’s initial CBR contract with was awarded in December 2005. The second phase of that CBR contract is worth up to USD$ 106 million, and was awarded n June 2008.

Under this new phase, L-3 MAS will deliver 4 low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft followed by 4 full-rate production aircraft between May 2008 – June 2010, while providing ancillary services such as program management, engineering services, discrete modifications, spares and kits. The aircraft are inducted and prepared by BAE Systems Australia in Williamtown before being airlifted to the L-3 MAS F/A-18 CBR facility in Mirabel, Canada. Once re-spliced and repaired by L-3 MAS, the aircraft are returned to Williamtown for final assembly, flight testing and delivery to the DMO. The contract allows for options that could extend center-barrel replacement production to 2014.

The L-3 release briefly discusses the Mirabel facility’s use of lean manufacturing principles, and makes vague references to a recent contract with Spain involving its EA-18s. “L-3 MAS Wins Second Phase of Major F/A-18 Centre Barrel Contract with Australia and Is Awarded New Contract with Spain” was not posted the web.

July 1/08: General Electric Aviation in Lynn, MA received a $30.8 million 3-month extension of a previously awarded requirements contract (N00383-03-D-011M) for repair or replacement components and program support for the F404 engine used on the F/A-18 A-D aircraft.

This award combines an effort between the U.S. Navy (90%) and the Governments of Spain (1%); Canada (1%); Australia (1%); Kuwait (1%); and Switzerland (1%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. DID is aware that this adds up to 95%, but that’s what was in the DefenseLINK announcement.

Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL (90%) and Lynn, MA (10%), and is expected to be complete by September 2008. The Naval Inventory Control Point manages this contract.

June 16/08: USN/ Finland. Northrup Grumman Corp Integrated Systems, in El Segundo, CA received a $48.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 20 center barrel aircraft sections and 6 engine nacelles (5 for the U.S. Navy and 1 for the Government of Finland’s F/A-18 C/D aircraft). In addition, this contract provides for loose and miscellaneous parts.

This contract combines purchases for the United States Navy ($47.2 million; 98%), and Government of Finland ($1.1 million; 2%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (85%); and St. Augustine, FL (15%), and is expected to be complete in November 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $2.5 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-08-C-0052).

April 30/08: Northrop Grumman Corp. in El Segundo, CA received a ceiling priced $25 million delivery order under a Basic Ordering Agreement (N00383-06-G-032D, #5115) for aircraft rudders which are spares in support of the F/A-18 aircraft. Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA and is expected to be complete by April 2011. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Inventory Control Point.


Australia; Canada; Kuwait; Switzerland. Australian F/A-18A
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Dec 18/07: Switzerland. Switzerland’s makes an official request to the USA for up to $535 million in new equipment and refurbishments under its F/A-18C/D Upgrade 25 Program, in order to extend the useful life of 33 Swiss Air Force (SAF) F/A-18C/Ds. The upgrades include significant upgrades to the avionics and mission computer, 20 ATFLIR surveillance and targeting pods, and 44 sets of AN/ALR-67v3 ECM equipment, among other items, follow a successful trip to the USA to test integration of the F-18s’ new AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles. See “Switzerland’s Hornet Upgrade 25 Program” for full details.

Dec 18/07: Kuwait. DynCorp International LLC in Fort Worth, TX received a $14.1 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-06-C-0308), exercising an option for maintenance and support services for the Kuwaiti Air Force F/A-18 Program under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in Kuwait (90%) and Fort Worth, Texas (10%), and is expected to be complete in December 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.

Nov 15/07: Northrop Grumman Corp. in El Segundo, CA received $8.7 million for firm-fixed-price order #5095 under a previously awarded basic ordering agreement contract (N00383-06-G-032D) for aircraft rudders which are spares in support of the F/A-18 aircraft. Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (50%), Wichita, KS (24%), and Emmen, Switzerland (26%); and is expected to be complete by July 2011. This contract was not awarded competitively by the Naval Inventory Control Point.

Nov 9/07: Kuwait. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Kuwait’s formal request for technical/logistics support for F/A-18 aircraft as well as associated equipment and services. The principal contractors are: Boeing Company of St. Louis, MO; and General Dynamics of Fairfax, VA. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $90 million.

The Government of Kuwait has requested a possible sale of continuing logistics support, contractor maintenance, and technical services in support of the F/A-18 aircraft to include contractor engineering technical services, contractor maintenance support, avionics software, engine component improvement and spare parts, technical ground support equipment, spare and repair parts, supply support, publications and technical data, engineering change proposals, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics personnel services and other related elements of program support. The estimated cost is $90 million.

Sept 20/07: Multinational. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis, MO received a $145.1 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N68936-02-C-0043) for continued system configuration set support for the F/A-18 A-D Hornet, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler weapons systems for the US Navy and Marine Corps. In addition, this modification provides for unique Foreign Military Sales variants for the governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland.

This contract also provides for studies and analysis related to avionics integration and acquisition product activities such as integration and testing. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (95%) and in China Lake, Calif. (5%), and is expected to be complete in January 2009. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif. issued the contract.

Aug 22/07: Australia. Australia’s DoD announces an important Hornet UpGrade program milestone with the recent completion of the first center barrel replacement for Australia’s F/A-18 A/B Hornets. The prototype aircraft was disassembled in Australia and shipped to Canada where the centre barrel was successfully replaced, with up to 25,000 replacement spare parts required. The prototype aircraft has been returned to Australia for reassembly by the Hornet Industry Coalition at RAAF Base Williamtown, near Newcastle.

The initial low rate production of nine aircraft will continue in Canada following the successful prototype. Full rate production is planned for up to 39 aircraft in Australia once the Hornet industry Coalition has developed a mature supply pipeline and industrial capacity, and has recruited and trained additional skilled workforce. Disassembly and reassembly work will continue at Williamtown, and the requirement to conduct additional aircraft work in Canada has no impact on the current Australian workforce.

Aug 20/07: Canada. Boeing and industry partner L-3 Communications MAS, Inc., deliver the first modernized Phase II CF-18 fighter to the Canadian Department of Defense. Boeing previously completed 2 prototype aircraft, while L-3 provided installation services for the program’s remaining 77 aircraft. The Phase II work is done at the L-3 facility in Mirabel (Montreal), Quebec.

Phase I, completed in August 2006, upgraded the Canadian Hornet fleet’s avionics, radio and weapons capabilities. The USD $150 million Phase II of the CF-18 modernization program adds a data link system, a helmet-mounted sight system, new color cockpit displays and a new chaff- and flare-dispensing electronic warfare system to 79 CF-18 (F/A-18 A/B) Hornets. The program is expected to be completed in March 2010.

Aug 17/07: Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Western Region in El Segundo, CA received a $25.5 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-06-C-0080) for 15 shipsets of U.S. Navy Inlet Nacelles in support of the Service Life Extension Program for the U.S. Navy F/A-18A/B/C/D aircraft. Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (71%) and at various locations throughout the United States (29%), and work is expected to be completed in December 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $2.9 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River MD issued the contract.

Aug 3/07: Canada. Being able to send one’s Hornets into harm’s way is an ancillary aspect of fleet readiness, but it’s worth noting. Canada formally requests ALR-67v3 radar warning receivers for its F/A-18s, then follows that up over time with orders under umbrella contracts that also involve other Hornet operators.

Read “Canada’s Hornet Upgrades: ALR-67 RWRs” to get a spotlight on one Hornet nation’s measures in this area.

April 23/07: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis, MO received a $9.1 million ceiling priced delivery order (# 7020) under previously awarded basic ordering agreement contract (N00383-07-G-005H) for repair of 27 F/1-18 outer wing panels. Work will be performed in Montreal, Quebec, Canada (95%), and Mesa, AZ (5%), and is expected to be completed by April 2008. This contract was not awarded competitively. The Naval Inventory Control Point is the contracting activity.

March 7/07: Multinational. An $16.3 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-05-C-0003) for the procurement of CY(Calendar Year) 2007 In Service Support services for the F/A-18 A-D aircraft for the U.S. Navy and the Governments of Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Australia, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Spain, including program management, engineering, and logistics support.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (76%) and El Segundo, CA (24%) and is expected to be complete in Dec. 2007. Contract funds in the amount of $1.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This modification combines purchases for the U. S. Navy ($12.3 million; 75.5%); and the Governments of Canada ($1.2 million; 7.5%); Spain ($799,508; 4.9%); Australia ($667,848; 4.1%); Finland ($569,731; 3.5%); Kuwait ($355,950; 2.2%); Switzerland ($302,571; 1.9%); and Malaysia ($71,085; 0.4%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Naval Air Systems Command is the contracting activity.

Jan 18/07: USN/ Australia. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. Integrated Systems Western Region in El Segundo, CA received a $28.7 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-06-C-0080), exercising an option for 32 shipsets of Center Barrel Replacement Plus (CBR+) hardware for the U.S. Navy (23) and the Royal Australian Air Force (9) in support of the Service Life Extension Program for the F/A-18 A-D aircraft.

Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (83%); Amityville, NY (12.11%); and Ravenswood, WVA (4.89%), and is expected to be complete in December 2009. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($20 million; 70%) and the Government of Australia ($87 million; 30%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD is the contracting activity.


Restarting part production. US F/A-18C, wings folded
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Nov 30/06: Multinational. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. received an $11.2 million modification to previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract #N00019-04-D-0015, exercising an option for unique F/A-18 in-service support for the Governments of Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Australia, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Spain, including program management, engineering, and logistics support. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete in December 2007.

This modification combines purchases for the Governments of Switzerland ($2,805,375; 25%); Finland ($2,244,300; 20%); Canada ($1,683,225; 15%); Australia ($1,122,150; 10%); Kuwait ($1,122,150; 10%); Malaysia ($1,122,150; 10%); and Spain ($1,122,150; 10%) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Naval Air Systems Command issued the contract.

Sept 21/06: A $76 million award to Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas for three firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity orders (#7001, #7002, #7003) under a basic ordering agreement contract (N00383-06-D-004H-7000) for procurement of newly manufactured spares in support of the F/A-18 C/D flight surfaces system. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete by July 2011. The Naval Inventory Control Point (NAVICP) issued the contract.

A Nov 8/06 Boeing release note that this order is part of a larger 5-year contract worth up to $391 million. It aims to provide more than 3,000 new flight control surfaces for F/A-18 A-D aircraft, and replaces a previous 5-year agreement. Flight control surfaces are the hinged or movable airfoils designed to change the aircraft’s attitude during flight, and some of the surface pieces in question are as large as a compact car.

The parts will be assembled in St. Louis, MO, with deliveries scheduled to begin this year and continuing through 2013. The total $391 million contract comes in annual increments, with the first year’s order being about $89 million and deliveries starting within 6 months.

June 30/06: Part production restart. NAVICP also issued a $59.5 million contract to Boeing for 23 spare inner wings, restarting a portion of the Hornet production line that had closed in 2000 (the Super Hornet is a larger aircraft that looks similar, but does not use the same wings). The inner wing is the largest portion of the wing system, and it is called that because does not fold up when the plane is stowed on an aircraft carrier. The wings will be built in St. Louis with first delivery scheduled for 2009 and final delivery by September 2010.

March 6/06: Australia. L-3 Communications MAS announces [PDF] a C$ 20 million ($17.6 million) contract from the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) for design and prototype work under the RAAF’s F/A-18 Centre Barrel Replacement (CBR) Program. The work related to this contract actually started on Dec 22/05 and is being performed in the L-3 MAS facilities in Mirabel, QB, Canada.

The CBR prototype efforts are an extension of the structural work being carried out by L-3 MAS under the RAAF Hornet Upgrade Phase 3 (HUGPH3) Structural Refurbishment Program. The center barrel is the aircraft’s mid-fuselage section where the wings attach, and which carries their structural load. The 1st RAAF aircraft is scheduled to arrive Mirabel in April 2006, and the prototype activities are expected to be completed by mid-2007.

Jan 6/06: Northrop Grumman Corp. Air Combat Systems in El Segundo, CA received a $24.8 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-06-C-0080) for the procurement of 37 shipsets of F/A-18 Hornet Center Barrel Replacement Plus (CBR+) hardware. It was issued to as part of the Service Life Extension Program for the Navy F/A-18 A-D Hornet aircraft.

The “center barrel” is the crucial center part of the aircraft fuselage that supports the wings and landing gear. This part is may be replaced for crash damage, or just because of the continual hard landing damage sustained by aircraft in the “controlled crashes” of carrier landings.

Dec 21/05: Northrop Grumman Corp. Air Combat Systems in El Segundo, CA received a $5.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 37 shipsets of Center Barrel Replacement Plus (CBR+) loose parts in support of the Service Life Extension Program for the U.S. Navy F/A-18A/B/C/D aircraft. Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA and is expected to be complete in October 2008. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-06-C-0080).

Additional Readings Background: Aircraft

Background: Customers & Programs

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Categories: News

US Hellfire Missile Orders, FY 2011-2016

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 23:35
USN MH-60S test
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Hellfire I/II missiles are the USA’s preferred aerial anti-armor missile, and are widely deployed with America’s allies. They equip America’s helicopter fleets (AH-64, AH-1, OH-58D, MH-60S/R), AH-64 and S-70 helicopters flown by its allies, and even Australia and France’s Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters. Range is officially listed as 9 km/ 5.6 miles.

While Hellfires lack the fast-jet launch capabilities – and correspondingly extended maximum range – of the UK’s MBDA Brimstone missiles, Lockheed Martin’s missile has made big inroads as the world’s high-end helicopter-launched missile. It has also carved out unique niches as tripod-launched coastal defense assets, as the guided missile integrated into American UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator family, and even as a missile option for transport aircraft like the AC-208B Combat Caravan and C-130J/W Hercules.

Lockheed Martin’s Hellfires AGM-114K-A warhead
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Hellfire II missiles comes in several variants. The AGM-114K is the basic Hellfire II missile, with the standard semi-active laser guidance that allows for flexible designation of targets, and flexible missile attack profiles. It uses a shaped-charge HEAT(High Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead that can destroy armored vehicles, or punch into buildings.

The recently-introduced AGM-114K-A variant adds a blast fragmentation sleeve to the HEAT warhead’s anti-tank capability, giving it added versatility against unarmored targets in the open.

The AM-114M version was originally developed for the Navy; its warhead is solely blast fragmentation, which is effective against boats, lightly armored vehicles, etc.

The AGM-114N variant uses a thermobaric (“metal augmented charge”) warhead that can suck the air out of a cave, collapse a building, or produce an astoundingly large blast radius out in the open.

A new AGM-114R “multi-purpose” Hellfire II is headed into production/ conversion. It adds some guidance and navigation improvements, and goes one step further than the K-A variant: it’s intended to work well against all 3 target types: armored vehicles, fortified positions, or soft/open targets. The “Romeo” will become the mainstay of the future Hellfire fleet, used from helicopters and UAVs, until and unless Hellfire itself is supplanted by the JAGM program. Hellfire systems product manager US Army Lt. Col. Mike Brown:

“One of the most noticeable operational enhancements in the AGM-114R missile is that the pilot can now select the [blast type] while on the move and without having to have a pre-set mission load prior to departure… This is a big deal in insurgency warfare, as witnessed in Afghanistan where the Taliban are fighting in the open and simultaneously planning their next attacks in amongst the local populace using fixed structure facilities to screen their presence.”

The AGM-114R2 goes a step farther, and adds a height of burst sensor to make the 3-way warhead even more useful.

AGM-114P onto MQ-9
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Four more Hellfire variants feature key changes that aren’t related to their warhead types.

The AGM-114L “Longbow Hellfire” adds a millimeter-wave radar seeker, which makes it a “fire-and-forget” missile. It’s integrated with the mast-mounted Longbow radar on AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters, and AH-1 Cobra family attack helicopters have been tested with different add-ons that would give them similar capabilities. It can also be guided by ship radars, and its fire-and-forget capabilities make it a very useful defense against small boat suicide swarms. The US Navy is taking on Army stocks to use in its Littoral Combat Ship.

The AGM-114P variant is modified for use from UAVs flying at altitude. That requires greater environmental tolerances, as the difference between temperature at launch altitude and near the target can be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The AGM-114P’s 3-axis inertial measuring unit (IMU) also gives it a 360-degree targeting capability, making it easier to fire from UAVs that lack a helicopter’s swivel-and-point maneuverability. Its unique features will also be present in the new AGM-114R, which will succeed it.

The AGM-114Q model is a training round, with an inert mass that’s the same weight as the warhead. It’s used for live-fire training, where it creates less mess.

The TGM M36E7 corresponds to what the USAF would call a “CATM” – a training missile with the seeker head, but no rocket or warhead.

Contracts and Key Events Naval concept
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Unless otherwise noted, orders are issued by the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL, to Hellfire Systems, LLC in Orlando, FL – a Lockheed Martin/ Boeing joint venture.

May 4/16: France has requested to amend a previously-approved Foreign Military Sale of AGM-114K1A Hellfire missiles and increase the number ordered from 112 to 200. The estimated cost of the amendment is expected to be around $25 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) says the missiles “will directly support French forces actively engaged in operations in Mali and Northern Africa.”

February 16/16: A month after it was reported to have accidentally been sent to Cuba, the US has regained possession of its Hellfire air-to-ground missile. The inert munition had been used in NATO training exercises in Spain during 2014, however, shipping errors had it mistakenly sent from Paris to Havana instead of Miami. Further comment on specific defense trade licensing cases by the US State Department is restricted by federal law, but a team from Lockheed Martin were dispatched to retrieve the missile and take it home.

January 11/16: A dummy US Hellfire missile has been accidentally sent to Cuba, sparking concerns that its technology may be leaked to US adversaries. The missile had initially been on loan to Spain and was being used for NATO training exercises. It then seemed to go on a bit of a wander through Europe, first to Germany and then through France to Charles de Gaulle airport. Instead of being shipped to Florida, it was loaded onto an Air France flight to Havana. Despite a recent thaw in relations between Washington and its long time Caribbean adversary, demands to have the Hellfire returned have so far gone unanswered. An investigation is under way as to whether the re-routing was a deliberate act of espionage or just incompetence. Needless to say, someone is getting fired for that blunder.

The Iraqi government’s fight against the Islamic State gets another boost as the DCSA approved an $800 million sale of 5,000 Hellfire missiles. The sale also includes ten Captive Air Training Missiles as well as related equipment and support. A spokesperson for the US-led coalition stated that the territory held by IS in Iraq has shrunk by 40% from its maximum expansion in 2015. Let’s hope these Hellfires get delivered to the right people this time.

December 09/15: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $318.3 million modification to a foreign military sales contract. The deal is to provide Hellfire II missile hardware/component production for South Korea, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, India, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Indonesia, with completion expected by October 2018. Fiscal 2015 other procurement (Army) funds in the amount of $56,590,878 were obligated at the time of the award. The contract comes as US allies are rushing to increase stockpiles of cruise missiles and other military hardware which has had manufacturers struggling to fill orders.

November 12/15: The United Kingdom has requested 500 AGM-114R Hellfire II Semi-Active Laser missiles from US stocks, with the State Department approving the sale. The potential deal – estimated to value $80 million – also covers logistics support and spares. The UK already operates the Hellfire I, with Italy and France also recently requesting Hellfire missiles, for use with Reaper UAVs and Tiger attack helicopters respectively.

November 6/15: France has also requested 200 AGM-114R2 Hellfire II missiles from the US, with the State Department also approving the request. The potential deal – now referred to Congress – is estimated to value $30 million, and the missiles are set to equip French forces operating in sub-Saharan Africa. The French Army’s Tiger attack helicopters will deploy the new missiles, with France also now developing a replacement missile for its Hellfires, known as the FAST-M.

June 5/15: Lebanon has requested 1,000 AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles from the US, with this potential deal estimated to value $146 million. The missile is in service with many countries worldwide, with a href=””>Iraq ordering 5,000 of the missiles in August last year.

Aug 14/14: The Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee have deferred action on a Pentagon request to shift $7.1 million from other accounts into the Hellfire missile program, as part of a larger reprogramming request. Note that deferral is not denial, it just means that other things need to happen first.

The FY 2014 budget had expected to buy 550 missiles for $58.5 million, but use in the field leaves the Pentagon $7.1 million short in order to keep stocks stable. Sources: Defense News, “Defense Panels Hold Up $7M Funding Shift for Hellfire Missiles – for Now”.

April 9/14: Hellfire for LCS. The US Navy confirms that they have picked the AGM-114L Hellfire Longbow radar-guided missile as the SUW Package’s initial missile. Hellfire Longbow won’t have any more range than Raytheon’s Griffin (~3.5 nmi), but the radar seeker allows the ship’s radar to perform targeting for salvos of multiple fire-and-forget missiles against incoming boat swarms. In contrast, the Griffin’s laser designation must target one boat at a time, from a position that’s almost certain to have a more restricted field of view.

Lockheed Martin says that the missile has had 3 successful test firings (q.v. Jan 14/14), and there are plans to test-fire the missile from LCS itself in 2014, using a new vertical launcher. Unfortunately for Lockheed Martin, there’s no immediate prospect of orders from the Navy, as its AGM-114L missiles would be drawn from existing US Army stocks. Those have shelf life limitations anyway, which is one reason the Army intends to begin buying JAGM laser/radar guided Hellfire derivatives around FY 2017. On the the other hand, US Navy deployment opens a market niche around the world, so future orders are possible. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Navy Adds Hellfire Missiles to LCS” | USNI News, “Navy Axes Griffin Missile In Favor of Longbow Hellfire for LCS”.

Feb 10/14: FY 2014. Hellfire Systems, LLC in Orlando, FL receives a $157.4 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising an option for FY 2014 Hellfire II missile production requirements that include foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Indonesia.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 – 2014 budgets. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/16. US Army Contracting Command ? Redstone Arsenal (Missile) at Redstone, AL manages the contract, and acts an an FMS agent for other countries (W31P4Q-11-C-2042, PO 0068).

FY 2014 order: USA, Jordan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia

Jan 14/14: Naval test. The US Army and Navy conduct multiple naval test firings of Hellfire Longbow millimeter-wave radar guided missiles, targeting high-speed boat targets at ranges of up to 6 km. The tests were conducted from a launcher aboard a 65-foot surface craft, using progressively more complex scenarios.

The swarming boat threat is subject to much discussion in an era where the boats themselves can be explosive-packed weapons on suicide missions, with the ability to do serious damage to high-end ships. Ship-based solutions are beginning to proliferate, even if purchases and installation remain slow. Lockheed Martin has experience with Hellfire as a helicopter-mounted solution to the problem, so the extension is natural, and the Longbow variant’s fire-and-forget operations is especially well suited to swarm defense. Lockheed Martin also leads the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship team.

On the other hand, Longbow Hellfire doesn’t have the range that LCS ships really need. They’re also a bit late to the maritime game. Raytheon’s shorter-range and cheaper AGM-176 Griffin is already in naval use, and the Javelin/Centurion missile & launcher combination for small boats can tie into Raytheon’s land force customer base. Lockheed Martin would also be feeling a bit of pressure from MBDA, who are running demonstrations that tout their dual-mode laser/radar guided Brimstone missile. Sources: Lockheed Martin, “Longbow Missiles Demonstrate Littoral Attack Capability”.

Sept 26/13: A $248.7 million firm-fixed price contract modification for 3,318 Hellfire II missiles in containers (various models) for the US Army, Navy and Air Force; as well as exports to Saudi Arabia, Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Australia.

Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, and purchases will include funding will be from US FY 2011 through 2013 budgets. This was a non-competitive acquisition with one bid solicited and one received (W31P4Q-11-C-0242, PO 0049).

Aug 20/13: UAE. An $8.2 million firm-fixed-price, no-option contract modification with a cumulative maximum value of $886.2 million for Hellfire II foreign military sales (FMS) offset requirement to the United Arab Emirates. It’s part of the USA’s contract, because it’s also the umbrella for other buyers who want to take advantage of the USA’s volume discount. The benefits flow both ways, ans an order of this size will help keep prices down for the US military.

Work will be performed in Orlando, FL. Only 1 bid was solicited, as is common in these situations (W31P4Q-11-C-0242, PO 0043).

Dec 20/12: A $114.1 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy various models of Hellfire II tactical missiles in containers. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL with an estimated completion date of Feb 28/14. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W31P4Q-11-C-0242). The overall contract has now reached $730.5 million.

Oct 4/12: Finalized. A $403.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy various models of Hellfire II missiles. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W31P4Q-11-C-0242).

Looks like they’ve finalized the underlying contract.

Contract finalized

Jan 5/12: A $53.9 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy more Hellfire II missiles, type and numbers unspecified. Inquiries reveal that the underlying contract, announced on Aug 1/11, still hasn’t been finalized.

Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W31P4Q-11-C-0242).

USMC AH-1Z: Launch!
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Aug 1/11: A $159 million firm-fixed-price, unfinalized contract begins procurement of 3,097 AGM-114N/P/Q/R Hellfire II missiles in containers; 16 Hellfire II guidance test articles to verify production lot performance; and engineering, equipment, and production services. The new multi-year contract’s final terms and number of missiles remain under negotiation, but this contract allows production to continue while those details are hammered out. sets the contract’s limits as:

“HELLFIRE II FY11-14 production contract requirements for a maximum total quantity of 24,000 HELLFIRE II missiles in containaers, conversion of a maximum total quantity of 1,800 HELLFIRE II missiles from one model to another HELLFIRE II model, and production of a maximum total quantity of 5,832 HELLFIRE II spare parts, consisting of 40 different national stock numbers (varying quantities).”

Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/14. Since the missiles have only 1 owning manufacturer, 1 sole-source bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W31P4Q-11-C-0242).

New multi-year contract

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Categories: News

JSF’s F135 Engine Meeting Milestones

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 23:50
F135 Engine Test
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Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney have successfully performed the first start of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft test engine, using an integrated power package (IPP) that the functions traditionally performed by the auxiliary power system, emergency power system, and environmental control into a single system. The system was used to start a Pratt & Whitney F135 short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) engine at the company’s advanced test facility in West Palm Beach, FL. The IPP is a subsystem of the F-35 Power and Thermal Management System (PTMS).

The JSF program has targeted the successful IPP engine start as a major milestone since the beginning of the System Development and Demonstration phase of the program in 2001. The achievement paves the way for additional development testing in preparation for the F-35’s first flight in 2006, and comes about a month after the Pratt & Whitney F135 System Development and Demonstration (SDD) program successfully completed the post test Critical Design Review (CDR) by the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Joint Program Office (JPO). The JPO review found that the F135 propulsion system has met all review objectives and is on track to deliver the first flight test engine later this year.

F-35 JSF

Unlike current-generation fighters, the F-35 will rely on “more-electric” systems to operate the aircraft that are tightly integrated to save weight, add reliability and improve packaging efficiency. Performing engine starts with the integrated systems demonstrates the maturity of their designs and reduces risk for first flight.

At the heart of the IPP is a small gas-turbine engine “turbomachine” that provides power to the engine-mounted starter/generator, bringing the engine to its threshold starting speed. The engine then increases to idle speed and the electrical system, which includes the engine-mounted starter/generator (ES/G), transitions from operating as a motor to operating as a generator. The IPP is also available for in-flight emergency power.

In 2001, Pratt & Whitney was awarded a 10-year $4.8 billion contract for System Development and Demonstration to develop the F135 propulsion system through flight clearance, flight test, and qualification for Low Rate Initial Production.

To date, the Pratt & Whitney led F135 propulsion team has delivered three Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL)/Carrier Variant (CV) configuration and four Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) configuration F135 engines to test for a total of seven engines delivered on or ahead of schedule. In December, the team will deliver the first flight test engine in preparation for Initial Flight Release in January 2006 and first flight in August 2006. Production deliveries of the F135 are scheduled to begin in early 2009.

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The F135 is an evolution of the highly successful F119 engine for the F/A-22 Raptor. Together the F135 and F119 engines will have logged more than one million flight hours in support of the F-35’s introduction to operational service in 2012.

The F135 will be competing with the GE/ Rolls-Royce F136 engine, designed to be completely interchangeable with the F135 in any JSF plane.

The F135 propulsion system team consists of Pratt & Whitney, the prime contractor with responsibility for the main engine and system integration; Rolls-Royce, supplying lift components for the STOVL F-35B; Honeywell International, supplying the integrated power package; and Hamilton Sundstrand, provider of the F135’s control system, engine start system, external accessories and gearbox.


May 3/16: Following 15 years of work, Pratt & Whitney announced that they are coming to the end of the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter‘s F135 propulsion system. The F135 team is also about 85% of the way through correcting an engine fault inherent in 180 early-model units which caused one aircraft to catch fire on the runway at Eglin AFB, Florida in June 2014. Derived from the F119-100 turbofan that powers the F-22 Raptor, the F135 was selected for both Lockheed X-35 and Boeing X-32 JSF prototypes.

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Categories: News

P&W: F135 Engine Dev Wraps After 15 Years | Russia Flight Testing United 40 MALE UAV | Kenya Commences Building 700km Wall

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 23:49

  • DefenseOne contains a piece highlighting the Pentagon’s $10 million program exploring the possibilities of automating the search for mobile missile launchers by teaching computers to filter them out from their surroundings. Researchers are experimenting with algorithms which train computers to pick out launcher-shaped objects in the ocean of digital imagery collected by American spy satellites, manned aircraft, or drones, and do it at least well enough to alert analysts to possible hits. At present, North Korea has been using these types of launchers while conducting missile tests.

  • Following 15 years of work, Pratt & Whitney announced that they are coming to the end of the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter‘s F135 propulsion system. The F135 team is also about 85% of the way through correcting an engine fault inherent in 180 early-model units which caused one aircraft to catch fire on the runway at Eglin AFB, Florida in June 2014. Derived from the F119-100 turbofan that powers the F-22 Raptor, the F135 was selected for both Lockheed X-35 and Boeing X-32 JSF prototypes.

  • Embraer’s second and final test aircraft of its KC-390 program has made its maiden flight test with the company optimistic that it’s sale of 32 of the transport-tankers to Brazil will continue. Brazil, the aircraft’s only confirmed purchaser, is in the midst of political turmoil caused by a mass corruption scandal and slow economy. Further more, a decrease in government spending resulted in payments to Embraer ceasing for several months in 2015, denying the program $300 million in unpaid bills. Both parties have, however, now come to an agreement to continue payments and pay off the balance over the next four years.

Middle East North Africa

  • Saudi Arabia will launch a government-owned military holding company by the first quarter of 2017 to oversee the development of the local military industry. The announcement comes as the kingdom moves to direct 50 percent of its military purchases toward domestic industries. In 2005, Saudi defense spending totaled $87.2 billion, but only 2% of that went toward local industries.


  • Norway’s decision to pursue its new submarine procurement with NATO member suppliers has dashed hopes of increased Nordic defense cooperation and cross-border industrial ties. Sweden’s Saab had offered its customized version of the Swedish next-generation A-26 submarine to Norway, however Oslo decided to omit the manufacturer from its sub procurement shortlist. Instead, Germany’s Thyssen Krupp and France’s Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) have been selected as possible suppliers of the Navy’s new submarine-class.

  • Russia has confirmed that is is flight testing the United 40 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The United 40 (referring to the 40th anniversary of unification of the Arab emirates) is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) class surveillance and combat UAV built by Abu Dhabi-based company Adcom. Containing an S-shaped fuselage in a tandem biplane configuration, the UAV is very tolerant to shifts in its centre of gravity. Munitions are carried externally on four 100 kg (220 lb) underwing pylons and internally within a six-round revolving dispenser.


  • Construction of a 700km security wall along the Kenyan-Somali border has been confirmed by the Kenyan government. Stretching along Kenyas northeastern border with Somalia, the wall is part of a broader national security plan to curb cross-border terror attacks by Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. The security barrier consists of a concrete wall ringed with a barbed-wire electric fence and trenches. It will also have observation posts where electronic surveillance cameras will be installed to monitor movements on either side of the border.

Asia Pacific

  • The Sri Lankan media has reported that Pakistan has offered its JF-17 fighter at $29 million each to the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). Islamabad has been pressing the Sri Lankan government to replace its fleet of MiG-27 and Kfir fleets with its indigenous aircraft, but the deal has been met with opposition from India. Instead, it is thought that the SLAF will purchase fighters from Russia, believed to be in the price range of $20-25 million per aircraft.

Today’s Video

  • A look at the BMP-T Terminator:

Categories: News

Pakistan & China’s JF-17 Fighter Program

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 23:45
FC-1/ JF-17, armed
(click to view full)

The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.

Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…

The JF-17 Thunder, aka. FC-1 Fierce Dragon JF-17 at IDEAS 2008
(click to view full)

The JF-17/FC-1 is a $20 million class fighter designed as a co-operative venture between Pakistan and China to replace Chinese A-5C (massively modified MiG-19), F-7P (MiG-21+), and French Mirage 3/5 aircraft in Pakistan’s fleet. China also has options to produce them, but has made no firm decisions and seems unenthusiastic. It’s a comparable peer for India’s still-under-development LCA Tejas, Taiwan’s F-CK-1 Ching Kuo fighters, and South Korea’s F/A-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer & light fighter.

F-20 (1980s)

The design itself is fairly conventional, resembling a somewhat boxy F-20. A drag chute can be installed at the base of the rudder, in order to make landings easier and shorter. Power will be provided by the RD-93 derivative of the MiG-29’s RD-33 engine; it’s proven and widely used, but known to leave smoke trails. Future models may see the engine replaced with China’s WS-13, an RD-93 copy with some modifications. Avionics involve a modern “glass” cockpit of digital screens, using Chinese technologies, and commercial processors. Reports indicate that aircraft software coding was done in the commercial C++ language, rather than a military language like Ada.

Farnborough array
(click to view entire)

Conflicting reports exist regarding its databuses: MIL-STD-1553, or the more advanced MIL-STD-1760. That will affect its range of usable weapons, and GPS-guided weapons in particular benefit from the -1760 databus.

China’s KLJ-7 mechanically-scanned array serves as the radar, despite past media references to a deal with Thales, or to the Selex Galileo’s Grifo. Grifo already equips Pakistan’s F-7s (Grifo-7), and some of its Mirage III/Vs (Grifo M3/M5), and Selex Galileo’s own materials [PDF] describe the Grifo S7 as “The version selected for the JF-17 aircraft.” Even so, multiple reports from November 2010 consistently point to the Chinese KLJ-7 instead. the following table compares the JF-17 with India’s indigenous Tejas fighter, which has taken far longer to develop and isn’t quite in service yet:

At present, the main questions concerning Pakistan’s JF-17s revolve around integrated sensors and weapons, rather than the aircraft itself or its performance. The Farnborough 2010 display showed Chinese air-air missiles, a LeiShi-6 guided glide bomb, China’s C802 anti-ship missile, and even a WMD-7 laser designator pod. Full status as a recognized multirole fighter, however, must wait until their ability to use precision laser guidance and/or GPS-guided ground attack weapons is confirmed.

JF-17/FC-1: The Program PAF F-16A drops Mk.82s
(click to view full)

Sino Defense reminds us that the JF-17/FC-1 ‘Xiaolong’ has a long history. The site recalls that China signed a $550 million agreement with Grumman in 1986 to modernise its J-7 fighter (MiG-21 copy) under the “Super-7” upgrade project, with US and British firms competing to provide the engine and avionics. The project was canceled after the Tienanmen Square massacre, but Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation managed to continue the program with its own resources, and the project was eventually re-branded as FC-1 (Fighter China-1).

The next big step forward for FC-1 came when the USA imposed military export sanctions in response to Pakistan’s nuclear program, and to Chinese-Pakistani transfers of ballistic missile components. With spares for its top-of-the-line F-16s in question, and additional F-16s removed as an option, Pakistan sought help from its Chinese ally.

A joint development and production agreement was signed in June 1999, with China Aviation Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) and Pakistan each contributing 50% of the estimated $150 million in development costs. The design was finalized in 2001, with initial prototype flights beginning in 2003. A JF-17 did not fly with its full avionics suite until 2006, but testing and development appear to have progressed smoothly. Until political complications intervened.

Unfortunately for India, the engine export understanding that they thought they had with Russia, was reversed by Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. JF-17 production began in 2009, complete with Russian engines.

Chinese J-7E
(click to view full)

Ultimately, Pakistan intends to induct 150-250 JF-17s into its air force, replacing most of its Mirage III/Vs, F-7s (Chinese MiG-21 copies), and A-5Cs (massively modified Chinese MiG-19 derivatives). The A-5s will retire more or less immediately as JF-17s enter service, and the Mirages are next in line for replacement due to their uncertain spares situation. The number of JF-17s requested could rise, and some reports place potential Pakistani orders as high as 300 aircraft. Even at the JF-17’s bargain price, however, Pakistan’s budgets will be hard-pressed to afford that many. In the short term, even reaching the desired goal of 150 JF-17s could prove challenging without external aid.

China has remained on the fence regarding the program, with no PLAAF orders to date. Their air force appears to be more focused on their 4+ generation J-10 design, which offers more advanced capabilities and aerodynamics. The FC-1 remains a candidate to replace large numbers of PLAAF MiG-17s (J-5) and MiG-19s (J-6/ Q-5), if the PLAAF decides it needs to take steps to maintain the size of its force. If not, the FC-1’s role is likely to resemble the Northrop F-5’s. The USA sold them in large numbers to other countries, even as the USAF equipped itself with larger and more expensive designs instead.

Stuck in Sichuan: The Saga

The Pakistan Government had hoped to sign a deal to acquire 150 JF-17/FC-1 fighters in 2007, with 8 aircraft in service by year’s end. China had reportedly even bought 100 Klimov RD-93 engines from Russia for installing on JF-17s, with an option to contract for another 400 engines.

In January 2007, however, Forecast International reported that Russia had refused permission for the transfer of its RD-93 engines, derived from the RD-33 that equips the MiG-29. According to FI the decision came only a few days after a visit to India by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, during which a number of joint defense projects were discussed and agreements were signed. January 2007, DID:

“The military world has no shortage of irony. The defense industry has its moments too, as Pakistan just discovered. An aircraft whose development was driven by military sanctions from the US and Europe is now derailed by military sanctions [regarding its engines]. This leaves the Pakistani Air Force dependent on an alternative from… America. Meanwhile, the Chinese are left with no export launch customer for a plane they may now have to reluctantly buy themselves, instead of the favoured and more capable J-10. Somewhere in Delhi, champagne is pouring – but first, a bit of background.”

Coincidence? Didn’t look like it. Replacement with another engine? Unless it’s a very close copy, that requires re-work of the entire fighter design and takes years. Just ask the Chinese J-10 project team.

As it turned out, however, that wasn’t necessary. The arms market also features no shortage of change, and Russia eventually chose not prevent re-export of the RD-93 engines, in an announcement that caught even India’s diplomats by surprise. The RD-93 comes with some disadvantages, including a tendency to leave smoke trails, but tacit re-export approval removed a huge potential roadblock, and let the program proceed more or less on schedule.

Updates and Key Events 2015 – 2016

Dubai 2013

May 3/16: The Sri Lankan media has reported that Pakistan has offered its JF-17 fighter at $29 million each to the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). Islamabad has been pressing the Sri Lankan government to replace its fleet of MiG-27 and Kfir fleets with its indigenous aircraft, but the deal has been met with opposition from India. Instead, it is thought that the SLAF will purchase fighters from Russia, believed to be in the price range of $20-25 million per aircraft.

February 11/16: The Emir of Qatar will witness a display of the PAF JF-17 fighters as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visits the country this week. A contingent from the Pakistan Air Force are in Doha preparing for the display, as Sharif, along with a high-level delegation, visits to commence a series of diplomatic talks. Areas where both Qatar and Pakistan may improve bilateral relations include energy cooperation, trade and investment, employment opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Qatar, and in various defense related fields. While a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) are expected to be signed, an order for the JF-17 may be a bit premature as Qatar awaits the long delayed deal of Rafale fighters from Dassault.

January 19/16: The visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Sri Lanka did not result in a purchase of JF-17 fighters. A Sri Lankan Air Force spokesperson said that while the fighter is still being considered, among others, a deal was never going to be signed alongside Sharif’s visit to Colombo. The JF-17 still seems to be the top choice for Sri Lanka which is looking to replace the Israeli Kfri jet currently in use.

January 12/16: Following hot on the heels of Sri Lanka and Nigeria, Azerbaijan looks to be the next in line for an order of JF-17s from Pakistan. Following his recent trip to the country, Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain said that a deal regarding the sale of defense products to Azerbaijan was just one of several areas in which both were looking to increase cooperation. The potential for increased Azerbaijani-Pakistani trade comes as Chinese officials signed a number of documents with the Caucasus nation in December. Beijing, Pakistan’s partner in the development in the JF-17 program, is looking to develop a “Silk Way” economic belt stretching along developing countries that encompass the historical trade route.

January 8/16: Funding has been set aside for the Nigerian government to purchase three JF-17 aircraft. $25 million has been set aside for the acquisitions. The planned purchase of the Sino-Pakistan developed jet was announced as part of the federal governments defense budget for the 2016 fiscal year and follows the recent order by Sri Lanka for eight JF-17s. Funds have also been set aside to acquire two Mi-35 gunships ($58.2 million) and ten Mushak trainer aircraft ($10.3 million). The Nigerian Army will see $28 million spent on new equipment and trucks for armed personnel as they conduct operations against Boko Haram militants in the north of the country.

January 7/16: Despite the recent rounds of rumors and will-they-won’t-theys, Sri Lanka looks set to purchase eight JF-17 fighters from Pakistan according to Pakistani news sources. Officials to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that a number of agreements were signed between both nations on his visit to Colombo on Tuesday. The agreements cover a wide range of defense, security, trade and counter-terrorism issues and included the provision of the aircraft to Sri Lanka.

January 5/16: The recent heavy promotion by Pakistan of its indigenously produced JF-17 fighter has led to claims that export orders are on the increase. Despite this, Sri Lanka has claimed that it has not made a decision on whether they are to purchase the aircraft for themselves. Recent weeks have seen much ink used in reporting interest in the aircraft by both the Sri Lankan and Indonesian air forces, but as of yet, no official confirmation for orders have been issued. The JF-17 Thunder is co-produced between Pakistan and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation.

December 30/15: While praising the abilities of the home made JF-17 Thunder fighter, Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshal, Sohail Aman has said that they are in negotiations with the US government to procure some of the latest F-16s. The announcement was made as the 16th JF-17 aircraft was unveiled and handed over to the Pakistan Air Force. Manufactured locally in cooperation with China, the JF-17 has been lauded as being able to compete with the best of other lightweight multi-role aircraft, and has been marketed heavily by Pakistan at recent air shows. While production for export seems to be on the increase, one wonders exactly why Islamabad is looking to purchase foreign made fighters ahead of locally produced ones, as well as planning to retire older aircraft simultaneously.

December 23/15: Malaysia’s defense minister has said that his government is not interested in purchasing Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter as part of their air force modernization plans. The denial comes after a Malaysian diplomat was reported to have said that his country may look at procuring the JF-17 to help increase the amount of bilateral trade between the two nations. While Malaysia is looking to replace its fleet of F-5E/F and MiG-29 planes with a modern fighter, the Sino-Pakistan produced JF-17 had not been under consideration.

December 22/15: Malaysia may consider purchasing Pakistan’s JF-17 aircraft as part of its current fighter replacement program. Malaysian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr. Hasrul Sani made the announcement citing the excellent relations both nations currently have in terms of defense cooperation. The sale would also see further increase in the bilateral trade between the two, which currently stands at over $2 billion per annum. Other options currently being considered are the Dassault Rafale, Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin’s F-16V. The interest in the JF-17 comes alongside the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project which will see over $40 billion invested in Pakistan’s infrastructure and economic development. Dr. Sani stated that the whole region would stand to benefit from the CPEC project.

November 24/15: Pakistan is to keep using the the Russian made RD-93 engine for its series of JF-17 fighters. The confirmation comes after hints made by Chinese officials that Pakistan would revert back to an original arrangement with China but Pakistan Air Force (PAF) officials are happy with the Russian engine. PAF officials have said that improvements to the JF-17 along with the reliability of the RD-93 engine has resulted in a number of interested parties. Russia on the other hand will be happy to see product solidarity due to economic sanctions over Ukraine closing many export markets.

October 12/15: Sri Lankan Air Force officials are due to arrive in Islamabad in November to discuss a possible acquisition of JF-17 fighters, according to Pakistani press reports. Sri Lanka played down reports in June that the country was the first export customer for the JF-17, stating that a decision has yet to be made on a possible procurement of the fighter.

2010 – 2014

1st & 2nd squadrons stand up; Fatal JF-17 crash; JF-17 Block II production begins; Myanmar interested again; Saudi Arabia’s interest a puzzle.

June 15/14: Myanmar. The government of Myanmar has stepped back from its close Chinese alliance in recent years, but reports indicate that they may be taking a second look at the JF-17. The junta recently bought more Russian MiG-29s instead (q.v. Dec 23/09), but MiG-29s are notoriously difficult to keep in service. The problem is a combination of short part lifespans, and byzantine Russian “service” procedures.

“The Government of Myanmar is planning to acquire technologies from China and Pakistan to build JF-17 multirole combat aircraft at its own aircraft factory to boost its Air Force…. The force is plagued by serviceability issues due to lack of spare parts and trained manpower however introduction of JF-17 would mean that Myanmar Air Force will be investing in such areas to mitigate its short comings.”

Production may be a stretch, but parts production and a local servicing depot may be doable. The report offers an existing force breakdown of 32 MiG-29B/SE as the modern force, plus 25 F-7Ms (Chinese MiG-21 knockoff) and 21 Nanchang A-5C (Chinese plane based on MiG-19 but heavily modified). A mix of 16 Chinese (K-8) and Serbian (Sokol Galeb) jet trainers are used for ground attack roles, as well as pilot training. Sources: Burma Times, “Myanmar plans JF-17 production” | The Diplomat, “Burma to Purchase Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Fighter Jets” | See also DID, “More MiG-29s for Myanmar”.

June 20/14: R&D. Defense News begins a report in a very odd way, saying that “Contrary to speculation, development of the JF-17 aircraft continues apace…” We’re scratching our heads as to why anyone ever thought otherwise, given announcements re: Block II development and the jet’s clear importance to Pakistan. Indeed, Chief Project Director and Air Vice Marshal Javed Ahmed was quick to aver that the PAF’s 3rd squadron would be operational by year-end.

Ahmed adds that avionics improvements are underway, using the words “situational awareness” but not specifically corroborating rumors of a helmet-mounted display. Near-term improvements will also reportedly focus on “integrating some additional smart and indigenously developed weapons”. The Chinese NRIET KLJ-7 will remain the fighter’s main radar, however, as possible substitutions won’t be considered until the program reaches Block III. An AESA radar, and the possibility of offering drop-in western radar & avionics for export, are both under investigation.

On the other hand, former Pakistani Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail claims that the JF-17’s range is an issue, citing the frequency of flights with drop tanks and the averaged length of sorties. MiG-29s, which use a very similar engine, are known to have range issues, but the JF-17 uses only 1 engine. The Klimov RD-93 is less efficient than GE’s F404/F414, however, and public information gives the JF-17 fuel reserves and operational weight that are similar to the short range Indian Tejas LCA. Tufail may have a point. Sources: Defense News, “JF-17 Developments Indicate Aircraft Is Still On Track”.

Jan 23/14: Saudi Arabia. After Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman Bin Sultan visits Pakistan and tours the JF-17 production complex, the World Tribune reports that:

“…officials said representatives of the ministry as well as the Royal Saudi Air Force were examining the feasibility of procuring JF-17 as part of cooperation with Islamabad. “This project could provide the kingdom with technology that could be used in future projects,” an official said.”

Saudi Arabia is an important donor to Pakistan’s government, and there are persistent rumors that the Saudis even financed Pakistan’s nuclear program. On the one hand, JF-17 cooperation could make sense industrially. The Saudis tried to set up a local Eurofighter final assembly and check-out line with BAE, but the kingdom backed off when it became clear that this wouldn’t work. The JF-17 might be an easier starting point, and it would also fit with growing Saudi interest in defense equipment that requires zero American involvement.

On the other hand, there’s no real hole in the RSAF that JF-17s need to fill. The RSAF’s F-5s are no longer frontline fighters; they and the Tornado F3 ADV interceptors have effectively been replaced by an order for 72 high-end Eurofighter Typhoons. The Typhoons already offer a potent non-American option, and the depth and breadth of the pre-existing Al-Yamamah partnership with Britain would make any cancellation a region-altering diplomatic event. Meanwhile, an in-progress order for 84 new Boeing F-15SA Strike Eagles is well underway, and contract penalties would make the order almost pointless to cancel at this point.

The Saudis are already expanding their fighter fleet with these buys. They would have to either expand it further to accommodate the JF-17 – or become industrial partners, and then use JF-17s as a form of regional aid that isn’t subject to American ITAR regulations. Most likely: they do none of those things, while making an ally feel good by being publicly impressed, and holding some initial discussions that go nowhere. Sources: World Tribune, “Saudi eyeing Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter jet, modeled from U.S. F-16”.

Dec 19/13: Block-II begins. Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra rolls out their 50th JF-17 fighter, and reportedly launches production of the Block II variant with improved avionics, air-to-air refueling capability, and additional weapons. Flight International’s World Air Forces 2013 lists total Pakistan’s JF-17 orders as 70 planes, plus 50 more pending finalization. Meanwhile:

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif…. mentioned the Pakistan China Economic Corridor project, which would link Gwadar to China through Khunjrab Pass and said that economic zones would be set up along the Corridor. The project would have far-reaching impact on the future of both countries, he added. Nawaz said cheap labour in Pakistan would also contribute to the smooth materialisation of projects with China.”

Block 2 production is expected to continue until at least 2016, after which some sources say manufacture of Block 3 will begin. That variant may get a new engine, either an updated RD-93 or possibly a Chinese engine if one is ready. Sources: DAWN, “Production of improved version of JF-17 aircraft launched” | Pakistan’s The Nation, “Production of JF-17 fighter jet launched” | Defense News, “Pakistan Rolls Out 50th JF-17, Block II Production To Commence” | The Diplomat, “Pakistan Begins Producing Block-II JF-17 Aircraft”.

Block II begins

Nov 19/13: Weapons. Flight International carries a report regarding a large Chinese precision strike missile. It’s hard to say how accurate such presentations are, but here’s the claim:

“A full list of specifications for the CM-400AKG missile was played on a loop inside the AVIC exhibit stand at the Dubai air show; a marketing venue for the JF-17 fighter jointly developed between China and Pakistan…. News reports have indicated the CM-400 has entered service with the Pakistan air force. The AVIC video notes vaguely that the 910kg (2,000lb) weapon “can be carried by JF-17, etc”. It is usually compared with the Indian/Russian Brahmos high-speed cruise missile.”

The CM-400AKG export variant of China’s YJ-12 missile supposedly has a reach of up to 130 nmi, in order to keep it within MTCR treaty limits. It flies at Mach 3+ and high altitude, using GPS/INS as base guidance within 50m CEP, with the ability to switch to Imaging Infrared for final targeting of moving items like ships, possibly augmented by L/S/X-band passive radar. Sources: Flight Global, “DUBAI: China details performance of ‘carrier killer’ missile for JF-17”.

Nov 14/11: A Pakistani JF-17 crashes in the mountainous Attock Distrct, killing Squadron Leader Muhammad Hussain. He had ejected successfully, but his parachute failed to open properly. Pak Tribune.


May 19/11: Shortly after American special forces killed Osama Bin Laden in a unilateral raid 40 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan announces a wide swath of major defense projects with China. The most consequential is that the deep water port of Gwadar in western Pakistan will be run by its paymasters, the Chinese government. Pakistan also wants the Chinese to build a naval base there, and no doubt expects to have its own ships use that facility alongside the Chinese PLAN.

The flashiest aspect of the announcements involve the JF-17, with reports that China will be sending Pakistan 50 improved JF-17 fighters, with upgraded electronics. To date, JF-17s have rolled off of Pakistani manufacturing/finishing lines, but these will reportedly involve more Chinese manufacturing to speed delivery, arriving within 6 months. Reports say that China is financing the deal, though they differ on the terms, and how much of the cost China is absorbing. Some reports paint the fighters as more or less a gift.

The interest in a batch of 50 more JF-17s isn’t a surprise, nor are the planned improvements (vid. Dec 22/10 entry). If deliveries do complete in that time frame, the end of 2011 will see Pakistan with over 92 serving JF-17s. India’s comparable Tejas will have over a year to go before the 1st squadron is formally inducted, and will still be waiting to conduct qualification tests of key weapons. DAWN | DAWN re: expediting | Kakuda Hafiz | Tribune || India’s NDTV | Economic Times || Wall St. Journal.

Chinese A-5/Q-5
(click to view full)

April 12/11: 2nd squadron. PAF No. 16 Squadron at PAFB Peshawar becomes the 2nd operational squadron with the CAIC-PAC JF-17 Thunder.

The ceremony also marks the retirement of the PAF’s A-5C Fantans, a heavily modified derivative of the MiG-19. The Panthers of 16 Sqn. were the 1st PAF squadron to covert to the A-5C in 1983, and the last to operate the type. AirForces Monthly.

March 1/11: Aviation Week reports that Pakistan is in negotiations with the U.S. to get more Lockheed Martin F-16s, but also quotes PAF Air Chief Marshall Rao Qamar Suleman as saying that indigenous projects will remain a priority. As part of that effort, Pakistan intends to eventually field a supplementary datalink, which would work alongside the Link 16 systems carried by the F-16s and communicate with the JF-17 fleet. With respect to the JF-17s:

“Rao says Pakistan will have the second squadron of JF-17s enter operation at the end of March while simultaneously phasing out all of its Nanchang A-5s… “As for the Chengdu F-7s and Dassault Mirages, we will phase these out as we get JF-17s,” Rao says. “Some of Pakistan’s Mirages are the oldest in the world,” he says, adding that some were built in 1967. Phasing out the older Mirages is a top priority. The Mirages are difficult and costly to maintain because no one is producing spare parts for these aircraft anymore, he says. “We are getting secondhand parts, but we don’t know the history of these spare parts we are getting. It’s a flight safety issue and a nightmare for me,” he adds.”

Jan 26/11: Iraq. JF-17s for Iraq? Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh tells a press conference that the Council of Ministers has approved the purchase of 18 F-16s, and budgeted an unspecified sum. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is also the acting Defense Minister, would negotiate the deal’s final parameters. There has been talk of a $13 billion weapons buy, which would include the existing DSCA request for F-16IQs, but no confirmation as yet.

The USA will reportedly deliver the F-16s to Iraq within 2-3 years, but in the meantime, and even for some time thereafter, Iraq will not be able to police its own airspace effectively. Iraq Order of Battle author DJ Elliott believes that 2018 would be the earliest. The French are presenting a complementary offer of upgraded Mirage F1s, and DJ Elliott reports that the Iraqis may also be looking at a 3rd option: China & Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder. Iraq-Business News | DJ Elliott’s Montrose Toast | UPI | Saudi Arab News re: Iraqi readiness.

Dec 22/10: 1st squadron. Aviation Week reports that about half of the 42 JF-17s Pakistan has ordered (q.v. March 7/09) are now in place, and one squadron is operational. PAF officials now plan to set up a 2nd unit. The focus, as is true in all initial inductions, is on getting all staff familiar with the equipment. Fully qualifying crews for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions will be the next step.

PAF Air Commodore Junaid told the magazine that the government hopes to order a second batch of 50 fighters in 2011, with undefined “enhanced features,” though the avionics package fielded on the baseline JF-17 has reportedly been a positive surprise.

PL-12 & PL-8 on JF-17
(click to view entire)

Nov 18/10: Avionics & Weapons. Reports from Pakistan indicate that the PAF’s JF-17s will be equipped with Chinese radars and SD-10A/PL-12 medium range air-to-air missiles, thanks to a recent contract with China.

The Thales/MBDA ATE consortium had been seen as front runners for a $1.2 billion contract to equip the first 50 Pakistani JF-17s with radars and missiles, and could stand to reap another EUR 15 million or so per plane thereafter. In April 2010, however, Le Monde reported that the French government had refused to clear the deal. That’s not surprising, since France has a $4+ billion contract to build submarines for India, is competing in the $10-11 billion M-MRCA fighter competition, and wants to sell equipment like frigates and missiles in future. France isn’t in the same geo-political position as the USA, which means retaliation for a defense sale of that magnitude is more likely. France’s DCNS still won India’s Scorpene submarine contract, despite building Agosta AIP submarines for Pakistan, but the French government evidently decided not to chance it this time.

PAF Chief Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman told The Nation in an exclusive interview that “PAF has no plans to install Western devices and weapons on the aircraft for the time being.” Pakistan’s The Nation || Agence France Presse | India’s Hindustan Times | Russia’s RIA Novosti | India’s Sify.

July 5/10: Engines & Egypt. India isn’t the only party with reservations about Russian engine exports for the JF-17. United Aircraft Corp. CEO Mikhail Pogosyan publicly opposes the sale of 100 RD-93 jet engines to China, citing the threat of FC-1/JF-17 competition against the MiG-29. He says that said the re-export of technologies should be approved by the original manufacturers to avoid unfair competition, but Rosoboronexport’s position is that re-export rights is a government decision with no manufacturer input. RIA Novosti adds that:

“A Russian aircraft industry source said the FC-1 is inferior to MiG-29 in performance, but sells for about $10 million, while the price of a MiG-29 is about $35 mln. MiG-29s are currently competing with FC-1s in an Egyptian tender on the delivery of 32 fighters. In addition, Egypt has launched negotiations with Pakistan on the licensed production of FC-1 aircraft. Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) approved the re-export of RD-93 engines to Egypt as part of the FC-1 fighter package in November 2007.”

Feb 18/10: 1st squadron. The first squadron of JF-17 Thunder aircraft is formally indicted into Pakistan’s Air Force by Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman. DAWN.

1999 – 2009

From MoU through test aircraft, 8 initial planes, and an order for 42; Russia OK’s engines to allow the program to proceed; 1st locally-built JF-17 rolls out; Export loss in Myanmar. Lift-off?
(click to view full)

Dec 23/09: Myanmar. Myanmar (ex-Burma) reportedly buys 20 MiG-29s from Russia, preferring them over Chinese options that are said to have included the JF-17/ FC-1. Read “More MiG-29s for Myanmar.”

Myanmar loss

Nov 23/09: Industrial. The first JF-17 Thunder built at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at Kamra rolls out. The rest of the order is expected to undergo final assembly at by PAC Kamra within the next 3 years. Associated Press of Pakistan | DAWN | Pakistan’s Daily Times | Pakistan’s The Nation | Pakistan Times | SANA News || Chandigarh Tribune | Press Trust of India | China’s Xinhua.

March 7/09: +42. The Associated Press of Pakistan reports that a contract for 42 co-produced JF-17s has been signed in Islamabad by China’s CATIC and the Pakistani Air Force, financed by “seller’s credit.” Production capacity is listed at 15 aircraft in the first year, rising to 30 aircraft per year thereafter.

Pakistan has been flying 8 aircraft to work out tactics, techniques, and procedures, and expects to stand up the first JF-17 squadron before the end of 2009. The aircraft will be based at Peshawar, alongside existing Chinese-made Q-5/A-5C “Fantan” fighters that are a hugely modified Chinese derivative of the MiG-19, and their accompanying JJ-6/FT-6 MiG-19 trainers.

The article adds a quote from Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed. He reiterated that cooperation on China’s canard-winged J-10/FC-20 is also progressing, with first deliveries to Pakistan expected in 2014-15. CATIC’s President MA Zhiping reportedly added that the first FC-20 aircraft built under that agreement would fly in 2009. APP | Pakistan’s The News.

42 JF-17 Block I

Jan 1/09: Industrial. Associated Press of Pakistan quotes Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) chairman Air Marshal Khalid Chaudhry HI (M) T Bt re: the JF-17 project, and PAC’s work more generally. The report was triggered by briefings associated with a visit from Sheikh Aftab Ahmad, head of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Defence Production. Air Marshal Chadhry reportedly said that PAC has the capability to manufacture 75% of the JF-17’s avionics, and 58% of its air frame.

The firm is currently deepening its experience and earning revenue by overhauling about 180 aircraft engines and 60 aircraft per year, including work undertaken by PAC’s Mirage rebuild factory that helps maintain Pakistan’s aged Mirage III/V fighters, and refurbishes scrap Mirages from other countries in order to keep overall fleet numbers up. High-tech avionics machinery recently imported “from various developed countries” is extending PAC’s capacity, and so has a $15 million contract from Boeing for aircraft parts.

Nov 28/08: Exports. Pakistani Ministry of Defence Production Secretary Shahid Siddiq Tirmizi claims that as many as 8 countries have shown interest in buying the JF-17 Thunder fighter. Azerbaijan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are 3 countries that have been linked to export interest in the past. The News International.

A Pakistan Defense article widens that potential field to include Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka.

Nov 20/08: Pakistani Chief of Air Staff ACM(Air Chief Marshal) Tanvir Mahmood Ahmad says that aid the first JF-17 squadron would be inducted into the PAF fleet in the first quarter of 2009.

His accompanying announcement that another 36 high-tech combat aircraft (FC-20, probably a version of China’s J-10) would be inducted into the PAF fleet by 2010 got even more attention, but that didn’t come to pass. Pakistan Daily | Pak Tribune.

April 11/08: Exports. Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that:

“Pakistan and China have established a joint marketing organisation to promote international sales of their JF-17 ‘Thunder’ fighter aircraft, the head of the main Pakistani arms export agency has told Jane’s. Major General Muhammad Farooq, director general of Pakistan’s Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO), described the JF-17 in early April as an ideal “choice for countries which are mindful of their finances.”

March 19/08: An article in Pakistan Defence claims that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) now has 8 JF-17 Thunder aircraft, after 6 more planes were received this March. All 8 will be used for testing and evaluation; the aircraft hasn’t been formally inducted into service yet.

Serial production has begun, and Pakistan’s Air Cheif Marshal reportedly said that about 60% of the airframe and 80% of the avionics would be manufactured in Pakistan by 2010, with production capacity rising to 25 aircraft per year by 2011. If true, it seems likely that deals with significant industrial offsets may be in the cards, as the article also claims that negotiations have begun with British, Italian, and French defense firms over potential avionics and other systems; France has reportedly offered its RC-400 radar and MBDA MICA missile.

Finally, the article claims that that:

“Thirteen countries have so far expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 aircraft are Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Sudan.”

Jan 22/08: Industrial. According to India Defence, Pakistan’s national TV reports that it has begun in-country manufacturing of the JF-17 fighter. About half of the on-board equipment and avionics will be manufactured in Kamra, Pakistan, with the rest coming from China.

PakAF Chief of Air Staff Ahmed reportedly committed to 15 aircraft built in 2008 and 20 in 2009, with the goal of building 25-30 per year.

FC-1/ JF-17
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Nov 29/07: Exports. The IWPA reports that:

“Azerbaijan is currently negotiating with Pakistan for the purchase of 24 Chinese-made JF-17 Thunder combat planes, worth between 16 and 18 million dollars each.”

In February 2009, however, Azerbaijan’s APA files a report that says the parties are still in talks, rather than under contract.

Nov 13/07: Jane’s Defense Weekly quotes Pakistani Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed as saying that the Pakistan Air Force will have an operational capability with JF-17 Thunder light fighter aircraft by the end of 2008, and expects to have its first 8 aircraft under a “small batch order” within the next few months.

“Speaking to Jane’s at the Dubai Air Show on 12 November, ACM Ahmed dismissed concerns over the Russian RD-93 engine that powers the joint Sino-Pakistan aircraft as “an issue created from here and there.”

April 26/07: Engine OK. India may need to hold that champagne, in the wake of recent reports. India Defence relays a report from the Russian newspaper Kommersant, which said that Vladimir Putin himself had personally supervised and signed a “Sino-Russian Fighter Assembly Agreement” which included joint assembly of JF-17 fighter aircraft with RD-93 engines, and their supply to third countries. Kommersant added that:

“This permission will enable the supply of 150 Chinese JF-17 fighter aircrafts to Pakistan, and help implement the contract for the supply of Russian engines worth USD 238 million.”

Kommersant added that “the permission does not imply Pakistan’s inclusion in the list of countries with which Russia has direct military-technical cooperation.” The question is whether Russian military-technical cooperation would be required under the Sino-Russian agreement. Meanwhile, the Indians appear to have been blindsided. The Press Counsellor of the Indian Embassy in Moscow Ramesh Chandra told Kommersant that “the Embassy was not aware” of the permission for re-export. See India Defence | India’s domain-b.

Russia OKs engines

March 29/07: Program. Pakistan’s The News International references an interview that Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed gves to Jane’s:

“The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aims to acquire 200-250 JF-17 Thunder (FC-1) fighter aircraft in place of the 150 originally envisaged, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed has said… According to Jane’s Russian sources had initially said emphatically, that the RD-93 engines… could not be re-exported to Pakistan. This position was reversed in November 2006… during a joint [Klimov/ Chengdu] press briefing at the Zhuhai Air Show in China… Pakistani sources claim they have a clear understanding from Chinese authorities that there will be no Russian effort to block the supply of the RD-93 engines to Pakistan. “The Chinese have told us the Russians haven’t issued a written licence but the Russians will not block the supply of the RD-93 to Pakistan,” one senior Pakistani government official told Jane’s.”

March 2/07: Delivery. China delivers a pair of JF-17 fighters equipped with Russian-made RD-93 engines to Pakistan, prompting Indian protests that claim a violation of the end-user agreement between Russia and China. The aircraft were officially presented on March 12/07, and made their first public appearance during the Pakistan Day Parade on March 23/07. Scramble.

April 28/06: Testing. PT-04 makes its first flight with fully operational avionics. Source.

April 2004: Testing. Second prototype flies, though some sources contend that the aircraft in question was PT-03 instead. A total of 4 aircraft were manufactured for flight testing, while PT-05 was designed for static fatigue testing on the ground. APP | Wikipedia.

Aug 25/03: Testing. First prototype aircraft flies. Source.

July 1/03: First prototype completes first taxi trials. Source.

May 13/03: First prototype aircraft rolled out. Source.

1st prototype

September 2001: The FC-1/JF-17’s detailed design is finalized. Source.

1999: MoU. China and Pakistan agreed on 50-50 joint development of the FC-1/Super 7.

Development MoU

Additional Readings Background: JF-17 Thunder

Background: Aircraft Ancillaries

Background: Other

Categories: News

F-15 Wheel & Brake Upgrades to Save USAF $194M | Osprey Successfully Refuels F-35B | US Will Not Subsidize F-16s for Pakistan

Sun, 05/01/2016 - 23:50

  • Textron is currently testing their upgraded RQ-7 Shadow M2 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which they believe will allow the system to undertake increased mission capabilities currently reserved for larger UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator. At present, Shadow V2s are used by the US Army in conjunction with AH-64 Apaches to fill the armed reconnaissance mission, following the retirement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter. The Shadow M2 will add longer endurance, more capable payloads, and more power than the M2 version, and also gain a satellite uplink that allows it to communicate beyond-line-of-sight.

  • USAF’s fleet of more than 500 F-15s are to get a wheel and brake upgrade after successful flight testing. Once completed, F-15C/D/E fighters will be capable of undertaking 1,400 landings before having to swap out their brakes. The USAF stands to save over $194 million in F-15 maintenance costs once all of the aircraft are fitted with the upgrade, and this will be the first brake testing to be carried out on the jet since the 1980s.

  • A USMC MV-22 Osprey has given a successful ground refueling of a Marine F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The one-hour test consisted of hooking up fuel transfer lines between the two aircraft with the MV-22 fueling the F-35B with an aerial refueling to follow. Both aircraft will be used to allow the Marine Corps to employ assets in austere environments on short notice without having to rely on long-term planning and fixed facilities.

  • The Missile Defense Agency has awarded a $235.3 million contract to Millennium Engineering & Integration to provide advisory and assistance services for test, exercise, and wargames in support of technical, engineering, advisory and management support. This contract provides support for the development, implementation, sustainment, and assessment of test processes, procedures, plans, and policies to support the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) through the test life cycle. Completion of the contract is expected for June 2020.


  • The first prototype of the Ka-62 twin-engine helicopter successfully completed its maiden flight. Items tested on the multi-purpose rotorcraft included the main power supply systems and avionics during a ten minute hover flight at Progress Aircraft-Manufacturing Enterprise’s site in eastern Russia. Capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions, the Ka-62 has been designed for transportation, search and rescue, and for work in Russia’s oil and gas industry.

Asia Pacific

  • Pakistan’s hope to procure subsidized F-16 fighters from the US has been scuppered by US Congress. State Department officials reported that if Islamabad wishes to purchase eight of the aircraft, it will cost up to $480 million, two and a half times the original cost. US foreign military financing of the deal had been criticized by many lawmakers who believed that Pakistan wasn’t doing enough to tackle Islamic militants operating in the country, and who would more likely use the F-16s against neighboring India than combating terrorism.

  • Longbow LLC, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, has been awarded a contract by the Indian government to provide fire control radar (FCR) systems with advanced air and ground targeting capabilities. The $57.1 million contract will see Longbow install 12 systems on India’s AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, and could be worth up to $116.7 million. The FCR’s air over-watch mode provides aircrews with 360-degree situational awareness, improving survivability and mission success.

  • Japan and the Philippines will conclude talks this week to lease five Beechcraft TC-90 Kind Airs from the Maritime Self-Defense Force to Manila. Japan’s Defense Minister Gen. Nakatani will call his Filipino counterpart Gazmin today, May 2nd to finalize the deal. The aircraft will help boost the Philippine’s maritime security efforts, particularly patrolling territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Today’s Video

  • Turkey’s indigenous Bayraktar TB2 UAV successfully dropped a Roketsan MAM-L laser-guided glide bomb on April 29:

Categories: News

Arming RQ-7 UAVs: The Shadow Knows…

Sun, 05/01/2016 - 23:45

RQ-7 Shadow
(click to view full)

By 2007, US Army RQ-7 Shadow battalion-level UAVs had seen their flight hours increase to up 8,000 per month in Iraq, a total that compared well to the famous MQ-1 Predator. Those trends have gained strength, as workarounds for the airspace management issues that hindered early deployments become more routine. Some RQ-7s are even being used to extend high-bandwidth communications on the front lines.

The difference between the Army’s RQ-7 Shadow UAVs and their brethren like the USAF’s MQ-1A Predator, or the Army’s new MQ-1C Sky Warriors, is that the Shadow has been too small and light to be armed. With ultra-small missiles still in development, and missions in Afghanistan occurring beyond artillery support range, arming the Army’s Shadow UAVs has become an even more important objective. It would take some new technology, but that seems to be on the way for the US Marine Corps RQ-7B Shadow UAV fleet.

Pieces of the Puzzle RQ-7 launch, Mosul
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SecDef Robert Gates’ has consistently offered strong support for more attention to the needs of the counterinsurgency fight. Surveillance is part of that, but it needs to be backed by action. Pending and emerging approaches tie UAVs, manned propeller planes, artillery, and helicopters into a cohesive, fast, and flexible solution for finding, identifying, and capturing or killing opponents.

Larger RQ-5 Hunters have been tested with Viper Strike mini-bombs, and MQ-1C Sky Warriors can carry up to 4 Hellfires – but both UAV types are far outnumbered by the Army’s smaller RQ-7 Shadows. Precision weapons can also be dropped by fighters or bombers, but the planes’ $10,000 – $25,000 cost per flight hour is prohibitive, they require extensive planning processes to use, and declining aircraft numbers affect their potential coverage and response times.

M270 firing M30 GMLRS
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Small UAVs can still pack a punch without weapons by providing GPS targeting data to M30 GPS-guided MLRS rockets, long-range ATACMS MLRS missiles, or 155mm Excalibur artillery shells – as long as those weapons are (a) appropriate and (b) within range.

Using an ATACMS missile to take out an enemy machine gun position seems a bit silly, but that’s exactly the sort of help that could really make a difference to troops on the ground – and has been used in urban fights, against building strongholds. With that said, maximum effectiveness comes when battalion-level “Tactical UAVs” like the RQ-7B Shadow can perform the full spectrum of missions: surveillance, laser or GPS target designation, or close support for infantry fights.

The U.S. Army’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ has funded some R&D in order to provide “Tactical Class Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TCUAS)” with a low-cost weapon, US NAVAIR is busy developing a 5-pound missile called Spike, and global trends are pushing companies like Raytheon and Thales to invent designs of their own. The US Army ended up dragging its feet on arming its small tactical UAVs, but they are fielding GBU-44 Viper Strike weapons on MQ-5B Hunter UAVs, and have a small but growing fleet of Hellfire-armed, Cessna-sized MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs. The US Marines have no such option, and decided that arming their own growing fleet of RQ-7Bs was the way forward.

Step 1 requires a lightweight laser designator that would add the ability to actively mark targets for common helicopter and UAV weapons like Hellfire missiles, laser-guided 70mm rockets, or Paveway bombs. That way, the small and relatively cheap RQ-7s could mark targets for any component of Task Force ODIN, or its equivalent. That effort is already underway, across the board.

Step 2 involves arming even RQ-7 size UAVs, but their payload weight limits make that a very challenging task. Small missiles like the US Navy’s Spike are in development, in cooperation with Finmeccanica’s DRS, but parallel private developments

ATK: Hatchet. This 7-pound weapon is extremely small, and half its weight is warhead. GPS and GPS/laser guidance variants are both said to be possible.

GD: RCFC. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems makes the US Army’s mortar rounds, and had an interesting idea. What if their 81mm mortars could receive a small add-on GPS guidance kit, similar to the JDAM kits used on larger air force bombs? The Army’s 81mm mortars weigh just 9-10 pounds each, and GD-OTS’ clip-on Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) is an integrated fuze and guidance-and-flight control kit that uses GPS/INS navigation, replacing current fuze hardware in existing mortars. A standard M821 81mm Mortar with fuze weighs 9.1 pounds, and the same mortar with an RCFC Guidance system and fuze weighs just 10.8 pounds. US Army ARDEC funded their development testing.

The nose-mounted RCFC guidance has now been successfully demonstrated on multiple mortar calibers, in both air-drop and tube-launch applications. The tube-launched application has been successfully demonstrated at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ in a tactical 120mm guided mortar configuration known as the Roll Controlled Guided Mortar (RCGM), which uses the existing 120mm warhead and the M934A1 fuze.

Lockheed Martin: Shadow Hawk. In 2012, Lockheed began discussing its “11 pound class”, semi-active laser-guided Shadow Hawk bomb.

Raytheon: Pyros. STM. Raytheon has a privately-developed effort called Pyros, a 22-inch, 13.5-pound bomb that uses dual GPS/INS and semi-active laser guidance. It also has also 3 warhead options: height-of-burst, point-of-impact or fuze-delay detonation.

Thales/ Textron: FF-LMM/Fury. Thales’ beam-riding Lightweight Modular Missile with its tri-mode (burst height, impact, delayed) warhead will equip Britain’s AW159 Wildcat helicopters, and single launchers are small enough to fit on tactical UAVs like Schiebel’s S1000 Camcopter. Removing the propulsion system lightens the missile even further as the Free-Fall LMM, which adds a dual-mode GPS-laser guidance system up front. A partnership with Textron is aimed at the US market, where the weapon is known as the Fury. It was tested from an RQ-7B in 2014.

These and other systems will offer the US Marines the options they need. In the end, however, they key change isn’t the individual weapons – it’s the concept. That concept’s influence will extend past small UAVs, in 2 ways.

MC-130W: next
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One is the growing trend away from sole USAF control of air support, and toward a much more responsive era of “federated airpower” that includes high-end aircraft and UAVs operated by the US Air Force, and lower-tier propeller planes and small UAVs operated by the US Army and Marines. Those lower-tier options use lower-cost platforms that are far more affordable to operate, which means they can be bought and operated in numbers that provide far wider battlefield coverage for small-unit engagements.

The USAF’s long-running and pervasive deprecation of relevant counter-insurgency capabilities, and strong institutional preference for high-end, expensive platforms, has left them vulnerable to lower-cost disruptive technologies that meet current battlefield needs. While the service still has a key role in maintaining American power, strategic control of the air, and high-end capabilities, the new reality involves a mix of high and low-end aerial capabilities, with a lot more aerial control nested closer to battlefield decision-making.

The other change is reaching beyond UAVs, and into USAF and USMC aircraft, which can carry larger weapons. Related tube-launched small precision weapons, which already include Raytheon’s Griffin missile, are finding their way to USMC KC-130J and Special Operations MC-130W Hercules, which are receiving roll-on/ roll-off weapon kits that can turn them into multi-role gunship support/ aerial tanker aircraft. Similar weapons, like Textron’s G-CLAW and many of the weapons discussed here for UAVs, will make it easier to equip more planes with more on-board weapons. As Airbus and Alenia both begin fielding smaller gunship aircraft of their own, and more countries begin arming other kinds of counterinsurgency aircraft, the market is expected to grow.

Contracts and Key Events Pyros strike
click for video

May 2/16: Textron is currently testing their upgraded RQ-7 Shadow M2 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which they believe will allow the system to undertake increased mission capabilities currently reserved for larger UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator. At present, Shadow V2s are used by the US Army in conjunction with AH-64 Apaches to fill the armed reconnaissance mission, following the retirement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter. The Shadow M2 will add longer endurance, more capable payloads, and more power than the M2 version, and also gain a satellite uplink that allows it to communicate beyond-line-of-sight.

Sept 23/14: FF-LMM. Textron Systems touts a pair of successful live-fire demonstrations from an RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAV at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, using its new GPS/laser guided Fury (FF-LMM) collaboration with Thales. Textron’s AAI subsidiary makes the Shadow, and the demonstration to TRL 7 levels (prototype tested in representative environment) took 15 months of planning and work with Thales.

As noted above, Fury is derived from Thales’ beam-riding Lightweight Modular Missile, but it uses a different guidance system and removes the rocket motor. It’s properly a glide bomb, which is true for the vast majority of entrants in this market niche. Sources: Textron Systems, “Textron Systems Fury™ Lightweight Precision Weapon Engages Target During Live-Fire Demonstrations”

July 13/14: FF-LMM. Thales unveils an unpowered version of LMM at Farnborough 2014, as a smaller and lighter option for use on tactical UAVs, as well as larger platforms. It’s 70cm / 2’4? long and 6 kg / 13 pounds in weight, with a combined GPS and laser guidance system. The initial model won’t have an airburst fuze, though. Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Farnborough 2014: Thales unveils new LMM variant” | Aviation Week, “Thales Reveals 6-Kg Glide Bomb For UAVs”.

Aug 7/12: STM-II Pyros. Raytheon announces a successful test for their 13.5 pound “Small Tactical Munition,” now redesigned and named “Pyros.” The end-to-end test from a Shadow-sized Cobra UAV validated the weapon’s dual laser/GPS guidance, its height-of-burst sensor, electronic safe and arm device, and multi-effects warhead.

May 2/12: Shadow Hawk test. Lockheed Martin announces successful tests of its privately-developed Shadow Hawk bomb from an RQ-7B. The “11 pound class,” 2.5 inch diameter weapon is laser-guided, and hit within 8 inches of the target at at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah after being dropped from 5,100 feet.

April 4/12: Army update. The US Army discusses its plans for the RQ-7 Shadow. The army’s product manager, ground maneuver, UAS is Lt. Col. Scott Anderson. He says the Army is observing USMC efforts to add weapons to the Shadow, but is more interested in giving the UAV a new engine to improve reliability. That multi-phase competition got 14 responses, and could indirectly help weaponization efforts, especially if the new engine also provides more power.

Jan 12/12: Armed to Afghanistan? Flight International reports that the USMC plans to send 8 armed RQ-7Bs to Afghanistan as a combat demonstration program, after 94 “high-value targets” escaped during a recent Marine unit’s deployment, even though they were spotted by RQ-7s circling overhead. There isn’t always someone else on hand to fire.

The goal is to arm the Shadows with guided bombs weighing under 25 pounds, which was cleared for treaty compliance (?!?) by the US State Department in July 2011, and reportedly followed by a $10 million December 2011 contract. Installation and certification is expected to take a year, followed by a $7 million follow-on contract for deployment. The magazine reports that the weapon isn’t Raytheon’s STM, MBDA’s SABER, or ATK’s Hatchet, but is “another guided weapon that already has been developed and fielded in secrecy.”

Dec 30/11: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $54.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to supply RQ-7B laser designator retrofit kits.

Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of March 31/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).

FY 2011

STM-P2 on Cobra UAV
(click to view full)

Sept 16/11: STM-II test. Over at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, Raytheon’s 12-pound, 22″/ 56cm Small Tactical Munition Phase II finishes captive carry tests on the company’s smaller Cobra test UAV, paving the way for full weapon tests.

STM Phase II is more than 2 inches shorter than the Phase I design, and has foldable fins and wings that allow it to be used from the U.S. military’s common launch tube. It uses both GPS and semi-active laser guidance. Raytheon is taking the production-ready mandate seriously, as well; STM Phase II is also easier to assemble than the Phase I design. Raytheon Nov 30/11 release.

Aug 17/11: Cleared to arm. Flight International, quotes US NAVAIR’s Small Tactical UAS program manager, Col. Jim Rector, who says that the Marines have received clearance from policymakers to arm the RQ-7 Shadow. The USMC made its intent to do so clear late last year (vid. Jan 18/11 entry). Field trials are to be performed on with unnamed munition selected by AAI, within the Marines’ request that it be a production-ready item. This evaluation process is scheduled to last 18 – 24 months.

Aug 15/11: Collision. When an RQ-7 flies into a C-130 Hercules, at least the latter gets to land in one piece. This time.

The incident underscores the role that “deconfliction” needs to play, when armed UAVs are used over the battlefield without “sense and avoid” technologies on board. Experiments are underway to give Shadow-sized UAVs those capabilities, but without that, expect sharp flight restrictions that emphasize long advance notice of flight plans, and narrow altitude bands. Those restrictions will reduce an armed “MQ-7C” Shadow’s potential value, which means the full impact of small tactical armed UAVs won’t be felt until that technical hurdle is cleared.

June 21/11: First test flight at Webster Field, MD of a RQ-7B Shadow UAS under the direction of NAWC Aircraft Division’s UAS Test Directorate. Col. Jim Rector, program manager for Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical UAS program office (PMA-263), said:

“Having a RQ-7B at the UAS Test Directorate allows for the test and evaluation of system enhancements and ultimately provides the ability to quickly get new technologies into the hands of Marines”.

Rector was appointed in April after last serving in the V-22 program office (PMA-274).

May /11: Competition: T-20. Arcturus in Rohnert Park, CA has built the T-20 tactical UAV drone, whose wings can carry MBDA’s 10-pound Saber mini-missile.

The USMC has a few in testing now, and this wing-mounting capability may give Arcturus an opening to supplement, or even replace, AAI’s RQ-7 Shadow as the USMC’s armed tactical UAV.

Jan 18/11: USMC in. Flight Global reports that the US Marines have decided to arm Shadow UAVs as their own initiative, since the Army is dragging its feet, and the Marines don’t have a larger armed UAV like the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle:

“Although the Army Aviaton [sic] and Missile Command issued a request for information in April seeking data on precision-guided weapons weighing 11.3kg (25lb) or less… and said as recently as October that it would take the lead on development of Shadow weaponisation with the USMC, the programme is no longer on the table for the army… says Col Robert Sova, capability manager for UAVs at the Army Training and Doctrine Command.”

The Marines reportedly want a solution fielded within 12-18 months. Beyond options like RCFC, NAVAIR’s Spike, etc., Raytheon has been pressing ahead with its 13 pound Small Tactical Munition (STM), with its dual-mode, laser/GPS guidance system.

Dec 3/10: R&D projects. Aviation Week reports that the US Navy is working on weapons that could give even the ScanEagle UAV hunter-killer capability – and implicitly, the Marines’ Shadow 200s as well.

The 2 pound next-generation weapon management system (WMS GEN2) is designed for use on small UAVs like the Shadow. It has been tested in the lab, and the development team is now looking at using the WMS GEN2 with the 5 pound NAWCAD Spike mini-missile, the Scan Eagle Guided Munition (SEGM), and a GPS-Guided Munition (G2M).

Oct 26/10: STM tests. Flight International reports that Raytheon has conducted tests of its 13 pound, unpowered Small Tactical Munition (STM) at the Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. The 2 successful tests used Raytheon’s Cobra UAV, which was picked because it’s close to the RQ-7 Shadow’s size. Raytheon estimates needing 12 to 18 months to get STM production lines running at quantity, and is readying the project in response to interest from the USMC and, they expect, from Special Forces.

FY 2008 – 2010

81mm RCFC test
(click to view full)

April 19/10: Army RFI. Looks like the US Army is getting more serious about fielding armed Shadow UAVs. US FedBizOpps solicitation #W31P4Q-10-R-0142 says that “Responses to this RFI will be used for information and planning purposes only and do not constitute a solicitation…,” but its issue does show a higher level of seriousness, and could well be a prelude to a real solicitation if an acceptable candidate emerges:

“The US Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) Program Executive Office (PEO) Missiles and Space (M&S), Program Management (PM) Joint Attack Munition Systems (JAMS), on behalf of the war fighter, seeks information from industry on weapons systems ready for production and suitable for integration on the RQ-7B with POP 300D laser designator payload Shadow Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs). Potential weapons systems must be ready to field within 12 months from the date of a potential contract award. The primary interest is in weapon systems approximately 25 lbs or less total system weight (to include munition, launcher, wiring, fire control interface, etc). The weapons system should be able to engage stationary and moving targets such as light vehicles and dismounted combatants in day and night conditions with low collateral damage when launched from a Shadow UAS flying at speeds of 60-70 knots and between 5,000 and 12,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). Terminal accuracy must be on the order of that demonstrated by currently fielded Semi Active Laser / Imaging Infrared / Millimeter Wave (SAL/IIR/MMW) weapons…”

That level of terminal accuracy may be an issue for RCFC mortars, depending on how the Army interprets it. SAL/IIR/MMW weapons are generally considered to be more accurate that GPS guidance, but if “on the order” means “approximately,” then a GPS guidance kit would qualify. It is intended that this RFI will be open for 21 calendar days from date of publication (to May 10/10).

April 1/10: RCFC test. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces successful 81mm Air-Dropped Mortar guide-to-target flight demonstrations at Ft. Sill, OK. The RCFC weapon was released from a TUAV (Shadow) using the GD-OTS’ newly developed “Smart Rack” carriage and release system.

Feb 12/09: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary Army Armaments Incorporated (AAI) in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $9.3 million cost plus fixed fee contract modification, exercising options for additional engineering hours related to these Shadow UAV modifications. These services are related to low-rate initial production of Laser Designators, Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) interoperability, and integration with the Army’s Universal Ground Control Station and Universal Ground Data Terminal.

Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of April 30/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0033).

Jan 21/09: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $12.2 million firm-fixed-price finalization of Letter Contract Modification P00012. It will purchase 25 Laser Designator Retrofit Kits for its RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

Work will be performed at Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).

Dec 16/08: RCFC test. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces that it has successfully demonstrated the ability to maneuver and guide 81mm air-dropped mortars to a stationary ground target after release from an aircraft. These test results in Kingman, AZ build on previous pre-programmed maneuver flight tests successfully conducted by General Dynamics in 2007, and use the company’s patented Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) flight control and guidance system.

Additional Readings

  • DID thanks subscriber Trent Telenko for his research assistance with this article.

The Trends

The Weapons

Listed in alphabetical order of manufacturer.

MBDA – SABER. Their Small Air Bomb Extended Range (SABER), whose unpowered version is about 10 pounds. The powered version of this GPS/laser guided weapon is 30 pounds.

Categories: News

Aging Aircraft: USAF F-15 Fleet Grounded

Sun, 05/01/2016 - 23:43
F-15C over DC
(click to view full)

Array of Aging American Aircraft Attracting Attention” discusses the issues that accompany an air force whose fighters have an average age of over 23.5 years – vs. an average of 8.5 years in 1967. One of the most obvious consequences is the potential for fleet groundings due to unforseen structural issues caused by time and fatigue. That very fear is responsible for the #1 priority placed on bringing new KC-X aerial tankers into the fleet to complement the USA’s 1960s-era KC-135 Stratotankers.

It can also affect the fighter fleet more directly.

Following the crash of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C aircraft Nov 2/07 (see crash simulation), the US Air Force suspended non-mission critical F-15 flight operations on Nov 3/07. While the cause of that accident is still under investigation, preliminary findings indicate that a structural failure during flight may have been responsible. In response, Japan suspended its own F-15 flights, which left them in a bit of a bind – even as Israel’s F-15s joined them on the tarmac. As the effects continue to spread and the USAF and others continue to comment on this situation, DID continues to expand its coverage of this bellwether event. A conditional restoration of the American F-15A-D fleet to flight status was soon overturned by the re-grounding of that fleet as a result of the report’s conclusions – a status that remains only been partially lifted. Meanwhile, the accident report has been released (compete with video dramatization) and the status of the remaining aircraft will have significant implications for the USAF’s future F-15 fleet size. Not to mention its other procurement programs.

Then, too, this is America. Now there’s a lawsuit.

F-15E, Afghanistan
(click to view full)

The F-15A reached initial operational capability for the US Air Force in September 1975, and approximately 670 F-15s remain in the USAF’s inventory. Current F-15 flying locations include bases in the continental United States, Alaska, England, Hawaii, Japan and the Middle East, and the aircraft are active on the Iraqi and Afghan fronts. The Missouri Air National Guard F-15C that crashed was built in 1980.

Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, US CENTCOM Combined Forces Air Component commander, is maintaining the newer F-15E Strike Eagles on ground alert, to be used if required. Otherwise, he says he will accomplish all assigned missions using a variety of fighter, attack and bomber aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Lt. Gen. North added that:

“I worry about the health of our aging fleet and how sometimes it is not well understood by those our Airmen protect… The investigation will get to the cause of the accident.”

USAF Chief of Staff Michael Moseley was even more specific in an Oct 30/07 interview with

“The F-15s and F-16s were designed and built in the late ’60s and ’70s. Some of them were produced up until the early ’80s. But they’ve led a pretty hard life of 17 years of combat. So you have to replace them with something, because we were continuing to restrict the airplanes. In the F-15 case, we’ve got the airplane restricted to 1.5 Mach. It was designed to be a 2.5 Mach airplane. We’ve got it limited on maneuvering restrictions because we’ve had tail cracks, fuselage cracks, cracks in the wings. The problem with that is – and Mike Wynne uses this analogy – it’s almost like going to the Indy 500 race practicing all the way up until Memorial Day at 60 miles an hour, and then on game day, accelerating the car out to 200 miles an hour. It’s not the time to be doing that on game day.

So in our training models and in our scenarios, we’re limiting these airplanes because they’re restricted and getting old. So there’s two parts to the recapitalization of the fighter inventory. The first part is the existing stuff is old and it’s getting broke, and it’s getting harder to get it out of depot on time. And our availability rates and our in-commission rates are going down. The ability to generate the sorties on those old airplanes is in the wrong direction.”

And Flight International:

“A USAF F-15 crashed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2002 when it broke up after the leading edge of its left vertical stabiliser detached in a high-speed dive to Mach 1.97. The pilot was killed.

The USAF says it began replacing the leading edge and upper aft portion of the vertical stabilisers during depot overhaul and has so far completed 463 of its 664 aircraft. The F-15 involved in the Missouri accident had its vertical stabilisers repaired in August 2003, the service says.”

Further investigation focused on the plane’s longerons, which connect the aircraft’s metal ‘skin’ to the frame, and run along the length and side of the aircraft. Both the Accident Investigation Board and Boeing simulations have indicated them as a possible source of catastrophic failure; indeed, DID had wondered why structural failure was suspected immediately, and it with that revelation it began to make sense. As DID explained at the time, if one or more of those longerons had failed, the stresses on the airframe could have folded or broken the plane in half – a very unusual form of accident. Eventually, the publication of the formal report confirmed that hypothesis:

“The one longeron, already not up to design specifications, cracked apart under the stress of a 7G turn, the colonel said. This led to the other longerons failing as well, which then caused the cockpit to separate from the rest of the fuselage. The pilot was able to eject, but suffered a broken arm when the canopy snapped off.”

F-4EJ “Kai(zen)”
(click to view full)

Nor is this problem confined to the USA – or even to the here and now.

The Chinese government’s Xinhua agency reports that Japan has also grounded its F-15 fleet. Japan’s F-15Js were built locally under license, on a more recent production schedule, but their oldest planes do date back to 1980. This is a precautionary measure until more is known.

Since Japan’s F-16-derived F-2 fighters are also grounded in the wake of a recent crash at Nagoya, this leaves 1960s era F-4EJ ‘Kai’ Phantom IIs as Japan’s interceptor and fighter patrol fleet for the time being.

Israel confirmed to Flight International that it had also grounded its 70 F-15A-D air superiority aircraft, which are undergoing multi-role conversions, and its F-15I Strike Eagles. The Strike Eagles were later removed from the USA’s concern list, but its F-15 A-D fleet is an important component of Israeli air defenses alongside its larger F-16 fleet.

Gen. John D.W. Corley, the commander of US Air Combat Command, was not encouraged by the results of the report, and of the in-depth fleet inspections that led to 40% of the Eagle fleet remaining on the ground over 3 months after the investigation:

“The difficulty is that issues have been found with F-15s built between 1978 and 1985, across A through D models at several bases, so no one source of the problem can be isolated… This isn’t just about one pilot in one aircraft with one bad part… I have a fleet that is 100 percent fatigued, and 40 percent of that has bad parts. The long-term future of the F-15 is in question… We don’t have a full and healthy fleet, so we’ve gotten behind on training missions, instructor certifications, classes and exercises…

We’re going over each and every aircraft to make a determination. We will take some F-15s out of the inventory. It just doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money if it won’t be worth it for some aircraft.”

Updates F-15E, P-51, F-22A
(click to view full)

May 2/16: USAF’s fleet of more than 500 F-15s are to get a wheel and brake upgrade after successful flight testing. Once completed, F-15C/D/E fighters will be capable of undertaking 1,400 landings before having to swap out their brakes. The USAF stands to save over $194 million in F-15 maintenance costs once all of the aircraft are fitted with the upgrade, and this will be the first brake testing to be carried out on the jet since the 1980s.

May 26/09: Aviation Week reports that the USAF is looking into the possibility of a Service Life Extension Program for its F-15A-D fleet, designed to increase their service lives from 8,000 flight hours to 12,000.

The move is driven, in part, by the impending collapse of Air National Guard wings that can be used in domestic air sovereignty patrols, as older fighters retire and are not replaced. The USAF is accelerating the retirement of 250 F-16 and F-15 fighters in FY 2010, and current plans calls for 2 ANG air sovereignty mission units to get F-22s, 4 to get receive upgraded F-15A-Ds, and the remaining 12 are yet to be determined.

March 22/08: Maj. Stephen Stilwell, a pilot for Southwest Airlines whose Missouri Air National Guard F-15C’s mid-air crackup began the fleet groundings, has filed suit in U.S. District Court against claiming Boeing Corp. His injuries left him with a 10-inch metal plate in the injured arm and shoulder, and he reports that he has suffered from chronic pain since the accident.

Stilwell’s suit, filed by attorney Morry S. Cole, says that Boeing knew or should have know that the F-15 as manufactured allowed and permitted for catastrophic flight break-up, and adds that Boeing failed to notify the Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard of “the likelihood of excess stress concentrations, fatigue cracking, structural failure and in-flight aircraft break up as a result of the structural deficiencies.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

February 2008: The largest effects of the F-15 fleet’s grounding may yet play out on the procurement front. If many of the USAF’s F-15s, which were supposed to serve until 2025 or so, must be retired, how should they be replaced? Read “Aging F-15s: Ripples Hitting the F-22, F-35 Programs.”

Jan 21/08: This week’s edition of the “Today’s Air Force” show highlights how the Air Force carried on its mission while more than 700 of its F-15 Eagles were grounded. See “The Eagle flies once again!” on the Pentagon Channel, American Forces Radio and Television Service stations around the world, and video podcast [30 minutes].

Jan 14/08: Officials begin flight operations again as 39 of the 18th Wing F-15C/Ds at Kadena Air Base, Japan are cleared to fly again after remaining on the ground for more than 2 months as a result of a fleet-wide stand-down. See USAF story.

Jan 10/08: According to the Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board report released on this day. Their conclusion? The plane was simply too old:

“…a technical analysis of the recovered F-15C wreckage determined that the longeron didn’t meet blueprint specifications. This defect led to a series of fatigue cracks in the right upper longeron. These cracks expanded under life cycle stress, causing the longeron to fail, which initiated a catastrophic failure of the remaining support structures and led to the aircraft breaking apart in flight… the pilot’s actions during the mishap sequence were focused, precise and appropriate. The pilot’s actions did not contribute to the mishap, said Colonel Wignall. In addition, a thorough review of local maintenance procedures revealed no problems or adverse trends which could have contributed to the accident.”

Col. William Wignall, the head of the accident investigation added that:

“We’ve had great involvement from Boeing during the investigation. In fact, they’re the ones who determined the longeron was the problem. This was then confirmed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.”

See the USAF’s “F-15 Eagle accident report released,” and the accompanying video dramatization, as well as “Air Force leaders discuss F-15 accident, future.”

Jan 9/08: Air Combat Command officials clear 60% of the F-15A-D fleet for flying status, and recommends a limited return to flight for those planes that have cleared all inspections. The decision follows detailed information briefed on Jan 4/08 to Air Combat Command from the Air Force’s F-15 systems program manager, senior engineers from Boeing and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center; as well as a briefing received on Jan 9/08 from the Accident Investigation Board president.

The USAF report describes inspections as “more than 90% complete,” with remaining inspections focusing primarily on the forward longerons. Thus far, 9 other F-15s have been found with longeron fatigue-cracks, and almost 40% of inspected aircraft have at least 1 longeron that is thinner than blueprint specifications. ACC believes each affected F-15 will have to be analyzed to determine if there is sufficient strength in the non-specification longeron, and this analysis will take place at the Warner-Robbins Air Logistics Center over the next 4 weeks. A number of F-15s are scheduled to be retired in 2009, and calculating the cost of fixes and airframe life of fixed aircraft could have a substantial bearing on the size of the USAF’s future F-15 fleet.

Meanwhile, the 2-month grounding, which has been the longest of any USAF jet fighter, is a gift that keeps on giving. Fully 75% of US Air Force and Air National Guard F-15A-D pilots have lost their currency status for solo flight, and another week would have made it 100%. Instructor pilots have retained their currency and will begin flying F-15B/Ds with the other pilots, so the pilots can land the plane and regain their status. This will be followed by further pilot training, which is required to regain operational proficiency status. USAF report | Flight International.

F-15C CAP(Combat Air Patrol)
(click to view full)

Dec 27/07: The Associated Press details some of the ripple effects created by the F-15 A-D grounding. With the F-15s in Massachusetts out of commission, the Vermont Air National Guard (ANG) is covering the whole Northeast. The Oregon ANG’s fighters are grounded, so the California Air National Guard is standing watch for the entire West Coast plus slices of Arizona and Nevada. To meet that need, the Fresno, CA based 144th Fighter Wing has had to borrow F-16s from bases in Indiana and Arizona and trim back training.

The Minnesota ANG is manning sites in Hawaii, while the Illinois ANG covers Louisiana. In Alaska, the new F-22 Raptors are stepping in – and so are Canadian CF-18s, which have intercepted several Russian bombers near Alaska in recent weeks.

Dec 10/07: The F-15 A-Ds remain grounded. A USAF update informs us that throughout the Air Force, maintainers have found cracks in the upper longerons of 8 F-15s so far: 4 from Air National Guard 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, OR; 2 from USAF 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan; 1 from 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall AFB, FL; and 1 from ANG 131st Fighter Wing, St. Louis, MO.

Inspections are underway using previous methods, until the Warner Robins ALC develops new ones for the fleet. After the area’s paint is stripped and bare metal is exposed, Airmen apply chemicals that reveal cracks under a black light. “Other inspections in hard-to-see areas are done with a boar scope [sic… maybe they mean “borescope”?] – a tool that uses a tiny camera and fits in tight areas.” Inspection time per aircraft is 12.5 to over 20 hours, and the 2-seat B and D models are more time consuming because the rear seat must be removed to access the upper longerons. USAF story.

UPDATE from USAF: “Yes, other readers pointed that out as well (although yours was the funniest). The story was corrected…”

Dec 3/07: It’s now official. Gen. John D.W. Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command orders the stand-down of all ACC F-15 A-Ds until further notice, and recommends the same for all other branches of the USAF. The stand-down does not affect the F-15E Strike Eagle and its variants abroad.

Technical experts with the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA are developing a specific inspection technique for the suspect area, based on the recent findings. However, unlike previous inspections, the inspected aircraft will not be returned to flight until the F-15 A-D model findings and data have been analyzed, required inspections have been accomplished, and the necessary repair or mitigation actions have been completed. To date, longeron cracks have been discovered in an additional 4 aircraft. USAF release.

F-15E: Mission executed.
(click to view full)

Nov 28/07: The accident investigation board (AIB) report leads to the recommended re-grounding of the USAF F-15 A-D fleet, and almost certainly those of other countries as well. The new AIB findings have drawn attention to the F-15’s upper longerons near the canopy of the aircraft, which appear to have cracked and failed. Longerons connect the aircraft’s metal ‘skin’ to the frame, and run along the length and side of the aircraft. In addition to the AIB’s conclusions, manufacturer simulations have indicated that a catastrophic failure could result from such cracks, which were also discovered along the same longeron area during 2 recent inspections of F-15C aircraft.

The commander of Air Combat Command has recommended the stand-down of all F-15 A-D model aircraft across the US military, and ordered a renewed fleet-wide inspection of all ACC F-15 A-D model aircraft using a very specific inspection technique for the suspect area. The multi-role 2-seat F-15E Strike Eagles, which were manufactured later and had several design changes made, remain exempt from these cautions and exceptions. USAF article.

Nov 21/07: All USAF’s F-15s are being returned to flight status, despite acknowledgment that the service is accepting a degree of risk in doing so. Gen. John D.W. Corley, commander, Air Combat Command:

“The cause of the mishap remains under investigation… At the same time, structural engineers have conducted in-depth technical reviews of data from multiple sources… First, we focused on the F-15Es. They are… structurally different than the A-D models. Problems identified during years of A-D model usage were designed “out” of the E-model… Next, we concentrated on the remainder of the grounded fleet. The AIB(Accident Investigation Board) is now focused on the area just aft of the cockpit and slightly forward of the inlets. Warner Robins ALC mandated a thorough inspection and repair of all structural components in this area. I have directed each F-15 aircraft be inspected and cleared before returning to operational status. Today, ACC issued (a flight crew information file) and Warner Robins ALC issued an Operational Supplemental Tech Order to further direct and guide your pre-flight and post-flight actions.”

There are 666 F-15s in the Air Force inventory. As of this day, 219 of the 224 E-models and 294 of the 442 A-D models in the USAF’s inventory have been inspected and re-cleared for flight.

Nov 19/07: Shortly after becoming the first deployed F-15E unit in the Air Force to return to full operational capability following the Air Force’s fleet-wide grounding of the aircraft, the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron at Bagram AFB, Afghanistan, began the move from 5-7 day phase inspections every 200 flight hours, to a phase inspection every 400 flight hours. This change isn’t slated for implementation until 2008, but it’s being implemented early at Bagram AFB to keep more F-15Es in the air and meet mission demands.

The USAF says that its engineers at the Warner-Robins Air Force Base Air Logistics Center, GA looked carefully at all the data after years of F-15E analysis and testing, before approving the change. USAF release.

Nov 15/07: A USAF release says that an order issued by Air Combat Command’s Commander Gen. John Corley on Nov 11/07 mandates a 13-hour Time-Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) on location for each of the USAF’s F-15E Strike Eagles, to inspect hydraulic system lines, the fuselage structure, and structure-related panels. Aircraft that pass this inspection may return to flight status, and similar procedures are likely to be underway for Israel’s F-15Is. ACC Combat Aircraft Division chief Col. Frederick Jones said that this was possible because:

“We were able to determine, based on initial reports from an engineering analysis, that the F-15E is not susceptible to the same potential cause of the Missouri mishap.”

The TCTO inspection is designed to confirm the engineering analysis, and aircraft deployed the CENTCOM has apparently completed inspections and returned to flying status. This still leaves 2/3 of the USAF’s F-15 fleet grounded, however, as the F-15A-D models remain under suspicion. The F-15Es are about 15 years old on average, but the F-15A-D models were introduced earlier. Maj. Gen. David Gillett, ACC director of Logistics said that:

“What we’ve got here is an example in the C model of what happens when you have an airplane that’s about 25 years old… What you find is that it becomes more and more expensive to modify [the F-15 airframe] over time… Our costs have gone up 87 percent in the last five years and continue to rise rapidly. Even when you invest in an old airframe – you still have an old airframe.”

Additional Readings & Sources

Categories: News

Sun Setting on Era of the Nighthawk | USAF Awards $82.7M to SpaceX to Launch GPS III in 2018 | UAE Donating APCs to LNA

Thu, 04/28/2016 - 23:50

  • Legislation being considered by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) could see the last of the USAF’s F-117A Nighthawk fleet sent to the scrap yard. Retired since 2007, a fleet of the pioneering stealth aircraft have been kept in special climate controlled storage hangers in the event they were ever needed again. Now, Congress is considering removing those mothballed aircraft and having them scrapped and gutted for hard-to-find parts.

  • With its fourth test aircraft up and running, Boeing has reported a $243 million pre-tax charge for cost overruns on the USAF’s KC-46A Pegasus tanker program. It is believed that the company has incurred out of pocket expenses for the tanker totalling around $1.5 billion since being awarded the the $4.4 billion fixed-priced KC-X development contract in 2011. In total, $6.4 billion has been spent on the tanker, and Boeing is anxious for more funds to be released under the low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract expected later this year.

  • The USAF awarded an $82.7 million contract to Space Explorations Tech. (SpaceX) to launch a GPS III satellite in May 2018. The move represents a shift away from the decade-long monopoly held by giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin on military space launches. Work to be carried out under the contract includes production of a Falcon 9 rocket, spacecraft integration, launch operations, and space flight certification.

Middle East North Africa

  • UAE has seemingly donated a number of Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and military pick-up trucks to the UN backed Libyan government based in the city of Torbuk. The amount of vehicles sent by the Gulf emirate is unknown, but a picture posted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) shows dozens of what appear to be new Panthera T-6 light APCs and Toyota Landcruiser pick-up trucks. Together with Egypt and Jordan, the UAE has allegedly defied the UN arms embargo on Libya to become one of the most consistent supporters of the LNA since 2012.


  • Airbus has reported further delays to the development of the A400M with the latest issue involving the engine gearbox of the military transport plane. In a statement following the the first-quarter financial results by chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm, he warned of “serious challenges for production and customer deliveries” of the A400M this year. Negotiations on a new delivery schedule are being held through OCCAR, the European procurement agency.

  • Polish company WB Electronics has announced that it has sold a number of its Warmate micro combat unmanned air vehicles to two undisclosed export customers. The system operates as a scaled-down expendable loitering munition, aimed at detecting and countering targets including light tanks and armored vehicles. The Warmate can be operated as an autonomous system transported by the army or special forces, and can also be installed on board military vehicles and controlled through the vehicle’s electronics.

Asia Pacific

  • Defense experts in Seoul have reported that North Korea carried out two test-firings of their intermediate range missiles on Thursday with both failing. The seemingly hurried tests involved a Musudan missile with a range of more than 3,000 km, followed later by a similar intermediate range missile, both of which crashed soon after take-off. North Korean missile testing in the face of the UN ban have been escalating as of late in the run up to the ruling Workers’ Party congress to be held on May 6.

  • Efforts by India to increase their domestic weaponry and equipment output has hit a stumbling block as domestic and private companies are divided over a new not-yet-implemented Ministry of Defense procurement policy. When brought into force, the policy would identify a select few private sector defense companies to be named Strategic Partners (SP), who could then be nominated to big ticket defense projects. Opposition to the policy mainly comes from over 6,000 small and medium companies who fear that the use of SPs would leave very little for them to be involved in.

Today’s Video

  • B-52s bombing Islamic State targets for the first time on April 17:

Categories: News

$11B Canadian Export to SA Under Fire | UK Selects CPB UAV as Reaper Replacement | Australia Picks France’s DCNS for $38.7B Future Sub Program

Wed, 04/27/2016 - 23:47

  • The forth and final test aircraft of Boeing’s KC-46A tanker program has made its maiden flight. While not kitted out for aerial refueling, the 767-2C aircraft will be used to conduct environmental control system testing for the program. The arrival of the latest tanker comes as Boeing scrambles to complete a “milestone C” review by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). A favorable review will unleash additional funds needed for the program, including a seven tanker production order, which the manufacturer had already begun producing out of its own pocket.

  • Northrop Grumman has been awarded an $83.4 million modification contract by the US Army to provide logistics support for the Hunter Unmanned Aircraft System. Work will continue until October 30, 2016. Based on the Hunter UAV by Israel’s IAI, the RQ-5 Hunter has been used by the US Army as a short wave system, and has been operated extensively on missions in Afghanistan. While retirement of the Hunter was scheduled for 2013, the Army has issued a number of logistic and support contracts to Northrop since then, giving the RQ-5 a license to keep hunting for the time being.

  • Efforts to prevent Canada’s $11 billion deal to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia have gone one step further after the filing of a legal challenge in the Federal Court of Canada by former MP and law professor Daniel Turp. According to Turp, the sale violates Canadian law, which prevents the export of military goods to a nation that abuses human rights or is engaged in an active conflict. However, the case may be over before it begins, as Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly issued export permits for the bulk of the shipments earlier this month, and the deal has received its blessing from Canada’s media darling, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Saudi Arabia, accused of committing war crimes during its ongoing campaign in Yemen with western made weaponry, has purchased 1,400 LAVs from General Dynamics Land Systems with a variety of weapon systems, ranging from 25mm cannons to 90mm guns over the last 20 years.

Middle East North Africa

  • Israel’s eagerness to customize its orders of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has already seen its first app created for the next generation jet. Utilizing the open-architecture software design found in the Lockheed Martin designed fighter, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed its own command, control, communications, and computing (C4) system which will be equipped on the aircraft in December. The software is an upgrade of an existing C4 system the Israeli air force flies on its F-15 and F-16 fighters.


  • After some guessing and speculation, the UK’s Protector unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform will be the Certifiable Predator B (CPB) UAV. The MoD had announced its plans to go ahead with its 10-strong MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 fleet replacement back in October 2015, but only now has its successor been revealed. The $606 million purchase from manufacturer General Atomic Aeronautical Systems will be facilitated through the usual government to government Foreign Military Sales with the US. Compared to the MQ-9, the CPB has 40% more endurance and four extra external store stations.

Asia Pacific

  • 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.

  • Delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran is ahead of schedule after deliveries began earlier this month. The $900 million contract was initially signed back in 2007, but suspended when UN Security Council sanctions blocked the deal in 2010. A thawing in relations between the US and Iran over the latter’s dropping of its nuclear program has allowed Tehran to pursue additional military hardware, much to the chagrin of the US’s Gulf allies. Potential future arms contracts between Russia and Iran may involve weaponry that is not on the UN ban list, including air defense systems, small arms, and electronic warfare systems.

  • France’s DCNS has been announced as the winner of the $38.7 billion Australian Future Submarine contract. The hotly contested tender for the 12 new subs also saw offers from Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems and the Government of Japan to carry out the build. The new design will be based on DCNS’s Shortfin Barracuda A1 submarine design, a conventionally-powered derivative of the nuclear-powered Suffren-class submarine now under construction for the French Navy. US made combat systems integrator and weapons systems will be installed by either Lockheed Martin or Raytheon in contracts expected to be announced shortly.

Today’s Video

  • Live fire testing of a Russian Iskander-M Tactical Missile Launcher Cruise Missile:

Categories: News

MQ-9 Reaper: Unfettered for Export

Wed, 04/27/2016 - 23:35
Reaper, ready…
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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?
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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
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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
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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
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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 – 2016

Afghan Pre-Flight
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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
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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
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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

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