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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 3 min 28 sec ago

MDA Shrugs and Lowers Goal to 39 BMD Ships | New Russian Hardware Seen Over Syria | Canadians Cut Steel on New Arctic Patrol Ships

8 hours 21 min ago

  • The Missile Defense Agency is lessening its ambitions for the number of ships that will be equipped with ballistic missile defense to 39 from 48. Between the Navy buying fewer, more expensive ships and opting not to staff ships in drydock with BMD-qualified crews, the number 39 seemed more realistic, if further away from the commanders’ request of 70.

  • The Navy’s fourth MUOS satellite appears to have happily landed in its initial orbit after riding on an Atlas V.

  • Irving Shipbuilding in Nova Scotia started in on the MNCS Harry DeWolf, the ship that will give its name to the new class [Canadian French] of offshore patrol ships geared to the Arctic environment. The ship is scheduled to sail in 2018 and to eventually be joined by 20 others.

  • Raytheon will get $33 million to make more AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar devices. With options, the contract could be worth as much as $98 million.


  • China sent warships for the first time to the Bering Sea just as President Obama is visiting Alaska. The Pentagon properly pointed out that it’s a free seaway, although the symbolism of the precedent’s timing wasn’t lost on many.

Middle East

  • Pictures reportedly shot over Syria show at least four Russian aviation assets not previously seen in the conflict. If the pictures turn out to be real, it would suggest Russian direct involvement (which they denying at the moment) or an arms transfer to Syria, which would be less likely. If a deal has been made between Syria and Russia, it would appear to involve Flankers, Fulcrums, Fullbacks and Pchela-1T drones.

  • ISIL got its hands on some US Rifles.

Today’s Video

  • The launch leading to the Navy’s happy report that its fourth MOUS satellite is sending signals back.

Categories: News

Fly and Listen: The AN/AQS-22 ALFS Sonar System

10 hours 49 min ago
MH-60R & ALFS,
(click to view full)

The AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low-Frequency Sonar (ALFS) will equip the US Nay’s new MH-60R multi-mission helicopters, serving as their primary anti-submarine sensor. The new FLASH sonar operates using lower frequencies and higher-power waveforms than existing dipping sonars, improving long-range detection. The AQS-22 dipping sonar claims 4x the area coverage of current systems, and includes both active or passive sonar modes to help track, localize, and classify submarines. A winching system with up to 2,500 feet of cable raises and lowers the sonar.

The ALFS system complements the MH-60R’s radar, and works in concert with other equipment including active or passive sonobuoys, signal processing improvements that are especially helpful in shallow water. This Spotlight article highlights ALFS-related contracts from 2002 to the present.

Contracts & Key Events click for video

ALFS is a cooperative venture between Raytheon Corp. and Thales Underwater Systems, which supplies a modified version of its FLASH wide-band sonar. Thales’ Folding Light Acoustic System for Helicopters (FLASH) helicopter-borne dipping sonar is widely popular, and has been chosen by the USA (MH-60R), France (NH90 NFH), Norway (NH90 NFH), Sweden (NH90 NFH), UAE (Naval Cougar), and UK (EH101 MERLIN); it is also currently proposed for the German Navy’s NH90.

Unless otherwise noted, all contracts are issued by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, to prime contractor Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems’ Naval Integration Center in Portsmouth, RI. Note that work will be performed in Brest, France generally indicates work done by Raytheon’s major sub-contractor, Thales. The partnership produces an average of 20 AN/AQS-22 systems per year.

FY 2015

FLASH sonar
(click to view full)

Sept 3/15: Raytheon will get $33 million to make more AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar devices. With options, the contract could be worth as much as $98 million.

FY 2014

Sept 26/14: Thales Defense & Security, Inc. in Clarksburg, MD, receives a $7.7 million firm-fixed-price delivery order to cover repairs of 6 ALFS components. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy budgets.

Work will be performed in Brest, France (62%); Clarksburg, MD (26%); and Johnstown, PA (12%), and work is expected to be complete by Jan 31/16. One company was solicited for this non-competitive requirement, with 1 offer received by the NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support Contracting Department in Philadelphia, PA (N0038313G003F, DO 7007).

Dec 18/13: H-60 Program Manager Capt. James Glass discusses programs to upgrade the fleet with new weapons and systems. They’re pleased with ALFS’ performance, which he describes as 9x more effective, but they’re working to engineer ALFS for more reliability. Sources,, “Navy Arms MH-60S Helicopter with Gatling Gun”.

Dec 16/13: Australia. Raytheon IDS in Portsmouth, RI receives a maximum $42.6 million sole source, firm-fixed-price contract from the Royal Australian Navy for “the manufacture and delivery” of AN/AQS-22 ALFS dipping sonar systems. Australia has ordered 25 systems already (q.v. Dec 22/11), which is more than enough for installation in each helicopter. Spares? Upgrades? Additional reserve units? Raytheon’s Dec 20/13 release is uninformative. If the 2 orders are combined, they total $123.4 million.

Work will be performed in Rhode Island, with a February 2017 performance completion date. The US Defense Logistics Agency Aviation in Philadelphia, PA manages this contract, unlike the 2011 contract which was managed by US NAVAIR (SPRPA1-09-G-001Y-5027).

Nov 4/13: Support. Thales Communication Inc. in Clarksburg, MD receives an $8.8 million firm-fixed-price delivery order to cover repairs for 6 ALFS items. Based on the geographic spread, a significant portion of the repair work will involve the FLASH sonar modules, as one would reasonably expect.

$6.6 million in FY 2014 working capital funds are committed immediately, and will expire by Sept 30/14. Work will be performed at Clarksburg, MD (28%); Brest, France (54%); and Johnstown, PA (18%), and is expected to be complete Nov 1/15. This contract was not competitively procured in accordance with 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1) by NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support’s Contracting Department in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-13-G-003F, #7002).

FY 2011 – 2013

FRP-10 & 11. Australia. MH-60R & ALFS
(click to view full)

Sept 26/13: Thales Communications, Inc. in Clarksburg, MD receives a $15.1 million firm-fixed-price contract to help establish depot level support for the AN/AQS-22 ALFS. They’ll provide depot level specialized test equipment and the relevant technical data in support of the MH-60R/ ALFS combination. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Clarksburg, MD (50%) and Jacksonville, FL (50%) and is expected to be complete in May 2015. The contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.SC 2304(c). US NAVAIR in Lakehurst, NJ manages the contract (N68335-13-C-0427).

Sept 17/13: A maximum $45.2 million unfinalized contract for ALFS systems. Work will be performed in Rhode Island, with a November 2017 completion date, using FY 2013 through FY 2017 Navy working capital funds. The Defense Logistics Agency Aviation in Philadelphia, PA manages this contract (SPRPA1-09-G-001Y, #5026).

Dec 20/12: FRP-10 & 11. A $158.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for 48 MH-60R Full Rate Production ALFS systems: 24 for Production Lot 10 and another 24 for Lot 11. It also includes associated program management support.

Work will be performed in Brest, France (59%); Portsmouth, RI (37%), and Johnstown, PA (4%), and is expected to be completed in April 2017. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C 2304c1. All contract funds are committed on award, but $39.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13 (N00019-13-C-0012). Raytheon.

May 31/12: Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, RI received a $12.2 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for specialized test equipment and “golden units” necessary to perform depot level repairs to identified ALFS components. The Navy wants to reduce turnaround time, and improve fleet support.

Work will be performed in Brest, France (82%); Portsmouth, RI (12%); and Arlington, VA (6%), and is expected to be complete in July 2014. $7.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12.

Dec 22/11: Australia. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, RI receives an $80.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy 25 AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) dipping systems for the Royal Australian Navy’s 24 new MH-60R helicopters.

Work will be performed in Neuilly-sur-Seine Cedex, France (68%), as well as Portsmouth, RI (32%); work is expected to be complete in October 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the sale on behalf of its Australian client (N00019-11-C-0077).


Dec 12/11: Upgrades. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, RI receives a $10.4 million firm-fixed-price delivery order to integrate an improved ALFS sonar Digital Transducer Assembly into MH-60R helicopters, as Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) 6515-E-022, Part II.

Work will include engineering, highly accelerated life test, and integrated logistics services. Work will be performed in Brest, France (64%), and Portsmouth, RI (36%), and is expected to be complete in October 2012 (N00019-08-G-0013).

Sept 27/11: FRP-9. An $81.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for 24 MH-60R ALFS systems, and all associated program management support, as Full Rate Production Lot 9 (FY 2011).

Work will be performed in Brest, France (72%); Portsmouth, RI (20%); and Johnstown, PA (8%). Work is expected to be complete in September 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0077).

Aug 11/11: An unfinalized $6.8 million contract action to provide ALFS consumable spares, with $3.4 million committed immediately. It is expected to be complete by Aug 11/13. One company was solicited for this non-competitive requirement, and one offer was received by the US Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (SPRPA1-09-G-001Y).

Oct 12/10: Raytheon’s release cites the $59.7 million March 26/10 contract, but it also cites a second, unannounced $56 million spares contract for fleet-deployed systems.

FY 2008 – 2010

FRP 6 to 8. MH-60R & ALFS, CVN-74
(click to view full)

July 21/10: Testing. Aviation Week Ares reports that future MH-60R helicopters may abandon their current sonobuoy launchers:

“U.S. Navy program manager for H-60, Capt. Dean Peters… said the aircraft’s Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) worked so well during last year’s deployment of the aircraft there “was not much need for the [sonobuoy] launcher.” The potential exists, he says, to “take out the sonobuoy launcher,” and launch fewer buoys using a different type of launch system. The goal is reduce the amount of cabin space taken up by the launcher… ALFS provides so much range that it might be wise to have another helicopter prosecute the mission and “have the sonar remain in the dip.”… We’re evaluating other options to free up space and reduce cost.”

March 26/10: FRP-8. A $59.7 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract for the procurement of 18 full-rate production Lot 8 (FY 2010) AN/AQS-22 ALFS systems, and 2 sonar transmitter/ receiver weapon replaceable assemblies, for the MH-60R program.

Work will be performed in Brest, France (72%); Portsmouth, RI (26%); and Gaithersburg, MD (2%), and is expected to be complete in May 2013 (N00019-09-C-0096).

Sept 22/09: FRP-7. An $81.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for AN/AQS-22 ALFS dipping sonar systems Full Rate Production Lot 7 (FY 2009). Under the contract, Raytheon IDS will manufacture, integrate, test and deliver 23 new ALFS systems as well as provide miscellaneous weapons replaceable assemblies for systems under test and helicopter maintenance trainer assets. To date, Raytheon has delivered 26 ALFS systems, and is currently under contract for 80, plus spares for life-cycle support of deployed systems.

Work will be performed in Brest, France (72%); Portsmouth, RI (26%); and Gaithersburg, MD (2%), and is expected to be complete in November 2012. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-09-C-0096).

See also the subsequent Raytheon release, which talks up a recent exercise involving ALFS-equipped MH-60Rs from the John C. Stennis carrier battlegroup, in the western Pacific ocean. One would have to know more about the level of realism and operational freedom accorded the submarines in that exercise, in order to form an informed judgment.

April 13/09: An $8.6 million firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement to provide intermediate-level support equipment used for a variety of ALFS-related maintenance and testing tasks. Equipment will include reeling machine test benches, reeling machines, and reel and cable assemblies.

Work will be performed in Johnstown, PA (90%) and Portsmouth, RI (10%), and is expected to be complete in January 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $3 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ manages this contract (N68335-07-G-0005).

Dec 4/08: A $17.2 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity long term contract for repair overhaul of various weapons replaceable assemblies used on the Airborne Low Frequency Sonar.

Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI, (10%), and Brest, France (90%, Thales’ work). Work is to be complete by December 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Inventory Control Point (N00383-09-D-009F).

April 29/08: Raytheon Co. in Portsmouth, RI receives a $59.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Fiscal Year 2008 Full Rate Production (Lot 6) buy of 14 ALFS systems for the MH-60R. Work will be performed in Brest, France, (61%); Portsmouth, RI (30%) and Gaithersburg, MD (9%), and is expected to be complete in October 2010. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-08-C-0051).

March 24/08: $8.1 million for delivery order #5004 under a previously awarded basic ordering agreement contract, covering initial and wholesale spares for various weapons replacement assemblies used in ALFS’ development and deployment. Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI, and is expected to be complete by October 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Inventory Control Point (N00383-06-G-011F).

March 24/08: $15.8 million for delivery order #5005 under a previously awarded basic ordering agreement contract, covering initial and wholesale spares for various weapons replacement assemblies used in ALFS’ development and deployment. Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI, and is expected to be complete by October 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Inventory Control Point (N00383-06-G-011F).

March 17/08: Support, FRP-6? Raytheon announces 2 U.S. Navy contracts with a total value of $89 million for the AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar system.

Raytheon will provide whole-life engineering to support AN/AQS-22 systems already in the fleet, and full rate production of AN/AQS-22 has been accelerated since the 2006 initial fielding of the MH-60R helicopter into the U.S. Navy fleet. To date, Raytheon has delivered 14 AN/AQS-22 systems, and is under contract for an additional 28.

FY 2003 – 2007

From LRIP to FRP. MH-60R: ALFS & Hellfires
(click to view full)

Aug 20/07: ALFS Order. A $15.4 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-07-C-0013) for the procurement of 3 AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) systems, an ALFS Sonar Transmitter/Receiver Control Module Technical Refresh effort, as well as an ALFS Automated Test Equipment Procedure Enhancement. ALFS diping sonars are deployed on the US Navy’s new MH-60R multi-mission helicopters.

Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI, and is expected to be complete in May 2009. Contract funds in the amount of $8 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Raytheon release, Nov 14/07.

Feb 12/07: FRP-5. A $50.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for the manufacture, qualification and delivery of 19 Full Rate Production Lot V MH-60R AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) systems and related program support.

Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI (60%) and Brest, France (40%), and is expected to be complete in September 2009 (N00019-07-C-0013).

Jan 23/07: Raytheon Co. Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, RI received a $5.7 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-05-C-0012) to provide program sustaining and integrated logistics services in support of the MH-60R Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) systems.

Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI (60%) and Brest, France (40%), and is expected to be complete in December 2007.

(click to view full)

June 29/06: FRP. A $45 million order for 6 of the AN/AQS-22 ALFS systems. This contract advances the program into full rate production, and is the first accelerated production contract since the initial fielding of the MH-60R helicopter into the U.S. Navy Fleet earlier in 2006. Initial deployment to the fleet scheduled for later in 2006.

Navy Capt. Paul Grosklags, the MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters Program manager was quoted as saying that “System performance during operational testing and subsequent exercises has met or exceeded the requirements.” Raytheon release.

Full Rate Production begins

Feb 9/05: Sub-contractors. Thales Underwater Systems announces a $17 million contract from prime contractor Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) for the production of 10 ALFS dipping sonar subsystems for the U.S. Navy’s MH-60R multi-mission helicopter. Under the contract, Thales Underwater Systems will provide 10 Folding Light Acoustic System for Helicopters (FLASH) active dipping sonar subsystems, including the reeling machine, cable and wet end assemblies for final integration and test.

This award comes after the successful completion of an LRIP contract awarded in November 2002, under which Raytheon and Thales worked together to deliver 4 ALFS systems to the U.S. Navy well ahead of schedule – see Oct 12/02 entry.

Nov 30/04: LRIP-2 & 3. A $29.8 million contract to provide 10 Low Rate Initial Production II and III AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) systems for the U.S. Navy’s MH60R multi-mission helicopter. Under the contract, Raytheon will provide program management, systems engineering, configuration management, and materials procurement for the manufacture, test and integration of the sonar systems, as well as sustaining and integrated logistics support. Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI (67%) and Brest, France (33%), and is expected to be complete in March 2007. Raytheon release.

July 23/03: R&D. Small business qualifier Digital System Resources, Inc. in Fairfax, VA won a not-to-exceed $25 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for a Phase III Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program under Topic N00-008 entitled “Environmentally Insensitive Active Decluttering” and Topic N00-009 entitled “Multistatic Operation.” The primary objective of this Phase III SBIR Program is to provide engineering services and software products to support performance testing of the AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS) production configuration. The contractor will support, maintain, and improve the software tools previously developed and delivered to support testing of the AQS-22 ALFS during laboratory and field tests, implement corrections for deficiencies in the MH-60R acoustics processing, and support planning, definition, conduct, and results analysis of performance testing of the ALFS production configuration.

Work will be performed in Fairfax, VA and is expected to be complete in August 2008. Contract funds in the amount of $134,879 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured using SBIR Program Solicitation under Topics N00-008 and N00-009, and 4 offers were received for each. The Naval Air Systems Command Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ (N68335-03-D-0105).

Oct 11/02: LRIP-1. A $16.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for the low-rate-initial-production of 4 MH-60R airborne low frequency sonar systems and associated engineering, testing and program management services. Work will be performed in Portsmouth, RI (70%), and Brest, France (30%), and is expected to be completed in October 2004. Contract funds in the amount of $9.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (N00019-03-C-6515).

Low-rate production launched

Additional Readings & Sources

Categories: News

BMD in Bunches: The USN’s Multi-Year Destroyer Contract, FY 2013 – 2017

11 hours 42 min ago
DDG 110 & MH-60S
(click to view full)

Technically, the Ticonderoga Class cruisers sit at the pinnacle of the US Navy’s surface combatant fleet. They’re no longer being built, however, and the growing preponderance of Arleigh Burke Class destroyers in missile defense roles is beginning to push them to the fore. A proposed Flight III design with a much-improved radar set will complete that transformation.

The USA’s FY 2013 budget documents include a proposed $16.189 billion Multi-Year Procurement deal for 9 destroyers from FY 2013 – 2017: DDGs 117 – 125, with the award split between General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries. The buy intends to include both existing Flight IIA ship designs, and new Flight IIIs.

The MYP, and Flight III AMDR engagement
click for video

Under the multi-year deal, 1 of 2 FY 2016 ships (DDG 123), and both FY 2017 ships (DDG 124-125), will “incorporate Flight III capability,” but not their core AMDR-S radars themselves, which will be bought as separate items. Each ship takes about 4 years to build. The installation of the radar and other associated systems will be funded as an Engineering Change Proposal (ECP), so it doesn’t affect multi-year pricing. Otherwise, the Navy wouldn’t be able to show enough savings to justify a multi-year buy under US laws.

The Flight III ECP won’t be awarded until the Flight III Milestone Decision Authority approves the DDG 123-125 configuration, which is still in flux beyond the core radar and AEGIS BMD combat system. There will be some changes to electrical power generation, and the weight and balance of the new radar and cooling elements could force structural alternations to the ship and superstructure. The timing of the Flight III configuration approval will affect costs, because refits are always much more expensive than installing new systems and designs during initial ship construction.

The truth is, the ECP approach is less than honest. Instead, a fully honest alternative would have meant buying the ships without the multi-year deal’s projected savings of $1.538 billion, at a time when Navy budgets are very tight. It would probably have cut overall period buys by 2 destroyers, and shifted some money elsewhere. That would have left the Navy without 2 key combatants, as the frigate-sized Littoral Combat Ship that sits below the Arleigh Burkes in USN force structure is more of a support ship than a serious combat vessel. This approach would also have placed 2 fewer BMD-capable ships into the fleet. So the Navy made their submission, and Congress chose to go along.

One area that gets less attention than it should is power generation. DID has covered associated research into Hybrid-Electric Drive modifications, which could substantially improve the DDG 51’s anemic 7.5 – 9.0 MW of generated electrical power, but current plans for Flight III ships involve just 12 MW limits. That may help power a radar like AMDR, but it’s far outclassed by smaller modern platforms like Spain & Australia’s AEGIS frigates (40+ MW), Franch FREMM frigates (32 MW), etc. It’s also well short of the 15-30 MW required to operate advanced weapons like 32MJ railguns in an air defense role, or to comfortably supply 200+ MW lasers.

Contracts and Key Events NGC AHDS
(click to view full)

One thing to notice while reading these is that ship construction contracts don’t include important equipment like guns, radar, combat systems, missile launchers, etc. Those are bought independently as “Government Furnished Equipment,” though ship construction contracts do pay to have that equipment installed in the ships. The multi-year Aegis system contract in this article is just the beginning; indeed, those “ancillary” contracts make up the largest portion of a DDG 51 destroyer’s total cost, which USN budget documents place at an average of about $1.8 billion between FY 2014 – 2018.

Note that separate DID articles already exist for AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense, and for the AMDR radar program that sits at the core of DDG-51 Flight III.

FY 2014-2015

Modern Flight IIAs
(click to view full)

September 3/15: The Missile Defense Agency is lessening its ambitions for the number of ships that will be equipped with ballistic missile defense to 39 from 48. Between the Navy buying fewer, more expensive ships and opting not to staff ships in drydock with BMD-qualified crews, the number 39 seemed more realistic, if further away from the commanders’ request of 70.

April 14/15: The Navy needs more missile defense assets, according to the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert. The number of BMD ships required in 2016 to meet operational demand is expected to double, to 77.

June 8/14: Industrial. The Navy, HII, GD-BIW and Congress are all entangled in a ship allocation controversy, as a result of a 2002 MoU that shifted work on 3 LPD-17 ships to Northrop Grumman (now HII), in return for corresponding destroyer awards to GD Bath Iron Works.

Everything was fine until Congress began placing funding in the proposed FY 2015 budget budget for a 12th LPD 28 ship. If that goes ahead, does HII have to take away one of its destroyers under this multi-year contract, and give it to GD-BIW? Bath Iron Works says absolutely, yes, and we consider that legally binding. HII says that GD-BIW winning construction of DDG 116 as an extra ship, via competitive bid, satisfies the terms as their 4th extra destroyer. The Navy says “we didn’t want LPD 28, leave us alone.” The lawyers say “job security!” Sources: Defense News, “Fallout From 12th LPD: Fine Print in Old Deal Could Cost Yard a Destroyer”.

April 8/14: CRS Report. The latest iteration of “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress” offers a greater focus on the DDG-51 Flight III destroyers, along with 2 key issues for the design. CRS reports aren’t made public directly, so it took until May for public copies to appear.

One issue is whether AMDR development can be completed, and the 1st radar delivered, in time to support a ship ordered in FY 2016. AMDR-S entered system development 6 months late due to protests, and software development “will require a significant effort.” Because the Flight III is structured as an ECP change within this multi-year contract, the Navy can choose to delay issuing the ECP, shifting the start of Flight III procurement to FY 2017 – or even outside the multi-year contract entirely.

The 2nd big issue is electric power. Even the reduced 14′ AMDR-S envisaged for Flight III will require more power, and the US Navy is becoming more and more convinced that high power-draw weapons like 100-300 kW lasers and electro-magnetic railguns are necessary to maintain affordable defense and offense. Unfortunately, power generation seems likely to remain a problem for the Flight IIIs. This has already played a role in forcing initial use of the lower-draw AN/APQ-9B+ as Flight III’s initial X-band radar, and creates big questions around the ships’ growth margin. It also creates a risk that Flight III ships would become obsolete early in their service lives, leaving the US Navy with either a fleet that’s either ill-equipped and expensive or vastly reduced in size:

“The written testimony of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) before the House Armed Services Committee on February 16, 2012, and before the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on March 1, 2012, stated that the Flight III design would use an all-electric propulsion system…. The written testimony of the CNO before the Defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 7, 2012, and before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 15, 2012, omitted the reference to the Flight III DDG-51 being equipped with an all-electric propulsion system. In response to a question from CRS about the change in the testimony, the Navy informed CRS on March 15, 2012, that the statement in the earlier testimony was an error, and that the Flight III DDG-51 will likely not be equipped with an all-electric propulsion system.

….the Flight III DDG-51 will not feature a fully restored growth margin, will not be equipped with an integrated electric drive system or other technologies that could provide ample electrical power for supporting future electrically powered weapons, and will not incorporate features for substantially reducing ship crew size or for otherwise reducing ship O&S costs substantially below that of Flight IIA DDG- 51s.”

March 14/14: FY14. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC announces its awards for the year.

HII in Pascagoula, MS receives $681.4 million: $602 million exercises an option for 1 DDG 51 Flight IIA destroyer that will become DDG 119, then there’s $79.4 million in advance procurement funding for the FY 2016-2017 ships. HII’s work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (56.3%); Cincinnati, OH (6.9%); Walpole, MA (4.5%); York, PA (1.9%); Camden, NJ (1.4%); Erie, PA (1.3%); Charlottesville, VA (1%), and other locations less than 1% (26.7%), and all construction under the contract is expected to be completed by July 2023 (N00024-13-C-2307).

Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives $722 million: a $642.6 million contract modification exercises an options for 1 DDG 51 Flight IIA Class destroyer that will become DDG 120, then there’s $79.4 million in advance procurement funding for the FY 2016-2017 ships. BIW’s work will be performed in Bath, ME (58.1%); Cincinnati, OH (6.5%); Walpole, MA (4.5%); South Portland, ME (2%); York, PA (1.9%); Charlottesville, VA (1.8%); Coatesville, PA (1.7%); Erie, PA (1%), and other locations less than 1% (22.5%). $100 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/14, and all construction under the contract is expected to be completed by July 2023 (N00024-13-C-2305).

Readers may recall that the multi-year deal (q.v. June 3/13) did not contemplate a contract for BIW this year. In January 2014, however, the Senate passed a spending bill that included $100 million to allow BIW to begin planning for construction of their optional 5th DDG-51 destroyer. The Navy exercised that option early in this contract set, bringing GD-BIW to 5-ship parity with HII. HII expects to begin fabrication for DDG 117 Paul Ignatius in Q3 2014, as the first ship of the multi-year contract. No word yet on DDG 118 at BIW, but it shouldn’t be far behind. Sources: Pentagon DefenseLINK | US NAVSEA, “Fiscal 2014 DDG 51 Destroyer Contract Awards Announced” | HII, “Ingalls Shipbuilding Awarded $602 Million Destroyer Contract” | GD-BIW, “Navy Awards General Dynamics Bath Iron Works $643 Million Construction Contract for DDG 51 Class Destroyer” | Bangor Daily News, “Bath Iron Works gets nod for fifth destroyer”.


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

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

Aegis MYP contract

Oct 18/13: CBO Report. The Congressional Budget Office publishes “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2014 Shipbuilding Plan“. With respect to AMDR:

“Adding the AMDR [to the DDG-51 design] so that it could operate effectively would require increasing the amount of electrical power and cooling available on a Flight III. With those changes and associated increases in the ship’s displacement, a DDG-51 Flight III destroyer would cost about $300 million, or about 20 percent, more than a new Flight IIA destroyer, CBO estimates. Thus, the average cost per ship [for Flight III DDG-51s] would be $1.9 billion…. Most of the decrease for the Flight III can be attributed to updated information on the cost of incorporating the AMDR into the Flight III configuration. The cost of the AMDR itself, according to the Navy, has declined steadily through the development program, and the Department of Defense’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office concurs in the reduced estimate…. Considerable uncertainty remains in the DDG-51 Flight III program, however.”

Expected Flight III costs

FY 2012 – 2013

click for video

June 3/13: MYP. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC issues its fixed-price incentive fee shipbuilder contracts for the multi-year buy. DDGs 117 – 122 will all have Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense capability pre-installed, while DDGs 123 – 125 will be Flight III ships with the new Air & Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) dual-band radar. An option could also finance the Flight III destroyer DDG 126.

Huntington Ingalls Inc. in Pascagoula, MS wins $3.33 billion for 5 ships: 1 each year from FY 2013-2017. Options for engineering change proposals, design budgeting requirements and post-delivery availabilities could bring the cumulative value to $3.386 billion.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (56.3%), Cincinnati, OH (6.9%), Walpole, MA (4.5%), York, PA (1.9%), Camden, NJ (1.4%), Erie, PA (1.3%), Charlottesville, VA (1%), and other locations below 1% (total 26.7%), and is expected to be complete by July 2023 (N00024-13-C-2307).

Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME wins $2.843 billion for 4 ships: 1 in FY 2013, and 1 per year from 2015-2017. This contract includes options for construction of a 10th DDG 51 class ship under the contract, plus engineering change proposals, design budgeting requirements and post-delivery availabilities. If all options are exercised, it could bring their total to $3.53 billion.

Work will be performed in Bath/Brunswick, Maine (58.9%), Cincinnati, OH (6.4%), Walpole, MA (4.4%), South Portland, ME (2%), York, PA (1.9%), Charlottesville, VA (1.8%), Coatesville, PA (1.7%), Erie, PA (1%), and other locations below 1% (total 21.9%), and is expected to be completed by July 2023 (N00024-13-C-2305).

Even with all options awarded to both shipbuilders, the maximum award is $6.916 billion, out of the MYP program’s total $16.189 billion. Or about 42.7% of the budget. That’s within the normal range for a warship.

Finally, note that in order to avoid blowing up the budget and making the ships ineligible for a multi-year buy under US laws, the Navy offers the transparent dodge that all ships are Flight IIA ships, while all Flight III R&D and changes will be “Engineering Change Proposals” (ECP) outside of the budget. Their current claim is that the overall design impact will be similar to those introduced in the FY 1998 – 2001 MYP, which replaced Lockheed Martin’s SPY-1D radar with the SPY-1D(V) variant from the 3rd ship (DDG 91) onward. That seems to be more than a bit of a stretch, but Congress agreed to go along with it. Time will tell. See also: US Navy | GD BIW [PDF] | HII.

Destroyer MYP contract

Feb 13/12: FY 2013 budget & MYP terms. The USA’s FY 2013 budget documents include a proposed $16.189 billion Multi-Year Procurement deal for 9 destroyers from FY 2013 – 2017: DDGs 117 – 125, with the award split between General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries. Before destroyer orders ended in FY 2005, 24 Flight IIA destroyers had been bought under 2 multi-year contracts, so this is a return to standard practice after the FY 2010 – 2013 restart.

Claimed savings are $1.538 billion, or about 8.7%. Somewhat surprisingly, supply chain bulk buys are expected to save just $152 million, while more efficient pre-production planning and a stable long-term workload that allow better processes and training are expected to save $530 million (planning & design) and $810 million (manufacturing).

The Flight III ECP contracts will not be awarded until the Flight III Milestone Decision Authority approves the configuration. The base Flight IIA dimensions and hull form won’t change, but the topside deckhouse that mounts the radars etc. will change to accommodate the AMDR-S radar (and, according to subsequent revelations, the SPQ-9B X-band radar topside), plus unspecified upgraded power and cooling systems. Key components like the LM2500 propulsion gas turbines, Mk.41 Vertical Launch System, Mk.45 127mm naval gun, Mk.15 Phalanx 20mm CIWS, AN/SQQ-89 Undersea Warfare System, and Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System will also remain unchanged, but that list leaves key items like the combat system open for discussion.

Additional Readings

News & Views

Categories: News

Norway’s CV90 Armored Modernization

11 hours 50 min ago
Norway’s CV90-30
IFV, Afghanistan
(click to view full)

In June 2012, Norway began a NOK 10 billion/ $1.68 billion program to upgrade and build CV90 tracked armored vehicles, and field unmanned air and ground vehicles, as part of the Army’s largest military modernization program since the Cold War. When the initial contract is done, Norway’s 103-vehicle CV90-30 fleet, which has served since the mid-1990s will become 144 vehicles serving with the Telemark and Armoured battalions: 74 modernized Infantry Fighting Vehicles, plus 21 reconnaissance, 16 multi-role (mortar carrier or cargo), 15 command & control, 16 engineering vehicles, and 2 driver training models. Delivery is expected between 2015 and 2017.

The upgraded vehicles will incorporate lessons learned from Norwegian operations in Afghanistan, and new internal and external technologies from Norway’s Kongsberg.

Contracts & Key Events CV90 Reece
(click to view full)

September 3/15: BAE has just delivered to the Norwegian Army the first batch of 12 vehicles under a 2012 contract. The contract calls for 144 vehicles in total; 41 new CV90s and the modernized CV90s of the Norwegian Army fleet.

November 2014: MultiC. BAE announces that it has delivered on time the 1st Multicarrier vehicle, the 3rd of 5 CV90 variants ordered by Norway. Missions for these multipurpose vehicles include mortar carrier and logistics.

September 2014: STING. Norway received the 1st CV90 engineering variant, dubbed STING.

Feb. 25/14: 1st delivery. BAE delivered 2 pre-production upgraded CV9030 infantry vehicles to Norway.

June 21/12: Contracts. Norway signs the contract with BAE Systems, who will up-armor the vehicles for improved protection against weapons and mine blasts, add rubber band tracks, create special variants like the modern CV90 Reece vehicle with its new sensor systems, and improve the vehicles’ surveillance and communication capabilities. BAE describes the contract as GBP 500 million/ $750 million, but Norway describes it as a NOK 6 billion/ $1 billion contract, including a “substantial” financial buffer. The Norwegian firm Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace leads a team of sub-contractors that includes Thales Norway and Vinghøg. The Kongsberg team is responsible for the “Integrated Combat Solution.” It includes integration of weapon systems, sensors, and communication and security systems that extend to dismounted troops.

The program’s exact structure isn’t clear from the releases, but talking to the participants revealed that about 100 new CV90 chassis will be built. Some existing chassis will be retired, while the existing turrets will be removed for upgrades. Once that’s done, they’ll be fitted back into to new or refurbished hulls, except for variants like the multi-role that don’t use turrets. This process will push total CV90 deliveries over 1,200, including vehicles for Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.

The Kongsberg Protector remote weapon station will be fitted to all Norwegian variants, allowing the crew to conduct surveillance and fire all of the IFV’s weapons from inside the vehicle. The RWS systems will be delivered through the Protector “Nordic” contract, which kicked off in December 2011 and will also equip vehicles like Sweden & Norway’s new Archer mobile artillery systems. Beyond these “government-furnished equipment” orders for Protector RWS kits, the Army modernization program’s other NOK 4 billion will also buy communication systems, companion UAVs & ground robots for the Army, spare parts, and training. Norwegian MoD | BAE Systems | Kongsberg.

June 14/12: Norway’s Storting (parliament) approves a significant increase in defense spending, with the F-35 fighter 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.

(click to view full)

April 4/12: Norwegian Ministry of Defence:

“The Norwegian government today presented a bill (Prop. 93 S (2011-2012)) concerning the new and modified CV90 fighting vehicles for the Norwegian Army… two of Norway’s primary units, the Telemark Battalion and the Armoured Battalion will receive new and upgraded vehicles to cover shortfalls in their current inventories of medium armoured vehicles. The bill calls for modifications to existing CV90 vehicles to accommodate new roles and systems, including added mine protection, improved C4ISR integration, rubber band tracks and Remote Weapon Stations for self defence. In addition, Norway will procure additional CV90 hulls from BAE Systems which will bring the total Norwegian inventory to 146 CV90s in different configurations.

In addition, the project will include procurement of unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, remote ground sensors and C4ISR systems.

Total value of the overall project is estimated at just under NOK 10 billion (USD 1.74 billion). Deliveries are expected to commence already in 2013, and to be completed by 2018.”

Feb 10/11: Afghan experiences. Work on Canada’s CCV competition has spinoff effects in Norway, and Afghanistan. Soucy International in Quebec makes armored vehicle tracks whose pads are rubber, instead of standard all-steel tracks. BAE Systems has already worked with Soucy to outfit M113 and BvS10 APCs, and both types have been deployed to Afghanistan. Now Norway has built on work BAE had done to prepare its Canadian CCV bid, and extended those track replacement efforts from its deployed M113s to the much heavier (28t) CV90.

BAE Systems qualified the system in full-scale trials, and determined that track life should be comparable to steel tracks. Trials by the Norwegian Army in late 2010 were so positive that the 2 vehicles were sent to Afghanistan before the planned schedule was completed, and the tracks have received positive reviews in theater. No wonder – they reduce vehicle weight by more than 1,000 kg, cut noise by 10dB (50%), and reduce vibration levels by 65%, which helps prolong the life of interior electronics and optics. Once they’re back in Norway, they’ll also do better on ice and snow.

Heavier up-armored CV90 trials at 35 tonnes will take place through 2011, along with mine blast trials to assess the effect of blast and fragments on the tracks. BAE Systems.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Atlas V MUOS-4 Launch – For Your Viewing Pleasure

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 11:34

Initially delayed due to TS Erika, the launch of MUOS-4 went off this morning without a hitch.

Categories: News

Rep Probes Huge B-3 Cost Estimate Hike | Army to Test Chlorine Gas Spread | Russian Firm Developing Drone Tech to Render Stealth Features Useless

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 03:46

  • The Air Force’s contrite admission that the B-3 bomber program would cost roughly double what it originally said it would isn’t going down well in Congress. Beyond the obvious financial pain involved with a program that hopes to produce planes for half a billion dollars per copy, at least one representative wants to press to discover why the increased estimate was released when it was – after the brunt of the debate occurred about initial funding and after lengthy discussions about whether or not the Air Force should have to shoulder the cost of the program through its own budget.

  • Northrop Grumman won the Army’s Common Infrared Countermeasure (CIRCM) contract, a $35 million affair extending through low rate production.

  • The Navy brig in Charleston is getting the Pentagon eyeball for a potential site for unreleasable Guantanamo prisoners. Other sites have been examined as well, all earning quite negative local reactions. Congressional action will be required before any actual move can take place.

  • The Army will conduct a large-scale release of chlorine gas to help determine its spread rate in urban areas, in hopes of developing protocols to prevent unnecessary injury in the event of an attack. The Dugway Proving Ground will host the test, a desert location a couple hours from Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • Following an increasing trickle of orders from US special forces, Canada’s equivalent is also considering looking at the Polaris M-RZR-4.


  • Russia is making noise about a developing capacity to field drones capable of detecting stealth fighters like the F-35.

  • UK’s MoD ordered more Giraffe Agile Multi Beam radar systems (and a few upgrades for existing ones) from Saab.

  • Turkey’s T-LORAMIDS odyssey may well be extended due to the military bureaucracy’s uncertainty about what will happen with parliamentary elections in early November. The system, as envisioned, is too expensive for Turkey to be able to provide comprehensive air defense across the vast country. The NATO-member has also come under great pressure to reconsider its initial leanings toward a Chinese bidder, leaving very little about the program certain.


  • The Japanese defense budget will again break the record, but increase only 2.2 percent to ¥5.09 trillion. Programs funded include the V-22 Osprey, with this year’s expenditures covering the purchase of a dozen.

  • China’s much-anticipated military parade on September 3 is eagerly awaited by defense nerds who hope to catch glimpses of new hardware previously unseen. For its part, China has reportedly been sending warning letters to members of the local press that, among other things, their reports “must maintain positivity.”

Today’s Video

  • The Chinese option for T-LORAMIDS…

Categories: News

DoD HR Overhaul Getting the Squinty Eye | DARPA Saw Avengers; Ready for Airborne Carriers? | A-10/F-35 Competition Set for 2018 (If AF Hasn’t Already Ditched the ‘Hog)

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 02:59

  • The on-again, off-again Air Force comparison test between the F-35 and the A-10 for close air support is back on again, according to
the Washington Times. The F-35 doesn’t carry – and isn’t anticipated to carry – the sorts of weapons that have proven useful in the typical CAS mission. It has but a few seconds of canon ammunition and its weapons bay was once compared to a purse after the F-35C variant further infringed on internal storage. A test between the platforms would likely hinge on the scenario imagined by the Air Force brass, so a cynic might expect a profusion of bogeys best handled by stealth fighters.

  • The AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II got the full production go-ahead.

  • A former Army Times reporter is releasing a book on JSOC, which appears to have made USSOCOM grumpy, although author Sean Naylor says he is revealing nothing operationally useful to enemies and hasn’t been given any classified documents.

  • A fairly radical reform of the Pentagon’s hiring, pay, promotion and evaluation processes is sitting with the SecDef now, just reaching the stage where various administrations, services and legislative bodies will have the opportunity to take pot shots at the plan. Put simply, Ash Carter has been concerned that the military is decent at producing its radio maintenance staff, but that the existing hiring system is anathema to someone who would be likely to be a good coder. The plans measures to address that problem haven’t yet been spelled out publicly.

  • DARPA is exploring the concept of using airborne carriers to launch and recover swarms of drones to accomplish traditional missions normally assigned to human-jockeyed fighters and bombers.

  • KBR is taking full advantage of the indemnification clause the U.S. Government signed for much of its work in Iraq, leading to the recent judgement indicating the U.S. is on the hook for about $30 million in legal expenses for various nether dealings in the theater. The Project on Government Oversight points out that there are many more contracts from this period where the U.S. took on general liabilities.

  • The Pentagon is investing $75 million in a new research center of sorts dedicated to wearable tech. Lots of large firms, universities, bureaucracies and states and local governments have been invited to share pieces of this pie in the hopes that the center – to be located somewhere south of San Francisco – can create useful technologies worth fielding.


  • Iraq cancelled 16 contracts [Italian] worth $3.5 billion for what it termed were likely corrupt deals. $1.5 billion is going to go toward new contracts – including a new one for An-178s – and the remainder will revert to the treasury.

Middle East

  • The Ka-52 helicopter export contract mentioned back in June at the Paris Air Show appears to involve Egypt’s acquisition of 50 of the attack helicopters.

Today’s Video

  • The older version of the 9x Sidewinder…

Categories: News

Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack Helicopters

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 00:59
Alligator, feet wet
(click to view full)

When Russia committed to a multi-year buy of Mi-28 attack helicopters in 2006, it appeared that the Mil design bureau’s Mi-28 (NATO code: Havoc) had eclipsed Kamov’s more radical Ka-50 (NATO code: Hokum) as Russia’s future attack helicopter. A critical loss in Turkey’s attack helicopter competition, and conflicting promises concerning the Kamov machine’s future in Russia, left the platform’s very future in doubt. Russia’s 2005 defense budget, for instance, was supposed to include 12 Ka-50 helicopters – until that funding was cut.

Fortunately for the VVS, growing Russian natural resource revenues, and the accompanying growth in Russian defense budgets, are creating new options. So, too, is a major investment in modernizing its manufacturers, which has put the Ka-52 into production.

The Ka-52 Alligator Ka-50 “Black Shark”
(click to view larger)

By 2009, just a handful of coaxial, single-seat Ka-50’s had been delivered to the Army Aviation Training and Conversion Unit at Torzhok. Some even saw action in Chechnya, where their high cruising speed (300 km/h), protection, and ability to carry either armaments or fuel tanks gained them respect as scout/ attack/ command helicopters.

Many countries would consider that an odd combination, but it works quite well with Russian doctrines that emphasize durable combat punch for scouts, and central on-site direction of all combat aviation.

The Ka-52 “Alligator” is a 2-seat version of the Ka-50, using a side by side layout common to transport helicopters instead of the front-and-rear layout common in attack helicopters. This changes the helicopter’s aerodynamics somewhat, reducing maximum speed from 310 km/h to 300 km/h (192 – 186 mph), and increasing fuel consumption slightly. On the other hand, this change is expected to make it easier for the helicopter crew to perform battlefield observation and coordination roles. The extra crewman in the Ka-52 forced some reductions in fuel, armoring, and gun ammunition; it carries 240 rounds for its fuselage-mounted 2A42 30mm cannon, instead of 470 in the Ka-50.

Even so, the Alligator’s main rival isn’t the Ka-50, it’s the more conventional Mi-28N attack helicopter that Russia is also buying. Based on published materials, photos, and several Russian sources, we’ve compiled a side-by-side comparison that also includes Boeing’s current AH-64D Apache Longbow as a reference point, and normalizes measurements to the same units:

(click to view full)

Note that the Ka-52’s operational sensor fit is somewhat unclear, and a range of options have been tried that are not always present in photos. A nose turret can hold a laser range-finder and infrared sights, a small ball under the fuselage can hold optical sights, a FLIR system can supposedly be integrated with Zenit’s Shkval electro-optical sighting system in a ball mounted on top of the fuselage aft of the canopy, and mast-mounted sights have been reported. What is certain is that an effective modern scout helicopter requires a combination of zoom and infrared/FLIR cameras, and lasers capable of rangefinding or target designation. The most advanced helicopters add millimeter-wave radars, creating additional options in uncooperative weather, improving their awareness of what’s going on in the airspace around them, and providing targeting options for some missiles. A 2013 deal with French optronics leader Sagem (q.v. Aug 28/13 entry, below) may begin to add more clarity on this front.

The Ka-52K is a naval variant that will operate from Russia’s Vladivostok Class amphibious/air assault LHD ships. It adds folding rotors and folding stub wings, but not the folding tail found in some naval helicopters. A maritime radar in the nose has been mentioned, possibly a “mirror” radar that combines 2 bands for surface scanning and long-range search. So has the ability to carry Kh-35 medium-range anti-ship missiles, or even supersonic Kh-31s. Improved corrosion resistance is also a standard feature for naval helicopter variants, and the question is how far the Russians will go.

A Turkish-specific, NATO-compatible variant of the Ka-52 called the Erdogan was developed in cooperation with Israel’s IAI to compete in Turkey’s attack helicopter competition, but lost to Italy’s AW129T Mongoose.

Contracts and Key Events 2015

Export Contract Paris Air Show

September 1/15: The Ka-52 helicopter export contract mentioned back in June at the Paris Air Show appears to involve Egypt’s acquisition of 50 of the attack helicopters.

2013 – 2014

Production and delivery; French optronics coming. Ka-52 “Alligator”
(click to view full)

Aug 5/14: +32. IHS Jane’s reports that Russia has ordered its 32 Ka-52K helicopters for use with its Vladivostok Class LHDs. The order isn’t a surprise (q.v. Oct 9/13, June 24/14), it was just a question of when the contract would be placed:

“Speaking to IHS Jane’s, a Russian defence industry source stated that the order included 32 Ka-52K helicopters. These will be built by Progress Aresenyev Aviation Company ‘Nikolai Sazykin’, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters.”

Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Russia orders Ka-52K helicopters for Mistral-class LHDs”.

32 Ka-52Ks

Aug 4-5/14: Rostec subsidiary Russian Helicopters showcases its new military helicopter models at the Defence Ministry’s Innovation Day exhibition in the suburbs of Moscow. Displayed helicopters include the Ka-52K naval scout/attack helicopter, Mi-8AMTSh-VA armed transport helicopter optimized for polar regions, the upgraded Mi-26T2 super heavy-lift helicopter, and the Mi-38 successor to existing Mi-8/Mi-17 models. Sources: Russian Helicopters JSC, “Russian Helicopters presents new military helicopters at the Defence Ministry’s Innovation Day exhibition”.

June 24/14: During an inspection tour at Progress aircraft manufacturing company in Arsenyevsk, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov offers a production update:

“The plant is in a stable position and has a long-term contract on the delivery of 146 Ka-52 Alligator helicopters for the period up to 2020. Further plans include [the sale of] 32 ship-based helicopters…. Navy is expecting Ka-52 helicopters, which will be placed on board the Mistral-type ships currently under construction…. We paid great attention to import replacement issues, including as far as components received from Ukraine as concerned. These issues are not critical. They can be resolved quite painlessly.”

That last bit is especially important after Russia cut off its Ukranian supply chain by invading and annexing Crimea, then militarily supporting guerrilla movements that are trying to annex Eastern Ukraine as well. Sources: Voice of Russia, “Russian Defense Ministry plans to buy 32 Ka-52K helicopters for Mistral ships.

Dec 25/13: 2013 production. During a visit to Russian Helicopters’ Progress Arsenyev Aviation Company production plant, Lt. Gen. Victor Bondarev thanks them for producing 14 Ka-52s on schedule in 2013, as part of overall Russian deliveries of over 100 helicopters. Sources: Interfax/AVN, “Russian Air Force took delivery of over 100 new rotorcraft in 2013″.

Oct 9/13: Ka-52K. RIA Novosti quotes “a Deputy Defense Minister” as saying that Russia plans to order 32 Ka-52Ks, conditional on successful final helicopter testing in 2014.

That could become a tight schedule, since the Russian Navy is expected to take delivery of its 1st LHD in November 2015, and the Ka-52 will need some flying and testing time before it’s ready for service. Even if Russian Helicopters’ Progress Arsenyev division delivers 6 helicopters just a year after the order, the Vladivostok wouldn’t have anything like an operational Ka-52K wing for many months after delivery at least. It would appear that the new ship design and its key helicopters will be conducting their break-in period together, which has a way of making everything more difficult. Sources: RIA Novosti, “Russian Defense Ministry to Order 32 Shipborne Helicopters in 2014 – Official”.

Aug 28/13: Partnership. At MAKS 2013, Kamov and France’s Sagem Defense announce a partnership to add Sagem’s optronics and [the Franco-Russian] LINS 100 inertial navigation systems to the Ka-52, “which will address a requirement expressed by several countries… [the partners] plan to start integration of a new optronic system in early 2014.” The release specifically mentions leveraging Sagem’s experience as the supplier of the roof-mounted Strix surveillance and targeting turret on Airbus Helicopter’s EC655 Tiger HAP/ARH/HAD scout and attack helicopters.

So much for the direct information. What this release says indirectly, is that the Ka-52’s surveillance and targeting systems have been a hindrance to international sales, and need improvement. Otherwise, the outstanding requirement(s) would be addressed already. Sources: Sagem re: Strix | Sagem DS Aug 28/13 release.

Feb 22/13: RIA Novosti reports that the Southern Military District has received its 1st batch of Ka-52s, and is scheduled to start operations in March. [in Russian].

2011 – 2012

Full-rate production contract; Navalized Ka-52K confirmed; Crash. Ka-52 “Alligator”
(click to view full)

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

Navy Recognition says that the Ka-52K will also include a modified version of the MiG-35 fighter’s Zhuk-A AESA radar in the nose section, and will be able to carry Kh-31 Krypton or Kh-35 Kayak anti-ship missiles. Those missiles weigh in at over 600 kg/ 1,300 pounds each, however, which could make them challenging weapons for the helicopter to carry. It’s within the limits, but testing will tell. The level of Russian interest of these missiles was regarded as unconfirmed by the people we talked to.

Subsequent research indicates that the AESA radar was a contractor offer from Phazotron, not a military requirement. It would be useful, but it would also be expensive. The importance of Russia’s Vladivostok Class ships may justify that, but word is that Phazotron has a cheaper back-up upgrade offer: a more conventional dual-band phased array radar, with frequencies optimized for closer ground scans and long-range surface (naval) scans. Sources: Navy Recognition, “Special version of Ka-52K Helicopter with advanced radar and antiship missiles for Russian Mistral” | Voice of Russia, Russia to build helicopters for Mistral carriers” | DID interviews and discussions.

June 2012: Take-off magazine covers the Ka-52, and offers some production and deployment information:

“In May 2011, the delivery started to Chernigovka air base in the Russian Far East, where the Russian Air Force had activated its first full-ledged 12-ship Ka-52 air squadron by the end of the year. In 2012, Chernigovka air base took delivery at least five more Ka-52s. In addition, five new Ka-52s built by Progress by late 2011 were fielded with CTCC in Torzhok early in 2012.

Overall, over 20 production-standard Ka-52s were manufactured in the town of Arsenyev during 2012. 16 of them were fielded earlier this year with a second RusAF airbase, the one in Korenovsk, Krasnodar Territory. Their final assembly and check flights prior to the delivery to the air base had been handled by Rostvertol JSC, to which premises they had been brought in semi-assembled from Aresenyev-based manufacturing plant by RusAF airlifters.”

March 14/12: A Lenta report implies that the September 2011 contract reports may have referred to a multi-year contract aimed specifically at Ka-52 helicopters. From the Rus Navy translation:

“In 2011, Russian defense ministry tied a number of long-term aircraft procurement contracts; under one of them, the ministry purchased 140 attack helicopters Ka-52 Alligator, director of Oboronprom corporation Andrei Reus told Kommersant. Reus did not specify details of the contract only saying that “conditions were acceptable”.”

March 13/12: A Ka-52 crash, during a training exercise in the Tver region NW of Moscow, kills both pilots. It seems that the type’s unique ejection seats either didn’t save them, or weren’t triggered. While this is the 1st Ka-52 crash, there had been 2 crashes of the related Ka-50. Pravda | RTT News.


Sept 7/11: RIA Novosti offers a video tour of the Ka-52 factory, and says:

“In the next ten years, Russia’s Air Force will adopt 140 Ka-52 helicopters, a model better known as the Alligator. Dmitry Petrov, general director of the holding company Russian Helicopters, commented on a major contract that the aircraft manufacturer signed with the Ministry of Defense. Petrov spoke during a guided tour of Progress, the helicopter factory at Arsenyev, Primorye Territory, where the Alligators are assembled.”

While the report implies that the recent contract is entirely focused on Ka-52s, it should be taken with some caution. Russian Helicopters produces a wide variety of types. It is possible that the attribution could be a reporter error, or even a translation issue.

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

Ka-52 contract?

Feb 9/11: Itar-Tass reports that Russia will use 2 of the pending Mistral amphibious landing ships in the Pacific Fleet, including protecting the South Kurile Islands, which are disputed territory with Japan. As for the ships’ complement and design, Helicopters of Russia Holding Company Deputy Director-General Andrei Shibitov says that:

“Ship versions of the Ka-27K, Ka-29K and Ka-52K helicopters will be used. Their number on each ship will be determined by the Defence Ministry.”

Another Russian official states that using those coaxial rotor helicopters will require a slight elevation of the ship’s deck, to ensure enough clearance height in the hangars.

Jan 2/11: Buy in. Russian Defense Ministry official spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik says that they plan to start buying Ka-52 Alligator helicopters for the VVS (Air Force) in 2011. RIA Novosti.

2008 – 2010

(click to view full)

Dec 7/09: Industrial. Russian Helicopters JSC, which includes the Kamov, Mil, and Kazan design bureaus, announces a combined public and private investment of RUB 6 billion (about $200 million) to modernize manufacturing at the Arsenyev Aviation Company Progress plant, which makes the Ka-52. The “full scale technical overhaul” will take place from 2009-2015, and will improve production of the Ka-50 Black Shark and Ka-52 Alligator scout/attack helicopters, the new Ka-60/62 medium helicopter, and the new Mi-34C2 Peregrine light helicopter.

The first stage will overhaul foundry operations at Progress, beginning with a foundry production competence centre that is expected to open in early 2010. It will be followed by reconstruction and re-equipment of the composite and mechanical engineering sections with advanced control machinery that will reduce required space and personnel, an energy efficiency program, a “machine-working competence centre,” and the “introduction of modern digital and information technologies”. When discussing Phase 2 benefits, the firm points to the September 2008 introduction of the TruLaser 3530 laser cutting machine, which led to a saving of RUB 14.7 million (around $500,000) over 12 months with an 8-fold drop in labor intensity. The total economic impact of introducing new production machinery is expected to be as high as RUB 160 million ($5.3 million) initially, alongside RUB 40 million ($1.3 million) from installing cold solidifying mixture lines and low-pressure casting machines.

More investments may follow. These investments are being made pursuant to a wider Russian federal program titled “The development of the defense industrial complex of the Russian Federation in the years 2011-2020,” and Russian Helicopters COO Andrei Shibitov says that up to 70% of the Russian helicopter industry’s equipment is worn out.

Nov 27/09: During the FS Mistral’s visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, the amphibious assault ship holds a “cross deck” exercise with Russian Navy helicopters. They include landings by a Ka-29 utility helicopter with a French officer on board, as well as landings using a Ka-27 Helix anti submarine warfare helicopter and the first deck landing for the Ka-52 scout/attack helicopter, which also simulates a refueling on the flight deck. French Navy [in French] | DID: “Russia to Order French Mistral LHDs?.”

FS Mistral landings

Dec 26/08: RIA Novosti reports that the Russian government has approved the production of Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters. They will be built at the Arsenyevsk plant, in the country’s Far East. Deliveries of the first 12 Ka-52s to the Russian Air Force will reportedly begin in 2009.


Nov 9/08: Various media reports now quote Russian Air Force chief Colonel-General Alexander Zelin, who says they will place a 2009 order for 12 Ka-52 “Alligator” helicopters, subject to successful completion of mandated testing. Col.-Gen. Zelin stresses that this is not a substitute for the Mi-28s, which are expected to begin arriving in 2009.

Meanwhile, Kamov indicates that they have been given the go-ahead for “full production,” and hope to complete 30 helicopters for Russia by 2012 while pursuing export orders. Avio News | Frontier India | RIA Novosti

Nov 10/08: Moscow News’ “Russian choppers on top” reports that the industry is being restructured, much as Russia has centralized the fixed-wing aircraft industry into the state-owned United Aircraft Corp.:

“But the industry has its specifics, Mikhail Kazachkov from the Helicopter Industry Association told RIA Novosti in an interview. Its bane is the lengthy production time: an idea to finished product takes, on average, 12 years. The authorities have decided to restructure the helicopter industry, to optimize its cash flows and make it more competitive. For that purpose they brought its separate branches under one umbrella, called Helicopters of Russia.”

Additional Readings The Ka-52

Related Items

Categories: News

AIM-9X Block II & Beyond: The New Sidewinder Missiles

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 00:50
AIM-9X test, F-18C
(click for close-up)

Raytheon’s AIM-9X Block II would have made Top Gun a very short movie. It’s the USA’s most advanced short range air-air missile, capable of using its datalink, thrust vectoring maneuverability, and advanced imaging infrared seeker to hit targets behind the launching fighter. Unlike previous AIM-9 models, the AIM-9X can even be used against targets on the ground.

These changes will help keep it competitive against foreign missiles like MBDA UK’s AIM-132 ASRAAM, RAFAEL of Israel’s Python 5, the multinational German-led IRIS-T, and Russia’s R73/ AA-11 Archer. So far, only American fighter types can use AIM-9X missiles, but that hasn’t stopped a slew of export requests and sales, especially in the Middle East.

AIM-9X: The Program AIM-9X Variants AIM-9X sees QF-4
(click to view full)

The AIM-9X is the USA’s newest short-range air-to-air missile, using an advanced array seeker that widens the missile’s “boresight” cone, and allows a TV-like “imaging infrared” picture that’s much harder to fool with decoys. The missile’s maneuvering fins are smaller than previous Sidewinders, lowering aerodynamic drag in flight, but the missile compensates with thrust vectoring in the rocket’s exhaust for added maneuverability. The final piece of the puzzle is lock-on after launch capability (the key Block II improvement), which takes full advantage of the 9X’s improved sighting cone, maneuverability, and low drag. By telling the missile to fly to a designated location and look for a target, kills have even been scored behind the firing aircraft.

On the maintenance end, the AIM-9X avoids the need for argon cooling, and the missiles are field reprogrammable rather than forcing a hardware swap out of the circuit cards.

These new capabilities came with one significant cost: because the AIM-9X is all-digital, aircraft that want to fire it need integration work to make them fully compatible. At present, F-16C/D Vipers, F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet family aircraft, F-15C/D Eagles, and some F-15 Strike Eagle variants can use the AIM-9X. It has been bought for F-15 Strike Eagles flown by Singapore (F-15SG) and South Korea (F-15K), and will be integrated with Saudi Arabia’s forthcoming F-15SA Strike Eagles.

Other American aircraft, and foreign aircraft that can fire Sidewinders, are limited to previous-generation AIM-9Ms for now. Note that this list even includes the F-22A Raptor, until its Increment 3.2B upgrade program is fielded around 2017. The missile is being tested on the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter, but that combination won’t be operational for a few years. Other prospective customers include UAE’s standing request (but no contract, yet) to equip its F-16E/F Block 60 “Desert Falcons” with the AIM-9X.

(click to view full)

AIM-9X Block I. The AIM-9X Block I (missile)/ OFS 8.220 (software load) combination includes limited lock-on-after-launch, full envelope off-boresight capability without a JHMCS helmet mounted display, and improved flare rejection performance against countermeasures. It uses the warhead, fuze, and rocket motor from the previous AIM-9M missile, but adds thrust-vectoring, a new body, a new imaging infrared seeker, a new digital processor, and a new autopilot.

The USA bought 3,097 Block I missiles: 1,745 were USAF, incl. 67 modified from AIM-9Ms in FY 2001. The US Navy bought 1,352, inc. 63 modified from AIM-9Ms in FY 2001. AIM-9X Block I export customers included Australia, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Block I production was terminated early by the US military, and orders ended in FY 2011. Because it was separated out as its own program and terminated early, we don’t cover it here.

AIM-9X engagements

AIM-9X-2. This variant swaps in a new processor, a new ignition battery for the rocket motor, an electronic ignition safety/arm device, better all weather laser fusing against small targets, and the DSU-41/B Active Optical Target Detector (AOTD) fuze/datalink assembly. None of these things radically change performance by themselves, but OFS 8.3 software upgrades help bring them all together.

AIM-9X Block II. A combination of AIM-9X-2 hardware and OFS 8.3+ software. OFS 8.3 added trajectory management to improve range, makes full use of the datalink with the launching aircraft, and improves lock-on-after-launch and target re-acquisition performance. Those capabilities have been refined further in OFS 9.3.

Overall, the Block II has about 85% parts commonality with the Block I. The 2-way datalink is the most significant single Block II change, as it allows the missile to fly toward targets its seeker can’t yet see, using target position tracking from its fighter. Improved seeker lock-on-after-launch and re-acquisition makes the missile harder to evade, and the new ‘lofting’ fly-out profile boosts the Block II enough to give it some capabilities beyond visual range.

AIM-9X Block III. US NAVAIR is pushing for an AIM-9X Block III, with Initial Operational Capability by 2022. The Block III aims for a 60% range boost from a new rocket motor and better flight programming, and a new insensitive munitions warhead for safer use at sea. That range would start to push the AIM-9X into comparable territory to France’s MICA, a medium-range missile with radar and IR-guided versions. The decision represents the military’s growing recognition that the prospect of enemy stealth planes, and of advanced DRFM radar jammers on advanced fighters, make it a bad idea to rely too heavily on radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAMs.

Block II+ Program and Sales Moroccan F-16C
(click to view full)

AIM-9X Block II production began in June 2011. In 2012 the Pentagon moved to terminate the Block I program entirely, in favor of the Block II. The Block II was slated for a full-rate production decision in April 2014, and Initial Operational Capability was scheduled for September 2014, but technical problems have delayed the full-rate decision until Q2 2015.

The American Block II program is tracking close to December 2011 baseline cost estimates, which placed it at about $3.99 billion (incl. $178.8 million for R&D) to buy 6,000 missiles. It’s still early days, with another $113.2 million in R&D and 5,321 missiles/ $4.167 billion in US procurement funding left to go as of September 2013. The Block II program experienced its big shift in 2012, so tracking its early days through American budgets is somewhat tricky, but American buys since FY 2011 have revolved exclusively around the Block II:


The USA will buy 6,000 total Block II missiles, under current plans. The USAF will buy 3,352, while the US Navy will buy 2,648. Foreign buys are added over and above, and will help drive down prices thanks to volume production. The current Pentagon budget estimate is roughly $600,000 per missile overall, but current orders are running closer to $500,000, and those prices will drop with enough foreign sales.

Foreign customers for AIM-9X-2 and AIM-9X Block II missiles include Belgium (F-16 MLU), Kuwait (F/A-18C/D), Malaysia (F/A-18D), the Netherlands (F-16 MLU), Morocco (F-16C/Ds), Saudi Arabia (F-15s), and Singapore (F-15SG, could add to F-16s).

AIM-9X Block II Export requests are pending from Australia (F/A-18F and F-35A), Israel (F-16s and F-15 variants, F-35A), Oman (F-16C/D), South Korea (1 no platform, 1 part of F-35A request), and the UAE (F-16E/F).

Contracts & Key Events USAF on AIM-9X

Note that this article only covers export requests, contracts, etc. that involve or include the AIM-9X Block II and AIM-9X-2, since the latter will presumably receive the software upgrade. Unless otherwise noted, Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ is the contractor, and US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, MD manages the contracts.

Finally, some quick terminology may be helpful:

  • All-Up Rounds include both the live missile and its storage container.
  • CATM (captive air training missiles) have no warhead or rocket motor: a dummy back end and live front end.
  • NATMs are fully live missiles with a telemetry package in place of the warhead, and are used for test shots.
  • “Propulsion Steering Sections” include the rocket motor, internal thrust vectoring vanes, and control actuation system for the tail fins.
  • A Guidance Section is the missile seeker and all electronics.
  • An “Active Optical Target Detector” is the mechanism that tells the missile when it’s within lethal range of its target for detonation.

FY 2015

F-22 integration work. F-22 shows AIM-9M
(click to view full)

September 1/15: The AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II got the full production go-ahead.

May 13/15: The Air Force has test fired two AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles from a F-22 Raptor fighter. This test-firing is a step towards the F-22’s Increment 3.2B upgrade program, with Lockheed Martin awarded a contract last October to modify 220 F-22 Configurable Rail Launchers to accommodate the AIM-9X. Full operational fielding of the AIM-9X by the F-22 is not expected until 2017.

Oct 24/14: F-22. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a maximum $33.4 million unfinalized contract for AIM-9X Configurable Rail Launcher (CRL) modification to the F-22. They’ll provide upgrade to 220 AIM-9 CRLs with AIM-9X capability. $5.8 million is committed immediately, using FY 2014 USAF aircraft budgets.

The ability to fire AIM-9X missiles is part of the F-22A’s Increment 3.2B upgrade program, and limited testing has begin (q.v. July 30/12) but a fielded capability isn’t expected until at least 2017. The lack of a corresponding helmet-mounted display is a concern for Raptor pilots (q.v. Jan 31/13).

Work will be performed at Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be completed by Feb 28/17. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Hill AFB, UT manages the contract (FA8611-08-C-2897, PO 0559).

FY 2014

Orders from USA, Belgium, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Singapore, Turkey; Export requests from Australia, Israel, South Korea; USN has suspended deliveries. AIM-9X on USAF F-15
(click to view full)

Sept 29/14: Support. Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ receives a $13.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to a previously awarded for Lot 14 AIM-9X Block I/II spare parts in support of the USAF (8.4M / 61.62%); US Navy ($3.7M / 27.3%); and the governments of Saudi Arabia ($404,762 / 2.96%); Oman ($311,377 / 2.28%); Korea ($305,031 / 2.23%); Kuwait ($111,282 / 0.82%); Morocco ($95,772 / 0.70%); Malaysia ($93,405 / 0.68%); Turkey ($71,263 / 0.52%); Finland ($41,228 / 0.30%); Switzerland ($32,612 / 0.24%); Poland ($29,241 / 0.21%); and Denmark ($18,562 / 0.14%) All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete in February 2016. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD; manages the contract (N00019-11-C-0001).

July 14/14: Israel. The US DSCA announces Israel’s export request for up to 600 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II All-Up-Round Missiles, 50 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles, and 4 Dummy Air Training Missiles; plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, and support. The estimated cost is up to $544 million, and Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ is the main contractor.

Israel operates a number of different F-16 and F-15 fighter variants, and will soon begin taking delivery of F-35s. Israel would become a new AIM-9X customer, but all the DSCA will say is that “The Israeli Air Force is modernizing its fighter aircraft to better support its own air defense needs.” They could achieve similar performance using their own RAFAEL Python-4 and Python-5 missiles, but AIM-9Xs can be bought with foreign aid dollars, and the F-35A’s initial configuration will only accept AIM-9Xs as its (externally-mounted) short-range air-to-air missile. Sources: DSCA #14-31, “Israel – AIM-9X Sidewinder Missiles”.

DSCA request: Israel (600)

June 25/14: Lot 14. Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ receives a $223.1 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract for 485 AIM-9X Block II All Up Round missiles, and more. The USAF and USN are using FY 2014 missile budgets:

USAF ($74.1 million, 33.24%)

  • 158 AIM-9X Block II AUR
  • 55 CATM-9X Block II
  • 12 Special Air Training Missiles
  • 60 All Up Round storage containers

US Navy ($74.1 million, 33.2%)

  • 161 AIM-9X Block II AUR
  • 47 CATM-9X Block II
  • 13 Special Air Training Missiles
  • 59 All Up Round storage containers

Kuwait ($390,283, 0.18%, q.v. Feb 27/12 request)

  • 1 AIM-9X Block II AUR

Morocco ($522,442, 0.23%, q.v. July 8/12 request)

  • 2 CATM-9X Block II
  • 1 All Up Round storage container
  • 1 Spare Advanced Optical Target Detector

Netherlands ($16.5 million, 7.38%, q.v. Oct 17/12 request)

  • 28 AIM-9X Block II AUR
  • 2 Spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 20 CATM-9X Block II
  • 2 Spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 2 Special Air Training Missiles
  • 18 All Up Round storage containers

Singapore ($10.6 million, 4.74%, q.v. April 4/13 request)

  • 20 AIM-9X Block II AUR
  • 2 Spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 8 CATM-9X Block II
  • 5 Spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 8 All Up Round storage containers
  • 1 Spare Advanced Optical Target Detector

Turkey (46.9 million, 21.03%, q.v. Dec 4/12 request)

  • 117 AIM-9X Block II AUR
  • 34 All Up Round storage containers
  • 6 Spare Tactical Guidance Units

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (43.74%); Andover, MA (10.08%); Valencia, CA (6.10%); Midland, Ontario, Canada (5.54%); Rocket Center, West VA (5.49%); Vancouver, WA (5.07%); Goleta, CA (2.86%); Cheshire, CT (2.05%); Heilbronn, DE, Germany (1.88%); Simsbury, CT (1.61%); Cincinnati, OH (1.22%); San Jose, CA (1.48%); Anniston, AL (1.31%); Maniago, Italy (1.21%); Chatsworth, CA (1.11%); San Diego, CA (1.04%); Montgomery, AL (0.60%); Orlando, FL (0.55%); Valencia, CA (0.53%); Newbury Park, CA (0.50%); El Segundo, CA (0.50%); Claremont, CA (0.43%); Joplin, MO (0.39%); Lombard, IL (0.28%); El Cajon, CA (0.15%); and various locations inside and outside the continental United States (3.98 and 0.30%, respectively). Work is expected to be complete in December 2016. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, i.e. no-one else makes these missiles. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages all contracts, either directly or as an FMS agent (N00019-14-C-0053).

June 25/14: Lot 14. Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ receives a $28.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 774 AIM-9X Production Inertial Measurement Units retrofits and upgrades, and an engineering investigation for the U.S. Navy ($2.9 million, 10.2%, FY 2013) and USAF ($3.4 million, 12.1%, FY 2012).

This modification also covers a $21.9 million purchase from Belgium, as part of Production Lot 14. That should get them going (q.v. Sept 26/13 request):

  • 30 AIM-9X Block II AUR
  • 2 Spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 30 CATM-9X Block II
  • 8 Spare CATM-9X Block II Guidance Units
  • 18 All Up Round Containers
  • 1 Spare Advanced Optical Target Detector
  • 1 lot of tooling

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (43.74%); Andover, MA (10.08%); Valencia, CA (6.10%); Midland, Ontario, Canada (5.54%); Rocket Center, West VA (5.49%); Vancouver, WA (5.07%); Goleta, CA (2.86%); Cheshire, CT (2.05%); Heilbronn, DE, Germany (1.88%); Simsbury, CT (1.61%); Cincinnati, OH (1.22%); San Jose, CA (1.48%); Anniston, AL (1.31%); Maniago, Italy (1.21%); Chatsworth, CA (1.11%); San Diego, CA (1.04%); Montgomery, AL (0.60%); Orlando, FL (0.55%); Valencia, CA (0.53%); Newbury Park, CA (0.50%); El Segundo, CA (0.50%); Claremont, CA (0.43%); Joplin, MO (0.39%); Lombard, IL (0.28%); El Cajon, CA (0.15%); and various locations inside and outside the continental United States (3.98 and 0.30%, respectively). Work is expected to be complete in December 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD, is the contracting activity (N00019-11-C-0001).

Lot 14 order: USA, Belgium, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Singapore, Turkey

May 13/14: Australia. The US DSCA announces customer Australia’s official export request for more advanced AIM-9X-2 missiles, beyond their existing AIM-9X Block I stockpile. The estimated cost is up to $534 million, but one of the addenda was equally significant:

“These missiles will be used on the RAAF’s F/A-18 aircraft (and eventually F-35 aircraft) and will maintain the RAAF’s air-to-air capability….”

Australia uses ASRAAMs on its F/A-18AM/BM Hornets, and if they don’t add them to the F-35As, they’ll need to phase out their stock when the Hornets retire in 2022. F-35A Block-2/-3s come integrated with the AIM-9X missile for external carriage. For stealth-maximizing internal carriage, Australia will either have to rely on AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missiles, or pay extra to add the same internal AIM-132 ASRAAM infrared-guided missile capability that Britain is incorporating into its F-35B STOVL aircraft. It’s not an either/or decision, as Australia could integrate ASRAAM and AIM-9X, but this request is another step toward a possible single-SRAAM future for the RAAF. The request includes up to:

  • 350 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder missiles
  • 22 AIM-9X-2 Tactical Guidance Units
  • 95 AIM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs)
  • 19 CATM-9X-2 Guidance Units
  • 35 AIM-9X Special Air Training Missiles (NATMs) for test shots
  • 3 DATM-9X telemetry units
  • Plus containers, test sets and support equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documents, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US Government and contractor support.

The principal contractor will be Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ. If a deal is negotiated, additional US Government or contractor representatives will participate in bi-annual, 1-week program management and technical reviews in Australia. They may also be called on to provide technical and logistics support for 2 years. Sources: DSCA #14-12, “Australia – AIM 9X-2 Sidewinder Missiles”.

DSCA request: Australia (350)

April 7/14: Korea. The US DSCA announces a formal request from South Korea for up to $98 million in AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Missiles and associated equipment. The request includes:

  • 76 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II All-Up-Round Missiles
  • 4 AIM-9X-2 Block II spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 24 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles
  • 8 CATM-9X-2 Block II spare Missile Guidance Units
  • Plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and other US government and contractor support.

South Korea is already an AIM-9X Block I customer. This request doesn’t specify the platform, but the ROKAF’s F-16s haven’t been upgraded yet, which means it’s likely to represent additional AIM-9X orders for their F-15K Strike Eagles. The principal contractor will be Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ, and no additional personnel will be needed in the ROK. US Government or contractor personnel will conduct in-country visits on occasion, per management oversight and support requirements. Sources: DSCA #14-06, “Korea – AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Missiles”.

DSCA: South Korea request

April 7/14: Support. Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ receives a $9.6 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification to provide AIM-9X Sidewinder mission support and sustainment. Customers include the USAF and US Navy, and the governments of Singapore, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Turkey, South Korea, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, and Poland under the Foreign Military Sales Program.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete in April 2015. Funds will be committed as individual delivery orders are issued. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-D-0004).

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. There’s good news and bad news for the AIM-9X:

“The “should-cost” initiative, introduced through DOD’s “Better Buying Power” initiatives, emphasizes the importance of driving cost improvements during contract negotiation and program execution to control costs, improvements that could lead to program efficiencies which increase buying power. For example, the AIM-9X Block II Air-to-Air Missile program realized a procurement cost decrease of approximately $327 million with no change in quantity over the past year and also reported $128 million in “should-cost” savings that are expected in the future.”

“….In July 2013, the Navy suspended operational testing for the AIM-9X Block II due to two issues with missile performance. According to the program office, [target acquisition time] has been resolved with a software fix. However, the root cause for the second issue, related to probability of kill, a key performance requirement, was still under investigation during our review. The program has stopped accepting missiles until the root cause analysis is complete and the program determines what, if any, fixes to those missiles may be needed. The program also expects to delay the full-rate production decision from April 2014 until the second quarter of fiscal year 2015.”

March 4-11/14: Budgets. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The US Navy is decreasing the planned rate of production over the next few years, but that’s offset somewhat by an increase in USAF orders. The figures have been added to the article’s charts, along with Foreign Military Sale figures from those same documents. Note that export sales figures can be expected to rise as we come closer to any specific year, and new countries decide to place orders. Sources: USN, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF] | USAF, Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Overview.

FY 2013

Lot 13 order for USA, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland; Export requests from Turkey & the Netherlands; Multinational support contract; GAO report. AIM-9X Sidewinder
(click to view full)

Sept 26/13: Belgium. The US DSCA announces Belgium’s formal request to buy 40 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II All-Up-Round Missiles, 36 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles, 2 CATM-9X-2 Block II Missile Guidance Units, and 10 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance Units, 4 Dummy Air Training Missiles, plus containers, missile support and test equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and US Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $68 million.

The Belgian Air Component cooperates with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, which operates the same F-16 MLUs and also has an AIM-9X-2 request underway. Even so, a future contract will require some level of additional US government and contractor support. A successful deal is expected to cement the Belgian military’s status as the world’s best-armed pension fund. Sources: US DSCA.

DSCA: Belgium request

Sept 18/13: A $10.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, firm-fixed-price contract for AIM-9X Block II Engineering Analysis, including program protection implementation plans, technical studies, and services. $6.3 million is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ and is expected to be complete in March 2014. Oddly, the Pentagon release divides the award on multiple occasions as being between the USAF ($8.65M / 84%) and the US Army ($1,648,129 / 16%). Unless the Army is working to adapt the missile to the top-tier AFPS upgrade for its Avenger mobile air defense systems, the US Navy would be the logical 2nd service (N00019-12-C-2002).

Aug 12/13: FY 2013. A $200.5 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-firm target contract modification for FY 2013 procurement of 354 AIM-9X Block II All Up Round missiles and Active Optical Target Detectors, 20 spare Tactical Guidance Units, 3 spare Advanced Optical Target Detectors, 3 spare Propulsion Steering Sections, 1 spare Inertial Measuring Unit, 178 Block II Captive Air Training Missiles, 26 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units, 9 Special Air Training Missiles, 147 All Up Round Containers, 19 Guidance Unit Containers, and 1 spare Missile Tube Assembly. All funds are committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0001). Customers include:

USAF ($52.45 million, 26.16%)

  • 92 AIM-9X Block II missiles
  • 4 spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 2 spare Advanced Optical Target Detectors
  • 1 spare Propulsion Steering Section
  • 58 CATM-9X Block IIs
  • 8 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 39 All Up Round missile containers

USN ($54.7 million, 27.27%)

  • 92 AIM-9X Block II missiles
  • 4 spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 1 spare Advanced Optical Target Detector
  • 1 spare Propulsion Steering Section
  • 58 CATM-9X Block IIs
  • 4 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 9 Special Air Training Missiles
  • 43 All Up Round missile containers

Kuwait ($40.2 million, 20.04%)

  • 80 AIM-9X Block II missiles
  • 2 spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 20 CATM-9X Block IIs
  • 2 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 28 All Up Round missile containers
  • 6 Guidance Containers

Malaysia ($11.5 million, 5.71%)

  • 20 AIM-9X Block II missiles
  • 2 spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 8 CATM-9X Block IIs
  • 4 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 8 All Up Round missile containers
  • 6 Guidance Containers

Morocco ($12 million, 5.97%)

  • 20 AIM-9X Block II missiles
  • 2 spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 1 spare Propulsion Steering Section
  • 1 spare Missile Tube Assembly
  • 10 CATM-9X Block IIs
  • 4 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 9 All Up Round missile containers

Oman ($28.8 million, 14.37%)

  • 50 AIM-9X Block II missiles
  • 6 spare Tactical Guidance Units
  • 24 CATM-9X Block IIs
  • 4 spare Captive Air Training Missile Guidance Units
  • 19 All Up Round missile containers
  • 7 Guidance Containers

Saudi Arabia ($880,023, 0.44%)

  • 2 Special Air Training Missiles
  • 1 All Up Round missile container

Switzerland ($76,400, 0.04%)

  • 2 Special Air Training Missiles
  • 1 spare Inertial Measuring Unit

Work is expected to be complete in August 2015, and will be performed in Tucson, AZ (43.74%); Andover, MA (10.08%); Valencia, CA (6.10%); Rocket Center, WVA (5.49%); Vancouver, WA (5.07%); Goleta, CA (2.86%); Cheshire, CT (2.05%); Simsbury, CT (1.61%); Cincinnati, OH (1.22%); San Jose, CA (1.48%); Anniston, AL (1.31%); Chatsworth, CA (1.11%); San Diego, CA (1.04%); Montgomery, AL (0.60%); Orlando, FL (0.55%); Valencia, CA (0.53%); Newbury Park, CA (0.50%); El Segundo, CA (0.50%); Claremont, CA (0.43%); Joplin, Mo. (0.39%); Lombard, IL (0.28%); El Cajon (0.15%); Midland, Ontario, Canada (5.54%); Heilbronn, Germany (1.88%); Maniago, Italy (1.21%); and other various locations inside and outside the United States (4.28%).

Lot 13 order: USA, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland

Aug 24/12: Upgrades. Military & Aerospace Electronics reports that Raytheon has received a minor sole-source contract to begin developing AIM-9X upgrades. Longer range and an insensitive warhead that burns rather than exploding if subjected to hot fires are reportedly the priorities.

July 18/13: Block 3 plans. Flight Global reports that US NAVAIR is pushing for an AIM-9X Block III, with a 60% range boost from a new rocket motor and better flight programming. That would push the AIM-9X farther into comparable territory to France’s MICA, a medium-range missile with radar and IR-guided versions. The other major change would be an insensitive munitions warhead, for safer use at sea, per the Aug 24/12 entry.

US NAVAIR intends to launch the Block III’s EMD development phase in 2016, developmental testing in 2018, and operational tests in 2020, followed by Initial Operational Capability in 2022.

Part of the reported justification for Block III involves the proliferation of digital radar jammers on enemy fighters, which lowers the AIM-120 AMRAAM’s odds of a successful radar lock and strike. NAVAIR doesn’t say it, but the F-35’s provision for just 2 internal air-to-air missiles forces all weapon options to be more versatile – which sometimes means more expensive. Unfortunately, programs like the “Triple Target Terminator” were seen as too expensive. Raytheon’s NCADE was another alternative, which would have placed a larger AIM-9X seeker on an AMRAAM missile. NCADE offered even longer range air warfare strikes, some capability against launching ballistic missiles, and no additional integration work for AMRAAM-qualified planes, but the US military hasn’t pursued it.

May 31/13: Support. A $19.6 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee, firm-fixed-price contract for the design and engineering analysis of the AIM-9X Block II Missile System for the U.S. Navy ($8.3 million / 42.6%), the U.S. Air Force ($5.7 million/ 29%), and the Government of Saudi Arabia ($5.6 million / 28.4%). $7.5 million in American and Saudi funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (96%); Andover, MA (3%); and various locations inside and outside of the United States (1%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014 (N00019-12-C-2002).

May 22/13: South Korea. The US DSCA forwards South Korea’s official weapons export request for up to $823 million worth of weapons to equip F-15SE Silent Eagles [PDF], or up to $793 million in weapons for F-35As [PDF], if either plane is picked as the winner of the F-X-3 fighter competition. The AIM-9X Block II is common to both requests, and involves 154 missiles, 14 spare tactical guidance units, 33 CATM training missiles, and 7 spare CATM guidance units.

Their competitor, EADS’ Eurofighter, isn’t integrated with the AIM-9X. It would either use the ROKAF’s existing stocks of previous-generation AIM-9 Sidewinders, or trigger a separate purchase of the AIM-9X equivalent IRIS-T or ASRAAM.

April 15/13: SIP. An $8.6 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract services in support of the Phase II AIM-9X System Improvement Program for the USAF ($5.5M/ 64%), US Navy ($1.7M/ 19.77%), and the government of Saudi Arabia ($1.4M/ 16.23%), including hardware and software development activities and implementation of security architecture requirements.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ using FY 2012 Navy RDT&E and FY 2013 USAF RDT&E budgets. and is expected to be complete in March 2014. $4 million is committed immediately, $529,748 of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/13 (N00019-11-C-0026).

April 4/13: Singapore. The US DSCA announces [PDF] that Singapore has requested export clearance for 20 AIM 9X-2 SIDEWINDER Block II All Up Round Missiles, 8 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles, 5 CATM-9X-2 Block II Missile Guidance units, 2 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance units, containers, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistical and program support.

The prime contractor is Raytheon in Tucson, AZ, of course, and the cost is estimated at up to $36 million. Singapore has already purchased AIM-9X-2s, and they won’t need any additional support.

Singapore request

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” for 2013. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. GAO cites the AIM-9X Block II as a ready program, with mature critical technologies and a stable design.

The biggest issue is production processes, which are described as “not in control,” with the missile a bit below expected reliability targets. The program plans to demonstrate process control before the 2014 full-rate production decision. GAO adds that:

“The program expects to realize over $595 million in cost savings over the life of the program by implementing “should cost” initiatives, such as improvements to the design and production of key missile components…. The program office estimated that it has already realized $21 million in savings on the first low-rate initial production contract. To achieve these savings, the program office analyzed cost drivers and prioritized opportunities to reduce cost by considering factors such as the up-front investment costs, ease of implementation, time to realize savings, and magnitude of the unit cost benefits. The program has implemented technical initiatives, such as active optical target detector design and production improvements and non-technical initiatives, such as accelerated production rates.”

March 25/13: Support. A $20.1 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification to provide AIM-9X Sidewinder mission support and sustainment activities for the USAF, US Navy, and the governments of Singapore, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Turkey, South Korea, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, and Poland under the Foreign Military Sales program. This support includes both Block I and Block II missiles.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete in March 2014. Funds will be obligated on individual delivery orders as they are issued (N00019-11-D-0004).

Jan 31/13: F-22. Increment 3.2B upgrades are supposed to deliver AIM-9X Sidewinder missile capabilities to the F-22A fleet, but pilots are concerned that the short-range air combat missile will fall short of required performance without a Helmet Mounted Display, and leave the F-22A at a disadvantage in close-in fights. One Raptor pilot told Flight International that:

“We’ve been screaming for years that the F-22 needs to have the capability fielded, and fast… Once the jets transitions from BVR [beyond visual range] to WVR [within visual range] with only AIM-9M-9s it is hugely vulnerable…”

The pilots like the AIM-9X’s added range, which extends to beyond visual range levels when launched at supercruise speed, and its ability to lock-on after launch. The problem is that without an HMD like the JHMCS I/II on other USAF fighters, or the Thales (Gentex) Scorpion that equips A-10s and some Air National Guard F-16s, the pilots can’t take full advantage of the missile’s full targeting cone. It doesn’t help that AIM-9X Block II’s one cited deficiency is helmetless high off-boresight (HHOBS) performance, but a fix can be expected by 2017.

The Raptor may be able to out-turn anyone, but an opponent with 30 degrees more sighting cone to work with doesn’t have to maneuver as hard. As experiences with the Eurofighter show (q.v. June 30/12 entry), some 4+ generation aircraft do approach the F-22’s capabilities in close. Russian thrust-vectoring designs like the MiG-35, SU-30SM, and SU-35 may also fall into this category, and top-end SRAAMs can even create openings against the F-22’s infrared masking countermeasures.

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). With respect to the AIM-9X Block II, the services had accomplished 5,460 total captive-carry hours as of mid-November 2012, with 23 failures. That’s a Mean Time Between Captive-Carry Failure (MTBCCF) of 237 hours. The goal is 1 per 500 hours by 80,000 flight hours, and the missile is slightly below that expected growth curve.

In testing, 8/12 missile shots have been successful, and at least 2 of the failures have involved lock-on after launch mode. A 3rd failure involved the fuze. Those failures are being investigated, and the USAF has a concern involving Helmet-less High Off-Boresight (HHOBS, means wide-angle pickup with no JHMCS helmet) performance. They believe that Block II is slower to acquire targets in HHOBS than Block I was, instead of being equal or better.

Dec 24/12: Turkey. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Turkey’s official request to buy AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder missiles and associated equipment, as part of a larger modernization drive for the country’s fighter fleet. Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ is the prime contractor, and implementation of this proposed sale will require an unspecified number of U.S. Government or contractor representatives on a temporary basis for support and oversight. The request includes:

  • 117 AIM-9X Block II All-Up-Round Missiles
  • 6 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance Units
  • 6 “Dummy Air Training Missiles” (could be CATMs, or loading practice rounds)
  • 130 LAU-129 Launchers
  • Plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and support.

Turkey already deploys the AIM-9X Block I. The estimated cost of this contract is up to $140 million, but the exact price will depend on negotiations.

Turkey request: 117

Oct 17/12: Dutch. The US DSCA announces [PDF] the Netherlands’ request to buy AIM-9X-2 Block II Sidewinder missiles and accessories, as an initial order to equip its modernized F-16 MLUs and improve its air defense capabilities. The estimated cost is up to $60 million, but will depend on contract negotiations. The request includes:

  • 28 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II AUR missiles
  • 20 CATM-9X-2s
  • 2 CATM-9X-2 Block II Missile Guidance Units
  • 2 AIM-9X-2 NATMs
  • 2 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance Units
  • 2 Dummy Air Training Missiles
  • Plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and US Government and contractor support.

Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ is the prime contractor, and implementation of this proposed sale will require US Government or contractor representatives in the Netherlands on a temporary basis for program technical support and management oversight.

Dutch request: 20

FY 2012

Purchases by the USA, Morocco, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, & South Korea; Export requests from Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman; Block II software upgrades for USA. F-15SG, armed
(click to view full)

Aug 31/12: Software. A $13.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to update AIM-9X software from version 8.220 to 8.300 for USAF ($9.6M/ 71%) and US Navy ($3.9M/ 29%). $5.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

As noted above, this software update creates the Block II missile. Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete in December 2013. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-12-C-0111).

July 30/12: F-22. An F-22A performs the 1st supersonic launch of an AIM-9X short range air to air missile over the Sea Test Range at Point Mugu, CA. The first launch of an AIM-9X from the F-22 was carried out in May 2012.

Note that these are mechanical and aerodynamic tests, to ensure safe separation, ignition, etc. F-22As won’t be able to really use the AIM-9X in combat until the Increment 3.2B upgrade, which is expected to debut in 2017. Lockheed Martin @ Flickr.

July 8/12: Morocco. The May 19/11 DSCA request leads to a letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) to buy Raytheon’s AIM-9X Block II short range air-to-air missile for Morocco’s new F-16C/Ds. Numbers and prices are an “undisclosed quantity,” but can be inferred by consulting the DSCA request: 20 + training missiles.

The RMAF will be the 4th country using the Block II version with the added datalink and lock-on after launch capability, after the USA, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Raytheon.

Morocco (20?)

June 13/12: Oman. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Oman’s formal request for 55 AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder All-Up-Round Missiles, 6 spare AIM-9X Block II Tactical Guidance Units, 36 inert AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder Captive Air Training Missiles (CATM) for exercises, 4 spare AIM-9X Block II CATM Guidance Units, 1 Dummy Air Training Missile for loading practice, plus containers, weapon support equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, and other US government & contractor support.

Oman will negotiate with Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ is the prime contractor, and the estimated cost is up to $86 million. Implementation of this proposed sale would require multiple trips to Oman involving U.S. Government or contractor representatives for program and technical support, and management oversight.

The RAFO flies 12 compatible F-16C/D Block 50s, and ordered 12 more in December 2011. There’s no point in updating their Jaguars, but in December 2012, they’ll buy some Eurofighter Typhoons to serve as the high end of their air force. The Typhoons are AIM-9 compatible, but only up to the AIM-9M.

Oman request: 55

March 30/12: The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 31/11 includes the AIM-9X Block I. It’s being canceled, which creates a critical cost breach – but since the cause is program cancellation, it doesn’t matter. See Jan 17/12 entry for why it’s being cancelled.

“AIM-9X Block I – The Program Acquisition Unit Cost (PAUC) increased 49.3% to the current APB and 71.8% to the original APB as a result of an adjustment to the program of record quantities from 10,142 to 3,142 missiles. Based on direction from Navy and Air Force requirements offices, there are no future production contracts for Block I after Lot 10 deliveries are complete. The approval of Block II to enter Low Rate Initial Production ends new production for Block I missiles, and shifts new production to Block II missiles. Since the critical Nunn-McCurdy breach is due to cancellation of the Block I program, no certification determination by the USD AT&L is required pursuant to section 2433 of title 10, United States Code.”

Block I done

March 30/12: ROKAF & RSAF. A $97.1 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-firm target contract modification, buying Lot 12 low rate initial production (LRIP-2) equipment for South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

South Korea: $11.8 million, 12.15%. 19 AIM-9X Block II AUR missiles; 5 more containers. This is test-size lot.

Saudi Arabia: $85.3 million, 87.85%. 120 AIM-9X Block II AUR missiles; 42 more containers; 33 Block II CATMs. Saudi Arabia’s huge Oct 20/10 DSCA request to upgrade and grow its F-15 Strike Eagle fleet included 300 AIM-9X missiles, 25 CATMs, and 25 NATMs, but did not specify which AIM-9X block. They already field AIM-9X missiles, which could be compatible with the F-15C/D Eagle air superiority fighters, or their multi-role F-15S Strike Eagles.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ. (41.40%); Andover, MA (10.12%); various locations in and outside the continental United States (6.56%); Valencia, CA (5.71%); Midland, Ontario, Canada (5.40%); Rocket Center, WVA (5.24%); Vancouver, WA (5.08%); Goleta, CA (2.99%); El Segundo, CA (2.81%); Cheshire, CT (2.30%); Simsbury, CT (1.60%); Cincinnati, Ohio (1.53%); Heilbronn, Germany (1.52%); El Cajon, CA (1.48%); San Jose, CA (1.45%); Anniston, AL (1.16%); San Diego, CA (0.87%); Chatsworth, CA (0.80%); Newbury Park, CA (0.74%); Orlando, Fla. (0.66%); and Montgomery, AL (0.58%). Work is expected to be completed in August 2014. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD acts as the agent for its Foreign Military Sale clients (N00019-11-C-0001).

Lot 12: Singapore (19) & Saudi Arabia (120)

March 27/12: Exports. US NAVAIR discusses the AIM-9X’s “heightened interest in foreign military sales (FMS),” and what that means for the USA:

“The future is bright for the AIM-9X program as robust international sales lower the procurement costs for all purchasers, including the U.S. government,” said Rick Cooley deputy program manager for international programs for the Navy’s Air-to-Air Missile program office (PMA-259) here. In recent years, international sales for the joint Navy and Air Force AIM-9X Sidewinder program have comprised almost half [emphasis DID’s] of the program’s production. The Sidewinder is the most widely used air-to-air missile currently employed by more than 40 nations throughout the world.

In a surge of FMS agreements in late December 2011, Saudi Arabia and South Korea became the first international purchasers of the latest generation of the Sidewinder family, the infrared-guided AIM-9X-2 (Block II) missile system, for employment on their unique F-15 aircraft. “

Feb 27/12: Kuwait. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Kuwait’s official request to buy up to 80 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II AUR Missiles, 26 CATM AIM-9X-2s, 2 CATM Block II Missile Guidance Units, 8 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance Units, 2 Dummy Air Training Missiles; plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, and US Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $105 million.

The prime contractor will be Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ, and implementation of this proposed sale will require an undetermined number of US Government or contractor representatives.

Kuwait flies 35 F/A-18C/Ds, and is considering how to replace them. All non-American competitors would be unable to use the AIM-9X without custom integration work.

Kuwait request: 80

Jan 31/12: Lot 12 additional. A $39.6 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-firm target contract modification to AIM-9X Lot 12 low rate initial production. It adds “special test equipment and various spare components,” plus…

USAF ($35.5 million, 89.57%)

  • 42 AIM-9X Block II all up round missiles (now 108)
  • 42 Block II active optical target detectors (now 108)
  • 51 CATM-9X Block II, with no motor or warhead (now 51)
  • 27 containers (now 45)

US Navy ($4.1 million, 10.43%)

  • 5 AIM-9X Block II all up round missiles (now 54)
  • 5 Block II active optical target detectors (now 54)
  • 2 containers (now 26)

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (41.42%); Andover, MA (10.12%); various locations in the continental United States (6.31%); Valencia, CA (5.71%); Ontario, Canada (5.40%); Rocket Center, WVA (5.24%); Vancouver, WA (5.08%); Goleta, CA (2.99%); El Segundo, CA (2.81%); Cheshire, CT (2.30%); Simsbury, CT (1.60%); Cincinnati, OH (1.53%); Heilbronn, Germany (1.52%); El Cajon, CA (1.48%); San Jose, CA (1.45%); Anniston, AL (1.16%); San Diego, CA (0.87%); Chatsworth, CA (0.80%); Newbury Park, CA (0.74%); Orlando, FL (0.66%); Montgomery, AL (0.58%); and various location outside the continental United States (0.23%), and is expected to be complete in January 2014 (N00019-11-C-0001).

Lot 12 order

Jan 17/12: DOT&E testing report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The AIM-9X is included, and the report reveals that the Navy has asked to re-baseline the AIM-9X Block II as a new program entering a pre-Milestone C decision. When it does pass Milestone C, production of the Block I missile will end.

“This decision was primarily driven by a cost per unit increase due to the new DSU-41/B AOTD fuze/datalink assembly, reductions in Service funding, software costs, and schedule delays.”

DOT&E’s one serious concern:

“Recent captive-carry testing has revealed declining missile reliability due to communication problems in 9.303 software and host aircraft compatibility deficiencies. The program office plans to fix these deficiencies, along with software changes in OFS 9.308. Raytheon plans another software build prior to the [Operational Test Readiness Review]… in April 2012. The schedule of live fire events required before the OTRR is aggressive; the Navy and Air Force must execute five more live flight tests prior to the OTRR. Testing delays could result in a delayed OTRR.”

Dec 29/11: Lot 12 Main. A $68.9 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-firm target contract modification, for Lot 12 low rate initial production of AIM-9X Sidewinder short range missiles. Customers and ordered items include…

USAF ($36 million, 52.3%)

  • 66 AIM-9X Block II AUR missiles
  • 66 Block II active optical target detectors
  • 18 containers

US Navy ($32.8 million, 47.7%)

  • 49 AIM-9X Block II AUR missiles
  • 49 Block II active optical target detectors
  • 29 CATM AIM-9X Block II, with no motor or warhead
  • 24 containers

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (41.42%); Andover, MA (10.12%); various locations in the continental United States (6.31%); Valencia, CA (5.71%); Ontario, Canada (5.40%); Rocket Center, WVA (5.24%); Vancouver, WA (5.08%); Goleta, CA (2.99%); El Segundo, CA (2.81%); Cheshire, CT (2.30%); Simsbury, CT (1.60%); Cincinnati, OH (1.53%); Heilbronn, Germany (1.52%); El Cajon, CA (1.48%); San Jose, CA (1.45%); Anniston, AL (1.16%); San Diego, CA (0.87%); Chatsworth, CA (0.80%); Newbury Park, CA (0.74%); Orlando, FL (0.66%); Montgomery, AL (0.58%); and various location outside the continental United States (0.23%), and is expected to be complete in January 2014 (N00019-11-C-0001).

Lot 12 order

Nov 8/11: Malaysia. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Malaysia’s official request for 20 AIM-9X-2 All-Up-Round Missiles, 8 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles with no rocket motor or warhead, 4 CATM-9X-2 Block II Missile Guidance Units, 2 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance Units, 2 Dummy Air Training Missiles, containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and other U.S. Government and contractor support.

If the sale is not blocked by Congress, and a contract is signed, the prime contractor will be Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ. Implementation of this proposed sale will require travel of U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Malaysia on a temporary basis for program technical support and management oversight.

Malaysia request: 20

FY 2011 and Earlier

From program start to Milestone C; Initial US orders in Lot 10 & 11; Export requests from Morocco & UAE.

Sept 29/11: Lot 11. The $61.9 million Lot 11 order is placed. It includes:

USAF ($34.5 million, 55.83% of the order)

  • 30 AIM-9X Block II AUR missiles
  • 40 CATM AIM-9X Block IIs
  • 30 active optical target detectors
  • 20 additional containers for the missiles
  • Associated tooling

US Navy ($27.3 million, 44.17% of the order)

  • 30 AIM-9X Block II AUR missiles
  • 20 CATM AIM-9X Block IIs
  • 30 active optical target detectors
  • 14 additional containers for the missiles
  • Associated tooling

Work will be performed at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ (39.85%); Andover, MA (14.36%); Midland, Ontario, Canada (6.60%); Vancouver, WA (6.21%); various locations inside the continental United States (5.89%); Goleta, CA (4.04%); Rocket Center, WVA (2.95%); Valencia, CA (2.81%); Heilbronn, Germany (2.20%); El Cajon, CA (2.13%); Cheshire, CT (2.03%); Chatsworth, CA (1.89%); Cincinnati, Ohio (1.80%); San Jose, CA (1.60%); Montgomery, Ala (1.40%); Anniston, AL (1.18%); Newbury Park, CA (1.08%); San Diego, CA (0.94%); Orlando, FL (0.77%); and various locations outside the continental United States (0.27%). Work is expected to be complete in April 2013. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302.1, as Raytheon is the only source (N00019-11-C-0001).

Lot 11 order

Sept 1/11: Testing. US NAVAIR finishes a pair of successful live fire AIM-9X Block II test missions by VX-31 Squadron at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA. Both missions achieve their objectives, which makes the new missile 9/9 in tests so far.

Both F/A-18 test missions involve a jet-powered BQM-74 target drone. The 1st kill involved the drone flying at low altitudes over the desert, approaching “at an extended beyond visual range.” The second kill had the test pilot flying at 1,000 feet below clouds, with the target above the clouds. NAVAIR was equally pleased by the new GPS-enabled AN/DKT-89-3 Airborne Telemetry Equipment inside, which was designed and built by the government team in China Lake. Instead of having to estimate how close the missile came to the target, they now know.

The AIM-9X Block II was approved for Milestone C / low rate initial production in June 2011, and is scheduled to enter operational test in spring 2012. US NAVAIR.

June 2011: Milestone C. AIM-9X Block II is approved for low-rate initial production. Source: GAO.

Milestone C/ LRIP

May 19/11: AIM-9X missile request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Morocco’s official request to buy 20 AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder short range air-to-air missiles, plus 10 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missile All-Up-Rounds (missiles with seekers and wiring, but no motor, in their case), 8 CATM-9X-2 Missile Guidance Units, 8 AIM-9X-2 Block II Tactical Guidance Units, 2 Dummy Air Training Missiles, plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support.

Morocco’s July 9/08 DSCA request for F-16s involved AIM-9Ms, which still equip many American aircraft and are inferior to the Vympel R-73/AA-11 Archer missiles flown on Algerian fighters. This initial number of AIM-9X missiles would give the RMAF’s new F-16s enough missiles to train with, and field a very preliminary operational capability to match their neighbor’s.

The estimated cost is up to $50 million, with exact totals to be negotiated if a contract is signed with prime contractor Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ. Implementation of this proposed sale will require travel of U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Morocco on a temporary basis for program technical support and management oversight, but the DSCA has no estimate of how many yet.

Morocco request: 20

April 19/11: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] the United Arab Emirates’ formal request to buy 218 AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, another 18 AIM-9X-2 WGU-51/B Tactical Guidance Units, 40 CATM-9X-2 Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs) without rocket motors, another 8 CATM-9X-2 WGU-51/B Guidance Units, 8 Dummy Air Training Missiles for loading practice and such, plus containers, support and test equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics support.

The AIM-9X isn’t a fit for their Hawks or Mirage 2000s, so the UAE’s F-16E/F Desert Falcon fleet is their sole realistic deployment option. The UAE already fits earlier-model Sidewinders to its F-16 fleet, and the DSCA doesn’t believe that they’ll have any difficulty absorbing these newer-model missiles. The estimated cost is up to $251 million, but exact amounts must wait until/if a contract is negotiated with Raytheon Missiles Systems in Tucson, AZ.

UAE request: 218

June 28/10: Lot 10. $128.6 million in contracts for Lot 10 production. The contracts were announces as 2 separate orders, even though they took place under the same contract number (N00019-09-C-0061), and were both managed by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD. The first order was for the USAF and ROKAF. The second order covered the US Navy, RAAF, ROKAF and RSAF. Totals and percentages below are amalgamated.

For the USAF ($60.2 million, 46.82%):

  • 65 Block I all-up-round tactical missiles
  • 15 Block I NATM special air training missiles
  • 21 Block II NATM special air training missiles
  • 7 Block II CATM training missiles
  • 5 Block I guidance units
  • 15 Block II guidance units
  • 7 Block II Active Optical Target Detectors
  • 6 Block I propulsion steering sections
  • 30 missile containers
  • Associated tooling and test equipment

For the US Navy ($35.7 million, 27.82%):

  • 54 Block I all-up-round tactical missiles
  • 4 Block I propulsion steering sections
  • 15 Block II NATM special air training missiles
  • 4 Block II CATM training missiles
  • 7 Block II guidance units
  • 3 Block II Active Optical Target Detectors
  • Associated tooling and test equipment

Australia and Singapore also have pieces of this contract, but they’re for Block I equipment.

Lot 10 order: USA, Australia, Singapore.

Sept. 2007: CDR. Critical Design Review held and passed. Source: GAO.

March 2007: PDR. Preliminary Design Review held and passed. Source: GAO.

2004: Program start. Source: GAO.

Additional Readings

Background: AIM-9 Sidewinder

Background: Competitors

  • MBDA – ASRAAM. The USA’s pullout led to development of AIM-9X, and Germany’s led to the IRIS-T. Integrated with Eurofighter Typhoon, F/A-18 Hornet, Tornado, and Jaguar DARIN-III fighters.

  • Air Power Australia (1998) – Matra-BAe AIM-132 ASRAAM – The RAAF’s New WVR AAM. The capabilities described are no longer unique to the ASRAAM.

  • Diehl Defence – IRIS-T. Integrated with Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16, JAS-39 Gripen, and Tornado.

  • RAFAEL – Python-5. Python-4/-5 missiles serve on F-5, F-15, and F-16 aircraft. There are rumors that it has also been integrated on India’s Mirage 2000s and some Jaguar varieties.

  • Tactical Missiles Corporation JSC – R-73E/R-73EL Air-to-Air Guided Missiles. Kicked off the entire wave of advanced SRAAM development after its introduction in 1982. The R-73M/ RVV-MD is the current export variant. Serves on many Russian aircraft: upgraded MiG-21s, MiG-23s, Su-24 and Su-25 planes; plus MiG-29, MiG-31, MiG-35, and the entire “Flanker family” of Su-27 to Su-35 fighters.

Categories: News

Halliburton/KBR Contracts Under Fire from Congress, DCAA

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 00:25
Headed for Iraq

Pentagon auditors are questioning more than $108 million in costs claimed by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown Root (KBR) under its $875 million “Task Order 5″ contract to provide fuel in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) also faulted KBR for the quality of the records it delivered to the investigation, citing discrepancies between reported actual costs and accounting records. Halliburton is asserting that no wrongdoing was involved, claiming that the costs stemmed directly from the strictures it was working under and the challenges of getting shipments into a war zone without fail. Company officials also point out the firm’s estimating and purchasing systems have recently received a nod of approval from the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA).

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the audit was conducted to determine whether “fair and reasonable” prices were charged, and that DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) auditors believe that KBR paid an unreasonable price for the fuel in some cases. “The major issues in this audit report have not been resolved,” she said, without providing details. Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said the company was cooperating fully with auditors, and would work with the Pentagon to resolve the issue. Army Corps spokeswoman Carol Sanders said the Corps was looking at a series of audits before starting final negotiations with KBR over final prices and potential payment adjustments. Meanwhile, Congressional pressure shows no signs of letting up.

“This may be the tip of the iceberg because this is only one of their task orders, and we have nine others that we haven’t had reports on,” says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).

DCAA Audit: Executive Summary (PDF). See also Houston Chronicle article, USA Today article, MSN Money article, Reuters article, MSNBC article. There is no official Halliburton statement about this controversy on its web site.

For a primer on defense procurement issues, contract pricing & adjudication, and the elements of the KBR issue, see Robin Burke’s 3-part series [Part I: Regulations, Players & The Process | Part II: Contract Pricing Options | Part III: How the KBR Investigation/ Compensation Process Will Work]


September 1/15: KBR is taking full advantage of the indemnification clause the U.S. Government signed for much of its work in Iraq, leading to the recent judgement indicating the U.S. is on the hook for about $30 million in legal expenses for various nether dealings in the theater. The Project on Government Oversight points out that there are many more contracts from this period where the U.S. took on general liabilities.

Categories: News

Manufacturers: Careful with Parts Printing – Make Them Inspectable | Japan Launches Second Heli Carrier | Iran Looking to Russia for Long Deferred Aviation Purchases

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 02:17

  • Technology allowing parts to be printed is rapidly seeing military adoption, but manufacturing experts warn that they need to be designed in a fashion to allow for inspection.

  • The Navy is
prepping a patch of seafloor off Florida to be an undersea training grounds of sort. They have installed the first leg of data cable, surfacing at Naval Station Mayport. More will be installed to reach the grounds, about 50 miles offshore.


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

  • Russia will reportedly design a new model of its command continuity aircraft , more commonly called a “doomsday plane.” The country has four flying now, serving to decrease the likelihood that its command and control could be decapitated.


  • Pakistan continues to add to its nuclear arsenal , although Pakistani officials deny that it is moving quite at the pace indicated by a recent report. The country has the capacity to become the owner of the third largest nuclear arsenal in the next few years.

  • Japan launched another
helicopter carrier, its second, built by local firm Japan Marine United. The new Kaga joins the JS Izumo, which became operational in March. The Kaga is the second ship to be named after the Kaga Province of Japan. The first Kaga, part of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II played an integral role in the Battle of Midway, where it was damaged to the point that it was scuttled soon after.

Middle East

  • Saudi Arabia will by
75 15-meter interceptor vessels for its Coast Guard. German manufacturer Lurssen won the contract, and is subcontracting manufacturing to French Shipyard Couach.

  • Iran is reported to be interested in purchasing the Sukhoi superset-100 for civil aviation. Going with a Chinese or Russian manufacturer would likely make most sense, as the Iranian government could well put itself in a sanctions penalty box again in the future, making western manufacturers the least reliable.

Today’s Video

  • The PAK FA / T-50 in all its vector-thrusted maneuverability…

Categories: News

Pentagon: JCS Chair’s Testimony Didn’t Imply F-35 Review | Russia: Our Stealth Fighter Can Fit Weapons Inside | DoD Lays Down Law on Reporting Data Breaches

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 02:30

  • The Pentagon is codifying how and when defense contractors must report data breaches.

  • Lockheed is reportedly working on a U2 replacement. To be optionally manned, which is less apt to offend either pilot officers or policy wonks. A new U2 could well see improvement in either stealth capabilities or operation costs, but not likely both. Since the new effort comes from the Skunkworks shop, stealth is almost certainly the objective.

  • Textron’s loss of the Sikorsky deal has been interpreted by Wall Street as a major setback now in the context of poor performance from its Bell Helicopters unit. The unit’s reliance on the V-22 Osprey is not seen as much of a future-facing asset by the street.

  • It should go without saying that yesterday’s Oshkosh award of the JLTV program may well be contested. The Army has yet to debrief Lockheed or AM General, a key step in the process toward a proper GAO protest.

  • The Pentagon threw cold water on the incoming Joint Chiefs chair’s written testimony that seemed to indicate that the Pentagon was reviewing whether 2,443 was the right number for F-35 procurement.


  • Russia’s “fifth generation” Sukhoi PAK FA stealth fighter is to get the X-58USHK missile, which will reportedly reach mach 3.5. But the critical advantage the new combo would bring was expressed in the a Tass sub-headline: “The missile will be placed inside the fighter’s fuselage.” Thus the PAK FA – also called the T-50 – will remain stealthy, where the F-35’s weapons bay has grown even smaller on the new variants and most weapons will have to be mounted externally.

  • Iran is trying to push Russia to deliver at least a few of the S-300 anti air systems, holding out the offer that it will vacate its suit against the Russians if they make a first delivery. Russia has employed the ability to withhold the S-300 from Iran – or not – as a form of leverage with western countries for a surprising number of years.


  • Austal is enjoying the start of the sweet spot of its $3.5 LCS contract, showing record profits and anticipating additional efficiencies as it starts to knock out the remaining 9 LCS ships.

Today’s Video

  • The PAK FA / T-50 in all its vector-thrusted maneuverability…

Categories: News

PAK-FA/FGFA/T50: Russia Pressing on with T-50, India or No

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 00:45
PAK-FA at MAKS-2011
(click to view larger)

Russia wants a “5th generation” fighter that keeps it competitive with American offerings, and builds on previous aerial and industrial success. India wants to maintain technical superiority over its rivals, and grow its aerospace industry’s capabilities. They hope to work together, and succeed. Will they? And what does “success” mean, exactly?

So far, preliminary cooperation agreements have been signed between Sukhoi/United Aircraft Corporation, for a platform based on Sukhoi’s T50/PAK-FA design. This DID FOCUS article consolidates specific releases and coverage to date, and adds analysis of the program’s current state and future hurdles.

The PAK-FA/ FGFA Sukhoi’s “T50″ Movable LEX
(click to view larger)

The plane behind the project has taken on several names. The T50 may eventually become the SU-50, but for now it’s referred to as PAK-FA. The aircraft project is also known as FGFA (India: Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft), and PMF (Russia: Prospective Multirole Fighter). Key characteristics include:

Shaping: Some observers have tried to characterize the T50 as a copy. That’s a mistake. The PAK-FA’s first flight revealed a distinctively Russian stealth-driven configuration, which borrows from previous Sukhoi designs and priorities. The prototype has some clear stealth-limiting features, from fit quality, to features like Sukhoi’s standard spherical InfraRed Scan & Track (IRST) system mounted near the cockpit. Those may change in the production aircraft; meanwhile, a smaller tail, clear stealth shaping, and internal weapons carriage all indicate a strong push toward a stealthier plane.

The PAK-FA’s air intakes are set back from the leading edge root extensions (LERX), and one interesting wrinkle involves movable LERX shapes that come forward from the wings to join the aircraft body. This “PChN/ Movable LEX” feature apparently allows some of the maneuverability bonuses normally associated with canards on planes like the SU-30SM, SU-34, etc., but in a much lower profile design.

RT feature

Engines: Reports concerning the fighter’s initial engines vary. Some sources contend that the engines used in its test flight are 5th generation engines, but most of them report that it is borrowing from the SU-35 program for now, until more advanced engines designed specifically for the plane can be fielded. Both descriptions could be correct. The SU-35S reportedly uses a heavily-upgraded and more reliable version of NPO Saturn’s AL-31F, named the Saturn 117S. It is said to offer over 30,000 pounds of thrust, with full 360 degree thrust vectoring, and is believed to equip initial PAK-FA fighters. The longer-term question is whether incremental 117S upgrades will let the aircraft reach its required “5th generation” performance levels, or whether the AL-41F project, which aims to use a new and improved engine core, will be able to replace the 117S in future.

Weapons: Russian reports cite carriage of 8 missile suspension points inside the fuselage, to match the F-22. While the Raptor has 2 body bays (with space-saving AVEL launchers) and 2 smaller side bays, the Russian plane is big enough to have 4 body bays and 2 side bays. Air-to-air weapons will certainly include the improved AA-11 (RVV-MD SRAAM) and AA-12 (RVV-SD MRAAM), but RIA Novosti adds that it has the ability to carry 2 ultra long range AAMs, presumably the 200-400 km Novator K-100-1. These “AWACS killers” are also intended for use on the SU-35, and their size may force the PAK-FA to carry them externally.

To date, the T50’s ground-attack weapon capabilities remain something of a mystery.

PAK-FA prototype
(click to view larger)

Sensors: The PAK-FA’s advanced Tikhomirov AESA radar is still undergoing testing on other platforms, and its readiness could be important to the project. As is true of all 4+ generation Russian designs, the radar will be supplemented by an IRST that looks for the heat produced by engines and air friction. This allows long-range, no warning missile attacks, and offsets enemy advantages from radar stealth.

Another approach to offset enemy radar stealth involves L-band radars in the wing’s leading edges, to help the plane find other X-band optimized stealth fighters. The plane’s SH121 radar complex will reportedly add another 3 small X-band AESA radars around the front and sides of the aircraft, in order to provide full radar coverage. Harmonizing these features with stealth, and ensuring that they don’t become a maintenance nightmare, will be another important technical challenge for the new fighter.

The fighter’s biggest technical challenge will involve harmonizing all of these sensors into a single view for the pilot. Russia and India aren’t short on programming talent, but pilot ergonomics has been a long-standing weakness in Russian fighters, as western pilots found when they began flying East German MiG-29s. Good sensor fusion is a technically challenging task, especially if the goal is a system that can accommodate upgrades without ruinous expense. The talent is there, but both Russia and India have mixed histories trying to manage those kinds of military efforts.

Other Electronics: Sukhoi’s releases emphasize an advanced datalink that allows PAK-FA aircraft to share situational awareness, much like NATO’s “Link 16″ standard. As the USAF has discovered, however, having other platforms share information with stealth aircraft, while retaining “low probability of intercept” to avoid giving the stealth aircraft’s positions away, is difficult. Russia and India will need to resolve that issue, or accept the operational limitations of a unique but incompatible datalink.

Test flight
click for video

All of these characteristics show a convergence of Russian design with leading-edge technologies. Russian 4+ generation fighter designs have always placed a premium on super-maneuverability, and so does the T50. Russian AESA radars are becoming service-ready, and the T50 looks set to be a key platform for their use. Engine improvements may even allow Mach 1+ supercruise if the T50’s weight can be kept down, and if Saturn can deliver on promised operational performance – but both of those “ifs” remain to be proven.

Once it becomes operational, this plane is expected to get the designation SU-50. The big question right now is how close it is to reaching that goal.

Development Timelines, Risks, & Differences of Opinion Defined Design? A Disagreement From YF-22 to F-22
(click to view full)

As of February 2014, 5 PAK-FA prototypes are flying, and 2 more are in ground test roles, which is short of the 8 that were expected to be available by the end of 2013. The “T3″ prototype was the first to have the full avionics and radar suite, including the AESA radar. The plane is reportedly preparing for full operational trials in 2015, and VVS fielding in 2016-2017, but the history of stealth fighters justifies some caution about those dates.

In 2009, former Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. chairman Ashok Baweja took that caution several steps further, saying that that the current PAK-FA prototype and tests were only “proof of concept” level work. The Russians had already approved the design in 2008, so they clearly didn;t see things that way, but America’s F-22 program history made Baweja’s thesis plausible. The YF-22 prototype made quite a few modifications en route to its F-22A designation, over a period lasting several years. The Russian design has changed since 2009, including visible reinforcements to indicate a need for redesign in the wings and other areas. On the other hand, external design changes haven’t been much in evidence, and they continue to move forward with more advanced tests.

India’s low level of expertise designing advanced fighters, and the advanced nature of Russia’s project before India joined, both point toward a final FGFA design that’s much closer to the planes Russia is already flying.

Russian & Indian Timelines PAK-FA Mach flow
(click to view full)

Differences of opinion re: the fighters’ readiness also express themselves in each side’s proposed timelines. Russia is focused on 2015-2016 production and 2017-2018 fielding, though senior officials acknowledge that full serial production won’t begin until 2020 – 2024.

Indian officials have pushed a timeline that’s up to 4-5 years longer, in order to develop many of the FGFA’s systems and make a long list of changes. As the cumulative cost and risk of their chosen course become apparent, however, they’re reducing their demands. A 2012 interview with Air Chief Marshal Browne suggests that India’s FGFAs will hew much more closely to Russia’s design, beginning with the current single-seat configuration instead of a new 2-seat layout. About 100 HAL engineers are already working on the project from a facility in Bangalore, and another contingent has moved to Russia to work in the Sukhoi design bureau.

That’s all well and good, but it’s 2014, and the joint R&D contract between Russian and India remains unsigned. Plenty of time remains for meddling, as India was expecting to receive prototypes in 2015, 2017, and 2018. India would still have to fund their own national program of FGFA (SU-50KI?) customization for the Indian air force by a joint team of Russian and Indian engineers. The difference is described as “mission hardware and software,” though it would be surprising if Indian bureaucrats’ fetish for “indigenization” was forced to stop there. Each prototype will be slightly different, creating an incentive for the military and political figures to press for additional changes and alternations.

If India’s FGFA R&D program can get underway in 2014, and if it progresses without major delays, a 2018 prototype would finalize the base configuration, and Indian development could end in 2019. Whereupon series manufacturing would begin at HAL in 2022.

Note the number of “ifs” required to meet even that target. Which will also have to contend with HAL’s known high-tech production industrial issues (vid. LCA Tejas & M-MRCA programs). They’ll need to be solved by the time FGFA production begins, because its manufacturing techniques are likely to be a step beyond anything HAL has attempted to date.

So much for the original plan of IAF service by 2017. If current dates hold true, India wouldn’t see operational serving FGFA fighters until 2025 at the earliest. At the same time, India’s planned FGFA buy is shrinking, from over 200 to around 144.

In a project of this nature, it’s par for the course for Russia and India to both end up being too optimistic in their initial schedules. There’s still more than enough room for that dynamic to happen within the revised schedules, as the project works through configuration, testing, and production issues. The history of modern fighters suggests that software could prove to be particularly troublesome.

Contracts & Key Events 2015

Sukhoi insists it will meet new 2016 production deadlines. Airshow demo

August 27/15: Russia’s “fifth generation” Sukhoi PAK FA stealth fighter is to get the X-58USHK missile, which will reportedly reach mach 3.5. But the critical advantage the new combo would bring was expressed in the a Tass sub-headline: “The missile will be placed inside the fighter’s fuselage.” Thus the PAK FA – also called the T-50 – will remain stealthy, where the F-35’s weapons bay has grown even smaller on the new variants and most weapons will have to be mounted externally.

Feb 2/15: Agreement on production split. The Hindu reports that the main sticking point (who produces what) is settled between the Russians and the Indians. Up to now, the Indians were producing only 13 percent of the fighter, and none of the interesting technology bits. The agreed-upon split hasn’t been made public.

Feb 2/15: On (new) schedule. Originally slated for 2015 production, the PAK-FA, now being called the T-50 in press materials, is to be produced in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in 2016, according to company officials. There is no mention of an export market. India had already cut its order from 200 fighters to 144, but bureaucrats have also pushed back certification to 2019, after which production could be authorized. Complaints by the Indian Air Force in early 2014 may indicate some buyer’s remorse.


Negotiations with India turn tense, remain in limbo as Russia moves ahead; Better stealth than the F-22?

Oct 21/14: Sub-contractors. Russia’s Radio Electronic Technologies concern has provided the 1st batch of Himalayas internal electronic warfare systems for the new jet.

The Himalayas EW system was developed by RET’s Kaluga Scientific Research and Radio Technology Institute, and is manufactured at its Signal Radioplant in Stavropol. Sources: Defense World, “Russian T-50 Aircraft Gets Himalayas EW System”.

Sept 15/14: Negotiation. The Russians and Indians are saying different things to Defense News. “A “Russian diplomat in India” tells them they they “have finally sorted out all sticky issues that have been holding back an agreement,” adding that India’s workshare was eventually expected to increase from 13-18% to 40%. India’s MoD refused to confirm this, “especially those [issues] related to workshare between the two countries”.

We’ve seen enough programs involving India to be skeptics, even when Indian officials will confirm such stories. The magazine’s sources say that India and Russia will sign a final agreement on the program the end of 2014. Take that as the metric, and believe it when you see it. Sources: Defense News, “Indo-Russian Jet Program Finally Moves Forward”.

Aug 30/14: Tension. India isn’t pleased with the lack of response to its questions concerning the recent PAK-FA engine fire (q.v. June 10/14), NPO Saturn AL-41FI jet engine performance, Byelka AESA radar performance, the lack of permission for its pilots to fly the jet in Russia, and HAL’s low workshare. India’s lack of a firm development agreement is the 1-sentence argument for much of this situation, except for the engine fire question and HAL’s workshare.

HAL’s workshare has reportedly dropped from 25% to just 13%: tires, the VOR-DME basic navigation avionics, coolant for the radar, a laser designation pod and the head-up display. This list appears to justify analysis that HAL simply doesn’t yet have the capability to be a full partner in such a sophisticated aircraft, and may also be a function iof Indian dithering as Russia simply goes ahead and makes final decisions about the PAK-FA’s development..

Within HAL’s workshare, the Laser Designation pod itself is unlikely to come from India, but may be produced under license. Israel’s RAFAEL LITENING pods equip many Indian aircraft, including the SU-30MKI, but Eastern European and American pressure on Israel makes SU-50 integration tough to contemplate. Thales’ Damocles pod, which already equips Malaysia’s Su-30MKMs and would equip Indian Rafales, would be a more logical choice.

The real challenge here is twofold. One is the M-MRCA program, whose $10 billion cost growth really shrinks the overall room for PGF funding within India’s budgets. The related challenge is time, and “IAF sources told IHS Jane’s that this deadline [to begin Indian production in 2020 – 2021] would be missed by several years.” Sources: Daily Mail India, “India-Russia jet deal hits turbulence over ‘technical worries’ ” | IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Indian Air Force unhappy at progress of PAK-FA fifth-gen fighter”.

Aug 4/14: Negotiations. Still no firm production agreement re: the PAK-FA/ FGFA/ PMF, following the end of the initial engineering development contract in 2013. Russian sources continue to make hopeful noises, but at this point, it means very little until there’s a firm contract in place. Sources: Itar-Tass, “Sukhoi to sign another contract with India on FGFA”.

June 10/14: Fire. A commission will be investigating:

“Today after the regular test flight of the T-50 aircraft at the airfield of the M.M.Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky near Moscow, while the plane was landing, a smoke above the right air intake was observed, then a local fire broke out. The fire was quickly extinguished. The plane is to be repaired…. This incident will not affect the timing of the T-50 test program.”

The Moscow Times suggested that the damage might leave the plane out of action for a little while, as people reportedly: “…saw smoke and flame billow out of the front of the engine and [it] caused visible damage to the exterior of the aircraft.” Sounds like an engine issue. Maybe one day, we’ll know. Sources: Sukhoi, “Sukhoi’s message over the incident with the T-50 aircraft” | Moscow Times, “Russian Advanced Prototype Fighter Jet Erupts into Flames on Landing”.


Feb 21/14: Production version. Sukhoi announces that their production version will not be waiting until 2016, while the current set of 4 flying and 2 ground prototypes continue their work at Zhukovsky. In fact:

“Today the flight model of the prospective 5th — generation fighter aircraft (PAK-FA, T-50) arrived to the 929th Chkalov State Flight Test Centre’s airfield in Akhtubinsk for State Joint Tests…. The PAK FA tests program included aero-dynamic features evaluation, tests of stability and controllability and of dynamic strength, function check of on-board equipment and aircraft systems. Optical locator system as well as active electronically scanned array radar was tested on the aircraft with positive results obtained. Air refueling mode was tested. Supermaneuverability tests of the aircraft are under way. Aircraft systems are being tested on the test stands, ground experimental works continue.”

It’s still possible for hardware or software problems to make the delivery of 60 combat-capable aircraft an impossible goal by 2020, and Russian reports aren’t going to involve public accountability or discussion of test results. Even so, the Akhtubinsk arrival is embarrassing timing for War Is Boring’s same-day report. Sources: Sukhoi, “T-50-2 fighter aircraft made the flight to Akhtubinsk” | Russia & India Report, “Russian Air Force receives first FGFA T-50 fighter for tests”.

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 arrives in Akhtubinsk for testing that same day. Sources: War Is Boring, “Russia’s New Air Force Is a Mystery”.

Feb 7/14: Timelines. Russia and India are still negotiating the FGFA R&D contract, but India’s Chief of the Air Staff and Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar (A K) Browne tells the Press Trust of India that the 1st FGFA prototype will arrive in India this year, for testing at Ojhar AB, located NE of Mumbai. One imagines that he’s speaking on the basis of a draft R&D contract that would have Indian scientists and test pilots in Russia until the R&D phase is scheduled to end in 2019.

2022 is now given as the planned in-service date, as India slip farther and farther from the original plan of having these planes in service by 2017. That 2017 date was always a pipe dream, and even present dates depend on very large financial decisions being made very soon by an unpopular government, or by its electoral successor. It’s more realistic to assume that the draft R&D agreement won’t actually become a signed contract and disbursed funds until 2015 or later, with attendant effects on India’s schedule.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to develop the plane,m but even they are several years from serious fielding. Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) First Deputy Director Alexander Fomin is quoted as saying that testing and manufacturing ramp-ups will require: “At least… [6-10 years] before we build a sample of the fifth generation fighter plane and being its serial production.” Sources: Itar-Tass, “Russia fulfils FGFA obligations with India – Alexander Kadakin”.

Jan 21/14: India. India’s Air Force is directly criticizing the stealth fighter program, according to the minutes of a Dec 24/13 meeting chaired by secretary of defence production Gokul Chandra Pati:

“Business Standard has reviewed the minutes of that meeting. The IAF’s three top objections to the FGFA were: (a) The Russians are reluctant to share critical design information with India; (b) The fighter’s current AL-41F1 engines are inadequate, being mere upgrades of the Sukhoi-30MKI’s AL-31 engines; and (c) It is too expensive. With India paying $6 billion to co-develop the FGFA, “a large percentage of IAF’s capital budget will be locked up.”

On January 15, the IAF renewed the attack in New Delhi, at a MoD meeting to review progress on the FGFA. The IAF’s deputy chief of air staff (DCAS), its top procurement official, declared the FGFA’s engine was unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered, India’s work share too low, and that the fighter’s price would be exorbitant by the time it enters service.

Top MoD sources suspect the IAF is undermining the FGFA to free up finances for buying 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for an estimated $18 billion, an acquisition that has run into financial headwinds because of budgetary constraints….”

Perhaps if India hadn’t structured its MMRCA competition to completely ignore the costs of the competing aircraft, this wouldn’t be happening. But they did, and it is. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “Russia can’t deliver on Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft: IAF”.

Jan 16/14: T-50 trolling. Rosoboronexport’s parent firm Rostec decides to troll the aviation world, with claims that the PAK-FA will have better stealth than the American F-22 Raptor:

“The average [radar cross section value] for the T-50 fighter is between 0.1 and 1 square meter…. the T-50 is now ahead of not only all other fighters of the Russian Army, but also foreign models. For example, the visibility of the American fifth-generation F-22 fighter is 0.3-0.4 square meters, according to PAK FA chief designer Alexander Davidenko.”

This means almost nothing. First, the Russian PAK-FA range includes values that are a closer match for the Eurofighter than the F-22. Second, Davidenko couldn’t know the F-22’s real production values without access to American flight test data, and there are rumors that it’s smaller than 0.3 m2. The third issue is production. Davidenko’s claims for the PAK-FA back existing assessments that it’s a legitimate stealth aircraft design, but production work affects final values for any plane. If it’s shoddy and alignment is poor, for instance, a design with RCS of 0.1 m2 could easily hit 1.0 m2 in reality. Russia is known for many things, including excellent and robust fighter designs, but precision work? Not so much. A real comparison would require test data from production aircraft (q.v. Nov 12/12 caveats), including different values from various angles, and their different success levels against different radar bands. That isn’t on offer for either plane.

Other points in the release are more informative, if true. Rostec says that composite materials are just 25% of the fighter’s weight, but cover 70% of its surface. A new power system design from Rostec’s Aviation Equipment provides double the amount of electrical power offered by previous Russian systems. We hope they have better luck than Boeing has, but that power will be needed by Radioelectronic Technologies’ new avionics and related systems. With respect to the plane’s biggest current deficit, UEC has an initial-model of the next-generation AL-41F1 thrust-vectoring engines installed in a prototype now, and Rostec is feeding general expectations that the AL-41 will give the new fighter supercruise capability. Sources: Rostec, “The T-50 Fighter will feature even greater stealth capabilities” | Air & Cosmos, “Le T-50 russe serait plus furtif que le F-22″.


Test flights, incl. the new 5th prototype; Negotiations and tensions with India. T50, incoming
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Oct 28/13: #5. Sukhoi flies the 5th T50 prototype at its Y.A.Gagarin KnAAZ aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Once it finishes local flight tests, the aircraft will join the program flight tests at Zhukovsky, near Moscow.

Sukhoi pegs the number of flights to date at “more than 450″, with another 2 planes are involved in ground tests as a complex ground stand and static testing platform, respectively. Sources: Sukhoi release, Oct 28/13.

Oct 21/13: Indian complaints. Aviation Week reports that India is dissatisfied with their development workshare, in a project they came op late and close to lockdown on their partner’s side, and for which they have only recently managed to produce anything resembling their specifications (q.v. April 10/13):

“We have a major opportunity in the FGFA program,” Indian air force (IAF) Deputy Chief Air Marshal S. Sukumar says. However, “at the moment [the 15% development share] is not very much in favor of Indian development. We are flagging it through the government. It should be much more focused towards indigenous development capability.”

The problem is that 4 Russian T50 prototypes have performed about 450 test flights since January 2010, and the VVS plans to begin inducting the fighter in 2015-2016. Even if they’re a year late, it doesn’t leave much room for development. That would have required fast decisions to begin the contract early, when the design was still in need of refinement.

India’s desires and its modus operandi are in conflict once again, and the question is whether the dichotomy will become a stumbling block in negotiations for the final $11 billion system development contract. At this point, the only way to square that circle would be to increase the number of differences between the Russian and Indian fighters, or to involve India in developing the “Block 10″ next iteration of a fighter whose core technologies are already a big stretch for Indian firms. Either approach would drive up overall costs for the contract under negotiation (q.v. July 15/13), and add substantial risk to India’s plans to begin manufacturing at HAL in 2022 – itself a problematic proposition, given HAL’s record. Sources: Aviation Week, “India Concerned About Fifth-Gen Fighter Work Share With Russia”.

Oct 18/13: Aircraft issues. An article in The Aviationist looks at issues with the PAK-FA, which don’t get the same exposure as western projects with their public oversight. Piotr Butowski of the Polish Magazyn Lotnictwo notes that:

“…the plane still suffers from the strict g-limits…. The plane underwent a modernization in the Sukhoi facility on the Polikarpov Street in Moscow Dec. 2012 and May 2013. The airframe was reinforced according to the flight tests and static tests that were already carried out; many new [metal strip] overlays can be seen on the airplane’s surface.”

Problems and modifications aren’t abnormal. The 1st PAK-FA prototype has structural cracks in 2011, and the 2nd had an engine flameout cancel its public MAKES 2011 air show performance. Sources: The Aviationist, “Russia’s most advanced fighter jet’s troublesome childhood”.

July 15/13: India Delays. The FGFA project’s parameters may be set (q.v. April 10/13), but there’s a problem with the R&D deal, which was pegged at $11 billion equivalent. The Times of India:

“Defence ministry sources said the inking of the final design and R&D contract for the stealth fighter has been hit by a huge delay, with Russia also jacking up costs for the futuristic project. “It’s very unlikely the FGFA final design contract will be concluded in the 2013-2014 fiscal,” said a source. “The timeframes will now have to be revised. MoD has established a committee of specialists and finance officials to verify the rise in costs. An internal contract negotiation committee is also in progress…”

Russia isn’t going to wait, and will continue development of their version while they wait for India’s signature. Operational testing is slated to begin in 2014. If FGFA negotiations stretch into 2015, the net effect will be to severely delay India’s variant, even as the base Russian design becomes more and more firmly set.

April 25/13: VVS flight. The Russian air force’s (VVS) Chkalov Flight Test Center begins flying the PAK-FA prototypes, with a 2-hour flight from the M.M. Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky (Moscow region).

At present, Sukhoi has 4 flying test planes, which are mostly flown by company test pilots, and 2 ground test planes. Sukhoi.

April 10/13: India. Sukhoi announces that the parameters for their joint FGFA project with India are set:

“The contract to develop a sketch and technical project of the Russian-Indian perspective multi-functional 5th-generation fighter (PMI/FGFA) was completed. The fighter design was fully developed. The both parties have agreed upon on the amount and division of work during the research and development (R&D) stage. A contract for the R&D is being prepared. It is to be signed this year.”

March 1/13: Plans & Schedule. High-level Russian and Indian sources offer a bit more clarity concerning dates, but they seem to be at odds regarding electronics.

Russian VVS commander Gen. Victor Bondarev expects weapons release trials to begin in 2013, as the number of aircraft rises from 4 – 8. If tests go well, the fighter could enter series production in late 2015 or early 2016. Based on past fighter programs, that may be a bit optimistic.

Meanwhile, IAF chief of staff Air Marshall N.A.K. Browne is expecting to sign the big design & development contract for the FGFA in 2013. They’ll receive 3 developmental prototypes in India in 2015, 2017 and then 2018, rather than the wider 2014-2019 window reported earlier. That SDD version would apparently be fully common between Russia and India, making Pogosyan (vid. Feb 7/13) correct to that point. India would then fund, as a separate project, FGFA (SU-50KI?) customization for the Indian air force by a joint team of Russian and Indian engineers. The difference is described as “mission hardware and software,” though it would be surprising if Indian bureaucrats’ fetish for “indigenization” was forced to stop there. Series manufacturing would begin at HAL in 2022.

If true, it means that India wouldn’t see operational serving FGFA fighters until 2025 at the earliest, and that’s only if HAL’s known industrial issues with high-tech production are fully solved by 2022. AIN.

Feb 7/13: Avionics. At Aero India 2013, Obedinnoe Avaitstroitel’noi Corporatsii (United Aircraft Corp.) President Mikhail Pogosyan says that the new fighter will “have a single set of on-board equipment [cockpit avionics],” as a requirement of the Indian Air Force. He adds that India’s fighters will also share the Russian single-seat configuration.

Both of those statements would represent major changes from India. India’s initial plans involved a 2-seat variant that would follow the example of programs like the SU-30MKI, and create a unique cockpit avionics set that used equipment from Indian companies and foreign vendors. If Pogosyan is correct, India has backtracked toward a standard type configuration, and joint funding of upgrades. UPI.


India’s timeline keeps falling back, as it cuts plans to 144 jets; No SU-50 for ROKAF; Prototype #4 flies; AESA radar testing begins. #T2 lands
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Dec 12/12: #4 flies. The 4th prototype takes flight at the snowy Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO). UAC.

Nov 12/12: RCS guess. Airpower Australia uses public-domain photos coupled with the Physical Optics (PO) method for predicting the Radar Cross Section of complex targets on Russia’s T50, using VisCam View software to produce a PolyChromatic Spherical Representation (PCSR). Without flight test data, it’s still a guess, but it’s a kind of guess that Moore’s Law has made available outside of large intelligence agencies.

Their guess? It won’t match the F-22, or even China’s J-20, but if they introduce a rectangular faceted design to the engine nozzles and add radar absorbent coatings, they might beat the F-35. Sources: Airpower Australia, “A Preliminary Assessment of Specular Radar Cross Section Performance in the Sukhoi T-50 Prototype” | WIRED Danger Room, “Russia’s Stealth Fighter Could Match U.S. Jets, Analyst Says”.

Oct 9/12: During an interview with India Strategic, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne confirms that HAL has committed $6 billion to joint development. Plans have changed, and India’s 144 planned FGFAs will all be single seaters, now, hewing much more closely to the Russian baseline. In the same vein as India’s SU-30 MKIs, however, they’ll have some avionics and integration differences. According to the ACM Browne:

“… the first prototype is likely to be delivered to India in 2014 followed by two more in 2017 and 2019. The series production then “will only be ordered based on the final configuration and performance of the third prototype.”

See: India Strategic | IANS.

Aug 19/12: Even later to India. Reports now indicate that the 1st FGFA prototype flight tests should start in India in 2014, with deliveries to the Indian Air Force by 2022, a full ten years from now. This would be the start of a $30+ billion, 250 plane program over the next decade, at roughly $100 million each.

Closer to the present, Russia and India are reportedly finalizing the research and development phase at $11+ billion, split evenly between the two parties. Business Standard | AviationWeek.

Aug 8/12: Radar. Sukhoi announces that they’ve begun flight tests of the PAK-FA’s Tikhomirov “active phased array radar system” in both air-to-air and air-to-surface test modes. Initial trials toward flight refueling also take place this month. Sukhoi | The DEW Line | RIA Novosti.

May 14/12: Late to India. India is already backtracking on service dates for its FGFA variant of Sukhoi’s T50, bringing them closer to predictions made by outside observers years ago. M M Pallam Raju has moved the plane’s certification and production start date from 2017 back to 2019. Close examination shows that 2020 or beyond is more likely.

India’s Business Standard also highlights a number of areas that aren’t settled, where ongoing specifications changes and/or technical problems may end up delaying the fighter and send India’s costs skyrocketing. India reportedly wants 40-45 design changes to the current PAK-FA, including its own avionics and a “360 degrees” AESA radar. That last requirement is likely to involve AESA “cheek fairings” that need to maintain aircraft stealth levels, a tailcone radar, and the internal computing and software required to fuse all of those radars into a single picture. They also want at least 2,000 hours of certification flying, and possible configuration changes in light of tests. India now expects their fighters to prepare for service no earlier than 2019, and if the IAF fields a 2-seat version, it’s likely to take even longer. All of India’s changes add 3 types of risk.

One is technical risk. India’s history is littered with overly ambitious projects that India’s Ministry of Defense and associated state-run agencies approved, but could not execute. The cutting-edge nature of the FGFA project magnifies those risks, even with Sukhoi’s assistance.

The 2nd risk is cost risk. Sukhoi’s help, and the associated design, production, and testing of new FGFA equipment, won’t come for free. The more changes India makes, the more the project will cost them. Russia isn’t going to pick up the tab for changes to a design their air force has already approved, and even the “Tactical Technical Agreement” that specified Indian changes isn’t going to mean much if costs become a problem. Russia has forcibly renegotiated critical defense contracts with India several times, and won’t hesitate to do so again.

The 3rd risk is schedule risk. Since Russia is focused on fielding the current single-seat configuration in its current form, while India is focused on major configuration changes and is still debating a 2-seat variant, both of those timelines could turn out to be true. Russia could wind up fielding SU-50 squadrons several years before India even finishes development. India’s Business Standard.

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

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

This means that the Indo-Russian PAK-FA will not be part of the $7+ billion competition, despite reports (vid. July 20/11) that it was intending to participate, just as Russian disinterest kept the SU-35 out of F-X-2.


Prototypes #2 & 3 fly; Testing flameout; South Korean opportunity? PAK-FA: takeoff!
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Dec 22/11: #3 flies. First flight of the 3rd PAK-FA prototype from Sukhoi’s KNAAPO aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Sukhoi.

Sept 6/11: Exports? Russia & India Report highlights an analysis by Russia’s unofficial Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT), which takes a look at potential buyers of the PAK-FA’s export version. They see a potential for 274-388 export units beyond India or states that spun out of the Soviet Union, like Kazakhstan et. al. Their projections for possible buyers, and their projected purchasing periods, include:

  • Algeria (2025-2030)
  • Argentina (2035-2040)
  • Brazil (2030-2035)
  • Venezuela (2027-2032)
  • Vietnam (2030-2035)
  • Indonesia (2028-2032)
  • Iran (subject to lifting of the arms embargo, 2035-2040)
  • Kazakhstan (2025-2035)
  • China (“subject to certain conditions”, 2025-2035)
  • Malaysia (2035-2040)
  • Syria (2025-2030)

Aug 24/11: Flameout. Flight International conveys NPO Saturn general director Ilya Federo’s explanation of the MAKS 2011 failure:

“The motor did not fail – in fact, it was put by erroneous control input into a wrong mode that caused the surge. This is not an engine failure, but the wrong data input caused by a malfunctioning sensor feeding data to the flight control system. After what had happened the motor was checked [and] the malfunctioning sensor was replaced by a good one. Today, there is no issue with this engine.”

Aug 22/11: Flameout. After performing a basic fly-over with the PAK FA, Sukhoi intended to close Russia’s MAKS 2011 air show with a bang – and did, sort of. The pilot of its second prototype PAK-FA/T50-2 was forced to abort his take-off run, and the planned flying routine, after 2 bursts of flame erupted from the right engine.

The show’s organizers compounded the embarrassment by promising that the 1st prototype would fly instead – but it was not on site, and is believed to be in maintenance following its Aug 17/11 demonstration. Flameout: Flight International (incl. flame burst picture) | India’s Open magazine | China’s Xinhua || Appearance: Moscow Times | Pravda | RIA Novosti | Voice of Russia | Reuters | UPI | WSJ Emerging Europe blog | op-ed – Right-wing Heritage Foundation, USA.

July 20/11: PAK-FA for South Korea? As South Korea’s DAPA eases the criteria to try and foster more competition, DAPA’s Col. Wi Jong-seong says that “Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi expressed its intent to compete in the fighter jet procurement project early this year.” The report quotes him as saying that Sukhoi’s T50 PAK-FA will be up against Boeing’s stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, and EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon. Assuming we don’t have an F-X-2 repeat, where all competitors but one drop out.

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

March 3/11: #2 flies. Russia’s 2nd PAK-FA fighter prototype successfully completes its 1st test flight in Russia’s Far East region of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Note that China’s Xinhua cites local reports dated Feb 23/11, but Sukhoi’s release pegs the date at March 3/11.

UAC’s Mikhail Pogosyan adds that they expect to have a fleet of 3 test aircraft by year end, and says the existing jets have now made 40 flights since last January to test the model’s aero-dynamic characteristics and electronics. Beyond that, Pogosyan tells Russian media that the Indian Air Force will “acquire 50 single-seater fighters of the Russian version” before their 2-seat FGFA is developed. If true, it would go a long way toward ensuring that India meets its 2017 induction target. On the Russian end, plans are to purchase the first batch with existing engines, buying the first 10 aircraft after 2012 and then 60 after 2016. Russia’s Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies director Ruslan Pukhov predicts that Vietnam will be the 2nd export customer for the fighter. Sukhoi | Russia’s Pravda | China’s Xinhua.

Feb 9/11: With Aero India 2011 underway, Sukhoi offers some additional details regarding the December 2010 agreement with India:

“This is the first of a series of documents governing the obligations of the parties at different stages of the program. The PMF project includes the design and development of a next-generation fighter, which will have such advanced features as stealth, supersonic cruise speed, high maneuverability, highly integrated set of avionics, an advanced warning system about the situation, the internal deployment of weapons and the possibility of a centralized reporting and electronic warfare system. The fighter is being developed on the basis of the Russian perspective aviation complex (PAK FA) according to stringent technical requirements of the Indian side. The further development of the program envisages design and development of a two-place version of the aircraft and integration of an advanced engine with increased thrust. The two sides are supposed to cooperate in joint marketing of the complex in other countries.”

Feb 9/11: India. Indian defence minister AK Antony reiterates their target of a 2017 induction for the FGFA. India’s defense procurement history suggests that they’re unlikely to make it. Time will tell. Sukhoi.


1st flight; Russian air force plans; Contract with India. Sukhoi PAK-FA: 1st flight
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Dec 20/10: Contract. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly signs a set of defense and nuclear agreements in India, including the FGFA development contract. Details remain sketchy. Bloomberg | BBC.

Dec 16/10: Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman Ashok Nayak tells Russia’s RIA Novosti that Russia and India have agreed on key features of the design contract for their joint fifth-generation fighter project. The cost of preliminary design is estimated at $295 million, with work expected to be complete within 18 months. The partnership will develop both a single-seat and a twin-seat version of the aircraft by 2016, focusing on the single-seat version in the initial stages of development.

Nayak said the contract could be signed by the representatives of India’s HAL and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) during a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to India on December 20-22. RIA Novosti.

Development contract

Nov 30/10: The right-wing American Heritage Foundation think tank releases an analysis of the Russia program and its implications: “What Russia’s Stealth Fighter Developments Mean for America“.

July 23/10: Testing. Sukhoi’s KnAAPO issues a release saying that:

“Sukhoi Company has completed the preliminary on-land and in-flight activities which involved all 3 engineering prototypes of the Frontline Aviation Advanced Airborne Complex (PAK FA)… These prototypes were used for testbed strength tests, on-land optimization of fuel systems and other work towards flight trials. The flying prototype has made 16 flights… enables execution of a complete program of flight trials… Vladimir Popovkin, the Russian Defense Minister First Deputy, in his interview to the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper estimated the Russian Air Force’s demand for the 5th-generation fighters at 50 to 100 units. It is planned to complete all tests of the PAK FA airframe in 2011-2012, and to sign a contract in 2013 for a pilot lot of ten aircraft for testing the model’s entire weapons suite.”

July 13/10: Russia. RIA Novosti quotes senior Russian figures. Russian Air Force chief Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin confirms the expected delivery dates of over 60 planes, which they hope to begin in 2015-16, but equipped with older, “non-fifth” generation engines from existing SU-30 family planes.

“Deputy Defense Minister for Arms Procurement Vladimir Popovkin said the Defense Ministry would purchase the first 6 to 10 aircraft after 2012, based on the outcome of initial tests… The prime minister said 30 billion rubles (around $1 billion) had already been spent on the project and another 30 billion would be required to complete it, after which the engine, weaponry and other components would be upgraded.”

April 2010: Testing. The 1st flying prototype of the fighter, and the avionics testbed used for systems optimization before flight trials, are delivered to the flying test center of the OKB Sukhoi Experimental Design Bureau in Zhukovsky, near Moscow. On April 29/10, the flying prototype begins preliminary tests. Source.

March 29/10: Welcome to the new world of intelligence, where a pair of YouTube videos appear to provide insights into PAK-FA technologies. Veteran aviation journalist Bill Sweetman reports that:

“…the video highlights a new honeycomb core material designed for high temperatures. It also states that the T-50 will have no fewer than five radar arrays: the 1500-module forward active electronically scanned array (AESA), two side-facing X-band sub-arrays and two “decimetric” (L-band) arrays in the leading-edge root extensions. It also states that the goal is to fight the F-22 by closing within visual range. Another new video shows a novel inlet radar blocker… It uses flexible vanes with a rotating ring at the rear end: in the “stealth regime” it provides extensive blockage, but it clears the airflow when it doesn’t matter or you need full speed or power.”

Late March 2010: Testing. Acceptance trials of the flying prototype are fully completed. Source.

March 16/10: Russia. 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…”

Feb 12/10: Testing. The PAK-FA prototype reportedly makes its 2nd flight at Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Times Now | RT .

Feb 6/10: Some aviation watchers ask “How long has the PAK-FA or T50 been flying?” They believe that the first prototype may have flown before January 2010, and that there may be more than 1 prototype, based on differences in available photos.

Jan 29/10: Fly! The first prototype PAK-FA fighter lifts off from KNAAPO’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur facility for a 47 minute flight, piloted by Sukhoi test-pilot Sergey Bogdan. Sukhoi says that the plane met all expectations. Sukhoi JSC release | NPO Saturn release [in Russian] | Russia 1 TV video | Pravda | RIA Novosti | Times of India | Aviation Week | Defense News | Agence France Presse | BBC | Canadian Press | Washington Post | China’s Xinhua | Aviaiton Week’s Bill Sweetman: Preliminary Analysis.

1st PAK-FA flight

Jan 6/10: India’s Business Standard covers the workshare and capability issues that have must be addressed before production contracts and arrangements can be finalized. The project is currently expected to have development costs of $8-10 billion, and Russia and Sukhoi have already made substantial investments.

The crux of the negotiations revolves around HAL’s designated development workshare, and the areas it will be applied to. On the other side of the table, the Russian United Aircraft Corporation is wary of India’s lack of design credentials, coupled with the cutting-edge nature of this project. HAL is intent on a 25% share, to include the mission computer and critical software (building on Indian SU-30MKI work), navigation systems, cockpit displays, counter-measures dispensing (CMD) systems, composites expertise and production to complement Russia’s titanium expertise, and modifying Sukhoi’s single-seat design into a twin-seat fighter for the IAF. HAL’s Chairman Ashok Baweja seems to have a different view of the fighter’s design state, referring to existing prototypes as “proof of concept” items rather than nearly final designs.

Once the 2 sides come to a firm agreement on issues of design and funding, UAC and HAL will sign a General Contract, and set up a joint venture to design and build the aircraft. That has not happened yet, while Sukhoi has continued to push forward with general design, and has produced a prototype aircraft. Business Standard describes India’s workshare as “almost finalised,” but as we’ve seen with other Indian procurements, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Jan 3/10: Rollout. Reports surface that the first prototype of Russia’s PAK-FA aircraft has rolled out on the runway at KNAAPO’s plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, but did not fly. The test pilot reportedly switched on the engines and made 2 runs on the airstrip, while testing the brakes.

Russia’s vice premier Sergei Ivanov had promised that tests would commence in December 2009-January 2010, and the Russian Air Force reportedly plans to induct the fighter beginning from 2015. DNA India.

2008 – 2009

Russia – India MoU signed; Russia approves their version’s design; Exports could be a challenge. PAK-FA: early concept
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Oct 9/09: India. The Indian Ministry of Defence issues a release regarding the 9th meeting of the Russia-India Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation on Oct 14-15/09:

“Among the major new projects which will be high in priorities of the Indian agenda for bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries, will be projects for joint design and development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and of the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MTA). The co-development and co-production of the FGFA with Sukhoi Design Bureau Russia has been progressing, with several rounds of discussion already completed to finalize the technical requirements. During discussions in the meeting of the Commission, Shri Antony would highlight New Delhi’s interest in ensuring that the development phase of the FGFA is completed by 2016, as originally anticipated and that induction of the aircraft into the IAF can start by 2017.”

See also: Times of India.

Aug 28/09: Radar. Tikhomirov’s NIIP reportedly exhibits models of the PAK-FA’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Tikhomirov reportedly says the AESA antenna entered bench testing in November 2008, and was mated with the radar’s other blocks for an initial integration test “this summer,” with a 2nd radar produced by mid-2010 for integration with the operational prototype aircraft.

The Milaz report adds that Sukhoi will complete 5 prototypes for initial testing, including 2 to be dedicated for ground test activities. Initial trials are scheduled for completion in 2011-12, with the company expecting to produce an initial batch of aircraft for operational trials by 2015.

April 16/09: Exports? Forecast International offers a cautionary market assessment of the FGFA:

“…with the PAKFA program under increasing tension and the West’s major aerospace firms seeking to shore up additional orders for soon to be closed fourth-generation aircraft production lines, Russia faces the prospect of declining presence in the world’s most high sought after arms markets… Faced with the considerable research & development costs associated with developing a new, advanced fighter platform, Russia is seeking to both distribute costs and ensure that a viable export market will exist… Sukhoi, is reported to have already invested as much as $115 million in company capital…

Several factors are working against the Rosoboronexport’s attempts replicate the international cost/production-sharing development model implemented for the F-35, which is expected to become the dominant fighter in the fifth-generation market… the unproven status of the PAKFA… its timeline for delivery its far behind its western competitors. Deliveries of the PAKFA are not anticipated to begin until 2017. Finally, as production of the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 ramp up, the western aerospace firms currently producing advanced variants of fourth-generation aircraft are likely to push hard to gain additional order to extend production lines.”

Aug 8/09: RIA Novosti quotes the chief of the Russian Air Force, Alexander Zelin, from the MAKS-2009 arms show. Zelin says there are problems with the PAK-FA’s proposed new engines, and:

“For the time being the aircraft will use Saturn engines. There are problems, I admit, but research is continuing.”

Dec 29/08: MoU. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) sign the deal to jointly develop and produce a 5th generation fighter aircraft. HAL Chairman Ashok K Baweja:

“We (HAL and UAC) are moving forward as per schedule. We (have) just done the general contract yesterday. I went to Delhi and signed the general contract.”

According to reports, Russia and India will simultaneously develop 2 versions of the aircraft: a 2-seat version for India, and a single seat version for the Russian Air Force. India Defence.

India – Russia MoU

Sept 29/08: India Today magazine reports that the Russian and Indian designs for the FGFA project will differ somewhat, while efforts continue to define India’s participation in a project that has reportedly already had its design frozen by Sukhoi. HAL Chairman Ashok Baweja is quoted as saying that the Indian aircraft will be a 2-seat aircraft, which changes some aspects of design and has an especial impact on stealth unless carefully managed. Bajewa added that both stealth and supercruise capabilities were expected for the aircraft, adding that both sides were closer to a real agreement defining India’s participation, almost a year after the original cooperation memo was signed. India’s capabilities in composite materials manufacturing was mentioned as a possible basis for industrial participation.

Meanwhile, Russia’s the United Aircraft Corporation President Alexey Fedorov says that the single-seat T50 is set to fly in Russia in 2009 as planned; Bajewa adds that it will be powered by an ALF-31 FP engine.

The most interesting quote was Indian Air Vice Marshal Kak’s, who noted that the opportunity to gain from being part of the design process was gone, and added that “…if we have missed out on the design phase, we have to analyse the cost-benefits of acquiring only super cruise and stealth technology for $10 billion.”

A fair question. One likely to be asked in the political realm as well, when the time comes to finalize the agreement. Which leads to the corollary questions: How important each aspect is to the IAF? And where, if anywhere, might enough of these performance benefits be acquired at less cost?

Summer 2008: Design approval. The fighter’s initial design is approved in Russia, and the prototype blueprints are delivered to the KNAAPO aircraft building company based in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Source.

Russia approves design

April 3/08: RIA Novosti reports that Russia plans to begin flight tests of a new fifth-generation fighter based on Sukhoi’s PAK FA project in 2009.

Feb 28/08: HAL explains some of the timelines facing the FGFA program. HAL Chairman Ashok Baweja explains the process, which is also the set of implicit points of failure where the project can become stalled or canceled:

“We have only signed an Inter-governmental Agreement which agrees to cooperate in developing the FGFA. Now from that will flow the project report, general contract, the structure of the company that will be set up, and where the funding will come from. An aircraft design, development, certification, the complete entity with its power plant, systems, weapons, trials, is a process which takes 15 years to be completed.”

2004 – 2007

India signs key agreement, but it isn’t finalized. India’s SU-30 MKIs
(click to view full)

Nov 6/07: India. Issues and rifts may be developing between India and Russia over the FGFA contract, which still lacks key signatories. Defense News reports that key difference include the design’s level of finalization (India wants more input and hasn’t finalized requirements, Russia says the design is final), India’s monetary share (HAL says $2 billion, agreement suggests $5-6 billion), and other issues. The Defense News report does claim that Sukhoi’s secret PAK-FA/ I-21/ T50 design has been selected as the foundation.

The first prototype of the aircraft is reportedly projected to be test-flown by 2015, but the number of aircraft to be built remains among the unsettled issues, and the 2 state-owned firms (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. & Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau) have not signed any agreements yet.

All of these things are solvable by negotiations, of course, but that means the partnership is still effectively in negotiations, rather than a final deal.

Oct 18/07: India and Russia sign an Intergovernmental Agreement for joint development and joint production of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). The agreement was signed in Moscow, Russia at the conclusion of the 7th Meeting of the India- Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation.

India’s Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony and his Russian counterpart Mr. Anatoly Serdyukov also signed a Protocol which envisages a ‘new strategic relationship’ based on greater interaction at various operational levels. The two countries have agreed to strengthen and expand relations in all areas, especially in the areas of more frequent joint exercises and greater R&D cooperation. Talks with Russia to extend the 2000 Military Cooperation Agreement beyond 2010 have now begun, and Antony also expressed hope that the two countries would soon sign an Intergovernmental Agreement on co-development and co-production of Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MRTA). The India MoD release adds:

“The Defence Minister described the Agreement on FGFA as a ‘major landmark’ and said that the Indo-Russian relationship is on a trajectory to reach new heights. He Mr. Antony expressed satisfaction at the outcome of discussions on other important projects e.g., supply and licensed production of T-90 tanks, SU-30 MKI aircraft and other strategic issues. He admitted that there has been a delay in the delivery of the repaired and refurbished aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov along with supply of deck-based fighter aircraft MiG-29K and said it was decided that some more studies by technical groups would be done to go through the details. He appreciated the efforts made by the Russian side to resolve issues relating to life cycle support of equipment of Russian origin.”

Inter-Governmental Agreement

Aug 29/07: India. India’s MoD issues a familiar release, in response to renewed questions:

“Co-development of a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft has been identified as an important area of cooperation between the Indian and Russian Government. Technical discussions to work out the details are in progress. Efforts are on for finalizing the draft Inter Governmental Agreement in this regard. This information was given by the Minister of State for Defence Production Rao Inderjit Singh in a written reply to Shri Gurudas Dasgupta and Shri CK Chandrappan in Lok Sabha today.”

March 1/07: India.Advanced Combat Aircraft” release from India’s Minister of State for Defence Production Shri Rao Inderjit Singh:

“The co-development of a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft has been identified as an important area of cooperation between the Indian and Russian governments. Technical discussions to work out the details are in progress. Efforts are on for negotiations and finalization of the draft Inter-Governmental Agreement in this regard.”

Dec 10/04: The new fighter’s exterior design is approved. Source.

Appendix A: “Fifth Generation”? MiG 1.44 MFI
(click to view full)

Russia’s SU-27/30 Flanker family fighters were invented in the 1980s and 1990s, and attempted to incorporate the lessons from America’s 4th generation “teen series” fighters (F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18) into their designs. They were successful, and India’s Air Force may now be flying the world’s second best air superiority fighter in the SU-30MKI. The MKI, and European designs like the Eurofighter, Rafale, and JAS-39 Gripen, are typically referred to as “4+ generation” aircraft.

The term “fifth generation” fighter is part marketing hype, and partly based in reality. There are no objective criteria for this designation, and very few examples, which means it’s mostly applied based on when the development of a front-line, advanced fighter begins. There are a few general constants on the American side: some level of stealth, and internal weapon carriage to maintain it; arrays of embedded sensors within the airframe’s structure, rather than as bolt-ons; and sensor fusion into single displays. On the other hand, level of application varies for each category, and key capabilities like super-maneuverability and supercruise (Mach 1+ without using fuel-guzzling afterburners) have not been constants.

F-22, bays open
(click to view full)

The USA’s “5th generation” F-22A Raptor offers full stealth, supermaneuverability, an advanced AESA radar, huge computing power that creates a single “sensor fusion” picture from the plane’s array of embedded sensors and datalinks, and the ability to “supercruise” above Mach 1 instead of just making short supersonic dashes. It is operated by the USAF, and just over 190 aircraft will constitute America’s entire fleet. America has refused to export it, despite interest from very close allies.

To a lesser extent, there’s also the cheaper F-35 Lightning II, with some stealth, a smaller AESA radar, sensor fusion, and even more computing power and sensors embedded around the aircraft. It lacks supercruise or super-maneuverability, and will be produced for domestic use and export in Air Force, Marines/STOVL, and Navy variants.

Russia’s MiG 1.44 (if indeed it was a real project?) and/or “I-21″ type aircraft were early attempts to keep up with the Americans, but lack of funds suspended both efforts.

The obvious solution was a foreign partner, but Europe had limited funds, and had invested in its own 4+ generation projects: Dassault’s Rafale, EADS’ Eurofighter, and Sweden’s Gripen. India, on the other hand, has a long-standing defense relationship with Russia, and the funds to pursue advanced projects. From their point of view, a joint development agreement is one way to restrict Russian cooperation with China along similar lines. See Vijiander K Thakur’s “Understanding IAF interest in the MiG fifth generation fighter” for more background.

Until similar aspects of the Russian design became clear, however, it was impossible to know exactly what Russia and India meant by “5th generation.” Some of those ambiguities were resolved when Russia unveiled its T50 demonstrators.

Appendix B: DID Analysis – Under Pressure (2008) The competition?
(click to view full)

If there’s one watchword to use for this deal, it’s “pressure.” Russia has been putting pressure on India lately to remain a customer, by giving China export rights to jet engines that will power Pakistan’s new fighters, and by working to evict India from its base in Tajikistan. Verbiage concerning deepened strategic cooperation needs to be seen in this light.

The second kind of pressure at work here is the fiscal variety. With the Navy also demanding funds for new ships, submarines and aircraft as India’s geostrategy shifts toward securing the Indian Ocean sea lanes, any additional fighters will face an extremely tight fiscal environment over the next decade and more.

India already faces cost pressures given limited defense budget and pressing need to refurbish its existing fleet, modernize its fighters via the MRCA competition, and bring the Tejas LCA on line to replace its MiG-21s. Not to mention adding new platforms to patrol India’s vital sea lanes, fulfill naval fighter needs, upgrade its transport aircraft fleet, and extend the IAF’s reach. Meanwhile, India’s SU-30MKIs remain one of the best 4th generation aircraft in the world, with a comfortable edge over regional rivals, good growth prospects, and superiority over most current and planned US aircraft as well.

SU-30MK2s, China
(click to view full)

Then there’s pressure in future, as the strategic agreement lays the foundations for something of a dilemma down the road. There are no real guarantees when dealing with Russia, only its interests of the moment and the logic of cash. Any fighter whose R&D is partly underwritten by India can easily be sold to China later on if relations turn sour, or if India does not buy enough aircraft to make exclusivity worthwhile from Russia’s point of view. One might think that this would be counterbalanced somewhat by Russian wariness about giving a potential rival its best technology, but past experience shows that even this will be for sale. China’s real military budget is about 4-5 times India’s according to most credible estimates, and is likely to remain so.

Given the amount of Russian equipment in India’s military, and the limitations of defense budgets in a democracy that prevent a massive “throw-out and re-equip” exercise, India’s options for retaliation would be very limited.

India faces high hurdles to retaining future exclusivity – and is handing a potent lever to Russia for future “negotiations” involving Russian armaments.

Additional Readings Background: PAK-FA

  • Global Security – PAK FA [Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsyi].

  • Air Power Australia (Feb 15/10) – Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA. “While the failure to account for the imminent arrival of this design in United States TACAIR force structure planning qualifies the PAK-FA as a “known capability surprise”, the important advances in PAK-FA aerodynamic, kinematic and low observables design also qualify it as a “surprising capability surprise”.

  • Wikipedia – Sukhoi PAK FA. Wikipedia is a useful source for concept aircraft, because it tends to aggregate the various sources. This article is a good example. Note that all articles concerning this aircraft must be regarded as very provisional.

  • Warfare.RU, via WayBack – PAK-FA Sukhoi T-50. As of 2011. The “T-50″ is an internal designation; the operational aircraft will be SU-##.

  • RIA Novosti, via WayBack – FACTBOX: Russia’s fifth-generation fighter T-50 (PAK FA). As of 2012.

  • NPO Saturn – 117S. The engine that equips the Su-35, and early T50 models. For its successor, see Aircraft Engines of the 5th Generation [in Russian].

News and Views

Categories: News

Oshkosh Takes JLTV Competition | Air Force Keeps ‘Em Guessing on A-10 | More Nations Interested in French Heli Carriers

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 01:28

  • Oshkosh won one of the largest land forces defense contracts ever, taking the $30 billion JLTV contract. The initial order for 17,000 vehicles will start replacing Humvees in fiscal 2016 and really ramp in 2018. Runner ups were Lockheed and AM General.

  • In what is perhaps the biggest reality perception difference between the Air Force and the rest of the military and civilian government, the Air Force has been working hard to shut down the A-10 program, maintaining that the close air support stalwart isn’t earning its keep. The several billion dollars saved would go to more F-35 work, as that platform has been tipped to be the replacement, although some senior Air Force officers have suggested that perhaps a completely new craft would be in order. So it was newsworthy that a senior officer for testing had suggested a shoot-out between the A-10 and F-35. That test is now taking fire from the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who called such a test “silly.” Still, Welsh said that the F-35 was never intended as an A-10 replacement, so that leaves observers scratching heads as to which parts of the Air Force desire what outcome, especially as few believe an A-X replacement would be cheaper.

  • After a series of embarrassments, such as a test cheating scandal, the Air Force’s Global Strike Command will be part of an officer exchange program with their well-respected submarine equivalents. The “Striker Trident” program this week saw the start of two-year tours for two boomer officers, who will be working at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, presumably in hopes some of the sub culture will rub off.

  • Northrop Grumman’s naval UAV the Fire Scout is completing endurance demonstrations, flitting about for 10 hours at a time.


  • The U.S. will deploy F-22 fighters to Europe in an effort to shore up Eastern European depth of defense against a theoretical incursion by Russia.

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


  • Airbus has been straining politeness as it protests the Japanese decision to choose an indigenous vendor along with Textron for its $3 billion transport contract. When asked about a rumored lawsuit, Airbus responded that things had not quite reached that stage, but managed to lay in some insults to its winning competition, noting that the Textron version of the UH-X will be built around a 60-year old design, versus Airbus’s “clean sheet” design.

  • Russian state news agency Tass reports that the much touted Armata tank program is moving along and will be presented to various foreign defense markets through exhibitions.

  • The Thai Air Force took delivery of four of six ordered Airbus EC725 helicopters. They are to become operational in September. Ordered in 2012, the remaining two will be delivered next year.

Today’s Video

  • The “invisible” Russian Armata tank gets towed after breaking down in the big Red Square parade:

Categories: News

JLTV: Proposals in from Lockheed, AM General, Oshkosh

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 00:45
Ultra APV demonstrator
(click to view full)

In an age of non-linear warfare, where front lines are nebulous at best and non-existent at worst, one of the biggest casualties is… the concept of unprotected rear echelon vehicles, designed with the idea that they’d never see serious combat. That imperative is being driven home on 2 fronts. One front is operational. The other front is buying trends.

These trends, and their design imperatives, found their way into the USA’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, which aims to replace many of the US military’s 120,000 or so Humvees. The US military’s goal is a 7-10 ton vehicle that’s lighter than its MRAPs and easier to transport aboard ship, while offering substantially better protection ad durability than existing up-armored Humvees. They’d also like a vehicle that can address front-line issues like power generation, in order to recharge all of the batteries troops require for electronic gadgets like night sights, GPS devices, etc.

DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. JLTV certainly qualifies, and recent budget planning endorsements have solidifed a future that was looking shaky. Now, can the Army’s program deliver?

JLTV: Program & Risks ONR’s testbed
(click to view full)

The JLTV program began in 2005, with the Army’s recognition that its HMMWV contract would expire in a couple of years, and that a better vehicle was needed to face current threats. The US Army bears overall JLTV responsibility through a Joint Program Office within its Tank, Automotive, and Armament Command (TACOM) in Warren, MI. US Marine Corps participation is centered on a program office under the supervision of the Program Executive Officer Land Systems (PEO LS) Marine Corps at Quantico, VA.

JLTV has benefited from a number of military research programs. They include the Army’s Future Tactical Truck System (FTTS), as well as prototyping efforts on the Ford F350-based Ultra Armored Patrol. Ultra AP was an Office of Naval Research program, involving Badenoch LLC and engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Georgia Tech Research Institute. JLTV has its own requirements set, and was originally envisaged as having a $160 million Technology Development Phase (TDP) with 2 winners; a higher-level review increased the maximum to 3 winners, but did not increase funding.

Those TDP contracts were supposed to be placed in the 3rd quarter of FY 2008, but weren’t issued until Q1 FY 2009. Winners were subject to armor and ballistic testing, system tests, and live fire testing.

At the end of the TD phase, initial plans called for 2 System Design and Development (SDD) contract awards in Q2 FY 2011, in order to finish the base design and develop the remaining variants. That phase is now called EMD (Engineering & Manufacturing Development), and 3 contracts were issued in August 2012. Col. John Myers, Project Manager for the Army’s Joint Combat Support Services, has always said that that this will be another full and open competition – which means that losers in the TD Phase could conceivably invest, adapt, and win the SDD contract. That’s exactly what happened.

The EMD phase will be followed by a final competition that includes both low and full rate production, and the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Source Selection Authority plans to award a production contract to one winning team in 2015. Final numbers haven’t been determined yet, but the current projected quantity is about 50,000 JLTVs over an 8-year span. The ultimate value could rise to $30-40 billion over more than a decade, giving JLTV the potential to become the world’s largest single land system contract.

The JLTV Family of Vehicles JLTV family comcept
(click to view full)

JLTV is designed to be very modular, which could eventually lead to a dizzying array of variants if the US military wishes. Vehicles must show better performance than the current HMMWV fleet in protection, mobility in dry conditions, and other RFP areas such as power generation; and each category must also be able to tow a trailer with similar capacity. They must be externally transportable in sling mode by CH-47 Chinook or CH-53 Stalion family heavy-lift helicopters, and 2 must be transportable in a C-130 Hercules medium transport aircraft.

Initially, JLTV fell into 3 payload categories for the Technology Development phase, with individual variants in each category to come later.

JLTV Category A. General 4-seat utility vehicle, payload 3,500 pounds. May be thought of as the base vehicle, to be built during the Technology Development (TD) phase.

JLTV Category B. Will be used as the base for most variants. Payload must be 4,000 pounds, desired objective is 4,500. The TD phase will build the 6-seat Infantry Carrier and the C2OTM Command on the move variants. Category B Reconnaissance, Heavy Guns Carrier, TOW ITAS missile carrier, Medium utility, and Ambulance (3 seat + 2 litter) variants will be developed during the SDD phase.

JLTV Category C. The “small truck” class. Payload must be 5,100 pounds. The general shelter carrier and utility variant will be developed during the TD phase; its Hummer M1097 and M1152 analogues are used as mounts for semi-mobile command posts, as equipment carriers, and as light trucks. A larger (3 seat + 4 litter) JLTV ambulance variant will be developed during the SDD phase.

As the US military prepares for a production contract, the types have been set more clearly into 4 initial production variants:

  • M1278 JLTV-HGC (Heavy Guns Carrier). From CAT B, accommodates mounted crew-served weapons in a protected gun mount. Some manufacturers claim that their design could comfortably step beyond .50 caliber.

  • M1279 JLTV-UTL. Utility/ Cargo light truck variant, from CAT C. Unlike the others, which are all 4-seat vehicles, JLTV-UTL is 2-seat to make more room in back.

  • M1280 JLTV-GP. General Purpose vehicle, from CAT A.

  • M1281 JLTV-CCWC (Close-Combat Weapons Carrier). From CAT B, an anti-tank/ anti-armor platform that will employ the Army’s TOW-ITAS missile and sight system (called M41 Saber in the USMC), along with direct-fire weapons such as the M2 .50-cal machine gun.

JLTV: Goals and Constraints HMMWV, IEDed
(click to view full)

IED land mines were the #1 killer of American troops in Iraq, and up-armoring flat-bottomed Humvees proved to be an inadequate response. This finally led to the MRAP program at the end of 2006, which will have ordered and produced nearly 16,000 blast-resistant vehicles in less than 3 years. British experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has been similar, with 1/8 of all its casualties inflicted on troops riding in poorly-protected Land Rover Snatch jeeps. Those conditions have prompted several senior officer resignations in protest, including highly placed SAS commanders.

While some countries like Australia and Germany were foresighted enough to develop and field mine-resistant vehicles before 2001, a collective realization is sinking in across the board that up-armoring flat-bottomed vehicles with inadequate carrying capacity, in order to provide a level of protection that is better but still poor, simply will not do. Future patrol vehicles will need to be designed from the outset for blast-resistance against land mines and even car bombs.

There’s no getting around it: JLTV’s requirements will drive up the cost of Army vehicles in combat zones. Smart designs like v-hulls, composite blast pans, crushable composite structures, and improved armors do help – but they come at a cost. They cost money, and they cost weight.

Cougar MRAP et. al.
(click to view full)

The current roster of MRAP vehicles cost around $450,000-$650,000 each, with additional costs for “government furnished equipment” like remote-control turrets, electronics and radios, IED jammers, and other ancillaries. These items can drive an MRAP’s cost to nearly $1 million each, compared to a HMMWV’s $250,000 or so. Given military death benefits of about $500,000 per soldier, however, a full Hummer with all hands lost actually costs $3.25 million – and that’s just the money. There is more to cost than just procurement cost. The question is, will there be more in the budgets to cover the JLTV difference? So far, the response has been to shrink the order until it fits, while attempting to cap costs.

JLTV vehicles will be smaller and lighter than MRAPs, which tends to lower relative cost. On the other hand, they will need to use more innovative design approaches and materials, in order to deliver quality protection. Their “government furnished equipment” costs can be expected to rise in cost over time, because that has been the consistent trend over the last several decades. Final average cost for every fully equipped JLTV could conceivably reach over $700,000, and containing costs under $500,000 is likely to prove very challenging.

The laws of physics also have their say, requiring mass in order to withstand certain levels of explosive power. A military Hummer maxes out at about 12,000 pounds fully loaded. Blast resistant vehicles with MRAP protection levels begin at around 30,000 pounds when empty, and the Cougar 6×6 MRAP depicted in the photo above has a fully loaded Gross Vehicle Weight of 52,000 pounds. On the other hand, Force Protection’s Cougar 6×6 has been hit by huge IED land mine blasts involving several hundred pounds of explosives – and had every single crew member walk away from the resulting wreck.

That outcome was partly the result of design that avoids killers like flat bottoms, which often take several hits from a single mine blast as the explosion is reflected back at the ground and returns to the vehicle, over and over again. Blast-resistant vehicles are also careful about the placement of items that can be blown up into the cabin, and their bottoms avoid nooks and crannies that would act as “blast traps,” catching the force of land mine explosions like a ship’s sail catches wind. Even design has its limits, however; more weight allows heavier construction, more vehicle stability against even a deflected blast’s awesome punch, and a better ratio of protection to usable interior space.

Design a 14,000 – 20,000 pound vehicle with the same mine protection as a Cougar 6×6 is close to a “mission impossible,” though the Army seems to be asking for exactly that outcome. FY 2011 testing has begun to reveal the weaknesses inherent in that approach, as weight is already proving to be an issue for the off-road mobility that the US Marines prize so highly.

Instead, a successful and survivable JLTV program needs to be built around an inevitable set of tradeoffs. Requirements like lower height for shipboard transportability mean reduced v-hull angles, and less room between the hull and the ground when a mine goes off. Those decisions may be more compatible with off-road capability, which benefits from a lower center of gravity – up to a point. On the other hand, a complex suspension might deliver improved off-road mobility, with great clearance underneath, at the cost of extra weight, extra cost, and possibly poorer reliability. In this weight class, interlinked engineering problems make it very difficult to make just one decision.

JLTV: To Be, or Not to Be? Oshkosh M-ATV
(click to view full)

JLTV’s biggest challenge will be to survive as a program. The US Army and Marine Corps both face huge maintenance budget “overhangs” as a result of long and hard equipment use required on the front-lines. Even the current rate of wartime supplemental funding has left both services short of the annual funds required for full maintenance and replacement. To make matters worse, both services have large, high-profile procurement programs (Ground Combat Vehicle, V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, USMC armored vehicle replacements) that are set to suck up massive development and/or procurement funds. Meanwhile, urgent MRAP and M-ATV “JLTV bridge buy” contracts are filling a similar niche for protected patrol vehicles, and creating a small explosion of related design ideas and in-production technologies. All the while employing a set of companies and workers with powerful local lobbying leverage, amidst an overall budgetary environment in which US military spending is expected to decline.

When seen in that light, the US military’s strategy shift away from initial visions involving large JLTV System Design and Development contracts makes a lot of sense. Instead, a set of relatively small design and development contracts, coupled with options for self-financed projects that have demonstrated success in following rounds, will give the US military its pick of 6-7 different and fully developed JLTV vehicles, all for under $300 million.

Buying the vehicles in quantity will be a different ball game, and planned JLTV numbers have declined steadily. The program’s next challenge will be to get a significant number of JLTV vehicles bought and delivered, amidst a budget environment that has moved from “tightening” to “crisis imminent”.

M-ATV’s off-road mobility, and orders to date for over 8,000 vehicles, give Oshkosh an especially strong fallback position. If JLTV falters for budgetary and technical reasons, the Army’s “bridge buy” M-ATV vehicles are already being kept in the force, alongside some of Navistar’s MaxxPro MRAPs. It wouldn’t be ideal, but those fleets could form the basis of an expeditionary force, while the military goes back to buying modified HMMWVs or other less-protected vehicles.

JLTV: Participants and Platforms BAE/ Navistar’s Valanx
(click to view full)

Unsurprisingly, the JLTV field has displayed a certain degree of design convergence, within a very different set of core approaches to the problem. Since the competition will remain fully open at every step, it’s worth tracking all submissions. Even if a design loses a round, private development work could still make it a winner in the next round.

Government releases initially said that the JLTV program received 7 qualifying submissions in response to its initial Request for Proposal. Phase 1 saw Technology Development contract awards to 3 winners: AM General and General Dynamics’ General Tactical Vehicles joint venture (GTV Eagle), BAE and Navistar (Valanx), and a Lockheed Martin team that features heavy participation from BAE Systems’ Tactical Vehicle Systems division in Sealy, TX.

Phase 2 awarded Engineering & Manufacturing Development contracts to 3 winners: The team of Lockheed and BAE TVS from round 1, AM General for its solo BRV-O entry, and Oshkosh for its privately developed L-ATV.

BAE Systems: Valanx (won TDP, lost EMD) Valanx & trailer
(click to view full)

At one time, the firms that are now part of BAE Systems had owned the world market for blast-resistant vehicles. BAE’s early lack of success in the MRAP competition was a rude shock, but a combination of acquisitions and execution brought them back to the #2 position by competition’s end. BAE firms also have a substantial combat vehicle heritage designing Bradley and CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, M113 tracked armored personnel carriers, Bv family armored all-terrain carriers, and other widely-used combat platforms. The US Army’s FMTV medium trucks offered an outstanding wheeled vehicle production background – except for one small problem. That group within BAE was already working with Lockheed Martin. BAE U.S. Combat Systems drew heavily on its combat vehicle heritage for the JLTV’s “Valanx” design, therefore, and covered its production gap with a strong alliance: Navistar, a huge commercial and military trucking firm who had finished #1 in the USA’s MRAP program. Navistar eventually split from the partnership, toward the end of the TD phase.

The Valanx reflects BAE’s combat vehicle heritage and design approaches. “Chicken tests” were performed for length of operation without oil, as were some other tests not done on normal trucks. MRAP lessons learned re: v-hull angle and materials, spacing between the “v” and ground, and aspects like fireproof spall liners were incorporated. Hull shaping and internal layout were designed to maximize sightlines, including the ability to survey the rear quadrant while sitting in the vehicle, as well as offering improved stowage. With respect to armaments, BAE’s RG-33 is reportedly the only MRAP vehicle in theater that has been equipped with a fully stabilized turret for accurate fire on the move. Their JLTV design’s body rigidity would build on that heritage, allowing the cupola hole to mount and fire substantially larger weapons than a HMMWV could safely carry.

Sightlines and stowage were only some of the user-centric design aspects incorporated into the vehicle. Close examination shows windows that are all the same, which means just one spare type to stock. The hydraulic suspension system will raise and lower the vehicle for off-roading or ship transport, but it can also pick up just one corner to make tire changes easier. The spare tire carrier is an integrated jack, and BAE claims that a “5% female” (female in lowest 5% of Army physical requirements) can change their JLTV’s tire, quickly, if required. Observers may also note the extra space from the tire to the wheel well rims; this allows units to bolt up different size wheel and tire assemblies in order to change the vehicle’s characteristics, lowering ground pressure with MRAP-size tires for off-road activities or heavier loads, or using smaller tires for less weight and more efficient on-road use.

The BAE team chose not to create a hybrid drive vehicle, on the grounds that a conventional drive train would let them meet all requirements at less weight and less cost. Instead, the Valanx’s lightweight independent suspension and drivetrain are made by Arvin Meritor, the US Army’s largest axle supplier. With that said, their Valanx does leverage BAE HybriDrive technologies used in thousands of Orion passenger buses, in order to exceed the military’s electrical power production requirements. A full set of embedded diagnostic and prognostic systems, leveraging several classified and non-classified databuses, will be used to help keep these vehicles running reliably. Navistar JLTV product page | BAE/ Navistar partnership announcement | Feb 2008 JLTV unveiling: BAE | Aviation Week article.

BAE also competed for the M-ATV interim buy, using 2 designs. One design is a lighter, improved version of their Caiman MRAP, which is derived in turn from the Army’s standard FMTV medium trucks. The second submission was a modified Valanx. Both lost to Oshkosh.

GDLS & AM General’s GTV EAGLE (won TDP, lost EMD) GTV’s design
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AM General are the builders of the current Hummer fleet. General Dynamics Land Systems builds M1 Abrams tanks, was a partner with Force Protection to deliver Cougar MRAPs via the Force Dynamics joint venture, and finally bought Force Protection in December 2011. The firm also has very strong systems integration capabilities, and is involved in key radio and electronics programs that will equip America’s future soldiers. GTV is the AM General/ GDLS joint venture for the JLTV, and Eagle is the name for their design.

In 2006, both AM General and General Dynamics were awarded JLTV “Best Technical Approach” trade studies by the Office of Naval Research. Their joint design stresses design maturity and proven components, and includes a “unique modular and scalable trailer that has mobility equal to the JLTV vehicle itself.” GDLS and AM General reportedly invested over $10 million for risk reduction development and maturation of this vehicle and its In-Hub Hybrid Electric Drive system. Their AGMV used a hexagon shaped armored capsule for its uses in mine protection, side blast deflection, and small-arms protection. GTV site | Defense Update Nov 2007 article.

Lockheed Martin & BAE TVS (TD & EMD Winner) LM/ BAE’s UVL Class C
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Lockheed Martin’s 2006 purchase of small British specialist vehicle designer HMT was an interesting shift for the firm, which has not been a major contender for military ground vehicle design. The firm has put a serious effort behind that push, however, leveraging wins for research programs like Future Tactical Truck System, and using their own private development funds. These resources were invested to build, evaluate, and refine its JLTV designs over several prototypes, and thousands of miles of testing – choices that ended up giving this team the best maturity and technical risk rating available: “Excellent/ Very Low Risk”.

Even so, Lockheed Martin knew from the outset that it would need a very serious production partner in order to field a credible design, and a credible bid. It found one early in Armor Holdings, who designed and built the US Army’s FMTV medium truck fleet. This may be the Army’s second largest vehicle fleet, with well over 40,000 trucks delivered to date plus another 2,000 or so derivative Caiman MRAPs. In 2007, a multi-billion dollar deal made Armor Holdings part of BAE “General Tactical Systems” – and created a “firewall” within BAE Systems between its 2 JLTV teams. All FMTV-related expertise remains exclusively at Team Lockheed’s disposal, and has been used to create a fully joint design and volume production plan. Other team members include Alcoa Defense (aluminum materials technology, design), JWF (machining and fabrication), plus Cummins Engine, Allison Transmission, Bosch, Meritor Defense, Lotus Engineering, L3 Combat Propulsion Systems, and Vehma International of America.

Lockheed Martin is a systems design firm at heart, and that approach became a big focus for the JLTV. Within that approach, survivability uses a wide array of techniques, including diverting energy via a v-hull; absorbing energy; visual, noise and infrared signature reduction; and ergonomics and individual reaction analysis. Team spokespeople stressed that a number of these elements are proprietary, and are not obvious from external viewing.

Producibility can easily be set aside in the rush to solve hard engineering problems. As expected given the team’s FMTV background, this was also a focus. The 3rd focus was maintainability and readiness, which is a particular strength of the FMTV truck fleet. Armor Holdings had the FMTV’s proven electronic diagnostic and troubleshooting systems, while Lockheed brought higher-level prognostic approaches derived from projects like its F-35 fighter and its accompanying fleet-wide ALIS system. In the end, their joint commitment and effort was rewarded with a TDP contract. 2006 teaming announcement | Alcoa joins the team | LM Team unveils Category C prototype | LM team Category B testing release.

Phase 2 Engineering & Manufacturing Development: Outside Entries Ocelot unveiled
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As intended, the EMD Phase bids also attracted bids that hadn’t been part of the earlier TD phase.

AM General: BRV-O (Won EMD). The day after the RFP was due, AM General announced that in addition to the GTV Eagle, it had also submitting its own privately-developed BRV-O (Blast Resistant Vehicle – Off road) as an independent bid. The firm has a set of partners, but wouldn’t discuss them, or offer specifics about their vehicle beyond boilerplate like “self-leveling suspension,” “crew capsule and modular armor”, and “C4ISR backbone”.

General Dynamics: Ocelot (???) Force Protection’s Cheetah lost the JLTV TD phase competition, then the M-ATV interim bridge vehicle competition, then faded into oblivion. The firm still has an offering in this weight class, however, thanks to Britain’s Light Protected Patrol Vehicle competition. Instead of entering the Cheetah, Force Protection worked in conjunction with its British partners to invent a modular, 7.5 ton Ocelot vehicle that could give the firm another crack at JLTV.

Orders for British “Foxhounds” pushed the vehicle into production, and JLTV is a tempting target, but General Dynamics bought Force Protection in December 2011. The company could enter the Ocelot as a stand-alone JLTV EMD contender, and compete against its GTV partnership with AM General. The question is whether it will choose to do so – as its partner AM General did. The EMD phase had 7 bidders, which leaves 1 unaccounted for. If Ocelot was that missing contender, it didn’t win, but it has enough of a production base to finance improvements and enter again.

International Saratoga
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Navistar: Saratoga (Lost EMD). Navistar wound up splitting from its Valanx partner BAE Systems to offer its Saratoga design. It looks a lot like some of the v-hulled HMMWV upgrades on the market, but early reports indicate that it doesn’t use a v-hull for underbody blast protection. Navistar launched the Saratoga in October 2011, after conducting its own automotive and blast testing. Their funding as the #1 producer of standard MRAP vehicles would have helped back Saratoga’s development.

Saratoga was reportedly aimed at the HMMWV Recapitalization/ MECV competition, but that went away. As JLTV’s requirements and cost targets have shrunk, however, Navistar apparently decided that a “less is more” solution was smart positioning. An emailed release said that the decision makers at Navistar:

“…believe it is appealing to nations facing uncertain futures and limited budgets… Down the road, there may be an opportunity for Navistar to bid for a JLTV production contract after the EMD phase is complete. We will seriously consider that option.”

Oshkosh: L-ATV (Won EMD). They may have lost the initial JLTV Technology Development competition, but their immediate fallback was a huge success. A reworked M-ATV version of their vehicle won the planned bridge buys to JLTV, using a less high-tech approach. The M-ATV’s 8,000+ orders could easily finance further JLTV research to improve their team’s perceived technical maturity, while providing a potential commonality angle.

Which is exactly what happened, leading to the smaller, privately-developed L-ATV. It includes an updated TAK-4i version of the firm’s widely-used TAK-4 independent suspension system, and can add an optional ProPulse hybrid diesel-electric drive train for power storage and export.

JLTV: Contracts and Key Events FY 2015

Production RFP. AM General BRV-O

August 26/15: Oshkosh won one of the largest land forces defense contracts ever, taking the $30 billion JLTV contract. The initial order for 17,000 vehicles will start replacing Humvees in fiscal 2016 and really ramp in 2018. Runner ups were Lockheed and AM General.

Dec 12/14: Production RFP. USTACOM releases the 4th and final iteration of its JLTV RFP for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) and Full Rate Production (FRP). This comes right after the 3rd draft, indicating that changes were minimal. Contractors have until February 5, 2015 to send questions, with proposals due by Feb. 10. Communications with parties other than the 3 potential prime contractors will be kept to a minimum. The Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contract should last 3 years of LRIP followed by 5 years at full rate. Pricing the years out will depend of whether Multiyear Procurement (MYP) is approved by Congress. Solicitation W56HZV-14-R-0039.

Dec 02/14: 3rd RFP Draft. USTACOM releases the 3rd iteration of its draft JLTV RFP. Communication remains limited to one-on-one meetings with the 3 EMD winners, under an approved Justification and Approval that allows limited competition. There will still be a lot of work ahead even after the final RFP is issued and a contract awarded, as the pursuit of a MYP strategy at the the full rate production stage will require congressional approval.

Source: W56HZV-14-R-0039.

Nov 19/14: Limited User Testing. Limited User Testing (LUT) has been completed by the US Army and Marine Corps between September and October with the prototypes that all 3 EMD participants had provided.

Oct 8/14: 2nd RFP Draft. the US military releases their 2nd Draft RFP for JLTV. It envisions a maximum of 8 years for the production contract & options, using range pricing to determine unit prices for vehicles and kits.

Per H.1.3.1., orders could rise to 16,700 vehicles on a firm-fixed-price basis that changes using agreed yearly cost escalation, with the JLTV mission package mix determined each year from 4 options: M1278 Heavy guns carrier, M1279 Utility/ cargo, M1280 General purpose, M1281 close-combat weapons carrier. They could add up to 97 refurbished JLTV-FoVs to make 16,797, but they need to exercise the refurbished options in Lots 1-5.

The government can also order up to 32 trailers on a firm-fixed-price basis in any increment, and up to 164,697 packaged and installed kits on a firm-fixed-price basis. Sources: TACOM Warren Procurement Network, “2nd DRAFT RFP W56HZV-14-R-0039″ | #W56HZV14R0039.

FY 2013 – 2014

Program updates; Test vehicles produced; RFP drafts begin, as initial variants become clearer.

Sept 24/14: The JLTV designs remain staples at shows like AUSA and Modern Day Marine eXpo, as the firm compete to build almost 17,000 vehicles, with the initial production contracts expected in summer 2015 (183 Army and 7 USMC). Will the military go beyond that?

“Overall, the Army aims to purchase about 49,000 of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, while the Marine Corps plans to acquire about 5,500 of the trucks. Both services have pledged their commitment to the program despite facing automatic budget cuts known as sequestration…. estimated the effort to develop and build the vehicles at almost $23 billion, or about $400,000 per truck, according to a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service. Leaders have maintained each vehicle will cost about $250,000.”

We’ll see. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Army to Start Next JLTV Competition This Fall”.

Sept 5/14: LMCO. The Lockheed Martin Team’s JLTV program successfully completed the government’s Production Readiness Review (PRR) of their Camden, AK Ground Vehicle Assembly facility.

The Camden site has won a a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for Manufacturing Excellence before, but Lockheed doesn’t have a history with vehicles, and BAE’s Sealy, TX facility was gutted by Oshkosh’s money-losing bid for FMTV trucks. That makes this kind of approval more important to them than it is to other teams. Sources: LMCO, “U.S. Government Gives Green Light to Lockheed Martin Team’s JLTV Production Plans”.

June 25/14: Draft RFP v1. The government issues its initial draft RFP for JLTV. One advantage to EMD Phase selection: Joint Program Office JLTV will only answer questions or take comments from the 3 EMD contractors, though non-classified materials and answers will be posted and available to anyone. Sources: TACOM Warren Procurement Network, “1st Draft Request for Proposal (RFP), Attachments and Exhibits” | #W56HZV14R0039, “23–Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) and Full Rate Production (FRP) Special Notice – Draft RFP
Solicitation Number”.

Draft RFPs begin

June 18/13: Program update. Despite sequestration, JLTV program officials tell that they’re on track to deliver a low-rate-initial production JLTV award to a single vendor in FY 2015. AM General, Lockheed Martin, and Oshkosh are scheduled to deliver 22 vehicles each for testing in August 2013. They’ll go through off-road and soft soil testing, shipboard and ship to shore tests, and blast testing. Testing will help create a requirements document that will be validated by late FY 2014 – early FY 2015, which in turn paves the way for an RFP. The final step is an open competition, followed by final award.

The official per-unit limit remains at to $250,000 per vehicle, thanks to on-going trade-offs throughout the Technology Development process. On the other hand, by the time the services finish adding communications, manned weapons stations or RWS, and other gear, it’s reasonable to expect a final price around $400,000 – 500,000+.

The wild card? Program managers acknowledge that another year of sequestration cuts would force new choices on the military, which could change the program. That’s very likely to happen, which could turn programs like the USMC’s HMMWV improvement (q.v. Sept 27/12) from complements to competitors.

June 10-22/13: Test vehicles. The EMD phase vendors have manufactured their initial testing vehicles for the US government, with formal deliveries scheduled to run through August. The JLTV prototypes will receive additional “mission packages” from their manufacturers or from the government, in order to convert them to specific testing configurations like Heavy Guns Carrier. AM General | Lockheed Martin | Oshkosh Defense.

FY 2012

RFP & responses lead to EMD awards; BAE/Navistar team splits; AM General submits its own bid; USMC’s HMMWV improvement complement. Lockheed/BAE’s lineup
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Sept 27/12: USMC HMMWVs. reports on the USMC’s internal math, which says they won’t be able to replace 24,000 HMMWVs with 5,500 JLTVs bought around 2017 – 2022.

The rest will need to come from a HMMWV improvement program, without getting into the same “costs as much as buying new” swamp as HMMMWV RECAP. Solution? Start with a clear price limit, and try to figure out what you can afford for that. The interesting thing is that instead of focusing on blast protection, the program seems to aim at restoring vehicle performance, payload, and reliability to the level it was at before before conventional up-armoring.

Sept 4/12: Thou Shalt not Protest. Navistar withdraws a GAO protest that it had filed just a few days earlier. According to the company they first filed their protest because of regulatory timing constraints, but after reviewing their debriefing, they decided not to proceed. BAE Systems will not challenge the award, either. Marine Corps Times.

Meanwhile Hardwire LLC announced that it was behind the mystery 7th (failed) bid. The company made blast chimney demonstrations on Humvees a couple of years ago. Defense News.

Aug 24/12: EMD triple award. 3 awards are made for the 27-month Engineering & Manufacturing Development phase, with an estimated completion date of Nov 8/14. The winners will deliver 22 vehicles within 12 to 14 months for further testing and evaluation. TACOM in Warren, MI received 7 bids, and the winners were:

Lockheed Martin Corp. in Grand Prairie, TX wins a $65 million firm-fixed-price contract. Work will be performed in Lockheed Martin’s Grand Prairie, TX facility, and BAE TVS’ Sealy, TX plant (W56HZV-12-C-0262).

AM General LLC in South Bend, IN wins a $63.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for their BRV-O. Work will be performed in Livonia, MI, and Mishawaka, IN (W56HZV-12-C-0258).

Oshkosh Corp. in Oshkosh, WI wins a $55.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for their L-ATV. Work will be performed in Oshkosh, WI (W56HZV-12-C-0264).

The awards vindicate AM General and Oshkosh’s choice to submit their own bids, while TD phase winners BAE (Valanx) and General Dynamics (Eagle) are on their own if they want to continue. Navistar (Saratoga) could also elect to continue with private development, and enter the production competition. The 7th bidder isn’t clear, but General Dynamics may have also bid its Ocelot/Foxhound.

BAE has the most interesting decision, as they remain involved in EMD through their participation in the Lockheed Martin-led team. A win with Lockheed would keep their Texas plant alive and in position to contest the next FMTV medium truck contract, which Oshkosh is now known to have bid at a significant loss. Shareholder dissatisfaction makes a repeat of that strategy unlikely for Oshkosh, which must give BAE hope to recapture the Sealy factory’s cornerstone. Their Valanx is associated with other facilities. Is it better for BAE to hedge its bets with Valanx development, or keep the development money for other things and go all in with Lockheed Martin? See also US Army, belatedly | | AM General | Lockheed Martin | Oshkosh | James Hasik sees industrial considerations in the award, and explains further.


March 27/12: RFP bids in. BAE, Lockheed Martin, and Oshkosh announce their JLTV submissions. The due date had originally been March 13/12, but it was extended. The government plans to award up to 3 JLTV EMD contracts in June 2012, for delivery of 22 prototype vehicles and other equipment for testing.

AM General announces the next day that in addition to its joint GTV submission with General Dynamics Land Systems, it will be submitting a design of its own called the BRV-O (Blast Resistant Vehicle – Off road). AM General developed the vehicle itself, and says it has put BRV-O through 300,000 miles of road testing. It also says that it has a number of industrial partners for system integration, etc., but won’t name them.

BAE US Combat Systems’ JLTV team includes Northrop Grumman for systems integration, Arvin Meritor for the suspension, and now Ford for the engine. Their Valanx will use the same Power Stroke 6.7 liter turbocharged diesel that powers Ford’s commercial F-series trucks. BAE describes it as having “class-leading fuel economy and the best horsepower and torque of any engine in its class,” and told DoD Buzz that when Navistar and BAE Systems split, and BAE Systems needed a company to build them an engine, Ford was the obvious answer.

The partnership between General Dynamics Land Systems and AM General has confirmed that they’re bidding a design called the EAGLE. This double-v hull design is not the same as GD MOWAG’s light patrol vehicle offering that used to be based on the HMMWV, and now (EAGLE IV) uses the Duro truck as its base.

Lockheed Martin’s JLTV team includes BAE Tactical Vehicle Systems in Sealy, TX, plus Cummins Engine, Allison Transmission, Bosch, Meritor Defense, Lotus Engineering, L3 Combat Propulsion Systems, and Vehma International of America. Their release touted the weight and cost savings in their revised designs, using a combination of digital engineering analysis, virtual design builds, component tests and physical stress testing. BAE-TVS appears to be positioned as the manufacturing centerpiece, and has capacity after Oshkosh bid below cost to take their FMTV truck contract away.

Navistar has split from BAE Systems, and is offering its Saratoga design, which looks a lot like some of the V-hulled HMMWV upgrades on the market. Navistar launched the vehicle in October 2011, after conducting its own automotive and blast testing. Navistar Defense President Archie Massicotte said that: “The Saratoga is a solid design and now that we have seen the requirements of the JLTV migrate toward our vehicle capabilities, we are in a position to modify the Saratoga to fit those requirements.”

Oshkosh, as predicted, is entering its L-ATV derivative of the popular M-ATV, which has become the US military’s most widely ordered blast-resistant vehicle. Their bid includes their new and improved TAK-4i independent suspension, and an optional Oshkosh ProPulse diesel-electric hybrid powertrain.

Force Protection, which has been absorbed into GD Land Systems, was silent on whether or not it bid its Ocelot.

Bid surprises for some

March 4/12: Not that people doubt the Army’s ability to deliver a JLTV vehicle with HMMWV size and MRAP-level protection for $250,000… but they do. The Army is responding. Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology:

“In July [2011], the Army released the “Decker-Wagner” review of its acquisition processes… Phillips said the Army has already implemented 29 of the 76 recommendations in the report, and will implement a total of 63 of those recommendations total — with the majority complete by the summer… Now, he said, the service is looking at what capabilities a requirement provides, is it feasible in terms of execution on the timeline, and is it affordable.

One beneficiary of the Army’s new acquisition processes is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Phillips said the JLTV might have cost the Army close to $500,000 per vehicle if the Army had gone forward with the strategy it had during the technology development phase of the vehicle. Today, he said, as a result of how the Army changed the way it does requirements “we are confident we can bring this vehicle in for less than $250,000.”

Acquisition processes don’t change the laws of physics. Phillips cites the successful MRAP program as a reason for faith, but those vehicles cost over $500,000 each, and were far heavier than JLTV’s goal. The proof will be in the delivery.

Feb 28/12: Col. Dave Bassett, the project manager for Army tactical vehicles, tells the AUSA conference that he has confidence in the coming responses to JLTV. In his opinion:

“Industry, they don’t need another two years to design this vehicle… They are ready now to respond with mature designs to our solicitation.”

Jan 30/12: JLTV EMD RFP. solicitation #W56HZV11R0329:

“The solicitation for the JLTV EMD phase… shall be conducted on a source selection basis utilizing a “tradeoff” process to obtain the best value to the Government. The full and open competitive source selection process will result in an award to up to three firm-fixed price contracts for the EMD(Engineering & Manufacturing Development) phase focusing on fabrication, assembly, integration, testing and test support, and related requirements in accordance with the contract and the JLTV Purchase Description. Each JLTV Contractor shall deliver prototype vehicles, ballistic structures, armor coupons, additional test assets, and contractor furnished kits, trailers and data requirements. Contract award is currently planned for June of 2012. “

The response date in March 13/12. Per the program’s original plan, vendors that were not picked for the initial JLTV development phase can enter vehicles in this competition.

EMD phase RFP

Jan 26/12: Saved by the budget? Preliminary FY 2013 budget materials discuss coming shifts in Pentagon priorities, as the defense department moves to make future cuts. The JLTV ids an exception, however: “HMMWVs – terminated upgrades and focused modernization resources on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle,” in line with recent US Army declarations. Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF]

The US Army declares that it will not pursue offerings of upgraded HMMWVs, and intends to stick with the JLTV program, following an agreement with the Marine Corps. The question, of course, is whether Congress will go along with this decision. Lexington Institute.

Jan 17/12: Testing warnings. The Pentagon releases the FY2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The JLTV is included, and tests indicate a couple of warning signs. To sum up: they need roads, reliability has been poor, MRAPs are uncomfortable, and the laws of physics haven’t been repealed.

“During TD testing, all vendor vehicles experienced difficulty with mobility in soft soil due to vehicle weight and other vehicle design factors. In the TD, the reliability of vendor vehicles demonstrated between 71 to 902 Mean Miles Between Operational Mission Failure (MMBOMF) versus the required 3,600 MMBOMF. The Army increased the underbody threat requirement during TD to be equivalent to the protection provided by the [heavier M-ATV] vehicle. The ability to achieve the increased level of protection while also satisfying other JLTV requirements [DID: like, say, mobility in soft soil] is not known.”

Mobility will be an especial issue for the US Marines. The testers also complained about communications integration, and the same visibility and internal layout issues that have bedeviled other blast-resistant designs. BAE’s Valanx was supposedly designed to offset that, but:

“All three JLTV vendor vehicles had problems demonstrating functionality of government furnished command, control, and communication equipment in vehicles… Lack of adequate storage space for ammunition, restricted visibility due to small windows, positioning of window panels, and uncomfortable seats with poor seating arrangements were common problems between vendor prototypes and variants.”

Oct 10/11: NAV Saratoga. Navistar Defense introduces its Saratoga light patrol vehicle at AUSA. It’s initially aimed at the HMMWV Recapitalization/ MECV program, but ends up becoming Navistar’s JLTV offering. Navistar | Aviation Week Ares | Defense Update.

Oct 3/11: JLTV EMD RFP Draft. The latest Army-Marine Corps JLTV solicitation favors existing designs over new, and may lead to the program’s demise in favor of recapitalized and modified HMMWVs.

The $250,000 target cost will be a challenge all by itself, but the new solicitation may actually kill JLTV altogether, by driving both new and existing designs out of the competition. By reducing expected production to just 20,000 vehicles over 8 years (3 LRIP, 5 full-rate), it becomes more difficult for firms to recover costs for new designs. On the other hand, demands to hand over technical data rights, and a plan to re-compete the production contract for the winning vehicle after several years, make it unattractive for firms to place a valuable existing design at risk. US Army TACOM Page | | Defense News | Lexington Institute.

FY 2011

Oshkosh debuts L-ATV; JLTV cut rumors prod Plan Bs. L-ATV
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Sept 13/11: OSK L-ATV. Oshkosh unveils its smaller “L-ATV” protected patrol vehicle, which it describes as fully compliant with all JLTV program specifications. The firm was eliminated from the technical demonstrator contract phase, but the next phase will be re-opened to outside bidders. Oshkosh did the expected thing, and leveraged its M-ATV win to fund development.

The L-ATV will feature the improved TAK-4i independent suspension, which “uses a proprietary technology to deliver 20 inches of independent wheel travel – 25 percent more wheel travel than any vehicle in the U.S. military’s fleets.” It can also raise or lower the vehicle, ensuring transportability in ships and aircraft, while still offering enough height for all-terrain mobility and mine blast protection.

Sept 13/11: JLTV future. The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee moves to cancel JLTV in their version of the FY 2012 defense bill, which would shift the MECV upgraded HMMWV effort into JLTV’s place. If the curt remains final, which is a long way from happening. AOL Defense.

April 28/11: As the teams prepare for the JTLV Engineering & Manufacturing Development contract awards in early 2012, BAE and Navistar’s Team Valanx adds Northrop Grumman to their consortium.

Northrop Grumman will serve as the C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) lead, responsible for the integration of command and control hardware and software, computers and communications equipment, and sensors and sensor suites for intelligence gathering and force protection. BAE Systems.

Oct 25/10: JLTV future. BAE’s Plan B: v-hulled HMMWVs. At AUSA 2010, BAE Systems announces its “Integrated Smart V,” a lightweight monocoque V-hull HMMWV that reuses a large percentage of existing HMMWV components, including the power train and wheel assemblies. It adds a layered monocoque hull with a V-shaped underbody that totally encapsulates the crew, and BAE line lead Chris Chambers adds that “…using clips attached to the monocoque V-hull, the ISV provides a rigid, uncompromising protection solution at an affordable price.”

BAE’s ISV solution comes as budget cuts make JLTV an attractive target, and the USMC looks for an option that will meet its height requirements for stowage aboard ship. They’re not the only firm to be thinking along those lines – Textron has a “capsulized” HMMWV of its own, and have teamed with another firm that has done work along similar lines: Granite Tactical Vehicles. HMMWV ISV could also offer an emergency HMMWV fleet recapitalization option that would bring new work to BAE’s land systems business, which has been hurt by its loss of FMTV truck production, and by the end of MRAP main production orders. BAE Systems.

FY 2010

Australia contracts; Army strategy leaves JLTV in question; Interest from India. Ocelot modularity
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Aug 17/10: JLTV future. DoD Buzz reports that the US Army’s latest Tactical Vehicle Strategy looks like bad news for the JLTV, with small buys spaced over time to equip deployed units. Bottom line?

“Here’s the basic plan. Overall, the Army will shrink its fleet of HUMVEEs, MRAPs and medium trucks to 244,000 by 2025 from its current 260,000. How? The service will rid itself of 4,000 of the hardest to maintain and most beat up MRAPS by 2025. It will scrap the 28,000-strong M35 fleet and replace it with new FMTVs for a fleet total of 76,000. That will mean a total reduction of 4,000 trucks. The HUMVEE fleet will shrink the most, going from 101,000 to 35,000 by 2025. But there appears to be one big hole in the Army plan. It does not project how many Joint Light Tactical Wheeled Vehicles it will be. The strategy’s answer: TBD.”

See the full Army Tactical Vehicle Strategy [PDF].

Aug 9/10: Australia. The General Tactical Vehicles JV between General Dynamics and AM General in Sterling Heights, MI receives a $9 million cost-share contract for the design and development of 3 JLTV subconfigurations for Australia, and the delivery of 2 JLTV subconfiguration vehicles and 1 companion trailer for government testing.

Work is to be performed in Livonia, MI (47%); Sterling Heights, MI (41%); Muskegon, MI (9%); and South Bend, IN (3%), with an estimated completion date of May 19/11. JLTV bids were solicited on the World Wide Web with 7 bids received by the US Army TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0108).

June 23/10: Australia. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Owego, NY receives an $8.5 million cost-plus- fixed-fee contract. They will design and develop 3 JLTV sub-configurations for Australia with right-hand drive, and deliver 2 JLTV sub configurations vehicles and 1 companion trailer for Australian government testing.

Work will be performed in Owego, NY, and the contracted is expected to run until May 19/11. Bids were solicited on the World Wide Web, with 7 bids received by the US Army’s TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0109).

June 17/10: Australia. The BAE Land Systems – Navistar – ArvinMeritor team hands over 3 Australian JLTVs in a ceremony at West Point, MS. All 3 types are represented: a Category A General Purpose vehicle, a Category B Command and Control on the Move vehicle and a Category C Utility/cargo variant. The prototypes are very similar to American JLTV models, but include requested Australian modifications and a right-side driver. They will undergo tropical environment, reliability testing, and blast testing in Australia.

BAE Systems is Australia’s largest defense company, employing more than 6,000 people at 100 locations across Australia. BAE Systems.

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

Force Protection is partnered with England’s Ricardo to develop the modular Ocelot, which is also competing for a similar contract in Britain. Bushmaster MPV manufacturers Thales Australia have designed a smaller vehicle called the Hawkei, named after one of Australia’s Death Adders. Their partners include Boeing Defence Australia, PAC Group, and Israeli armor manufacturer and designer Plasan Sasa. GDLS has several options, including a lighter variant of their RG-31 with Oshkosh’s TAK-4 suspension upgrade, currently serving with the US military in Afghanistan. As noted above, they are also partnered with Humvee manufacturer AMC General for the JLTV competition. Australian DoD | Force Protection | Thales Australia.

Made in Australia option

May 3/10: BAE. The BAE Systems/ Navistar/ ArvinMeritor team announces the handover of 7 JLTV prototypes and 4 companion trailers to the U.S. Army. The mix of vehicles included 2 JLTV Category A General Purpose vehicles, 4 JLTV Category B Infantry Carriers, and 1 Category C Utility Carrier. The team is now focused on completing the build of 3 additional variants and a companion trailer, to be delivered to Australia in June 2010.

Sites participating in this team’s JLTV development include: York, PA; Ontario, San Diego and Santa Clara, CA; Dearborn Heights, Sterling Heights and Troy, MI; Minneapolis, MN; Johnson City, NY; Austin, TX; Nashua, NH; Reston, VA; Melrose Park and Warrenville, IL; Fort Wayne, IN; West Point, MS; Huntsville, AL; and Laurinberg and Aiken, SC. Navistar.

April 28/10: GTV. The General Tactical Vehicles (GTV) team of General Dynamics Land Systems and AM General delivers 7 JLTV prototypes, plus 4 trailers and supporting equipment to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps for Technology Development (TD) phase testing. The TD phase includes a 12-month test and evaluation process at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, in Aberdeen, MD, and at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, AZ. The delivery is ahead of schedule, and follows GTV’s previous ahead-of-schedule deliveries of armor samples, ballistic hulls and spare parts.

Don Howe, is the GTV senior program director, and David Caldwell is GTV deputy program director. Howe says that GTV has invested in additional JLTV vehicles and trailers as part of its independent R&D program. GD release.

March 30/10: GAO Report. The US GAO audit office delivers its 8th annual “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs report.

Because the program is at such early stages, the GAO report is more of a quick update than in-depth analysis. The JLTV program completed Preliminary Design Reviews during the summer of 2009, Critical Design Reviews are planned for early fiscal year 2010, and by Q4 FY 2011 (summer), the program expects to begin engineering and manufacturing development. FY 2008-2010 RDTE (Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation) funding is $306.68 million ($16.44 million Army, $143.24 million USMC).

Feb 25/10: LMCO. Lockheed Martin unveils its 4th operational JLTV prototype at the AUSA convention in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It’s a 2nd variant of the original Infantry Carrier JLTV Category B model, which was unveiled in October 2007. Lockheed Martin’s team introduced their Category C Utility Vehicle in February 2008, and its Category A General Purpose Mobility model in October 2008.

Currently all of the Lockheed Martin JLTV prototypes are in system test, where they have accumulated over 30,000 combined test miles, more than half of which have been conducted off-road. Lockheed Martin.

Nov 4/09: The General Dynamics/ AM General joint venture, General Tactical Vehicles (GTV), announces that they are the first JLTV contractor to complete the JLTV Critical Design Review, adding:

“GTV is transitioning into the vehicle and trailer build and test phase for the JLTV units deliverable to the government in the spring of 2010 under its technology development contract awarded last October.”

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

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

FY 2009

JLTV Tech Dev contracts; GAO denied TD protests; Australia is in; British won’t be buying. Lockheed’s Aussie JLTV
(click to view full)

Sept 30/09: Australian contracts. The US Army and Marine Corps formally awarded Technology Development (TD) contract modifications to each of JLTV’s 3 industry partners in accordance with the Australian Project Arrangement (PA). Under the original US contracts, each of the JLTV industry teams are delivering ballistic testing sample and a number of ballistic hulls for evaluation at Aberdeen Test Center, followed by prototype vehicles and trailers during April/May 2010, for 12 months of Government Testing at Aberdeen Test Center, MD and Yuma Test Center, AZ.

Program leaders on each side include USMC JLTV program manager Lt. Col. Ruben Garza, and Lt. Col. Alistair Dickie of the Australian Army. At present, 2 Australian Co-operative Program Personnel are supporting the JLTV Program Management Office at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, MI. Australian vehicles will add reliability and performance testing for up to 15,000 miles per vehicle, followed by shipment to Australia for tropical environment testing, and additional reliability and ballistic testing. To this effect, US Army TACOM notes independent modifications made to BAE Systems, General Tactical Vehicles and Lockheed Martin contracts during July and August 2009:

BAE Systems Land & Armaments: Deliver 3 right-side operation JLTV vehicles and one companion trailer: a JLTV-A General Purpose Mobility, a JLTV-B-C2OTM/AU Command Control On-The-Move, a JLTV-C-UTL/AU Utility Vehicle-Shelter Carrier, and a JLTV/T-AU Prototype Companion Trailer.

General Tactical Vehicles (GTV): Design 3 right-side operation JLTV vehicles (Payload categories A, B, and C) and then build 2 (categories B and C), along with one JLTV-T/AU Prototype Companion Trailer.

Lockheed Martin: Design 3 right-side operation JLTV vehicles (Payload categories A, B, and C) and then build 2 (categories B and C), along with one JLTV-T/AU Prototype Companion Trailer.

Australia TD contracts

June 30/09: M-ATV. The US government awards the first big M-ATV delivery order, in order to field 5,244 vehicles in 2009-2010 that will act as a front-line bridge in Afghanistan between the limitations of existing Hummers and MRAPs, and JLTV. The initial $1.056 billion delivery order for 2,244 vehicles goes to Oshkosh, whose design is based on their MTVR medium truck and has a Gross Vehicle Weight of 16.5 tons/ 32,500 pounds. Additional orders follow.

The result could revive Oshkosh’s design for subsequent rounds of the JLTV competition, either as a solo venture or via renewed cooperation with Northrop Grumman. Read “M-ATV: A Win, at Last, for Oshkosh” for more.

March 18/08: Australia. Liberal Party opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull criticizes Australia’s involvement in the JLTV program, drawing a response from the Labor Party government. Turnbull:

“We’ve had another issue that we’ve raised in the Parliament this morning about a new armoured vehicle which should be made in Australia. The Thales company, which makes the Bushmasters in Bendigo, has been making these armoured vehicles in Australia for the Australian Army very successfully and the Government is looking for a new vehicle and it is actually inviting an American company to make a prototype… they say they are committed to jobs and yet every example…”

Australia has already raised its quota of Bushmaster MRAP vehicles several times, and the vehicle has a dedicated niche in Project Overlander. That niche is different from the JLTV’s niche, however, which is why American firms are submitting different vehicles. With respect to LAND 121 (Overlander) Phase 4, Mnister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon notes that the original announcement had said that local Australian options would also be explored. An RFP to local industry is due in April 2009, and the DoD is expected to present options to the government in late 2009. Malcolm Turnbull interview transcript | Ministerial response.

Feb 26/09: Sub-contractors. ArvinMeritor, Inc. announces that they will be the JLTV drivetrain supplier for the Lockheed Martin team, which includes BAE General Tactical Systems; and for BAE U.S. Combat Systems, who leads the BAE/Navistar team. ArvinMeritor began working on new products and technologies for the JLTV program in 2006, participating in the Nevada Automotive Test Centers (NATC) Combat Tactical Vehicle Technical Demonstrator program.

Their solutions for the JLTV program include the Meritor lightweight, high mobility independent suspensions, an integrated all-wheel drive system, a central tire inflation system, semi-active damping, and MeritorWABCO hydraulic braking systems with electronic stability control.

Feb 26/09: LMCO. Lockheed Martin unveils a 4th JLTV prototype at the AUSA 209 conference; it is a 2nd variant design of the JLTV-B infantry carrier. All of the Lockheed Martin JLTV prototypes are in system tes, and have accumulated over 30,000 combined test miles, more than half of which have been conducted off-road to simulate mission conditions. Lockheed Martin release.

JLTV evaluations
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Feb 17/09: GAO – Protests denied. The US GAO rules on JLTV protests from Northrop Grumman Space and Missile Systems Corporation, and Textron Marine & Land Systems Corporation. The protests are denied, allowing the JLTV program to move forward as the winning contracts are “unfrozen”.

The full decision was released to the public in early March 2009. See the bid evaluation grid at left for the 3 winners, and the 2 protesters. Northrop Grumman’s offering had by far the lowest cost of these 5, at an estimated $32.95 million compared to the overall average of $50.1 million. Their design and technology was considered to have moderate technical risk, however, which can result is escalating future costs once development begins. The winning bidders’ had better technical maturity and integration ratings than Northrop Grumman’s; only fellow protester Textron’s entry was worse, and at an estimated development price of $53.32 million.

Since the “Technical was significantly more important than logistics commonality, which was more important than cost; cost and past performance/small business participation were approximately equal in importance,” in the RFP criteria, the GAO saw no reason to overturn a selection made on that basis. Other areas of protest, including the adequacy of the GD/AMC team’s small business contracting plan, were also deined. Full decision re: file #B-400837 | Full decision, PDF format.

GAO go-ahead

Nov 17/08: No British JLTV. Aviation Week reports that Britain will not be part of the JLTV program via its Operational Utility Vehicle Systems (OUVS) project, even though a joint working group was set up with the JLTV program in Q3 2008. Britan’s minister for defense equipment and support Quenton Davies reportedly said that:

“The JLTV capability is a replacement for Humvee and performs both a utility vehicle and patrol vehicle role. It therefore goes beyond the requirement for OUVS and the two parties have agreed that there is not enough synergy to warrant collaboration on the acquisition of vehicles at this time.”

Britain already has 400 JLTV type patrol vehicles on order: Iveco’s Panther /MLV/ Lince, which is also in servce with or ordered by Italy, Belgium, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Norway, and Spain. It should be entering service in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009.

The British aren’t coming

Nov 7/08: GAO protest. Northrop Grumman and Oshkosh Defense file a formal protest with the US Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO), requesting a review of the JLTV evaluation conducted by the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Source Selection Authority (SSA). They claim that the SSA misapplied the stated evaluation criteria, by giving design maturity more weight than advertised; did not make the value of a demonstrator vehicle clear; “relied unreasonably on company self-evaluations of design maturity and failed to conduct an adequate, independent assessment”; and undervalued their lowest cost bid.

The firm further charges that these changes amounted to an “unannounced agency decision to transform the solicitation from a TD (Technology Demonstrator) phase to a defacto System Development and Demonstration (SDD) effort.” That might be a very wise move for the JLTV program, but the government must advise bidders of any material shifts to a program’s criteria or direction during the bid process.

Contract awards are held up until a GAO protest ruling is issued – see Feb 17/09 for resolution. NGC release.

New dawn?
(click to view full)

Oct 29-30/08: JLTV TD contracts. The US Army issues contract releases on DefenseLink, as well as longer articles on, as it makes 3 awards. See US Army: Army awards development contracts for JLTV | Army awards three Joint Light Tactical Vehicle technology phase development contracts || Defense News | Defense Update | WIRED Danger Room | Bloomberg | Crain’s Detroit | Milwaukee-Wisconsin Jounral Sentinel re: Oshkosh elimination | South Bend Tribune re: AM General. Also:

Oct 30/08: BAE Systems Land & Armaments-Grounds System Division in Santa Clara, CA won a $40.5 million cost share contract for the JLTV’s 27-month technology development phase. Work will be performed in Santa Clara, CA, Warrenville, IL, Johnson City, NY, and Troy, MI, with an estimated completion date of Jan 31/11. Bids were solicited via the Web, with 7 bids received by the US Army’s Tank & Automotive Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-08-C-0426). BAE release | Navistar release.

Oct 30/08: General Tactical Vehicles in Sterling Heights, MI won a $45.1 million cost share contract for the JLTV’s 27-month technology development phase. As noted above, GTV is a joint venture partnership between AM General and General Dynamics Land Systems. Work will be performed in Livonia, MI, Sterling Heights, MI, Muskegon, MI, and South Bend, IN, with an estimated completion date of Jan 31/11. Bids were solicited via the Web, with 7 bids received by the US Army’s Tank & Automotive Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-08-C-0430). GTV release at: Geeral Dynamics | GTV | AM General.

Oct 30/08: Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY won a $35.9 million cost share contract for the JLTV’s 27-month technology development phase. Work will be performed in Owego, NY, and Sealy, TX, with an estimated completion date of Jan 31/11. Bids were solicited via the Web, with 7 bids received by the US Army’s Tank & Automotive Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-08-C-0431). Work in Sealy, TX involves its core partner, BAE Systems’ Armor Holdings. Lockheed Martin release.

Tech Development Phase

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

As part of their plan to examine all of their options, Australia has decided to participate in the JLTV’s technology demonstration phase. This is not a total commitment to the JLTV program’s 3 contenders, however; Australia’s DoD will also engage with industry to explore other options. Ministerial Speech | Australian DoD release.

Australia joins

FY 2008 and Earlier

Getting it together. USMC HMMWV, Iraq:
Fill ‘er up!
(click to view full)

August 2008: The US Army and Marine Corps present their synchronized joint wheeled vehicle strategy.

Feb 5/08: JLTV RFP. An RFP for the JLTV’s Technology Development Phase is issued to industry.

Dec 22/07: JLTV ADM. The Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics USD (AT&L) signs an Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) directing the JLTV Program to move from the Concept Refinement Phase into the Technology Development Phase (TDP) of the DOD System Acquisition Process. Source: CRS.

November 2007: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)”…concerned that the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar procurement plans for a raft of new tactical wheeled vehicles may be laden with excessive redundancy,” directs the Army and Marine Corps to develop and present a strategy by March 31/08. In the same month, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) calls for a similar assessment by July 1/08. The OMB report is extended to that date, in order to synchronize the 2 requests.

Sept 2007: JLTV dis-approval. The Pentagon’s acquisition executive, John Young, dis-approves the JLTV RFP, and directs the US Army and Marines to “go back to the drawing board and develop a robust technology development phase.” Source: CRS.

November 2006: JLTV approval. The US military Joint Chief of Staff’s Joint Requirement Oversight Council (JROC) approves the JLTV program. Source: CRS.

Additional Readings

Key Background

  • US Congressional Research Service (updated Aug 28/08) – Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV): Background and Issues for Congress. “Some analysts say that unless the Pentagon can convincingly demonstrate that JLTVs are unique vehicles with capabilities not found in HMMWVs, ECV2s, and MRAPs, it will likely be difficult to justify a service-wide “pure fleet” of well over 100,000 JLTVs at the current estimated cost. Army and Marine plans to “mothball” a large portion of the $23 billion-plus MRAP fleet might also prove to be contentious unless JLTVs can provide comparable or superior troop protection.”

  • Badenoch LLC – The 7 Forensic Causes of Injury or Death in Military Vehicles. Defensive systems must account in some way for all 7.

  • Breach Bang Clear – JLTV and MRAP vs. Reality: Part 1 | Part 2. By Survival Consultants International’s David Woroner. Explains some of the physics involved in explosions, and in penetrating weapons like RPGs. Conditionally in favor of the program, but argues that JLTV will need to be able to add better armor than is currently available, in order to remain viable over the long term. Also notes the maneuverability issue of tracks vs. wheels.

Related Efforts & News

  • Badenoch LLC – Ultra AP. A concept vehicle used by the US military to refine its ideas about JLTV. This page includes a number of up-close, in-depth explanations of the vehicle’s innovative design features; they are quite extensive.

  • DID – M-ATV: A Win, at Last, for Oshkosh. The $3.3 billion, 5,244 vehicle program will field front-line vehicles designed to bringe the gap between MRAPs and the JLTV. Oshkosh’s winning entry is based on its MTVR medium truck, and has a GWV of 32,500 pounds (16.25 tons).

  • DoD Buzz (Sept 27/12) – Marine Humvees get a second life

  • The Australian (Oct 23/10) – Innovation saving our soldiers’ lives. Goes into a number of Austrlian R&D efforts aimed at improving vehicle protection.

  • Ground Combat Technology (August 2010) – As The JLTV Program Moves Through The Technology-Development, Its Unique Advantages Emerge

  • Defense News (Aug 4/08) – DoD’s JLTV Becoming International Effort. Cites interest from Australia, Britain, and other NATO and non-NATO countries. Quotes Army Col. John Mysers: “They have spent time interacting with the Army on requirements. Industry is ready for this… If we are learning enough in the TD phase, we could have an abbreviated SDD phase. We’ll have vehicles that have demonstrated core capabilities… We will have achievable requirements. We told industry in advance of the RFP [request for proposal], ‘This is where you want to focus your efforts and R&D funds.'”

  • Defense News (June 16/08) – Lockheed To Unveil Adaptable Vehicle for U.K. Needs. Offers a window into Lockheed’s ground vehicle investments, and into future British needs that will either parallel or merge with JLTV.

  • Motley Fool (Jan 10/08) – Who Wants to Be a 70-Billionaire?

  • DID (May 5/06) – DefenseTech’s Hybrid Reality Check. Fielding military hybrid vehicles may be more challenging than expected.

  • DID (May 24/05) – Shadow Hybrid Vehicle to Become a Power Source. Winner of this RST-V technology demonstration program for a hybrid-powered reconnaissance vehicle that could be carried in a V-22? General Dynamics Land Systems.

Appendix A: Phase 1 Technology Development’s Losing Teams FP’s Cheetah:
Nowhere to run
(click to view full)

With so many contenders, a number of participants were assured of walking away disappointed. Adding these 5 teams to the 3 winners gives 8, but TACOM reports only 7 qualifying bids. The GAO would later clarify somewhat, by saying that there were 8 initial respondents, and 6 teams who were invited to bid. TACOM will not reveal who did not submit a bid, but a fully open EMD system development contract award ensures that any of these teams could conceivably continue investing, and find themselves back in the running.

DID offers all 5 partnerships that stated plans to contend for JLTV TD. We also explain why we’re not likely to see any of them return to the JLTV competition.

Force Protection and DRS. The life-saving performance of Force Protection’s Cougar and Buffalo vehicles in theater triggered the USA’s MRAP vehicle program, and the firm has been working on its lighter Cheetah vehicle for a couple of years. Despite a big jump on its competitors in testing and feedback from the US military, however, Cheetah did not make the final 3. That failure is a huge blow to Force Protection, who also dropped to a distant 3rd place in the USA’s MRAP competition, as orders for their Cougar MRAP vehicles faded toward the end. Force Protection partnership release | Cheetah product page.

The firm’s remaining hope was that Cheetah’s developed and tested status would lead to “interim bridge buys,” to fill the USMC and Army’s M-ATV needs for lighter blast-resistant vehicles between now and 2014. To that end, they brought the Cheetah within their Force Dynamics joint venture with GDLS. The M-ATV effort also failed, which doomed the Cheetah.

Force Protection formally wrote off its investment in the Cheetah, and no longer publicizes it as an offering. The company’s acquisition by General Dynamics removed the firm from any list of future contenders.

Blackwater and Raytheon. This was the most interesting partnership on a corporate level. Blackwater’s contract security forces have their own array of equipment; some is bought off the shelf, but the firm has quickly turned its field experience into a range of fielded designs for everything from protective vests, to blast-resistant vehicles, to a surveillance blimp. This JLTV design was reportedly based on a cut-down version of their Grizzly mine-resistant vehicle, with Raytheon acting as the electronics integrator.

A win for Blackwater (now Xe) would have had seismic implications, creating the potential for controversy on a political level, and invidious comparisons from a military procurement standpoint. The effective dissolution of Blackwater’s equipment group, and massive changes to the company, ensure that they won’t be back later on. Defense News report | Tactical Life feature | Blackwater USA vehicles video.

Team Boeing. Boeing seems like an unlikely contender for a vehicle program, but their key roles in the US Army’s Future Combat Systems program and Britain’s FRES armored vehicle program do give them credibility. Their main JLTV partner was Textron, whose comparatively lightweight M1117 Guardian ASV armored cars failed the extra-tough MRAP competition tests – but have been ordered by the hundreds in separate contracts to equip American military police and some foreign forces. Other JLTV partners included Boeing’s Future Combat System prime partner SAIC, Ford (engine options and power train), MillenWorks (offroad racing and rapid prototyping heritage, LTV design was reportedly the base), and Carlson Technology (maintenance and pit stop engineering experts). Their design featured a hybrid engine, and a full electric drive train that doesn’t need to be mechanically coupled to the engine. Boeing release.

The JLTV competition has changed significantly since then. Boeing would have to make wholesale changes to their design in order to compete, and they’ve shown no public interest in doing that.

KMW/ L-3’s F2USA
(click to view full)

KMW and L-3. Germany’s KMW is a global military vehicle leader, with products that include everything from Dingo 2 mine-resistant vehicles, to tiny air-portable Wiesel tracked infantry enhancement vehicles, to Leopard 2 tanks. KMW offered its new F2 wheeled vehicle family as a JLTV contender, using L-3 as its American partner and electronics integrator.

The F2 builds on KMWs Fennek reconnaissance vehicle design, which has been adopted by several European armies, and has seen combat use by Dutch and German forces. Fennek’s strengths include a low detection profile across the spectrum, very good mobility, long range, and excellent self sufficiency. Fennek’s mine protection is not seen as a similar strength, though the F2 presumably included additional protection. KMW partnership announcement | F2 family product page.

Unlike its fellows in this section, the Fennek remains a well-regarded, established product in the global defense space. It’s also a high-end product, designed for advanced reconnaissance missions. JLTV’s new price targets aren’t a fit for the Fennek.

NGC/ Oshkosh concept
(click to view full)

Northrop Grumman and Oshkosh. Oshkosh produces the US Marines’ MTVR medium truck, and the Army’s FHTV heavy trucks. The firm struck 3 different MRAP partnerships (PVI’s Alpha, Thales Australia’s Bushmaster, i3/Ceradyne’s Bull) – then struck out in the competition, while its competitor Navistar vaulted into the #1 spot. Northrop Grumman led this partnership, which leveraged Oshkosh’s vehicle manufacturing experience, its MTVR trucks’ TAK-4 off-road suspension, and its heavy truck work with ProPulse(TM) hybrid drive technology

Categories: News

A Higher-Tech Hog: USAF A-10C Upgraded, Refurbished, Unloved

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 00:25
A-10A over Germany
(click to view full)

The Precision Engagement modification is the largest single upgrade effort ever undertaken for the USA’s unique A-10 “Warthog” close air support aircraft fleet. While existing A/OA-10 aircraft continue to outperform technology-packed rivals on the battlefield, this set of upgrades is expected to make them more flexible, and help keep the aircraft current until the fleet’s planned phase-out in 2028. When complete, A-10C PE will give USAF A-10s precision strike capability sooner than planned, combining multiple upgrades into 1 time and money-saving program, rather than executing them as standalone projects. Indeed, the USAF accelerated the PE program by 9 months as a result of its experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This is DID’s FOCUS Article for the PE program, and for other modifications to the A-10 fleet. It covers the A-10’s battlefield performance and advantages, the elements of the PE program, other planned modifications, related refurbishment efforts to keep the fleet in the air, and the contracts that have been issued each step of the way.

A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II: Experiences on the Ground A/OA-10 at Bagram, AF
(click to view full)

The Major’s Email: British Harrier Support in Afghanistan, Revisited” examined the statements of a British officer who had criticized British close air support, and openly stated a preference for USAF A-10s over any aircraft the British could deploy in theater.

As we explained at the time, this comes as no surprise. The O/A-10 “Warthog” has the advantage of armored protection, along with a purpose-built design that allows slower speed forward flight and longer loiter time over the battlefield. Not to mention its infamous GAU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling gun that can take apart a tank – or just about anything else in its field of fire. This is what allowed it to do a substantially better job in Desert Storm than fast-moving fighters like the quickly-abandoned “A-16″ F-16 experiment, and it’s currently keeping them very busy in Afghanistan.

It kept them busy in Iraq, too. A July 2003 report in Air Force News quoted Lt. Col. Dave Kennedy:

“Kennedy said during a Pentagon interview that in the first week of the war, close-air support requests went to the Combined Air Operations Center “open-ended” — meaning no specific aircraft type was requested. After the first week, he said, 80 to 90 percent of the requests for close-air support were A-10-specific.”

As one can see, the British Major is hardly alone in his preferences. Why is this?

As this National Defense magazine article notes, fast jets simply aren’t an ideal choice for close air support, and the British aren’t alone in having this issue. US Army Sgt. First Class Frank Antenori discuss his recent experiences in Iraq:

“The aircraft that we have are awesome, but they are too awesome, they are too fast, too high speed. The older technology, the A-10, is far better than the new technology, Antenori said. “The A-10s never missed, and with the F/A-18s we had to do two or three bomb runs to get them on the target,” he said, recalling his recent experiences in combat.”

Dispatches from Afghanistan add an additional edge, and reinforce the point:

The A-10 combines some of the best of today’s high-technology Air Force with a solid, low-tech foundation. The addition of a targeting and laser-designation pod was a huge boost to the plane’s capabilities, but still no substitute for the pilot’s eyeballs.

“Most other aircraft rely heavily on (electronic) sensors to find and target the enemy,” said Capt. Rick Mitchell, deployed here from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. “In the A-10, it’s not unusual for a pilot to use binoculars.”

“Killer Chick”
flew it home
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Which is not to say that technology is useless. A/OA-10s have made effective and frequent use of LITENING AT surveillance and targeting pods, for instance. Integrating them directly into the aircraft’s systems is a fine idea that lowers pilot workload, and adds scanning range and improved night/bad weather capabilities. While a second crewman would be ideal, and was part of a 1980s “A-10 Night/Adverse Weather” model that was never produced, the sensor pods are clear improvements. Likewise, adding the ability to drop additional precision weapons like JDAM or its WCMD cluster bomb counterpart can only be a plus. On the flip side, A-10s have also been involved in several notable friendly fire incidents, which makes datalink improvements a critical fix.

The difference is that conventional fast jet fighters are forced to depend on these enhancements for effectiveness, because of their aerodynamic design a vulnerability to damage. With the new Precision Engagement additions, the A-10C adds many of the newer fighters’ tricks and weapons, but its cheaper, purpose-built design and stronger protection give its pilots additional options. Those additional options contribute directly to effectiveness in combat, and can still be used if hostile fire or simple technical failure render those technological enhancements useless.

The net result is an A/OA-10A Thunderbolt II/ “Warthog” platform that is a worthy successor to its P-47 Thunderbolt/”Jug” namesake, whose top 10 aces all survived World War II.

The “Hog” is the best western close air support aircraft by a very wide margin, and the A-10C upgrades make it the best close-support aircraft in the world. It’s likely to remain so well into the future, despite competition from the upgraded Sukhoi SU-25/28 “Frogfoot”/”Scorpion”, or boasts from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program that their aircraft will be able to replace it.

The A/OA-10 Precision Engagement Modification Program A-10 cockpit, before
(click to view alternate)

To date, A-10 fleet upgrades have been somewhat patchwork and piecemeal. The A-10C PE program changes all that. The entire A-10 fleet will be modified over 4-5 years, and an April 2/07 GAO report estimates the A-10 Precision Engagement program’s total overall cost at around $420 million.

Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego is the A-10C Precision Engagement program’s prime contractor and systems integrator under the direction of the A-10 program office (508th Attack Sustainment Squadron), leading a team that includes Northrop Grumman of St. Augustine, FL; BAE Systems of Johnson City, NY; and Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) of San Antonio, TX. The Air Force awarded the Precision Engagement development contract to Lockheed Martin in 2001, and as the prime contractor Lockheed is expected to deliver a total of 356 kits over 5 years, at an estimated cost of $168 million. Lockheed Martin received the production contract in February 2005, with the first production kits delivered to Hill AFB in March 2006.

While the program was originally supposed to consist of several spirals, these plans were modified in light of USAF requests and needs. The program now consists of 2 increments, with JTRS fielding left as an open item to be addressed once the JTRS AMF equipment is available.

A-10 PE, Increment 3.2 A-10C, partly upgraded
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The Maryland ANG(Air National Guard) 175th Wing at Warfield ANG Base in Baltimore, MD was be the first unit to convert to the modified aircraft and integrate them into normal operations, beginning in September 2007. They received Increment 3.2, which will include the PE kit described below plus datalink capability (14 months early), basic JDAM and WCMD compatibility (9 months early), the Spiral 1 PE kit described below, and targeting pod compatibility.

Each Spiral 1 Precision Engagement kit consists of a new cockpit instrument panel. A new computer called the Central Interface Control Unit (CICU) adds new cockpit controls and displays, including a pair of 5×5 inch multi-function color displays that include moving digital map functions. The new integrated Digital Stores Management System (DSMS), meanwhile, keeps track of weapons and launches them; it will be linked into applications as diverse as video from the targeting pod, weapons status reports, and the data link. These upgrades require a major change to the aircraft’s wiring, and consume a lot more power. Not to worry, though; a second DC generator will double the A-10’s generator capacity.

For the pilot, a new stick grip and right throttle provide true hands-on-throttle and-stick (HOTAS) fingertip control of aircraft systems and targeting pod functionality. Using the HOTAS, the pilot can designate the targeting pod to monitor an area of interest, confirm target identification, and provide laser guidance to weapons from his A-10 or from another platform – all without taking his hands from the controls. Upgrading 6 of the A-10C’s 11 pylons to ‘smart’ weapons capability via MIL-STD-1760 is the final piece of the basic infrastructure upgrades.

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Key add-ons build upon these initial steps, and targeting pod integration is touted as the final piece of spiral 1. PE Program modifications will allow the A-10 to carry either the Northrop-Grumman/ Rafael LITENING AT or the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR targeting pod on an underwing pylon as fully integrated devices, with connections to all of the aircraft’s other systems. The pods, which include long-range TV and infrared cameras with zoom capabilities and a laser target designator, will enable the pilot to identify targets from medium altitudes on the order of 20,000 to 30,000 feet day or night, then illuminate them for homing, laser-guided or GPS guided bombs. During the initial deployments in Iraq, their heat-sensing capability has even proved useful for finding buried land mines, which tend to retain a differential heat signature because they’re made of different materials than the earth around them.

The targeting pods will help reduce mistaken attacks on friendly forces and noncombatants by giving the pilot a closer look at potential targets, and experience with other jets indicates that their stabilized, “point and stare” capabilities are likely to prove especially important in urban operations. Eventually, they will allow A-10 aircraft to engage targets from a higher altitude using advanced sensors and targeting pods and precision guided weapons, including the JDAM and their companion WCMD kits for cluster bombs.

Integration with ROVER devices carried by ground troops also becomes possible, allowing front line forces to communicate using annotated map displays and specific positional data.

SADL screen
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Another very significant Increment 3.2 upgrade involves Raytheon’s SADL data link. SADL was added after the A-10 Precision Engagement program requirements were finalized, which is usually a predictor of trouble. Instead, it went from requirements to delivery in just 17 months, thanks to a general sense of urgency and extraordinary contractor efforts. Those efforts included hardware purchases by Lockheed Martin before they had a government contract to do so, putting their funds at risk but ultimately shortening project completion by 6 months. Back in February 207, Major Drew English, the USAF program manager for A-10C Precision Engagement, told Military Aerospace Technology that:

“I would say the biggest [change] we have coming impact wise is the data link. It will shape our tactics and it bring us into a new era, probably as much as night vision goggles did when we got those in the mid-’90s”

SADL automatically sends and receive data from the Army Enhanced Position Locating and Reporting System (ePLRS) that is part of FBCB2, a.k.a. “Blue Force Tracker.” This means that friendly troops on the ground receive the plane’s position and altitude, while the 5 closest “friendlies” will show up on the aircraft’s heads-up display and/or multi-function cockpit displays at the beginning of an attack. SADL also offers Link 16 integration with other fighters and air defense systems, allowing the A-10C to automatically known receive position data for enemy aircraft, air defenses, and other targets – including targets beyond its range of sight. Link 16 and SADL share information via gateways, which are land-based or airborne portals that permit the transfer of information between different formats.

A-10C pilot Capt. Rich Hunt of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing said from Al-Asad AFB, Iraq:

“Previously, for me to keep track of all the other airplanes that are around me or to help us perform the mission, I would literally have to write those down with a grease pencil inside my canopy or write them down on a white piece of paper on my knee board in order to keep track of all that… Now I have a color display that has all of the other airplanes that are up supporting the same mission across all of Iraq right now. And they are all digitally displayed through that data link on my map. So now, especially at night when awareness is a little bit lower, I can look at that beautiful map display and know exactly what other airplanes are around me.”

He also praised the ROVER downlink capability, allowing the aircraft to transmit the live video feed to a joint terminal attack controller on the ground, and the new JDAM capabilities:

“In Iraq that is especially important because it’s a very difficult situation when we provide close-air support in such a densely urban environment. By the controller being able to look through my targeting pod real time, we can compare exactly what we are looking at and make sure we have an absolutely 100 percent positive identification of the target… Sometimes we find ourselves where we have to destroy a terrorist stronghold location. But in the house across the street are friendly Iraqi civilians. We know we have to destroy the stronghold, but we don’t want to cause any collateral damage whatsoever. So the JDAM has been outstanding for us. Between the situational awareness data link, the targeting pod with the ROVER down link to the controller on the ground and the JDAM, the A-10C on this deployment has been an amazing success for us.”

The USAF adds that:

“A command and control platform — such as the 12th Air Force Air Operations Center here — can send digital communication via SADL to the A-10C for a variety of purposes. Tasking messages, targeting information, threat warnings, and friendly locations can all be sent and received by the A-10C. Additionally, the A-10C is the only platform with the ability to task other fighter platforms to attack targets.”

Given past A-10-related friendly fire incidents, the appeal of a system like SADL is obvious.

Together, these Increment 3.1 and 3.2 additions create an A-10C aircraft that looks the same on the outside, but offers a very different set of capabilities and can be used in very different ways.

The Air Force has been conducting flight-testing of the A-10C at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, and at Nellis Air Force Base, NV, since early 2005. Operational Testing Certification (OT Cert) begins in July 2007, with Air Force operational test and evaluation center Operational User Evaluation (AFOTEC OUE) in August 2007 that includes a final look at JDAM integration and the SADL datalink. If everything continues to go well, operational fielding begins in early September 2007 and The AFOTEC report will follow in October 2007.

A-10 PE, Increment 3.3 A-10C fires cannon
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A second fielded Precision Engagement release will provide for CNS/ATM, full smart weapon integration, more software upgrades, additional improvements as a result of feedback from earlier flight tests, and some maintainer functional improvements.

Releases to test were scheduled for August 2007 and December 2007, with fielding expected around May 2008.

Overall PE kit production ran to 2008. Squadrons released their jets for modification at Hill AFB, UT for upgrades, and they returned about 90 days later as A-10Cs. Installation work was scheduled to run until 2009.

A-10 Fleet: Other Planned Improvements In service to 2028

The A-10C PE program is only part of the effort required to keep the Reagan-era fleet of A-10s battle-worthy out to 2028. A separate $2.02 billion dollar wing replacement program is underway, a multiple-award $1.72 billion contract covered overall fleet maintenance and some upgrades from 2009-2019, and more technology inserts and structural modifications were planned. The GAO’s April 2007 report placed the potential total cost of upgrades, refurbishment, and service life extension plans for the A/OA-10 force at up to $4.4 billion.

The Pentagon began pushing to retire the entire fleet early in the FY 2015 budget. If that effort fails, possible upgrades could include electronics and engines, as well as structural work.

The USAF planned to replace the “thin skin” wings on 242 aircraft with new wings, and that effort is now underway. The cost was originally estimated at $1.3 billion, but the June 2007 contract was for $2 billion. This effort will help to extend A-10 service lives to 16,000 flying hours.

At some point, the A-10s would need to install Joint Tactical Radio System-based (JTRS) radios. As of April 2007, JTRS AMF was only in the bid phase, and as of 2014 it was not a required USAF standard.

To improve the A-10’s overall power and maintainability, the USAF hoped to eventually upgrade the existing General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines. Components of the existing engine will be replaced; in particular, a more efficient fan section with wider blades would be installed by General Electric along with digital engine controls. Flight testing of the revamped engine was slated to begin in FY 2008, and production in 2009-2010. Instead, this effort was downgraded in priority and deferred.

An April 2/07 GAO report places the potential total cost of upgrades, refurbishment, and service life extension plans for the A/OA-10 force at up to $4.4 billion.

Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise specified, all contracts are awarded to Lockheed Martin in Owego, NY as leader of the A-10 Prime Team; and they are issued by the Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT.

FY 2015

Election results make retirement tougher. A-10 firing run

August 26/15: In what is perhaps the biggest reality perception difference between the Air Force and the rest of the military and civilian government, the Air Force has been working hard to shut down the A-10 program, maintaining that the close air support stalwart isn’t earning its keep. The several billion dollars saved would go to more F-35 work, as that platform has been tipped to be the replacement, although some senior Air Force officers have suggested that perhaps a completely new craft would be in order. So it was newsworthy that a senior officer for testing had suggested a shoot-out between the A-10 and F-35. That test is now taking fire from the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who called such a test “silly.” Still, Welsh said that the F-35 was never intended as an A-10 replacement, so that leaves observers scratching heads as to which parts of the Air Force desire what outcome, especially as few believe an A-X replacement would be cheaper.

July 27/15: The Air Force has quashed Boeing’s hopes of selling refurbished A-10s to international customers, following the floating of the idea in May. With the House protecting the A-10 from comprehensive retirement for another year, the Air Force is planning to mothball outgoing A-10s, thereby saving a reported $4.2 billion in sustainment over a five year period.

June 26/15: The Government Accountability Office slammed the Air Force’s body of evidence and cost projections used to make the case for retiring the A-10. A report published on Thursday claims that the Air Force did not fully quantify the economic argument for favoring more advanced multi-role aircraft over the time-tested A-10. Manufacturer Boeing recently floated the idea of selling refurbished US A-10s to international customers.

May 22/15: Boeing wants to sell refurbished A-10s to international customers. The US is the only operator of the Warthog, with the House recently voting to fund the fleet for another year, despite the Air Force chiefs’ efforts to cut down numbers. Boeing is currently engaged in an extensive re-winging program for the aircraft, following a $2 billion 2007 contract.

May 1/15: On Thursdaythe House Armed Services Committee voted to keep the A-10 operational for another year, with the 2016 defense policy bill including an amendment to prohibit the Air Force from retiring the plane. The amendment – proposed by Rep. McSally – passed while a “middle ground” amendment proposed by Rep. Moulton failed. That amendment would have allowed the Air Force to retain a hundred of the aircraft while retiring up to 164.

April 28/15: The House is seeking to block the A-10 from being retired, with Rep. Martha McSally reportedly planning to introduce an amendment to prevent the Air Force from pushing the aircraft aside. This amendment will be attached to Thornberry’s version of the defense budget, with the A-10 fleet fully-funded. An A-10 recently had to conduct an emergency landing while deployed to Iraq, with the aircraft’s engine reportedly suffering “catastrophic damage.”

Nov 11/14: Politics. The USAF has a new angle in the A-10 fight, proposing to retire 72 A-10s in order to switch their maintenance workers over to the F-35. It’s being sold as part of having the F-35A reach Initial Operational Capability, but A-10 proponents like Sen. McCain and Kelly Ayotte say the USAF has other choices. The USAF says that their previous plan B has been blown apart by renewed needs in Iraq and Syria. Sources: Defense News, “USAF Discussing A-10 Compromise With Congress”.

Nov 4/14: Elections. American mid-term elections leave the Republican Party with a bigger House Majority, and recapture the Senate from the Democrats. That result leaves John McCain [R-AZ] as the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. There are 80 A-10s at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ in Tucson, and McCain is very much a proponent of engagement in places like Iraq, Syria, and other places where the A-10’s unique capabilities make a big difference. He’s going to be a staunch opponent of any retirement plans.

The election also features A-10 pilot Lt. Col. Martha McSally [AZ-2], who was the first woman to command an American fighter squadron, and has been described as one of the Republicans’ top House recruits. McSally is narrowly ahead in a traditionally-Democratic district, but the vote count and recount process is going to take a little while. If she is elected, it will have obvious implications for A-10 lobbying in Congress. Sources: AP, “Sen. John McCain vows to save A-10 from retirement” | McSally for Congress, “McSally Campaign Statement on Challenge to Uncertified Ballots” | Politico, “The House GOP’s top recruit”.

FY 2014

Attempted retirement of the fleet. A-10Cs
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Sept 19/14: Ki Ho Military Acquisition Consulting, Inc. in Layton, UT wins a $31.4 million firm-fixed-price, engineering support, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to identify new and developing technologies that can “support the accomplishment of A-10 missions, and either eliminate or minimize operational and/or sustainability gaps.” $5.3 million is committed immediately, using FY 2014 USAF O&M funds.

Is this operational consulting, or payment to make more arguments for retiring the A-10? Poor results so far against in Iraq and Syria aren’t making fantastic arguments for other systems.

Work will be performed at Hill AFB, UT, and is expected to be complete by Sept 15/19. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition, with 3 offers received by the USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Hill AFB, UT (FA8202-14-D-0002).

Sept 9/14: Support. Korean Air Lines’ Aerospace Division in Seoul, South Korea receives an estimated $46 million firm-fixed-price maintenance and repair contract for depot level support to A-10 aircraft stationed in the Asia/Pacific region. Funds will be committed as needed.

Work will be performed at KAL’s facility in Seoul, South Korea, with an expected completion date of Sept. 30/20. This contract was a competitive acquisition, with 2 offers received by USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Hill AFB, UT (FA8202-14-D-0001).

Week of June 20/14: Politics. Things continue to move at a brisk pace in the House, with floor action starting for HR 4870 then leading to a vote within days. The White House issued its usual set of “strong” disagreements [PDF], with C-130 AMP, E-3s, and AH-64 transfers among the points of contention. At least the executive appreciated that someone in Congress sided with them to retire A-10s. But it was not meant to be, as an amendment against divesting A-10s easily passed with a 300-114 roll call. This was expected given the fact A-10 retirement was at odds with the already approved authorization bill.

The Administration will now have to find Senatorial opponents to the A-10, among other cuts the House doesn’t want, that are convinced enough to push the issue all the way through reconciliation. The odds are not in their favor.

On June 20 the bill was wrapped up with a 340-73 roll call, showing even broader bipartisan support than the authorization bill: amendments [PDF] | Bill report [PDF].

June 10/14: Politics. The House Appropriations Committee votes 13-23 against Rep. Jack Kingston’s [R-GA-1] amendment to transfer $339 million from the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account to sustain the A-10 fleet. Former USAF pilot Chris Stewart [R-UT-2] was one of the speakers in favor from both parties, and he outlined the inherent issues with the close-air support mission, but it was to no avail.

What really matters is what the House ends up approving by final vote, but these kinds of losses can hurt politically. Sources: DoD Buzz, “House Panel Votes to Scrap the A-10 Warthog”.

May 23/14: Political. The Senate Armed Services Committee has completed the mark-up of the annual defense bill, which passed by a 25-1 vote. The section relevant to the A-10 is explained this way:

“Prohibits the Air Force from retiring or preparing to retire any A-10 or Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft (AWACS), or making any significant changes in manning levels in FY15.”

That isn’t as comprehensive or as long-term as Sen. Ayotte’s S.1764 bill (q.v. Nov 21-Dec 5/14), but it fulfills the same purpose in the immediate term. If the measure remains in the Senate’s FY 2015 NDAA bill, it will have to be reconciled with similar but different provisions in the House bill (q.v. May 8/14). Bottom line? Unless these measures are stripped from the final bill in either the House or the Senate, the A-10C fleet isn’t going anywhere just yet. Sources: US Senate Armed Services Committee, “Senate Committee on Armed Services Completes Markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015″.

May 8/14: Political. A 41-20 voice vote in the House Armed Services Committee changes the language of Rep. McKeon’s A-10 compromise, and institutes terms that are similar to HR.3657. Ron Barber [D-AZ-2] and Vicky Hartzler [R-MO-4] and Austin Scott [R-GA-8] from HR.3657 are the amendment’s sponsors, and they’ve added interesting requirements. One example would have the Comptroller General’s Office assess the cost per-plane for close air support missions, as part of the set of activities necessary before retiring the A-10s. The F-35’s high operating costs, and heavy depreciation due to its high initial cost, would cripple it in any comparison with the A-10. The F-35’s figures per mission would probably be at least 100% higher, and could easily be worse than that.

May 5/14: Political. House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon [R-MO] proposes a compromise measure that would require “Type 1000 storage” for the retired A-10C fleet. Planes kept in that condition can be recalled to duty and fly again within 30-120 days, because after the initial removal and proper storage of key items like engines and weapons, no parts can be pulled without the express permission of the program office at Wright-Patterson AFB. That’s significantly better than Type 2000/4000 storage, but a step below Type 3000 “temporary storage” planes that receive engine runs, tow-outs to lubricate their bearings, and fluids servicing every 30 days.

Defense News estimates the cost for the 283-plane fleet at $25.7 million over 5 years ($12.17M initial storage + $283k/year + $12.17M refurb every 4 years). Sources: Air Force Magazine, “Living Boneyard” | Defense News Intercepts, “The Price of Storing the A-10 in “Type-1000″ Storage” | House Armed Services Committee, “McKeon Releases Full Committee Mark”.

Feb 24/14: Scrap the A-10Cs. The announcement isn’t a surprise (q.v. Sept 15/13), but Chuck Hagel’s FY 2015 pre-budget briefing explains the official justification for removing the A-10 fleet:

“For the Air Force, an emphasis on capability over capacity meant that we protected its key modernization programs, including the new bomber, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the new refueling tanker. We also recommended investing $1 billion in a promising next-generation jet engine technology, which we expect to produce sizeable cost-savings through reduced fuel consumption and lower maintenance needs. This new funding will also help ensure a robust industrial base – itself a national strategic asset.

To fund these investments, the Air Force will reduce the number of tactical air squadrons including the entire A-10 fleet. Retiring the A-10 fleet saves $3.5 billion over five years and accelerates the Air Force’s long-standing modernization plan [to replace it with the F-35]…. the A-10… cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses. And as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, the advent of precision munitions means that many more types of aircraft can now provide effective close air support, from B-1 bombers to remotely piloted aircraft. And these aircraft can execute more than one mission.

Moreover, the A-10’s age is also making it much more difficult and costly to maintain. Significant savings are only possible through eliminating the entire fleet, because of the fixed cost of maintaining the support apparatus associated with the aircraft. Keeping a smaller number of A-10s would only delay the inevitable while forcing worse trade-offs elsewhere.”

The A-10’s original concept did, in fact, aim to survive and operate in the face of advanced fighters and air defense, which makes Hagel’s statement questionable. Expect to see others question Hagel’s use of the term “effective” as well. The A-10 remains peerless in the close support role, and the use of fighter guns for close-in attacks on the front lines remains reality. That isn’t possible for drones, and it’s problematic for the vulnerable F-35A, which carries only 14% as much ammunition (only 180 rounds) in a lesser caliber. It would be possible to defend the decision by saying that the USAF is downgrading Close Air Support in order to build up other capabilities, but that isn’t how the Pentagon is selling this. Sources: US DoD, “Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel FY 2015 Budget Preview Pentagon Press Briefing Room Monday, February 24, 2014″.

FY 2015 Budget: Retire the fleet

Nov 21-Dec 5/13: Politics. House and Senate members introduce bills in each chamber that would restrict the USAF’s ability to retire its A-10Cs. The Senate’s S.1764 is introduced by Kelly Ayotte [R-NH], While the House’s HR.3657 is introduced by Vicky Hartzler [R-MO-4]. Both have cosponsors from each party, but they’ll need more cosponsors to improve the chances of getting to a vote and being passed into law.

The core condition in both bills is that the USAF must have a fleet of F-35As with Block 4A software, including integration with the GBU-53 Small Diamater Bomb II or equivalent capability, all certified by an audit by the Comptroller General that also says that there are enough F-35s to replace the A-10s. In practice, that would defer A-10C retirement to 2025 at least, and might even push all the way to the A-10’s planned 2028 retirement.

FY 2013

APKWS laser-guided rockets added; A-10s out of Europe. BAE/GD APKWS
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Sept 26/13: TLPS. Northrop Grumman Technical Services in Herndon, VA receives an estimated maximum $11.3 million task order under a combined firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee engineering support contract. They’ll provide evaluations, analysis, repair designs, and/or testing to support the requirements for the A-10 aircraft structural integrity program and maintenance of operational safety, suitability, and effectiveness. All funds are committed immediately.

This award is a result of a competitive acquisition under the Thunderbolt Life Cycle Program Support contract, but only 1 bid was received.

Work will be performed at Hill AFB, UT, although various portions of the work will take place at subcontractor facilities, and work is expected to be completed by Sept 18/16. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WWAK at Hill AFB, UT manages the contract (FA8202-09-D-0003, 0012).

Sept 25/13: Political. Sen. Kelly Ayotte [R-NH], whose husband Joe was an A-10 pilot, puts a hold on the nomination of Deborah Lee James to be Secretary of the Air Force, until she gets clear and acceptable answers regarding the USAF’s proposal to kill the platform. Sources: Defense News, “Ayotte Blocks Air Force Secretary Nominee Over Possible A-10 Cuts”.

Sept 20/13: Political. House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Ron Barber [R-AZ-02] initiates a letter signed by 8 colleagues, calling the A-10:

“…a critical capability…. In Operation Desert Storm, the A-10 was responsible for the destruction of 4,000 military vehicles and artillery pieces. In Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the A-10 has performed nearly one third of the combat sorties…. The Department of Defense must maintain its ability to wage ground combat and support those at the tip of the spear.”

The letter is co-signed by Reps. Rob Bishop [R-UT-01, HASC on leave to Rules]; Paul Gosar [R-AZ-04]; Vicky Hartzler [R-MO-04 HASC]; Jack Kingston [R-GA-01, Ways & Means]; Candice S. Miller [R-MI-10]; C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger [D-MD-02, Intel.]; Austin Scott [R-GA-08, HASC]; and Mike Simpson [R-ID-02, Budget/ Approp.]. Sources: Rep. Ron Barber Release | Full letter [PDF].

Sept 17/13: Political. Gen. Mike Hostage reiterates to reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference that the A-10 may be on the chopping block, and repeats the point about savings only becoming substantial when you remove entire fleets. He adds:

“You can’t get your money out of installations because they won’t support [base realignment and closure]. You can’t get money out of people fast enough. It takes about a year to get savings out of people.”

Gen. Welsh’s address
click for video

Sept 15/13: End of the A-10? USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, is quoted as saying that “You can cut aircraft from a fleet, but you save a lot more money if you cut all the infrastructure that supports the fleet.”

That’s a step beyond initial reports about the Strategic Choices and Management Review, and current reports have the USAF considering the removal of all 343 A-10Cs, all 59 KC-10 tankers, and more of the 249 or so F-15C/Ds. The CRH successor to the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters is also up for review.

The KC-10 option seems to make zero sense as a “single-role” retirement, as it’s far more capable and multi-role than the smaller KC-135s, giving it especial value in the huge Pacific theater. It’s also the USAF’s key insurance against a grounding of its 1950s-era KC-135 aerial tanker fleet – which may explain the decision. If the USAF is trying to protect its KC-46 program, removing any operational insurance for the aged KC-135s makes the KC-46 program that much harder to mess with, or even to delay.

The F-15Cs, on the other hand, have had serious aging out problems, including maneuvering restrictions, and even a months-long grounding after one of the planes broke in 2 in mid-air. The F-22 Raptor fleet’s small size means that retiring the F-15Cs would be a big hit to US air superiority assets, but the multi-role F-15E Strike Eagles can perform the air superiority role almost as well. It’s just a continuing data point in the long-term downsizing of American TacAir. Sources: Defense News, “USAF Weighs Scrapping KC-10, A-10 Fleets” and “USAF General: A-10 Fleet Likely Done if Sequestration Continues”.

Sept 4/13: Wings. Boeing announces a $212 million follow-on order for 56 A-10C replacement wings, bringing total orders so far under the $2 billion program (q.v. June 29/07 entry) to 173 of a maximum 242.

Work will be performed at Boeing’s plant in Macon, GA. Sources: Boeing, Sept 4/13 release.

Aug 12-13/13: Cut the USAF? Prof. Robert Farley makes a condensed argument for abolishing the USAF as a separate service, in advance of his book “Grounded! The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force.” Farley argues that the USA needs air power, but not a service that’s divorced from the ground and naval forces they support. A misguided focus on strategic effect, which he argues hasn’t panned out in wartime experience, will interfere and has interfered with effective contributions to a land/ sea/ air team.

Michael Auslin of the neoconservative AEI think tank responds, arguing that the USAF’s space role and global fast-reaction capabilities make it a unique asset that can reach areas far inland where the Navy cannot go, and go overseas in a way the Army is unable to. An independent Air Force, he says, will wring every advantage out of the air and space domains, just as the Navy does at sea.

Here’s the thing. What if the USAF is seen as a non-team player, one who consistently short-changes the needs of other services? It then becomes very hard to argue that the USAF is in fact wringing every advantage out of the aerial domain for the USA. At a time of significant budget cuts, cutting an entire service offers much bigger administrative savings than removing aircraft fleets, and removing fleets the other services see as their top priorities could create a level of friction that will place that kind of radical option on the table. Sources: War Is Boring, “America Does Not Need the Air Force” | Breaking Defense, “Why America Needs The Air Force: Rebuttal To Prof. Farley”.

Aug 6/13: Combat. An engagement in Afghanistan illustrates the A-10’s strengths, and underscores why high-altitude bombing simply isn’t going to replace what it does on the front lines:

“Even with all our (top-of-the-line) tools today, we still rely on visual references,” said the lead pilot, who is on his first deployment from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. “Once we received general location of the enemy’s position, I rolled in as lead aircraft and fired two rockets to mark the area with smoke. Then my wingman rolled in to shoot the enemy with his 30 millimeter rounds.”…. “We train for this, but shooting danger-close is uncomfortable, because now the friendlies are at risk,” the second A-10 pilot said. “We came in for a low-angle strafe, 75 feet above the enemy’s position and used the 30-mm gun — 50 meters parallel to ground forces — ensuring our fire was accurate so we didn’t hurt the friendlies.

The engagement lasted two hours that day, and in that time, the A-10s completed 15 gun passes, fired nearly all their 2,300, 30-mm rounds, and dropped three 500-pound bombs on the enemy force.”

As a reference point, the F-35s the USAF wants to use as replacements can’t fly as slowly for visual references, are highly vulnerable to battle damage, and carry just 180 25mm cannon rounds. Sources: USAF, “Bagram pilots save 60 Soldiers during convoy ambush”.

Front-line reality

Aug 5/13: Political. Defense News reports that the 4-month Strategic Choices Management Review will report that the USAF could eliminate most of its older C-130E/H transports, and 5 of 55 tactical A-10, F-15, or F-16 squadrons (up to 120 jets, based on 24-plane squadrons).

The USAF’s problem is that Congress wants to cut money, but won’t countenance closing bases. They’re also not receptive to aircraft retirements, which has left the USAF with several squadrons’ worth of unflyable planes that can’t be retired. FY 2013 budget proposals to retire 22 C-130Hs and shut down two A-10 squadrons were blocked by Congress. Sources: Air Force Times, “AF considers scrapping A-10s, KC-10s, F-15Cs, CSAR helos”

June 18/13: Basing. As part of budget cuts (q.v. Feb 1/12 entry), a ceremony at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany inactivates the 81st Fighter Squadron and its A-10Cs. The ceremony marks the end of A-10 operations in Europe.

The A-10 was originally designed for combat in Europe, and was seen as a crucial fast-reaction asset that could stop heavy armored thrusts through NATO’s defenses. Now, the 52nd Fighter Wing is left with only F-16 fighters on its roster. Considering the situation in Europe, and likely threats, wouldn’t it have made more sense to remove and retire F-16s? That would have left the A-10s as an inexpensive but uniquely reassuring deterrent for NATO’s eastern flank, with fast deployability to the CENTCOM AOR if needed. Pentagon DVIDS.

Europe, Adieu

April 2/13: APKWS guided rockets. Eglin AFB announces successful tests of the APKWS laser-guided 70mm rocket from an A-10C, marking the 2nd test from a fixed-wing aircraft (a Beechcraft AT-6B was the 1st). For the final A-10C test sortie, 2 APKWS rockets were fired at a surface target at altitudes of 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The first rocket hit within inches, and the 15,000 foot shot hit within 2 meters despite a 70-knot headwind.

The USAF used a US Navy rocket launcher, because the guidance section adds 18″ to the Hydra rocket. If the USAF continues to move forward with APKWS on the A-10C and F-16, they’ll buy the Navy’s modified launchers to replace their 7-rocket LAU-131s. The US Navy is preparing to qualify APKWS on the MQ-8C VTUAV, USMC AV-8B Harrier II V/STOL jets, and F/A-18 family fighters. Pentagon DVIDS.

FY 2012

A-10C fleet cut; 1st re-winged A-10C rolls out; A-10C flies on biofuel; Thales acquires Scorpion HMD. Alcohol-to-Jet
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Nov 5/12: Thales buys Scorpion HMD. Thales announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Gentex Corp.’s Visionix subsidiary for Helmet Mounted Displays (HMD) and motion tracking. Products include “Intersense” motion tracking, and the Scorpion HMD that equips American A-10Cs. Thales has a strong position in helicopter HMDs with its TopOwl, but it hasn’t had quite as much luck with fighter HMDs. Visionix has good technologies, which can help Thales improve that position against the Elbit/Rockwell joint venture VSI, and secondary competitors BAE systems and Saab Group.

Visionix will operate as a subsidiary of radio supplier Thales Communications, Inc., a Thales USA company that operates independently under a proxy agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense. Its management team will remain, and they’ll continue to operates from Aurora, IL and Billerica, MA. Thales Group.

July 12/12: Sub-contractors. Boeing calls South Korea’s KAI “a key supplier on the A-10 Wing Replacement Program,” while discussing the Korean company’s role in delivering AH-64D Block III attack helicopter fuselages. Boeing is a huge customer for KAI, who supplies parts for commercial jets and F-15s, as well as helicopter fuselages, A-10 wings, etc.

July 10/12: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Owego, NY receives a $7.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for repair service for the A-10 central interface control unit (CICU), and related Circuit Card Assemblies. This computer is also knows as a Signal Data Processor, and the idea is to provide a support bridge, while the USAF gets ready to perform maintenance in-house.

Work will be performed in Owego, NY, and will be complete by Sept 9/12. The USAF GLSC at Hill AFB, UT manages the contract (FA8251-12-D-0005). See also announcement.

June 29/12: Liquored up. An A-10C from Eglin AFB, FL flies using a cellulosic alcohol derivative, called “Alcohol-to-Jet.” That trick works better for the jets than it does for the pilots, apparently. The fuel comes from Colorado’s Gevo, Inc., and can be had for the bargain price of just $56 per gallon.

The $700,000 flight was just a test, obviously. The A-10 is a good test platform for this sort of thing, because its fuel system was segregated in order to help the plane survive hits. The system allows the 2 engines to run off of different fuel supplies, allowing simple performance comparisons. If a test fuel creates failures, the plane can still make it back on one engine. Daily Mail |

Alcohol flight

May 16/12: Flight International:

“The US Air Force has concluded that the short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) Lockheed Martin F-35B- model aircraft cannot generate enough sorties to meet its needs; therefore the service will not consider replacing the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog close air support jet with that variant.”

The short take-off F-35B’s ability to base near the battle does multiply the number of flight sorties from each plane, and improves total time over the battlefield. On the other hand, that’s multiplied relative to the F-35A. The A-10 has excellent endurance, whereas the F-35B has to sacrifice fuel capacity in exchange for its short-takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. Beyond that, F-35s of any vintage lack the armoring or gun for in-close support, remove most of their stealth protection if they carry the same array of weapons as an A-10, suffer from the usual problem identifying targets at fast jet speeds, and don’t offer significantly better battlefield sensors than the LITENING-SE or Sniper-SE pods on current A-10s. No matter what the sortie rates may be, replacement of the A-10 with any F-35 is a poor idea.

Feb 15/12: Boeing and the USAF officially roll out of the 1st re-winged A-10C Thunderbolt II in a ceremony at Hill AFB, UT. Boeing is under contract with the Air Force to deliver 233 wing sets through 2018, and delivered the 1st set in March 2011. In the intervening year, the new wings had to be installed, verified, and conduct initial test flights. Boeing.

1st re-winged A-10C

Feb 1/12: US Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz released a short white paper [PDF] outlining its priorities and choices within forthcoming budget constraints. The A-10 fleet bears the largest cuts by far, even though it has been the most consistently requested plane by troops on the ground in recent wars, and offers high value in both counterinsurgency and full-war scenarios:

“More than 280 aircraft have been identified… for elimination… over the next five years. This includes 123 fighters (102 A-10s [emphasis DID’s] and 21 older F-16s), 133 mobility aircraft (27 C-5As, 65 C-130s, 20 KC-135s, and 21 C-27s), and 30 select ISR systems (18 RQ-4 Block 30s, 11 RC-26s, and one E-8 damaged beyond repair)”

That’s 102 of 345 total A-10s flown, leaving 243 in service. It remains to be seen whether Boeing’s re-winging contract will be cut, but if not, 233/243 A-10Cs left will be re-winged planes. Unconfirmed reports point to the elimination of 2 regular USAF units, plus 3 Guard units: the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base (ANGB), MI; the 163rd Fighter Squadron at Fort Wayne ANGB, IN; and the 184th Fighter Squadron at Ebbing ANGB, AK. See | Salt Lake Tribune | Neoconservative AEI think-tank’s Weekly Standard.

A-10 fleet cuts

FY 2011

A-10Cs to South Korea; TLPS support contracts. A-10 wing work
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Sept 6/11: TLPS. Boeing announces a 1-year, $2.9 million contract to develop and validate a modification of the A-10’s Digital Video Audio Data Recorder (DVADR), which was becoming difficult to support. That’s not uncommon with electronics, which become obsolete much faster than their fighter jets do.

This contract is the 6th Boeing task order under the A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) program.

Dec 7/10: TLPS. Northrop Grumman announces a set of 3 small task orders under the A-10 Thunderbolt Life-cycle Program Support (TLPS) indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract, worth almost $2 million. Under the terms of the 2-year Aircraft Structural Integrity Program Modernization II task order, Northrop Grumman and its teammate Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX will develop and document non-destructive inspection (NDI) procedures and source data, and report discrepancies found between current technical data program requirements.

The Critical Safety Item (CSI) Technical Deficiency Improvement task order has 1 base year with 3 option years. Along with Wyle Laboratories in El Segundo, CA, and Rowan Catalyst Inc. in Libertyville, IL, the team will identify the engineering and technical correct CSI technical and acquisition data deficiencies.

Northrop Grumman is also teamed with Wyle Laboratories and Rowan Catalyst Inc., for the Critical Systems Component Analysis task, which has 1 base year with 2 option years. The team will perform component analysis of critical systems and provide solutions for increasing system reliability, safety, and aircraft availability; and reducing maintenance requirements and man-hours.

Nov 16/10: To Korea. Brahmand relays reports that the USAF 25th Fighter Squadron has deployed A-10Cs on the Korean peninsula at Osan AB, near Seoul. Subsequent USAF reports indicate that the last A-10A left the base on Dec 4/10, marking the 25th fighter squadron’s transition to an all A-10C force.

FY 2010

A-10C getting a Scorpion HMD, but not Hellfire missiles. A-10A fires Maverick
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Sept 27/10: OFP Suite 7, no Hellfire. A $48 million contract modification which will allow for the “completion of the full A-10 Suite 7 Operational Flight Program.”

Asked about this, Lockheed Martin confirmed that this is part of the A-10C program, adding that the government had reached its ceiling on this contract for mission software, also called Operational Flight Programs (OFPs) or Suites. Like the current modification, the original Oct 19/07 sole source contract ceiling for Suites 6, 7 and 8 was not an award, just a maximum. The government awards funds suite by suite, and based on additional things they wanted to add to the A-10C fleet, they requested this ceiling extension to $123 million total. The USAF has since separated Suite 7 into Suite 7A and Suite 7B, and Lockheed Martin recently received a contract for the remainder of OFP Suite 7A work.

The 2007 award also mentioned Hellfire II missiles, which are not normally fired from jets. Lockheed Martin says that the high cost of developing and purchasing a special missile launch rail for the A-10 caused the USAF to change its mind. The AGM-65 Maverick missile can perform the same role at a higher cost per missile, and Hellfire’s forthcoming JAGM missile successor is expected to work with fast jets (FA8635-07-D-6000, PO0012).

July 19/10: Scorpion HMD. Raytheon announces a $12.6 million USAF contract for Phase 1 integration and qualification of the Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT) system for USAF and Air National Guard A-10C and F-16C Block 30/32 aircraft. Raytheon Technical Services Company LLC (RTSC), the prime contractor, is teamed with Gentex Corp. in Simpson, PA to produce the system, based on Gentex’s Visionix Scorpion(TM) Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

HMIT will be a night-vision compatible helmet-mounted display that shows crucial information in high-resolution color imagery directly in the pilot’s field of vision. The color imagery is a step forward, and information displayed will include weapons-cueing, targeting and situational data from on-board and remote sensors. Like other HMDs, the system will track helmet movement to display accurate imagery, regardless of the direction the pilot’s head is turned. The program includes 5 one-year production options, with a potential total value up to $50 million.

April 13/10: Sub-contractors. CPI Aerostructures, Inc. of Edgwood, NY announces an additional $10 million in orders from Boeing in support of the A-10 fleet’s $2 billion re-winging effort. The original contract with Boeing was for $70 million (see July 1/08 entry).

Boeing has added additional structural assemblies and subsystem installations to the CPI Aero contract. These additions include pylon covers, center trailing edge wedge fittings, lower outer trailing edge panels, wingtip covers, wingtip light installations and aileron light installations.

Nov 20/09: OFP. Lockheed Martin announces a $17.8 million contract from the US Air Force to upgrade software that integrates communications and situational awareness capabilities on the A-10C close air support aircraft. The software upgrade is the 3rd in an annual series planned for the A-10 and is scheduled for release in May 2011. The earlier two upgrades were also performed by Lockheed Martin; the first was fielded on schedule in May 2009 and the second is on target for release in May 2010.

The software upgrade will provide improved pilot vehicle interface (PVI) and weapons delivery. Also included with the upgrade are software baselines for the helmet-mounted cueing system that provides situational awareness through improved visual cues for the pilot and for the lightweight airborne recovery system that integrates search and rescue capability. The upgrades will be integrated in Lockheed Martin’s A-10 Systems Integration Lab in Owego, NY. Lockheed Martin A-10 industry team includes Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX and Northrop Grumman in St. Augustine, FL.

Nov 11/09: TLPS. Northrop Grumman announces an 18-month, $3.3 million A-10 TLPS contract to develop and test an anti-jam embedded GPS and an inertial navigation unit (EGI) for the A-10C. Northrop Grumman Technical Services will perform an integrated architecture and life cycle costs analysis and install a temporary modification. The company will then develop a system safety program, and provide program and engineering management support in order to conduct an operational assessment of the EGI capability during flight test. Northrop Grumman’s team includes subcontractors BAE Systems Control Inc., Johnson City, N.Y., and Borsight Aerospace, Farmington, Utah.

FY 2009

$1.72 billion TLPS multi-award maintenance contract; A-10C adds Laser JDAM; Wing cracking in 130 planes. LJDAM test from A-10C
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Sept 24/09: Boeing announces that it received 2 separate contracts from the US Air Force to support modernization of its 365 A-10A+ and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft. The contracts, which have a total value of $4.2 million, consists of several tasks ranging in duration from 3 to 18 months as part of the A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) contract. For details on the TLPS contract, see the June 11/09 entry.

Under the 1st contract, Boeing and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will provide engineering services for the A-10 Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP), which involves updating and aligning modern structural analysis tools, processes and standards for the A-10 fleet. Under the 2nd contract, Boeing, Raytheon Technical Services, and BAE Systems Platform Solutions will conduct a trade study analysis and operational assessment/proof of concept for the A-10 Upgraded Data Transfer Unit (UDTU). The goal of this contract is to update the aircraft’s avionics architecture to improve memory and data capability.

Other A-10 contracts Boeing has received include a contract to provide on-site engineering support and 3-D models of the A-10 wing, and a contract for fuselage lofting – the transfer of a scaled-down plan to full size. The $2 billion A-10 Wing Replacement Program, which Boeing received in June 2007 (see June 29/07 entry), plans to manufacture up to 242 enhanced wing assemblies. The 3-D models allow the Air Force to resolve wing-crack issues that temporarily grounded the A-10 fleet in 2008 (see Oct 3/08 entry).

June 11/09: TLPS. The A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) “provides a multiple-award indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract vehicle to sustain and modernize all A-10 weapon system configuration.” It’s a follow-on to the A-10 Prime Contract, which was competitively awarded to Lockheed Martin in 1997. A-10 TLPS could run for up to 10 years, with an initial 4-year award that can be followed by up to 3 more 2-year option periods. All funds have been obligated, and the A-10 TLPS is managed by the 538 ACSG/PK at Hill Air Force Base, UT.

The Aug 29/08 entry explains the key rule change from the USA’s 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which requires DoD task & delivery order contracts exceeding $100 million to be awarded to multiple contractors. The USAF will select up to 3 contractors to compete for individual A-10 TLPS orders over the life of the contract, which will include avionics, mechanical, structural, and propulsion system upgrade work and a program integration support. The 3 winners of the $1.72 billion total contract are:

  • Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY (FA8202-09-D-0002). Current incumbents. Partnered with Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio TX; and Northrop Grumman in St. Augustine, FL.

  • Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Saint Louis, MO (FA8202-09-D-0001). Also on contract for the $2.015 billion A-10 re-winging program (q.v. June 29/07 entry).

  • Northrop Grumman Technical Services, Inc. in Herndon, VA (FA8202-09-D-0003). NGC will manage the program from Clearfield, UT. Work will also be performed at Warner Robins, GA; Bethpage, NY; El Segundo, CA; and Rolling Meadows, IL.

See also: Lockheed Martin | Boeing | Northrop Grumman.

TLPS support contract

June 11/09: TLPS. Boeing’s A-10 TLPS release adds information concerning the separate $2.015 billion A-10 Wing Replacement Program:

“The work remains on schedule as Boeing develops the 3-D models that provide the engineering foundation for production of the new wings. The models also allowed Boeing to help the Air Force quickly resolve wing-crack issues that temporarily grounded the A-10 fleet last year.”

June 11/09: A-10PE Update. Lockheed Martin’s A-10 TLPS release adds some details concerning the separate A-10C Precision Engagement program:

“Lockheed Martin will remain under contract to complete efforts that are underway including work to provide Precision Engagement modification kits through 2011… To date, the Air Force has converted more than 200 of the 356 aircraft fleet. The A-10C was declared combat ready in August, 2007… In 2007, Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego and the Air Force were co-recipients of a Top 5 DoD Program Award from the National Defense Industrial Association and the Department of Defense for A-10 systems engineering and program management excellence.”

Feb 4/09: TLPS. Boeing announces that it has submitted a proposal to the to the USAF for the $1.6 billion A-10 Thunderbolt Life-Cycle Program Support (TLPS) contract. This is a separate endeavor from the A-10C PE program, but it will have connections to ongoing modernization work.

Boeing is looking to leverage its work creating 3-D models of the plane under the $2 billion A-10 Wing Replacement Program. The A-10 was designed in the 1970s, and 3-D modeling was not used at the time. Lockheed Martin currently handles a large share of A-10 work, and competition is also expected from BAE Systems and L-3 Communications. Boeing release.

Jan 12/09: Cracking up. DoD Buzz quotes 12th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, who says the USAF has inspected 200 of 244 aircraft with thin wings. Of those, 40% remain grounded, 41% have been inspected and returned to flight and the remainder are considered “flyable and awaiting inspection.” June 2009 remains the target date for a fix. Among the “thick winged” A-10s, 30% are still grounded, 23% will keep flying and the rest should be ready by June 2009.

The USAF’s challenge has been to keep all of the pilots current in their required flight hours for pilot certification, while providing enough aircraft to meet front-line combat needs.

Nov 14/08: LJDAM. The USAF announces that an upgraded USAF A-10C has dropped the GBU-54 LJDAM in a successful test. The next step is operational testing to develop tactics and techniques for employing the 500 pound dual laser/GPS guidance bombs from A-10s, who can use them to hit moving targets or drop bombs through clouds.

If those tests continue to go well, Eglin AFB’s test team may have their feedback as early as January. The goal is to have the LJDAM/A-10C combination deployed on the front lines by early 2009.

Nov 12/08: Cracking up. USAF release: Approximately 5 members of a depot maintenance team from Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT arrive at Moody AFB. They will provide hands-on training to perform major crack repairs on A-10 aircraft to Moody maintainers and another 40 active duty, Reserve and Guard maintainers from bases including Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, Nellis AFB, NV, Whiteman AFB, MO, and Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, PA. Master Sgt. Steve Grimes, Air Combat Command Headquarters A-10 maintenance liaison:

“It would cost too much to fly all the aircraft to Hill. It would also take longer to repair all since three could only be sent at a time. This method is more cost-effective and it would be a faster way to repair the A-10s.”

Oct 3/08: Cracking up. The USAF announces “a time compliance technical order requiring immediate inspection and repair of wing cracks” for approximately 130 A-10 aircraft that were originally built with thin-skin wings.

“Such action has become necessary due to an increase in fatigue-related wing cracks currently occurring in aircraft assigned to Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and Air Force Materiel Command… The inspections, however, will not impact on-going or future operational combat missions.”

The USAF explicitly notes this as one of the issues associated with its aging aircraft fleet. The US military currently has about 400 active A-10s. See USAF release | Reuters.

Wing cracking grounds 130 A-10s

FY 2008

USAF prepared to compete future support; A-10C #100 delivered; Creating a 3-D model of the A-10. A-10C at Davis-Monthan
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Aug 29/08: New Rules. Aviation Week reports that the A-10C program is likely to be an early test case for a dramatic rule change inserted in the USA’s 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which requires DoD task & delivery order contracts exceeding $100 million to be awarded to multiple contractors.

The kits that upgrade the A-10A to an A-10C are still sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin, but that’s about to change. A final RFP is expected soon, and the current plan is for 3 associate prime contractors to win a “multiple award” contract that lets them compete for individual task orders. The Air Force will reportedly oversee all modifications above and beyond the A-10 Precision Engagement aircraft under the Thunderbolt Lifecycle Program Support (TLPS) contract, with a $1.6 billion ceiling over 5 years and an additional 5-year option.

Boeing, who has extensive fighter experience and makes new A-10 wings under the $2 billion re-winging program, is likely to add itself to the mix. L-3 Communications also has strong experience with aircraft refurbishment and upgrades, and BAE Systems is heavily involved in the A-10A+ program.

July 1/08: Sub-contractors. CPI Aerostructures, Inc. of Edgwood, NY announces a long-term, $70 million requirements from Boeing in support of the A-10 fleet’s $2 billion re-winging effort.

The first ordering period is to run until Sept 30/11, with an additional option period that runs from Oct 1/11 through Sept 30/16. CPI expects to receive the initial order under this contract within the next 30 days.

June 19/08: Model me. Integrating new weapons and systems onto new aircraft involved aerodynamic and mechanical considerations, in addition to electronic compatibility. Modern engineering practices offer comprehensive 3-D design drawings that account for every part, and can be used to create models that reduce the trial-and-error associated with new work. An aircraft designed in the 1970s wouldn’t have those 3-D CAD/CAM models to work from, however, which is where Eglin AFB’s 46th Test Wing’s SEEK EAGLE office enters the picture.

Visibility Size and Shape Targeting Accuracy Room Scale (V-STARS) uses a photogrammetry system of triangulation to collect thousands of data points involving every external surface of an aircraft. These data points are then used to create a model that’s accurate to within 0.03 inches of the aircraft measured. The B-52H bomber has already been through this process, and now the SEEK EAGLE office is measuring an A-10C on loan from the Maryland National Guard. The 1000,000 data points that result will build an A-10C model that can be used when integrating future weapons. USAF.

Jan 22/08: Wings. Boeing announces a $14.9 million U.S. Air Force contract for systems engineering and modeling services under the A-10 Wing Replacement program (see April 2/07 and June 29/07). William Moorefield, Boeing A-10 Wing Replacement program manager, said that the contract will provide the engineering foundation for the program; the goal is “a true paperless engineering package.”

Boeing will perform the majority of the work in St. Louis, MO, with the remaining work done in Salt Lake City, UT. The contract runs through September 2010.

Jan 18/08: #100. The USAF announces that the 100th A-10C has taken off and flown from Hill AFB, UT to Moody AFB, GA. Aircraft 80-0172 was based at Pope AFB, NC before the modification, but transfers to Moody AFB as part of the base realignment and closure (BRAC 2005) recommendations.

On average, the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron technicians at Hill AFB are upgrading each A-10 aircraft to the new A-10C configuration in less than 90 days. The A-10C Precision Engagement program started in the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group in July 2006.

100th A-10C delivered

Oct 19/07: OFP. Lockheed Martin Systems Integration of Owego, NY receives a $75 million contract modification to fund the A-10C’s Operational Flight Program (OFP) Hardware Improvement Program for the plane’s mission computers, and Development and Integration of mission software Suites 6, 7, and 8, including Hellfire II Missile Development and Integration. This is just an umbrella contract and ceiling, no funds have been obligated by the 642th AESS/PK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8635-07-D-6000).

The USAF eventually decided to abandon Hellfire II missiles on the A-10C.

FY 2007

$2.015 billion contract for new wings; 25 more kits; Work on SADL datalink; A-10C arrives and reaches IOC. IOC ceremony
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Aug 22/07: Basing. The USAF announces that an associate group of about 215 reservists will support the active duty 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, GA, while a smaller associate detachment of 14 reservists will augment the A-10 Formal Training Unit at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. The arrangement means the reservists and active-duty personnel have opportunities to train and deploy as a unit; development of fighter associate units began in March 1997 with the launching of the Fighter Reserve Associate Test program. The success of that program led to the signing of an agreement in April 2003 by the commanders of ACC (Air Combat Command) and AFRC (Air Force Reserve Command) to establish fighter associate units at ACC F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle locations.

“Reservists in the Moody group will fly and maintain the A-10s with the regular component under the classic associate unit structure. The first A-10C Thunderbolt II arrived at Moody Aug. 7. About 50 of the upgraded aircraft will move to the Georgia base as a part of force realignment.”

Aug 21/07: IOC. The precision engagement modified A-10C Thunderbolt II receives its Initial Operational Capability certification at a Langley AFB, VA ceremony. The USAF report says that around 75 A-10s have already been upgraded as of IOC receipt.

Aug 7/07: A-10C #1. The first A-10C arrives at Moody AFB, GA.

1st arrival & IOC

July 18/07: AFSOC A-10s? Jane’s Defense Weekly mentions that USAF Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley has told Jane’s he is considering the creation of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) squadron of A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Gen Moseley said he is mulling the possibility of putting a squadron of A-10A close-support aircraft inside AFSOC to serve US Special Operations Command, which has the lead engagement role in the US-declared global war on terrorism.

The A-10C would certainly be useful in this role as it comes into service; a 2-seater all-weather version like the canceled A/OA-10B would have been even more useful in situations like this.

July 10/07: Sub-contractors. Rockwell Collins Government Systems, Inc. in Cedar Rapids, IA received a $24.85 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-priced contract, exercising an option for AN/ARC-210(V) Electronic Protection Radio Systems. The AN/ARC-210 Multimode Integrated Communications System provides 2 way multimode voice and data communications over the 30-512 MHz frequency range in either normal, secure or jam-resistant modes via LOS or satellite communications (SATCOM) links.

The ARC-210 family of equipment is made up of several variants of the receiver-transmitter, each providing a specific combination of functionality. This modification consists of 329 each RT-1851 ARC-210 Receiver-Transmitter Radios; 323 each C-12561 Radio Control Sets, and 294 each MT-4935 Mounting Bases for the USAF’s A-10 aircraft. Work will be performed in Cedar Rapids, IA, and is expected to be complete in July 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command, at Patuxent River, MD issued the contract (N00019-05-C-0050).

June 29/07: New wings. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St Louis, MO received an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price with economic price adjustment contract for $2.015 billion for Engineering Services plus 242 enhanced A-10 Wing sets. The new wings will extend the planes’ life to 16,000 flight hours, and the program calls for the replacement wing sets to be delivered in parts and kits for easy installation. See also our April 2/07 item, which mentions the USAF’s original estimate of $1.3 billion for this program.

Solicitations began November 2006, negotiations were completed May 2007, and $74.2 million has been committed as of the award announcement. Work on the contract could run from 2007-2018, with a base ordering period from June 2007 – September 2011, plus an option period that runs from Oct 2011 – September 2016. The Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT issued the contract (FA8202-07-D-0004). Boeing release

Re-winging contract

April 11/07: +25 kits. A $17.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to produce and deliver A/OA-10 Aircraft Precision Engagement production kits and associated items. This will include: 25 Precision Engagement Modification Kits, 30 Portable Automated Test Sets, 5 Throttle Quadrant Tester Upgrades, 25 Third SP103 Single Board Computers, 30 Stick Grip Attachment, and 357 Throttle Grip Covers. At this time, $8.8 million have been obligated, and work will be complete January 2009 (FA8202-05-C-0004/P00022).

April 11/07: SADL. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Owego, NY received a $70 million indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity, firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee and time-and-materials contract. This action covers continuing development, integration, and production of Raytheon’s Situation Awareness Data Link (SADL), and Improved Date Modem (IDM) efforts in support of on-going A-10C Precision Engagement (PE) fleet modernization and upgrade efforts. At this time, $4.1 million have been obligated, and work will be complete December 2009. The Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8635-07-D-6015).

April 9/07: SADL. The A-10 Prime Team announces successful delivery of the full-function Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL) capability to the U.S. Air Force for developmental flight testing. The U.S. Air Force is expected to conduct developmental flight test of the SADL capability through May 2007 at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. SADL is expected to be fielded to operational A-10 units by September 2007. Lockheed Martin release.

April 2/07: GAO Report – Costs. The US Government Accountability Office releases #GAO-07-415 – ‘Tactical Aircraft: DOD Needs a Joint and Integrated Investment Strategy’. A key excerpt:

“The Air Force will retain the A-10 “Warthog” fleet in its inventory much longer than planned because of its relevant combat capabilities– demonstrated first during Desert Storm and now in the ongoing Global War on Terror. However, because of post-Cold War plans to retire the fleet in the early 1990s, the Air Force had spent little money on major upgrades and depot maintenance for at least 10 years. As a result, the Air Force faces a large backlog of structural repairs and modifications – much of it unfunded – and will likely identify more unplanned work as older aircraft are inspected and opened up for maintenance. Major efforts to upgrade avionics, modernize cockpit controls, and replace wings are funded and underway. Program officials identified a current unfunded requirement of $2.7 billion, including $2.1 billion for engine upgrades, which some Air Force officials say is not needed. A comprehensive service life extension program (if required) could cost billions more.”

…A major re-winging effort is planned for 2007 through 2016 that will replace the “thin skin” wings on 242 aircraft at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. This effort will help to extend the A-10’s service life to 16,000 hours… Total cost to complete the [Precision Engagement] modification is estimated to be $420 million.”

GAO on costs

March 27/07: EMD. Lockheed Martin announces a $40.4 million contract modification to complete the A-10C Precision Engagement program’s engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase. Work will continue through May 2008 to conclude development of the Precision Engagement software suite and to support flight testing conducted by U.S. Air Force. Lockheed Martin release.

Oct 17/06: Update. The USAF reports that as of October 2006, 21 A-10C aircraft have been modified at Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB, Utah; the entire fleet of 356 active aircraft are to receive the upgrades, including active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Warthogs.

FY 2005 – 2006

179 upgrade kit orders (or is it 239?); DSMS delivered. The Warthog in Winter
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Sept 27/06: +107 Kits. A $49 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-incentive fee and time and material contract. Lockheed Martin’s release cites 107 PE kits, representing the 2nd production lot following the initial award for 72 kits in March 2005:

“The contractor shall provide total systems performance responsibility for A-10 aircraft integration by managing all system problems to a final solution. Interfaces are maintained between the performance work systems primary areas of modifications, system test/evaluation, project management, system engineering, and facilities.”

DID’s own records show 2005 orders for 132 kits, but we’ll go with the manufacturer’s numbers. At this time, $1.3 million have been obligated, and work will be complete September 2010. The 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group at Hill AFB, UT began installing the first award production kits in March 2006 (FA8202-06-D-0001)

March 21/06: DSMS. Lockheed Martin announces that the A-10 Prime Team has delivered the Digital Stores Management System (DSMS) to the U.S. Air Force’s A-10C flight-test program as scheduled. The new system is integrated with the Sniper ATP and LITENING surveillance and targeting pods, and automates many of the weapons control functions that A-10 pilots today perform manually.

Integration of the targeting pods and DSMS took place in Lockheed Martin’s A-10 Systems Integration Lab (SIL) in Owego, NY, where A-10 pilots validated and refined the mechanization of the upgrade before official release of the software to ground and flight test. “The pilot reviews saved significant ground and flight test time,” said Roger Il Grande, A-10 program director at Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego. Built by Lockheed Martin in 2003, the SIL duplicates the aircraft’s wiring and cabling infrastructure, and is outfitted with actual weapon hardware, missile seekers, suspension racks and rocket launchers to emulate an A-10 aircraft on the flight line.

July 25/05: Kits. A $9.1 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide for 72 A-10 aircraft precision engagement spiral 1 modification kits with 3 option years and associated test equipment. Looks like an adjustment to a previous order.

At this time, the total amount of funds has been obligated. Work will be complete at a rate of 6 per month beginning 13 months after receipt of order. Solicitation began July 2004 (FA8202-05-C-0004, PZ001).

June 28/05: Sub-contractors. Enertec America in Alpharetta, GA received a $15.3 million firm-fixed-price modification to provide for A-10 digital video and data recorders. Total funds have been obligated, negotiations were completed June 2005, and work will be complete by November 2006 (FA8202-04-C-0023, P00005).

Feb 22/05: +60 Kits? A $28.5 million, firm fixed price, time and materials contract modification for 60 A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter precision engagement Spiral 1 modification kits, along with associated parts and test equipment.

Solicitations began July 2004, negotiations were complete in July 2005, and work will begin 13 months after the exercising option and will refit 6 aircraft per month after that (FA8202-05-C-0004/P00002).

Feb 17/05: +72 Kits. A $37.8 million contract to provide the U.S. Air Force with 72 Precision Engagement Spiral 1 production kits to modify A/OA-10 “Warthog” close air support aircraft, plus associated test equipment. At this time, $28.3 million of the funds have been obligated. Solicitation began July 2004 (FA8202-05-C-0004). Lockheed Martin release.

The production kits, a result of work by Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Southwest Research Institute, are one component of the Precision Engagement program.

FY 2004 and earlier

Main upgrade contract; Sniper pods for A-10Cs. Sniper XR

Feb 12/04: Sniper. Lockheed Martin announces a contract to integrate the Sniper XR targeting pod on the A-10 aircraft in support of the A-10 Precision Engagement (PE) Program. The contract award follows a successful demonstration of the Sniper system during the A/OA-10 Precision Engagement upgrade program’s critical design review.

Some existing A-10s do fly with targeting pods, but they’re earlier models of Northrop Grumman’s LITENING pod. The USAF picked Sniper as its future targeting pod in 2001 (though they’d shift to a dual-pod approach again in 2010), and the current contract will ensure that Sniper pods work seamlessly with the A-10’s upgraded stores management systems, pilot displays, weapon targeting, etc.

As part of the integration effort, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control will develop the Pilot Vehicle Interface (PVI), pod Operational Flight Program (OFP) software, and pod interface adapter hardware for the A-10. Upon completion of this effort, the Sniper XR pod will self-detect and automatically load the appropriate Operational Flight Program when installed on either the A-10, F-16 or F-15E airframes.

Feb 15/01: Lockheed Martin announces the contract win, stating that:

“The A/OA-10 Prime contract modification has an estimated value of $226 million, $74 million for the Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) phase through 2004 with follow-on production at $152 million.

This innovative government and industry teamwork approach cost-effectively combines multiple A-10 upgrade requirements into one program that fits within current available funding and saves the U.S. Air Force approximately $150 million over the cost of executing the requirements as standalone projects. The Precision Engagement modification also provides the A-10 fleet with enhanced close-air support and precision strike capability earlier than originally planned.

During the EMD phase, the company’s Aerospace Systems business unit will design, manufacture and test the Precision Engagement system. This effort involves the installation of a digital stores management system for cockpit interface with its weapon systems; new cockpit displays; a Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL) to provide accurate information about friendly forces and potential threats; a Direct-Current (DC) generator upgrade; and the integration of guided weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) along with future targeting pod integration. Follow-on efforts will then outfit the entire A-10 fleet.”

A-10C upgrade contract

Additional Research Background: A-10 Platform & Enhancements

News & Views

Categories: News

MQ-8 Fire Scout VTUAV Program: By Land or By Sea

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 00:10
MQ-8B Fire Scout
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A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.

The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.

MQ-8: The Platform MQ-8B Fire Scout MQ-8B Fire Scout
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The MQ-8AB Fire Scout (see Northrop Grumman’s full 655k cutaway diagram) is based on the Schweizer 333 light commercial helicopter. Up to 3 MQ-8Bs were envisioned in a ship’s complement, if it wished to fully replace 1 H-60 Seahawk medium helicopter slot.

The 9.4-foot tall, 3,150-pound MQ-8B Fire Scout can reach speeds of up to 125 knots, and altitudes of 20,000 feet. It’s capable of continuous operations that provide coverage up to 110 nautical miles from the launch site. Flight International quotes FCS Class IV UAV program chief engineer Michael Roberts as saying that the MQ-8B’s:

“Endurance with full fuel and a baseline 55kg [120 pound] payload is more than 8h, and flight time with a 250kg payload is more than 5h, and to get more out of the engine we’ve upgraded the main rotor transmission [to be rated for 320shp continuous power, with a 5 minute emergency rating of 340shp].”

The Fire Scout’s baseline payload includes a Brite Star II chin turret with electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser rangefinder/designator. This allows the Fire Scout to find and identify tactical targets, provide targeting data to strike platforms, track and designate targets for attack, and perform battle damage assessments. The turret could be swapped out in order to mount different sensor suites, including hyperspectral sensors, 3-D LADAR/LIDAR, etc. FLIR Systems’ Star SAFIRE III, Northrop Grumman’s Airborne Surveillance Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS), and Telephonics’ RDR-1700B/ ZPY-4 wide-area maritime scan radar have been qualified on the platform, and Arete’s DVS-1 COBRA beach mine detection system was expected to deploy on the MQ-8B.

At present, the Fire Scout is being modified to arm itself with up to 8 APKWS II laser-guided 70mm rockets, per an urgent US Navy request. The Pentagon has stopped production of the MQ-8B, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll invest in any more payloads after that. Odds aren’t good.

If they did, the MQ-8B Fire Scout could also carry gun pods, or small smart weapons like Raytheon’s Griffin-A short-range laser-guided mini-missiles, and Northrop Grumman’s own GBU-44 Viper Strike precision glide weapons. Even Lockheed Martin’s larger Hellfire II laser-guided missiles would be possible, but it would carry fewer of them than a full-size helicopter.

MQ-8C: Is Bigger Better? S-100, armed
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Compared to a standard medium naval helicopter. the MQ-8B is small. On the other hand, it’s substantially bigger than its European competitors. Schiebel’s S-100 Camcompter, for instance, weighs just 250 pounds empty. It can carry up to 110 pounds of payload, distributed among belly, side, and nose stations, with a maximum takeoff weight of just 440 pounds. Over 200 have been ordered by the UAE, the Russian Coast Guard, and other customers. Saab’s Skeldar V-200 is about the same size as the Camcopter.

MQ-8C test
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Instead of looking for numbers and lower-cost with a mid-tier VTUAV, however, the US Navy is pushing for larger and more expensive unmanned platforms within the Fire Scout program. The MQ-8C “Endurance Upgrade Fire Scout” is based on Bell Helicopter’s 3-ton 407 model, which serves as the base for the Iraqi Air Force’s manned IA-407 armed scout helicopters.

MQ-8C is effectively a full-sized light naval utility helicopter, with 8 hours endurance carrying a 1,250 pound payload, and a maximum underslung payload of more than 2,600 pounds. To put that in perspective, it could sling-load 10 empty Camcopters.

The MQ-8C is slated to debut with US Africa Command under an urgent operational request, with 19 purchased from FY 2012 – 2019. Uses will primarily involve Special Operations Forces, but the Navy also envisions deploying it from the Littoral Combat Ship. Fielding was slated to begin in FY 2014 – which later slipped to early FY15 – and the MQ-8C’s future is the future of the Fire Scout program. Current plans involve 96 UAVs, but that will happen only if production is restarted in FY 2020 or later.

MQ-8: The Program Navy MQ-8B CONOPS
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The Fire Scout program is managed by the Navy’s PMA-263 Unmanned Vehicles program office, under PEO Strike Warfare and Unmanned Aviation at Patuxent River, MD.

Fire Scout began as a Navy program in 2000, became an Army program instead, morphed into a joint Army/Navy program, then became a Navy-only program again in 2010. In 2009, the Navy cut their planned buy from 168 MQ-8B VTUAVs to 121, and by 2012 they had terminated MQ-8B production at just 23 machines.

The follow-on MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade is based on the larger Bell 407 airframe instead. The FY 2014 budget listed the potential for up to 179 MQ-8Cs after the cancellation of the MRMUAS program, but current US Navy plans reportedly involve around 119 total MQ-8s of both types: 23 MQ-8Bs and 96 MQ-8Cs. The program will extend beyond FY 2019, but the 17 MQ-8Cs ordered are as far as Pentagon budgets will plan right now:

In general, Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Development Center in Rancho Bernardo, CA manages the contract and provides engineering services. System design work on the Fire Scout is performed at Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems Western Region Unmanned Systems Development Center in San Diego, CA; while the VTUAVs are assembled at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS.

The basic MQ-8B airframe is manufactured in Elmira, NY by Schweizer Aircraft Corporation. The basic MQ-8C airframe is manufactured in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada by Bell Helicopter Textron. The MQ-8B Fire Scout Industry team includes:

MQ-8A firing Hydra
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The MQ-8B’s “economic production” rate was given as 10 per year, with capacity for up to 33 per year. While the eventual average unit cost of the MQ-8Bs was expected to be about $10 million in present dollars, low-rate production raises the cost for each VTUAV bought that way, since the same required fixed costs aren’t producing as many machines as they could.

That’s no longer a current issue with MQ-8B production effectively at zero, but this dynamic is worth keeping in mind during the MQ-8Cs order run. Years with production rates of at least 5 machines have a flyaway cost of around $16 million, but current plans show only one year like that: FY 2014.

MQ-8: Past and Future

The MQ-8’s initial history had it rising from the ashes like a phoenix. In January 2002, the US Department of Defense decided not to fund the RQ-8 program beyond initial test production. A year later, everything had changed. Northrop Grumman made significant improvements to usable power, payload capacity, and range; then drew attention to them by moving the vehicle near the Navy’s major test facility in Patuxent River, MD. By January 2003, the Navy had announced its intention to evaluate Fire Scout for possible deployment on the new Littoral Combat Ships, and funding was restored by Congress in July 2003.

Could the same thing happen again? Based on testing reports, it has no chance of happening to the MQ-8B, which was halted at 23 machines. The MQ-8C could still do well, and regain some momentum as a Special Operations/ Littoral Combat Ship platform, but it will have to overcome current US Navy plans.

The MQ-8B’s August 2003 selection as the US Army’s brigade-level Class IV Future Combat Systems UAV fared even worse than the Navy buy. The Army liked its ability to operate at low ground speeds, to operate in remote and unprepared landing zones, to move with the brigade, and to acquire and track targets in complex and urban terrain. Unfortunately, FCS Class IV was slowed by software and hardware (esp. JTRS radio) development delays. By February 2010, instead of having MQ-8Bs on the front lines, the US Army had only a couple of suggestive exercises using MQ-8 prototypes. Meanwhile, other VTUAV and UAV technologies had moved ahead. The US Army responded by dropping the Class IV UAV program, even before it dissolved Future Combat Systems as a whole. That’s why the MQ-8B’s eventual land deployment to Afghanistan happened in 2011 with the US Navy.

It’s said that the larger Fire-X/MQ-8C, based on a the same Bell 407 airframe that was once tapped to become the Army’s next armed scout helicopter, has attracted Army interest again. Time will tell if that turns into a commitment of any kind.

Other Markets Bringing it in…
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Beyond the US Navy and Army, opportunities still beckon, but Fire Scout will have to compete.

At home, December 2006 Flight International article saw the Fire Scout as a top competitor for the US Marine Corps’ 2008-2010 (now postponed) VUAS contest, in order to replace their RQ-2 Pioneer UAVs around 2015 or so. Naval deployment and weapons integration strengths should keep the MQ-8 family around as a contender for USMC interest.

The US Coast Guard has frozen development work on its planned “Eagle Eye” tilt-rotor UAV. In its absence, the Fire Scout stands a reasonable chance of being selected as an interim or future UAV provider, though the MQ-8C’s size growth could create an opening for smaller platforms that can operate from smaller ships. So far, the US Coast Guard remains very far behind the curve on UAVs, and has only begun trialing smaller options like Boeing’s catapult-launched ScanEagle.

The MQ-8 VTUAV family has yet to attract foreign orders, though the UAE and Saudi Arabia have reportedly expressed interest. Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8s are clearly aimed at customers who want larger VTUAVs that carry either weapons or cargo, and are willing to a buy a UAV whose size allows those things.

Within that segment, Kaman & Lockheed’s K-MAX is now a fielded cargo alternative with the USMC. Boeing’s troubled A160 Hummingbird offers the lure of exceptional endurance, with a payload somewhere between the MQ-8B’s and MQ-8C’s. Boeing is also working with European firms like Thales, using its more conventional MH-6 Unmanned Little Bird. Northrop Grumman’s Fire-X beat these options for the MQ-8C Fire Scout contract, but other customers will make their own choices.

Meanwhile, Fire Scout’s much smaller Schiebel S1000 Camcopter competitor has been ordered in numbers by Jordan, Russia, and the UAE. The clear trend on the international stage is for Fire Scout to face smaller and cheaper European competitors, from the Camcopter to Saab’s Skeldar, Indra’s Pelicano, etc. The Europeans see a strong market for smaller VTUAVs to operate from remote outposts, from small ships like Offshore Patrol Vessels, and from larger naval vessels that still need to carry a full-size helicopter.

Fire Scout Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, all announced contracts were awarded to Northrop Grumman in San Diego, CA, and/or managed by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD.

FY 2015

1st MQ-8Cs. Expecting a sunset?

August 26/15: Northrop Grumman’s naval UAV the Fire Scout is completing endurance demonstrations, flitting about for 10 hours at a time.

April 16/15: The Fire Scout MQ-8C’s IOC deadline has been pushed back a year, owing principally to the limited availability of Littoral Combat Ships for testing. The first MQ-8C system was delivered to the Navy in December.

Dec 3/14: MQ-8C. Northrop Grumman announces it delivered the 1st operational MQ-8C to the US Navy. Tests are to begin this winter aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) and last into the summer 2015, so operations should start a year from now if the aircraft performs as expected. Land-based tests had already taken place back in August on small sloped platforms meant to simulate at-sea take-offs and landings.

FY 2014

MQ-8C 1st flight

May 12/14: MQ-8 MUT. USS Freedom [LCS 1] operates an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and MQ-8B Fire Scout VTUAV together off the coast of San Diego, CA for VBSS (visit, board, search & seizure) exercises. Flying them together doesn’t seem like much, but operating safely in the same space as a manned helicopter is something that needs to be worked out very thoroughly before it can be used operationally.

Fire Scouts can maintain longer surveillance over a target or area of interest, but these helicopter UAVs lack the total firepower and/or troop capacity of an MH-60R or MH-60S. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman, US Navy Conduct Successful Simultaneous Manned, Unmanned Helicopter Flight Tests Aboard the Littoral Combat Ship”.

April 2/14: FY14 order. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, CA, is being awarded a $43.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification for 5 MQ-8C VTUAV and 1 ground control station. Unless the line is restarted after FY 2020 begins, this is the last MQ-8C order. Including development and demonstration vehicles, NGC says they have been contracted for 19 MQ-8Cs.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 and 2014 US Navy aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (32%); Ozark, AL (27%); Rancho Bernardo, CA (25%); Moss Point, MS (15%); and Point Mugu, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete in December 2015. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-12-C-0059). Sources: Pentagon, NGC, “Northrop Grumman to Build Five More MQ-8C Fire Scouts for the U.S. Navy”.

5 MQ-8Cs

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. With respect to the Fire Scout:

“The engineering design of the MQ-8C is complete as it is based on the MQ-8B design, which appeared to be stable before halting production. The program completed operational test and evaluation of MQ-8B in December 2013 and a Quick Reaction Assessment of MQ-8C will be completed in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2014. The program plans to conduct an acquisition strategy review in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 that assesses overall program health, including production readiness.

….a Quick Reaction Assessment is planned for MQ-8C 3 to 4 months prior to ship deployment, which is expected to be in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. The program is planning to test the MQ-8C at-sea in 2014 on the DDG-109 and on the Littoral Combat Ship in 2015.”

March 4-11/14: Budgets. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The MQ-8 sees a cut in buys, and in the program. While the GAO still publishes the program goal as 175, this has changed to a maximum of 119 total MQ-8Bs (23) and MQ-8Cs (96), with only 17 MQ-8Cs bought until FY 2019:

“The Navy has truncated MQ-8B procurement with the last LRIP buy in FY11. 21 of the 23 LRIP aircraft (90%) have been delivered. Once delivery is complete, the 23 aircraft will support 8 Fire Scout systems. MQ-8B airframes will continue to support maritime based ISR from FFGs, support LCS DT/OT events and LCS deployments. MQ-8B airframes will sunset through attrition…. Forty-Eight (48) systems are planned to utilize the MQ-8C air vehicle (96 air vehicles), for a total of 119 air vehicles which includes Primary Inventory, backup inventory and attrition aircraft.

….The Navy will use the MQ-8[B] system from FFGs to provide up to 1/2 orbit of support to SOF until [MQ-8Cs] are available and LCS become available through the Global Force Management Process.”

Despite the goal of 96 MQ-8Cs, FY 2015-2019 buys no VTUAVs, just ancillary equipment which includes GCS, UCARs, special payloads, shipboard TCDL [datalink] systems, and various forms of support. That means the last MQ-8C orders take place in FY 2014, and orders must wait until FY 2020 or later. Statements that key LCS systems like COBRA may move to the MH-60S fleet suggest that the MQ-8C line may not be restarted, since a stalled production line attracts little political support in times of austerity.

Big program shift

Jan 23/14: Sub-contractors. L-3 Corp. Systems West in Salt Lake City, UT receives a $17.6 million indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract modification for supplies and services associated with Littoral Combat Ship configurations of the Hawklink Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) Surface Terminal Equipment, and with Vortex Mini-TCDL Shipset components. While Hawklink is most closely associated with the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, these supplies and services are in support of the Fire Scout MQ-8B/8C.

The high definition Hawklink interface creates point-to-point Internet-equivalent connectivity between a helicopter and ships up to 100 nmi away, enabling both to publish and subscribe for information. That would allow a ship or strike group to request data from the helicopter’s sensors via its AN/SRQ-4 terminal, including sonobuoy data or real-time video, while sending other messages and data to the helicopter’s AN/ARQ-59 system. Terminals can also be configured for interoperability with several generations of CDL surface terminals deployed by the US Army, US Air Force, and American allies.

Funds will be committed as needed. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, UT (90%), Point Mugu, CA (5%), and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, MD, (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2014 (N00019-13-D-0001).

November 2013: India. India Strategic magazine says that the Fire Scout will be competing with Saab’s smaller Skeldar VTAUV for a shipborne VTUAV contract:

“The Navy has plans to have at least two more squadrons of UAVs to be controlled from ships to increases the range of surveillance. There are plans to introduce rotary UAVs on ships. The contenders are the Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 Firescout with the Telephonics RDR 1700B or General Atomics Lynx radar and Skeldar from SAAB… [error deleted here]. Notably MIL-1553 specs and [other onboard systems] are looked at by the Indian Navy’s WEESE i.e. ‘Weapons, Electronic, Electrical Systems Engineering’ Group at New Delhi which has assembled the data bus for integration in to [the destroyer] INS Delhi and other class of ships.”

This is India, so it’s entirely possible that nothing will happen for many years, but the Indian Navy is very familiar with UAVs, and has been operating land-based Searcher II and Heron UAV fleets for over a decade. India’s Coast Guard has also trialed Schiebel’s S100 Camcopter, and other competitors may yet emerge. Sources: India Strategic, “Indian Navy’s Quest to employ and equip its warships with UAVs”

Nov 15/13: MQ-8B. The Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth [LCS 3] spends Nov 5-13/13 conducting testing with the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV in the Point Mugu Test Range, CA. Fort Worth is scheduled to deploy in 2014 with “The Mad Hatters” of HSM-35, Detachment 1. The Navy’s first “composite” Air Detachment will include both a manned SH-60R helicopter and smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAVs. Sources: USN, “USS Fort Worth Launches First UAV, Demonstrates LCS Capability”.

Nov 14/13: +3 407s. Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Hurst, TX receives an $8.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 3 Bell 407 ‘analog’ helicopters. They don’t have all the equipment you’d find in even a civil 407, because most of that gets added when they’re turned into MQ-8C Fire Scouts. All funds are committed, using the Navy’s FY 2013 procurement budget.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (52%); Mirabel, Canada (46%); and Ozark, AL (2%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014. This contract wasn’t competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-14-C-0022).

Oct 31/13: 1st MQ-8C flight. A pair of flights, actually. The 1st was just a 7-minute check-out to validate the autonomous control systems, while the 2nd was a 9-minute circuit around the airfield at at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, CA.

Meanwhile, the MQ-8B is back from Afghanistan (q.v. Aug 16/13), but the platform is also in the middle of its 7th at-sea deployment on board US Navy FFG-7 frigates. A tour aboard the USS Freedom [LCS-1] is next. Sources: NGC, Oct 31/13 release.

1st MQ-8C flight

FY 2013

6 more MQ-8Cs; 1st MQ-8C delivered; MRMUAS competition canceled, which will expand Fire Scout; Just how much is the Fire Scout program expanding?; Pentagon testers say MQ-8B production stopped in 2012 – very negative review explains why. Fire-X (MQ-8C) test
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Aug 16/13: Next steps. After logging over 5,000 flight hours in Afghanistan, the Navy’s MQ-8B detachment and their contractor operators have packed up and headed home. Fire Scout program manager Capt. Patrick Smith discussed the UAV at AUVSI 2013.

Next steps for the MQ-B include a November 2013 deployment aboard USS Freedom [LCS 1], and delivery of the Telephonics ZPY-4/ RDR-1700B surface scanning radar (q.v. Dec 20/12), which has had its final delivery pushed back from June 2014 to December 2014. The larger MQ-8C now intends to begin formal Navy flight tests in October 2013, with the 1st at-sea tests involving the USS Jason Dunham [DDG 109] in 2014.

Smith adds that Navy is now looking at a total buy of 96 MQ-8B/C UAVs, which implies a total of 73 MQ-8Cs – just 40% of the number listed in the FY 2014 budget. Source: Defense News, “Fire Scout ends Afghan mission; future includes new variant, LCS work”.

Aug 6/13: Deployment. US NAVAIR praises the achievements of 4 MQ-8B Fire Scouts from HSM-46, aboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts [FFG 58] in the Mediterranean Sea. The detachment flew 333 hours in June 2013, blowing past the previous monthly record by more than 100 hours.

That figure is over 10 hours per day for the detachment, with some days featuring over 18 hours of coverage. It’s the 6th deployment of Fire Scout helicopters aboard US Navy ships. Source: US NAVAIR, “Fire Scout surpasses flight hour record aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts.”

July 19/13: MQ-8C. Northrop Grumman announces their 1st MQ-8C delivery to the US Navy “in early July,” in preparation for ground and flight testing. Source: NGC.

April 10/13: FY 2014 Budget. The President releases a proposed budget at last, the latest in modern memory. The Senate and House were already working on budgets in his absence, but the Pentagon’s submission is actually important to proceedings going forward. See ongoing DID coverage. The MQ-8 undergoes yet another big procurement shift, as the planned total jumps to 202 UAVs over the life of the program, supporting both Special Operations and the Littoral Combat Ship. The program will also include a limited number of land-based control stations, mission training devices, and engineering moves to ensure stocks of parts that are going out of production, or their replacement by new designs.

“The MQ-8 is currently deployed on FFG ships and may be deployed on alternate class of ships to support the Special Operations Forces (SOF) mission. In support of the SOF mission, aircraft were moved forward in the budget starting in FY 2012 and additional ship control stations will be procured for outfitting of the FFG/DDG and alternate class of ships such as the Joint High Speed Vessel. MQ-8 will perform land-based operations in support of the ISR Task Force and Army units…. In addition, specialty payloads and communications equipment will be procured in support of SOF ISR, ISR Task Force, shipboard requirements. Weapons Stores Management Systems are included in the aircraft cost starting in FY 2013 that support on-going RDCs.

There will be 34 MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade aircraft procured between FY12-FY18 to support an AFRICOM JEONS RDC. The increase over PB13 results from the Navy canceled Medium Range Maritime UAS program prior to Milestone A and the need to sustain the SOF 3 orbit requirement. Initial spares and repairs are needed to support the RDC operational tempo of 27,000 flight hours per year. All aircraft procured in FY12-FY18 are MQ-8C. The MQ-8 Endurance Upgrade capability will start transitioning to a Navy program of record in FY14 to support Littoral Combat Ship requirements. The Navy is evaluating the VTUAV procurement quantity requirement in light of the Endurance Upgrade capabilities and will lay in the updated procurement profile during future budgets. [This submission marks down another 145 MQ-8Cs after FY 2018.]”

March 12/13: MQ-8B. US NAVAIR states that:

“After exceeding the 8,000-flight-hour mark Friday [presumably for its entire flight career], an MQ-8B Fire Scout assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22 Detachment 5 prepares to land aboard USS Robert G. Bradley for a “hot pump” and re-launch while conducting maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea March 11. Fire Scouts aboard Bradley are routinely flying 17-hour days while providing 12 hours on station ISR coverage in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.”

March 11/13: MQ-8C. A $71.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification to deliver 6 MQ-8C VTUAVs and 7 ground control stations, using FY 2012 & 2013 Navy aircraft funds.

The company is now under contract to produce 14 MQ-8Cs, of a planned rapid acquisition program total of up to 30. Both figures include test aircraft.

Manufacturing and assembly operations are already underway for the 407-based variant, with airframe modifications being made at Bell’s facility in Ozark, AL (27%), and final assembly being completed at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS (15%). Other locations include Dallas, TX (32%); Rancho Bernardo, CA (25%); and Point Mugu, CA (1%) (N00019-12-C-0059). See also Northrop Grumman.

6 more MQ-8Cs

Feb 13/13: MRMUAS. Military officials announce plans to end the Medium-Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System program, which was going to produce a surveillance UAV with up to 8 hours endurance.

With funds tight, and the MQ-8C available as an interim solution, the potential gains from offerings like BAE/OVX’s compound ducted fan concept was deemed less important. Which leads to the question of what happens after the initial rapid buy of MQ-8Cs. sUAS News.

MRMUAS canceled

Jan 31/13: MQ-8C. Greenwich AeroGropup’s Summit Aviation delivers the MQ-8C’s 1st Faraday Cage assembly, designed to protect the UAV’s electronics from lightning, electro-magnetic interference, etc. NGC.

Jan 17/13: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The MQ-8s are included, and the news isn’t good. The overall program has stopped production at 23 MQ-8Bs, and may supplement them with 31 MQ-8C Fire-X/ Endurance Upgrade Fire Scouts (3 test + 28 Urgent Operational Requirement).

MQ-8C testing hasn’t really begun yet, but the verdict on the MQ-8B is really poor. Reliability well below program planning levels has created a “critical” shortage of spares, and produced “unacceptable values for Availability, Mean Flight Hours Between Operational Mission Failures, and Mean Flight Hours Between Unscheduled Maintenance Actions.” It’s so far below plan that the MQ-8B hasn’t had Initial Operational Test & Evaluation, and probably isn’t going to, even though MQ-8Bs are now being armed in response to an urgent Navy requirement. Its communications relay remains a problematic issue.

On the bright side, software improvements tested in 2012 now allow dual air vehicle operations, something that should transfer to the MQ-8C. Frigate deployments continue to show the value of a VTUAV system, and at the moment, there’s no sign that the MQ-8Bs will be retired. On the other hand, it would take a long string of successes to have the MQ-8 program even approach its original scope.

MQ-8B stopped, panned

Dec 20/12: Radars. A $33.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to develop, integrate, test, and deliver 9 radar systems for the MQ-8B. The Navy wants a wide-area surface search radar (vid. July 7/11 entry), which would sharply improve the UAV’s effectiveness for missions like anti-piracy, blockades, near-port monitoring, search & rescue, etc.

Northrop Grumman has confirmed to us that they’ll be using the Telephonics RDR-1700B [PDF]radar, which has been tested with the MQ-8B over the last few years (vid. Oct 19-23/09, Sept 19/08 entries), and a Jan 8/13 Telephonics release makes it clear that they’ll be using the AN/ZPY-4(V)1 upgrade, complete with moving target indicator functions and the ability to track AIS ship transponders. Subsequent reports establish the number as 12 radars, plus 3 spares.

$15.8 million is committed on award, and $11.3 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/13. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (70%) and Patuxent River, MD (30%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C 2304c1 (N00019-13-C-0020).

New ZPY-4 radar

Dec 20/12: Support. A $19.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for MQ-8B spares and deliveries.

All funds are committed, and $19 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (90%), and Patuxent River, MD (10%); and is expected to be completed in November 2013. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C 2304c1 (N00019-13-C-0007).

Oct 5/12: Support. A $24.5 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for MQ-8B spare parts and supplies.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (36%), Horseheads, NY (30%); Salt Lake City, NV (11%); Sparks, NV (11%); and various other locations within the United States (12%); and is expected to be complete in April 2014 (N00019-10-G-0003).

FY 2012

USN commits to add MQ-8Cs, signs development contract; 2 quick crashes ground MQ-8B fleet; Experience highlights serious problems with MQ-8B targeting, communications relay; Ground control system completing Linux transition; MQ-8B & MH-60 testing MQ-8B, Afghanistan
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Sept 27/12: Radars. A Telephonics release touts successful completion of their “AN/ZPY-4(V) Maritime Surveillance Radar.” This release touts it as “an enhanced version of the radar designed and built for the US Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout.” It has been upgraded with a Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) mode, and incorporates the US Navys Ocean Surveillance Initiative (OSI) in the software. With OSI, it can receive ship Automatic Information System (AIS) transponder data, and identify compliant vessels. Subsequent releases make it clear that the USN has shifted to this radar for the Fore Scout contract.

Sept 27/12: Support. A $28.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for software sustainment and development, non-recurring engineering support, and obsolescence efforts for the MQ-8B.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (90%), and NAS Patuxent River, MD (10%); and is expected to be complete in September 2013. All contract funds will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304c1 (N00019-12-C-0126).

Sept 20/12: Personnel. US NAVAIR describes their efforts to develop in-house expertise with the MQ-8B. That’s a bit of a challenge, because the end of the Afghan deployment means that the detachment will revert back to a contractor-operated structure. The officers in charge and sailors who deployed are being moved to shipboard deployments, and the new Unmanned Helicopter Reconnaissance Squadron (HUQ-1) training squadron in Naval Air Station North Island, CA.

July 10/12: Training. Northrop Grumman opens a new UAV training facility for Fire Scout operators at at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL. It offers improved flight simulators, plus hands-on maintenance and classroom instruction. NGC.

June 6/12: Linux TCS. Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems in Dulles, VA receives a $27.9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract to “complete Linux transition” on the MQ-8’s TCS ground control system. Linux is emerging as a key standard for American UAV ground control systems. The MQ-1/9 Predator/ Reaper’s ground stations are being migrated from Windows to Linux, and AAI’s multi-UAV OneSystem/UGCS already use the open-source computer operating system.

Work on this contract will be performed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, and $5.2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-12-C-0102). See also March 25/09 entry.

May 8/12: LRIP-5. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector in San Diego, CA received a $25.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, buying 3 MQ-8B Fire Scout vehicles and 1 ground control station as Low Rate Initial Production Lot 5. This appears to be the FY 2011 order.

Work will be performed in Moss Point, MS (55%), and San Diego, CA (45%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. US Naval Air Systems Command manages the contract (N00019-07-C-0041).

LRIP-5: 3 more

April 23/12: MQ-8C contract. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA gets an unfinalized, not-to-exceed $262.3 million contract to finish developing the Fire-X/ MQ-8C, based on Bell Helicopter’s 407 model. They’ll develop, manufacture, and test 2 VTUAVs, produce 6 air vehicles; and supply spare parts in support of the “VTUAV endurance upgrade rapid deployment capability effort.”

Work will be performed in Moss Point, MS (47%); San Diego, CA (46%); and Yuma, AZ (7%), and is expected to be complete in May 2014. $24.9 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-12-C-0059). See also NGC.

MQ-8C development

April 10/12: Grounded. US NAVAIR announces that they’re suspending operations of their remaining 14-UAV Fire Scout fleet, in the wake of the last 2 crashes. While the fleet is grounded, NAVAIR will be reviewing the incidents, the MQ-8B’s technical components, and their operational procedures.

Later queries to NAVAIR reveal that the grounding is over by the end of April 2012.

Since 2006, the MQ-8B Fire Scout has accumulated over 5,000 flight hours, with more than 3,000 flight hours tallied during operational deployments. US NAVAIR.


April 6/12: Crash. An MQ-8B operating in northern Afghanistan crashes, while conducting a routine surveillance mission in support of Regional Command North. Source.


March 30/12: Crash. An MQ-8B Fire Scout operating off USS Simpson [FFG-56], and returning from a maritime surveillance mission in support of Africa Partnership Station, cannot achieve UAS Common Automated Recovery System (UCARS) lock on. Operators tried multiple approaches and exhaustive troubleshooting, but couldn’t achieve UCARS lock, which meant they couldn’t risk a landing attempt on the ship. Their only option was to position it a safe distance from USS Simpson, terminate the flight, and perform a night-time recovery. Source.


March 21/12: Arming the MQ-8B. US NAVAIR announces that they are working to get the MQ-8B tested and operationally-cleared to fire laser-guided 70mm APKWS rockets, per an urgent US Navy request. The 1st of a series of tests on the newly-installed hardware began March 7/12. Even though the Fire Scouts have conducted armed Army tests before, it is the first time the US Navy will arm an unmanned aircraft. Jeremy Moore is Fire Scout weapons system integration lead, and Bill McCartney is the Fire Scout’s Air Vehicle flight test lead. McCartney:

“We had a very tight timeline to conduct trade studies and complete design reviews… Now, we are starting to execute tests, and there is little time in the schedule for repeats.”

Feb 13/12: MQ-8Bs and Cs. The USA’s FY 2013 budget documents include a section on the MQ-8B Fire Scout, which has survived cuts. The MQ-8C will also move forward:

“The MQ-8 system will support Surface Warfare, Mine Countermeasures Warfare, and Anti-Submarine Warfare mission modules while operating onboard Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The MQ-8 is currently deployed on [frigates] and will be deployed on [destroyers] to support the Special Operations Forces (SOF) mission. In support of the SOF mission, aircrafts were moved forward in the budget starting in FY 2012 and additional ship control stations will be procured for outfitting of the FFG and DDG ships… A limited number of land-based ground control stations supplement… [and] will also support depot level maintenance/ post-maintenance activities. Mission training devices will be procured and integrated into the land-based ground control stations for predeployment and proficiency training… In addition, specialty payloads and communications equipment will be procured in support of SOF ISR and ISR task force. Radar payloads and Weapons Stores Management System are included in the aircraft cost starting in FY 2013 that support on-going RDCs.

A minimum of 28 MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade aircraft are being procured between FY12-FY15 to support an AFRICOM JUONS(Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement) RDC. Initial spares and repairs have increased to support the RDC operational tempo of 27,000 flight hours per year.”

Jan 17/12: Testing report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The Fire Scout program is included, and the review is mixed. For starters:

“The Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP) approved in 2007 is outdated and does not contain a clear path to successful completion of IOT&E. The TEMP does not clearly define the objectives of near-term testing nor prioritize future upgrades…”

Initial OT&E is scheduled for March 2012, which is almost 3 years after the original June 2009 plan. DOT&E considers previous issues with poor reliability, and with excessive cautions, warnings, and advisories, to be fixed. Operations controlling 2 MQ-8B UAVs in the air, which weren’t possible before, were demonstrated in September 2011. On the other hand, issues with UAV and datalink reliability, target geo-location errors so large that the system “does not support precision attack missions”, limited available frequencies, and an unreliable communications relay suite are all listed as problems that threaten a successful IOT&E. Beyond IOT&E, the report cites issues with incomplete technical publications, spare parts support, and pre-deployment training.

Some of this can be attributed to deployment pressures. DOT&E itself says that “time spent training additional operators and maintainers, modifying air vehicles, integrating non-program of record payloads, and a requirement to provide spare parts to three operating locations, delayed the program’s efforts to address those deficiencies.” They would also like the program to get some clarity re: future plans, especially the issue of the MQ-8B vs. the MQ-8C, which has resulted in “in the lack of a coherent long-range schedule to be ready for IOT&E and field the system.”

Nov 14/11: Helico-operation. Inside the Navy reports that the USN is testing communications between manned MH-60s and unmanned MQ-8Bs, in the hopes that the two working in tandem could expand the Navy’s reach.

The US Army recently finished a test in which a Predator family UAV was controlled by an AH-64D Block III attack helicopter, which could give orders to the UAV and its payload, and receive video etc. from the MQ-1C. A similar configuration at sea could extend the MQ-8B’s controllable range, while enhancing the MH-60R’s effectiveness. Even a lesser configuration, in which MH-60R/S helicopters acted only as a communication relay, would offer benefits for the Navy.

FY 2011

MQ-8B to Afghanistan; Navy will convert Army’s 8 Fire Scouts; Fire-X picked as “MQ-8C”; Navy approves arming MQ-8Bs; COBRA mine-detection tested on MQ-8B; LCS flight tests begin; Army may be also interested in larger VTUAV. MQ-8B in Afghanistan
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Sept 29/11: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Unmanned Systems in San Diego, CA received a $7.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for MQ-B software sustainment services. They’ll include analysis of engineering change proposals; development of plans of action and milestones; laboratory facility studies and analysis; software upgrades; configuration management and quality assurance; and keeping the technical documentation up to date.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in June 2012. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year – which is Sept 30/11 (N00019-10-G-0003).

Sept 28/11: Afghanistan. An $18.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to extend MQ-8B intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services in Afghanistan (90%, q.v. April 8-13/11 entry), and at Patuxent River, MD (10%) until October 2012. $1.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0094). On Nov 8/11, NGC’s Fire Scout operations lead, Rick Pagel says:

“We are providing a level of situational awareness many soldiers in the field have never experienced… In the first five months we surpassed 1,500 hours with over 400 flights. Since Fire Scout doesn’t require a runway, we are conveniently nearby and arrive on station quickly.”

They haven’t experienced it, but their grandfathers may have. The US Army used light propeller planes called “Grasshoppers” in a similar fashion during World War 2.

Sept 22/11: Weapons. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA received a $17.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the MQ-8B’s Rapid Deployment Capability Weaponization Program. See also Aug 19/11 entry.

This contract includes the installation, engineering, manufacturing, and data development of the weapons systems, which include 12 Stores Management Systems. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (75%), and Grand Rapids, MI (25%), and is expected to be completed in March 2013. $14.8 million will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0087).

Armed MQ-8B

Aug 29/11: A $10.5 million cost-plus fixed-fee contract in support of the MQ-8B Fire Scout system. Logistic support services includes: logistics management, maintenance support, supply support, air vehicle transportation, training services, logistics management information, technical data updates, flight operations and deployment support.

Work will be performed in St. Inigoes, MD (40%), San Diego, CA (20%), and various locations outside the continental United States; and is expected to be complete in August 2012. $6.4 million will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0075).

Aug 19/11: Weaponization approved. Aviation Week reports on 2 key milestones for the program. One is the addition of the MQ-8C/ Fire-X.

The other is weapons approval for the MQ-8B, beginning with the APKWS-II laser-guided 70mm rocket that’s already cleared for use from Navy ships. Raytheon’s laser-guided short-range Griffin mini-missile is slated for a demonstration before the end of August 2011, and will be the platform’s next weapon, as opposed to Northrop Grumman’s own GBU-44 Viper Strike.

The report also adds confirmation from official sources that an MQ-8B from USS Halyburton was indeed shot down over Libya by enemy fire.

Weapon approval for MQ-8B

Fire-X: MQ-8C?
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Aug 16/11: Fire-X recommended. In the wake of a joint urgent operational need statement from Special Operations Command and the US Navy for a longer-endurance VTUAV, the office of the secretary of defense validates the requirement. The Fire Scout program office has decided to recommend the NGC/Bell 407 Fire-X design over the Lockheed/Kaman K-MAX, or Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird, but the Navy hasn’t formally accepted their recommendation yet.

The requirement is to develop the larger MQ-8C within 24 months, for deployment in 2014, with plans to acquire 28 air vehicles over 3 years. USN Fire Scout program manager Capt. Patrick Smith reportedly said at AUVSI 2011 that “Our recommendation is to go with the 407 airframe, based on the time frame limitations,” though the A160 and K-MAX have both been flying for far longer. The first unmanned Fire-X flight took place on Dec 16/10. Source.

Aug 3/11: The FFG-7 frigate USS Halyburton returns to port in Naval Station Mayport, FL with 2 MQ-8B VTUAVs on board. US NAVAIR:

“HSL-42 Det. 2 simultaneously fielded manned SH-60 and unmanned MQ-8B flight operations for airborne support of Halyburton’s transits through the Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandeb. The MQ-8B operators pushed the unmanned helicopter to its operational limits, setting records for maximum altitude, range, and endurance. More than one thousand deployment flight hours were recorded, with 438 hours flown by Fire Scout.”

Aug 3/11: Army, again? Flight International covers ongoing developments among American UAV programs, including the MQ-8:

“Despite the backlog of MQ-8Bs and an apparently forthcoming order for the MQ-8C – an improved version based on a new airframe – the navy has an open tender for a replacement. The replacement is called the medium range maritime UAS (MRMUAS), and entry into service is planned for 2018-19.

The newest stumbling block in the navy’s programme is the possible inclusion of the army… After [canceling the MQ-8B and] making do with the RQ-7 Shadow, the army has re-declared its interest and is studying a joint buy with the navy… The contest is still open but several clear contenders have emerged, and first among them is Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C… Boeing is likely to put forward the A160, and EADS has briefed the army on its own options… Requirements concerning lift capacity, endurance, range and even intended function are not yet written in stone… Both army and navy are examining possibilities for weaponisation…”

July 7/11: Defense News reports that the Pentagon is looking to shift $920 million in funding to surveillance-related projects, in order to support ongoing wars. That includes $32.6 million for 9 radar units that give the MQ-8B a wide area surface search capability, plus $1 million to:

“…develop and integrate an upgrade… [that] extends the Fire Scout’s combat radius, increases its payload, and improves on-station endurance to meet the urgent SOF (Special Operations Forces) maritime ISR requirements outlined.”

June 21/11: Shot down. NATO loses communication with the USS Halyburton’s MQ-8 Fire Scout, during a reconnaissance and targeting mission over western Libya, near Zlitan. It was delivering intelligence data from about 5,000-7,000 feet, with no sign of malfunction before its crash. Libya claims to have shot it down, which turns out to be true. Aviation Week | IEEE | RTT News.

Shot down over Libya

June 14/11: US NAVAIR discusses the MQ-8B Fire Scout’s Afghan deployment:

“Fire Scout’s initial flight in theater took place May 2. Only 19 days later, PMA-266 Detachment Alpha established initial operational capability during its first tasked mission from the [ISAF] Regional Command North area of responsibility… Cmdr. Brian Stephens, Officer in Charge (OIC) for PMA-266 Detachment Alpha. “In less than one month, we have flown more than 200 flight hours and completed more than 80 sorties and we are on track to fly 300 hours per month.” PMA-266 Detachment Alpha is a government owned/contractor operated deployment. The detachment includes a military OIC and assistant OIC, [5] Navy intelligence analysts, and 21 Northrop Grumman contractors…”

May 16/11: Convert 8. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Unmanned Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $42 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, to convert 8 Army Fire Scouts to the Navy configuration. A logical move, since the Army has abandoned the program.

Work will be performed in Moss Point, LA (71%), and San Diego, CA (29%), and is expected to be complete in February 2013 (N00019-07-C-0041).

Conversion: 8 Army to Navy

April 8-13/11: To Afghanistan. The Navy ships 3 MQ-8B Fire Scouts and 2 ground control stations to northern Afghanistan for about a year, to support Army and coalition forces. It will be operated by a team of U.S. Navy sailors and Northrop Grumman employees. Pensacola News Journal | Satnews Daily | StrategyPage.

Combat deployment

Feb 25/11: The MQ-8B Fire Scout marks a new single-day flight record of 18 hours – but that’s a single aircraft in a series of flights over 24 hours, not a single 18-hour flight. These were operational flights, though, from the frigate USS Halyburton [FFG 40], while on anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean with the 5th Fleet.

Northrop Grumman’s release adds that in late January 2011, operators from the Halyburton located a disabled boat using Fire Scout’s Brite Star II sensor.

November 13-24/10: LCS. The MQ-8B Fire Scout flies dynamic interface (DI) testing flights from the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship, USS Freedom [LCS-1], off the coast of southern California. DI testing is designed to verify that Fire Scout control systems have been properly integrated on the ship. It includes a series of shipboard takeoffs and landings from various approaches, subjecting the system to various wind directions and ship speeds.

As of February 2011, this marks the 4th ship and the 3rd ship class that has flown the Fire Scout. Previous flight operations have been conducted from the Austin class amphibious ship USS Nashville [LPD-13], and the Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates USS McInerney [FFG-8, now Pakistan’s PNS Alamgir] and USS Halyburton [FFG-40]. Additional DI testing will be conducted on the first-of-class USS Independence [LCS-2] by 2012. Northrop Grumman.

Oct 13/10: Sensors. The Navy successfully conducts the 1st flight test of the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) Block I system at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, on board the MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicle. The tests were successful.

The AN/DVS-1 COBRA system is designed to detect minefields and obstacles to prepare for amphibious assaults in the beach zone and inland areas. The COBRA Block I system will enter low-rate initial production under a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase III contract, with the first production unit scheduled for delivery to the fleet in FY 2012. US Navy.

FY 2010

Army FCS dies, and so does its MQ-8B plan; 1st Navy deployment; 1st ever UAV drug bust; Navy wants more MQ-8Bs; Navy considering larger VTUAV; MQ-8B autonomous cargo drop; MQ-8B a bit too autonomous over Washington; NGC begins private “Fire-X” project; Program cost increases; UAE & Saudi interest Corrosion check
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Aug 2/10: Going rogue. An MQ-8B based at Webster Field, VA loses communication 75 minutes into a routine operational evaluation test flight, then flies about 23 miles NNW at 17,000 feet, into the National Capital Region’s restricted airspace. The FAA was notified, and the MQ-8B program suspended while the fault is investigated. The problem appears to have been a software fault, and the program expects to resume testing in September 2010. Southern Maryland Newspapers Online’s Aug 27/10 article adds that:

“The Navy is seeking to give the Fire Scout program a 50 percent budget boost as part of an 89-page “omnibus reprogramming request” submitted to Congress last month. The Navy Times, which obtained a copy of the funding request, reports that the Navy is seeking to shift $13 million to the program to finish operational testing aboard the frigate Halyburton.”

See also: Engadget.

Going rogue

July 14/10: UAE. Northrop Grumman announces the end of Fire Scout desert trials in the United Arab Emirates. Tests lasted for 10 days in early July 2010, and included numerous takeoffs and landings in hot, windy and sandy conditions in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122F), and at altitudes up to 3,000 meters (9,842 feet). The Fire Scout mission demonstrations also included “non-line-of-sight” operations, and its sensors’ ability to gather and transmit high fidelity video imagery. See also Oct 21/09 entry.

June 30/10: +3. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector in San Diego, CA received a maximum $38.3 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract for 3 Low Rate Initial Production MQ-8Bs.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in October 2012 (N00019-07-C-0041).

LRIP: 3 more

June 4/10: Rust never sleeps. US Navy Fleet Readiness Center East begins a new role as one of the Navy’s depot repair points for the MQ-8B, accepting 2 VTUAVs for maintenance and a corrosion assessment. That assessment has already resulted in an improved finish to the main rotor head, and is expected to recommend other modifications before they return to the fleet in mid-June 2010.

The Navy currently plans to field 121 Fire Scouts, and currently has 7: 1 trainer, 2 at Northrup Grumman for development work, and 4 serving in the Navy. US NAVAIR.

May 14/10: Rust never sleeps. Civilian artisans from Fleet Readiness Center East perform maintenance and corrosion assessments on 2 MQ-8B Fire Scouts at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. Corrosion resistance is a key design feature of any naval aircraft, and experience often teaches things that design didn’t anticipate. Hence the in-depth post-deployment checks. US Navy.

May 4/10: Fire-X. Northrop Grumman announces a private development partnership with Bell Helicopter Textron to turn Bell’s 407 helicopter into a medium-range “Fire-X” VTUAV, using Fire Scout’s systems, for a US Navy medium VTUAV competition expected to begin in 2011. When questioned by DID, Northrop Grumman representatives said that:

“We plan to conduct that demo at the Yuma Proving Grounds… We consider Fire Scout and Fire-X to bemembers of the same portfolio of unmanned systems… We have not been notified of any changes on the MQ-8B Fire Scout program of record.”

Requirements creep does happen, however, and if so, a formal change to a program of record is generally the last step, rather than the first. The firms are moving ahead on a fast track, and Fire-X’s first flight is expected by the end of CY 2010. The Bell 407 was the initial basis for the USA’s ARH-70 Arapaho armed reconnaissance helicopter before that program was canceled, and is the base for Iraq’s ongoing ARH program. Fire-X will carry ISR sensors, offer cargo capabilities, and is expected to provide weapons integration as well. Control will be via the Navy’s Tactical Control Station, the U.S. Army’s One System ground control station, or other standards-based systems. Northrop Grumman | The DEW Line.

April 30/10: Medium VTUAV? The US Navy’s OPNAV Assessment Division (N81), with technical support from NAVAIR, NAVSEA and SPAWAR, issues a solicitation that seems to raise the bar for VTUAVs deploying on Navy warships, introducing competition to an arena once owned by the MQ-8B Fire Scout.

The FBO solicitation “Persistent Ship Based UAS RFI” calls for a UAV that can operate from standard Navy ships by 2016-2020, providing mission radius from 300-1,000 nautical miles, on-station endurance of at least 8 hours for a single UAV and up to 72 hours for multiple UAVs, and an operating ceiling of 15,000 – 25,000 feet. Its payload capacity of 600-1,000 pounds must support basic day/night surveillance, including still & full motion video with target quality resolution of small vehicles and personnel, laser designation and range finding (LD/RF), communications interception, and wide area radar. They’d like it to be able to carry weapons, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for ground surveillance, or Electronics Intelligence (ELINT) and Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) packages.

The solicitation is a open RFI, but those characteristics are well beyond the MQ-8B’s maximums. An improved Bell Textron Eagle-Eye VTUAV might qualify… and so would existing specs for Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird Warrior.

Medium VTUAV RFI, Fire-X begins

April 15/10: The MQ-8B returns from its first operational naval deployment, a 6-month SOUTHCOM cruise in the eastern Pacific Ocean aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate USS McInerney [FFG 8]. US Navy.

(click for video)

April 3/10: USS McInerney [FFG 8] becomes the first ship to make a drug bust using a VTUAV. The ship’s Fire Scout was on a post-maintenance check flight, when the operators spotted suspected narcotics smugglers. The US Navy release says that:

“The Mission Payload Operator completed testing and received permission to pursue. Over the course of three hours, Fire Scout monitored the go-fast with McInerney. With its state-of-the-art optics and extremely small profile, Fire Scout was able to maintain an unprecedented covert posture while feeding real-time video back to McInerney.

Fire Scout proceeded to capture video of the “go-fast” meeting with a fishing vessel for what appeared to be a refueling/logistics transfer. McInerney and its embarked USCG LEDET moved in and seized approximately 60 kilos of cocaine and caused the suspected traffickers to jettison another approximately 200 kilos of narcotics.”

April 1/10: Post-Army SAR. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. The Fire Scout makes the list – and the reason is a slowed production schedule, forcing the Navy to pay the program’s fixed costs over a longer period of time:

“VTUAV (Vertical Takeoff and Land Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle) – Program costs increased $466.5 million (+21.6%) from $2,158.3 million to $2,624.8 million, due primarily to an increase in air vehicle unit cost resulting from extending procurement at the minimum sustaining rate (+$279.6 million) and the stretch-out of the ground control station and air vehicle procurement profiles from fiscal 2010 to beyond fiscal 2015 (+$164.9 million). There were also increases for initial spares due to component cost increases (+$54.4 million), for integration costs to support an additional ship class (+$35.9 million), and for overseas contingency operations funds to purchase equipment for land-based operations (+$13.4 million). These increases were partially offset by a decrease in other support costs (-$29.3 million) and the application of revised escalation indices (-$49.9 million).”

SAR – Army out

Feb 23/10: Army cancels. Northrop Grumman responds to DID’s queries on the subject, and confirms that the Army’s MQ-8B has been canceled:

“Yes, the Army did cancel the Class IV MQ-8B Fire Scout UAS, their only Vertical Unmanned Aerial System (VUAS) program of record in January, 2010. Obviously, we’re disappointed… In the meantime, we had a very successful demonstration of Fire Scout at the Army’s Expeditionary Warrior Experiment, Ft Benning, Ga. from mid Jan to mid Feb (just days after the Army cancelled the program officially). It was a great opportunity to show soldiers all the things that Fire Scout can do. In addition to its RSTA missions (which the opposition forces at AEWE hated because it revealed their every move), we also demonstrated cargo resupply for small units, comms relay (provided assured comms to all participants in AEWE) and deployment of other unmanned ground systems and unattended ground sensors… We believe that over the long term that the Army wants and needs a vertical unmanned aerial system to support its mission requirements. We continue to have discussions with them…”

The Army probably does need a VTUAV, and MQ-8B will remain an up-to-date platform thanks to development for the US Navy. The Fire Scout may end up taking a short break before receiving an Army order, or this change could open the door to new competitors. Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird VTUAV’s unique rotor technology gives it a larger payload and much longer operating time. This has sparked interest from American Special Forces, and the US Marines. Lockheed Martin and Kaman are competing against the A160T for a USMC resupply contract, and their K-MAX unmanned helicopter could also become a future Army contender if it wins.

Army cancels

Feb 25/10: AEWE Robotic synergy. Northrop Grumman discusses the MQ-8B’s performance in the recent Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) exercise at Fort Benning, GA. Going beyond previous missions for reconnaissance surveillance target acquisition (RSTA), communications relay, and cargo pod resupply, Fire Scout also demonstrated broader autonomous capabilities, and interoperability with ground robots.

In its most unusual mission, the Fire Scout flew to a named area of interest, surveyed the area to ensure it was clear, and landed autonomously within its pre-planned landing point. When the UAV’s on-board skid sensors detected contact with the ground, a command was sent to release a Dargon Runner robot. The UAV then took off and loitered at a higher altitude to observe and provide a communications relay for the robot’s controller. NGC release | NGC video [Windows Media].

Feb 15/10: Unmanned re-supply. Northrop Grumman announces it demonstrated the resupply capability of its MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV). The company conducted the demonstration at the US Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) being held in February 2010 at Fort Benning, GA.

For the AEWE mission, Fire Scout had 2 ruggedized containers attached to external pylons. Fire Scout flew autonomously from take-off to the cargo drop to landing. Fire Scout is equipped with a payload interface unit, which allows it to release the cargo pod without the presence of a soldier. Fire Scout’s skid sensors detected contact with the ground. Upon touchdown, the autonomous mission was preplanned for release of the cargo pod, and the aircraft took off again. The VTUAV also used its electro-optical/ infrared optical payload during the mission to practice reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition techniques.

Feb 10/10: GAO Report. The US GAO issues #GAO-10-493T as it testifies before the House Armed Services Committee: “Opportunities for the Army to Position Its Ground Force Modernization Efforts for Success.” An excerpt:

“Although the details are not yet complete, the Army took several actions through the end of calendar year 2009. It stopped all development work on the FCS manned ground vehicles – including the non-line of sight cannon – in the summer of 2009 and recently terminated development of the Class IV unmanned aerial vehicle and the countermine and transport variants of the Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment [MULE] unmanned ground vehicle. For the time being, the Army is continuing selected development work under the existing FCS development contract, primarily residual FCS system and network development.”

Dec 1/09: USCG still thinking. Aviation Week reports that the US Coast Guard is still considering its UAV options in the wake of the Eagle Eye tilt-rotor’s cancelaton:

“As part of its ongoing analysis, the service has participated in numerous exercises with other platforms… including Boeing’s A160 Hummingbird, an AeroVironment vehicle and ScanEagle tested on board a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship.

Land-based tests of Fire Scout can “only go so far . . . The next step is to figure out how to get it onboard ship,” says Posage. Over the next few weeks, notional plans are being mapped out for just such a test. In a recent call with reporters, Adm. Ron Rabago, Coast Guard acquisitions chief, said the service hopes “to do a cutter-based test in Fiscal 2010.”

Nov 24/09: LRIP-1 delivered. Northrop Grumman announces that it has completed the first year of Fire Scout Low-Rate Initial Production, with the delivery of all 3 MQ-8B Fire Scouts to the U.S. Navy.

At present, 2 of the 3 Fire Scouts are deployed aboard the USS McInerney for a scheduled operational deployment to complete a Fire Scout Military Utility Assessment (MUA), with a US Coast Guard liaison on board. Prior to the current deployment, Fire Scouts have been aboard the USS McInerney 4 times since December 2008, completing 110 ship takeoffs and landings and 45 landings with the harpoon grid, accumulating over 47 hours of flight time.

Oct 19-23/09: Sensors. A company-owned MQ-8B Fire Scout equipped with a Telephonics’ radar and FLIR surveillance turret performs demonstrations for the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center, under a sub-contract awarded in September 2009 by ABS Group. The test took place in the Chesapeake Bay, and were conducted from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, MD. Following the maritime sensor demonstration, the Coast Guard participated in a multiple day virtual exercise at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Development Center in Rancho Bernardo, CA. NGC release.

Oct 21/09: UAE & Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi paper The National reports significant interest in the Fire Scout in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Gulf nations reportedly see the VTUAV’s capabilities as being very useful in the shallow waters of the Persian/Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, with additional potential for surveillance of critical infrastructure. The report adds that:

“Northrop, which has been developing unmanned systems since the 1940s, puts the potential worldwide market for the Fire Scout at more than 2,000 over the next five years, with more than half coming from international sales… If the UAE decides to purchase the Fire Scout, it would join smaller unmanned systems in its fleet.

The Government has spent the past decade researching the new technology, and has purchased small unmanned surveillance helicopters from Schiebel of Germany and CybAero of Sweden. In 2007, it created its own UAV investment company, now called Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments Company.”

Oct 5/09: 1st deployment. An MQ-8B Fire Scout deploys aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate USS McInerney [FFG-8] after over 600 hours of flight testing, with 110 take-off and landings from the frigate. USS McInerney will work with the US Navy’s 4th Fleet on a counter-narcotics deployment in the Caribbean and Latin America, using the Fire Scout in its missions and refining Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. The move is also a form of live Operational Evaluation for the Fire Scout. US Navy NAVAIR.

1st deployment

FY 2009

Slow orders continue; Army testing of UAV and ground control. RQ-8A: Tow me, launch me.
(click to view full)

Sept 21-25/09: GCS. MQ-8B #P7 completes flight tests at Yuma Proving Ground, CA under the command and control of a new ground control station (GCS). Flight activities will continue at Yuma, in preparation for the Army’s Expeditionary Warrior Experiment at Fort Benning, GA.

Northrop Grumman’s new GCS is compatible with NATO’s STANAG 4586, which means that its Vehicle Specific Module can interface with any STANAG 4586 compatible Core Unmanned Control System (CUCS) module such as that used in the Army’s Universal/One System GCS. The Fire Scout’s GCS contains a Tactical Common Data Link for primary command and control and sensor data downlink, plus multiple radios for voice and secondary command and control. The equipment is hosted on commercial personal computers inside, and the GCS intercommunication system is digital, with an external wireless system for other crew members. Mission planning is accomplished with the Army standard Aviation Mission Planning System. Northrop Grumman | NGC video [Windows Media].

Aug 11/09: Northrop Grumman announces that MQ-8B number P7, a land-based version, successfully completes its RSTA(reconnaissance surveillance and target acquisition) / ISR(intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.

This RSTA/ISR demonstration was conducted with the use of a high-magnification electro-optical, infrared (EO/IR) payload, which includes a long range laser designator and rangefinder (LR/LD). Full motion video was relayed down to ground operators in real time over a Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). After an autonomous launch, Fire Scout demonstrated its ability to find, fix, and track hostile forces during a real-time operational scenario in complex terrain at night.

June 30/09: Northrop Grumman announces that MQ-8B number P7 has successfully completed first flight operations at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ. Unlike current Navy-configured Fire Scouts, P7 was built in an operational land-based configuration for the US Army.

P7 is the first MQ-8B to fly without flight test instrumentation normally installed for developmental flights, and is supported by P6, the first company owned Fire Scout. P7’s capability demonstrations will continue throughout summer 2009, with missions in support of land-based operations as a priority.

April 6/09: Sensors. FLIR Systems, Inc announces a $4.1 million Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) delivery order from Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 project for FLIR’s BRITE Star II surveillance and targeting turrets. Work will be performed at FLIR’s facilities in Wilsonville, OR. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2009, and conclude in 2010.

March 25/09: TCS. Raytheon in Falls Church, VA received a $16.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus award fee, cost plus incentive fee contract (N00019-98-C-0190) to provide additional funds for the development of the MQ-8’s Tactical Control System Block 2, Version 4 software. TCS is an unmanned aircraft system control that can simultaneously control multiple unmanned aircraft and payloads. The TCS system has been confirmed by the NATO STANAG (Standardization Agreement) Committee as being STANAG-4586 conformed, and is currently the only unmanned system command and control software owned by the U.S. government.

TCS uses a Linux-based operating system, and this contract extension will add key capabilities, including upgrade software to control radars and a universal hand control. The contract will also provide support to TCS integration and testing leading to operational evaluation on the MQ-8B Fire Scout program this summer. Work will be performed in Falls Church, VA (82%), Dahlgren, VA (10%), and San Pedro, CA (8%), and is expected to be complete in March 2010. See also: Raytheon release.

Jan 23/09: +3. A $40 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded firm fixed price contract (N00019-07-C-0041) for 3 Low Rate Initial Production RQ-8Bs, including electro-optical surveillance payloads and support. In addition to the UAVs, Northrop Grumman will supply 3 Ground Control Stations, 3 Light Harpoon Grids, 3 UCARS (UAV common automatic recovery systems), and 6 Portable Electronic Display devices.

This is the last of is the last of 3 planned low-rate initial production (LRIP) buys, before OpEval and an expected decision on full rate production. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in March 2011. See also Northrop Grumman release.

LRIP: 3 more

FY 2008

Navy MQ-8B moves beyond LCS, will get radar; USCG opportunity? RQ-8A & LPD-13
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Sept 19/08: Sensors. One of Northrop Grumman’s company-owned MQ-8Bs uses a non-developmental (i.e. not yet part of the program) Telephonics RDR-1700B search, surveillance, tracking and imaging radar system to search for, detect, and track multiple targets during a test surveillance mission. at the Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.

See also March 19/08 entry. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate a maritime search radar capability, and this flight was the first of several radar demonstrations that will eventually include an over-water search trial. NGC release.

Aug 20/08: Sensors. FLIR Systems, Inc. announces that they have completed the initial flight test of their BRITE Star II sensor and targeting turret on Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B.

March 25/08: Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ won a $17.3 million cost contract for “applied research and advanced technology demonstration of an advanced Multi-Mode Sensor Suite to support [VTUAV] intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting missions in the littoral combat environment.”

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ and is expected to be complete in September 2012. This contract was competitively procured under a Broad Agency Announcement; 5 offers were received by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA (N68936-08-C-0034).

March 19/08: Sensors. The Navy has decided to commit funds in 2009 to develop a radar capability on Fire Scout, a gap that had been one of the US Coast Guard’s objections to buying it. Demonstrations have been conducted in 2003 using a Predator’s Lynx SAR on an RQ-8A alongside an electro-optical/infrared system.

A similar demonstration will now take place using a non-developmental Telephonics RDR-1700B maritime surveillance and imaging radar on an MQ-8B Fire Scout owned by Northrop Grumman. Radar integration and installation will take place at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Development Centers in San Diego, CA and in Moss Point, MS. Demonstration flights will be conducted at Webster Field; Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD; or Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. NGC release.

March 3/08: USCG Opportunity? After receiving the service’s formal “Deepwater alternatives analysis” in February 2008, US Coast Guard Chief Acquisition Officer Rear Adm. Gary Blore forwards recommendations to Coast Guard senior leadership in a formal decision memorandum. Commandant Adm. Thad Allen is expected to approve Blore’s decision in the near future.

The report reportedly recommends that the Coast Guard adapt the Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAV for its new Bertholf Class National Security Cutters, and the Coast Guard has asked for $3 million in its FY 2009 budget to study UAVs that might replace the suspended Eagle eye tilt-rotor project. The service doesn’t anticipate deployment before 2014, however, on the ground that no current design meets its needs yet. Rear Adm. Blore notes that the Fire Scout does not yet have a surface-search radar package, for instance, and says that it can’t be deployed out of sight of its carrying ship. Inside the Navy’s March 10/08 report [PDF] | Gannett’s Navy Times report | Aero News report

Feb 20/08: Northrop Grumman announces that the US Navy will move to integrate the Fire Scout into another “air capable ship” besides the Littoral Combat Ships. Landing isn’t the issue; it’s a question of testing the interface, integrating the data management, and looking at maintenance and supportability. The Navy and Northrop Grumman are working together to define and develop a roll-on/roll-off Fire Scout ship deployment package that would make expanding the number of compatible ships much easier.

According to the current schedule, the Navy will conduct Technical Evaluation on the Fire Scout on the designated ship in the fall 2008 and OpEval in the summer 2009. The Fire Scout will reach Initial Operating Capability soon after OpEval in 2009. No details are given re: ship type, but the Navy’s DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers and GC-47 Ticonderoga Class cruisers are natural choices, and both are undergoing modernization programs that may ease integration. LCS Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) efforts are still planned for FY 2011. NGC release.

Dec 21/07: +3. A $15 million modification to a previously awarded (Sept 14/07?), unfinalized contract action for 3 Low Rate Initial Production Fire Scout VTUAV air vehicles, including support. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in July 2009 (N00019-07-C-0041).

LRIP: 3 MQ-8Bs

Dec 15/07: The first MQ-8B flight test with expected shipboard equipment takes place at the Webster Field annex of Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, MD. The Test and Training Control Segment replicates the containerized consoles and other equipment being integrated into Littoral Combat Ships, and integrates the latest B2V4 Tactical Control Segment (TCS) software designed and produced by Raytheon’s Intelligence and Information Systems business. Block 2, Version 4 incorporates provisions for both the baseline FLIR Systems BRITE Star II electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload, and the Northrop Grumman COBRA multi-spectral mine detection payload. Additional payloads will be integrated into the air vehicle and control segment in the future, via a standardized interface.

The current phase of flight test for the VTUAV program covers operations with the new control segment and land based shipboard recovery system testing using UCARS (UAV Common Automatic Recovery System) in preparation for the sea trials in 2009. The next major phase of flight test in early 2008 will include operations with EO/IR payloads using the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) data link. NGC’s Jan 7/08 release.

FY 2007

Milestone C allows low-rate production; Army MQ-8B testing begins; 1st Navy MQ-8B flies. Approach.
(click to view full)

Sept 14/07: A $7.1 million modification to a previously awarded undefinitized contract action for supplies and additional long-lead production items in support of Fire Scout low-rate production. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in March 2009 (N00019-07-C-0041).

Sept 10/07: C-130 loading. A cooperative effort between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and Northrop Grumman Corporation demonstrates joint service interoperability, and certifies the MQ-8B for transport in C-130 airlifters (2 per C-130).

As part of an ongoing Navy Fire Scout contract, a Navy MQ-8B was transported from Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD facility in the American northeast for flight test operations. The Navy is continuing Fire Scout developmental testing at nearby Webster Field in St. Inigoes, Md. As part of the effort, a US Army MQ-8B was also loaded into the US Marine Corps KC-130T airlifter, to demonstrate that a tandem load was possible.

The transport then unloaded the Army Fire Scout, and took Navy, Marine Corps, U.S. Department of Defense and Northrop Grumman personnel aboard who are associated with the development of procedures, test plans, and equipment required for air transport of the MQ-8B. NGC release.

May 31/07: Milestone C. The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that the MQ-8B Fire Scout has reached Milestone C, signifying the beginning of its low-rate initial production (LRIP) phase. The Fire Scout is the first unmanned aircraft system (UAS) within the U.S. Navy and the third UAS of all U.S. military branches to reach Milestone C. The Fire Scout program remains on track to conduct payload flights in fall 2007 and enter initial operational evaluation, and then achieve initial operational capability in 2008 as planned. Northrop Grumman release.

Milestone C

May 22/07: Army. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces a successful engine run of the first U.S. Army Class IV UAV MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), its proposed division-level UAV in its Future Combat Systems (FCS) mega-project.

The engine run marks completion of final assembly of the initial manufacturing phase of the first Army Fire Scout. The FCS Fire Scout has now completed the initial assembly process and “will await delivery of mission avionics and sensors (see note above, re: delays).” The event took place at NGC’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS. Northrop Grumman release.

December 2006: Navy. The U.S. Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout made its first flight in December 2006 at the Webster Field annex of Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Inigoes, MD. See this US Navy release for test details.

1st Navy MQ-8B flight

Dec 14/06: +2. A $16.2 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-award-fee contract for 2 MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Vehicles (VTUAV) including Concept of Operations support. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete in October 2008. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (N00019-00-C-0277).

The Navy now has (7+2=) 9 Fire Scouts on contract with Northrop Grumman.

This award will assist the Navy in refining the Fire Scout concept of operations, including operational test and evaluation as well as some spiral development preparations and test of future payloads. Northrop Grumman will work closely with the Navy to refine the system description, including core capabilities, and anticipated deployment and employment for the VTUAV system and other aviation assets aboard the Littoral Combat Ship. Operational requirements may include real-time video imagery collection, intelligence gathering, communications-relay capability, precision targeting and battle damage assessment. See Northrop Grumman Feb 6/07 release.

2 MQ-8Bs

FY 2005 – 2006

1st autonomous landing on board ship; RQ-8B becomes MQ-8B; Push to finish development. Touchdown.
(click to view full)

July 28/06: A $135.8 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-award-fee contract for continued development and testing of the RQ-8B Fire Scout. The award specifies the remaining portion of the work to complete the program’s systems development and demonstration (SDD) phase through 2008. A total of 9 Navy MQ-8B Fire Scouts are planned under the VTUAV SDD contract.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (81%); Moss Point, MS (7%); Horsehead, NY (6%); Wilsonville, OR (4%); and Wayne, NJ (2%) and is expected to be complete in August 2008. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

Development extended

March 20/06: A $29.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the continued development and testing of the RQ-8 Fire Scout vertical takeoff unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV). Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (85%) and Elmira, NY (15%), and is expected to be completed in June 2006. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

Jan 17/06: 1st sea landing. A RQ-8A Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System lands on USS Nashville [LPD-13], completing the platform’s first autonomous landing aboard a Navy vessel at sea.

1st autonomous at-sea landing

Dec 15/05: $8.3 million modification adds funds for shipboard testing of the RQ-8 Fire Scout, including shipboard installation and flight testing on the wave-piercing catamaran High Speed Vessel USS Swift.

Dec 8/05: TCDL. Spinoff from the Oct 7/05 award. Northrop Grumman gives Cubic of San Diego an $11 million subcontract to supply the its high-speed data link, plus air and ground data terminals, to serve as the wireless connection between the Fire Scout and control stations aboard Littoral Combat Ships.

Fire Scout is scheduled to be operational in 2008, so the data link will be integrated into the Fire Scout beginning in March 2007, with a testing period to follow. The RQ-8B Fire Scout is the first Defense Department UAV to incorporate Cubic’s tactical common data link (TCDL). Cubic has about 5,950 employees and annual sales of $722 million. Washington Technology

Oct 7/05: $5.8 million modification for the design, manufacture and test of a shipboard compatible control station for the Fire Scout VTUAV so it can operate from the USA’s new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). Work on this contract will be performed in Owego, NY (65%) and San Diego, CA (35%) and is expected to be complete in June 2006 (N00019-00-C-0190).

July 22/05: The RQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned air vehicle (UAV) successfully fires 2 test rockets at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Grounds, marking the first successful live weapons fire from an autonomous unmanned helicopter. NGC release.

June 30/05: +2. $15.2 million modification to buy 2 MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicles, including 2 associated payloads and non-recurring engineering services. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

2 MQ-8s

June 30/05: RQ-8 to MQ-8B. The upgraded, new model Fire Scout is formally redesignated from RQ-8B to MQ-8B per a letter from HQ USAF/XPPE. The switch designates a shift from a pure reconnaissance platform to one with multi-mission capability that includes attack roles.

MQ-8 now

April 5/05: $11.7 million modification or the procurement of Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) hardware for the U.S. Army in support of the Future Combat System as its Class IV brigade-level UAV. Hardware to be procured includes 8 each airframes, identify friend or foe transponders, and radar altimeters and 16 each global positioning systems/inertial navigation systems, antennas; pressure transducers; and precision differents. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

FY 2000 – 2004

Initial contract; Program sidelined, then restarted. General Dynamics Team
Trimaran LCS Design
(click to enlarge)

March 26/04: TCS. Raytheon Co. in Falls Church, VA received a $36.8 million not-to-exceed, cost-plus-award-fee/ incentive-fee modification for tactical control system (TCS) software to support the Navy Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) integration onto the littoral combat ship. It will also provide the TCS engineering and test support for the Fire Scout system to achieve initial operational capability. Work will be performed in Falls Church, VA (56%); Dahlgren, VA (30%); San Pedro, CA (10%); and State College, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete in March 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

March 2/04: A $49 million ceiling-priced undefinitized modification for the continued development and testing of the Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) System, including the procurement of two engineering and manufacturing, development RQ-8B Fire Scout UAVs. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

2 RQ-8s

May 1/01: +1. A $14.2 million modification exercises an option for one (1) Fire Scout Vertical Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System, its associated support equipment, data, and initial training. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).


Feb 9/2000: EMD/SDD? A $93.7 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, award-fee contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) program (N00019-00-C-0277).

EMD Phase

Additional Readings & Sources Background: Fire Scout

Related Platforms

VTUAV Alternatives

News & Views

Categories: News

House Rep Wants “Transparency” from Air Force | Sandia Settles Over Illegal Use of Fed Funds for Lobbying | Russia Delivers Helos to Peru; Loans $1B to Bangladesh for Helo Purchases

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 00:10

  • A House Representative is demanding answers from the Air Force Secretary regarding discrepancies over the Air Force’s projected cost for the Long Range Strike Bomber program, after it emerged last week that the estimated program cost rose from $33.1 billion to $58.4 billion over the 2016-2026 period. Rep. Speier has given Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James until the end of September to provide clarification on the swinging cost estimates, as well as criticizing the Air Force for lack of transparency.

  • A supplier of systems equipping E-3 Sentry AWACS early warning aircraft has agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle a False Claim Act lawsuit centered on PoleZero’s subcontract to supply the Air Force with components for the E-3 fleet from 2004 to 2013. The contractor reportedly supplied radio frequency equipment to the Air Force which the company knew were below contractual standard.

  • Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sandia Corp. has also agreed to settle with the government over the alleged illegal use of government funds for lobbying efforts. The $4.79 million settlement regards the use of federal funds to lobby for the extension of the company’s contract to run Sandia National Laboratories, a major nuclear weapons research establishment and follows a nine-month Energy Department report authored by the Department’s Inspector General.


  • General Dynamics is reportedly set to build Spain’s next generation of infantry fighting vehicles, with GD’s Santa Bárbara Sistemas company winning a $99 million research and development contract for the new vehicle’s design. Intended to replace the Spanish Army’s fleet of M113 and BMR IFVs, the program has attracted design bids from several European and US companies, including the French VBCI, Italian Centauro Freccia, German Boxer, Finnish Patria AMV and Swedish SEP; however the Piranha Class 5 is reported to be the favourite to win the competition. The first prototypes of the class are anticipated to emerge by 2017, with Denmark also opting for the Piranha earlier this year.

  • Poland will carry out upgrade work on the Bulgarian Air Force’s fleet of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters, according to reports on Monday. The Bulgarian government has approved the intergovernmental arrangement, following a decision to postpone the replacement of the country’s MiG-29 fleet with more modern Western aircraft; most likely F-16s from Greece. This postponement is thought to be down to budgetary constraints, something not uncommon with Bulgarian defense projects, with the Polish Air Force upgrading their Fulcrums in 2011. The decision to contract Poland’s WZL plant for the upgrade works makes a lot of sense, given the political realities of current NATO-Russian relations taking the option of sending the jets back to the original manufacturer off the table.

  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence has ordered additional Saab Giraffe Agile Multi-Beam radar systems for use on the Falkland Islands, supplementing existing systems already in use as part of the British Armys’ Land Environment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP) system. Delivery of the new Giraffes is scheduled to begin later this year, concluding in 2018. The LEAPP system was declared operational in late 2014, with a contract to supply a BMC4I capability for the system anticipated for next year. The first contingent of five Giraffe systems for the LEAPP system was ordered in April 2008 for $60 million, with this latest contract valued at $74 million.

  • BAE Systems has begun a redevelopment project for the company’s Barrow-in-Furness shipyard, ahead of a planned major build program for the Royal Navy’s future Successor nuclear submarine fleet. The Ministry of Defence-funded redevelopment will take approximately eight years to complete, with construction of the first of four Successor boats scheduled for next year. The four Successor submarines will replace the current Vanguard-class and are due to enter service from 2028. The first part of the redevelopment is a $36.1 million logistics center, with other developments thought to include extension of the Devonshire Dock Hall building and new hull pressure units.

  • Belgium’s four NH90 NFH naval helicopter fleet have achieved Initial Operating Capability, eight years after they were ordered in May 2007 through a mixed order for ten NH90 helicopters. Three of the country’s four helicopters have now entered service, with a fourth scheduled to join them in early 2016.


  • China has reportedly conducted a fifth test of the WU-14 hypersonic glide vehicle, following a similar test in June. This test is thought to have demonstrated evasive manoeuvres, a key element of the mach 10 delivery system thought to be designed principally to penetrate capable ballistic missile defenses. The US, Russia and China are each developing their own hypersonic strike capabilities, with the vehicle’s speed and manoeuvrability making them theoretically much more potent than ballistic missiles for nuclear weapon delivery.

  • Russia is handing Bangladesh a $1 billion loan to purchase seven Mil Mi-171 helicopters, following a contract signed in April 2015. The number of helicopters Russia will sell has risen from five, with deliveries reported to already be underway. Russia also recently began deliveries of 24 Mi-171 helicopters to Peru, delivering a second batch of nine helicopters to the South American country in June.

Today’s Video

  • The Chinese Wing Loong UAV dropping ordnance in a recent test involving eight different weapon types:

Categories: News

MIDS-LVT Contracts; $880.8M to ViaSat & Data Link Solutions | Winner of JLTV Competition Coming Soon | MoD Looking at New Amphibious Vehicle for Royal Marines

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 00:10

  • The Navy has begun integration testing and certification of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) onto F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft. The missile is scheduled for fielding on the aircraft in 2019, with the LRASM a joint DARPA/Navy development program intended to produce the Navy’s next generation of long-range strike missiles. Manufacturer Lockheed Martin was recently awarded a $104.3 million modification for the LRASM accelerated acquisition program in June, bringing the total value of Lockheed Martin’s LRASM contract to $306.9 million.

  • The Navy has also ordered more radio-frequency jammers for its fleet of Super Hornets. Harris Corp was awarded a $97 million contract for the company’s twelfth production lot of ALQ-214 radio-frequency integrated countermeasures systems, with an option for a thirteenth in 2016 included within the contract terms. The ALQ-214 systems are capable of operating with ALE-50 or ALE-55 towed decoys and provides protection against radar-guided missiles.

  • Two firms have been awarded contracts totaling $880.8 million to produce and maintain the tri-service Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) Low Volume Terminal (LVT) communications system (MIDS-LVT). ViaSat Inc. and Data Link Solutions LLC (a Rockwell Collins and BAE Systems joint venture) have been handed IDIQ contracts potentially valuing $514.3 million and $366.5 million respectively, with these lasting five years. The MIDS-LVT system facilitates the exchange of real-time situational awareness data and voice communication using Link 16 connection on various platforms.

  • The much-anticipated winner of the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) competition is expected to be announced in coming days, with the winner poised to bag contracts for 54,600 of the vehicles for the Army and Marines. A BAE Systems/Lockheed Martin team is up against AM General – manufacturer of the Humvee, which the vehicles are intended to replace – and Oshkosh Defense. Proposals were submitted in January, with the Firm Fixed Price contract scheduled to see an initial three-year production contract followed by a subsequent five-year full-rate production contract. Each firm has a lot riding on this competition, with each of the three winners of the EMD phase in August 2012 having already produced 22 prototype vehicles.

  • The Air Force is developing an air-dropped weapon capable of destroying chemical and biological weapon agents through the creation of extremely high temperatures. The Heated And Mobile Munitions Employing Rockets (HAMMER) project is designed to pelt a target with rocket-powered incendiaries, launched from a BLU-109B bunker-busting bomb, with these capable of producing temperatures of approximately 1,000°F; – all without creating an unnecessary level of explosive power which would eject and disperse the chemical/ biological agents, The Air Force is now seeking to progress this theoretical weapon, awarding General Dynamics a $7.2 million contract to develop the concept and demonstrate its viability.


  • European defense giant Airbus is reported to be developing a new version of the Tiger attack helicopter, through work commissioned by OCCAR. The ‘Architecture Study’ for the Mk3 version will involve the assessment of new capabilities to be incorporated into the new version, with a particular emphasis on reduced life-cycle costs and drawing on lessons from the helicopter’s substantial operational deployment by European states over recent years.

  • The United Kingdom’s Royal Marines may receive new amphibious vehicles to replace the force’s fleet of BV206 tracked vehicles. The Ministry of Defence’s DE&S procurement body is looking at a potential procurement of 233 vehicles for approximately $360.3 million. The precise requirement set scheduled to form the basis for selection of the new vehicles has not yet been released, but it is thought that the new vehicle will be a two-car design like the current fleet of BV206s. A contract is expected to be awarded in the spring of 2018, with the first new vehicles slated to enter service in 2021.

  • Belarus and Russia are reported to be co-developing a replacement for the Strela-10M mobile air defense system currently operated by both countries. Meanwhile, Iran’s Defense Minister has announced that the country will collaborate with Russia to develop and manufacture new combat aircraft. Iran has previously stated its intention to procure new combat aircraft to bolster its capabilities in the short-term, citing French Mirage fighters in as a possible acquisition.


  • Turkey is donating thirty-four T-36 Talon jet trainers to Pakistan. The trainers are reportedly scheduled for delivery by the end of 2015. In April Pakistan showed interest in the South Korean KAI T-50 jet trainer, principally in an effort to cement relations with the Asian country; it is unclear whether Turkey’s gift will satisfy the Pakistani Air Force’s trainer requirement, thus killing the T-50 deal, or not.

  • Kazakhstan is reportedly selling armored vehicles to Azerbaijan, produced through a joint venture with South African firm Paramount Group, established last year. A contract with Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering for the sale of these vehicles is anticipated by the end of the year, with the company producing three vehicle models; a mine-resistant variant, an armored riot-control van and an infantry fighting vehicle, known as the Arlan, Nomad and Barys respectively.

Today’s Video

  • The F-35A firing its GAU-22/A 25mm cannon at full capacity during recent testing:

Categories: News

JLENS: Co-ordinating Cruise Missile Defense – And More

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 00:14
JLENS Concept
(click to view full)

Experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated that even conventional cruise missiles with limited reach could have disruptive tactical effects, in the hands of a determined enemy. Meanwhile, the proliferation of cruise missiles and associated components, combined with a falling technology curve for biological, chemical, or even nuclear agents, is creating longer-term hazards on a whole new scale. Intelligence agencies and analysts believe that the threat of U.S. cities coming under cruise missile attack from ships off the coast is real, and evolving.

Aerial sensors are the best defense against low-flying cruise missiles, because they offer far better detection and tracking range than ground-based systems. The bad news is that keeping planes in the air all the time is very expensive, and so are the aircraft themselves. As cruise missile defense becomes a more prominent political issue, the primary challenge becomes the development of a reliable, affordable, long-flying, look-down platform. One that can detect, track and identify incoming missiles, then support over-the-horizon engagements in a timely manner. The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) certainly looked like that system, but the Pentagon has decided to end it.

The JLENS System: This is Not Your Grandpa’s Barrage Balloon Radar: height matters.
(click to view full)

In Air Defense Artillery Magazine, Major Thomas J. Atkins sums up the 2-aerostat JLENS system:

“The JLENS system consists of four main components: the aerostats, the radars, the mooring station and the processing station. The [2] aerostats are unmanned, tethered, non-rigid aerodynamic structures filled with a helium/air mix. The aerostats are 77 yards long (three-fourths of a football field) and almost as wide as a football field. The aerostats must be large enough to lift the heavy [volume search or fire control] radars that provide the system’s extended range. The radars are optimized for their separate, specific functions, but weigh several tons each. The surveillance radar searches very long distances to find small radar cross-section tracks before they can threaten friendly assets. The fire control radar looks out at shorter ranges than the surveillance radar, but provides highly accurate data to help identify and classify tracks while providing fire control quality data to a variety of interceptors. The two aerostats are connected to the ground via tethers through which power and data is transmitted. The tethers enables the aerostats to operate at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet and contain power lines, fiber-optic data lines and Kevlar-strengthened strands surrounded by an insulated protective sleeve. The tethers connect to mobile mooring stations that anchor the aerostats to the ground and control their deployment and retrieval. The mooring stations are connected to ground-mounted power plants and processing stations. The processing stations are the brains of the whole system. Each processing station contains an operator workstation, a flight-director control station, weather-monitoring equipment and a computer that controls radar functions and processes radar data.”

JLENS takes 5 days to go from transport configuration to full deployment, or to pack up. Once deployed, Raytheon says that JLENS’ radar can detect and target threat objects at a range of up to 340 miles/ 550 km, depending on the object’s size and radar/ infrared signatures. A 2013 test confirmed the ability to track short-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase.

Raytheon on JLENS

Once deployed, JLENS can work as part of the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense (JTAMD) system of systems. When integrated with Co-operative Engagement Capability, JLENS can even serve as the linchpin of combined air defense frameworks. An elevated sensor such as JLENS can support ground based air defense units, such as Patriot, Aegis/Standard Missile and SLAMRAAM (ground-based AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles). In the All Service Combat Identification and Evaluation Team (ASCIET) ’99 exercise, a 15m aerostat was deployed with a Cooperative Engagement Capability relay on a mobile mooring station. This relay allowed the Army’s Patriot air defense system and the Navy’s AEGIS weapon system to exchange radar data. Other tests have involved SM-6 and AMRAAM missiles.

Development of missile options like the long-range infrared-guided NCADE missile, which can be mounted on long-endurance platforms like MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and possibly even added to the JLENS system, would add another potential dimension to the platform.

Additional equipment could offer commanders extensive communications relay capabilities, or even area surveillance of the ground. The JLENS program reportedly deployed a smaller 15 meter aerostat to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In late November 2003, the Army announced its intention to redeploy the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) force protection aerostat from Afghanistan to Iraq. RAID, adapted out of JLENS via the Army Rapid Equipping Force, became its own program, involving both flying aerostats and fixed-tower configurations like GBOSS.

A privately-funded January 2013 test mounted similar equipment on a JLENS system, successfully demonstrating its ability to monitor humans walking near roads.

The JLENS Program JLENS Infographic
(click to view full)

JLENS is currently managed as part of the Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office at Redstone Arsenal, AL. As of January 2007, Raytheon Company defined and finalized a $1.4 billion contract modification from the U.S. Army for full-scale JLENS system development and demonstration. Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems is responsible for the fire control radar and processing station, and work on the program will be performed at Raytheon sites located in Massachusetts, California, Texas and Maryland. TCOM LP, based in Maryland, will develop the 71M aerostat and associated ground equipment.

The US Army’s initial System Acquisition Report submission in 2005, following approval to proceed into System Development and Demonstration (Milestone B), placed the JLENS program’s total value over its lifetime at $7.15 billion. By October 2011, estimates to complete the program had reached $7.56 billion, with about $1.9 billion spent to create 2 demonstration systems. Another $634.1 million in R&D would be required to finish, followed by $5.2 billion in procurement funds to buy the other 14 systems. Back in November 2005, Raytheon VP for Integrated Air Defense Timothy Carey was excited:

“This is going to be one of our foundational programs over the next 10 to 20 years… As we try to grow the business here in New England, it’s important to have these programs that play out over a long period.”

He turned out to be half-right. It won’t be foundational. It will play out over a long time.

In January 2012, the FY 2013 budget proposal called for the cancellation for JLENS’ production phase. The 2 existing systems would remain, to be used for further testing and trialed in exercises, but funding would begin to taper off rapidly after 2013. Recent budgets have included:

FY 2008: $464.9 million, all Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation (RDT&E)
FY 2009: $355.3 million, all RDT&E
FY 2010: $317.1 million all RDT&E
FY 2011: $399.5 million, all RDT&E
FY 2012: $327.3 million, all RDT&E
FY 2013 request: $190.4 million, all RDT&E. This was actually a $34 million increase, to fund the Secretary of Defense directed COCOM Exercise extended test program.

The US Army was planning to field 5 Orbits (1 EMD and 4 Procurement) between FY 2013-2017, and a low-rate production decision was due in September 2012. Procurement would have run for another 10 years. Now it won’t, with just 1 demonstration system protecting Washington, and another in Strategic Reserve.

On the other hand, with border surveillance growing as a security concern amidst Mexico’s Cartel Wars, cruise missile defense still a weakness, and US military operating costs becoming a growing issue, the question is what the Pentagon proposes as a JLENS replacement.

JLENS: Contracts & Key Events FY 2013 – 2015

1 orbit into Strategic Reserve; 1 orbit preps for 3 year surveillance over Washington; AMRAAM & End User tests. JLENS

August 21/15: The Army launched a JLENS aerostat on Wednesday to increase cruise missile early warning coverage of the East Coast, joining one first launched in December last year. The unmanned, tethered platforms will complement each other through the operation of both broad-area and precision radar systems, providing an over-the-horizon early warning capability. Developed by Raytheon, the two Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) units are part of a three-year evaluation program to assess the capability of JLENS with NORAD’s early warning architecture.

Oct 13/14: NORAD. Deployment hasn’t begun yet, but Raytheon has completed a series of laboratory tests that demonstrated the ability to covert information from JLENS into a format that can be used by NORAD’s command and control system. Sources: Raytheon, “U.S. Army’s missile-fighting radar-blimp achieves critical milestone”.

June 27/14: Politics. The Washington Free Beacon reports that JLENS will be one of the items under discussion during House / Senate conferencing. The House’s 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) slashed JLENS funding from $54 million to $29 million, while the Senate bill kept funding intact. If the Senators can’t bargain JLENS funding back, the House amount would stand:

“A cut will force the [Defense Department] to make some very hard choices. For example, they might have to decide between maintaining the system or integrating JLENS into the National Capital Region’s defense architecture,” one defense expert familiar with JLENS told the Free Beacon…. they might decide to partially integrate the system and just use one of the aerostats…. Those are all bad choices because they defeat the purpose of holding the exercise in the first place….” Sources close to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which did not support the House’s cut to JLENS, said that some GOP senators are moving to protect the system.”

It would appear that privacy advocates like the ACLU and EFF have their golden opportunity, if they want to crimp the program. Sources: Washington Free Beacon, “Congress to Cut Key U.S. Missile Defense System”.

June 26/14: Industrial. JLENS aerostat manufacturer TCOM’s is moving to broaden the scope of its Elizabeth City, NC facility from lighter-than-air manufacturing, assembly, and testing, adding a new Center of Excellence. That will expand the facility’s capabilities to include integration testing of platforms, payloads, sensors, etc.

The larger vision involves an East Coast center that offers unique opportunities for the U.S. and international governments to conduct testing and training on a range of LTA platforms and towers. The CoE will also serve to demonstrate complete turn-key ISR and communications solutions to a broad range of domestic and international customers. Sources: TCOM LP, “TCOM Launches Persistent Surveillance Center of Excellence at Company’s Manufacturing and Flight Test Facility (MFTF) in Elizabeth City, NC.”

June 24/14: Strategic Reserve. Raytheon announces that they’ve finished preparing 1 of the US Army’s 2 JLENS systems for storage in the Strategic Reserve. On the one hand, it isn’t operational. On the other hand, it becomes an item that combat commanders can request. System Design and Development formally ended in Q4 2013. The 2nd system is scheduled to participate in an operational evaluation at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD in the fall. Sources: Raytheon, “Raytheon completes preparing JLENS radar for contingency deployment”.

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. With respect to JLENS, the total program cost now sits at $2.78212 billion, which is almost all R&D except for $40.51 million in military construction.

“In August 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics approved the program’s revised acquisition program baseline, re-designated the program’s acquisition category and delegated milestone decision authority to the Secretary of the Army. The JLENS program satisfied developmental testing and evaluation requirements and is proceeding with plans to execute a 3-year operational combatant command exercise…. Site construction for the deployment of the exercise will begin at Aberdeen Proving Ground after the February 2014 construction contract award. The construction will involve completing aerostat pads, roads, operation and support facilities, and infrastructure. The initial system is expected to arrive at the exercise site location in June 2014 and initial capability delivery is expected for the surveillance radar in September 2014 and the fire control radar system in December 2014.”

Previous reports placed the pads, buildings, utilities and parking for each of the aerostats about 4 miles apart: one at Graces Quarters in Baltimore County, and one at G-Field in Harford County.

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). JLENS is included, and DOT&E says that expected reliability improvements haven’t panned out as promised. The system still doesn’t meet program requirements for Operational Availability, Mean Time to Repair, or Mean Time Between System Abort. This is both a hardware and a software problem; it can be made worse by poor weather that either reduces radar performance, or forces the aerostat out of the sky entirely.

The Fire Control Radar can support air defense engagements, and “demonstrated a limited target identification capability that partially met requirements and basic interoperability with other air defense systems.” On the other hand, the system still needs to improve non-cooperative target recognition, friendly aircraft identification capabilities, and target track consistency. Very limited budgets and very restricted testing have contributed to these issues.

Jan 16/14: Test deployment. Military officials didn’t get many attendees at a Baltimore County public meeting to explain JLENS, even though 71% of readers in a Washington Post article poll saw the deployment as a threat to privacy. The 2-aerostat system will be tethered 10,000 feet over the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and will be visible from downtown Baltimore on a clear day. The FAA will have to set up a “special use airspace” corridor for them during the 3-year test period.

Current JLENS plans involve only the airborne radar, which can spot objects in the air from North Carolina to the Canadian border, and objects on the ground from Virginia to New Jersey. The Army says that they have “no current plans” to mount the MTS-B long-range day/night camera turret that Raytheon deployed in a privately-funded Utah test (q.v. Jan 14/13). They also said that they didn’t intend to share information with federal, state or local law enforcement “but [the Army] declined to rule out either possibility.” Which is to say, their policy could change at any time, by bureaucratic directive. Sources: Baltimore Sun, “Officials present radar blimp plans for Aberdeen Proving Ground” | Washington Post, “Blimplike surveillance craft set to deploy over Maryland heighten privacy concerns”.

Aug 7/13: AMRAAM test. Raytheon announces a successful interception of a target drone by an AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missile, fired from an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter based on a Link-16 cue from JLENS. The July 17/13 intercept was successful, and represents the 1st test of JLENS against low-flying cruise missile targets, as well as the 1st test involving AMRAAM. Other tests have involved PATRIOT and SM-6 surface-to-air missiles.

Raytheon VP Air Warfare Systems VP Harry Schulte touts the firing as something that “enables the world’s most capable air-to-air missile to engage targets at the weapon’s maximum kinematic range.” This is technically true, but probably not operationally true, unless and until the USAF gets clearance to fire on targets based only on JLENS radar ID and Link-16 transmission. Outside the testing range, the fear of a catastrophic mistake creates Rules of Engagement that demand visual identification. Unless the JLENS radar picture is so good that it produces visual ID quality snapshots for transmission, that’s unlikely to change. JLENS would still be very useful in vectoring interceptors for a look, but any aircraft that gets a look won’t be firing at maximum kinematic range. Raytheon.

July 24/13: Testing. Raytheon announces that JLENS has finished a 6-week End User Test with the US Army, which included a stretch of 20 days of continuous operation and “a number of complex scenarios that replicated an operational environment.”

JLENS product manager Dean Barten is pleased, and says the next step involves deployment to Aberdeen Proving Ground for an operational evaluation. Deployment usually follows successful OpEval. Raytheon.

Feb 11/13: To Washington. The Washington Post reports that NORAD is working to integrate JLENS with the surveillance system over Washington, DC. The JLENS are expected to arrive by Sept. 30/13:

“A “capabilities demonstration,” as the test is called, is expected to last as long as three years. Its location is being withheld, pending notification of lawmakers and others.”

Jan 14/13: EO test. Raytheon continues to fund JLENS demonstrations, and touts a recent exercise that used the JLENS’ MTS-B day/night surveillance and targeting turret, despite heavy smoke from recent, naturally-occurring forest fires. While the MTS-B visually tracked targets, and watched Raytheon employees simulate planting a roadside land mine, the JLENS simultaneously tracked surface targets with its integrated radar system. Raytheon.

Dec 5/12: Testing. Raytheon continues to tout recent tests, including a recent exercise that used JLENS to simultaneously detected and tracked “double-digit [numbers of] swarming boats, hundreds of cars and trucks, non-swarming boats and manned and unmanned aircraft” all at once. Raytheon.

Oct 23/12: GAO. The Government Accountability Office releases a report on the 15 aerostat and airship programs underway at the Department of Defense. They estimate that $7B worth of spending has been allocated to this category, most of which was spent on R&D. JLENS and its peers see steep declines in their budgets beyond FY 2013.

The GAO by definition likes centralizated oversight, so they object to the lack of coordination between all these programs. Actually, that’s a pretty normal and even healthy state of affairs for new technologies.

Oct 5/12: Support. Raytheon in Andover, MA receives a $59 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification, covering JLENS support until Sept 28/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by US Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001).

FY 2012

Budget cuts and restructuring; DOT&E highlights reliability issue; PATRIOT, SM-6, and small boat detection tests. JLENS attack scenario
(click to view full)

Sept 21/12: SM-6 test. JLENS is part of a test involving the new SM-6 naval defense missile. During the test, JLENS’ fire-control radar acquired and tracked a target that mimicked an anti-ship cruise missile, then Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) was used to pass the data on to the firing ship. The missile used that targeting data to move into range of its own radar, found the target, and destroyed it. Raytheon.

Sept 10/12: Boat test. Raytheon touts JLENS performance during a recent test at Great Salt Lake, UT, and makes the case for JLENS’ affordability. During the tests, JLENS simultaneously detected and tracked multiple speedboats, which simulated a real-world swarming scenario with a series of tactical maneuvers at low and high speeds. The test is a good argument for JLENS usefulness protecting key ports. As for affordability, Raytheon VP David Gulla says that:

“JLENS is affordable because during a 30-day period, one system provides the warfighter the same around-the-clock coverage that it would normally take four or five fixed-wing surveillance aircraft to provide… JLENS is significantly less expensive to operate than a fixed-wing surveillance aircraft because it takes less than half the manpower to operate and has a negligible maintenance and fuel cost.”

All true, but if the system is at less than 1/4 of reliability goals (vid. March 2012 DOT&E entry), many of these dollar savings disappear quickly.

April 30/12: JLENS/ PATRIOT test. The promised firing test takes place during an exercise at the Utah Training and Test Range. Raytheon says that:

“In addition to destroying the target drone, initial indications are that the JLENS-Patriot systems integration met test objectives.”

That will help make the case for JLENS as a very low operating cost option for cruise missile defense, but is it too late? Raytheon | Lockheed Martin.

March 30/12: SAR – end JLENS. The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 31/11 includes JLENS, but not in a good way. It would cut $5.917 billion from the program by removing all 14 production systems, and leaving just the 2 demonstrators:

“The PAUC increased 215.7% to the current APB, due primarily to a reduction in the total program quantities from 16 to 2 orbits. The FY 2013 President’s Budget suspended the production program of 14 orbits; however, the two engineering and manufacturing development orbits will be completed and delivered, which will allow the Department to achieve remaining technical knowledge points in the design and development of the program and preserve options for the future. The increase in the PAUC is also attributable in part to a previously reported extension of the development program and an increase in development funding to resource an extended test program and other activities to support participation in an exercise.”

End of JLENS Production

March 30/12: GAO report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” for 2012. For JLENS, the report cites early problems with the fire control radar software, and the September 2010 destruction of a JLENS system, as key issues that have put the program behind. The JLENS program has also been affected by alignment with the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense program. The IAMD program is aiming for a standard set of interfaces between systems such as JLENS and other sensors, weapons, and back-end command-and-control systems, in order to provide a common air picture for everyone. That forced the Army to extend the JLENS development phase by 12 months, which also drove up program costs.

The question is whether JLENS will proceed to production. With about $1.9 billion spent, the GAO estimates that the program needs $5.95 billion more to field all 14 twin-aerostat systems: $634.1 million in R&D, and $5.2 billion in procurement. A low-rate production decision is now due in September 2012, but the Pentagon’s 2013 budget proposals have put a cloud over that milestone. If they change their minds and go ahead, a full-rate production would be expected in November 2014, with procurement running until 2022.

March 2012: DT&E SE test report. The Pentagon’s Developmental Test and Evaluation and Systems Engineering FY 2011 Annual Report covers JLENS, noting the possible scenarios for the program and flagging reliability issues:

“One scenario is completion of the program of record resulting in low-rate initial production (LRIP), FRP, and full operational capability. The second scenario eliminates program funding starting in FY 2012 [DID: the direction of the Pentagon’s FY 2013 pre-budget submission], and the third scenario is to enter an operational exercise prior to an LRIP decision… The system entered DT&E with reliability less than the goal to meet reliability growth requirements. The estimated reliability prior to entering DT&E was approximately 15 hours mean time between system abort (MTBSA). The goal was to enter DT&E with 70 hours MTBSA.”

Feb 13/12: Mostly dead. The Pentagon releases its 2013 budget request, and leaves JLENS almost terminated, except for some forthcoming exercises. As Miracle Max knows, there’s a difference between “mostly dead” and “all dead.” The thing is, it takes a miracle to make the difference meaningful. JLENS is no longer listed in the programs by weapon system, but it does get an entry in the overview book. An excerpt:

“The Army will restructure JLENS and assume a manageable risk in Cruise Missile Defense, and subsequently rely on [DID: more expensive to operate] Joint aerial assets to partially mitigate any associated capability gaps. Additionally, this decision will allow more time for the Army and the Department to review total program affordability while the program conducts Combatant Commander exercises. The proposed savings in FY 2013 is $0.4 billion and totals $2.2 billion from FY 2013 – FY 2017.”

Jan 26/12: Budget cut. The FY 2013 budget under Secretary of Defense Panetta contains a raft of program cuts and delays, including the proposed “curtailment” of JLENS, “due to concerns about program cost and operational mobility,” as a program that was “experiencing schedule, cost, or performance issues.”

The phrasing of this statement is ambiguous at all levels. Why “curtailment” and not “terminate”, since that seems to be the intent? Disappointment about operational mobility also seem odd, given that the entire system was always meant to be a fixed aerostat that can be shifted with a bit of time and effort, in order to monitor a wide but high-value area. The US Army’s LEMV program is a mobile airship, but it isn’t designed to carry the same level of air and ground radar sensors, or cover the same area. Meanwhile, programs like the High Altitude Airship and ISIS describe future technologies that aren’t even close to fielding. Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF]

Jan 25/12: Testing, testing – my patience. Utah’s Deseret News [the correct spelling] reveals that JLENS is having testing problems with golden eagles, as well as local NIMBY(Not In My Back Yard) residents. The key problem involves approval to launch drones from Eskdale in Snake Valley, in order to test JLENS. In response, the Dugway Proving Ground has sought civil FAA permission to launch from its own property, and secured temporary approval for 6 flights in 2011. Problem 1 is that temporary approval will lapse soon. Problem 2 involves runaway bureaucracy:

“Because the launch site is technically changing from Eskdale to Dugway, the Army has to detail and gather public input to obtain a modified environmental assessment that will consider impacts to nesting golden eagles at Dugway as well as other potential impacts to wildlife… Launching from Dugway will necessitate a round-trip flight of the drones, which will still fly over the Snake Valley before returning to Army property, rather than a one-way launch of the plane from Eskdale… Sometime later this year, JLENS will conduct a live-fire exercise over the Utah Test and Training Range north of I-80 where a drone will be shot down by a Patriot missile after it is detected by one of the aerostats.”

Nov. – Dec. 2011: Testing. JLENS successfully completes its 1st set of tracking tests at the Utah Training and Test Range, tracking simulated low-flying cruise missiles, plus live UAVs, fighter aircraft, and moving surface targets on ground and water. It also demonstrated its ability to communicate Link-16 targeting data, and interface with IFF combat identification systems.

A live-fire Patriot missile test is expected in late 2012. In the meantime, testing continues in Utah and at White Sands Missile Range, NM. Raytheon release.

Dec 13/11: Infrastructure. Raytheon announces that they’ve established a JLENS test site at White Sands Missile Range, NM. 2012 is expected to see a Patriot missile firing, cued by JLENS. White Sands is the place for that.

FY 2009 – 2011

Prototype destroyed in collision. Cost increases. Testing…
(click to view full)

July 25/11: Testing. Raytheon announces a successful JLENS endurance test at the Utah Training and Test Range near Salt Lake City. While 30 days is a program goal, Raytheon doesn’t say how long the test was for. A subsequent Oct 11/11 release touts a 14-day test.

April 15/11: SAR. The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 30/10 includes JLENS as a program with significant-class cost increases under Nunn-McCurdy legislation:

“Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) – The PAUC (Program Acquisition Unit Cost, includes amortized R&D) increased 17.9 percent and the APUC(Average Procurement Unit Cost, no R&D) increased 13.3 percent to the current APB, because the development program was extended six months due to delays in testing resulting from engineering challenges. The increases in unit costs are also attributable to the addition of preplanned product improvements for reliability, safety, affordability, or producibility of the JLENS systems.”

Having your prototype destroyed in a collision is certainly a challenge.

SAR – major cost breach

April 14/11: Testing. Raytheon announces that the JLENS aerostat aloft at the Utah Test and Training Range has successfully demonstrated tracking targets of opportunity in Salt Lake City, Utah’s air space.

April 13/11: WIRED Danger Room reports:

“Last fall at a South Carolina test facility, inclement weather caused a Skyship 600 airship to come loose from its tether and crash into one of the Army’s forthcoming prized spy balloons. [The JLENS] was destroyed, along with the Skyship. What did the Army do? It upped its funding requests for the JLENS. Inside The Army, which first reported the JLENS-Skyship collision, finds that the Army is asking Congress to add $168 million for the program next year, on top of an original request of $176 million.”


Feb 9/11: Testing. Raytheon announces that JLENS’ radar demonstrated its ability to transmit data from the aerostat at the Utah Test and Training Range, while deployed to an altitude of 10,000 feet. It all seems like baby steps, but that’s how these things proceed. Especially when dealing with a system that has to carry required power etc. up the aerostat’s tether.

Sept 15/10: PATRIOT. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Grand Prairie, TX receives a $7.1 million firm-fixed-fee and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for “PAC-3 Integrated Fire Control.” Lockheed Martin representative confirmed that this contract is “for integration of the [Patriot] PAC-3 Missile Segment with the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor [JLENS].”

Work is to be performed at Grand Prairie, TX; White Sands Missile Range, NM; and Chelmsford, MA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 30/12. One bid was solicited with one received (W31P4Q-10-C-0304; Serial #1936). See also FBO solicitation.

April 14/10: Testing. The US military launches 2 unmanned 233 foot JLENS aerostats about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, UT. Several more tests are proposed for Utah later in the year, including over the remote northern portion of the Great Salt Lake and parts of the Snake Valley, which are remote and serve as good stand-ins for environments in Afghanistan.

Summer 2009 flight tests near Elizabeth City, NJ were limited to 3,000 feet, but the Utah tests will go up to 10,000 feet. Associated Press.

March 30/10: GAO Report. The US GAO audit office delivers its 8th annual “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs report. With respect to JLENS, it says:

“Although the JLENS design appears stable, the potential for design changes remains until the maturity of JLENS components have been demonstrated. For example, the JLENS program continues to define, develop, and design the mobile mooring station used to anchor the aerostat during operations. Although the mobile station is based on a fixed mooring station design, the program has yet to demonstrate its mobility. The mobile mooring transport vehicle is still being designed and the program office expects the survivability requirements for the vehicle to change. This may require the program to add armor to the vehicle. According to program officials, the combined weight of the mooring station and an up-armored vehicle would exceed the maximum allowed for roads in the United States and in a operational theater.

“…The cost and schedule of the JLENS program could be negatively affected by the Army’s [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] program… tasked with developing a standard set of interfaces between systems such as JLENS and other sensors, weapons, and… components to provide a common air picture. As part of the IAMD strategy, the Army plans to extend the system development and demonstration phase of the JLENS program by approximately 12 months and delay low-rate initial production until fiscal year 2012.”

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

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

Aug 25/09: Scheduled date for TCOM to fly a fully equipped JLENS 71M aerostat to 3,000 feet, in its first test flight. Source.

CEC Concept
(click to enlarge)

June 5/09: CEC. Science Applications International Corp. in St. Petersburg, FL wins a $5.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for the fabrication, assembly, and testing of compact solid state Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) antennas. These small, lightweight antennas would support mobile applications of the CEC system, including the Marine Corps Composite Track Network (CTN) and the U.S. Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor aerostat (JLENS). The contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $18.4 million.

Work will be performed in St. Petersburg, FL and is expected to be complete by June 2010. This contract was competitively procured through full and open competition via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online and Federal Business Opportunities websites, with 2 proposals received by the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-09-C-5213).

Nov 19/08: CDRR. Raytheon successfully passes critical design readiness reviews (CDRR) on its final 2 prime items, the surveillance radar (SuR) and the communications and processing group (CPG). These prime items are prerequisite to the overall JLENS Orbit CDR planned for later in 2008.

System testing is still scheduled to begin in 2010, with SDD program completion in 2012. Raytheon release.

FY 1998 – 2008

Demo program. SDD. Preliminary Design Review. JLENS moored
(click to view full)

March 31/08: PDR. Raytheon’s JLENS has successfully completed Orbit preliminary design review (PDR), which reviewed all aspects of JLENS design maturity. The decision clears the program to move ahead with detailed design, and JLENS system testing is scheduled to begin in 2010, with SDD program completion scheduled for 2012.

Each JLENS Orbit consists of 2 systems: a surveillance system and a fire control system, which includes a long-range surveillance radar and a high-performance fire control radar integrated onto a large aerostat. These are connected by cables to the ground-based mobile mooring station and communications processing group. Raytheon release.


March 4-6/08: The US Army reports that a group of Soldiers from Fort Bliss, TX have been brought to Raytheon in Huntsville, AL for early user assessment of the JLENS communication and control station. The 2nd early user assessment is scheduled in October 2008.

Neal Tilghman, a principal human systems engineer at Raytheon Warfighter Protection Center, says the goal is to get user feedback on the design concepts and layout of the JLENS communication and control station: “We’re in the early prototype stage and we want to head off any early issues, design concerns, in the early phase of the program…”

April 11/07: SFR. Raytheon announces that JLENS has completed a successful system functional review. The primary objective of the review was to ensure complete allocation of system level requirements to the various subsystems or prime items. The 3-day technical review evaluated system requirements and functions for each of the prime items, including the fire control radar, surveillance radar, processing station, communication system, and aerostat platform. This successful completion allows the program to progress to the preliminary design phase.

Jan 11/07: SDD. Raytheon Co. in Andover, MA received a $144.3 million increment to a $1.43 billion cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for acquisition of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, System Development and Demonstration Program.

Work will be performed in Andover, MA (47%), El Segundo, CA (28%), Long Beach, CA (6%), Columbia, MD (5%), Elizabeth City, NC (5%), Huntsville, AL (3%), Laurel, MD (2%), Dallas, TX (14%), Austin, TX (1%), Alexandria, VA (1%), and Greenlawn, NY (0.9%), and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2012. This was a sole source contract initiated on Oct. 27, 2005 by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001).

Jan 3/07: Raytheon announces that negotiations have finalized “a contract modification for system development and demonstration of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS).” The contract is described as $1.4 billion in this release.

System Development (SDD)

Nov 15/05: Raytheon announces “a $1.3 billion contract modification from the U.S. Army for system development and demonstration of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS).”

Oct 20/05: Raytheon announces that JLENS completed a successful system functional review (SFR) in late September 2005. This technical review is the last major milestone for the technology development acquisition phase of the program, and marks the readiness of the program to enter the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase.

The primary objective of the SFR was to ensure complete allocation of system level requirements to the system prime items. The two-day technical review included an overview of the JLENS system and in-depth reviews of each of the prime items, to include the fire control radar, surveillance radar, processing station, communication system, and platform.

During SDD, all hardware, software and logistics support required to deploy the system will be developed and will undergo extensive testing to ensure the system meets its requirements.

June 23/05: Raytheon Co. in Bedford, MA received a $79.5 million modification to a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for JLENS. Work will be performed in Bedford, MA and is expected to be complete by July 31, 2010. This was a sole source contract initiated on Dec. 29, 2004 by the US Defense Space and Missile Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001).

June 10/05: Sensors. FLIR Systems Inc. in Wilsonville, OR received the full delivery order amount of $32.9 million as part of a firm-fixed-price contract for FLIR Star SAFIRE sensors for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. Work will be performed in Wilsonville, OR and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2006. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 6, 2005 by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (W9113M-05-D-0002).

Note that this contract may actually be associated with the derivative RAID system. A subsequent award of this type made under this contract on Sept 26/06 refers explicitly to “StarSAFIRE Sensors for the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment System.”

Jan 30/98: H&R Co., a joint venture of Hughes Aircraft Co. and Raytheon Co. located in El Segundo, CA, won an $11.9 million increment as part of an estimated $292 million (if all options are exercised) cost reimbursement, cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-award-fee, and cost-plus-fixed-fee completion contract for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) Demonstration Program. This is something less than JLENS would eventually become, more like a prototype for what would eventually deploy as the smaller RAID system.

Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (44%); Bedford, MA (44%); Columbia, MD (10%); San Bernardino, CA (1.5%); and various locations in the United States (0.5%), and is expected to be complete by March 30, 2002. There were 3 bids solicited on June 27, 1997, and 3 bids were received by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001). The DefenseLINK release said that:

“The program has three primary objectives. The first is mitigation of the risk associated with the execution of the program; the second is design, development, procurement, fabrication, integration, test, demonstration, and maintenance of a system which meets the performance specification; and the third is to provide an operational “leave behind” system for user evaluation and for use in the event of a contingency deployment.”

Demo program

Additional Readings & Sources

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