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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 4 hours 55 min ago

First Glimpse of NG’s T-X Competitor Hits Twitter | Cali Woman Gets 4 Years in Fed Prison for Illegal Exports to China | Japan’s Defense Upgrades to Beef Up F-15J Fleet

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 23:58

  • The US Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) plan to equip unmanned, high-endurance, long-endurance aircraft with high-power electric lasers in order to shoot down ballistic missiles in their boost phase will see a proof of concept test between 2020-2021. It’s been reported that this fall, the agency plans to award contracts to two industry teams for preliminary design and fabrication of flying laser testbed aircraft beginning in 2018. One of the two teams is Lockheed Martin, who is rumored to be contemplating the use an unmanned version of the Cold War-era U-2 Dragon Lady as one of its potential platforms.

  • Pictures have surface on Twitter unveiling the first glimpse of Northrop Grumman’s offering in the USAF T-X competition. The trainer prototype, Model 400, was snapped on a runway in Mojave, California during a high speed taxi test, and sports a prominent, single vertical fin and a nose section similar to the T-38.

  • A court in Miami has sentenced a California woman to 4 years in federal prison after being convicted of illegally exporting US military gear to China. Wenxia Man said she colluded with a spy who specializes in copying foreign military equipment for the Chinese government. In June, a jury convicted Man of conspiring to export and actually exporting military equipment without the proper license, which involved engines used in F-35, F-16 and F-22 fighter jets as well as an MQ-9 Reaper UAV.

Middle East & North Africa

  • A deal has been struck between the Algerian government and Leonardo for the sale and home-made production of a number of the helicopters, including the AW101. The move is being viewed by analysts as a way of both increasing Algerian defensive capabilities and domestic job creation as well as potentially preventing an Arab Spring type event among its population’s youth. Algeria is all too familiar with security threats following a number of attacks on its oil and gas facilities by Jihadist militants in recent years; most notably 2013’s In Amenas hostage crisis, which left 39 foreign hostages, an Algerian worker, and 29 militants dead.


  • Nigeria is to import a number of Mi-35M attack helicopters and the UAE-made Yabhon Flash-20 UAV. The purchases will boost the government’s capabilities against the Jihadist insurgency of Boko Haram in the country’s north-east, as well as attacks against its Niger Delta oil installations in the south. Delivery of the hardware is expected to start arriving later this year and continue into 2017.

Asia Pacific

  • Incheon-class frigates operated by the South Korean Navy are to be armed with Haeseong II ship-to-surface cruise missiles. Six of the vessels have already been produced as part of the first batch with 18-24 planned in total. While Seoul had initially scheduled the missiles to be incorporated on all vessels from batch two onward, it was decided to retrofit the first six as well, with work scheduled to commence next month. To accommodate the new missiles, the ships will have angled canister launchers installed on their decks.

  • With a national-record breaking defense budget on the cards for Japan next year, upgrades to increase the country’s air-superiority capabilities are being rolled out by the government. With Japan’s F-35 deployment not due until the end of 2017, plans are underway to upgrade and upgun its current F-15J fleet. Among the changes are plans to double the number of air-to-air missiles the F-15J can carry to 16 as well as an expansion of the jet’s lifespan.

  • Plans to deliver Russian-made equipment to the Afghan Armed Forces has been delayed by India. The cause, a lack of spare parts for an Mi-25 helicopter. New Delhi has already transferred three of the attack helicopters to Kabul and has received pleas by some in the US military to increase its supply of Russian weapons and parts. An embargo imposed on Moscow has seriously hampered the availability and access to spare parts for Afghanistan, which operates a hodgepodge selection of various military vehicles.

Today’s Video

Iran unveils its indigenous Bavar-373 air-defense system:

Categories: News

Korea’s New Coastal Frigates: the FFX Incheon Class

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 23:55
FFX: Jeonbuk launch
(click to view full)

South Korea currently owns some of the world’s best and most advanced shipyards. That civilian strength is beginning to create military leverage, and recent years have seen the ROK take several steps toward fielding a true open-ocean, blue water navy. Their new KDX-II destroyers, KDX-III AEGIS destroyers, LPX amphibious assault ships, and KSS-I/KSS-II (U209/U214) submarines will give the nation more clout on the international stage, but what about the home front? North Korea’s gunboats have launched surprise attacks on the ROK Navy twice in the last decade, while its submarines continue to insert commandos in South Korean territory, and committed acts of war by sinking ROKN ships. To the west, Chinese fishing rights are a contentious issue that has led to the murder of a Korean Coast Guard official on the high seas.

Hence the Future Frigate Experimental (FFX) program. It aims to build upon lessons learned from ROK naval shipbuilding programs in the 1980s and 1990s, and replace 37 existing ships with a modern class of upgunned inshore patrol frigates. A contract to build the lead FFX frigate Incheon was issued in December 2008, and South Korea continues to work to define the program, including the forthcoming Batch II design.

The FFX Class, and its Predecessors The ROKN’s Existing Fleet Ulsan Class
(click to view full)

It’s easier to understand and critique the thinking behind FFX, if you look at what it will replace.

The ROKN’s 9 small 2,200 – 2,300 ton Ulsan Class frigates were built in South Korea, and commissioned from 1981-1993. They’re not designed to operate alone in high-threat areas, or to provide general fleet defense on the open seas. Instead, they’re designed to serve as high-end coastal patrol vessels with a mix of anti-air (RIM-7 Sea Sparrow), anti-ship (guns, RGM-84 Harpoon), and anti-submarine capabilities. They carry a crew of 150.

The ROKN’s 24 Pohang Class 1,220 ton patrol corvettes were commissioned from 1984-1993, and have no anti-air missile capabilities. They mount 76mm, 40mm, and 30mm guns like the Ulsan Class, and are divided into 4 anti-surface warfare versions with MBDA’s Exocet ant-ship missiles, but no sonar or torpedoes; and 20 anti-submarine versions with sonar and torpedoes, but no missiles. They carry a crew of 95.

ROKS Cheonan, sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010, was a Pohang Class ship.

Pohang Class
(click to view full)

The ROKN’s 4 low-end Dong Hae Class 1,000 ton patrol corvettes were commissioned from 1982-1983. they are armed with guns, sonar, and torpedoes, and also carry a crew of 95.

Bottom line? The Dong Hae Class are aging out of the water. The Pohang Class have shown that they can’t deal with North Korea’s subs, and have no air protection in waters that are more and more contested. The Ulsan Class can serve a while longer, but their equipment is outdated. Modern replacements are in order, and the threat’s challenges are pushing the ROKN toward an inshore corvette/frigate replacement that can carry higher-end equipment.

FFX: Batches and Key Improvements FFX combat system
(click to view larger)

In contrast to the older classes described above, the new FFX frigates will follow the modern pattern of stealthier ship designs with far better radars, sonars, and communications equipment. The new class is said to have accepted less radar stealth in the design, however, in order to keep ship costs down. That’s an acceptable tradeoff for an non-expeditionary inshore frigate.

The new frigates were expected to begin service in 2011, with the first 6 all built and delivered by 2015, but those dates have slipped. The first-of-class Incheon was launched in April 2011, but formal delivery to the ROKN didn’t happen until late 2012, and the ship wasn’t commissioned until 2013. The ROK Navy still intends to replace all ships in the Ulsan, Pohang, and Dong Hae classes by 2020. Overall construction will take place in at least 2 batches, and possibly 3.

FFX Batch I: The Incheon Class ROKS Incheon
(click to view full)

The 1st batch of 6 FFX Incheon Class frigates measure about 114m long by 14m wide, with an empty weight of 2,300 tons and a crew of 145-170 sailors. Hyundai Heavy Industries claims a cruising range of about 8,000 km, though that would require a cruising speed well below the ship’s claimed 30-knot maximum.

Each FFX Batch I frigate is said to cost around WON 250 billion ($232 million), and the ROKN plans to have Hyundai Heavy Industries build 6 of them. Ships include:

  • FFG-811, ROKS Incheon
  • FFG-812, Gyeonggi (scheduled Oct. 2014)
  • FFG-813, Jeonbuk (scheduled Dec. 2014)
  • FFG-814, Gangwon (scheduled late 2015)

Even the FFX Batch I ships boast a number of significant improvements over the current Ulsan Class; their firepower and versatility will provide a very considerable upgrade over the ROKN’s existing corvettes.

Sensors. FFX ships’ use of improved modern sonars via a Thales/STX partnership has become a particular focus of attention, as post-Cheonan assessments questioned the adequacy of anti-submarine detection systems on earlier-model ships. The built-in sonar will eventually be complemented by a towed sonar, and the current plan is to produce that towed array in South Korea.

Other sensors include a Thales Smart-S Mk2 radar, and passive long range “electro-optical” day/night cameras. A SamsungThales combat system will integrate the ship’s sensors and weapons.

(click to view full)

Weapons. FFX firepower improves sharply over past classes. The ships will carry BAE’s Mk45 MOD 4 5″/ 127mm gun for longer-range gunnery and amphibious support, RIM-116 RAM short-range missiles for killing missiles, aircraft and fast boats, and an embarked helicopter. Early reports also had the ships carrying a 30mm Thales Nederland “Goalkeeper” system like other South Korean combat vessels, to be used for last-ditch missile defense and small boat overkill. In the end, however, the FFX became the 1st Korean ship to carry Raytheon’s smaller and less structurally intrusive 20mm Phalanx Block 1B. Rheinmetall’s MASS decoy system and LiG Nex1’s SONATA electronic warfare system offer “soft kill” options.

Anti-ship missiles and light torpedoes will also be on board, as is the case with the current Ulsan Class. What’s new is that FFX’s Blue Shark (K745 Chungsangeo) torpedoes and 8 C-Star (Haeseong I) anti-ship missiles will both be Korean designs.

The ship’s hangar is large enough for smaller naval helicopters like South Korea’s Super Lynx 300s. A January 2013 contract indicates that the FFX frigates may eventually embark the next generation of Lynx helicopters: the AW159 Wildcat SCMR naval variant, with full anti-submarine capability that includes an advanced dipping sonar.

FFX Batch II SAAM concept
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Between 6-9 FFX Batch II ships are planned, to be built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. These ships may be slightly larger, and will include almost all of the same core systems onboard Batch I ships.

One exception is the engine. Instead of using a CODOG system, Batch II ships will be powered by a single 36-40MW MT30 turbine, and propulsion will be all-electric. Finmeccanica’s newly-developed Permanent Magnetic Motor hybrid-electric drive will offer the ships weight, space and power advantages over standard AIM drive technologies, and all of those advantages are especially valued in a small ship.

The other changes are tied to a 16-cell K-VLS Korean Vertical Launch System that will broaden the ships’ weapon array, lengthen their reach, and add a lot of flexibility. K-VLS will let the frigate add locally-designed SAAM medium-range air defense missiles in place of the Batch I’s short-range RAM, along with vertically launched anti-submarine missiles like Korea’s own Red Shark, and longer-range Haeseong-II cruise missiles. There’s enough room to add another 16-32 cells in Batch III.

Finally, a larger hangar will allow Batch II frigate to handle larger 10-ton helicopters, like KAI’s own naval Surion helicopter.

Contracts and Key Events 2015 – 2016

#6 launched with 20 scheduled to enter service by 2020.

August 23/16: Incheon-class frigates operated by the South Korean Navy are to be armed with Haeseong II ship-to-surface cruise missiles. Six of the vessels have already been produced as part of the first batch with 18-24 planned in total. While Seoul had initially scheduled the missiles to be incorporated on all vessels from batch two onward, it was decided to retrofit the first six as well, with work scheduled to commence next month. To accommodate the new missiles, the ships will have angled canister launchers installed on their decks.

August 13/15: #6 launched.The South Korean Navy has launched its sixth Incheon-class guided missile frigate. The Gwangju is the sixth vessel in a program of twenty new vessels scheduled to enter service by 2020. The new ship will undergo testing before deployment in 2016.

2013 – 2014

FFX #1 commissioned, #2-3 launched; FFX Batch II design unveiled; Long-term contract for Phalanx systems; AW159 helo picked for MH-X. Red Shark ASROC
(click to view larger)

Aug 12/14: #4 launched. The Gangwon Ham is launched at STX Offshore & Shipbuilding’s yard in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do. There’s a bit of numbering confusion somewhere, because photos show the number 815 painted on the side. That’s out of sequence, and the official MND release says:

“Rear Admiral Choi Yang-sun, the first deputy chief of staff for planning and management in the Navy Headquarters, named the next fourth frigate ‘Gangwon’ and assigned ‘814’ as the ship number through the denomination No.460.”

The ship is scheduled to be handed over to the ROKN in late 2015, and enter service in 2016. Sources: ROK MND: “The next FFG, ‘Gangwon Ham,’ a powerful ship for safer Korean territorial waters”.

June 9/14: Urgency rises. North Korea is showing movies of new anti-ship missiles mounted on and fired from its military ships, and has also placed the new missile “among the country’s closely guarded submarines, which were also featured for the first time.” The missile sure looks like the Russian SS-N-25/ Kh-35, or a copy, and South Korea is taking the reports seriously enough that:

“Military authorities here are reportedly trying to find out where the North bought the Kh-35 missiles, on the assumption that it was clandestinely imported from a third country like Burma.”

North Korea’s willingness to attack South Korea, including the deliberate sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, makes the use of more advanced and longer-range Kh-35 missiles a potential issue for ROKN ships operating near the border. The Pohang Class was already defenseless against the KPANF’s 1950s-era SS-N-2 Styx missiles, but Kh-35s would outclass the Ulsan Class’ RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles as well, while allowing North Korean ships greater standoff firing distance. That could create pressure for more FFX ships, and/or acceleration of the FFX Batch II program. The Incheon Class’ RAM missile systems are an adequate point defense countermeasure, but only FFX Batch II ships and larger ROKN destroyers will offer an air defense umbrella that lets other patrol vessels nearby operate with confidence.

The good news is that North Korea has few naval platforms that are suitable for these missiles, and with respect to submarines, there’s a reason the videos were limited to placing a missile nearby. The KPANF’s 370t Sang-O and 130t Yono boats are unlikely candidates as missile subs. Ditto the ancient Romeo Class boats in service, unless they’ve been given significant Chinese or Russian upgrades – but Kim Jong-Un recently executed the most senior individual pushing for closer ties with China. Sources: Chosun Ilbo, “New N.Korean Anti-Ship Missiles Threaten Older Patrol Boats”.

May 26/14: Weapons. South Korea has been working to resolve problems with its vertically-launched “Red Shark” (Hongsangeo) rocket-boosted torpedoes since a formal complaint was filed in July 2012. They’ve just finished their 3rd consecutive successful test, which has led DAPA to resume production.

The ASROC-type weapons have been deployed on ROKN destroyers thus far, but FFX Batch II ships are also expected to include them. Sources: Yonhap, “S. Korea to resume production of homegrown torpedo after quality improvement”.

March 19/14: Sub-contractors. DRS Technologies Inc. announces a $9 million sub-contract from Korea’s Hyosung Corporation to design and produce FFX Batch II’s Hybrid Electric Drive propulsion system based on permanent magnet synchronous motor (PMM) technology The first ship-set is supposed to be delivered in 2015.

The equipment in question has a naval lineage that traces back to the USA’s DD-X/ DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class destroyer, whose Integrated Power Systems were initially set to be powered by DRS’ PMM technology. When PMM development took longer than expected, the ships switched to Alstom’s maritime standard Advanced Induction Motors (AIM) to help stay on schedule. DRS continued to develop their PMM technology, which is lighter, smaller, and produces much more power than AIM. They wound up being too late for use in the Zumwalt Class, but FFX Batch II will also use the MT30 turbine, so DRS’ past work is still valuable. This export foothold is a promising step for DRS, if the technology performs reliably. Sources: Finmeccanica’s DRS, “DRS Technologies Awarded Contract to Supply Its Hybrid Electric Drive System to Korean Navy’s New Class of Frigates”.

Feb 24/14: Weapons. Raytheon announces a $123 million Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) contract to deliver 9 Phalanx Block 1B 20mm Close-In Weapon Systems for installation aboard the ROK Navy’s 6 FFX Batch IIs, and aboard the AOE II successors to their 3 Cheonji Class supply ships. Phalanx deliveries will begin in 2016, and are scheduled to be complete in 2022.

DCS contracts are subject to different announcement rules than Foreign Military Sale contracts, and are managed directly by the buyer instead of by a US military surrogate. This is Raytheon’s largest DCS contract for Phalanx systems, and it was actually signed in Summer 2013. Sources: Raytheon, “Raytheon awarded $123 million Phalanx contract from Republic of Korea”.

Nov 13/13: #3 launched. Hyundai Heavy Industries holds a launch ceremony for Jeonbuk, the 3rd Incheon Class frigate. Sources: Portnews, “Hyundai Heavy launches new frigate.”

Oct 19/13: Batch II. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering unveils their FFX Batch II design, during a festival celebrating the 63rd anniversary festival of the Incheon amphibious landing that changed allied fortunes in the Korean War. Key changes include:

  • 16 K-VLS vertical launch cells for Haeseong I/II cruise missiles and Red Shark ASROC torpedoes.
  • The Batch I’s RAM short-range air defense missile launcher will be removed, in favor of a local medium-range SAAM system under development by LIG Nex1.
  • A hangar big enough for a 10-ton helicopter like the Surion naval variant or MH-60 Seahawk.
  • All-electric propulsion system to go with the ship’s extremely powerful (36-40MW) MT30 turbine, which replaces the previous CODOG arrangement.

FFX Batch II unveiled

March 3/13: Philippines. The Philippines has decided not to buy second-hand Italian Maestrale frigates from the 1980s, and will pursue 2 new frigates instead. That will be a major acquisition given their budgets, and they’re reportedly talking to South Korea about the Incheon Class as an option.

South Korea is building a broader defense relationship with the Philippines, and is in advanced stage negotiations to renew the PAF with KAI’s TA-50 light fighter. PNA via Defense Studies.

Jan 17/13: ROKS Incheon. The ROKN commissions ROKS Incheon [FFG-811], the first-of-class FFX Batch I frigate. Hyundai Heavy Industries will build 5 more FFX Batch I vessels under current plans, and the next 2 are scheduled to launch in mid-2013. Navy Recognition.

FFX #1 commissioned

Jan 16/13: AW159. South Korea picks AgustaWestland’s naval AW159 for its MH-X competition, with a planned initial buy of 8 helicopters. They will complement an existing fleet of 24 Super Lynx naval helicopters, and the ROKN’s new AW159s will have the full complement of dipping sonar, AESA radar, surveillance & targeting turret, rescue hoist, provision for anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, door gun, etc.

These helicopters will arrive from 2015-2016, and could serve aboard the new Incheon Class. As the FFX ships are built and fielded, follow-on buys become likely. Read “AW159 Wildcat: The Future Lynx Helicopter Program” for full coverage.

AW159 Helo picked

2010 – 2012

Contracts for Batch I ships 2-3; Initial ship launched; RAM/Phalanx picked; MT30 engine for FFX Batch II; Pohang Class ROKS Cheonan sunk. Incheon launch
(click to view larger)

June 26/12: MT30 for Batch II. Rolls-Royce announces that its MT30 gas turbine has been picked to power the FFX Batch II frigates, which Rolls Royce touts as the first frigate to feature the MT30.

The decision also includes a contract to supply an engine for the 1st Batch II ship. Rolls Royce will build and test the engine, then ship it to Korea, where Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) will integrate it into the steel enclosure which also houses the air inlets, exhausts and ancillary equipment. Shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) will install the enclosure in the ship.

The MT30 is the world’s most powerful marine gas turbine, delivering 36-40 MW, and The FFX Batch II frigates will use just 1 MT30, instead of carrying 2 turbines like most other frigates. This arrangement is similar to Lockheed Martin’s frigate-sized Littoral Combat Ship, but the MT30’s other platforms are revealing: the battlecruiser-sized DDG-1000 “destroyers,” and Britain’s CVF Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

Sept 12/11: Weapons. Raytheon signs a $65.5 million Direct Commercial Sale contract to deliver 5 Phalanx Block 1B Close-In Weapon Systems to the Republic of Korea Navy for the new FFX Batch I ships. The contract calls for the systems to be installed starting in April 2013, and represents Phalanx’s largest sale to the ROK fleet. Raytheon.

April 29/11: FFX-1 launch. Shipbuilder builder Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. in Ulsan launches the 1st FFX Batch I frigate: the 2,300-ton (empty) FFG-811 Incheon. Hyundai HI | Korea Herald.

April 11/11: Weapons. Raytheon announces that it has delivered the 1st 20mm Phalanx Block 1B Close-In Weapon System to the Republic of Korea Navy, representing the Phalanx’s introduction into the ROK fleet. The direct commercial sale calls for the Phalanx Block 1B system to be installed on the lead FFX frigate in 2011.

Raytheon expects to sign another contract with South Korea for an additional 5 Phalanx systems in the near future. The Phalanx has some small-ship advantages over Thales 30mm Goalkeeper, as it can be installed as a simple bolt-on.

March 29/11: Unconfirmed report that the lead FFX ship will be named ROKS KyungGi, and is expected to be launched in late April 2011. The date turns out to be right, but not the name. World Armed Forces Forum.

Sept 29/10: Ships #2-3. A spokesman from the ROK’s Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) tells Jane’s that Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has been selected to construct the 2nd and 3rd Ulsan-I class FFX frigates. A contract to build the 2 ships, estimated to be valued at around $600 million, is scheduled to be signed by the end of 2010, with deliveries from 2014. Jane’s.

Contract: ships #2-3

June 6/10: RAM & Phalanx picked. The Korea Times reports that Raytheon has beaten Thales Nederland and MBDA to supply the FFX frigates’ air defense weapons. Its RAM Rolling Airframe Missile reportedly beat MBDA’s VL-MICA (a surprise mention, as the Crotale NG/Mk3 is a closer analog, whose land variant is already in service with the ROK Army), while Raytheon’s 20mm Phalanx system was picked over the 30mm Goalkeeper system that equips other Korean ships.

A DAPA spokesman told the paper that the Phalanx CIWS contract was signed in May, while negotiations remained in progress for the RAM system. DAPA hopes to finalize that by July, and other DAPA sources are quoted as giving the Phalanx system an $11 million price tag, and the RAM system about $17 million.

March 26/10: ROKS Cheonan The Pohang Class corvette ROKS Cheonan is attacked and sinks, killing 46 of the 104 crew members. Subsequent investigation shows that it was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, fired from a submarine with what was apparently complete surprise.

The attack causes South Korea to re-evaluate its defense plans. The FFX project may end up receiving a boost, at the expense of high-end ships like the KDX-III AEGIS destroyers. Wikipedia re: Cheonan | Chosun Ilbo | JoongAng Daily | NY Times || ROK ambassador to US CSIS presentation [PDF] | Korea JoongAng Daily re: force rethink.

ROKS Cheonan attacked & sunk

2007 – 2009

Initial ship ordered.

Oct/Nov 2009: Sub-contractors. Marine Propulsion reports that:

“Degaussing systems from SAM Electronics of Germany are specified for the Korean Navy’s new FFX-class multi-purpose frigates, starting with the lead-ship due next year. The order maintains a 30-year relationship forged when one of SAM’s predecessors, AEG-Schiffbau, secured a contract to deliver such systems to the first-generation Ulsan-class light frigates built in Korea…”

Degaussing systems are used to help remove magnetism from a ship’s hull. Without them, the ship becomes a lot more vulnerable to weapons like naval mines.

July 20/09: The Korea Times reports that their Navy plans to establish a strategic mobile fleet of 2 destroyer-led squadrons by February 2010, in a bid to develop blue-water operational capability beyond coastal defense against a North Korean invasion.

Each mobile squadron would initially consist of a KDX-III Aegis destroyer, 3 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers, and maritime aircraft. That would be augmented by submarines and smaller ships like the FFX frigates, once a forward naval base is finished on the southern island of Jeju, around 2014.

March 18/09: Jane’s reports that South Korea’s DAPA procurement agency has re-issued a tender for the FFX’s tactical air navigation (TACAN) systems, after just one potential vendor submitted a bid. That triggered a DAPA rule forcing the re-issue.

Dec 26/08: Ship #1. Hyundai Heavy Industries signs a WON 140 billion (about $106.5 million) contract to build the lead ship of the South Korean Navy’s new FFX frigate class. It is not clear whether this is a complete contract, a contract for the ship minus “government furnished equipment” like weapons, or a partial award.

Hyundai had been in charge of the basic FFX design. There had been rumors that Korea was considering the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile for medium-range air defense, to be mounted in a vertical launching system that could also host anti-submarine rockets and add new weapons over time. While the ships’ planned 4,550 nautical mile operating range might make that idea attractive, the South Korean Navy appears to have decided to contain costs, and stick to its original mission of coastal defense. Korea Times sources indicate that the new ships will not have vertical launchers. The Korea Times | Your Shipbuilding News.

Contract: Ship #1

Feb 5/07: Sensors. Thales Underwater Systems announces a contract from Korea’s STX Engine CO Ltd, for industrial cooperation aiming at the full scale development of a new Hull Mounted Sonar (HMS) for the FFX frigate program. The sonar will be based on current Thales off-the-shelf products, and final contract completion is expected in 2009.

Additional Readings FFX & Its Predecessors

FFX: Ancillaries

News & Views

Categories: News

LM Handed $10B Deal on C-130J Super Hercules | Kalashnikov Opens Store at Moscow Airport | Japan’s MoD Looks to Increase Defense Budget

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 23:53

  • The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has scheduled the testing of the SM-3 Block 2A ballistic missile defense interceptor this October. A joint development involving both the MDA and Japan, the interceptor has been previously flight tested twice by the agency without any target intercepts initially planned. October’s test will see it engage and destroy a medium-range ballistic missile target. If successful, the SM-3 will be in full-rate production in 2017.

  • Contractors aiming to secure deals in relation to the Navy’s MQ-25A program have been given vague hints at what the service is expecting. Hopefuls looking to secure a slice of the action have been told they need to get that “sweet spot” between supporting mission tanking and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Born out of the scrapped Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) program, the MQ-25 Stingray looks to include higher endurance for ISR capabilities in addition to just refueling. A lot of food for thought for those looking to get involved, but at least the initial “stealth tanker” concept has been shelved, for now.

  • Chemical and biological contamination testing is one of the few remaining tasks left to be ticked off on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter before certification for full-rate production. In order to do this, a decontamination system and facility has been constructed at Edwards Air Force Base in California and an F-35A attached to the 461st Flight Test Squadron will be the lucky volunteer. The late August tests will see the fighter (modified to be able to collect test data) contaminated several times and towed into the decontamination facility to see if it can be cleaned of chemical or biological weapons exposure.

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


  • Surplus military vehicles have made their way to the Lithuanian armed forces over the last six months through a bilateral defense agreement with the Netherlands. The influx comes as part of a $7.89 million deal, which is providing a phased delivery of vehicles and equipment to bulk up Lithuania’s Baltic Fleet. Lithuania, alongside neighbors Estonia, Latvia and Poland are playing host to a four-battalion NATO force sent to provide a deterrent to any further Russian expansionism. Moscow, on the other hand, sees their presence so close to its own borders as inflammatory and expansionist in its own right.

  • Flying from Moscow and need a last minute gift for a friend on the other side? Well alongside the usual airport fare of fridge magnets and duty-free vodka, Sheremetyevo airport now has its very own Kalashnikov store. Known across the world for the being the father of the infamous AK-47, the company has set up shop selling all things AK including pens, umbrellas, bags, hats, camouflage gear and “I love AK” T-shirts. Model guns are also available, but we’ve been assured that they don’t pose any security problems. Kalashnakov: looking to saturate its wares in the retail market as well as on the battlefield.

Asia Pacific

  • Japan’s ministry of defense is to request some $51 billion for its 2017 budget, a new record. The request comes as the government of Shinzo Abe further angles toward increasing the country’s military prowess and rewriting the constitution to remove a pacifist clause imposed on its armed forces at the end of the Second World War. An increasingly daring Chinese military has been a cause for worry for many of its neighbors, all of whom are currently rushing to modernize their naval and air capabilities with US and European hardware. If the funds are secured, Tokyo plans to funnel a portion of the money to its joint development of the new SM-3 Block 2A interceptor and upgrade its F-15 fighters.

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

Today’s Video

Russian Su-34s leaving for missions in Syria from Iran for the first time:

Categories: News

USAF Taps Gen Atomics for $370.9M Add’l MQ-9 Reapers | LM & Raytheon Submit for Potential Patriot Replacement | Elbit Launches Maritime Variant of Skylark C

Thu, 08/18/2016 - 23:58

  • General Atomics is to provide 30 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the USAF. The $370.9 million contract will be completed by May 31, 2019.

  • Norwegian missile manufacturer Kongsberg has chosen Raytheon to produce launchers for its (NSM) in the USA. The duo are offering the system for use on the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships. Final assembly, integration and testing of the NSM will also be undertaken by Raytheon.

  • Both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have submitted offers for upgraded integrated air-and-missile defense radar concepts as the US Army decides on its eventual Patriot system replacement. The service was initially planning to integrate the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), but this was ultimately shelved. As a result, the request for fresh radar concepts may prove a progressive first step in deciding whether to upgrade Patriot or go for something new.

  • The assembly hanger for the T-50A is up and running according to the trainer’s manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Situated at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), the 38,000 square foot Hanger 11 underwent a three month retrofit after previously playing host to modifications on P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules aircraft. Assembly of the T-50A will commence with the supply of parts fabricated by South Korea partner KAI and is being offered as part of the USAF’s Advanced Pilot Training program.

Middle East North Africa

  • Elbit Systems has launched a maritime variant of its Skylark I Mini UAV. Dubbed Skylark C, the new system offers the extended operational capabilities of its land-based counterpart and provides the ability to inspect maritime activities from a safe distance, observe targets, perform reconnaissance over coastal areas, and perform continuous covert surveillance. Those standing to benefit from this latest offering include special forces and other small-scale naval crews.

  • Italy has confirmed that it has sent special forces to Libya. They now join British forces already present in Libya, training militias to tackle Islamist forces connected to the Islamic State. Italy is one of the first European countries feeling the effects coming from the current turmoil unfolding in Libya, with the ongoing lawlessness fueling a smuggling trade and a steady flow of migrants and refugees toward Europe.


  • The UK is to exercise its option to acquire one more Airbus Zephyr S lightweight solar-powered UAV. This adds to the two already ordered in February of this year and will be ready for flight trials in the summer of 2017. Zephyrs are capable of sustaining flight at 65,000ft for days at a time providing surveillance.

Asia Pacific

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

Today’s Video

KC-46 tanker refueling mission:

Categories: News

The Larks, Still Bravely Singing, Fly… Elbit’s Skylark UAVs

Thu, 08/18/2016 - 23:52
Skylark-I launch
(click to view full)

Elbit’s Skylark-I mini-UAV has become a popular choice for portable “over the hill” surveillance, as nations like Israel, Australia, Canada, France, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, et. al. adopt it for battlefield use. Bental’s electric propulsion system using brushless permanent magnetic motors is an especial benefit to Skylark operators, as its silent operation avoids warning enemy targets of its presence.

In an effort to build on that success, Elbit soon introduced the larger Skylark-II for battalion level UAV operations, fired from a rail launcher mounted on small wheeled vehicles rather than launched by hand. In exchange for the launcher requirement and a doubling of the crew size to 2, the Skylark-II gains a mission radius of 50-60 km instead of 10 km, and the ability to mount larger sensor packages. Awards soon followed from sources as varied as Popular Science and industry analysts Frost & Sullivan – but awards don’t pay the bills. Fortunately, orders have followed.

The UAVs Skylark-I Concept
(click to view full)

Skylark I comes in 2 versions. The standard Skylark I is launched by hand, and flies below 1,000 feet for up to 1.5 hours, with a mission range of 10 km/ 6 miles. Each “system” comprises 3 UAVs, 2 surveillance and targeting payloads, a ground station, an operating console and a communications link. Skylark I competes in the mini-UAV market, and remains a serious international competitor to Aerovironment’s popular RQ-11B Raven.

The new Skylark I-LE (long endurance) increases flight time from 1.5 hours to 3 hours, with a mission range “greater than 15 km.” It can carry the same payloads etc. as Skylark I, usually Controp’s D-STAMP or the new uncooled U-STAMP infrared payload.

The LE Block 2 swaps in a new engine and power system, and touts the performance of a Day/Night sensor payload – which is probably Controp’s M-STAMP.

Skylark-II launch
(click to view full)

The larger Skylark II cannot be launched by hand, like its counterparts; it must use a rail launcher instead. The launcher is usually towed by a small wheeled vehicle, and requires 2 crew to operate. The UAV can fly at medium altitudes, with a flight time of around 6 hours, a mission radius of 50-60 km/ 30-36 miles, and larger sensor packages on board. Skylark II competes in the lower tier of the conventional UAV market, alongside models like Boeing’s ScanEagle/ Integrator, Textron AAI’s RQ-7 Shadow, Aeronautics’ Aerostar, IAI’s Searcher, etc.

Its standard mission package is a Micro-CoMPASS turret with a day sensor, cooled infrared night sensor, and a laser illuminator and tracker. An advanced digital communication system from Tadiran Spectralink rounds out its capabilities. Israeli forces will soon be swapping in Controp’s TD STAMP surveillance turret.

There’s also a Skylark II-LE, which could become the standard Skylark II export offering. It moves the engine to the rear, alters the fuselage, and adds a new tail configuration. Endurance has more than doubled to over 15 hours, and with its new datalink, it can operate out to 150 km. This will give it the ability to compete with popular offerings like Boeing’s ScanEagle.

Contracts & Key Events

Note that some sales may not be publicized, or may not be detailed, as is often the case with purchases from Israel. Reports of Skylark buys for Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, and Slovakia have been rumored, but they aren’t reproduced here for lack of confirmation. Israel has also made large sales to countries like Azerbaijan and Georgia, but those sales have not been detailed, so it’s hard to tell if Skylarks have been part of the package.

2015 – 2016

Skylark I-LE Block 2
(click to view full)

August 19/16: Elbit Systems has launched a maritime variant of its Skylark I Mini UAV. Dubbed Skylark C, the new system offers the extended operational capabilities of its land-based counterpart and provides the ability to inspect maritime activities from a safe distance, observe targets, perform reconnaissance over coastal areas, and perform continuous covert surveillance. Those standing to benefit from this latest offering include special forces and other small-scale naval crews.

November 18/15: Uruguay has expressed an interest in purchasing a number of the Elbit Skylark I UAV after watching them being deployed by the Israeli Defence Forces. The UAV has been deployed extensively by the IDF at battalion-level system in support of artillery units and is operational in many militaries worldwide including Australia, Sweden and Canada. Uruguay would deploy the UAV in order to monitor areas which may potentially host terrorist threats. In August of this year, the Al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas captured one of the drones after it fell into the Gaza Strip. They claimed to have been able to make its services operational after checking it wasn’t booby trapped.

2012 – 2013

American SUAS ‘win’; Israeli Upgrades; I-LE Block 2 introduced;

Jan 3/13: SUAS 2013-2017. U.S. Army Contracting Command in Natick, MA awards a 5-year, $248 million multiple-vendor fixed-price Small UAS contract. From

“The Army currently has fielded 1,798 RQ-11B systems and 325 RQ-20A systems and has a requirement to sustain and maintain this existing fleet. The Army has met 92% of the RQ-11B Army Acquisition Objective (AAO), and has met 83% of the anticipated need for RQ-20A (required by USFOR-A-issued JUONS). Additionally, the current [DID: RQ-11B & RQ-20A] fleet has pre-planned spiral upgrades such as the Gimbal payload, which will be competed and retrofitted under this effort. The need exists to complete the AAO; maintain, sustain and upgrade the fleet; and procure future SUAS Systems as required by DoD, Other Government Agencies (OGA) and foreign countries.”

Vendors will compete for each order, and work can include full Unmanned Aerial Systems, upgrades, testing, packaging, marking, and storage and shipping. Work location will be determined with each order, and the contract runs until Dec 20/17. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 5 bids received. All 5 qualified to compete:

  • RQ-11B Raven & RQ-20A Puma: AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia, CA (W911QY-13-D-0073). Obviously, they’re in a strong position for fleet upgrades at least, as well as for additional UAVs.

  • NOVA Block III: Altavian in Gainesville, FL (W911QY-13-D-0074). They’re not a household name, but their air/land UAV is working with the USACE (Army Corps of Engineers). They partner with ISR Group Inc. in Savannah, TN for support and service.

  • Skylark I-LE Block 2: Elbit Systems of America LLC in Fort Worth, TX (W911QY-13-D-0075).

  • Skystinger, and others: Innovative Automation Technologies LLC in Gainesville, FL (W911QY-13-D-0076). Skystinger is more like the RQ-11 Raven, while their AXO is closer to the RQ-20 Puma. Note that The Skystinger is the only UAS that IAT could confirm, but they did say there was more than 1 UAS offered.

  • Desert Hawk III: Lockheed Martin Corporation, Owego, NY (W911QY-13-D-0077). The Desert Hawk has been successfully used on the front lines by British forces.

The AECV contract expires in 2013, so this appears to be the follow-on. See also: AeroVironment | Elbit Systems | Gainesville Sun.

SUAS multi-vendor

Dec 13/12: Israel. Israel’s Artillery Corps already employs Skylark I-LE UAVs within its “Sky Rider” unit. The unit is upgrading to the Skylark I-LE Block 2, with the “Version 10” operating system and new communications links. Artillery units are getting a new “Tamoon” command and control system, and the new UAVs will be compatible with Tamoon and with the Army-wide DAP (Digital Army Program). Once the UAV is attached to the DAP, Sky Rider Commander, Lt. Col. Uri Gonen says that battalion commanders will be able to pinpoint a UAV’s location on their screens, and determine the area it is observing.

The Artillery Corps is also looking at a brigade-level UAV, and has held some initial trials. That might be an opportunity for the Skylark II-LE, but there are a number of other UAVs within Israel that could compete for this role. This is Israel, so they expect the winning UAV to be in the field within 18 months. Source: Ba’Machane (official IDF magazine), via Elbit Systems. Note that the translation here is “Sky Rider,” not Sky Raider.”

Aug 2/12: I-LE block II. Elbit Systems announces that it will showcase the new Skylark I-LE Block II at this month’s AUVSI conference in Las Vegas, NV. The new UAV can be built in the USA, and adds a new engine and power system, plus an improved day/night sensor turret.

June 11/12: Sweden. AeroVironment announces that they’ve won Sweden’s competition, and will supply 12 SUAS systems in a mix of RQ-20A Puma AE and Wasp III air vehicles, plus a set of common ground stations, training, and logistics support. Contract options could increase the buy to a total of 30 systems. The firm adds a roundup of foreign RQ-11 Raven, RQ-20 Puma, and Wasp customers, which demonstrates why they’re Elbit’s top competitor:

“In addition to Sweden, other international governments that have purchased AeroVironment small UAS include Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.”

Swedish loss

May 23/12: Airbag issues. Flight International:

“Israel Defense Forces confirms that operations of the mini-unmanned aerial vehicle have been halted until further notice, pending the completion of work to determine what caused its airbag to be deployed in flight several times during recent weeks… Flights… will resume immediately after the issue has been resolved, with the aircraft mainly used by artillery units to provide an “over-the-hill” intelligence capability.”

2008 – 2011

Wins in Israel, France; Canada goes another way; Skylark I-LE introduced. Skylark-I LE
(click to view full)

Dec 13/11: Sweden. Sweden bought 6 Skylark UAV systems in 2007, but it’s looking to replace them with a follow-on buy. Their FMV is reportedly looking to buy a 2-tier system with ranges of 10 and 20 km, respectively, plus associated common ground control stations.

That could open the door to a buy of Skylark 1LE and Skylark II UAVs, but it also introduces new competitors into the mix. Shephard Media.

Dec 1/11: The UAS Dynamics joint venture ends, as Elbit Systems USA buys General Dynamics’ share. It was marketing Elbit’s Skylark I/II, Hermes 90, and Hermes 450 UAVs in the USA. Elbit Systems.

UAS Dynamics

Dec 20/10: Elbit Systems Ltd. announces a $16 million contract from the Polish Ministry of National Defense to supply a testing set of mobile multi-sensor monitoring and surveillance systems for Poland’s Rosomak, a variant of Patria’s 8×8 AMV wheeled Armored Personnel Carrier. The systems include Skylark UAV integration. Read “Poland & Elbit to Cooperate on Rosomak APC Surveillance Upgrade” for more.


Aug 3/10: Canada. Canada, previously a Skylark customer, buys [PDF] 5 of Prioria Robotics Maveric mini-UAV systems for use in Afghanistan. See also Nov 19/06 entry.

March 8/10: France. France’s DGA delivers Skylark I and Wasp-III mini-UAVs to French Special Forces, less than 3 months after contracts were signed for Elbit Systems’ Skylark (Oct 18/09) and Aerovironment’s Wasp-III (Nov 4/09), following verification and testing.

The DGA says that the Skylark delivery completes a set, following earlier DGA deliveries in 2008 and 2009. The Wasp-IIIs, on the other hand, will be entering an operational evaluation phase to assess their future value. DGA [in French].

Jan 26/09: Israel. Elbit Systems issues a clarifying release [PDF], adding that that the Israeli “Sky Raider” contract is worth approximately $40 million.

Dec 16/08: Skylark I. Elbit systems announces that Israel’s Defense Ministry has picked the Skylark I-LE to fill the battalion-level “Sky Raider” IDF tender. The IDF has been operating Skylark Is since 2005, but this purchase will supply mini-UAVs for all IDF Ground Forces battalions, including training and logistics support battalions. When the non-linear battlefield makes front lines irrelevant, and your country is 15 km wide at its narrowest point, that’s a smart decision.

Defense Update reports that the IDF intends to buy up to 100 systems at an estimated cost of $50 million, and Flight International states that options could raise the deal’s value to $100 million equivalent. Each system comprises 3 UAVs, 2 U-STAMP uncooled surveillance and targeting payloads developed by Controp, plus a ground station, an operating console and a communications link.

Elbit’s Skylark I LE had to compete with several Israeli UAVs, owing to the country’s strength in that sector. Competing options included IAI’s Bird’s Eye 400/600; Aeronautics Defence Systems Ltd’s Orbiter, which has won some export success; RAFAEL’s shoulder-launched Skylite A and the larger 2-man Skylite B; and Top I Vision/Rotem’s Casper 250.

Note that Defense Update and Flight International have different accounts regarding the competitors and deal value. While DID respects Flight International, Defense Update has earned its reputation as the top source for developments in Israel. Elbit Systems release | Defense Update | Flight International.

Israel’s Sky Rider artillery UAV program

Sept 1/08: Skylark I. Elbit Systems Ltd. announces [PDF] a contract to supply Hermes 450 and Skylark 1 UAV systems to “a country in the Americas” for the total of approximately $25 million. All UAVs are to be delivered within a year.

New information points to Mexico as the customer, with 2 complete Hermes 450 systems and a complete Skylark system.


Skylark-I, ADF in Iraq
(click to view full)

Aug 3/08: Skylark I. Australia places its 3rd Skylark I mini-UAV order, valued at “several million dollars.” Elbit informs DID that these are standard Skylark Is, not the new Skylark I-LE model.

Australia is also working with Boeing to lease ScanEagle UAV services as its mid-tier solution, instead of the canceled Project JP129 Elbit Systems release [PDF].

3rd Aussie order

June 18/08: Upgrades. UV-Online reports that Elbit has made significant changes to its line of Skylark UAVs:

“Meanwhile the work on the company’s Skylark UAVs has vastly improved the performance of both the Skylark I and II. The company has changed some of the elements of the airframe structure, integrated a new battery and looked at power management. According to officials the new Skylark I-Long Endurance (LE) and Skylark-II LE can now stay aloft a lot longer.

The Skylark I-LE has doubled its endurance from 90 minutes to three hours with a mission range greater than 15km. The Skylark II-LE is almost completely a new system in its outward image with a much changed aerostructure. The engine has bee moved to the rear, the fuselage has been altered and there is also a new tail configuration. The endurance has more than doubled to over 15 hours and with a new datalink it can operate out to 150km.”

March 24/08: Skylark I. Elbit Systems Ltd. announces [PDF format] that it has won “a tender involving 10 of the leading UAV manufacturers worldwide,” and will supply Skylark I UAV systems to France’s Special Forces. This contract marks Elbit Systems’ first UAV contract with France.


2005 – 2006

Wins in Australia, Canada, South Korea; Problems with Canadian UAVs; Skylark II introduced. Skylark II concept
(click to view full)

Dec 17/07: Skylark II. Elbit System announces that the Skylark-II has been selected by the South Korean military as their “preferred solution” in ” a tender involving extensive technical tests and including UAV manufacturers from all over the world.” The first phase of the contract includes one comprehensive Skylark® II system. Additional systems are expected in the future.

The UAVs will be equipped with their standard-issue payload: Elbit subsidiary Elop’s advanced 8″ Micro-CoMPASS turret with a day sensor, cooled night sensor, laser illuminator and tracker; and an advanced digital communication system from Tadiran Spectralink, which is about to be wholly merged [PDF] into Elbit Systems. Elbit release.

South Korea

June 17/07: Recognition. Elbit Systems Ltd. announces that business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan has presented them with a “Best Innovative Product Award” for 2007 in the Aviation & Defense Category, for their Skylark-II. It is praised for bringing the capabilities of more expensive UAVs to a smaller and cheaper vehicle. Philadelphia Examiner | Israel Times.

Nov 19/06: Skylark I. Israel’s Globes business daily relays a Flight International report re: Canadian experiences with the Skylark I in Afghanistan:

“The British weekly quotes a technical director in the Canadian Army interim small UAV programme, Captain Rob Sanders as saying, “Most of them aren’t flying in Afghanistan. For some reason, in some parts of the country it will fly great, or today it will fly. The same one, at a separate time tonight, won’t fly. So they have grounded them all trying to figure out what is going on. We are sending a couple of specialists over there to sort that out.”

Despite requests, Elbit declines to provide updates concerning the resolution of this problem. On April 6/09, Boeing subsidiary Insitu receives an award to provide “small unmanned aerial vehicle (SUAV) services” to support the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere, using its ScanEagle UAV.

Canada problems, loss

Nov 8/06: Recognition. Elbit Systems Ltd. announces [PDF | HTML via Shepherd] that its Skylark II UAV has received a “2006 Best of What’s New” Award from Popular Science Magazine in the Aviation and Space category. If you haven’t heard of this feature before, the magazine explains:

“Each year, the editors of Popular Science review thousands of new products in search of the top 100 tech innovations of the year; breakthrough products and technologies that represent a significant leap in their categories. The winners – the Best of What’s New – are awarded inclusion in the much-anticipated December issue of Popular Science, the most widely read issue of the year since the debut of Best of What’s New in 1987. Best of What’s New awards are presented to 100 new products and technologies in 10 categories: Automotive, Aviation & Space, Computing, Engineering, Gadgets, General Innovation, Home Entertainment, Home Tech, Personal Health and Recreation.”

Oct 3/06: Skylark I. Canada joins Australia in choosing Elbit’s Skylark. The UAV was first ordered on a temporary basis, as part of the $200 million set of emergency purchases for Operation Archer in November 2005.

It was picked more formally as Canada’s future mini-UAV in October 2006, following a competition that reportedly included IAI’s I-View 50 with its unique parafoil landing system, and Boeing’s larger ScanEagle UAV. Thales Canada will act as the prime contractor.


June 13/06: Skylark II. Elbit Systems formally introduces the Skylark II “close range class tactical UAV system.” Release.

Skylark II

Nov 3/05: Skylark I. Australia chose Elbit’s Skylark as its mini-UAV, to complement Israel Aerospace Industries’ larger I-View 250 and some Boeing ScanEagles used at battalion and brigade levels.


Additional Readings

Categories: News

MQ-9 Reaper: Unfettered for Export

Thu, 08/18/2016 - 23:45
Reaper, ready…
(click to view full)

The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).

The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…

The MQ-9 Reaper, and its Little Brothers MQ-1 landing –
1 Hellfire fired?
(click to view full)

The MQ-9 Reaper was once called “Predator B,” but it is only loosely based on the famous MQ-1 Predator drone. The Reaper is 36 feet long, with a 66 foot wingspan that can be modified to 88 feet. Its maximum gross takeoff weight is a whopping 10,500 pounds, carrying up to 4,000 pounds of fuel, 850 pounds of internal/ sensor payload, and another 3,000 pounds on its wings. Its 6 pylons can carry heavier reconnaissance payloads, as well as an impressive array of weapons including GPS-guided JDAM family bombs, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Sidewinder missiles for air-air self defense or ground strike use, and other MIL STD 1760 compatible weapons, in addition to the Hellfire anti-armor missiles carried by the Predator. The Reaper becomes the equivalent of a close air support fighter with less situational awareness, lower speed, and less survivability if seen – but much, much longer on-station time.

The MQ-1A/B Predator. This UAV is flown by the USAF and Italy. It’s 27 feet long, with a 55 foot wingspan. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 2,3000 pounds, and it can carry 625 pounds of fuel, 450 pounds of internal payload (sensors), and another 300 pounds on its wings for up to 2 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads. Its service ceiling is 25,000 feet, which can keep it well above the 10,000-15,000 ceiling above which most guns are ineffective. The piston engine is a Rotax 914 turbo that runs on aviation fuel, and pushes the Predator at a slow speed of 120 KTAS. It’s controlled by UHF/VHF radio signals.

US Army MQ-1C ER/MP. The Gray Eagle looks a lot like the Predator but is a little bit bigger, can carry more weapons, and has an engine that can run on the same “heavy fuel” that fills up the Army’s land vehicles. It’s 28 feet long, with a 56 foot wingspan and a service ceiling of 29,000 feet. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 3,200 pounds, carrying up to 600 pounds of fuel, 575 pounds of internal payload (sensors, plus a communications relay), and another 500 pounds on its wings. This doubles weapon capacity, to 4 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads.The piston engine is a Thielert 135hp that runs on heavy fuel or higher-grade aviation fuel, and gives it a slightly faster speed of 135 KTAS. The Improved Gray Eagle substitutes a higher-power Lycoming DL-120 engine, while adding fuel and payload.

The USAF also had an MQ-1B Block X/ YMQ-1C project to develop a Predator system that would run on heavy fuel and carry up to 4 Hellfires. They canceled it, and their Predator buys in general, in favor of the MQ-9 Reaper.

MQ-1 vs. MQ-9
(click to view full)

The MQ-9 Reaper. This UAV is far more of a fighter substitute or close-air support complement than other UAVs. Larger than its companion MQ-1 UAVs, its reinforced wings give it far greater weapons carrying capacity of 3,000 pounds. Since most manned jet fighters aren’t carrying that many precision weapons for close support missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, that limit lets the MQ-9 fulfill close-air support roles in most low-intensity conflicts.

Its service ceiling is reportedly 50,000 feet unless it’s fully loaded, which can make a lurking Reaper very difficult to find from the ground. That wouldn’t have been useful to UAVs like the Predator, given the Hellfire missile’s range. On the other hand, the ability to drop GPS and laser-guided bombs makes precision high altitude Reaper strikes perfectly plausible. As one might expect, the MQ-9 Reaper’s default sensor package is more capable than the MQ-1 family’s; it includes General Atomics’ AN/APY-8 Lynx I ground-looking radar, and Raytheon’s MTS-B (AN/AAS-52) surveillance and targeting turret.

The engine is a Honeywell TPE 331-10T, which pushes it along at a rather speedier clip of 240 knots. Not exactly an F-16, or even an A-10, but the Reaper’s extra speed does get it to the problem area faster than a Predator could. A total fatigue limit of 20,000 safe fight hours is about double that of a life-extended F-16, and around 20% higher than an EMB-314/ A-29 Super Tucano counter-insurgency turboprop. The flip side is that UAVs have about twice as many accidents as manned fighters.

Horsham AS brief

Reaper ER. This upgrade adds stronger landing gear, a pair of “wet” hardpoints that can handle a pair of fuel tanks, and a stretched 88′ wingspan that includes the ability to carry fuel in the wings. The standard Reaper is configured for 30 hours in surveillance mode, and roughly 23 hours if armed with Hellfire missiles. General Atomics believes the ER model will raise that to 42 hours for ISR and 35 hours with the Hellfire.

Block 5. The latest MQ-9 version is the Block 1+, soon to be known as Block 5. Improvements focus on 3 areas: power capacity, payload capacity, and communications capacity. Power is improved via a new high-capacity starter generator, and an upgraded electrical system whose new backup generator can support all flight critical functions with a triple redundancy. Payload is improved using new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear (TA-MLG), and a weapons kit upgrade from BRU-15 [PDF] bomb release units to ITT Exelis’ BRU-71/A [PDF]. Finally, communications upgrades include encrypted datalinks, bandwodth improvements, upgraded software to allow the 2-person aircrew to operate all onboard systems, and dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas that allow simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties.

SOCOM. US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) flies the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predators. Both are referred to as Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical (MALET) platforms, and the 160th SOAR added the MQ-1C Gray Eagle in November 2013. If SOCOM has to bring the MALET down to hammer a target, they fly in enhanced variants with improved video transmission, infrared modifications, signals intelligence payloads, and “delivery of low collateral damage weapons.” The latter presumably includes precision mini-missile options like Raytheon’s Griffin, and precision glide bombs like Northrop Grumman’s GBU-44 Viper Strike and Lockheed Martin’s Scorpion, all of which allow a single Hellfire rail or weapon station to carry multiple weapons. SOCOM does want the Reaper to be more transportable, though, for quick delivery and use in theater.

Other. General Atomics’ Mariner/ Guardian maritime surveillance variant and FAA-certified high-altitude Altair research UAV are both derived from the MQ-9 Reaper. So, too, is NASA’s Ikhana.

Program Highlights

A basic MQ-9 Reaper system consists of 4 UAVs, each with a Raytheon MTS-B day/night surveillance and targeting turret, General Atomics AN/APY-8 Lynx ground-looking SAR/GMTI radar, and satellite communications equipment; Weapon kits with integrated hardpoints for certified weapons; 1 Ground Control System; and Ground Data Terminals.

Operational squadrons will also have appropriate support equipment, simulator and training devices, and Readiness Spares Packages (RSP) on hand. A lot of support is still handled by contractors, but some is being moved inside the military.


The average flyaway cost of an MQ-9 is between $17-21 million, based on FY 2015 budget documents. Note that flyaway cost subtotals also include shares of Ground Control Stations (GCS), Ground Data Terminals (GDTs), and Predator Primary Satellite Links (PPSLs), which means that buying different numbers of ancillary systems or UAVs changes the cost number from year to year.

Export buyers will incur higher costs, as the few UAVs they buy need the entire set of back-end infrastructure and support systems. Co-location with the USAF or Britain in a satellite-linked operations center can help defray the biggest expenses, but costs will still be far higher than they would be for a USAF purchase.

American budget totals reflect the number of individual UAVs purchased, though each year is also buying the other equipment needed to make the Reapers work, and making long lead-time buys for the following year. Note that both RDT&E funding and procurement funding beyond FY 2015 reflect the USAF only, and don’t include the minor contributions of US SOCOM.

A complete timeline of the MQ-9 program, including export sales and requests, and planned milestones:

Competitors & Prospects USAF on UAV futures

The MQ-9 has few competitors at the moment. Other UCAVs like the US Navy’s X-47 UCAS-D, the European nEUROn project, and Britain’s Taranis all focused on the stealthy fighter replacement role, and conventional UAVs optimized for surveillance rather than strike, Serious competition would involve existing UAVs that begin integrating and proving a variety of weapon sets, and have the capacity to carry a substantial payload. The challenge is that many of those UAVs will hit limits to payload carriage or endurance before they can match the Reaper, or run afoul of the 300 mile range/ 500 pound ordnance limit embedded in the Missile Technology Control Regime treaty.

The BAE Mantis/ Telemos UAV, whose twin pusher-propeller design and T-tail make it look like the unmanned offspring of an A-10 “Warthog” and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft, was well positioned to compete. Instead, it was sidelined by lack of funding and commitment from Britain and France. Israel has UAVs in a similar size class (Heron-TP, Hermes 900, Dominator), but they don’t routinely carry weapons, and heaven’t been exported as armed UAVs. Italy and the UAE are building Piaggio’s fast Hammerhead P.1HH, but the MCTR cripples its payload, and plans to arm the UAV remain distant. The UAE touts their Yabhon United 40 Block 5, but it needs to be inducted and proven in operational service. China has begun to export its Wing Loong armed UAV, but its peer comparison is the MQ-1 Predator.

That’s the good news for General Atomics. The bad news is that is that MQ-9 export approval beyond NATO and similarly close allies seems unlikely. MQ-9s are currently in service with the USAF, Britain (10), France (2), and Italy (4). The Netherlands has committed to buy 4, but hasn’t placed a contract yet. Poland is also said to be considering a purchase, and Germany was a strong export candidate before its current government backed off buying any drones at all. Note that even within this group, Britain has been the only country allowed to arm their Reapers.

Future Planning & Developments MQ-9 Block 5
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As of March 2013, the USAF intends to fulfill the MQ-9 Increment One CPD requirements with a final UAS configuration consisting of the MQ-9 Block 5 UAV with OFP 904.6, and the Block 30 GCS. The program will be reducing or deferring 12 required block 5 capabilities related to aircraft endurance, radar performance, and reliability, and other areas. The UAV’s core OFP flight software has been a development issue, and DOT&E expects further delays, along with added risks because cyber-vulnerabilities haven’t been heavily tested.

AFOTEC hoped to conduct formal operational testing of the final MQ-9 Increment One UAS in late 2014, but the addition of manufacturing issues has pushed things back to early 2016.

“Increment II” upgrades beyond the MQ-9 Block 5 were slated to include GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb integration, Automatic take-off and landing, Deicing, and National Airspace certification for flights in American civil airspace. At present, those upgrades languish in an unfunded limbo.

Contracts & Key Events, 2005 SDD – Present MQ-9, Kandahar
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Some support contracts are common to the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleet. They are not covered here. Britain’s MQ-9 Reaper program has its own DID Spotlight article, but its items are reproduced here as well.

Unless otherwise indicated, all contracts are managed by Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, where the 658th AESS/PK is the Predator Contracting Group. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. of Poway, CA (near San Diego, north of MCAS Miramar) is the contractor. Note that, for whatever reason, many USAF orders don’t seem to be announced through standard channels. See budgets, above, for a clearer sense of the numbers involved.

FY 2014 – 2016

Afghan Pre-Flight
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August 19/16: General Atomics is to provide 30 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the USAF. The $370.9 million contract will be completed by May 31, 2019.

August 8/16: MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots are to undergo a fifteen-day course in electric warfare missions. The USAF program will see pilots gain training so that they can continue to operate their UAV when under electronic attack such as jamming of their satellite uplinks. Once completed, they will be known as Electronic Combat Officers.

June 27/16: India has issued a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US government over the potential purchase of 22 General Atomics Guardians, a maritime patrol variant of the MQ-9 Predator B. A letter of acceptance from the US will follow later in the year which will trigger the commencement of price negotiations over the UAVs with a final contract to be signed sometime in 2017-18. It is unclear, however, whether the Indian Navy will acquire the non-weaponized Guardian variant – featuring intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities – the weaponized one, or both.

June 3/16: MQ-9 UAVs operated by the Italian Air Force are to be fitted with General Atomics integrated Rafael RecceLite reconnaissance pod. Flight testing will be carried out in early 2017 at Amendola Air Base, Italy. The company believes that the adoption of the system “could lead to similar efforts with other NATO customers that operate MQ-9.”

May 5/16: An upgrade to automate takeoff and landing of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs is being pursued by the USAF, making training Reaper pilots easier and allowing access to more runways. A similar upgrade already exists on US Army MQ-1C Grey Eagles. According to General Atomics’ senior director of strategic development, Chris Pehrson, the air force tried last year to shift money from other accounts to begin implementing the automatic takeoff and landing system, but the request was denied by Congress.

April 28/16: After numerous delays in its maiden flight which occurred last week amid much excitement from manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the X-2 stealth demonstrator will have a year long test campaign involving around 50 flights. With the maiden flight described as “ordinary” by Hirofumi Doi, manager of Japan’s Future Fighter Program at the defence ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), future testing will help ATLA gather data on advanced fighter technologies such as stealth, thrust vectoring, data links, and other areas. Depending on this data, flight testing of the X-2 could easily be extended, leading the way for a potentially busy period for the demonstrator.

March 22/16: The USAF and Honeywell are investigating a still-undetermined problem with the starter-generator on the MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 version’s Honeywell turboprop engine. Seventeen MQ-9 crashes have been avoided since last April, however, thanks to a backup electrical system that has been installed as a safeguard, which allows for the aircraft to fly for another ten hours. Since the UAV’s first flight, the USAF have lost dozens during missions, at a cost of $20-25 million per aircraft. This has intensified in 2015, as the steeping up of anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa saw 10 MQ-9 and 10 MQ-1 crashes in that last year alone.

February 19/16: General Atomics has received a contract to provide four unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and two Block 30 ground control stations to Spain. While Madrid may seek to arm the UAVs in future, it requires authorization from the US government before it can do so. However, this may not be too much of an issue, as both the UK and Italy have already been granted permission to arm their fleets with precision guided missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire. While the initial foreign sales notice posted by the US in October cites the cost of the hardware at $80 million, the total cost of procurement, training and logistical support could see that cost more in the region of $243 million.

January 21/16: A second MQ-9 Reaper UAV system will be delivered to France by October 2017 after the US DoD announced contracts on Tuesday. Work and delivery of the system is set to cost $47.7 million and will be carried out by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The awarding of the contract follows the December order of a third batch of Reaper systems by France set for delivery in 2019. France has been operating the UAVs on missions on the African continent, primarily in the Sahel-Saharan region. The MQ-9s will most likely continue to be operated until a pan-European UAV development project is completed which will see a drone developed jointly by France, Germany and Italy.

December 28/15: After two decades, General Atomics will cease production of the RQ-1 Predator UAV after the final two were delivered to the Italian Air Force. While not officially confirmed, it is believed that the Italians operate nine RQ-1s for intelligence gathering. Furthermore, they have procured six of the RQ-1’s successor, the MQ-9 Reaper which have recently been approved by the US government to carry weapons. The aircraft are primarily utilized by the Italians over the Mediterranean Sea and in support of NATO operations.

November 6/15: The State Department has approved a Foreign Military Sale contract to weaponize the Italian Air Force’s fleet of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. The DSCA request included AGM-114R2 Hellfire II missiles, JDAM guided bombs and launchers, with the possible deal estimated to value $129.6 million. General Atomics will be the prime contractor for the potential sale, the US government having relaxed export restrictions in February, with the weaponization of the Italian Reapers representing the second international customer to operate armed MQ-9s. The Royal Air Force is the sole weaponized operator outside of the US.

November 4/15: Spain’s cabinet has approved a proposed acquisition of four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs from the US, following State Department approval of a DSCA request by the country’s Defense Ministry in October. The $177 million procurement saw the General Atomics design – favored by the Spanish Air Force – beat off competition from Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP. The contract’s value will be spread over a multi-year contract until 2020, with Spanish firm SENER acting as General Atomics’ partner. Elsewhere in Europe, the Netherlands also requested four of the same aircraft in February, with the United Kingdom operating armed Reapers.

October 30/15: The deputy head of the Air Force ISR wants to counteract a shortfall in MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper operators by compressing the current two-person arrangement into a single role. The conversion would require changes to the system’s ground station, with Air Force officials keen to maximise manpower efficiency in the face of high drop-out rates for drone pilots.

October 8/15: The State Department has given the green light to Spain acquiring four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs, through a potential acquisition valued at $243 million along with auxiliary equipment and services. The Spanish Defence Ministry set aside money in its 2016 budget for the four UAVs, which it reportedly opted to sole-source from manufacturer General Atomics. The Reapers will be used exclusively for ISR, with the United Kingdom the only nation currently operating armed Reapers outside of the US, with the Netherlands also requesting four MQ-9s in February. Spain’s proposed sale will now be referred to Congress for approval.

September 28/15: General Atomics has unveiled a new capability for its MQ-9B Guardian maritime UAV, presenting a sonobuoy capability along with other modifications to the Royal Navy in a bid to market the Guardian as an unmanned maritime patrol aircraft to supplement the likely procurement of a manned maritime patrol aircraft. Calls from industry for the UK’s Defence Ministry to run a competition for its future maritime patrol aircraft are growing louder, with Northrop Grumman thought to be considering an offer of their RQ-4C Triton as another unmanned option in addition to the Guardian.

August 7/15: Spain has decided to buy four unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, along with two ground stations. The fifth European country to purchase the Reaper, the Spanish defense ministry has allocated $186.9 million for the acquisition. The United Kingdom, France and Italy operate the Reaper, with the Netherlands requesting four in February.

August 5/15: The Air Force’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) has recommended adding new sensors, weapons and countermeasures to MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs to increase survivability and lethality in contested airspace. The SAB is also pushing for Manned-Unmanned Teaming, something already baked into the latest iteration of the AH-64E Block III Apache, with tests in June demonstrating the helicopter operating alongside a MQ-1C Gray Eagle, with the UAV assisting in target-painting and surveillance. A full report on the topic – ‘Enhanced Utility of Unmanned Air Vehicles In Contested and Denied Environments’ – will be published in December.

June 5/15: The UK and France are exploring the possibility of collaborating for Reaper UAV training, logistics and support services. The British operate ten of the aircraft, with these all deployed on operations over Iraq, with France taking delivery of a third Reaper at the end of May, with twelve set to be delivered by 2019.

May 21/15: General Atomics was awarded a production contract for eight additional MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs on Wednesday, with this $72.1 million contract following a similar $279.1 million order for 24 of the aircraft last month.

July 2/14: Germany. The whole subject of UAVs remains very contentious along left-right lines (q.v. Nov 14/13), as a long Defence Committee hearing on June 30/14 demonstrated once again. But German Defence Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen [CDU] has now stated her support for buying UAVs that can carry weapons, on the condition that the German Bundestag would vote to send them on any foreign missions, and decide whether they should be armed.

That would seemingly favor the MQ-9 in the short term, but she stated her satisfaction with the current leasing program for Heron-1 UAVs, which can be continued without sparking a divisive armed UAV debate in the Bundestag. Over the longer term, she also spoke in favour of developing “a European armed drone.” The NSA remains the political gift that keeps on giving to non-American defense sector competitors:

“Once again, the NSA affair has made it clear to me what it means to lie dormant through 10 to 15 years of technological development and suddenly face the bitter reality of how dependent one is on others…. Europe needs the capabilities of a reconnaissance drone so it is not permanently dependent on others.”

The challenge is that European partners want a UAV that can carry weapons, so Germany probably needs to accept that in order to find partners. Time will tell. Source: Euractiv, “German defence minister backs ‘European armed drone'”.

June 26/14: Upgrades. General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $15.3 million firm-fixed-price sole-source contract for the MQ-9 Fuel Bladder Retrofit Kits, Time Compliance Technical Orders (TCTO) and initial spares. The certified O-level TCTOs enable the removal of existing Aero Tech Labs fuel bladders, and enable the installation of the new fuel bladders on MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 aircraft. GA-ASI will also update existing technical orders and manuals, and deliver initial retrofit spares. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 & 2013 USAF aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 6/17. USAF Life Cycle Management Center’s, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0071).

May 9/14: Australia. Air Marshal Geoff Brown tells Fairfax Media that he’d like to see Australia buy some MQ-9s. Australia has trialed MQ-9s in a maritime border patrol role (q.v. May-September 2006). Their military intends to move ahead with the jet-powered MQ-4C Global Hawk derivative that won the US Navy BAMS competition, but an MQ-9 fleet bought to support the Army would likely find itself on call to support Coast Guard duties as well. That could be done with standard equipment, as Italy has done (q.v. Jan 15/14), or via additional buys to obtain SeaVue radars like the MQ-9 Guardians operated by US Customs (q.v. Dec 7/09). Brown:

“I’m a great fan of capabilities that have a very multi-role aspect to them, and I think Predator-Reaper does have that… I think the combination of a good ISR platform that’s weaponized is a pretty legitimate weapon system for Australia…. I’d love to have [MQ-4C] Triton tomorrow… I’d certainly like to have Predator-Reaper capability as well, and I’d like to bring [our rented fleet of IAI’s] Heron back so we build on those skills that we’ve got.”

He’s thinking in terms of the next 5 years, and the place to set that in motion would be the coming Force Structure Review. Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, “Air Force wants to buy deadly Reaper drones”.

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report. For the MQ-9:

“Program costs decreased $1,451.8 million (-10.9%) from $13,318.2 million to $11,866.4 million, due primarily to a quantity decrease of 58 aircraft from 401 to 343 (-$962.1 million), associated schedule, engineering, and estimating allocations (+$66.9 million), and areduction of initial spares and support equipment related to the decrease in quantity (-$432.9 million). There were additional decreases for the removal of the Airborne Signals Intelligence payload 2C (ASIP 2C) requirement (-$280.1 million) and sequestration reductions (-$142.5 million). These decreases were partially offset by increases for a warfighter requirement for extended range retrofits and communications requirements (+$138.9 million) and the addition of production line shut down costs that were not previously estimated (+$132.7 million).”

Program cuts

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. The MQ-9 Block 5’s manufacturing issues include “delinquencies in completing technical data, software delays, and fuel tank issues”; the latter were severe enough that they required production line changes and fleet retrofits. As a result, deliveries were slowed, operational testing had to move back from October 2014 to January 2016, and Block 5 software won’t be fully fielded until March 2016. Meanwhile,

“As of December 2013, 21 Block 1 aircraft have been produced, but are still awaiting the necessary software capability upgrades before they can be delivered. Until these software upgrades are complete, aircraft are only being delivered based on urgent needs. According to program officials, the program has developed an aircraft delivery recovery plan that should allow deliveries to be back on track by April 2014.”

Since more than half of the planned fleet will have been manufactured before a “Full Rate Production Decision” is made, the Pentagon has decided to have an “in-process review” in February 2016 instead.

March 26/14: Weapons. An MQ-9 successfully finishes December 2013 – January 2014 tests at US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, CA, firing MBDA’s dual-mode radar/laser Brimstone missile against a variety of targets. The Brimstone is similar to the Reaper’s regular laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire, with a slightly longer range, a fire-and-forget radar seeker, a “man in the loop” feature, and the ability to deploy on fast jets. Consolidating on the Brimstone would let the RAF use a single weapon type for short-range light strike.

The test was a cooperative effort between Britain and the United States (q,v, May 3/13), and all of the RAF’s primary and secondary trial objectives were met. Brimstone isn’t formally integrated onto the MQ-9, but it looks as if that’s about to change. Sources: MBDA, “MBDA’s Brimstone Demonstrates its Precision Low Collateral Capability from Reaper”.

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The FY 2015 request supports the procurement of 12 MQ-9 UAVs and 12 fixed ground control stations, while funding MQ-9 Extended Range fleet modifications. Deliveries out to 2019 are being cut, but the budget isn’t changing that much because of required investments in spare parts, support infrastructure, and technical data rights.

There are currently 143 MQ-9 aircraft in USAF inventory, with an estimated designed service life of 20,000 hours each. For comparison purpose, that’s about double the total lifespan of an F-16 with life-extension refits, and slightly longer than a manned Super Tucano turboprop’s ~16-18,000 hours.

Near-term upgrades include new Linux processors, high definition monitors, and ergonomic improvements. Future planned upgrades include integrating improved human-machine interfaces, open systems architecture, improved crew habitability, and multiple aircraft control. Future GCS configurations will leverage the Unmanned Aerospace System (UAS) Command and Control (C2) Initiative (UCI) government-owned open system standard to enable improved capabilities for situational awareness and multi-mission management monitoring and oversight.

Feb 24/14: Budgets. Chuck Hagel’s FY 2015 pre-budget briefing explains that cutbacks are on the way for the drone fleet, but perhaps not the Reapers:

“The Air Force will slow the growth in its arsenal of armed unmanned systems that, while effective against insurgents and terrorists, cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses. Instead of increasing to a force of 65 around-the-clock combat air patrols of Predator and Reaper aircraft, the Air Force will grow to 55, still a significant increase. Given the continued drawdown in Afghanistan, this level of coverage will be sufficient to meet our requirements, and we would still be able to surge to an unprecedented 71 combat air patrols under this plan. DoD will continue buying the more capable Reapers until we have an all-Reaper fleet.

If sequestration-level cuts are re-imposed in 2016 and beyond, however, the Air Force would need to make far more significant cuts to force structure and modernization. The Air Force would have to retire 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 tanker fleet and the Global Hawk Block 40 fleet, as well as slow down purchases of the Joint Strike Fighter – resulting in 24 fewer F-35s purchased through Fiscal Year 2019 – and sustain ten fewer Predator and Reaper 24-hour combat air patrols [DID: down to 45]. The Air Force would also have to take deep cuts to flying hours, which would prevent a return to adequate readiness levels.”

Sources: US DoD, “Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel FY 2015 Budget Preview Pentagon Press Briefing Room Monday, February 24, 2014”.

Feb 5/14: Bandwidth innovation. The USAF touts changes they’ve made to the MQ-9 Reaper, allowing it to relay data through inclined orbit satellites that have become slightly unstable. The satellites’ wobble cuts their leasing costs sharply, so UAVs can cut operating costs by integrating updated satellite location data with software to point their receivers, and having procedures to manage the associated situations. The USAF has successfully tested exactly this kind of system on the MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs.

The Jan 28/14 DOT&E report gave the MQ-9 program both barrels for what it saw as lack of organization, and a development culture that pursued off-record efforts at the expense of their planned capabilities. Announcements like this one, and the Feb 5/14 AFSOC report, remind us that less-planned but potentially significant enhancements can add up to important steps forward. Read “I.O. Satellites for UAVs? USAF Reaping Savings” for full coverage.

Feb 5/14: 38 ER conversions. A maximum $117.3 million unfinalized contract will finance conversions to create 38 MQ-9 Extended Range UAVs, with larger wings and more fuel.

$41.5 million committed immediately, using a combination of FY 2013-2014 RDT&E budgets, and the FY 2014 aircraft budget. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 7/16. USAF Lifecycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0118).

MQ-9 ER conversions begin

Feb 5/14: AFSOC Support. A $166 million delivery order for “Lead-off Hitter AFSOC MQ-9 Software Line,” which will provide MQ-9 software engineering support for the AFSOC fleet of MQ-9 unmanned aerial systems. In an interesting note about some of the changes underway, the FY 2013 DOT&E report mentioned that:

“AFSOC demonstrated the successful transmission of encrypted, high-definition full motion video from the RPA to remote video terminal-equipped ground units in support of urgent AFSOC capabilities needs. AFOTEC will conduct formal evaluation of full motion video transmission during FOT&E of the MQ-9 Increment One system.”

Work will be performed in Poway, Calif., and is expected to be completed by Feb. 6, 2015. Fiscal 2013 research and development funds in the amount of $2,063,006 are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0114).

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The MQ-9 is included, and the report paints the program as a mess, getting UAVs out the door but tripping over itself elsewhere thanks to the lack of an Integrated Master Schedule, inability to prioritize or meet timelines, and only limited Information Assurance cyber-testing.

The result of these failings, in conjunction with “competing schedule priorities for non-program of record capabilities,” is that the program formally acknowledged an Acquisition Program Baseline (APB) breach in May 2013 and said they couldn’t meet the program of record schedule. The Increment 1/ Block 5 system can’t undergo Full OT&E in FY 2014 as planned, and integration of the GBU-38 JDAM was postponed. Indeed:

“Development, operational testing, and fielding of Increment One program of record capabilities will likely experience continued delays until the program is able to better prioritize and control maturation of these capabilities in accordance with a predictable schedule. Ongoing schedule challenges, combined with RPA production emphasis, increase the likelihood that the MQ-9 UAS will complete the delivery of all planned MQ-9 RPAs under low-rate initial production. FOT&E of the Increment One UAS configuration, originally planned for 2013, will likely be delayed several years beyond FY14.”

Jan 22/14: EW. General Atomics and Northrop Grumman conduct the 2nd USMC demonstration of MQ-9s as electronic warfare platforms (q.v. Aug 13/13), using NGC’s Pandora low-power, wideband electronic warfare pod. They tested Pandora’s compatibility with the Reaper’s avionics and command and control architecture, including control of the Pandora pod’s operations, and tested the entire system’s integration into a Marine Command and Control (C2) network.

A Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (CEWCC) located at MCAS Yuma ran the pod and UAV, which supported a large aircraft strike package that included EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft. General Atomics sees this as an important way to broaden the Reaper’s usefulness, in order to keep it from budget cuts (q.v. Jan 2/14). Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and Northrop Grumman Showcase Additional Unmanned Electronic Attack Capabilities in Second USMC Exercise”.

Jan 15/14: UAV SAR. General Atomics touts the use of its MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs in search and rescue scenarios, which will become much easier once civil airspace rules are changed to provide clear requirements for UAVs.

MQ-9 UAVs were used in New Mexico to find missing kayyakers in April 2012, and MQ-1s and MQ-9s were both used in October 2013 to find a missing German mountain biker who was stranded and injured in the Lincoln National Forest. Interestingly, their main role was to search less-likely areas, ensuring that they were covered while allowing humans to search the most likely areas.

The Italian jobs were a bit different, because they were conducted under Operation Mare Nostrum (“our ocean,” also colloquial Roman for the Mediterranean), which aims to find and rescue migrants who are trying to cross the sea in makeshift boats from North Africa. They use radar more extensively, and the Italian MQ-9s’ AN/APY-8 Lynx Block 30 multi-mode radars will soon add software to give them a new Maritime Wide Area Search (MWAS) mode. Sources: GA-ASI, “Predator-Series Aircraft Pivotal to Search and Rescue Missions”.

Jan 2/14: Budgets. quotes Pentagon director of unmanned warfare and ISR Dyke Weatherington, who says of the new UAV Roadmap that the 24% reduction in UAV spending of from 2012-2013, and 30% cut from 2013-2014, is a trend that will continue. The shift to the Pacific is likely to hurt UAVs below the top end, but:

“This roadmap is two years since the last one. We knew budgets would be declining. I don’t think two years ago we understood how significant the down slope was going to be so this road map much more clearly addresses the fiscal challenges…. We can generally say that from 2014 to 2015 the budget… will be reduced”…. there was about a 24-percent reduction from 2012 to 2013 and a 30-percent reduction from 2013 to 2014…. the Pentagon’s shift to the Pacific and overall Defense Strategy articulates a need to be prepared for more technologically advanced potential adversaries…. “EW is one of those areas where we are going to see opportunities for unmanned systems, likely in tandem with manned systems…”

In this environment, the program to add MALD-J loitering jamming decoys is promising for the MQ-9, but further budget cuts are not. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Pentagon Plans for Cuts to Drone Budgets”.

Jan 1/14: France. Defense World reports that French MQ-9s arrived “in the Sahel Region” on this day, for operations over Mali. Defense World, “France Receive First MQ-9 Reaper Drone”.

Dec 31/13: UK Support. A sole-source, unfinalized $31.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price option for Phase 1 & 2 contractor logistics support: urgent repairs and services, logistics support, field service representative support, contractor inventory control point and spares management, depot repair, flight operations support and field maintenance.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 31/15. The USAF acts as Britain’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080, 09).

Dec 24/13: Support. A $362.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee sole-source contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor support, including program management, logistics support, configuration management, technical manual and software maintenance, contractor field service representative support, inventory control point management, flight operations support, depot repair, and depot field maintenance.

$90 million in USAF O&M funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/14. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIKBA at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract (FA8528-14-C-0001).

Dec 19/13: France. The DGA procurement agency receives its 1st Reaper UAV, which is being readied for deployment to Mali along with a 2nd UAV, associated ground systems, etc. The DGA praises the USA’s help in getting personnel trained, helping with communications planning, etc. A record of six months from order to delivery is impressive, and demands nothing less.

French delivery

Nov 21/13: Dutch OK. The Dutch MvD delivers a report to the legislature, announcing the results of their MALE UAV program study phase, which began in 2012. Their requirements included 24 hour endurance, and payload options that included the standard surveillance and targeting turret and SAR/GMTI ground scanning radar, plus a wide-area ground-scanning radar and a SIGINT/COMINT interception pod. Weapons aren’t part of their plan, but they did want an option to add them later, if necessary. The MvD intends to buy 4 Reapers for fielding on expeditionary operations by 2016, and achieve full operational capability from their base at Leeuwarden by 2017. The budget for this purchase is just EUR 100 – 250 million.

That budget could be a problem.

The brief to Parliament lists European airworthiness certification as a major budget risk. It is. The fact that Britain, France, and Italy will also be MQ-9 customers was an argument for a Dutch buy, because they create a pool of partners who can benefit from each other’s work. Cost pooling is an even bigger factor for eventual certification beyond restricted airspace, whose success will involve sense-and-avoid technologies, and certifications whose cost can’t be predicted. Past estimates have involved hundreds of millions of dollars.

The other source of significant risk to the program involves integration the wide-area ground scanning radar, and SIGINT/COMINT payloads. The scope of that effort will have to be assessed. It’s worth noting that payloads are subject to network effects: a larger customer list in Europe makes it easier or more attractive to add payloads, which then provide another reason for new customers to sign on. Sources: Dutch MvD, “Defensie kiest Reaper als onbemand vliegtuig” and “Kamerbrief voorstudie project MALE UAV”.

Nov 20/13: Euro MALE. Defence Ministers committed to the launch of 4 programs during the EU European Defence Agency’s Steering Board session, 1 of which centered around a 4-part program for UAVs. “Ministers tasked EDA to prepare the launch of a Category B project” to develop a Future European MALE platform, to be introduced from 2020 – 2025. Other documents, noting the obvious potential for ridicule since Future European MALE = FEMALE, refer to it as “MALE 2020” – a timeline that would be imperative for industrial and competitive reasons. EDA hasn’t launched the project yet. Once it does, can Europe’s traditionally fractious program negotiations and fragmented execution hit a 2020 target date?

In parallel, a coalition of countries also plan to create an operator community of UAV users, so they can share experiences and improve the foundation for future cooperation. Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland have all joined.

Other areas of cooperation will include streamlining UAV certification in European airspace, now that its costs and uncertainties have already killed Germany’s major Eurohawk UAV program. In a related move, Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Spain signed a joint investment program around technologies required for UAV use in civil airspace. Sources: EDA, “Defence Ministers Commit to Capability Programmes” | Les Echos, “Drones : des pays europeens s’engagent a collaborer”.

Nov 14/13: Germany. Chancellor Merkel’s narrow victory has an important military consequence. A draft version of the coalition agreement between Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats reportedly says that:

“We categorically reject illegal killings by drones. Germany will support the use of unmanned weapons systems for the purposes of international disarmament and arms control…. Before acquiring a qualitatively new arms system, we will thoroughly investigate all associated civil and constitutional guidelines and ethical questions.”

Translation: Don’t expect a purchase of Reaper or Heron UAVs during the lifetime of this 4-year legislative session. Sources: The, “Germany halts purchase of armed drones” | See also the left-wing Truthout, “How Europeans Are Opposing Drone and Robot Warfare: An Overview of the Anti-Drone Movement in Europe”.

Nov 9/13: Support. The USAF Sustainment Center and General Atomics reach an enterprise-level, public-private partnership agreement which allows the 2 organizations to partner in the maintenance of MQ-1B/C and MQ-9 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Work can be performed at AFSC logistics complexes in Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah:

“The WR-ALC is expected to begin work on UAS batteries in 2014 and interim modem assemblies in 2015. The battery workload is estimated to bring in 5,000 repair hours and grow to 9,600 repair hours by 2016. The modem workload is estimated to bring in 2,600 repair hours in 2015, growing to 4,500 in 2016. By the end of fiscal 2016, Warner-Robins will have more than 15,000 repair hours from the Predator/Reaper/Gray Eagle workload…”

It’s the 1st center-wide UAS partnership agreement implemented since the stand-up of the Air Force Sustainment Center in June 2012. Sources: Pentagon DVIDS, “Increased unmanned aircraft workload on the horizon thanks to new partnership”.

Nov 1/13: France. A maximum $27.6 million unfinalized delivery order for Phase I of France’s MQ-9 UAS Contractor Logistics Support program. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and run until Oct 31/14.

This sole-source acquisition is handled by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, acting as France’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0113).

FY 2013

France commits to buying 2, considers up to 16. Competitions in Canada, Netherlands, possibly Poland. FAA tests for civil airspace, and a European effort too; Deliveries stalled by fuel tank problem; JDAMs still a problem; MQ-9 Increment II in limbo; CAE will develop the sim/training system; OMX partnership in Canada as the future of local supplier efforts; Plans aside, what’s the real future of the Reaper force? RAF Reaper Refuels,

Oct 15/13: FY13 main order. GA-ASI receives a maximum $377.4 million, unfinalized delivery order for 24 MQ-9 Block 5 Reaper aircraft, shipping containers, initial spares and support equipment. It’s paid for with $305 million in FY 2013 procurement funds, with the rest coming from FY 2012 leftovers.

Though it is now technically a new fiscal year, the federal government shutdown was just the cherry on the cake for a messy FY 2013. This explains delayed orders, and their likewise late public announcement, like this one (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0050).

“USA buys 24

Sept 30/13: Reaper. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a not-to-exceed $49.8 million unfinalized cost-plus-fixed-fee contract action for France’s MQ-9 Reaper urgent request program of 2 UAVs. That seems about right.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 15/15. USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, acts as France’s FMS agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0112).

Just days earlier the first of 3 crews from the French air force had taken its initial training flight at Holloman AFB, NM. They want to be ready when 2 UAVs and 1 GCV are delivered at the end of the year. Sources: Pentagon | French Air Force, “Premier vol d’un equipage francais aux commandes d’un drone Reaper”.

France orders 2

Sept 25/13: Sensors. Raytheon Co. in McKinney, TX, has been awarded a $13.2 million delivery order, buying another 24 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems High-Definition Infrared (MTS-B HD IR) turrets for the MQ-9 Reaper. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed at McKinney, TX, and is expected to be complete by May 30/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contracts (FA8620-11-G-4050, #0008, modification 12).

Sept 16/13: SOCOM. US SOCOM wants its MALET MQ-9s to have the same kind if easy transportability as its MALET MQ-1s. The Predators can be boxed, shipped in a C-17, and re-assembled in 4 hours. SOCOM wants its Reapers to be packable in under 8 hours, and assembled in less than 8 hours, but it’s going to take some work to get there.

As an aside, one of the most challenging aspects of a new MALET base is actually the ground station. That has to be present for launches and landings, since remote control from the USA is only suitable during the flight. Source:, “SOCOM Wants to Deploy MQ-9 Drones to Remote Areas”.

Aug 25/13: Help Wanted. The USAF has a pilot recruitment problem for drones, driven by lower recognition and a true perception that promotions are less likely in that service. Here’s the math:

The USA has 61 round-the-clock UAV Combat Air Patrols, and plans to increase that to 65 by 2015. That increase is now suspect. If it’s maintained, the Pentagon’s April 2012 “Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability” says the USAF will require, at minimum, 579 more MQ-1/9 UAV pilots from December 2011 – 2015. In 2012, the 40 USAF training slots attracted just 12 volunteers, and training attrition rates are 3x higher than they are for regular pilots. Unlike the USAF’s manned aircraft training slots, only 33 RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) training slots were filled (around 82%), triggered in part by the correct perception that those who succeed will have less career success. Based on present rates, 13% fewer RPA pilots have become majors, compared to their peers.

The US Army has an easier time of things with their MQ-1C fleet, because they tap enlisted and non-commissioned soldiers: 15W Operator and 15E Repairer are enlisted soldiers positions, and 150U technician positions involve a warrant officer. Sources: Stars & Stripes, “Unmanned now undermanned: Air Force struggles to fill pilot slots for drones” | See Additional Readings section for full Pentagon report.

Aug 16/13: Block 5 Testing. An $11.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to buy initial MQ-9 Block 5 spares and support equipment, to support 2 Block 5 UAVs. Technically, it’s an engineering change proposal (ECP) to calendar year 2011 spares and support equipment buys. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 28/16. USAF Lifecycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0001-01).

Aug 13/13: EW. General Atomics touts a successful April 12/13 successful demonstration of the MQ-9 as an electronic warfare platform, during the USMC’s Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course at MCAS Yuma. A company-owned Predator B equipped with a Digital Receiver/Exciter pod and controlled by a GA-ASI Ground Control Station (GCS) was among over 20 aircraft participating. The Northrop Grumman pod “proved to be effective and seamlessly integrated with the Predator B avionics, command and control architecture.”

That’s a minimum baseline. Future demonstrations will work with other unmanned aircraft systems and USMC EA-6B Prowler EW aircraft at places like NAWS China Lake, directing the MQ-9’s EW payload and other assets from the Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (C/EWCC) located at MCAS Yuma. Work to integrate the jet-powered MALD-J jamming missile onto the MQ-9 will be another area of future focus, giving the UAV a range of EW capabilities ranging from jamming remote land mine detonators along convoy routes, to supporting attacks on enemy air defense systems. Source: General Atomics Aug 13/12 release.

Aug 12/13: A maximum $26.2 million, unfinalized sole-source contract for the MQ-9’s Extended Range Phase 2 project, which involves adding longer 88′ wingspan wings that carry internal fuel (q.v. March 12/13). About $7 million is committed immediately from a range of budgets, including FY 2012 R&D, procurement, and repair funds, and FY 2013 R&D funds.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Aug 12/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0106).

June 27/13: France wants more? The US DSCA notifies Congress [PDF] of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France for 16 unarmed MQ-9s and the necessary equipment and support, for a potential $1.5B total. Such a commitment would further damage the prospects for a future European UAV, but this is a possible sale at this stage, not a contract yet. This will surely get Dassault and EADS howling.

Le Figaro (a newspaper incidentally owned by Dassault) explains [in French] that the size of the request is just a reflection of the FMS process, but that the maximum quantity France would buy is 12 UAVs – in line with the latest whitepaper – for a maximum of 670 million euros (about $875M). But this gives France the option to meet more than its urgent operational requirement. If not directly off-the-shelf as some amount of “francisation” would be expected, at least from a supplier with an already well-established program.

The package would include 48 Honeywell engines (2 spare engines for each installed one), 8 ground control stations, 40 ground data terminals, 24 satellite earth terminal substations, 40 ARC-210 radio systems, and 48 IFF systems. Again, these quantities are very unlikely to happen.

DSCA: France request

June 26/13: Civil certification. In the wake of Germany’s Euro Hawk cancellation (q.v. May 14/13 entry), General Atomics makes an ambitious commitment to civil certification. This theme was also touched on in the Dutch MoU with Fokker (q.v. June 19/13 entry), and General Atomics has a signed a similar agreement with its German partner RUAG to pursue an:

“Independent Research and Development (IRAD) effort to develop a variant of its Predator B RPA that is fully compliant with the airworthiness requirements of the U.S. Air Force and anticipated NATO foreign customers, as well as offers enhanced capabilities for integration into domestic and international airspace. It is envisioned that the system solution will be a multi-nation, certifiable, exportable configuration built upon the company’s Block 5 Predator B aircraft capabilities and Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station (GCS) layout.”

Which is all well and good. General Atomics’ team can probably develop the technical means, and Europe’s government are in fact working toward a framework for including UAVs in civil airspace. The problem is that the framework does not exist yet, and getting the bureaucrats to certify something totally new is estimated to cost EUR 500 – 600 million. That sum has to be paid by a customer government or governments, who probably don’t have it lying around in their budgets. If they do put the funds together as some kind of multinational consortium, local projects like the proposed EuroMALE are more likely to get that investment, because the certification becomes a big barrier to entry for foreign firms. Which means more jobs at home. General Atomics.

June 19/13: Netherlands. At the 50th Paris Air Show, General Atomics and Fokker Technologies announce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to bid the MQ-9 as a solution for Dutch UAV requirements. Fokker has a very strong position in Dutch aerospace, and should be able to improve the Reaper’s chances.

In the MoU, Fokker commits to help adapt the UAV to Dutch national standards; offer guidance and support for Dutch airworthiness certification requirements; provide design, manufacturing, and support for the Electrical Wiring Interconnection system; offer engineering support related to landing and arresting gears; and support the UAV after delivery. GA-ASI.

June 18/13: Sub-contractors. For the past 2 years, General Atomics and Canada’s CAE have been teamed for Canada’s JUSTAS high-end UAV program, offering MQ-9/Predator B and/or Predator C Avenger UAVs. CAE is also a top-tier global simulation and training firm, however, and so GA-ASI is partnering with them to develop the global Mission Training System for the unarmed Predator XP, MQ-9 Reaper, and jet-powered Predator C Avenger.

As a bonus, sales and support of future training systems in Canada and abroad would count toward Canada’s required requirement for 100% industrial offsets against the purchase contract’s value. GA-ASI.

May 31/13: MQ-9. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian writes an article for Les Echos, stating his commitment to buy 2 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs from the USA, for delivery before the end of 2013. After so much procrastination, with only 2 Harfang drones operational, and with pressing commitments in Mali and elsewhere, he says that France must take the immediately available choice. Defense Aerospace suggests that the French Air Force finally got their way, after stalling other options.

The Americans’ reluctance to allow even key NATO allies like Italy to arm their drones suggests that French MQ-9s will also be unarmed, which Le Drian explicitly confirmed in an interview with Europe 1. France’s reputation for pervasive industrial espionage, even during combat operations, may also get in the way of advanced sensor exports, leaving their Reapers with 3,000 pounds of ordnance capacity that doesn’t get used. The other unresolved issue involves long-range control. If France wants to operate the Reapers via the preferred satellite link method, they’ll need to either spend the time and money to build their own control facility, make arrangements to share Britain’s newly-built RAFB Waddington facility, or co-locate with the USAF at Creech AFB, NV.

Ultimately, Le Drian argues for a European partnership that will share expertise and develop a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV like the Reaper. The Italians must be happy to hear that, and Le Drian seems to be referring to their discussions when he says “Cette ambition est d’ores et deja en chantier” (loose trans. “we’re already working on it”). The question in Europe is always whether talk will lead to action, so we’ll wait until we see a contract. Les Echos | Defense-Aerospace | Europe 1 .

France will buy 2 MQ-9 Reapers, and pursue a European MALE UAV project

May 14/13: Germany. Germany has decided to end the RQ-4 Euro Hawk project. Not only would it cost hundreds of millions to attempt EASA certification, but reports indicate that German authorities aren’t confident that they would receive certification at the end of the process. Rather than pay another EUR 600 – 700 million for additional UAVs and equipment, and an equivalent amount to attempt EASA certification, Germany will attempt to find another path.

This is bad news for General Atomics’ hopes of selling Germany MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Reapers also lack anti-collision electronics, and would face many of the same certification problems. Read “RQ-4 Euro Hawk UAV: Death by Certification” for full coverage.

May 9/13: Italy. Foolish American intransigence may be about to create a Reaper competitor.

Aviation Week interviews Italy’s national armaments director Gen. Claudio Debertolis, who reveals that Italy asked to arm its MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs 2 years ago. The USA has refused to cooperate, halting Italian efforts, while allowing the British to arm their Reaper UAVs. Italy is responsible for wide swathes of territory in Afghanistan, and was the point country for NATO’s campaign against Libya in 2011.

Arming their UAVs is a high priority, and Debertolis confirms that Italy is in talks with potential European partners to move forward with a covert “Super MALE” weaponized UAV program. If they don’t develop a new UAV from scratch, the existing nEUROn program could fill this niche with a full stealth UCAV, and BAE/Dassault’s Mantis/ Telemos is a natural competitor to the Reaper. A 3rd option would be to just buy Heron UAVs from Israel, which that country has reportedly armed. France’s Harfang is a Heron derivative, and Germany is already operating them as rent-a-drones, so an armed Heron and conversion kit could offer a quick solution for all concerned.

The question for any of these options, and even for going ahead and converting existing MQ-1/9 UAVs with American permission, revolved around funding. America may have delayed Italy for so long that it doesn’t have the budget to do anything, even convert its existing UAVs. Aviation Week.

May 3/13: Brimstone for Reapers? With JAGM fielding still some way off, if ever, the USAF’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group rapid acquisition office is being prodded by the UK to add MBDA’s competing dual laser/ MW radar guided Brimstone missile to the MQ-9’s arsenal. It’s real attraction is a ‘man in the loop’ feature that lets the firing aircraft abort an attack after launch, or correct a missile that locks on the wrong target. In Libya, those characteristics reportedly made it one of the few weapons NATO commanders could use to hit enemy armored vehicles in urban areas.

Brimstone already serves on RAF Tornado GR4 strike jets, and was an option for Britain’s Harrier GR9s before the entire fleet was sold to the US Marines. With Britain’s MQ-9s deployed, they’ve reportedly asked for tests using USAF MQ-9s, and also hope to interest American armed services in the weapon. Defense News | Defense Update.

April 23/13: Canada. General Atomics announces a 2-year agreement with OMX, who has developed the largest, amalgamated structured database of suppliers in the Canadian defence, aerospace, and security industries. Their searchable database has gathered and collected almost 50,000 companies “from existing information available on the Internet by a series of proprietary algorithms,” and has been live since December 2012. Why is this a great deal for OMX? Because:

“Canadian companies interested in becoming suppliers to GA-ASI are encouraged to claim their complimentary company profiles on and update their information, including Canadian Content Value (CCV) percentages per product.”

It’s a different approach to finding local suppliers, but one that we expect to quickly become the norm around the world.

April 11/13: Support. General Atomics AIS in Poway, CA receives a sole-source $18.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for MQ-1/MQ-9 organic depot activation at Hill FB, UT; Warner-Robins AFB, GA; and Tinker AFB, OK.

Work is expected to be complete by April 4/15. The contract uses FY 2011 monies. USAF Life Cycle Management Command /WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0044).

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

With respect to the MQ-9, the FY 2014 budget cuts 12 Reaper systems. It will buy just 12 MQ-9 Block 5s this year, then pursue the same schedule as the FY 2013 plan. That’s the official line, anyway. FY 2018 adds another 24 Reapers as it moves the planning horizon forward a year, with 65 systems left in the planned program to bring the total to 401.

Delivery of the last 3 FY 2010 and the first 26 FY 2011 UAVs is delayed due to a General Atomics fuel tank manufacturing issue. The Government isn’t accepting aircraft until the manufacturing issue is corrected, but a solution was approved. Correction of tech data, spares and support equipment will be complete in May 2013.

April 2/13: What now? Defense News aptly summarizes the key question facing the USA’s MQ-9 plans:

“On the one hand, the work in Mali shows that the signature weapon of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is outlasting that conflict. On the other, the detachment is a tiny fraction of the Predator/Reaper fleet – and just where are the rest of them going to go?”

With flights below 60,000 feet heavily restricted within the USA, there aren’t that many options stateside, and most of the MQ-9 fleet’s $8,000 per flight hour operations are funded by wartime OCO appropriations. AFRICOM may have the best combination of circumstances abroad, but it can’t absorb all of them, and the $6,000 per flight hour manned MC-12s are a natural competitor.

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish.

The MQ-9 Block 1 Reaper is in production, and the USAF has bought 117, or roughly 30% of their envisioned requirements. Block 5 production decision was delayed 2 years to July 2013, in part due to concerns about software delays, and integration and testing backlogs. Despite the extra time to mature key technologies, the program is currently incorporating several Urgent Operational Requirements from the front lines, including the Advanced Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP).

Block 5 operational testing is currently planned for November 2013, and the program will be reducing or deferring 12 required block 5 capabilities related to aircraft endurance, radar performance, and reliability, and other areas.

Meanwhile, the USAF is currently re-evaluating its requirements and strategy for managing future Reaper upgrades – which puts the increment II program (GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb integration, Automatic take-off and landing, Deicing, and National airspace certification) in an unfunded limbo.

March 4/13: Reaper-ER plans. Gannett’s Air Force Times reports that the USAF wants to go ahead with the full suite of MQ-9 Reaper ER refits (vid. April 18/12 entry) to extend the UAV’s range and endurance, even in the middle of budget cuts. The USAF wouldn’t confirm FY 2014 budget plans, but GA-ASI director for strategic development Chris Pehrson has told Defense News that “They’ve approved it; it’s a matter of details now.” The report adds that:

“The ER model could allow incursions into Pakistan despite the loss of the Afghan bases that have been home to many unmanned launches in the past decade…. The standard Reaper is configured for 30 hours for the ISR model, and roughly 23 hours if armed with Hellfire missiles. General Atomics believes the ER model would up those to 42 hours for ISR and 35 hours with the Hellfire.”

Some of the ER’s modifications, like winglets on the wingtips and upgraded landing gear, are already slated for fielding in the MQ-9 Block 5. What the ER model adds is upturned instead of parabolic winglets (based on graphics shown to date), and longer wings (+22 feet wingspan, to 88 feet) with 2 “wet” hardpoints that can take fuel tanks. Gannett’s Air Force Times.


Jan 17/13: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). Despite “incremental progress,” the MQ-9 remains in limbo for GBU-38 500-pound JDAM integration, and hasn’t resolved the fuzing and weapons envelope discrepancies identified in 2010.

The Air Force intends to fulfill the MQ-9 Increment One CPD requirements with a final UAS configuration consisting of the Block 5 RPA, Block 30 GCS, and OFP 904.6. The UAV’s core OFP flight software has been a development issue, and DOT&E expects further delays, along with added risks because cyber-vulnerabilities haven’t been heavily tested. AFOTEC hopes to conduct formal operational testing of the final MQ-9 Increment One UAS in 2014.

Dec 21/12: Support. A $337.1 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee and time and material contract to procure logistics services for the USAF’s MQ-1 and MQ-9 Predator/Reaper fleets. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/13. The AFLCMC/WIKBA at Robins AFB, GA manages this contract (FA8528-13-C-0002).

Beyond the original manufacturer GA-ASI, Battlespace Flight Services LLC is also a major support provider for Predator family fleets. Their most recent award was a $950 million contract issued to cover MQ-1/9 fleet support from January 2013 – March 2014.

Dec 20/12: UK. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA, is being awarded a $42.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract for Phase 1 and 2 contractor logistics support to the British MQ-9 fleet.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA; Creech AFB, NV; Waddington, United Kingdom; and Afghanistan. Work is expected to be complete by March 31/15 (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080).

Dec 19/12: France. DGA chief Laurent Collet-Billon confirms to reporters that France is discussing the option of buying MQ-9s through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, modifying them to carry European sensors and weapons. Collet-Billon believes that this proposition could interest existing operators in Britain and Italy, as well as potential future operators in Germany and Poland.

IAI’s Heron TP also remains in the running. Aviation Week.

Nov 30/12: Support. A $12.6 million option for the MQ-9 Reaper’s FY 2010/2011 retrofits. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Sept 30/15 (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 001302).

Nov 30/12: NASA upgrade. GA-ASI announces an agreement with NASA’s Dryden Flight Center to upgrade their MQ-9 “Ikhana” UAV with new satellite link capabilities. It’s part of a no-cost Space Act Agreement signed in September 2012, and will let the UAV operate in places like the Arctic, where communications can be spotty. NASA Dryden center director David McBride:

“The system improvements enabled by this agreement expand the utility of the Ikhana MQ-9 for NASA science and the development of technology required for unmanned air systems to fly in the national airspace. Both are key national priorities that benefit from this government/industry cooperative effort.”


Nov 5/12: + 10 A $125.5 million contract for 10 MQ-9 “modified Block 1” (Block 5) UAVs. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 28/14 (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0052).

USA buys 10 Block 5s

Oct 25/12: FAA. GA?ASI announces that they’ve successfully demonstrated BAE’s reduced-size AN/DPX-7 Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)-based system, using a US Customs and Border Protection MQ-9 Guardian (maritime Predator B) flying off of the Florida coast. The test follows GA-ASI’s successful 2011 test of a prototype airborne X-band “Due Regard” AESA Radar aboard a manned aircraft, and is another step toward civil airspace certification.

The FAA has mandated that all aircraft flying above 10,000 feet or around major U.S. airports must be ADS-B equipped by 2020. ADS-B is a GPS-based surveillance system, and DPX-7 combines military IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) with civilian ADS-B compatibility. The goal of these tests, and of the broader program, is to have a UAV that knows when other aircraft are approaching, and can likewise inform them of its own presence and location. The Guardian UAV did that with ADS-B in the tests, but a Due Regard radar would give it a secondary backup that could also find aircraft whose ADS-B was absent or malfunctioning.

Oct 22/12: UK. The Guardian reports that RAF XIII Squadron being stood up on Oct 26/12 will operate its 5 Reapers from a new control facility at RAFB Waddington. They’ll have 3 control terminals at Waddington, and all 5 UAVs will deploy to Afghanistan. The 5 Reapers already in service there will continue operation from the USAF’s Creech AFB, NV, but Britain wants to consolidate all of its MQ-9 operations to Waddington later on.

XIII Squadron’s deployment will place all 10 British Reapers in Afghanistan. The question is how many of them, if any, will remain there after 2014, when all NATO combat operations are due to end.

FY 2012

GA-ASI develops Reaper ER, adds auto-takeoff and landing. Here’s looking
at you, kid…
(click to view full)

Sept 17/12: Auto-land. GA-ASI announces that the MQ-9 Reaper has successfully completed 106 full-stop Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) landings, with no issues.

The core ATLC system comes from the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and the move represents a departure for the USAF. The approach to date has been to have pilots fly the Reaper, so of course the tradition is to let them fly all aspects. The problem is, the Army found that they had far fewer accidents with automated landings, than the USAF was having with pilots at the controls. The Army also appreciated the ability to use lower-ranking individuals as UAV controllers. Reapers aren’t cheap, and lowering accident rates took priority. So here we are.

The tests took place at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA. The next steps will include envelope expansion for takeoffs and landings at higher wind limits and greater maximum gross weights, differential GPS (dGPS) enhancements, and terrain avoidance with adjustable glideslope. GA-ASI.

Sept 13/12: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $297 million cost plus fixed price, firm-fixed-price and time and materials contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor logistics support. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/12. The ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract.

The mystery revolves around who it’s for. The original Sept 10/12 release mistakenly said that the contract involved foreign military sales to Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. The Sept 13/12 “correction” said it involved foreign military sales to United Kingdom.

GA-ASI, who should know, says that neither of those descriptions is accurate. It finalizes a December 2011 contract to support the USAF and British RAF’s deployed MQ-1 and MQ-9 units, and includes field support representatives at remote sites. General Atomics is already 9 months into fulfilling it, and this is the revised dollar amount (FA8620-10-G-3038, 002403).

Sept 5/12: MQ-9 block 5. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announces a successful 1st flight of the MQ-9 Reaper Block 1-plus. With the completion of development, testing, and expected Milestone C decision this fall, the MQ-9 Block 1-plus configuration will be designated “MQ-9 Block 5.”

Block 5 flies

Aug 28/12: GCS. A $46.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for ground control stations. Work is to be completed by Feb 28/14 (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0031).

Aug 20/12: Upgrades. An $87.3 million combination firm-fixed-price, cost-plus fixed-fee contract for retrofit kits and their installation on up to 80 FY 2010/2011 MQ-9 Block 1 aircraft, to be completed by August 2016 (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0013).

When asked, GA-ASI clarified that these kits have 2 main components. One involves installing new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear (TA-MLG), to increase weight capacity. The other big change involves upgrading the weapons kit from BRU-15 [PDF] bomb release units to ITT Exelis’ BRU-71/A [PDF]. These new pneumatic bomb racks are meant to be safer, easier to maintain, and more capable.

Note that this retrofit does not update these Reapers to the future Block 5 standard, which will also encompass other upgrades such as redesigned avionics.

July 10/12: Sensors. Raytheon announces a $191 million contract to provide 149 MTS-B multispectral surveillance and targeting turrets for the USAF’s MQ-9 Reaper. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2013, and the contract also includes support equipment and spares.

The MTS-B is used aboard MQ-9s operated by the USAF, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Britain, and Italy, and has been picked for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton/ BAMS Global Hawk UAV variant.

June 20/12: POGO, stuck. James Hasik undertakes a thorough analysis of MQ-9 costs, and comparables for the USA’s F-16 fleet, as a riposte to a paper by Winslow Wheeler of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO, vid. March 1/12). To put it charitably, he doesn’t think very much of Wheeler’s analysis. Hasik’s argument and analysis are worth reading in full, but the core sums to this:

“Actually, 29.5 hours is 17 percent of a week… a tad below the objective of 21 percent, and… With proceed time, it could be more like 12/7 coverage [for a 4-UAV set]. But honestly, I don’t know of any other military aircraft that spends 17 percent of its life airborne… For a 7,300-hour per year four-ship CAP, the estimated costs for MQ-9s are $10.5 million in manpower, $17.2 million in variable flying expenses, and $ 9.2 million in depreciation, for a total of $36.9 million. The estimated costs for F-16Cs are $14.5 million in manpower, $37.3 million in variable flying expenses, and $34.1 million in depreciation, for a total of $85.9 million… [even] operating and dumping four old F-16Cs [would cost] ($51.8 million). In peacetime… F-16 aircrews would still need to get in their 200+ hours to maintain proficiency. How much flying is required for Reaper aircrews to maintain the same? Possibly zero… [and] the per-hour cost of the MQ-9 is so much lower than that of the jets that it’s still clearly the better choice.

…In short, including these aircraft in the force structure is good idea simply to save unjustified wear-and-tear on the fighters, which might actually, someday, again be needed for the big war.”

May 29/12: Arming the Italians. There’s no formal DSCA announcement yet, but media reports indicate that the US government wants to approve Italy’s request to arm its MQ-9 fleet.

If that comes to pass, all 3 Reaper customers (the USAF, Britain, and Italy) will have armed their UAVs. The clear implication would also follow that any NATO member, or close allies like Australia, would be authorized to buy armed American UAVs. That has been a source of controversy in the past (vid. Dec 15/11), and until approval and work take place, this can’t be seen as a completely done deal just yet.

Italy’s military has responsibility for a wide area of northern Afghanistan, and arming its MQ-9s would certainly be helpful to them. So far, Italy appears to have bought 4 MQ-9s, out of their approved total of 6.

April 18/12: Reaper ER. General Atomics announces a pair of “extended range” MQ-9 versions, developed with its own funds. Step 1 is heavyweight landing gear, which increases maximum landing weight by 30%, and maximum gross takeoff weight to 11,700 pounds (+12%). Step 2 is a pair of “wet” hardpoints that can handle a pair of fuel tanks. With those enhancements, aerial endurance without other payloads rises from 27 hours – 37 hours. That endurance also translates into range, but endurance is usually the bigger issue for UAVs.

Step 3 could add a bigger change, replacing the Reaper’s 66 foot wingspan with new wings that have internal fuel tanks. The new wingspan becomes 88 feet, with winglets at the tips, and a UAV with this configuration would raise endurance without other payloads to 42 hours. Both sets of changes can be made as upgrades to existing drones. GA-ASI | AIN | WIRED Danger Room.

strong>March 2/12: +2. A $38.4 million firm-price-incentive-firm (FPIF) and firm-fixed-price (FFP) contract for 2 modified MQ-9 Block 1 UAVs (FPIF) and 2 Aircraft Containers (FFP). Work is expected to be complete in November 2013 (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0051).

USA buys 2

March 1/12: How many crashes? Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information asks how many Predators and Reapers are being lost to crashes. He has to extrapolate to great lengths because of less-than-transparent information sharing from the Pentagon and the Air Force. Wheeler himself doesn’t seem to factor in training and maintenance needs, except to say that he believes that MQ-9s may require more maintenance than advertised. That could be a sufficient explanation for the “excess” ordered drones all by itself, if the Pentagon’s goal is to maintain the required number of combat patrols.

As of February 2012, there are 87 MQ-9 aircraft in inventory according to the Air Force’s latest P-40 document. DID doesn’t have the precise number of deliveries to date, but this probably leaves room for a dozen or more missing aircraft, based on the 101 units ordered to the end of FY10, and delays between orders and deliveries that range between 6 – 24 months.

Though the Air Force doesn’t publicly report all its UAV crashes, Mr. Wheeler’s estimate that the Air Force has “anticipated” an attrition rate of up to 35% strikes us as quite the stretch.

Feb 13/12: FY13PB Bad News. the FY 2013 President Budget cuts the order rate per year from 48 to 24. This would go back to the rate executed in FY 2009 and FY 2010, leaving only FY11/12 at the full rate of 48 units per year. Gross weapon system cost for FY13 is at $553.5 million, down from $719.6 million planned for FY 2012. This, as well as a number of aircraft and system upgrades, should drive unit cost above $15 million. The total number of units by the end of FY 2017 would reach 317 aircraft. If Congress agrees with these quantities this will mean that the program peaked in FY 2011 slightly above $1.2 billion in combined procurement and RDT&E, with spending decreasing to about $650-$800 million per year starting in the coming fiscal year. See spreadsheet above.

While procurement takes a hit, total RDT&E over the next 5 years increased by about $200 million vs. the set of numbers communicated by the Air Force in the FY12PB. Finally the budget for modifications is expected to reach a peak of $238.4 million in FY 2013, up from $149.7 million for FY 2012. Modifications would reach $1.15 billion for 2012-17 out of a total $2.5 billion over the life of the program.

Jan 12/12: GCS. The Register – which never has any love lost for Microsoft – reports that recent pictures show that GCS block 30 Predator-Reaper Ground Control Stations are partly switching over from Windows to Linux computer operating systems, after successful keylogger hacking attacks reported in October 2011.

In reality, using Linux in Block 30 was already in the pipeline months before said security incident (Air Force PDF). Work on the next-generation Block 50 continues.

Dec 15/11: Dis-armed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] is lobbying against selling armed UAVs to any other countries beyond Britain, even key allies. This news is bracketed by announcements that EADS is expanding its UAV cooperation agreements to include Italy’s Alenia, and that those agreement include the possible development of armed UCAV platforms. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter if Feinstein succeeds. The mere fact that she is trying, and that the Obama administration is seen to be vacillating on the issue, will cause other countries to step up their own independent efforts. Wall Street Journal [subscription] | Alenia | EADS.

Dec 8/11: +40 A $319.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for 40 MQ-9 Block 1 UAVs, and 40 aircraft containers. Work is expected to be complete in September 2013. This was a sole-source acquisition (FA8620-10-G-3038 0017).

USA buys 40

Dec 7/11: CIA Reapers? Flight International discusses Google Earth photos that appear to show an MQ-1 or MQ-9 being towed on a runway at Yucca Lake, NV, which is owned by the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Their report collates what is known from a variety of sources, but the core speculation is that Yucca Lake may be a CIA base, capable of holding 10-15 drones. The CIA is known to operate both MQ-1s and MQ-9s, alongside the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone which recently ended up in Iran’s hands. An earlier Google Earth image, showing what appear to be a Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air on the ramp, has also fueled speculation that Yucca Lake is used by Lockheed Martin.

Dec 2/11: Protests. DeWitt Town Justice David Gideon rules that 31 protesters are guilty on 2 charges of disorderly conduct, and sentences 4 to jail time, for blocking the main entrance to the New York Air National Guard’s Hancock Field on April 22/11. They were protesting the base’s MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing has been remotely flying over Afghanistan, from Syracuse, since late 2009. Syracuse Post-Standard.

Dec 1/11: Away from the FAA. The US Army confirms that the MQ-9 Reaper has begun training missions at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield in Fort Drum, NY, which allows it to use that site’s restricted airspace without having to get FAA waivers. The cockpit sits at Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport, in order to make takeoffs and landings near-real time, after which the MQ-9 remains connected via satellite.

Nov 28/11: France. The French Senate adopts its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s recommendation to re-route EUR 109 million in funding from France’s 2012 UAV budget, and remove French industrial policy as a decision factor. The move is explicitly designed to favor the MQ-9 Reaper as France’s interim drone, over the more expensive Heron TP picked by France’s DGA. The way France’s political system is structured, however, makes this a long-odds shot at changing the DGA’s mind. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAVs” for full coverage.

FY 2011

US ramps up Block 1 orders, analyzes limitations; Air Force defers Milestone C decision for Block 5 RPA. Program continues to lack an approved Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP). France loss might still be reverted. Click for video

Sept 14/11: Un-American MQ-9. GA-ASI and SELEX Galileo complete initial testing of a new UAS open payload architecture for their Sovereign Payload Capability (SPC) Demonstration, using GA-ASI’s System Integration Lab (SIL). The broad goal is to be able to add 3rd party sensors and control software without the need to modify software on the MQ-9 or its ground controllers, while letting on-board systems access aircraft data links and communication buses, control certain aircraft power switching, and receive vehicle and sensor data feeds.

The narrower goal involves supporting SELEX Galileo’s sophisticated SeaSpray 7500E AESA maritime radar into the MQ-9, which fits with wider efforts to demonstrate the MQ-9/Predator B’s attractiveness as a maritime surveillance platform.

SPC is a privately-funded Independent Research and Development (IRAD) effort between GA-ASI and SELEX Galileo. GA-ASI is performing the software and hardware modifications, while SELEX Galileo is developing the airborne payload control software, and delivering the radar for integration. A live flight demonstration over the Pacific Ocean is expected in early December 2011. GA-ASI.

Oct 17/11: Italy +2. A $15 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Italian Air Force MQ-9 Reaper Program. This gets production going for 2 MQ-9 Reapers, 3 Lynx Block 30 radars, and 1 spare engine. ASC/WIIK, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0006).

In 2008, Italy’s original $330 million DSCA request was for 4 UAVs and 3 ground stations. A Nov 19/09 DSCA request looked to pay up to $63 million more, in order to raise the order limit to 6 equipped UAVs and 4 ground stations. This buy makes 4 UAVs, and 2 ground stations so far. General Atomics’ support contracts (about $30 million so far, vid. Nov 30/10, Aug 26/09) are likely to expand along with the fleet.

Italy buys 2

Oct 14/11: FAA training OK. The FAA has decided to allow MQ-9s from the Hancock Air National Guard to fly training missions in Fort Drum’s special use airspace at all times, rather than on a case-by-case basis. This has been required up until now, because UAVs lack basic “sense and avoid” safety measures, and so have very restricted flight certifications.

The next step is a plan that would allow the 174th Fighter Wing to fly its Reapers from Hancock, NY to Fort Drum, instead of being loaded onto trucks and driven. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand [D-NY] | Read Media | WSYR | YNN Central NY.

Oct 7/11: Virus! WIRED Danger Room reports that a “keylogger” virus has infected the USAF’s MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleets. This is a surveillance virus that records keystrokes, and may periodically send the results elsewhere:

“The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say… “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

See also Las Vegas Review-Journal.

MQ-9, armed
(click to view full)

Aug 19/11: R&D. An $11.6 million cost-plus-incentive and firm-fixed-price contract for development of the MQ-9’s aircraft structural improvement program master plan; a left set synthetic aperture radar; and a high definition integrated sensor control system (FA8620-05-G-3028, 0049-19).

General Atomics’ Lynx SAR ground radar, developed in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories, is widely used on MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, and operates aboard MQ-9s flown the Italian Air Force and US Customs & Border Patrol.

July 21/11: Loss in France. The French Defense Ministry enters into talks with Dassault Aviation to adapt IAI’s Heron TP for use by the French military, starting in 2014, to plug the gap before a “new generation” of drones becomes available in 2020. Reports cite General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper drones as the military’s preferred choice, but the high-value workshare for Dassault and Thales SA clinched the Heron TP as the Ministère de la Défense’s interim choice instead.

France eventually changes its mind, and buys MQ-9s. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for full coverage.

“Loss” in France

July 1/11: Wildfires. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Air and Marine has begun using its MQ-9 and the agency’s “Big Pipe” video service, to help agencies fighting Arizona’s wildfires. NASA’s Ikhana has also been used in a fire survey role, and USCBP appears to have formalized the capability.

The UAV, launched from National Air Security Operations Center-Sierra Vista, is using both its electro-optical and radar sensors, then sending the results down to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Interior (DOI), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). USCBP Big Pipe images can be viewed anywhere there is an internet connection, including smart-phones. Reviews from the field have been positive. GA-ASI.

May 25/11: Canada. General Atomics and CAE announce an exclusive teaming agreement to offer the MQ-9 as a contender for Canada’s JUSTAS UAV program. GA-ASI.

April 27/11: Germany. General Atomics signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with RUAG Aerospace Services GmbH. They plan to offer the MQ-9 as a successor to Germany’s SAATEG program, which is leasing IAI Herons and services from Rheinmetall to cover Germany’s Afghan deployment (vid. Oct 28/09 entry). GA-ASI.

March 31/11: UK. A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems UK Ltd (GA-UK) subsidiary is established with an office in London, managed by Dr. Jonny King. Britain has received 6 MQ-9s, and will grow that fleet to 10 as the December 7/10 orders arrive. GA-ASI.

March 21/11: +6. A $50.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 6 production MQ-9 Reapers, and 2 MQ-9s that will become ground maintenance trainers. Work will be performed in Poway, CA (FA-8620-10-G-3038, 002801).

Feb 2/11: +24. A $148.3 million contract for 24 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-10-G-3038 0028).

USA buys 31

Feb 2/11: MQ-9 Issues. Defense news quotes Col. James Gear, director of the USAF’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Task Force, on the future of its UAV fleet. Despite a big commitment to the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper caused a major mid-stream shift in plans. Col. Gear cites some existing issues with the MQ-9, which could leave it open to a similar shift.

The Reaper does not fare well in icing conditions, and is also not considered survivable against anti-aircraft systems. The issue of jam and snoop-proof data links, and trace-back and verification of signal origins, has also been a live question during the MQ-1 and MQ-9’s tenure. The “MQ-X” that replaces it will have to do better on all 3 counts, and the USAF also wants it to be easily upgradeable via switch-out modules. The Colonel believes the resulting UAV will end up being common with the US Navy’s carrier-based UCLASS requirement, as the 2 services are cooperating closely. That could give Northrop Grumman’s funded X-47B N-UCAS an edge over Boeing’s privately developed X-45 Phantom Ray, but General Atomics will also be submitting its own Avenger/ Sea Avenger.

Having said all of that, the MQ-9 Reaper would be superior to jet-powered UAVS in an environment where airspace is secure and the USA needs lower-cost, long endurance UAVs that combine surveillance and hunter-killer capability. There, it doesn’t need higher-end capabilities, and can deliver the same or better results for less money.

Dec 7/10: Prime Minister David Cameron announces that Britain will “double” its current MQ-9 Reaper fleet, under a GBP 135 million contract. That would place the fleet at its full requested size of 10 UAVs. UK MoD | Flight International.

UK buys 5 more

Dec 1/10: Military support. About 75 airmen from the USAF 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assume responsibility for MQ-9 Reaper maintenance operations at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, replacing a civilian contract force. They become the first USAF servicemembers to maintain MQ-9s since they entered combat operations in Afghanistan. USAF.

Nov 30/10: Italy. An $18.1 million contract modification, covering contractor logistics support for the Italian Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper program, including all logistics necessary to support the Italian Air Force main operating base and possibly a forward operating base. At this time, $5.4 million has been committed (FA8620-10-G-3038).

Oct 5/10: Support. A $34.4 million contract modification which will provide organizational maintenance support for MQ-9 Reapers and related systems at Creech Air Force Base, NV; Holloman Air Force Base, NM; and deployed locations worldwide. ACC AMIC/PKC at Langley Air Force Base, VA issued this contract (FA4890-07-C-0009, PO 0041).

FY 2010 RAF MQ-9 to Afghanistan
(click to view full)

Sept 15/10: Support. A $51.5 million contract for Initial Spares, Deployment Readiness Packages, and Ground Support Equipment to support the FY 2008 MQ-9 Reaper buy. At this time, all funds have been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028; 0066).

Sept 10/10: UK. Britain has sent an extra MQ-9 Reaper UAV to Afghanistan:

“This latest addition to the Royal Air Force’s Reaper fleet will allow 39 Squadron to fly multiple Reaper aircraft at any one time over Afghanistan. A total of 36 hours of video surveillance can now be delivered in support of troops on the ground every day of the year, which marks an 80 per cent increase over the past 12 months. Reaper has been supporting ground forces in Afghanistan since October 2007 and has now flown over 13,000 hours in direct support of operations.”

Sept 9/10: +6. A $38.3 million contract modification which will buy 6 MQ-9 Reaper aircraft. Which is not the same thing as 6 Reaper systems (which would include all ancillaries), or even 6 fully-armed Reapers (sensors and weapons are separate contracts). At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028; 0050012).

Aug 25/10: Support. A $7.8 million contract modification for the MQ-9 System Development and Demonstration Increment I program. The contract includes a credit for stopped work, a cost overrun for on-going activities, additional scope for a high capacity starter/generator, and the AWM-103 for Hellfire development effort. The AN/AWM-103 is a release and control test set used for pre-flight operational checks of various missile and ordnance launch interfaces, and will also be used for the AIM-9X Sidewinder.

At this time, $3.6 million has been committed by the ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (F33657-02-G-4035, 0023 36).

June 25/10: France. France’s future UAV options are coming into clearer focus as they prepare to release their new “DTIA” RFP. The MQ-9 is still seen as a contender, but it isn’t alone by any means. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for in-depth coverage.

June 24/10: New GCS bases. The USAF will create additional ground control bases for its MQ-1 and MQ-9 fleets. Whiteman Air Force Base, MO is expected to reach Initial Operational Capability by February 2011. Ellsworth AFB, SD will achieve IOC by May 2012. Each base will add about 280 people, but no UAVs. USAF.

June 15/10: +4. A $24 million contract for 4 more MQ-9 Reaper (2 production aircraft and 2 ground maintenance trainers). At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028).

A conversation with General Atomics confirms that these 4 MQ-9s are for the USAF, which is exercising a FY 2009 option for more UAVs.

USA buys 5

June 9/10: Italy. Defense News reports that Italy’s 2 ordered Reaper systems will be delivered in July 2010 to Puglia air base in southern Italy, and are expected to start serving in Afghanistan before year-end. The original delivery schedule for the February 2009 order was before 2009 year end, but that has slipped.

An Italian Air Force source told Defense News that 2 more Reapers will be delivered by the end of 2010. The Italian Air Force reportedly wants to have 2 UAVs (Predator or Reaper) ready to fly at all times in Afghanistan, or 1 permanently flying. Italy already operates a small set of MQ-1 Predator UAVs. See also Feb 5/09 ad Dec 19/09 entries.

June 4/10: Automatic? A $9 million contract which will provide “for MQ-9 auto take-off and landing capability modification to the system development and demonstration bridge effort.” US Army UAVs have tended to use automatic take off and landing, which allows them to use non-commissioned officers as UAV controllers. It has also led to lower crash rates, compared to USAF UAVs.

At this time, $1 million has been obligated by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028).

May 19/10: UK. The UK MoD announces that The RAF’s MQ-9 Reaper program has now exceeded 10,000 hours of armed overwatch in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Reapers are flown by 39 Squadron via satellite from a UK operations facility at Creech AFB, NV, USA. Its primary role is surveillance, but from May 2008 the system has been armed with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. In the last 12 months alone, 39 Squadron has more than doubled its operational flying output, and more RAF MQ-9s are expected to arrive in theater in 2010. UK MoD.

March 30/10: Euro-competitor? The UK’s Labour Party Minister of Defence Quentin Davies says that the U.K., France and Italy have commissioned a set of firms including Dassault Aviation SA to study a multinational project for an armed UAV with surveillance capabilities. The goal is “an improvement on [MQ-9] Reaper, the next generation,” and the report is due for completion in June 2010.

BAE’s Mantis UAV project is one possible basis for an effort of this type, and the UK MoD has confirmed that “Mantis will be one contender in the assessment phase [but] no firm commitments have been made.” Other possibilities might include widening the current French/ German/ Spanish Talarion UAV project, or merging the UK’s stealthy Taranis UCAV project into the similar nEUROn consortium, which already includes France and Italy. A great deal depends on the specifications laid out for the new UAV. BusinessWeek.

Feb 1/10: +2 test. A $12.8 million cost plus fixed fee term contract to provide 2 MQ-9 Reaper test aircraft. They will support immediate and future development tests needs on the Reaper Increment I program. All funds have been committed by the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028-005005).

December 2009: Hacked! Media reports reveal that MQ-1 Predator UAVs have had their surveillance footage intercepted, using an inexpensive satellite receiver and low-cost SkyGrabber software. The reason? No encryption between the UAV and its ground receivers. The Wall Street Journal adds that:

“The US government has known about the flaw since the US campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”

Some reports added that retrofits are now underway to fix this problem, beginning with deployed UAVs. General Atomics confirmed to DID that the Reaper has used the same SATCOM setup as its Predators. See Wall St. Journal | Ars Technica | cnet | Defense Tech | John Robb’s Global Guerrillas | Flight International.


Dec 7/09: US CBP. US Customs and Border patrol takes delivery of its first MQ-9 “Guardian” variant in Paldale, CA, as part of a joint program with the US Coast Guard to investigate UAVs for maritime patrol roles. Australia has already done similar work, as part of its Coastwatch program.

The Guardian has been modified from a standard MQ-9 with structural, avionics, and communications enhancements, as well as the addition of a Raytheon SeaVue Marine Search Radar, and an Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Sensor that is optimized for maritime operations. Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) is expected to begin in early 2010 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, and if all goes well, the UAV will be sent out on counter-narcotics operations beginning in spring 2010. General Atomics release.

These UAVs are bought by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. By 2014, US CBP has 11 MQ-9s, including 2 “Guardian” maritime patrol variants with the SeaVue radar.

US Customs & Border Patrol

Nov 19/09: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Italy’s official request for 2 more unarmed MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, plus maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related support. The estimated cost is up to $63 million. The contractors would be:

  • General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. San Diego, California (UAV)
  • Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, CA (surveillance/targeting turret)
  • General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, CA (SAR radar)

Italy has already ordered 2 MQ-9s and 2 ground stations (vid. Feb 5/09, Aug 26/09), and its original Aug 1/08 DSCA request was for 4 UAVs and 3 ground stations. This request would raise the order limit to 6 UAVs and 4 ground stations.

DSCA request: Italy (2)

Nov 2/09: Seychelles. Voice of America quotes U.S. Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley, who says several MQ-9 Reapers will be based in the Seychelle Islands (just north of Madagascar) by late October or November 2009. The UAVs will be based at the international airport in the capital Mahe, and are there at the request of the Seychelles government. AFRICOM says they will not be armed, which makes the MQ-9 Reaper an odd choice versus the MQ-1 Predator.

The request came after Somali pirates began extending their operations more than 1,000 km away from Somali shores. Two Seychelles-flagged vessels have been hijacked in 2009, and several others attacked in waters near the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands. India also has close relations with the Seychelles, and sent a warship to the area in May 2009. Voice of America | Stars and Stripes | Crossed Crocodiles.

Oct 28/09: Germany. In contrast to Italy’s buy, Germany leases Israeli Heron UAVs for use in Afghanistan. At least one report suggests that negative experiences with Foreign Military Sales rules tipped Germany away from an MQ-9 Reaper, which was the target of an Aug 1/08 DSCA request. Time will tell if Germany’s procurement policies bear that out.

Germany leases Heron UAVs instead

Oct 14/09: Losing my connection. Esquire Magazine’s “We’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Unmanned” article includes an excerpt covering MQ-9 operations that may raise a few eyebrows:

“During “lost link” episodes, when communication with the air crew is broken, the plane circles on a preset course and waits for direction. “We have to find it. It’s like hide-and-seek,” Dowd said. The week Gersten took command at Creech, a power surge hit the base and he lost contact with several Predators and Reapers over Afghanistan and Iraq. His crews told him this was nothing to worry about, and in fifteen minutes all the planes were back online. Two weeks later, another power surge hit Creech and he lost contact with more Predators and Reapers. Within a half hour, all were found. But systems so technology-dependent will be vulnerable to exploitation, whether through hacking or physical interruption of data – shooting down a satellite, perhaps, along its round-the-world journey. And in increasingly wired war zones, everyone will be fighting for bandwidth.”

See also Sept 13/09 entry, re: the forced shoot-down of an MQ-9 over Afghanistan.

Oct 10/09: France. Reports surface in the French media that France is considering an urgent purchase of 2 MQ-9 Reaper systems (4 MQ-9s, 2 ground stations) for use in Afghanistan at a cost of up to $100 million, because 2 of its 3 deployed EADS SIDM/ Harfang UAVs are grounded for repairs, and have had issues with human error and contractor support.

France has advanced UAV programs in development, in collaboration with other European countries, at the medium, heavy, and UCAV levels. A recent test of the jet-powered Barracuda UAV demonstrator in Canada, and ongoing progress on the multinational Talarion and nEUROn UCAV underscores the seriousness of those efforts, but they are not realistic fielding options. Assuming that France does not wish to lease a UAV service as the Australians, British, Canadians, and Dutch have done, the MQ-9 offers commonality with the American, British, and Italian contingents in theater, as well as a UAV with strong weapons options that set it apart from the rest.

A wild card in this situation is France’s reputation for pervasive industrial espionage, even during combat operations. With a number of advanced French-led UAV programs in development, it would certainly be possible to make very good use of full access to America’s most advanced serving UAV. Reuters || In French: Le Point magazine EXCLUSIF | France-Soir | Le Monde | TF 1.

Oct 9/09: Sensors. Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp., of San Jose, CA, receives a $9.6 million contract to perform preliminary design for a scaled communications intelligence/ Airborne signals intelligence (COMINT/SIGINT) payload system for the MQ-9. At this time, $7.6 million has been committed by the 659th AESS/SYKA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-08-C-3004).

FY 2009 MQ-9 at Kandahar
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Sept 30/09: Support. A $19.5 million contract to provide various MQ-9 Reaper equipment and items including aircraft supplemental spares, 30 day pack-up kits, and ground support equipment. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028, DO 0034).

Sept 23/09: Weapons. An AIM-9X Sidewinder advanced air-to-air missile fired from a U.S. Air Force F-16C fighter sinks a rapidly moving target boat in the Gulf of Mexico. The missile had received a software upgrade, allowing its imaging infrared seeker to engage land targets as well as other aircraft. This is the 3rd success of the missile in ground-strike mode, following tests in April 2008 (F-16 vs. maneuvering boat), and March 2007 (F-15C vs. moving armored personnel carrier).

This test is especially significant for the MQ-9, as the AIM-9X is one of its permitted weapons. More to the point, unlike helicopter-fired missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire, Sidewinders are specifically designed to deal with the cold and conditions found at high altitude, where helicopters do not fly. That makes the AIM-9X a very useful dual role option for Reapers that want to make full use of their 50,000 foot flight ceiling. Raytheon release.

Sept 13/09: Kill it. The USAF reportedly sends fighters to shoot down an MQ-9 over Afghanistan, after the UAV stopped responding to pilot commands. The Reaper would not have been a danger to anyone, but the Air Force is not willing to allow the UAV and its systems to fall into untrusted hands. See also Oct 14/09 entry. Popular Science | Aviation Week.

Rogue shot down

Aug 26/09: Italy. A $10.25 million modified contract for 1 year of Contractor Logistics Support for the Italian purchase of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft under the Foreign Military Sales program (q.v. Feb 5/09 entry). At this time $5 million has been committed by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028 0058030).

March 10/09: Weapons. The USAF announces that a series of GBU-38 JDAM drops have gone well, and they expect certification for the Reapers to use the 500 pound GPS-guided bombs soon. USAF 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group Commander, Col. Chris Coombs says that:

“Our next step is to add the GBU-39B Small Diameter Bomb which will further increase the types of target sets the warfighter can engage.”

The GBU-39 is a 250 pound glide bomb with similar GPS guidance, but its shape and fuze make it good at penetrating hardened bunkers or exploding in the open. The current launcher carries 4 bombs, and will be interesting to see if the GBU-39 ends up needing a smaller launcher for MQ-9 use.

Feb 5/09: The USAF is awarding a maximum $81.3 million firm-fixed-price contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego, CA for 2 MQ-9 Reapers and 2 Mobile Ground Control Stations. Italy is the buyer, and $40 million has been committed. The 703 AESG/SYF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH officially manages this Foreign Military Sales contract (FA8620-05-G-3028).

Per the Aug 1/08 entry, Italy’s DSCA request involved 4 MQ-9 UAVs, 3 Mobile Ground Control Stations, and 5 years of maintenance and other support. The approach taken by Britain’s RAF has been to secure the authorization and then buy UAVs at a gradual pace (See Sept 5/08 entry); Italy appears to be following that model as well.

Italy buys 2

Feb 3/09: Training. Members from the 432d Wing complete a successful test flight from Holloman AFB, New Mexico after flying an MQ-9 Reaper over Fort Irwin, California training air space using “remote split operations.” This approach, which is used extensively on CENTCOM’s front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, involves Predator aircraft launched by crews at one location, while flown by crews from another location via satellite link.

Holloman AFB is the USAF’s preferred location for future MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1B Predator formal training units, which will move from Creech AFB near Las Vegas once Holloman is ready. Shephard report | USAF re: remote split operations.

Jan 29/09: Turkey. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkey is looking to buy MQ-9 Reapers, and submitted a formal request in December 2008. The ultimate decision by the United States on whether to accept and present this formal export request to Congress through the US DSCA is expected in the next 6 months – and as of 2012, no such request had been published.

A refusal can be expected to have an impact on Turkish procurement policy. The Hurriyet article does not believe that Turkey’s membership n the F-35 program would be affected, but it does suggest that Turkey would step up existing efforts to diversify its weapon sources.

Nov 26/08: A firm-fixed-price, not-to-exceed $115.2 million contract for 16 “Global War on Terror” MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. At this time $52.9 million has been committed. This contract is managed by the 703 AESG/SYK at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028).

FY 2008 Mariner UAV
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Sept 5/08: UK. Britain’s Royal Air Force is set to expand its fleet of Reapers to 5 after Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agreed to buy 2 more airframes from the US, and to replace the MQ-9 that crashed in April 2008. Shephard:

“According to DE&S’ Strategic UAV Experimental Integrated Procurement Team, which is heading up the UK’s Reaper procurement activities, the DSCA notice allows the UK to procure the aircraft in batches as required. Effectively this means that the UK has a further seven aircraft to draw on before it would have to go back through the Foreign Military Sales Process.”

Aug 18/08: Training. USAF Air Combat Command commander Gen. John D.W. Corley announces that Holloman AFB, NM, is the preferred potential location for an additional unmanned aircraft system Formal Training Unit (FTU). This is the first step that could lead to the initial stand-up of FTU operations for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper combat operators, in 2009, pending a favorable environmental impact analysis.

The current MQ-1/MQ-9 FTU is at Creech AFB, NV. USAF release.

Aug 8/08: Performance problems. A US GAO decision denies Lockheed Martin’s bid protest over the BAMS maritime surveillance UAV contract – and cites ongoing performance issues with its key partner General Atomics as the reason. The GAO summary for Bid Protest B-400135 states that:

“Agency reasonably determined, in procurement for unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft, that awardee [DID: Northrop Grumman] had significant advantage over protester [DID: Lockheed Martin] with respect to past performance where: protester’s subcontractor [DID: General Atomics], responsible for approximately 50 percent of contract effort, had recent past performance history of being unable to resolve staffing and resource issues, resulting in adverse cost and schedule performance on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft; record did not demonstrate that protester’s subcontractor had implemented systemic improvement that resulted in improved performance; [in contrast] operating division of the awardee also had performance problems on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft, many had been addressed through systemic improvement; and overall performance of awardee’s team on most evaluated contract efforts was rated better than satisfactory, while the overall performance of protester’s team on 11 of 26 contract efforts was only marginal.”

The Lockheed Martin team’s BAMS entry was built around the Mariner UAV, an MQ-9 variant. The GAO decision then goes on to discuss these issues in more detail:

“In contrast, however, GA-ASI’s contract performance was a matter of great concern to the agency. Specifically, while recognizing that GA-ASI had demonstrated a willingness and ability to respond on short notice to evolving Global War on Terror (GWOT) warfighter requirements, the SSEB found that GA-ASI’s performance demonstrated: inadequate staffing, resulting in performance problems on SDD contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (a second-generation, Predator B model) and the MQ-1C Extended Range/Multipurpose (ER/MP) UAS (a second-generation Predator model); unfavorable schedule performance on four of seven relevant GA-ASI contracts, including very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS (a version of the Predator with some differences for the Army), and MQ-1 baseline Predator; poor performance in meeting technical quality requirements on three of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS; and workload exceeded the firm’s capacity on five of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS, and MQ?1/MQ-9 maintenance support. In summary, the SSEB found the overall performance of GA-ASI on its very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (most delivery orders), UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS to be marginal.”

Aug 1/08: Italy. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Italy’s formal request to buy 4 MQ-9 UAVs, 3 Mobile Ground Control Stations, 5 years of maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.

The estimated cost is $330 million, and will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Italy. That country already operates some of General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator systems.

The principal contractors will be: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA (UAVs); General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, California (lynx ground viewing radar); and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, California (surveillance turrets).

DSCA request: Italy (4)

Aug 1/08: Germany. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Germany’s formal request to buy 5 MQ-9 UAVs, 4 Mobile Ground Control Stations, 1 year of maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.

The estimated cost is $205 million, and will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives. The principal contractors will be: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA (UAVs); General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, California (lynx ground viewing radar); and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, California (surveillance turrets).

In the end, however, the Germans chose to lease IAI’s Heron-1 UAVs, and left its option to buy MQ-9s on the table. Germany will also operate up to 5 RQ-4 Eurohawk UAVs from Northrop Grumman for strategic reconnaissance.

DSCA request: Germany (5)

July 15/08: UK support team. General Atomics and Cobham plc announce a teaming agreement with Cobham plc to cover whole life support arrangements for Britain’s “GA-ASI products.” This teaming arrangement will initially focus on supporting the UK’s existing MQ-9 Reapers currently in operation with the Royal Air Force (RAF) over Afghanistan.

The MQ-9s are currently the British military’s only significant GA-ASI products. The release says that this arrangement “will develop support solutions that could be used by the UK MoD to offer increased flexibility and sovereignty over existing arrangements.” Immediate dividends will be small, but if competitors fail to match these kinds of arrangements, it could give General Atomics an important advantage as it seeks to sell more MQ-9s to Britain and offer other products like the derivative Mariner maritime UAV or other members of its signature Predator family. GA-ASI release | Cobham release [PDF].

Mantis UCAV
(click to view larger)

July 14/08: Mantis vs. Reaper? The UK Ministry of Defence operates MQ-9s, but it has also entered into a jointly funded 1st phase of the Mantis UAS Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program with BAE Systems. The mockup unveiled at the Farnborough 2008 air show shows a UCAV that’s clearly in the MQ-9 Reaper’s class, with up to 6 weapons pylons for Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs and Brimstone missiles. The design looks less like a high-altitude strike UAV, however, and more like the offspring of the USA’s A-10 “Warthog” battlefield support plane and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft.

BAE will work with the MoD and key UK industrial parties including Rolls-Royce (RB 250 turboprops for now), QinetiQ, GE Aviation, SELEX Galileo and Meggitt, and the design and manufacture of the twin-engine Mantis and associated ground control infrastructure are already underway. Assembly, vehicle ground testing and infrastructure integration testing will take place later in 2008, with first flight currently scheduled for early 2009. In the end, BAE would add Dassault to its team, and make Mantis the core of their Telemos future UAV’s bid to supplement or replace Britain’s MQ-9s. BAE release | Flight International | Defense Update | Defense News | Aviation Week | domain-B | WIRED Danger Room.

June 6/08: Weapons hot. A British MoD article states that the UK’s Reapers have crossed the line, and become weapons platforms as well:

“An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan for the first time this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement… RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)… 39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing. The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA… Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39 Squadron is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army.”

UK – armed.

March 31/08: A firm fixed price contract for $28.9 million, to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs. All funds have been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028 ORDER 0031).

USA buys 4

March 7/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that Britain’s MQ-9 DSCA request has “not survived the planning round 2008 [PR08] process.” If true, there will be no further orders.

Jan 16/08: A firm fixed price contract for $16.2 million to build, test, and deliver one (1) MQ-9 Reaper along with containers, a 30-day pack-up kit, and initial spares. At this time $12.1 million has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0041).

USA buys 1

Jan 3/08: The US DSCA announces the United Kingdom’s official request for “10 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) aircraft, 5 Ground Control Stations, 9 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B/AAS-52), 9 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) systems, 3 Satellite Earth Terminal Sub Stations (SETSS), 30 H764 Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems, Lynx SAR and MTS-B spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $1.071 billion.”

The principal contractors will be General Atomics’ Aeronautical Systems (MQ-9) and Lynx Systems (Lynx ground scan radar) subsidiaries in San Diego, CA, and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B/AAS-52).

Britain decided to stand up a Reaper flight in 2007, after early experience with 3 unarmed MQ-9s in Afghanistan proved positive. These aircraft would form the B Flight of a new UAV squadron, while A flight will comprise the existing RAF detachment within the UK-USAF Joint (MQ-1A) Predator Task Force located at Nellis AFB, NV. At present, the British say they are looking at the MQ-9 only as a high-end surveillance drone to complement their mid-range Watchkeeper Mk450 UAVs and short-range Deseert Hawk and RQ-11 Raven UAVs.

DSCA request: UK (10)

RAF MQ-9, Kandahar
(click to view full)

Nov 9/07: UK. The UK MoD publishes “Reaper takes to the air in Afghanistan,” confirming that the RAF’s first MQ-9 has been deployed and is performing surveillance missions in theater. The UAVs will be operated by personnel from the RAF’s 39 Squadron Personnel, which in addition to the RAF personnel also has Army and Navy personnel working in a number of functional areas. The release adds that:

“The Reaper capability is still being developed. Training will continue alongside operational missions and there will be a steady build up to a full UK capability. The Reaper UAV is currently unarmed. It is capable of being armed and the MOD is investigating arming options.”

Britian arranged to buy a 3rd UAV in 2007 as part of the UK’s Urgent Operational Request, and all 3 MQ-9s were delivered into theater in October 2007.

Nov 7/07: 1st bomb drop. The USAF confirms that the MQ-9A Reaper demonstrated its hunter-killer capability by dropping its first precision-guided bomb over the Sangin region of Afghanistan.

“[The UAV] was on the hunt for enemy activity when the crew received a request for assistance from a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. Friendly forces were taking fire from enemy combatants. The JTAC provided targeting data to the pilot and sensor operator, who fly the aircraft remotely from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The pilot released two GBU-12 500-pound laser-guided bombs, destroying the target and eliminating the enemy fighters.”

Oct 28/07: Boom! The USAF reports that In Afghanistan, the MQ-9 Reaper conducted its first precision combat strike sortie, targeting enemy combatants in Deh Rawod with a Hellfire missile. The strike was reported as successful.

1st Reaper strikes

Oct 07: Initial operating capability reached.


Oct 1/07: Support. A $21.9 million contract modification for MQ-9 organizational maintenance support at Creech AFB, NV and deployed sites worldwide. This support includes aircrew duties/responsibilities, maintaining equipment in accordance with approved applicable AF technical engineering data, quality assurance, parts/supplies ordering and accountable and flying and maintenance schedule development.

At this time all funds have been committed. Air Combat Command AMIC/PKC in Newport News, VA manages this contract (FA4890-07-C-0009-P00006).

FY 2005 – 2007

US orders; Britain requests Reapers. MQ-9 w. Paveways
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Aug 31/07: Support. A $65 million firm fixed price contract for various MQ-9 Reaper equipment and items including Aircraft Initial Spares, 30 Day Pack-up Kits, and Ground Support Equipment. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028, Order 0034).

June 22/07: +4. A firm-fixed-price contract modification for $44 million to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs AVs and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, and 30-day pack-up kits.

Solicitations began in January 2006, negotiations were complete in April 2007, and work will be complete by December 2009. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0007, PO 0001).

USA buys 4

May 7/07: +4. A $59 million firm-fixed-price contract to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, and 30-day pack-up kits.

Solicitations began in January 2006, negotiations were complete in April 2007, and work will be complete by December 2009. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0007).

USA buys 4

March 15/07: +2. A $43.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to build, test, and deliver 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 mobile ground control stations, and associated equipment to include initial spares, ground support equipment, pack-up kits, and Ku SATCOM antennas. At this time, $32.7 million has been committed. Work will be complete in December 2008 (FA8620-05-G-3028, order number 0024/no modification number at this time).

USA: 2

Sept 27/06: UK. The US DSCA announce’s Britain’s formal export request for 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B) surveillance & targeting turrets, 2 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (airborne), 1 Ground Control Station, 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, Ku-Band Communications spares, Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar Spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, and other forms of support and assistance.

The principal contractors will be General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA; General Atomics Lynx Systems in San Diego, California; and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B). Implementation of this proposed sale won’t require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the United Kingdom.

Instead, RAF 39 Squadron began operating out of Creech AFB near Vegas in January 2007, alongside the American Reaper force. Sources: DSCA.

DSCA request: UK (2)

Sept 22/06: Support. A $27.6 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract modification for 4 field compatible aircraft maintenance test stations, 2 MD-1A mobile ground control stations, 2 MD-1A fixed ground control stations, 5 MD-1B dual control mobile ground control stations, and non-recurring engineering per FY 2006 Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 requirements. At this time, $20.7 million has been obligated. Solicitations began in June 2006, negotiations were complete September 2006, and work will be complete September 2008 (FA8620-05-G-3028 Delivery Order 0022)

Sept 22/06: Support. A $15.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 18 ground data terminals, ground support equipment, 2 remote split operation kits, 1 replenishment spares package kit, 1 initial spares package, and 2 primary Predator sitcom link modem assemblies per FY 2006 Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 requirements. Solicitations began in June 2006, negotiations were complete September 2006, and work will be complete June 2010. At this time, $11.8 million has been obligated (FA8620-05-G-3028 Delivery Order 0010)

According to Pentagon documents, FY 2006 Predator UAV budgets were $153.8 million from the US Army, and $64.1 million from the US Air Force. These figures would not include supplemental funding budgets, which are intended for use to replace war materials and sustain equipment in the field.

MQ-9 trials
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May-September 2006: Australia. Australia’s government announces a September 2006 trial across Australia’s North West Shelf region, using a General Atomics MQ-9 Mariner Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and an Armidale Class patrol boat. Australian DoD release | Spacewar | DSTO mini-site.

June 30/06: Upgrades. a $5.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for the retrofit of 5 MQ-9 Predator aircraft with upgraded landing gear for increased landing capacity, Hellfire/EGBU-12/Special Project A Payloads, and interim modem assembly capabilities. Also included in the cost of this effort is one lot of spares and system integration lab upgrade work.

Solicitations began April 2006, negotiations were complete June 2006, and work will be complete June 2007. All funds have been committed (F33657-02-G-4035/order #0028, modification #13).

Jan 25/06: +5. A $41.4 million fixed-price incentive firm contract to build, test, and deliver 5 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, pack-up kits, and Ku SATCOM antennas.

Solicitations began November 2004, negotiations were complete in December 2005, and work will be complete by March 2008. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028 Order 0004).

USA buys 5

March 29/05: A $68.2 million cost plus incentive fee contract for the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) of the MQ-9 Hunter-Killer Aircraft. The effort includes options for the retrofit of 4 aircraft to the SDD configuration, along with communications and ground and flight test facility upgrades. At this time, $15.6 million of the funds have been committed (F33657-02-G-4035, Order 23).

MQ-9 Ancillaries Ikhana fire image
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The Reaper’s technical maturity and 3,000 pound payload limit make it a very attractive platform for testing advanced military surveillance payloads, even as NASA’s MQ-9 Ikhana is used to test advanced civil payloads for monitoring wildfires, etc. Tested payloads can be added to the MQ-9s arsenal of options, enhancing its value. Once tested, however, they can also be added to other platforms, from manned aircraft like the USA’s MC-12W Liberty King Air twin-turboprops, to other high-end UAVs, and even pending airships like the Army’s LEMV.

The following set of entries is meant to be illustrative of the payloads under active consideration, rather than being an exhaustive list of milestones & contracts.

Jan 22/14: Pandora EW. General Atomics and Northrop Grumman conduct the 2nd USMC demonstration of MQ-9s as electronic warfare platforms, using NGC’s Pandora low-power, wideband electronic warfare pod. They tested Pandora’s compatibility with the Reaper’s avionics and command and control architecture, including control of the Pandora pod’s operations, and tested the entire system’s integration into a Marine Command and Control (C2) network.

A Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (CEWCC) located at MCAS Yuma ran the pod and UAV, which supported a large aircraft strike package that included EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft. General Atomics sees this as an important way to broaden the Reaper’s usefulness, in order to keep it from budget cuts. Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and Northrop Grumman Showcase Additional Unmanned Electronic Attack Capabilities in Second USMC Exercise”.

Feb 13/13: MALD-J EW. Raytheon Company and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announce that they’re working to integrate MALD/MALD-J decoys onto the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Ground Verification Test phase completed in November 2012 at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA. Integration is estimated to conclude in 2013.

The Reaper’s slow speed means that their use would need to be timed well, and arranged carefully so as not to make their mission obvious. On the other hand, the Israelis have made an art form out of using drones to provoke air defense batteries into using their radars and communications, then harvesting the emissions for analysis and counter-programming. Enough of that in advance, and the MALDs could just look like the big killer strike wave has finally arrived. Throw in MALD-Js for jamming, and the potential uses multiply further.

Aug 5/11: Missile Defense? The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announces a maximum $48.4 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to General Atomics Aeronautical in Poway, CA to develop and demonstrate “precision three-dimensional tracking of ballistic missiles from a long endurance, high-altitude unmanned air system.” General Atomics has confirmed the identity of the HALE test system as the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Read “Ballistic Missile Tracking with UAVs: HALE, Well Met” for full coverage.

Jan 27/11: Gorgon Stare. The twin-pod Gorgon Stare payload for UAVs and aircraft is supposed to let troops cover square kilometers with surveillance, instead of looking through a soda straw, and had been slated for deployment on MQ-9s. But the left-wing CDI reveals that a recent testing report gave it a terrible rating.

The US Air Force has some disagreements with that assessment, but probably regrets their recent boasting to the Washington Post. So does Chuck Spinney, albeit for a different set of reasons.

Nov 1/10: ASIP-2. Northrop Grumman Space and Missions Systems Corp., San Jose, CA receives a contract modification which will “provide for a prototype sensor for the MQ-9 installed in a pod to support a limited flight demonstration of the ASIP-2 functionally. The contractor shall support the General Atomics effort to certify the pod for air worthiness on the MQ-9.”

ASIP is the Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload. This electronic eavesdropping pod from Northrop Grumman has been in testing for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, as well as aircraft like the U-2 and RC-12, but it is also within the Reaper’s payload limit. At this time, $5.4 million has been committed by the ASC/WINK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-08-C-3004).

Oct 27/10: TRACER. Lockheed Martin’s tree-penetrating Tactical Reconnaissance and Counter-Concealment-Enabled Radar (TRACER) flies for the 1st time aboard NASA’s Ikhana MQ-9, because the Army Gray Eagle MQ-1C fleet that will eventually host the external unpressurized TRACER pods are all busy on operations.

TRACER is a dual-band synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), designed to detect vehicles, buildings and other man-made objects that are buried, camouflaged or concealed under trees and other foliage. The flight tests on Ikhana focused on the radar’s performance in the harsh environment of the unpressurized pod, as the TRACER system will eventually be installed on a variety of manned and unmanned aircraft. Lockheed Martin.

Dec 16/09: Gorgon Stare. The first 3 “Gorgon Stare” surveillance pods are reportedly slated to deploy to Afghanistan in March-April 2010, mounted on MQ-9 Reapers. Reapers can carry the 1,100 pound pods, MQ-1 Predators cannot, and this was reportedly one of the reasons for the USAF’s shift toward the Reaper as its future mainstay UAV.

Using a UAV for surveillance is often like looking through a soda straw. Gorgon Stare begins to fix this issue. Sierra Nevada Corp’s The ISR pod uses 5 high-zoom cameras and 4 infrared cameras to take pictures from different angles, then combines them into a larger picture. Tranche 1 pods can reportedly scan a 4km square area, provide 10 video images to 10 different operators at the same time, and support up to 12 independent ROVER/OSVRT queries, in contrast to an MQ-1 Predator’s one. The next 6 Tranche 2 pods will raise those numbers to 30 clips and 30 different operators by late 2010. By fall 2011, Gorgon Stare Tranche 3 will use 6 of each sensor type, expand the “stare” to 8 square kilometers from 4, and is expected to offer up to 30 ROVER queries, with up to 65 video images deliverable to up to 65 different operators. Gorgon Stare is designed to be platform-agnostic, and to integrate into the USA’s Distributed Common Ground System.

Ultimately, the USAF reportedly wants the Gorgon Stare system to become its standard sensor pod for wide-area, persistent surveillance – though the ARGUS-IS program is reportedly delivering a 92-feed, 1.8 gigapixel camera for Special Forces use, which would mount on the A160T Hummingbird VTUAV. See also DoD Buzz | Flight International | Gannett’s Air Force Times | LA Times | Popular Science | WIRED Danger Room.

Oct 25/07: Firefighter. As large wildfires rage around San Diego, CA, NASA’s “Ikhana” MQ-9 UAV helps out with an interesting new payload. The UAV carries special thermal-infrared imaging equipment that can look right through smoke and haze, and record high-quality imagery of key hot spots. The imagery is processed on board, downlinked, and overlaid on Google Earth maps at NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California. From there, the National Interagency Fire Center makes it available to incident commanders in the field, so they can assign their fire-fighting resources more intelligently.

Lest anyone think this doesn’t affect military customers, it’s worth noting that there are a lot of military facilities around San Diego. Abroad, potential customers like Canada and Australia face serious wildfire dangers within their vast territories. A UAV that promised to help with that civil problem when it isn’t deployed abroad becomes much easier to support as a military buy. Read: “NASA MQ-9 Imaging California Wildfires” for more.

Additional Readings & Sources Background: The Reaper Family

Background: Reaper Ancillaries

Specific Countries

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: News

LM Gets $112M for 2016 Aegis Mods | USAF ICBM Upgrades May be Delayed by Costs | Rhinemetall Meets & Exceeds UK’s Challenger 2 LEP

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 23:58

  • Lockheed Martin has received $112 million as part of the 2016 Aegis modernization program. The US Navy contract modification covers the production of multi-mission signal processor equipment sets, ballistic missile defense 4.0.2 equipment, Aegis weapon system modernization upgrade equipment, as well as associated spares to support the fielding of Aegis modernization capabilities to the fleet. Under the program, vessels receiving the upgraded systems will experience increased computing power as well as improved detection and reaction capabilities of its radars.

  • The Pentagon and the USAF have run into issues over the latter’s plan to replace the LGM-30G intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Concern over cost estimates given the USAF have been expressed by Washington, who found that the flying branch’s figure differs greatly from that of the office of independent cost assessment. The disparity stems from the fact that the US hasn’t built new ICBMs in decades, and nuclear spending over the next 30 years could exceed $1 trillion.

Middle East North Africa

  • Following Monday’s bombing of a school and a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen by Saudi-led forces, an investigation will commence by a body set up to investigate civilian casualties. The two bombings resulted in the death of 24 people, at least ten of them children, and adds to a growing number of incidents where coalition attacks have targeted non-military targets. Saudi Arabia has received much international criticism for its actions in Yemen, with some organizations claiming it is complicit in war crimes. US, UK and Canadian arms manufacturers have also come under fire for selling the Gulf kingdom weaponry.

  • If Russian media sources are to be believed, the Royal Moroccan Air Force could potentially be moving away from Western made aircraft in favor of the Su-34. Sources claim a deal between Rabat and Moscow is in the cards for a number of the bomber’s export versions as well as the Amur-class 1650 diesel electric submarine. Morocco has been undergoing modernization in all of its military branches, often with US help, in order to curb Islamist militants. However this latest deal may have more to do with its frosty neighbor Algeria, who has been buying Russian hardware for some time now.


  • Slat armor has been designed for tracked and wheeled armored fighting vehicles (AFV) by Russian defense manufacturers. Vehicles on which the armor can be installed include the BTR-60, BTR-70 and BTR-80 8×8 amphibious armored personnel carriers (APCs), the BMP-1 and BMP-2 tracked infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and the 4×4 BRDM-2 amphibious scout car. Up to 100% of the vehicle can be protected by the armor for enhanced survivability against anti-tank weapons fitted with a single high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.

  • Rheinmetall has upped the stakes in the UK’s Challenger 2 Life Extension Program by offering wider enhancements to the platform alongside the requested spec by the MoD. This includes replacing the tank’s 120 mm L30A1 rifled gun with 120 mm L55 smoothbore, which allows for a much wider choice of ammunition options of which Rheinmetall is a leading expert. Other options offered include new optronics, situational awareness systems, and fire control solutions.

Asia Pacific

  • Too few aircraft and too few pilots, that’s whats being said about the Afghan air force’s hampered ability to tackle Taliban militants. While 130 aircraft is deemed as too few, the main problem stems from a lack of suitable candidates to be trained as pilots. Regarding the training of the air force by the US-led NATO coalition, their energies have been focused on establishing a special operations air wing and training crews to fly new aircraft, like the small A-29 attack aircraft and C-130 cargo planes. As a result, experienced pilots and crew have been pulled from other units.

  • They’re THAAD as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more. 900 South Korean protestors angry at their government’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) have taken part in a mass head shaving. Citizens from the southeastern county of Seongju have brought up several issues including safety issues regarding the system’s sophisticated radar and its potential to be a wartime target. Meanwhile, the US continues to lobby Beijing, saying THAAD’s deployment on the Korean peninsula does not threaten China.

Today’s Video

Belarus unveils its brand new Russian “Protivnik-GE” 59N6-E mobile 3D surveillance radar:

Categories: News

“Minuteman Propulsion Replacement Program”

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 23:55
LGM-30G Minuteman III
(click to view full)

Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems of Clearfield, UT received a contract modification for $176.2 million, exercising the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Propulsion Replacement Program’s (PRP) final full rate production (year 7) option. NGC tends to sub-contract large portions of this work to ATK Thiokol; the Minuteman III PRP began in 1998 as a Joint Venture between ATK and Pratt & Whitney, but all work content was transitioned to ATK in the 2003-2004 timeframe following a contract restructure. DID has covered related contracts in November 2006 ($222.5 million), March 2006 ($541 million) and January 2006 ($225.2 million). Presumably, the ICBMs’ Environmental Protection Agency certification has been taken care of by now.

The purpose of PRP is to ensure MM Flight Reliability and supportability of the USA’s LGM-30G Minuteman III nuclear ICBMs through 2020 by correcting identified mission threatening degradations, sustaining existing reliability, and supporting Minuteman Life Extension Efforts. America chose to retire its larger, newer, and more capable MX Peacekeeper missiles in 2005, in compliance with arms control treaties it has signed. This contract action will purchase the remaining 56 Minuteman III booster sets, making a total of 601 sets acquired during the PRP. At this time, $51.6 million has been obligated. The 526th ICBM Systems Wing at Hill Air Force Base, UT holds the contract (F42310-98-C-0001). See also Northrop Grumman release.


August 18/16: The Pentagon and the USAF have run into issues over the latter’s plan to replace the LGM-30G intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Concern over cost estimates given the USAF have been expressed by Washington, who found that the flying branch’s figure differs greatly from that of the office of independent cost assessment. The disparity stems from the fact that the US hasn’t built new ICBMs in decades, and nuclear spending over the next 30 years could exceed $1 trillion.

January 26/16: An investigation into a “mishap” involving a Minuteman III ICBM causing $1.8 million worth of damage has been released. The heavily redacted report cited crew inexperience as the main factor, after they were sent to fix an error that arose during a routine diagnostic test, causing damage to the missile after failure to follow procedures. While investigators said they found four contributing factors to the cause of the incident, only two could be found in the report itself. The majority of the blame seems to rest with the crew leader in charge of the troubleshooting, who failed to first follow technical guidance, and then lacked the the adequate proficiency level to anticipate the consequences of his actions during the incident. The report follows the recent debates over the spending of billions of dollars on upgrading and maintaining these strategic missiles which are coming to be seen as an antiquated defense mechanism.

Categories: News

DoD Approves $1B Round of Funding for F-35 | Russians Use Iran Air Base in Attack on Syria | Asian Destroyers to Get Aegis System in $490M Deal

Tue, 08/16/2016 - 23:58

  • The Pentagon has turned on the F-35 tap again, with the DoD approving another $1 billion in funding to go toward reimbursing Lockheed Martin for costs incurred on the ninth batch of aircraft. Last week’s decision offers some relief to the aircraft’s chief contractor who has been paying out of pocket for the fighter’s low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots 9 and 10. Meanwhile, contract negotiations over batch nine of aircraft with the Joint Program Office (JPO) rattles on after initial predictions had it wrapped up earlier this year.

  • Billionaire firebrand and scourge of the US political establishment Donald Trump has unveiled his plan to defeat ISIS and jihadist terrorism. Albeit rather vague, Trump’s plan (which can be read in full here) aims at building bipartisan and international consensus and re-classifying US allies as any nation that will stand with Washington against “radical Islamic extremism.” He also plans on tackling Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda with military, cyber, financial and ideological warfare and vows to end any nation building in the Middle East. A step up from simply bombing the oilfields?

Middle East North Africa

  • Russia has used an air base in Iran to launch bombing missions in Syria for the first time. Tuesday saw the first Tu-22M3 and Su-34 aircraft leave Hamadan air base to attack anti-Assad militants in Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. The move highlights not only a deepening of Moscow’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War, but also its growing defense ties with Iran, who also has their oar in the conflict by sending technical, military and financial expertise to president Assad as well as Shia militias in both Syria and Iraq.


  • Media outlets in Russia have announced the recommencement of production of NK-32 turbofan engines by manufacturer Kuznetsov. Used exclusively in the Tu-160 bomber, the initial batch of the upgraded engines will be ready by the end of 2016. A new and improved Tu-160M2 will appear between 2020-2025, with Moscow planning to acquire at least 50 of the bombers.

  • British F-35Bs will be equipped with advanced short range air-to-air missiles (ASRAAM) from MBDA after London orders $238 million worth of the munition. Already in use on RAF’s Panavia Tornado GR4s and Eurofighter Typhoons, integration onto the F-35B is to be awarded in a separate MoD deal. MBDA, a European missile system conglomerate, has also been commissioned to support a Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) for the development of the new variant of the weapon for the RAF Typhoons in a deal worth $388 million. A Block 4 software upgrade will integrate the CSP ASRAAM on the F-35B.

Asia Pacific

  • The world’s first hack-proof communications satellite has been launched into orbit by China. Known as the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) satellite, it will undergo a two year mission to establish “hack-proof” quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground. Only designated recipients can receive the communications with any interference resulting in self-destruction.

  • Saab has been contracted by the Australian Army to upgrade its RBS 70 ground-based air defense weapon system and Giraffe AMB radar. The bulk of the $24.9 million contract has been designated to modify the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) in both systems to Mode 5 functionality.

  • Japanese and South Korean destroyers are to receive the latest variant of the Aegis combat system after contracts were issued by the US DoD. Two upcoming Japanese and three new Korean vessels will receive the Aegis Baseline 9 system alongside all future US Navy destroyers. Completion of the $490 million deal is expected for June 2022.

Today’s Video

Algerian Su-30MKAs:

Categories: News

USMC to Begin Mass Repairs on CH-53E Fleet | Israeli AF Training Helicopter Acquisition Prgm in Final Stages | AMDU Begins Mine Mapping Mission in Baltic Sea

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 23:58

  • The USMC has announced the beginning of a mass repair effort of its CH-53E fleet following the fatal crash of one in 2014. In total, 147 of the aging heavy lift helicopters will undergo the reset over a three-year period. Each helicopter will undergo a 110 process where it will be stripped down, rebuilt, and have any high-time components switched out.

  • A US Navy guided-missile destroyer has received an RQ-20B Puma UAV with a precision recovery system. Manufacturer AeroVironment stated that the recovery system enables the Puma to operate from a variety of vessels for rapid response reconnaissance. The multi-environment UAV is hand launched, and is programmed to autonomously glide back to the flight deck, but can also float; allowing for sea recovery.

Middle East North Africa

  • 2016 has not been a good year for Egyptian airport security. Enter Smiths Detection who has been contracted $22 million to deliver advanced screening systems for cargo and passengers in an effort to bolster security at Egyptian airports. Included in the deal are X-ray scanners, people-screening systems and trace detectors.

  • A new training helicopter acquisition competition for the Israeli Air Force is in its final stages. Remaining in the hunt are the AgustaWestland AW119, Airbus Helicopters H125, and Bell Helicopter 407GXP with a selection expected by the end of the year. Tel Aviv is hoping to secure the helicopters and basic instruction through a private finance initiative arrangement which involves a private company buying the new helicopters and selling flight hours to the air force.


  • Leonardo-Finmeccanica has resumed testing of their AW609 tilt-rotor aircraft. Trials were put on hold following an October 2015 crash of their second prototype. The aircraft is now in Philadelphia but will be replaced by a recently assembled model that has been ground tested in Italy. Certification is expected for 2018.

  • A mine mapping mission in the Baltic Sea is to commence next month as the first major milestone of the Allied Munitions Detection Underwater (AMDU) program. The joint German and US Navy initiative will see mine warfare experts join to classify, detect, and map bottom and buried munitions. AMDU began in 2015 as a way to develop, test and evaluate novel unmanned autonomous survey concepts through sea trials and workshops.

Asia Pacific

  • It’s all systems go with Taiwan’s planned indigenous trainer development. The state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) will be allocated $15 million next year to begin the process of developing a new aircraft based on their IDF and to have made its maiden flight by 2020. Taiwan’s new government has been extremely keen on bolstering the governments defense industry and military capabilities; so having the new trainer airborne before the next election will be a key goal.

  • A US general has called on India to increase their military aid to Afghanistan. Gen. John Nicholson made the plea due to a Russian arms embargo resulting in a growing scarcity of spare parts for Russian-made weaponry used by Afghan forces. So far New Delhi has already transferred four Mi-25 attack helicopters to Kabul to help boost their hodgepodge collection of often unserviceable aircraft.

Today’s Video

Afghanistan’s Air Force:

Categories: News

Taiwan Seeking a Better F-CK, With Possible Longer-Term Aspirations

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 23:57
F-CK-1D Hsiung Ying
(click to view full)

In 2006, the Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC), based in Taichung, celebrated the upgrade of 2 of the ROCAF’s 130 F-CK-1A/B Ching-Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters, “to improve their combat-capabilities against China.” Details that have emerged since show a set of F-CK-1C/D upgrades that turns the aircraft into fully multi-role fighters, moving them beyond their current limitations as air superiority aircraft and de facto lead-in fighter trainers for the ROCAF’s F-16s and Mirage 2000s.

Upgrades of the ROCAF’s other 128 aircraft were set to follow, even as China continues to deploy advanced SU-30 family and J-10 4+ generation fighters on their side of the Taiwan Straits. The new “F-CK-1C/D Hsiung Ying” (Brave Hawk) would still be a generation behind China’s most advanced machines, and budgets had to be approved to accomplish even that much. That approval was stalled for years, but the upgrade project has finally finished Phase 1 – even as Taiwan’s request to buy 66 F-16C/D fighters remains stalled in Washington…

F-CK-1: Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter

As one can see, the Ching-Kuo IDF borrows design features from the F-16 Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, and F-20 Tigershark, but its two ITEC TFE-1042-70 engines generate only 9,500 lbs/ 42kN thrust each, leaving it somewhat underpowered. These air superiority fighters made their first flight in 1989, and in January 2000, the type was declared fully operational in the RoC (Republic of China) Air Force. The last of a total of 130 aircraft entered service in July 2000, and state-run AIDC was commissioned to carry out the IDF’s mid-life upgrade project in cooperation with the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.

A 2006 Taipei Times report begins to place this effort in context:

“AIDC is upgrading the IDFs because in most countries, warplanes are upgraded 10 years after they have entered service. Ten years ago the Air Force launched its second-generation fleet — 130 IDFs, 150 F-16 Block A/Bs and 60 Mirage 2000-5s — to boost defenses against China. The Air Force is seeking to introduce its third-generation fleet.”

F-CK-1C/D Hsiung Ying: Key Upgrades F-CK-1C/D cockpit
(click to view full)

AIDC’s improvement package is said to cover 3 main areas.

Avionics. Upgraded F-CK-1C/Ds reportedly features a digital cockpit with a tri-color multi-function heads-up display, a new 32-bit flight control computer system, improved IFF, better electronic counter-measures, and a switch-out of obsolete parts and electronic components for new designs.

Radar. The Golden Dragon CD-53 multi-mode pulse Doppler radar has look-down, shoot-down capability and can operate in air and sea search mode with a range over 80 nautical miles. This is respectable performance, but many modern radars offer significant improvements. The extent of the CD-53’s improvements will make a significant difference to the upgraded fighters’ combat capabilities when facing enemies like China’s SU-30MKKs, with their advanced Phazotron radars and long-range missiles. Reports seem to indicate that the main changes involve better multi-target tracking and jamming resistance.

Weapons. Upgraded fighters have reportedly been fitted with additional fuel tanks to extend range and patrol time, along with a reinforced structure to accommodate dorsal conformal fuel tanks. Added weapon pylons for Tienchien (Skysword) II air-to-air missiles raise capacity from 2 to 4. The integration of Sky Sword IIA ARM radar-killer missiles, and Wan Chien GPS-guided cruise missiles with a 200 km range, will make the aircraft a true multi-role fighter at last.

Beyond the Hsiung Ying ROCAF F-16A fires Maverick
(click to view full)

Beyond the F-CK-1’s upgrade program, press reports have consistently said that Taiwan remains interested in augmenting its F-16 fleet by requesting an NT 150 billion (roughly $4 billion) order of 66 F-16 C/D Block 50/52+ aircraft from the USA. Unfortunately, the USA refused to approve the sale until Taiwan approves a critical weapons package that has been languishing for years, due to the opposition Kuomintang party’s persistent stalling on ever-shifting grounds. By the time that package cleared, the US State Department was no longer prepared to sell Taiwan F-16s, despite a mutual treaty which clearly states that defense needs shall be the only considerations governing weapon sales to Taiwan. Both sides eventually agreed on a program to upgrade existing F-16s, but that requires pulling planes out of service for many months.

That shift, and the coming retirement of Taiwan’s Mirage 200 fleet, makes the Hsiung Ying fleet upgrades more important than ever. Even if it’s not nearly enough to stop the balance of power sliding further away from Taiwan.

Contracts & Key Events F-CK-1C/D unveiling
(click to view full)

August 16/16: It’s all systems go with Taiwan’s planned indigenous trainer development. The state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) will be allocated $15 million next year to begin the process of developing a new aircraft based on their IDF and to have made its maiden flight by 2020. Taiwan’s new government has been extremely keen on bolstering the governments defense industry and military capabilities; so having the new trainer airborne before the next election will be a key goal.

Jan 16/14: Phase 1 complete. A ceremony at Tainan AFB in Southern Taiwan marks the completion of the initial Hsiang-Chang Project to upgrade the 443rd Tactical Fighter Wing’s 71 fighters. Another 56 fighters belonging to the 427th TFW in Taichung AB are slated for upgrades as Phase 2, which will run until 2017.

Articles also focuses on the Wan Chen cruise missile, whose serial production is expected to begin in 2015. They’re said to have a 200 km range, with some evidence of radar shaping to lower their visibility, and are reportedly tasked as delivery devices for cluster bombs against Chinese airstrips, radar installations, missile bases, etc. Sources: FOCUS Taiwan, “President gives thumbs-up to upgraded IDF jets” | The Diplomat, “Taiwan Unveils ‘Wan Chien’ Air-To-Ground Cruise Missile”.

Phase 1 complete

March 13/13: Beyond F-16s. Citing a newly released quadrennial defense review, Taiwan’s media say that the ROCAF wants to step beyond the upgraded Hsiung Yings, and develop a new fighter with features like lower radar cross-section, long-range, and aerial refueling receiver, as well as the ability to launch missiles against land targets or ships.

Taiwan’s military currently estimates that the fighter and small submarine development programs will cost about NT$500 billion (about $16.9 billion). Which means they’ll be lucky to keep the real total below $20 billion.

On the other hand, Liberty Times quotes KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang statements that “For our national survival, we need to build up our defense capability under our own steam,” as a result of the USA’s increasing reluctance to assist Taiwan. Focus Taiwan [dead link] | Defense Update, “Taiwan to Seek Development of an Indigenous Stealth Fighter”.

Oct 1/12: F-16 upgrades. Lockheed Martin announces a contract valued at up to $1.85 billion to begin upgrading 145 ROCAF F-16A/B Block 20 fighters to the “F-16S” (not T?) configuration, including an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, embedded global positioning, electronic warfare upgrades, and other avionics improvements. Note Lockheed’s use of the word “begin”; the complete upgrade is very likely to cost more than $1.85 billion.

The F-16S upgrades will follow a detailed Sept 21/11 DSCA request, but they will not provide any new planes to Taiwan. The firm’s proposed F-16V model is similar, and was unveiled for general export/upgrade at Singapore’s airshow in February 2012.

Parallel F-16 upgrades

June 26/11: Deliveries. Taiwan is set to receive its first batch of upgraded F-CK-1C/D Hsiung Ying Indigenous Defensive Fighters at 443 Wing in central Taichung, on June 30/11. The 4-year, TWD 17 billion (about $587 million) project to upgrade 71 of the fighters began in 2009. Luo Shou-he, the ROCAF spokesman who announced the delivery, said that: “The rest of IDFs may or may not be upgraded, contingent upon our future budget.”

The retro-fitted jets add 2 more pylons, plus improved radars, mission computers, IFF, electronic counter-measures, and other electronics. They also switch out obsolete parts and electronic components for new designs. Several of the reports covering this milestone reiterate the Taiwanese government’s need for F-16C/Ds, which it continues to express in public. Focus Taiwan | Taiwan’s China Post | Taipei Times || AP via CNBC.

F-CK-1B Ching-Kuos
(click to view all 3)

Dec 8/09: Contract. AIDC’s CEO confirms the signing of a contract for the IDF Hsing Sheng upgrade project, covering 71 fighters. China Times [Taiwan publication, in Chinese].

Contract for 71

July 23/08: Lobbying. Flight International reports that the upgrade program has yet to be funded. Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) is urging its government to fund the program, citing the USA’s ongoing refusal to approve a multi-billion arms package request that includes F-16C/D fighters.

State Department officials sympathetic to China are reportedly working to block the sale, and despite China’s rapid arms buildup, US Pacific Command, commander Adm Timothy Keating is quoted as saying that Washington’s decision makers have concluded that there is “no pressing, compelling need” for an arms sale to Taiwan.

March 27/07: Rollout. The first upgraded Ching-Kuo fighter makes its debut at Aerospace Industrial Development Corp.’s (AIDC) central Taiwan plant in Taichung County’s Shalu township, in central Taiwan. Reports vary. Some say the upgraded aircraft will be renamed the Chingkuo Imposing Eagle; others say it will be Hsiung Ying (Chinese: “Brave Hawk”). See release.


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Categories: News

Puma AE: An “All Environment” Mini-UAV

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 23:55
Puma AE team
(click to view full)

The mini-UAV market may lack the high individual price tags of vehicles like the RQ-4 Global Hawk, or the battlefield strike impact of an MQ-9 Reaper, but it does have 2 advantages. One is less concern about “deconfliction” with manned aircraft, as described in “Field Report on Raven, Shadow UAVs From the 101st.” Mini-UAVs usually fly below 1,000 feet, and a styrofoam-like body with a 5 foot wingspan is much less of a collision threat than larger and more solidly-built platforms like the man-sized RQ-7 Shadow, or the Cessna-sized MQ-1 Predator.

The other advantage is mini-UAVs’ suitability for special operations troops, who are being employed in numbers on the front lines around the world. “Raven UAVs Winning Gold in Afghanistan’s ‘Commando Olympics’” details the global scale of this interest – and in July 2008, a $200 million US SOCOM contract for a breakthrough mini-UAV underscored it again. Now AeroVironment’s S2AS/ RQ-20A Puma AE is moving beyond Special Operations, and into the regular force.

Mini-UAVs: Evolution & Advantages CL-227, pre-launch
(click to view full)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that can perform battlefield missions seem like a recent phenomenon, but countries like Israel and Canada have been building and using them for 3 decades now. Israel translated its early lead into a globally competitive UAV industry; Canada has not, as the early lead generated by projects like the CL-227 Sentinel/”flying peanut” withered on the vine.

As American forces began to adopt UAVs more widely, however, opportunities were created for domestic manufacturers to establish volume production, and become global leaders. The American penchant for technology, and the pressure of battlefield requirements, began to create another opportunity: greater UAV diversity. At the high-end, UAVs moved from brigade, fleet group, and division surveillance roles, and began to replace high-end national reconnaissance assets (vid. RQ-4 Global Hawk). At the brigade and division levels, armed UAVs began to give these devices important strike roles in counterinsurgency scenarios (vid. MQ-1/9 Predator family).

The next level down are tactical UAVs like Textron AAI’s RQ-7 Shadow, IAI’s Searcher II, Elbit’s Skylark II, or the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle. They require additional support equipment for launch/recovery, and have the ability to cover “this sector” or even “this city”.

RQ-14 Dragon Eye,
Smithsonian NASM
(click to view full)

At the same time, the march of technology had made another new development possible: large numbers of “mini-UAVs” small enough for soldiers to carry, with electronic sensors that could capture good quality imagery, and then relay it to troops over expanding electronic networks.

The mini-UAV market focuses on flying devices that can be carried, launched, and recovered by soldiers. They generally have ranges up to 20 km, and an endurance of 1-3 hours in the air. These UAVs aren’t designed to do depth reconnaissance, but to look over the next hill, watch a neighborhood in a city before troops enter it, patrol a base’s outer perimeter, etc.

Even smaller micro-UAVs are in development, and focus more tightly on “this building” or “this engagement”.

Aerovironment’s Mini-Mes Pointer UAV
(click to view larger)

The late Dr. McReady’s Aerovironment, Inc. has a history of aerial innovation, from human and solar-powered flight to early entries that helped define the mini-UAV market. Their main competition is Israel’s Elbit Systems (esp. the popular Skylark I), while their most advanced competitor may be Prioria’s Maveric, selected by the Canadian armed forces. As Aerovironment’s history shows, however, their own firm’s new designs are their most frequent competitors:

1990: Aerovironment delivers the first privately-developed FQM-151 Pointer hand-launched UAVs, for “extended evaluation” by the US military and Special Operations communities. Some are used in Iraq and Kuwait during Desert Storm in 1991.

The subsequent Puma UAV design, begun in 2001, can be fairly characterized as a Pointer UAV that incorporates most of the industry’s advances since 1990. It’s part of a long progression for AeroVironment, which has played a big role in the mini-UAV space’s evolution:

2003: Aerovironment’s Dragon Eye/Swift (RQ-14) wins the US Marines’ competition for a mini-UAV.

2004: A new Aerovironment mini-UAV, the RQ-11A Raven, is fielded under limited expedited orders with the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and some special forces. This is not a formal competition, however, but an outgrowth of a 2002 ACTD (advanced concept technology demonstration) project.

RQ-11, Iraq
(click to view full)

Fall 2005: The US Army’s RPUAV competition arises from the RQ-11’s success. SOCOM joins this competition, and the upgraded RQ-11B Raven wins.

The US Marines switched from Dragon Eye to the Raven B in 2007, and the US Air Force now fields them too. Raven has also proved popular with foreign militaries, and is in service with Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain, among others.

August 2006: The USAF picks another Aerovironment mini-UAV for its BATMAV UAV competition, and deliveries begin under the 5-year $45 million contract. The Wasp UAV began as a DARPA project, and the larger Wasp-III is a 1-pound vehicle with a wingspan just under 3 feet. It is called a ‘micro-UAV,’ but in truth it sits on the borderline between mini-UAV systems and true micro-UAVs.

Late 2007: The US Marines began buying and issuing Wasp-IIIs at the platoon level, complementing the RQ-11 Raven B, which is issued at the company and battalion levels. In January 2008, the USAF approved full-rate BATMAV production.

June 2008: SOCOM’s AECV program aims to select a mini-UAV that can be used by all branches, including Navy SEAL teams and USMC MARSOC. It picks the Puma AE, a new UAV from Aerovironment that adds a stabilized micro-camera, waterproofing, and the ability to land and recover the UAV on water. The “RQ-20” Puma subsequently finds a niche with route clearance minehunters, thanks to the advanced state of its optics, and ends up serving with the regular US Army, Marines & Air Force.

The Puma AE RQ-20A Puma assembly
(click to view full)

Puma is slightly larger than Raven as is Aerovironment’s largest mini-UAV offering, but it’s still man-portable and hand-launched. The original Puma was almost 6 feet long, with a wingspan of 8.5 feet. Aerovironment pursued the typical young industry profile of build-field test-build as it developed the AE variant, issuing modified UAVs to units in the field for evaluation and feedback.

The US SOCOM contract has been the Puma program’s focus for a some time now, as SOCOM’s specifications led Aerovironment to conclude that its larger Puma platform was a better fit than the existing RQ-11B Raven. Along the way, Puma has been used for hybrid fuel cell experiments, and an “Aqua-Puma” driven by requests from the field served as an interim step along the road to the final Puma AE. In March 2012, it received the formal USAF designation “RQ-20A.”

AV on Puma AE
click for video

The hand-launched Puma AE’s most significant innovation is that it can land on both land and water, surviving near-vertical “deep stall” final approaches. In addition to the obvious special forces scenarios like river infiltrations, the ability to land on water and in very tight areas on land means that Puma can also be used from boats and ships, without vessel modifications for landing systems or vehicle storage.

The other big innovation is its sensor system. Previous mini-UAV systems tended to have micro-cameras that could be moved by the operator to pan, tilt, or zoom. What they usually have not had was a camera that was fully stabilized to fix on a designated point and provide a steady, constant image that compensates for aircraft movement etc. Recently, firms like Israel’s Bental Systems have begun to offer stabilized micro-payloads. Puma AE incorporates this innovation in an EO/IR day- and night-capable, waterproof sensor package that provides this kind of image tracking and stabilization. Other payload designs can be clipped in as they are developed for military or civilian applications.

Control is exercised from Aerovironment’s Ground Control Station (GCS) with a line of sight communications range of 15 km, and the system has its own internal GPS for positioning. The Ground Control Station is shared by the firm’s Raven and Wasp/BATMAV systems. Flight endurance is about 2 hours in the production version, and typical flight altitude is 100-500 feet. Like other mini-UAVs, Puma relies on its small size, small radar profile, and quiet engine to avoid detection.

Contracts and Key Events FY 2013 -2016

Raven & Puma
click for video

August 16/16: A US Navy guided-missile destroyer has received an RQ-20B Puma UAV with a precision recovery system. Manufacturer AeroVironment stated that the recovery system enables the Puma to operate from a variety of vessels for rapid response reconnaissance. The multi-environment UAV is hand launched, and is programmed to autonomously glide back to the flight deck, but can also float; allowing for sea recovery.

July 26/13: FAA. The US Federal Aviation Administration issues its 1st UAV Restricted Category Type Certificates, which include the Puma UAV. The UAV will support emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife surveillance over Alaska’s Beaufort Sea, within the Arctic Circle.

Experimental Airworthiness Certificates have been used for non-government UAV operations in the past, but they don’t allow commercial use. The FAA says that US military acceptance of the ScanEagle and Puma designs was an important factor in granting the new Restricted Category certificates, which do allow commercial operations.

That’s going to be a hotter area for UAV manufacturers over the next few years, and for the FAA as well. The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandated that the FAA integrate UAVs into domestic airspace by 2015, but a key deadline establishing 6 pilot sites by August 2012 wasn’t met. These type certificates are a small step forward, within a larger framework. Sources: US FAA | AeroVironment | NDIA’s National Defense magazine | Seattle Times.

(Restricted) Commercial USA in USA

Jan 3/13: SUAS 2013-2017. U.S. Army Contracting Command in Natick, MA awards a 5-year, $248 million multiple-vendor fixed-price Small UAS contract. From

“The Army currently has fielded 1,798 RQ-11B systems and 325 RQ-20A systems and has a requirement to sustain and maintain this existing fleet. The Army has met 92% of the RQ-11B Army Acquisition Objective (AAO), and has met 83% of the anticipated need for RQ-20A (required by USFOR-A-issued JUONS). Additionally, the current [DID: RQ-11B & RQ-20A] fleet has pre-planned spiral upgrades such as the Gimbal payload, which will be competed and retrofitted under this effort. The need exists to complete the AAO; maintain, sustain and upgrade the fleet; and procure future SUAS Systems as required by DoD, Other Government Agencies (OGA) and foreign countries.”

Vendors will compete for each order, and work can include full Unmanned Aerial Systems, upgrades, testing, packaging, marking, and storage and shipping. Work location will be determined with each order, and the contract runs until Dec 20/17. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 5 bids received. All 5 qualified to compete:

  • RQ-11B Raven & RQ-20A Puma: AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia, CA (W911QY-13-D-0073). Obviously, they’re in a strong position for fleet upgrades at least, as well as for additional UAVs.

  • NOVA Block III: Altavian in Gainesville, FL (W911QY-13-D-0074). They’re not a household name, but their air/land UAV is working with the USACE (Army Corps of Engineers). They partner with ISR Group Inc. in Savannah, TN for support and service.

  • Skylark-I LE Block 2: Elbit Systems of America LLC in Fort Worth, TX (W911QY-13-D-0075).

  • Skystinger, and others: Innovative Automation Technologies LLC in Gainesville, FL (W911QY-13-D-0076). Skystinger is more like the RQ-11 Raven, while their AXO is closer to the RQ-20 Puma. Note that The Skystinger is the only UAS that IAT could confirm, but they did say there was more than 1 UAS offered.

  • Desert Hawk III: Lockheed Martin Corporation, Owego, NY (W911QY-13-D-0077). The Desert Hawk has been successfully used on the front lines by British forces.

The AECV contract expires in 2013, so this appears to be the follow-on. See also: AeroVironment | Elbit Systems | Gainesville Sun.

SUAS multi-vendor

Oct 20/12: Support. The US government announces a woman-owned small business only solicitation for up to $25.5 million in SUAS support work, after soliciting interest and finding 3 such businesses who qualify. The solicitation adds that:

“…SUAS PdO must maintain the capability to support current and future Warfighter needs for SUAS systems in CONUS and OCONUS…. The objective of the SUAS Support Program is to support the Warfighter’s as well as other Governmental Agencies (OGAs) and Non-Governmental Agencies users’ SUAS-related sustainment needs. These needs primarily include SUAS training, maintenance, repairs, and engineering services. Additionally, the SUAS PdO will require various logistics, technical management, and program management services to support its SUAS customers.”

FY 2012

USAF, USMC, Denmark & Sweden become customers; Puma becomes RQ-20; #1,000 delivered. Moving launch,
(click to view full)

June 12/12: Danish win. Aerovironment announces a $9.6 million win in Denmark. This competed win follows a $2.4 million Danish Army order for RQ-11B Raven systems in 2007.


June 11/12: Swedish win. AeroVironment announces that they’ve won an unspecified Swedish firm fixed-price contract for 12 hybrid small unmanned aircraft systems. The Swedish Army’s order will be a mix of Puma AE and Wasp air vehicles, plus a set of common ground stations, training, and logistics support. Contract options could increase the buy to a total of 30 systems. The firm adds a roundup of foreign RQ-11 Raven, RQ-20 Puma, and Wasp customers:

“In addition to Sweden, other international governments that have purchased AeroVironment small UAS include Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.”


April 20/12: Puma = RQ-20. AeroVironment announces a $20.4 million firm-fixed-price follow-on order from the US Army for RQ-20A Puma AEs. They will provide overwatch for security, route clearance operations, etc. in Afghanistan. Delivery is scheduled within 30 days.

Separately, AeroVironment announced the production and delivery of its 1,000th Puma AE air vehicle, and the USAF’s approval of the “RQ-20A” designation for the Puma AE system.

Milestones: #1,000, RQ-20A

April 20/12: USMC order. AeroVironment announces the 1st RQ-20A Puma AE order from the US Marine Corps. The $5.6 million firm-fixed-price order was placed via the all-services contract now managed by the US Army. Delivery is scheduled within 2 weeks.

The USMC were pioneers in adopting mini-UAVs, picking AeroVironment’s RQ-14 Dragon Eye in 2003 for the Small Unit Remote Scouting System (SURSS) program. Other buys from the firm have included Wasp mini-UAVs beginning in 2007, and the replacement of their Dragon Eyes with RQ-11B Ravens beginning in 2009. The Puma buy will give the Marines the full 3 tiers of mini-UAV performance: Wasp, Raven, and Puma, ahead of the US Army’s own plans (vid. Feb 4/11 entry).

USMC’s 1st

April 18/12: USAF order. AeroVironment announces its 1st Puma AE order from the USAF, which already uses its RQ-11 Raven and Wasp mini-UAVs. The $2.4 million firm-fixed-price order is below the threshold for public notification, and was placed on April 5/12 through the existing U.S. Army contract. Delivery is scheduled within 2 weeks.

USAF 1st

April 4/12: Plans. The US Army discusses its plans for a family of small UAVs again. They may actually be headed toward 2 Family of Small UAS contracts (1 products, 1 services), in an effort to “refine requirements.” After all this time, the Army is still working on a capabilities document outlining the parameters of the Family of Small UAS.

The Army is also hoping to develop a universal control station for the F-SUAS.

Feb 13/12: Sentient MTI. AeroVironment, Inc. announces an exclusive global distribution license with Sentient in Melbourne, Australia for its Kestrel Land MTI Tier I automatic target detection software, designed for full motion video for use with small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Kestrel software automatically detects moving objects, then places tracking boxes around them for easy monitoring. That’s especially helpful with mini-UAVs, because of the payload optics’ limitations, and better tracking of multiple moving objects fills an obvious need of front-line troops.

Over the past 18 months Sentient and AeroVironment have optimized and integrated the software with AeroVironment’s mini-UAS common Ground Control System for Puma, Raven, and Wasp UAVs. Sentient makes a number of Kestrel solutions used around the world. It’s worth noting that the AeroVironment deal doesn’t impair its Kestrel Land MTI Tier II/III used by larger UAVs like the ScanEagle, RQ-7 Shadow, and MQ-9 Reaper; and by patrol aircraft like the P-3 Orion; or its Kestrel Maritime products. What it does, is fence in the market for mini-UAS solutions with a desirable and hard-to copy capability. AeroVironment | Sentient.

Jan 31/12: Pentagon DVIDS discusses preparations by the “Lancers” of Second Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, who are “going into Operation Enduring Freedom with the most Raven [a small unit UAS] and Puma operators in the history of OEF combat,” according to AMCOM UAS specialist Tarah Hollingsworth. Sgt. Christopher Harris, a 2nd SBCT UAS operations non-commissioned officer, adds that:

“I was on the initial fielding of the Puma when it was first brought in about three years ago when I was in Afghanistan… We were able to use it on all kinds of patrols, whether it be presence patrols, recon or anything of that sort. I utilized it two times for a call for fire; it’s very accurate for that.”

FY 2011

US Army joins AECV buy, assumes management of the contract; US Army’s 3-tier mini-UAV plans; RQ-16’s Tango Uniform opportunity?; Communication relay demo; Training issues. Puma AE, pre-launch
(click to view full)

2011: The US Army assumes management of US SOCOM’s AECV contract, following its own October 2010 order for the UAVs, and interest from other services. Source.

AECV = Army

Aug 16/11: Comm relay. Boeing announces successful May and August demonstrations of its new narrowband communications relay, using an Insitu ScanEagle and AeroVironment’s Puma AE mini-UAV. During the multiservice demonstrations, held in California, the UAVs flew at a variety of altitudes while linking handheld military radios dispersed over mountainous regions, extending the radios’ range tenfold.

Larger RQ-7B Shadow UAVs have also been used in this role, but those are generally controlled at the battalion level or above. Narrowband relays small enough to work on hand-launched mini-UAVs like the Puma AE would represent an important step forward, especially for Special Operations forces.

August 16/11: AeroVironment, Inc. announces a $65.5 million firm-fixed-price contract delivery order for new digital Puma AEs, and initial spares packages. It’s another buy under the existing $200 million US SOCOM All Environment Capable Variant (AECV) contract (vid. July 1/08), and will be delivered in the coming months.

June 9/11: AeroVironment, Inc. in Monrovia, CA receives a $13.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for “Puma unmanned aircraft systems training and contractor logistics support.” Aerovironment has since confirmed that this is for the Puma AE. They now simply call it “Puma,” because the very different UAV they had formerly called Puma is not in production.

Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA, and Kandahar, Afghanistan, with an estimated completion date of Oct 14/11. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0004).

April 20/11: Training issues. The US Army currently equips each brigade with 15 RQ-11B Raven systems, but the 9 Afghan BCTs want to raise that to 35 each (105 UAVs). They’re also shipping larger Puma-AE UAV systems into theater, with 64 in and another 20 requested. So what’s the problem? Training.

Right now, the US FAA requires Federal Aviation Administration must issue a certificate of authorization, in order to fly UAVs in US air space. There are limits to that requirement, but it takes months to get that certification, and it’s hurting operator training. Commanders are complaining that some operators lack adequate pre-combat preparation, and must learn on the job.

In response, the US Army has instituted a buddy program, a tracking program for operators, and a ground-based technical solution. Under the buddy program, skilled mini-UAV operators will teach other soldiers. The web tracker will make sure that qualified operators don’t get lost in the shuffle when they move from one brigade to another. The technical solution involves a ground-based sense-and-avoid system that may help expedite FAA certification. NDIA’s National Defense Magazine.

April 21/11: AeroVironment, Inc. announces an $11.5 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for new digital Puma AE systems, initial spares packages, and training services.

The new UAVs were bought under the existing United States Special Operations Command All Environment Capable Variant (USSOCOM AECV) indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract, and deliveries are scheduled to be completed over the next several months.

Feb 4/11: Platoon mini-trio. Aviation Week reports that the US Army wants to beef up UAV availability down to the platoon level, in an environment where, as Army Operations Office aviation UAS director Lt. Col. James Cutting puts it, “there will never be enough multi-million-dollar systems to cover them.” Where now there are 17 RQ-11 Ravens in a brigade combat team (BCT), the Army plans to increase this to 49 “Small UAS family of systems”, initially made up of AeroVironment’s Puma at the high end, RQ-11B Raven mini-UAV as the core, and smaller Wasp III as the true “flying binoculars” micro-UAV.

Down the road, this set is expected to be a competition, and the numbers involved make it an attractive target. According to Cutting, the Army will push the new UAVs directly down to engineer, armor and infantry units, rather than forming more aviation units and adding their overhead. Since the UAVs in question are so small, and fly at under 1,000 feet, they can be used without worrying about “deconfliction,” and don’t really require the same planning & support overhead as, for instance, a unit of RQ-7B Shadows, or MQ-1C Gray Eagles. Aviation Week | Aviation Week Ares.

Jan 6/11: The US Army issues a stop-work order on the Class I Unmanned Aerial System (RQ-16 T-Hawk), as part of the E-IBCT next-generation brigades. Formal termination takes place on Feb 3/11. In light of the Oct 22/10 order, this could become a major opportunity for the Puma AE. Defense News.

Oct 26/10: Aerovironment announces a $7.2 million for an unspecified number of new digital Puma AE systems and training services, under the existing US SOCOM indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract.

Oct 25/10: More Army minis. The NDIA’s National Defense magazine reports that Puma AE is forcing its way into regular Army operations, due to a combination of unforgiving high-altitude terrain and roadside mission demands:

“The Army currently supplies 15 sets of Ravens (with three aircraft per set) to each brigade in Afghanistan. The current plan is to buy 3,000 Ravens, and the Army so far has acquired more than 2,000… [but units] have asked for a “larger small” unmanned aircraft that can carry more sensors and fly longer… So the Army is now tapping into the SOCOM contract and buying 72 Pumas to meet urgent demands, Gonzalez said. The Puma request came directly from the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus… The Army already is testing the concept of a “family” of three aircraft (Raven, Puma and Wasp) in combat. It fielded 15 sets six months ago to the 101st Airborne Division and will allow the unit to keep them for a year for further evaluation, said Gonzalez. One of the concerns is designing a controller that can operate all three aircraft.”

Oct 22/10: AeroVironment, Inc. in Simi Valley, CA receives a $17.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee letter contract, which establishes not-to-exceed amounts for Puma-AE capable contractor logistics support, training, and accounting for contract services in support of Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement CC-0289, entitled, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Route Clearance.”

AeroVironment confirms that this order is for the regular army, not SOCOM. The RQ-16 T-Hawk ducted fan UAV is supposed to be handling that special niche, but the Puma would appear to have carved out a place, thanks to its stabilized EO/IR payload, and added conventional reconnaissance capabilities. Work is to be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of Oct 14/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command, CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0004).

Army in.

FY 2008 – 2010

$200M AECV win for US special Operations. Puma AE concept
(click to view larger)

Sept 8/10: An additional order valued at $4.4 million for Puma AE payloads and retrofits. Work is scheduled to be performed “within a period of several months.” Source.

Aug 31/10: Aerovironment announces a $35.3 million delivery order for digital Puma AE systems, spares and training service, under the existing US SOCOM indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract. Work is scheduled to be performed “within a period of several months.”

July 1/08: US SOCOM AECV. AeroVironment, Inc., wins a 5-year (base year plus 4 one-year option periods), maximum $200 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for an “all environment capable variant small unmanned aircraft systems” from the US SOCOM’s Program Executive Office – Fixed Wing. It covers aircraft, ground control systems, spares, repairs and training under a combination firm fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee and cost reimbursable arrangement. The initial delivery order is valued at $6 million, and is fully funded.

Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA and the base year period lasts for exactly 1 year from date of contract award. This contract was awarded through full and open competition (H92222-08-D-0048). See also Aerovironment release.


Puma fuel cell
(click to view full)

March 6/08: AeroVironment announces a 9 hour flight for a modified Puma powered by an onboard fuel cell/ battery hybrid energy storage system. During the flight, a 2-camera payload system provided a live, streaming video feed from the Puma. Aerovironment developed the battery pack, power electronics and controls portion of the hybrid energy storage system, which used London-listed Protonex Technology Corporation’s Pulse UAV fuel cell system.

This successful demonstration is not part of the SOCOM bid, but is conducted under Aerovironment’s separate small business innovation research (SBIR) Phase II contract with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). AFRL’s goal is to develop advanced energy storage and propulsion technologies for unmanned aircraft. The overall program advanced swiftly from kickoff in January 2007, to a 5-hour flight in May 2007, a 7-hour flight in July 2007, and then this 9-hour flight. Aerovironment release.

Additional Readings & Sources

Categories: News

B-52H Drops JASSM’s in First Test | IAI Shows Off New Drone-Guard | Britain’s $1B Defense Innovation Initiative

Sun, 08/14/2016 - 23:58

  • After a long wait, the KC-46A tanker has been cleared for production. The Milestone C approval was awarded by US Under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, Frank Kendall, following a series of stringent refueling tests of various USAF and Navy aircraft. Contracts are expected to be awarded to Boeing within the next 30 days for the first two low rate initial production lots, totaling 19 aircraft.

  • A B-52H bomber equipped with the new Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRL) has successfully dropped three AGM-158 Joint Attack Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) from its internal weapons bay for the first time. While the bomber is capable of carrying 12 of the cruise missiles on its wing pylons, the inclusion of the Conventional Rotary Launcher now enables it to hold a further eight internally, a payload increase of 60%. Next in store for the launcher is more of the same testing but with the inclusion of live weapons followed by final validation of the CLR system’s full capability.

  • The AIM-9X Sidewinder has become the first short range air-to-air missile to be fully integrated on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Testing of the missile so far has lead to a three for three success with a fourth guided test expected by the end of the year alongside final integration work. The F-35 is capable of holding two AIM-9Xs on its wings, and when configured for air superiority missions, can hold four AIM-120s internally.

Middle East North Africa

  • Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has showcased their Drone Guard system to a number of armed forces in order to show its operational capabilities. Designed with the threat of small UAVs carrying explosives in mind, the trails saw the system disrupt a number of different UAVs which can be detected from as far as 3kms. Once identified, Drone Guard can then send the UAV back to its launch point, or hold it in a certain space until its battery or fuel runs out.


  • The US State department has cleared a $231 million munition sale to a number of European NATO members. Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain are to receive 2,040 joint direct attack munition (JDAM) guidance kits of various iterations, as well as computer control groups, joint programmable fuzes, and bomb fin assembly and airfoil groups. Also included in the deal would be laser sensors, proximity sensors, avionics kit interfaces, electronic bomb fuzes, repair and return services, transportation, engineering services, and other support services.

  • Saab has received a number of contracts for munition and development work for the Swedish military. A $14.3 million deal has been awarded for the provision of a variety of ammunition for the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle, an anti-armor weapon. The company has also been tapped to undertake a $15.29 million project to design, develop and deliver vehicle electronics to Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Gmbh for use in Leopard 2 tanks used by Sweden.

  • The British government has launched a $1 billion defense innovation initiative aimed at fast tracking future defense solutions and changing the MoD’s creative culture. Individuals and companies will be able to avail of the fund over the next ten years, and follows the mentioning in the 2015 Strategic Review for the need to include the cutting edge in departmental culture. Technologies believed to benefit from the extra funding include Birmingham University’s sensors that can survey underground tunnels in minutes, and Animal Dynamics’ work on tiny drones inspired by dragonflies.

Asia Pacific

  • Taiwan has agreed to part of a US weapons package that will see delivery of 13 sets of Phalanx close-in weapons systems (CIWS) and other equipment set to the tune of $286.6 million. While not due for delivery until at least 2024, the new CIWS systems will add to one MK 15 Block 1B CIWS system found on one of its Kidd-class destroyers and give an uplift in capabilities to the older Phalanx systems currently in use. The deal is part of a wider $1.83 billion defense package that includes two Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates, 36 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, and 250 Block I-92F MANPAD Stinger missiles.

Today’s Video

IAI’s Drone Guard:

Categories: News

Up to $11.9B for B-52H Maintenance & Modernization

Sun, 08/14/2016 - 23:50
B-52H: flyin’ low,
dyin’ slow…
(click to view full)

Officially, it’s the B-52H Stratofortress. Unofficially, it’s the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F–cker). Either way, this subsonic heavy bomber remains the mainstay of the U.S. strategic fleet after more than 50 years of service. A total of 102 B-52H bombers were delivered from FY 1961-1963, and 94 were still on the books as of May 2009, flying mostly from Barksdale AFB, LA and Minot AFB, ND. Of these, 18 are slated for retirement, leaving a planned fleet of 76. By the time that fleet retires in the 2030s, many will be around 70 years old.

The B-52H can’t be flown against heavy enemy air defenses, but a steady array of upgrades have kept the aircraft relevant to follow-on strikes and current wars, where its long time on station and precision weapons have made the BUFF beautiful. Those changes have included advanced communications, GPS guided weapons, advanced targeting pods, and more. The USAF isn’t done yet adding new features, and maintenance remains a challenge for an aircraft fleet that’s always older than its pilots. All of these things require contracts, and the B-52H fleet has several of them underway. So, how does 2010’s 8-year, $11.9 billion umbrella contract fit in…?

CONECT, ESP, SWING: How Does This One Fit In?

USAF bombers:
B-52H, B-1B & B-2A
(click to view full)

At the moment, there are at least 3 major contracts underway for the B-52H fleet.

The CONECT (Combat NEtwork Communications Technology) contract was issued in April 2005, and could be worth up to $500 million. CONECT offers a series of upgrades that tie the B-52s into the USAF’s current communications networks. Its most significant combat improvement is the ability to receive new missions in flight, and re-target weapons in the middle of a mission. Ultimately, however, CONECT is an interim contract en route to deeper modernizations. First flight of a refurbished B-52 took place in May 2009. The program accomplished its first test flight on Jan 17/10, and plans further tests in 2011.

Execution of CONECT’s development would remain under the current contract until it’s done, but full production, or any future communications upgrades would apparently fall under the $11.9 billion September 2010 IDIQ.

B-52H: choices, choices…
(click to view full)

The 12-year, $150 million SWING (Smart Weapons Integration Next Generation) contract came into force in June 2006. Under this contract, Boeing performs work to integrate new ordnance on the B-52 fleet, from MALD unmanned decoys, to Sniper ATP surveillance and targeting pods, to AGM-158 JASSM missiles and beyond. Most of this work is software related, and the most important aspect of SWING was adding the Universal Armament Interface as a sort of weapons Application Programming Interface, in order to make integration of future weapons much easier.

Work under the SWING contract will continue in parallel with the new September 2010 contract.

In June 2009, the US Air Force issued the latest B-52 Engineering Sustainment Program (ESP) contract for the fleet, with a 10-year, $750 million ceiling.

There are some important things missing from ESP, however, such as spare parts, modernizations or fleet-wide changes outside of CONECT or SWING, etc. All of those things will fall under the September 2010 contract instead, and so will some previous ESP efforts.

The Sept 2010 contract’s initial spending surprisingly modest – the $600,000 minimum order, as the 1st payment for a $2.3 million order of 16 Evolutionary Data Link (EDL) Phase III kits, plus some basic engineering support through the end of February 2012. As noted above, the $11.9 billion is really a ceiling amount for a lot of other efforts, which may or may not go forward. If they do go forward, however, there’s an umbrella contract ready with all the terms worked out.

B-52H: gas guzzler
(click to view full)

Several well-known upgrades are under consideration for the B-52 fleet, but haven’t been approved and funded yet. USAF spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller has told DoD Buzz that it could cover things like:

“Combat Networks Communication Technology (CONECT) production, Extremely High Frequency (EHF) engineering development and production, Strategic Radar Replacement development and production, Tactical Data Link engineering studies, MIL-STD-1760 Internal Weapons Bay production, trade studies, and other programs critical to maintaining B-52 mission capability out to the year 2040.”

The Strategic Radar Replacement Program he mentions would install advanced new radars that could greatly improve the B-52’s ground and aerial surveillance capabilities, identifying targets at long ranges. New radar technologies could also assist with low-level flight, and reduce long-term maintenance costs.

Another oft-discussed upgrade is the on-again, off-again Stand Off Jammer program, which would turn some B-52s into very powerful, very long range, very long endurance electronic warfare aircraft that could blind even sophisticated enemy air defenses; locate, classify, analyze, or jam radar or radio signals; or even prevent remote detonation of IED land mines in a given area. B-52 SOJ has been started twice, and suspended twice for lack of funding.

While the USAF has done some necessary re-wiring work, a deep re-wiring akin to the C-5 AMP program is logical at some point, especially in conjunction with upgraded power generation on board to handle all of the new electronics. Any B-52 SOJ program would almost have to do this, and a radar improvement contract may require it as well, but it’s certain that the whole fleet will need this sooner or later. It’s very time-consuming work, but the good news is that some modern ultra-high capacity wiring has also become self-diagnosing, removing one of the biggest maintenance headaches in any airplane.

In a similar vein, but with even more immediate benefits, there has long been talk of re-engining the B-52H fleet, swapping out the ancient and hard to maintain JT3D/TF33 engines with modern turbofans that would dramatically improve performance, fuel efficiency, strike range, and maintainability. The USAF has experience with the benefits and pitfalls of these conversions, having made these kinds of upgrades to its KC-135 tanker fleet to produce the KC-135R, moved forward with re-engining the related E-8C JSTARS fleet of land battle surveillance and control aircraft, and endured the challenges of the C-5M RERP Super Galaxy program for some of its huge aerial transports.

Of course, before major steps like these can be taken, the USAF will need engineering studies. ESP doesn’t cover that, but as Lt. Col. Miller noted, the September 2010 contract does. It would also cover integration and installation of these upgrades into the B-52 fleet, as decisions are made to go forward with specific items.

Contracts & Key Events

B-52H and B-17:
only as old as I feel…
(click to view full)

August 15/16: A B-52H bomber equipped with the new Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRL) has successfully dropped three AGM-158 Joint Attack Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) from its internal weapons bay for the first time. While the bomber is capable of carrying 12 of the cruise missiles on its wing pylons, the inclusion of the Conventional Rotary Launcher now enables it to hold a further eight internally, a payload increase of 60%. Next in store for the launcher is more of the same testing but with the inclusion of live weapons followed by final validation of the CLR system’s full capability.

July 22/16: A B-52 has dropped the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) precision-guided bomb from its internal bomb bay for the first time. The test was carried out to certify the new Conventional Rotary Launcher being developed for the legacy bomber. Following the successful drop, testers will now continue with dropping the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Miniature Air Launched Decoy, and the MALD Jammer from the launcher.

April 20/16: Pratt & Whitney has maintained that they can develop a TF33 upgrade package that will keep Boeing’s B-52 bomber flying until the 2040s. The eight engine bomber has kept the same TF33 engine since its induction in 1952, but high fuel consumption had the USAF looking at potential re-engine options. With oil prices dropping dramatically, the program was dropped; but P&W are still looking at improvements for the TF33 that will keep it on-wing, and allow the air force to reduce their maintenance costs.

February 22/16: The USAF has earmarked $491 million over five years for the upgrade of B-52H radars. The modernization plan will replace the outdated Northrop Grumman AN/APQ-166 mechanically scanned array radar with further funds to be made available post-2021. The USAF strategy for the program has yet to be released, but it is likely that the plan will be to modify existing radar technologies and components to suit the B-52H, instead of developing something new, to increase reliability and durability of the radar.

January 15/16: Six B-52s have now been equipped with JDAM capabilities after a series of modifications by Boeing for the USAF. Installation of upgraded internal weapons bay launchers will allow for the bomber to launch eight Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) at one time from the internal bay. Furthermore, the launchers can be easily transferred between aircraft, and will allow the planes to also carry Joint Air-to-Surface Stand Off Missiles (JASSMs) and Miniature Air Launched Decoys (MALDs), increasing their operational capabilities.

September 22/15: The US Air Force has begun removing nuclear weapons capability from 42 B-52H Stratofortresses, in line with regulations set out under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed in April 2010. Thirty operational and a dozen mothballed Stratofortresses will be converted to solely conventional bombers, with work having already begun to this effect and due for completion by 2017. Both Russia and the US have until February 2018 to comply with the treaty’s terms. Despite the conversion, planned work to upgrade the fleet of B-52H bombers will form part of a modernization effort to keep nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52s flying into the 2030s and 2040s respectively, with this forecast by the GAO [p. 11] back in July to value $24.4 billion over the FY2015-2024 period.

Sept 29/10: Boeing in Wichita, KS receives a sole-source indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to support the USAF’s B-52H fleet, including modernization work. It could be worth up to $11.9 billion over an 8-year period, but no funds have been committed yet by the ASC/WWVK at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH. “Individual delivery orders will be issued through three contracting activities” (FA8628-10-D-1000). See also: Boeing.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

US Delivers $50M in Weapons & Munitions to Lebanon | LM & Elbit Sys to Enter UK’s Challenger II Upgrade Program | Sri Lanka Looks to Replace Kfir Fighters

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 00:09

  • A long awaited low-rate initial production decision for the KC-46 tanker is to be made by the end of the month. Secretary of the USAF Deborah Lee James informed the media of the upcoming meeting “We believe that the aircraft has met all of the wickets that are required to meet milestone C, but of course that remains to be seen, so I’ll say stay tuned on that.” Flight testing of the aircraft wound up in July following a number of hardware and software fixes to the plane’s boom following aerial refueling problems.

Middle East North Africa

  • Russian helicopters seeing action in Syria are to be fitted with composite rotor blades to counter against the rapid wear and tear currently experienced on their metal ones. According to the blade’s manufacturer Mil, the composite blades have already been used in the production of multirole Mi-38 and Mi-35M attack helicopters and have also been included on the newly upgraded Mi-28NM. Russia has been supporting the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad with air support and logistics since September 2015.

  • In addition to a $1.1 billion Airbus H225M helicopter deal, France is also trying to sell Kuwait anti-ship missiles to help fill a specific Kuwaiti requirement for airborne missiles for use against fast offshore boats. The Gulf nation had a similar requirement on its recent purchase of Eurofight Typhoons. Airbus is conducting similar work on H225Ms operated by the Brazilian Navy, integrating the MBDA Exocet AM39 anti-ship missile.

  • $50 million in weapons has been delivered by the US to Lebanon. Goodies in the shipment include 50 armored Humvees, 40 Howitzer field artillery pieces, 50 MK-19 grenade launchers and 1,000 tons of ammunition, including small, medium and heavy artillery rounds. With Lebanon being the fifth-largest recipient of US military financing, the country has received more than $221 million in funding this year.


  • With just a day to spare, a joint effort by Lockheed Martin UK and Elbit Systems will enter the UK’s Challenger II upgrade program. The duo’s late entry into the $816 million modernization will see them duke it out with a consortium involving General Dynamic and the tank’s original equipment manufacturer BAE Systems as well as bids from Rheinmetall, Swiss defense company Ruag and a CMI Defence-Ricardo UK partnership.

  • The Russian Aerospace Forces are to shortly receive next generation bombs with proximity fuzes. According to state-owned manufacturer Tecmarsh, the fuze has recently passed tests and is being prepared for serial production. Improvements in the new munition aim to decrease the amount of energy lost to crater creation and soil displacement and increasing the radius of damage.

Asia Pacific

  • Sri Lanka has expressed an interest in replacing its aging Kfir fighters. According to a cabinet spokesperson, the government has approved a new competition and is looking for interested manufacturers to come forward. The service is looking at getting between eight to twelve aircraft which at present is down to only one serviceable fighter.

  • South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD) has given the second half of 2020 as the date for the first prototype of their indigenous active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Developed in conjunction with Hanwha Thales, DAPA foresees six years of development, with the new radar to be ready for deployment in 2026. The radar will be integrated on the upcoming KF-X indigenous fighter.

Today’s Video

China sends its Gaofen-3 radar imaging satellite into space:

Categories: News

Kuwait to Buy 30 Airbus H225M Helicopters at $1.1B | Singapore Holding Off on F-35B Purchase | Pentagon & Seoul Agree on GPS Component Transfer

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 23:59

  • Raytheon is to provide tube-launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided (TOW) missiles to the US Army, Bahrain, and Morocco. Completion of the $129 million foreign military sales contract is expected for August 2018. TOWs are integrated on several platforms as an anti-armor system by over 40 countries.

  • Howitzers in the Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) program are being questioned over deficiencies with the weapon’s maximum rate of fire and problems with the automatic fire extinguisher that could potentially endanger the crew. The DoD’s inspector general raised the queries in a report released last week. 2012 and 2013 tests saw the howitzer fail the test for maximum rate of fire which led to a redesign of hardware, software and firing procedures but still failed a total of four out of eight attempts following the fixes “under non-stressful firing conditions.”

Middle East North Africa

  • France and Kuwait have signed an agreement for the sale of 30 Airbus H225M helicopters. Estimated at $1.1 billion, the deal will see 24 used by the Kuwaiti Army for transport and search and rescue missions but are also fitted with machine guns to give ground troops support from the air. The remaining six will be sent for use by the Kuwaiti National Guard.

  • A Heron I UAV has crashed in northern Israel. The Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) operated drone was on a test flight when it struck a building causing it to catch fire. Authorities responding to the incident said 25 people, including 13 children, suffered from smoke inhalation caused by the blaze.

  • An apology of sorts has been made by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, following comments over the Iran nuclear deal, likening it to appeasement of the Nazis. The MoD called the comments “the incorrect portrayal in the media” and finished with “Friday’s statement was in no way intended to draw comparisons, historical or personal. We regret if it was interpreted otherwise.” But Israel’s MoD aren’t the only ones to hark back to 1938 when talking about Iran. Illinois’ very own Sen. Mark Kirk made the same analogy last April saying “that Neville Chamberlain got a lot of more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman got out of Iran.”

Asia Pacific

  • A move to sell a number of F-35Bs to Singapore has been put on hold by the city-state. In 2014, a letter of request was made to buy four aircraft with options for eight, with first delivery expected for 2022. A Singapore Ministry of Defense statement said that the country was currently satisfied with its fighter capabilities.

  • An agreement between the Pentagon and Seoul will see the transfer of a crucial GPS component for the Taurus cruise missile, paving the way for its operation by RoKAF F-15K fighters. It’s expected that the Taurus will be delivered and in use by the end of the year. Dubbed as a “jamming proof” air-to-ground guided missile, the decision to allow Taurus exports to South Korea comes as North Korea flexes its muscles with ballistic missile tests.

  • Vietnam has deployed new mobile rocket launcher systems to fortify its position on the Spratly Islands and to counter Chinese activity in the region. Beijing has been making its presence felt on the archipelago with satellite photographs showing new fortified hangers on its holdings. The area contested as $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through the South China Sea annually with claims from Vietnam, China, and Taiwan over all of the Spratlys, while the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei claim some of the area.

Today’s Video

Coming soon to South Korea:

Categories: News

Bahrain to Buy Mobile TOW-RF Missiles

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 23:57
TOW Launch
(click to view full)

The island Emirate of Bahrain sits in such a strategic location within the Persian Gulf, that its own armed forces serve more of a tripwire and delaying function. Their goal is to control the lanes around Bahrain, make initial entry difficult, and buy time for its foreign allies to intervene. The country serves as the headquarters for the US Navy’s regional 5th Fleet, and recently cooperated with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council to suppress internal unrest among its Shia population.

A recent request for mobile TOW short range guided missile launchers illustrates that military philosophy. While they could conceivably be used in an internal security role, this buy is more calibrated toward external defense…

Want a TOW? TOW 2B
(click for cutaway)

TOW missiles can be used against enemy fortifications in an urban fight, so its conceivable that they could find themselves used if Bahrain experienced a full armed internal rebellion – an event that would require a much higher level of active involvement form Iran. The small percentage (around 17%) of the order that involves 50 BGM-71H “bunker buster” missiles could certainly be used for this.

With their published range of around 4 km/ 2.5 miles, and nose spike to help them penetrate even reactive armor, BGM-71E TOW 2A missiles are most useful to Bahrain as assault breakers, or in scout roles. As assault breakers, they can quickly deploy to destroy enemy armored vehicles that may land, or speedboats that get too close to a key facility. If deployed externally as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council endeavor, the HMMWV/TOW combination offers effective scout vehicles, whose weapons and long-range optics are especially potent in desert environments with good lines of sight.

The BGM-71F TOW 2B Aeros add more range, and rely on top-attack mode using twin EFP (explosively-formed penetrator) warheads, but their best-fit uses are the same as the TOW-2A.

Contracts & Key Events Bahrain
(click to view full)

August 11/16: Raytheon is to provide tube-launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided (TOW) missiles to the US Army, Bahrain, and Morocco. Completion of the $129 million foreign military sales contract is expected for August 2018. TOWs are integrated on several platforms as an anti-armor system by over 40 countries.

Jan 15/13: ProPublica reveals the contents of Freedom of Information requests regarding US arms sales to Bahrain. There wasn’t much comment from the government, and key items like the TOWs are still murky. State Department spokesman Noel Clay told ProPublica:

“We continue to withhold the export of lethal and crowd-control items intended predominately for internal security purposes, and have resumed on a case-by-case basis items related exclusively to external defense, counter-terrorism, and the protection of U.S. forces.”

Deliveries include a VIP UH-60M helicopter for the Royal Family. Sources: ProPublica, “Revealed: America’s Arms Sales To Bahrain Amid Bloody Crackdown”.

May 11/12: Still blocked. The USA is reportedly resuming some weapon sales to Bahrain, which were suspended in October 2011 after Bahrain and Saudi Arabia crushed civil unrest. The weapons reportedly include air-to-air missile and ammunition, but not HMMWVs or anti-tank missiles. from the US Department of State:

“We have made the decision to release additional items to Bahrain mindful of the fact that there are a number of serious unresolved human rights issues that the Government of Bahrain needs to address. We will continue to maintain the holds on the TOW missiles and Humvees that were notified to Congress last October. Certain additional items for the Bahrain Defense Force, as well as all items for the Ministry of the Interior, excepting the Coast Guard and units deployed in Afghanistan, will also remain on hold. The items that we are releasing are not used for crowd control.”

Sources: US Dept. of State, “Renewal of U.S. Security Cooperation With Bahrain” | LA Times, “US Resumes Weapons Sales to Bahrain”.

Oct 19/11: Maybe not. The US State Department is backing away from its Sept 14/11 notification:

“The department will review the [Bahraini] commission’s findings carefully and assess the government of Bahrain’s efforts to implement the recommendations and make needed reforms…. We will weigh these factors and confer with Congress before proceeding with additional steps related to the recently notified arms sale.”

The Wall Street Journal cited Congressional sources who doubted that a blockage would have passed a vote in Congress, but the State Department’s action made the question moot. Opponents of the sale included Sen. Ron Wyden [D-OR], Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL], Sen. Benjamin Cardin [D-MD], Robert Menendez [D-NJ] and Bob Casey [D-PA]. Sources: WSJ, “Administration Holds Up Bahrain Arms Sale in Response to Abuses”.

Sept 14/11: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] the Government of Bahrain’s formal request to buy 44 HMMWV jeeps equipped with TOW missile launchers, and accompanying missiles. Bahrain already uses the TOW as its Army’s main anti-armor weapon, but these will be a new variant. While the name is “Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided” (TOW) Missiles,” the new models don’t uncoil a wire behind them, relying instead on encrypted radio guidance. Even so, if the sale goes through, it won’t require any additional US government or contractor personnel to help.

If Congress doesn’t block the sale, and contracts are negotiated, the prime contractors will be AM General in South Bend, IN, and Raytheon Missile Systems Corporation in Tucson, AZ. The estimated cost is up to $53 million, and the exact request involves:

  • 44 M1152A1B2 Armored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs). The most current version, designed to carry removable armor.
  • 200 BGM-71E-4B-RF (TOW-2A) Radio Frequency (RF) missiles.
  • 7 Fly-to-Buy RF TOW-2A Missiles, used for testing.
  • 50 BGM-71H-1RF TOW-2A Bunker Buster Missiles.
  • 7 Fly-to-Buy TOW-2A RF Bunker Buster Missiles.
  • 40 BGM-71F-3-RF TOW-2B Aero Missiles, with no nose spike, longer range, and warheads designed for top-attack profiles.
  • 7 Fly-to-Buy RF TOW-2B Aero Missiles.
  • 48 TOW-2 Launchers, AN/UAS-12A Night Sight Sets.
  • Plus spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Have Guns, Will Upgrade: The M109A7 Paladin PIM Self-Propelled Howitzer

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 23:55
Before: M109 & M992
(click to view full)

The USA’s 155mm M109 self-propelled howitzers (SPH) were first introduced in 1962, as a form of armored mobile artillery that could stand up to the massed fire tactics of Soviet heavy artillery and rockets. They and their companion M992 Armored Ammunition Resupply Vehicles (AARV) have been rebuilt and upgraded several times, most recently via the M109A6 Paladin upgrade.

In the meantime, the Army has re-learned a few home truths. Artillery arrives in seconds rather than minutes or hours, is never unavailable due to bad weather, and cheaply delivers a volume of explosive destruction that would otherwise require hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bombers and precision weapons. Most combat casualties in the gunpowder age have come from artillery fire, and the US Army will need its mobile fleet for some time to come. So, too, will the many countries that have bought the M109 and still use it, unless BAE wishes to cede that market to South Korea’s modern K9/K10 system, or new concept candidates like the KMW/GDLS DONAR. What to do? Enter the Paladin PIM program.

PIM Program: A New M109A7/ M992A3 Paladin M109 Limitations & the M109A6 Paladin M109A6 Paladin, fired
(click to view full)

While the M109 was technically mobile, in practice it was only semi-mobile. The need to string communications wire in order to physically connect the battery’s howitzers and their fire-control center fixed the vehicles in position. Surveyors were used to calculate the battery’s location as part of this process, and the entire emplacement and readying procedure could easily take 15-20 minutes. So, too, could the process of taking this setup down so the battery could move to another location. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that spending so much time outside of any protective armor was going to get a lot of people killed in any serious conflict involving tools like attack helicopters, massed artillery and rocket fire, and nifty toys like artillery-locating radars that backtrack the origin point of incoming shells.

The M109A6 Paladin addressed these issues via computerization and communications upgrades. Secure SINCGARS radios replaced the wires. Inertial navigation systems and sensors attached to the gun automatically tell the crew where they are, and where their shells are likely to land. Finally, automatic gun-laying translates the fire co-ordinates to a specific gun position. No aiming circles. No surveyed fire points. No wire lines. Just move into the assigned position area somewhere, calculate data, receive orders from the platoon operations center, use FBCB2 (aka “Blue Force Tracker”) to verify the location of “friendlies,” use the automatic PDFCS (Paladin Digital Fire Control System) to aim the gun and send the shell on its way. Once the fire mission is over, the vehicle can move off, receive another target, then quickly lay and fire again.

Improved armor added even more protection to the new system, and an upgraded engine and transmission made the M109A6 speedier. On-board prognostics and diagnostics were installed to improve the vehicles’ readiness and maintainability. Finally, ammunition stowage was made safer, and the load was increased from 36 rounds to 39 rounds of 155mm shells. Some of which can be M982 Excalibur GPS-guided shells.

The M992 Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicle (FAASV) vehicle is the M019’s companion. The M992A2 is also referred to as “Carrier Ammunition Tracked” by the US Army, which is an apt name because it holds up to 90 shells on 2 racks (up to 12,000 pounds total), plus an hydraulic conveyor belt to help with loading the M109. In practice, the duo’s crews often handle that task manually. The Paladin PIM program will enhance the FAASV/CAT to M992A3.

M109A7 PIM: The Weapon M109, firing
(click to view full)

The Paladin Integrated Management partnership builds on the A6’s advances, but there are so many changes that it’s almost a new-build program.

The BAE/Army partnership will re-use the turret structure and the main 155/39 mm gun. As such, additional range and accuracy depends on using new projectiles like the rocket-boosted & GPS-guided M982 Excalibur, or ATK’s non-boosted PGK screw-in guidance system. Both are explicitly contemplated in the Paladin PIM’s loading systems. Maximum rate of fire also remains unchanged, because tube structure and temperature remain the limiting factor for sustained rates of fire.

The Paladin Digital Fire Control System is somewhere between old and new. The system has continued to receive upgrades, and is being produced by BAE and Northrop Grumman. GPS is currently provided via older PLGR systems, with data sent to the Dynamic Reference Unit – Hybrid (DRU-H inertial navigator), but the obsolescence of electronic components within this box means that DRU-H and possibly PLGR are on the future replacement list.

M109A7 PIM
(click to view full)

What will be new? Two big advances:

Chassis. Previous M109 upgrades hadn’t altered the M109’s 1950s configuration. The new chassis are being fabricated & assembled with components from the M2/M3 Bradley IFV (e.g. engine, transmission, final drives, etc.), in order to create more commonality across America’s Heavy Brigade Combat teams. BAE Systems expects a growth in overall weight of less than 5%, but the combined effects of the new chassis and more robust drive components give Paladin PIM the ability to operate at higher weights than its current GVW maximum of about 39 tons/ 35.4 tonnes. That will be tested, given the expected weight of the T2 add-on armor and separate underbelly armor add-on kits.

All-Electric. The M109A7 PIM also incorporates select technologies from the Future Combat Systems 155mm NLOS-C (Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon), including modern electric gun drive systems to replace the current 1960s-era hydraulically-operated elevation and azimuth drives. The removal of the hydraulic systems saves the crew a tremendous amount of maintenance, and they retain manual backups for gun laying just in case.

The shift to an electric turret included a major redesign of the vehicle’s power system, converting the 600 hp engine’s work into up to 70 kW of 600 volt/ 28 volt direct current for use by various on-board systems. The power system’s modularity means that if any one of the motors inside fails, it can be replaced in the field within less than 15 minutes, using the same single part type. In concrete terms, it means the howitzer crew can handle the problem themselves and continue the mission, instead of withdrawing for repairs.

Paladin PIM: The Program

Adam Zarfoss, BAE Systems’ director of artillery programs:

“Artillery is playing an important role in operations in Iraq, with the Paladin providing critical fire support with both standard and precision munitions… The M109A6-PIM is the next step in Paladin development to ensure this essential fire support system remains ready and sustainable for soldiers in the HBCT [Heavy Brigade Combat Teams] through its projected life beyond the year 2050.”

Even with the previous-generation Paladin’s computerization and fast, safe set-up and take-down, a noticeable capability gap existed between the M109A6 used in Iraq, and newer self-propelled guns. At the same time, America’s comparable XM2001 Crusader/ XM2002 ARRV was canceled as an $11 billion Cold War relic in 2002, and the light 155mm NLOS-C died with the 2009 removal of the Future Combat Systems ground vehicle program.

The Paladin Integrated Management Program is designed to handle America’s future needs in the absence of Crusader and NLOS-C, and close some of the M109A6’s technological gaps. The initial goal was 600 M109A7 / M992A3 vehicle sets, but that has been lowered slightly to 558.

BAE Systems and the U.S. Army have signed a 2007 memorandum of understanding (MoU), establishing a Public-Private Partnership (P3) to develop and sustain the Army’s M109A6 vehicles throughout their life cycle. The establishment of a P3 will capitalize on the strengths and capabilities of each organization to ensure the cost-effective and on-time reset of the current fleet of M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) and M992A2 Field Artillery Ammunition Supply Vehicles (FAASV), as well as the planned production of the M109A7/M992A3 Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) systems.

PIM prototypes were originally slated to be delivered to the US Army for test and evaluation in 2009, but changes to the program meant that the prototype contract wasn’t even issued until October 2009. That moved prototype delivery back to May 2011.

By January 2012, BAE had completed Phase I of the Army’s formal Developmental Test Program, with 5 vehicles returning for refurbishment, and 2 remaining at Aberdeen Proving Grounds for further tests. Full testing of all vehicles was set to resume in June 2012, and the Milestone C approval to proceed with Low-Rate-Initial-Production (LRIP) was scheduled for June 2013. In practice LRIP approval by the Defense Acquisition Board slipped to October 2013, and formal induction didn’t take place until May 2014.

Industrial Team M992 cutaway
(click to view full)

Parties to the memorandum signing include BAE Systems leaders, US Army TACOM (Tank, automotive & Armaments COMmand), The Army’s PEO-GCS (Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems), the Army’s PKM-HBCT (Project Manager – Heavy Brigade Combat Team), and the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. The MoU was signed during the AUSA 2007 conference in Washington, DC.

BAE Systems has significant experience with public-private partnerships thanks to Britain’s “future contracting for availability” innovations. In the USA, meanwhile, it has a long standing and successful partnership with the Red River Army Depot in Texas to remanufacture and upgrade the USA’s M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicles.

The Army’s PM-HBCT will manage the M109 RESET activities. Anniston Army Depot will retain labor and lead the majority of the program, including the M109A6-PIM production process, through the public-private partnership. They will be integrated into the PIM Integrated Product Development Teams (IPDTs) structure during the design phase, and will support the manufacture of the prototype vehicles.

During the production phase, Anniston Army Depot will be responsible for induction of vehicles, overhaul of critical components like the gun system, and modification/ upgrade of the cab structure. BAE Systems will be responsible for materials management. The partially assembled cabs, along with overhauled components, will be provided to BAE Systems for integration with the new M109A7 PIM chassis. Areas involved in production will include York, PA; Aiken, SC; and Elgin, OK where final assembly will take place.

Export Potential PzH-2000

A total of 975 M109A6 Paladins were produced for the US Army, and another 225 or so were produced for Taiwan. Full rate production ceased in 1999. BAE built a small final batch to fill out an Army National Guard request, which finished in 2001.

Most other countries who use the M109 (Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Tunisia, Iran on its own, soon Iraq with US support) employ previous versions, ranging from M109A1s to M109A5s.

That’s a lot of potential upgrades.

So far, the most popular upgrade abroad is the M109A5+, which adds independent position location via GPS/INS, and radio transmission of co-ordinates. It’s a budget-conscious upgrade that omits the M109A6’s automatic gun-laying, which would require a tear-down and rebuild of the turret. It also omits the PIM upgrades, which make very substantial changes to every part of the vehicle.

On the other hand, countries that do decide to field fully modern armored artillery systems will find that Paladin PIM is still generally cheaper than buying new heavy systems. That’s enough to succeed in America. What about the rest of the world?

Abroad, Paladin PIM will be competing against options like KMW’s PzH-2000, Denel’s G6, and Samsung’s K9/K10 on the heavy side, some of which offer more advanced features. It will also have to deal with substitution threats from lightly-armored truck-mounted 155mm artillery like BAE/Saab’s Archer, Elbit’s Atmos, and Nexter’s Caesar. It’s still early days, but the M109A7 Paladin PIM system has yet to find an export customer.

Contracts and Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, US Army TACOM in Warren, MI issues the contracts to BAE Systems Land & Armaments’ Ground Systems Division in York, PA.

FY 2016

At Fort Sill

August 11/16: Howitzers in the Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) program are being questioned over deficiencies with the weapon’s maximum rate of fire and problems with the automatic fire extinguisher that could potentially endanger the crew. The DoD’s inspector general raised the queries in a report released last week. 2012 and 2013 tests saw the howitzer fail the test for maximum rate of fire which led to a redesign of hardware, software and firing procedures but still failed a total of four out of eight attempts following the fixes “under non-stressful firing conditions.”

November 2/15: The Army announced on Friday that they have awarded a $245.3 million contract modification for 30 M109A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, along with 30 M992A3 Armored Ammunition Resupply Vehicles. This low rate initial production-2 (LRIP-2) modification (Option 2) follows a similar award (Option 1) in October 2014 for 18 of each vehicle, with the two options scheduled for deliveries by February 2017 and June 2018 respectively.

FY 2015

Oct 31/14: LRIP-2. A $141.8 million fixed-price-incentive contract modification exercises Option 1 for 18 M109A7 Self-Propelled Howitzers and 18 M992A3 Carrier Ammunition Tracked vehicles. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 and 2015 Army budgets. This raises the contract’s total value (q.v. Oct 30/13) to $386.7 million so far.

Estimated completion date is Feb 28/17. Work will be performed in Elgin, OK (18%), and York, PA (82%) (W56HZV-14-C-0002, PO 0011).

LRIP-2 order: 18 SPH, 18 CAT

FY 2014

Milestone C approval; LRIP contract; GAO and DOT&E reports highlight remaining issues. M109A7: Fire!
(click to view full)

July 18/14: EMD. An $88.3 million modification to contract to extend the existing M109A7 and M992A3 engineering and manufacturing development contract to incorporate low rate initial production test support. $14.1 million in FY 2013 and 2014 US Army RDT&E funding is committed immediately.

This raises announced Paladin PIM EMD contracts (q.v. Jan 17/12) to $401.6 million. Estimated completion date is March 31/17. Work will be performed in York, PA (W56HZV-09-C-0550, PO 0081).

May 19/14: Inducted. The US Army formally inducts the Paladin PIM system, and gives the systems new designations. It’s now the M109A7 self-propelled howitzer, with its companion M992A3 ammunition carrier. Low-rate initial production will begin in summer 2014, as M109A6s and M992A2s are shipped the Anniston Army Depot for disassembly. Some of those parts, especially the cab and cannon assembly, will be used along with new components like the chassis, engine, transmission, suspension, steering system, and power system.

US Army PM self-propelled howitzer systems Lt. Col. Michael Zahuranic is especially pleased by the fact that the upgrade creates more space, saves weight, and improves power and cooling, making it much easier to add new capabilities until its planned phase-out in 2050. BAE Systems VP and GM Mark Signorelli was also happy today, both for the milestone it represents for his company and because he had commanded a M109A3 when he was in the US Army. Sources: US Army, “Army inducts self-propelled howitzer into low-rate initial production”.

Inducted as M109A7 / M992A3

May 14/14: Engines. BAE Systems Land & Armaments LP in York, PA receives a $16.1 million contract modification for an advance buy of V903 engines, to equip PIM low rate initial production vehicles.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 budgets. Work will be performed in Columbus, IN (77%), and York, PA (23%), with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/18. US Army Contracting Command-Tank and Automotive in Warren, MI manages the contract (W56HZV-14-C-0002, PO 0003).

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. For the PIM program, its design is mature. So are its 2 critical new technologies: power pack integration, and the ceramic bearing of the generator assembly. On the other hand, weight limits are a concern, and testing had better go right, because the program’s schedule leaves very little time for fixes if tests show problems.

The largest single technology risk involves the current contractor for the engine and transmission, who may cease production due to lack of orders. That could force a vendor switch and even a redesign of the engine compartment, raising costs between $32 – $100 million and adding a “significant” schedule delay.

The Milestone C delay from June – October 2013 was staff-driven due to sequestration. Other delays to the start of developmental testing stemmed from changes to protection and survivability requirements, which led to a new ballistic hull and turret and new armor kits.

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The revised program schedule reduces the program’s planned low-rate (LRIP) production run from 72 sets – 66 sets, while cutting the LRIP period from 4 years – 3 years.

The new M109A6 PIM has done well in tests with GPS-guided shells, with a CEP of less than 10m for rocket-boosted M982 Ia-2 Excalibur shells out to 35 miles, and average CEP of 24m out to 15 miles for ATK’s screw-in Precision Guidance Kit. The bad news is that ordinary shells are a problem. In 2012 Limited User Tests, the PIM failed to meet accuracy requirements at short (4-6 km) ranges, offered a timeliness downgrade from M109A6 standards by meeting less than 20% of fire mission time standards, and displayed deformation and jamming of the M82 primer when firing when firing M232A1 Modular Artillery Charge System (MACS) Charge 5 propellant.

The Army has begun using some very innovative approaches in its effort to fix the defects (q.v. July 30/12), and in January 2013, the program began installing and testing a series of Corrective Actions, Producibility, and Obsolescence (CPO) changes for the SPH and CAT. The Army intends to fix the timeliness problem using hardware and software changes, and there have been some positive indicators in subsequent tests. Meanwhile, they intend to continue testing upgraded suspension and transmission components in light of increased weight from the underbelly and T2 up-armoring kits.

A special research team is looking at the MACS problems. They’re considering a wide range of options: propellant changes, breech & firing mechanism redesigns, alternative ignition systems, or even restricting the PIM to 4 MACS charges and taking the range penalty.

Oct 30/13: LRIP. BAE Systems Land & Armaments LP in York, PA receives a $195.4 million fixed-price-plus-incentive contract for Low-Rate Initial Production of 19 Paladin PIM self-propelled Howitzers (SPH), 13 SPH Threshold 2 (T2) armor kits as up-armoring options, 18 Carrier Ammunition Tracked (CAT, formerly FAASV reloader) vehicles, 11 CAT T2 armor kits, and 37 lots of basic issue items. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 RDT&E ($14.6 million) and “other” ($180.8 million) budgets.

Work will be performed at York, PA; Elgin, OK; and 24 locations throughout the United States until Feb 29/16. One bid was solicited and one received by US Army TACOM in Warren, MI.

The 1st production vehicle is expected to roll out of the depot in mid-2015. BAE says that this contract could rise to $688 million for about 66 vehicle sets (likely 67 SPH and 66 CAT), plus spares, kits and technical documentation (W56HZV-14-C-0002). Note that this is slightly less than envisioned before (q.v. Dec 6/12). See also: BAE, Oct 31/13 release.

LRIP-1 order: 19 SPH, 18 CAT

October 2013. The Defense Acquisition Board green-lights the Paladin Integrated Management program for low rate initial production. To that effect, the FY 2014 budget submitted by the Army in April 2013 asked for $260.2 million in base procurement to field a lot of 18 SPHs and CATs (Carrier Ammunition, Tracked) at a unit cost of about $14.45 million. A LRIP award is expected soon so that production can begin next year.

The Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) milestone had been scheduled for Q4 FY2016, back when Milestone C was expected in June 2013. Meeting that deadline will depend on whether corrective actions to address deficiencies found in tests (q.v. December 2012) can be made fast enough.

LRIP decision / Milestone C

FY 2012 – 2013

EMD contract finalized; Production moves to Elgin, OK; What videogames have to teach the PIM program. PIM LUT

December 2012: Test results. The Pentagon’s Operational Test & Evaluation Office publishes its 1st report [PDF] on PIM. The Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP) was approved in March 2012, and prototypes refurbished in June 2012 had gone through Phase II development testing by October 2012, following Phase I tests a year earlier.

Vehicle discrepancies after repeated gun shock were higher than with legacy subsystems, including PDFCS. A software issue between the Muzzle Velocity Radar System (MVRS) and PDFCS led to frequent failures. The SPH also failed to meet its climbing requirement, though DOTE doesn’t say whether that’s a problem with meeting a paper spec or a more serious mobility issue.

The report notes that the program’s tight schedule means corrective actions will have to wait until the LRIP phase. This leads DOTE to conclude that “the schedule for development, test, and implementation of those [corrective action, producibility, and obsolescence (CPO)] changes is high-risk and challenging.”

Dec 6/12: BAE Systems announces that they’ve picked the Elgin, OK facility in the Fort Sill Industrial Park for M109A6 Paladin PIM Low Rate Initial Production. This will move those jobs to Elgin about 2-3 years sooner than the original plan. BAE, in turn, wants to be next to the Army’s Artillery Center of Excellence and its experienced personnel.

The PIM LRIP award is expected in Q3 2013, and will involve just 72 PIM systems. Key components of the PIM production vehicles, including the chassis, will be sent to the Elgin facility from BAE Systems manufacturing facilities and suppliers. As part of final assembly and checkout, BAE Systems will use Fort Sill for mobility and firing verification.

July 30/12: Videogames & Telemetry. David Musgrave is the Army’s project lead for fire control software development on the M109A6 PIM, and he’s having a problem:

“We were encountering some problems with firing tests. I started asking questions looking for objective use data. How often does subsystem X fail? When it does fail, what was the user trying to do at the time? How often does a user perform Y task? The truth was I couldn’t get any decent answers. I was frustrated that there was a very limited information channel from our system back to us while it was being used.”

He thinks the solution might involve taking a tip from the videogame industry, which uses “telemetry” to track how people are interacting with the games, and what they’re using or not using. A presentation from BioWare’s Georg Zoller was especially inspirational, and Musgrave has a good head on his shoulders when it comes to the reality of implementation in the Army. He sees huge potential benefits for program managers, units, and soldiers alike, but only if the system doesn’t interfere with the weapon in any way, and the program doesn’t try to do too much. The biggest technical challenge will be finding a reasonable method to reliably get the tracking data back to a central server. See also US Army Article | Full RDECOM PowerPoint Presentation [PDF].

Jan 17/12: EMD. A $313.1 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for PIM engineering design, logistics and test and evaluation services, which will complete the Engineering, Manufacturing & Design phase. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Jan 31/15. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W56HZV-09-C-0550). Additional EMD contracts bring the total to $401.6 million, and include:

  • $88.5 million adds LRIP test support (July 18/14)

In discussions, BAE representatives added that the 7 prototype PIM vehicles (5 howitzers, 2 resupply vehicles) delivered in May 2011 have logged over 7,500 miles, fired over 2,600 rounds, and come through extreme temperature testing to complete Phase I of the Army’s Reliability, Availability and Maintainability (RAM) tests. Testing will resume in June 2012, and the next step after that is a June 2013 Milestone C decision, which would begin low-rate initial production. BAE release.

EMD Contract

Oct 24/11: EMD. A $9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide refurbishment and analysis services for the PIM Bridge 3 effort. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W56HZV-09-C-0550).

Oct 5/11: EMD. A $9.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the PIM Bridge 1 effort. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/11. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0550).

Oct 5/11: T2. A $7.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to buy the PIM’s T-2 Armor Kits. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0550).

Oct 5/11: Transmission. L3 Communications Corp. in Muskegon, MI receives a $7.9 million firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, to develop a common transmission for the Bradley Family IFV/CFVs, and the Paladin Integrated Management vehicles. Work will be performed in Muskegon, MI, with an estimated completion date of Nov 15/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0098).

FY 2007 – 2011

From MoU to delivery on initial prototypes. M109A6 PIM
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June 7/11: An $11.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, to buy PIM ballistic hulls and turrets. Recall that the new PIM chassis are being fabricated & assembled with Bradley common components.

Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of April 30/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W56HZV-09-C-0550).

May 2011: Delivery. The 7 PIM prototypes are delivered to the U.S. Army, on schedule. Source.

Prototypes delivered

Oct 28/10: BAE Systems announces that they are on track to deliver 7 Paladin/FAASV Integrated Management (PIM) prototype vehicles to the U.S. Army on schedule, under the $63.9 million August 2009 research and development contract, announced in October 2009 (5 M109s, 2 FAASVs).

The initial PIM vehicles are conducting contractor testing in Yuma, AZ and Aberdeen, MD before they are delivered for government testing in January 2011.

June 15/10: An $8.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, for Paladin PIM line replaceable units. Work is to be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of June 30/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-09-0550).

Jan 20/10: Rollout. BAE Systems unveils its upgraded PIM (Paladin Integrated Management) vehicle to military customers, Congressional representatives, community leaders and employees at a ceremony held at its York facility. This is the 1st vehicle built under the Oct 5/09 contract. BAE Systems release.

Oct 5/09: Prototypes. BAE Systems announces a $63.9 million contract from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive & Armaments Command for 5 prototype M109A6 PIM self-propelled howitzer vehicles, and 2 prototype M992A2 Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicles (FAASV).

Development contract

Nov 4/08: PDFCS. BAE systems announces a $20 million contract from the US Army’s TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, to purchase and deliver 140 Paladin Digital Fire Control Systems (PDFCS) kits, and more than 60 spare components to support the system. They will be added to the 450 or so kits that have already been ordered under this contract.

Some of the kits under this contract will be installed on vehicles at fielding sites across the world, while others will be shipped to an Army Depot where they will be used on the Paladin reset line. Work will be performed by the existing workforce at BAE Systems facilities in York, PA; Sterling Heights, MI; and Anniston, AL beginning in September 2009. Deliveries are scheduled to be complete by January 2010.

Oct 9/07: MoU. BAE Systems and the US Army sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU), establishing a Public-Private Partnership to develop and sustain the Army’s M109 Family of Vehicles throughout their life cycle. BAE Systems release.

Oct 8/07: BAE Systems unveils the M109A6-PIM Paladin upgrade at the AUSA 2007 show in Washington DC. BAE Systems release.

Unveiling & Partnership

Additional Readings

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

Background: Artillery & Shells

News & Views

Categories: News

Raytheon/Rafale to Bring Iron Dome to US | US State Dept Approves $1.15B Saudi Deal | Japanese Mil to Engage NK Missiles Approaching Airspace

Tue, 08/09/2016 - 23:59

  • Raytheon and Rafale are to partner on marketing the Iron Dome for the US Army’s Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 — Intercept (IFPC Inc 2-I) program. Dubbed Sky Hunter, both companies will utilize Rafael’s Tamir interceptor for the developmental Multi-Missile Launcher (MML). The MML successfully launched a Tamir missile back in April as part of tests on several different types of munitions.

  • Inaugural testing of Lockheed Martin’s new Dual Mode Plus laser-guided bomb has been successful. Two 500-pound Mk-82 inert warheads were fitted with Dual Mode Plus guidance kits and released from an F/A-18 Super Hornet at the Naval Air Ware Center Weapons Division in California. The company claims the kits provide benefits to the reliability and affordability of the Paveway II Plus laser-guided bomb system while integrating the GPS/INS, all-weather moving target capability.

  • Ground has been broken on the new $44 million KC-46A Pegasus sustainment campus at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The facility will be responsible for all the maintenance, repair and overhaul operations required for the tanker. The first KC-46A are expected to roll into Tinker in 2018.

Middle East North Africa

  • Iraq’s Defense Ministry has received delivery of its latest batch of four F-16 fighters. This brings to eight the number of fighters operational out of 36 promised by the US government. The sale goes toward bolstering the country’s growing air force fleet, replacing older Su-25s, in the government’s fight against the Islamic State.

  • The US State Department has approved a $1.15 billion armor deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Included in the sale are 130 Abram main battle tanks, 20 armored recovery vehicles and other equipment. While the sale can be still blocked by Congress, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said that it would “increase the Royal Saudi Land Force’s (RSLF) interoperability with US forces, and conveys US commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and armed forces modernization.”


  • Navalized versions of the Ka-52K are to be installed with a compact active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The radar operates in dual-band millimetric and centimetric wavelengths which allows the Ka-52K to detect large naval targets up to a range of 180 km. Initially developed for French-built Mistral-class vessels, the sale was cancelled by France after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The helicopters already built are likely to be added to the air wing of the Project 11435 Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.

  • Germany and the Netherlands are to conduct joint Patriot air and missile defense systems operations this October. Project APOLLO has been developed by both governments over the last year and will see 300 German and 100 Dutch soldiers cooperate as a Bi-national Air & Missile Defence Task Force in Crete with more than 40 missiles scheduled to be fired during the exercise. Once completed, the task force will be deemed combat ready with potential for an eastern deployment.

Asia Pacific

  • Calls have been made to the Japanese military to engage any future North Korean ballistic missiles that come near Japanese skies. The government order also approved a three month state of alert for all its forces in case of any further launches in the short term. A review of the standby will be conducted to see if an extension is deemed necessary at the end of the three month period.

Today’s Video

Tamir Firing from IFPC Inc 2-I Multi Mission Launcher:

Categories: News

The New Iraqi Air Force: F-16IQ Block 52 Fighters

Tue, 08/09/2016 - 23:48
F-16IQ (D)
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Iraq’s military has made significant strides in recent years, and the country is ordering more advanced military equipment to match. A slew of 2008 requests aimed to spend over $10 billion to buy advanced armored vehicles, strengthen its national military supply chain, build new bases and infrastructure for its army, and even buy advanced scout helicopters. Budget shortfalls have stretched out those buys, but that situation is easing, even as Iraq’s air force continues to make progress.

Anxious to complete its transformation and stand fully on its own, Iraq is pushing to begin flying its own fighters within the next couple of years – and is looking to buy American F-16s, rather than the Soviet and French fighters that made up Saddam’s air force.

Iraqi Air Force Evolution Iraqi T-6A trainers
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Iraq’s purchase of armed scout helicopters was significant, because an Air Force that had once been one of the strongest in the region is currently reduced to few dozen planes and helicopters, with no front-line fighters, or attack helicopters with precision munitions. The ARH order would be a significant step forward in aerial combat power, though they will be employed in the internal anti-terrorist battle rather than acting to secure Iraq’s sovereignty against neighboring countries.

That level of security requires the ability to control the air over one’s own country, which is why the USAF has always planned to remain in Iraq for a number of years as a guarantor. The question that remains is how long they will be able to remain as a guarantor, and when Iraq will have an air force that can realistically assume even minimum-level air policing duties.

Iraq is slowly building its fighter force from the ground up. Cessna light planes serve as primary trainers, and some of the larger Cessna 208B Caravans have been modified to perform surveillance or even combat strike roles. T-6A Texan II turboprops serve for the next level of fighter training. After that, Iraq’s pilots have to go to the USA, to train on supersonic T-38 Talons. That will change when Iraq receives its own advanced jet trainers in 2015, and their selection of the L-159 ensures that these jet trainers will also end up serving a secondary combat role. “Iraq’s New Trainers: The Czech Is On The Way” has more coverage of Iraq’s choices.

USAF F-16s, Iraq
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In terms of its front-line fighters, its chosen F-16IQ Block 52s show a pattern of slight downgrades from the more advanced F-16C/D Block 52 base systems. The official export request’s determined avoidance of sophisticated air to ground weapons like GPS-guided JDAMs, or advanced air-to-air missiles, also seems designed to assuage regional fears. The net effect seems cleverly calibrated to give Iraq an air defense force that can handle aging threats from Syria or Iran relatively well, and perform strike missions within Iraq, without being a serious threat to more advanced air forces in the region. Regional memories among its Arab neighbors, as well as Israeli concerns, make that a smart starting point. Upgrades can always take place later, and the F-16IQs have at least some of the equipment required to handle more advanced weapons.

First flight took place in May 2014, and the 1st delivery of 2 planes is scheduled for September 2014, with at least 2 arriving every month thereafter. All 36 ordered fighters are expected to arrive by the end of 2015.

Even delivery of working fighter jets only represents a first step, rather than a solution. The 2010 formal DSCA request was just the beginning of a process that can take between 4 – 10 years from request to full operational capability, and Iraq is likely to fall somewhere in the middle. There’s much more involved than just flying a plane. For starters, Iraq will also need to implement and stand up radar surveillance and command and control capabilities, in order to tie its fighters into a working system. Then there’s the need for effective maintenance and support, something the Iraqis have had trouble executing with platforms that are much less complicated than an F-16. Not to mention training in an Iraqi environment so that everyone is on the same page, and effective parallel training of critical and difficult jobs like Forward Air Controller troops in the Army.

Local efforts should be possible some time in 2015, but realistically, Iraq won’t be able to enforce national air sovereignty before 2016 at the very earliest. A number of analysts have believed for some time that it will be years later than that, and effective close air support will take longer still. If it ever happens at all.

Contracts and Key Events 2014 – 2016

1st flight, 1st F-16IQ delivered, but they won’t go to Iraq; F-16s won’t solve Iraq’s core problem.

August 10/16: Iraq’s Defense Ministry has received delivery of its latest batch of four F-16 fighters. This brings to eight the number of fighters operational out of 36 promised by the US government. The sale goes toward bolstering the country’s growing air force fleet, replacing older Su-25s, in the government’s fight against the Islamic State.

March 2/15: Iraqi fighter pilots will continue to be trained in Tucson, Arizona after the Air Force gave a one year extension of Iraq pilot training. The $32 million deal will see Lockheed Martin continue the training of F-16 pilots until the end of February 2017. Baghdad has build up its fleet of F-16s in recent years, with 18 bought in 2011 and a further 18 purchased in 2014. The first pilots arrived in Tucson back in November 2014.

July 10/15: In response to recent reports in the Iraqi press, the US Embassy in Baghdad has stated that the country’s F-16IQ Block 52 fighters due for delivery will not be based in Jordan, as claimed by an Iraqi MP earlier this week. Embassy officials stated that the claims were “completely false”, with the F-16s set to operate out of Balad Air Force base, the location of recent intense fighting. The delivery of three Iraqi Air Force F-16s to the base was hampered by security concerns, with the aircraft instead delivered to Arizona for training.

Nov 10/14: Delivery. The situation around Balad remains unsettled enough (q.v. June 30/14) that the US government is going to deliver Iraq’s F-16s to Tucson, AZ instead. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren:

“We are going to deliver three F-16s to Tucson in December… then one per month after that through May for a total of eight F-16s. We expect the Iraqi pilots will begin flying their own aircraft for continuation training beginning in January…. All maintenance for the F-16s will be provided by [contracted] logistic support…. So they’re continuing their training, but instead of training using U.S. training aircraft they will now use their own aircraft in Tucson.”

The training will be better, but it does delay the existence of a serious air sovereignty force in Iraq. It also gives the USA some extra leverage over Iraq, via its decisions about delivery. Sources: Pentagon, “Iraqi Pilots to Train on Iraqi-purchased F-16s in Arizona”.

July 4/14: Training. Delivery isn’t the only problem for Iraq. From Stars and Stripes, “Iraq lacks ability to fly F-16s it seeks, US trainer says”:

“Twelve of the 18 Iraqi pilots undergoing F-16 training are at an Air Force facility in Tucson. Two have advanced to the final stage and should be certified to fly as lead pilots in mid-August, according to Tom Fox, a civilian government employee who manages the F-16 training program.

Six others have qualified as wingmen who would accompany the lead pilot in separate planes, and four are in basic training, Fox said. The plan is to train a total of 54 pilots. Fox said Iraq was having trouble paying the agreed-upon price for the training, so the Air Force created a payment plan to make it more affordable and keep it on track.”

June 30/14: Civil war delay. As the Iraqi government’s authority collapses in the north, it has affected F-16 delivery. From the Pentagon, “U.S. Continues Military Aid to Iraqi Government”:

“While the department hasn’t placed any restrictions on the F-16 aircraft delivery process in Iraq, [US Defense Department spokesman Army Col. Steven] Warren said, the relocation of contractors from Balad will cause some impact. Advances by ISIL militants triggered the evacuation of contractors from the air base.

“I don’t have a specific timeline for how the relocation of contractors from Balad will affect the delivery of the F-16. It certainly will,” he said. “These contractors were part of the process; they’re no longer operating in Balad.”

June 5/14: Delivery. The 1st F-16IQ is formally delivered to Iraq at a ceremony in Fort Worth, TX. A group of 3-4 jets will be ferried to Iraq before the end of 2014. Reuters:

“Lockheed said the Iraqi order would keep the F-16 production line running through late 2017, but it continues to bid for new orders in hopes of continuing production through 2020.”

Sources: Reuters, “Lockheed to deliver first of 36 F-16s to Iraq this week”.


May 7/14: 1st flight. Lockheed Martin successfully completes the 1st flight of the Iraq Air Force’ inaugural F-16IQ Fighting Falcon. Pictures show that it’s a 2-seat F-16D derivative. Sources: Lockheed Martin, “First Iraqi F-16 Completes First Flight”.

1st flight

May 1/14: On the ground… A Wall Street Journal report offers a poor review of the Iraqi military’s performance, citing desertion, poor logistics, and insufficient support. Prime Minister Maliki’s policies of ethnic division haven’t exactly helped, and the conflict next door in Syria ensures that many Sunnis are returning home with even more battle experience. Close air support is especially problematic:

“In January, Gen. Dulaimi says, he was passing through a dense urban area of Ramadi in a column of nearly 50 Humvees, tanks and armored cars. They were ambushed by what he describes as hundreds of militants carrying machine guns, grenade launchers and improvised explosives…. [but] he was told that there were no airplanes capable of operating at night…. After nearly five hours, Baghdad sent a Russian-made prop plane loaded with two missiles—its maximum capacity. One of the missiles landed a direct hit, scattering the antigovernment commandos.”

The prop plane was almost certainly a very American AC-208 Combat Caravan, but it illustrates the problem. The other bad news is that even the arrival of F-16s isn’t going to help in the near term. The difficulty of conducting close air support without killing your own troops or making even more local enemies goes up sharply at the F-16’s high subsonic speeds, and even fancy gadgets like Sniper ATP surveillance and targeting pods won’t replace trained Forward Air Controllers on the ground and long experience working together. Sources: WSJ, “Fledgling Iraqi Military Is Outmatched on Battlefield: On Eve of Elections, Demoralized Army Is Losing Fight Against Islamist Militants” | See also: Defense One, “Iraq’s Elections Setting Up ‘Worst Case Scenario’ “.

2012 – 2013

Iraq buys 2nd batch of 18; F-16 ancillary orders placed. L-3’s F-16 sim
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Oct 25/13: In an interview with Reuters, Deputy National Security Adviser Safa al-Sheikh Hussein continues to press for F-16s, and adds a newer request: drones. Apparently “al Qaeda insurgents… are making swift advances in the west of the Iraq,” though a more cynical observer might say that their growing problem is the logical outcome of a consistent “we win, you lose” anti-Sunni approach by Iraq’s government. At any rate, Hussein says:

“The first thing the Prime Minister will ask for is to accelerate the processes for the shipment of drones and F-16s…. The initial response from the U.S. was positive, but it depends on the delivery time. We want them immediately… [but] Iraq will not die if it doesn’t get American weapons. Many countries are offering military equipment”

This last assertion is true, to a point. If they want Medium Altitude, Long-Endurance drones, the field shrinks once you step beyond the USA and Israel. If you want armed UAVs, the field shrinks to almost nothing. Fortunately for Iraq, the last couple of years have seen major steps forward in the MALE UAV field. Neighboring Turkey’s new Anka is unproven, and just lost its engine when China’s AVIC bought Thielert. Nearby in the UAE, the unarmed Predator XP-1 joint venture is still American enough to create problems if the USA demurs; but ADCOM’s United 40 is available and intriguing, albeit unproven. Italy’s Selex ES can offer Falco drones, which serve with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UN, but offer just 8-14 hour endurance; Falco EVO reportedly boosts that to 18 hours, which is more acceptable. Piaggio-Selex can add the larger P.1HH Hammerhead UAV, based on a civil aircraft and offering both heavier payloads and high-speed coverage. Then there’s France’s Sagem. Their glider-derived Patroller-R model’s 20 – 30 hour endurance is extremely well suited to border patrol, and its low payload isn’t an issue in that application. Sources: Reuters, “Iraq to press U.S. on drones, F-16s to fight al Qaeda”.

Sept 16/13: Training. L-3 Link Simulation & Training announces a contract modification to build the Iraqi Air Force 2 F-16 Block 52 Weapon Tactics Trainers (WTTs), 2 brief/debrief systems and 1 mission observation center, which will accompany the 2 Full Mission Trainers (FMTs, q.v. Feb 28/13) they’re already under contract for.

F-16 Block 52 FMT #1 is expected to be operational at Balad Air Base, Iraq during Q1 2015, with the rest of the systems ready to go by Q4 2015. The WTTs are a full cockpit simulator, without the FMT’s full motion simulation and 360 degree view. Instead, they’re more like a realistic cockpit with a screen up front. You can network the 2 simulator types, however, which will allow the Iraqis to train cooperative missions of up to 4 pilots. Sources: L-3, Sept 16/13 release.

Aug 2/13: Training. The Royal Jordanian Air Academy in Amman, Jordan has been issued a $29.4 million task order to pay for English language and technical training to Iraqi Air Force students. Training will be at the Royal Jordanian Air Academy, and is expected to be complete by Aug 8/14.

The US Air Education and Training Command Contracting Squadron/LGCI (International Contracting Flight) at Randolph Air Force Base, TX acts as Iraq’s agent (FA3002-12-D-0006, #0006).

Aug 5/13: The US DSCA announces Iraq’s official request to import an Integrated Air Defense System of surface-to-air missiles, ground radars, command and control, etc. Fulfillment of the $2.4 billion request is critical, if Iraq wants to give its small F-16 fleet any chance of enforcing its aerial sovereignty. Read “Iraq’s New Integrated Air Defense System” for full coverage.

June 10/13: Radars. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Linthicum Heights, MD receives a maximum $115 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide 38 AN/APG-68(V)9 radar systems: 16 for the Royal Thai Air Force and 22 for the Republic of Iraq. This foreign military sale also includes spares for F-16 operators Egypt, Morocco, and Pakistan.

The 22 radars would equip the 2nd ordered squadron, with 4 left over for spares.

This is a sole-source buy, as it must be, and $51.4 million is committed immediately. Work will be performed in Linthicum, MD, and is expected to be complete by Dec 20/17. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WWMK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, acts as the FMS agent for these orders (FA8615-13-C-6018).

April 2013: SIGIR report. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s quarterly report [PDF] discusses Iraq’s F-16 fleet. Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, Chief of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I), had this to say:

“The two F-16 cases are designed to bring 18 aircraft each, with the first delivery of two planes scheduled for September 2014. Two will arrive every month thereafter, completing delivery by the end of 2015. Iraq would like them all today. They have given me a letter requesting acceleration, but they understand that we are accelerating as fast as we can. We were in the process of building the airbase infrastructure at al-Assad, and then they switched to Balad. That slowed things down. The F-16 cases, from a production standpoint, are on track. Pilot training is on track. We had some hiccups on pilot training – a couple of guys washed out – but we’re on track now.”

April 30/13: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Corp. in Fort Worth, TX receives an $830 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee modification for 18 more F-16IQs and associated support equipment, technical orders, integrated logistics support, contractor logistics support and “an electronic warfare system” (Raytheon ACES or ITT AIDEWS, per the Dec 12/11 DSCA request).

$406.7 million is committed immediately, and work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX with an expected completion date of December 2018 [Pentagon May 6/13 correction]. Iraq knows what it wants, so these contracts are sole-sourced buys, with the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WWMK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH acting as Iraq’s FMS agent (FA8615-12-C-6012, PO 0008). Some contracts for ancillary equipment may be competed, but those are handled as separate buys anyway. Recall that the DSCA export request’s total was up to $2.3 billion, with exact numbers to be settled through negotiations.

18 more F-16IQs

Feb 18/13: Training. Iraq becomes L-3 Link’s 11th export customer for F-16 training simulators, via an order for 2 full F-16 Block 52 simulators with HD World and Simusphere HD-9 technologies. Iraq’s simulators will also incorporate L-3’s simulated Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, which is worn by the pilot, and “a geo-specific visual system database of Iraq.” The US military has certainly visited often enough, so you’d expect them to have that part down pat.

The simulators will be built at L-3’s Arlington, TX facility. No delivery date was given, but the simulators’ importance for training Iraqi pilots makes that date information worth knowing. L-3 Communications.

Dec 17/12: Support. BAE Systems announces 2 contracts from Indonesia and Iraq valued at nearly $63 million. They’ll provide F-16 support equipment, test systems, and spares from their Fort Worth, Texas facility by early 2014.

BAE Systems has delivered more than 25,000 support equipment and test systems to more than 24 countries worldwide, and is working hard to carve out a niche in F-16 upgrades as well. Like their rival Lockheed Martin, BAE has a strong regional network, and they will work hard to develop their regional relationship with Iraq.

Nov 29/12: Sniper ATP. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando, FL receives a $31.9 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, time and material contract to supply Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods for the Iraq Air Force. This is the 1st Iraqi order, and it may just be a sum to get production started, rather than the full amount. Combined, Iraq’s 2 DSCA requests would let them order up to 40 pods.

Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, and is expected to be complete by July 2015. It’s a Foreign Military Sale transaction, so the AFLCMC/WNKCB at Robins Air Force Base, GA manages the contract for their Iraqi client (FA8540-13-C-0008).

Oct 18/12: 18 more? Acting Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi tells Reuters that Iraq has signed a contract for another 18 F-16IQs, on the same terms as the initial 18-plane buy. He adds all of Iraq’s F-16s are expected to arrive before the end of 2018.” Confirmation has been sketchy so far, beyond Reuters.

Duliami reportedly added that Iraq was also talking with American officials about buying air defense systems and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. That’s an interesting comment, because Iraq just bought Russian counterparts to those systems. Reuters | Iran’s Press TV.

Aug 22/12: The Pentagon says Iraq’s F-16IQs will begin arriving in 2014. Defense News | DoD Buzz.

July 24/12: F-16s, Batch 1. Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, TX receives a $199.3 million firm-fixed-price, time-and-material, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to finish providing the government of Iraq with 18 F-16IQ fighters, plus support equipment, technical orders, integrated logistics support, and contractor logistics support. Lockheed Martin confirms that this figure is added to the $835 million Dec 5/11 contract, and not the beginning of a 2nd F-16 order.

Note that even those 2 contracts’ combined $1.03 billion (about $57.5 million per fighter) leaves out important items like $45 million for radars (vid. March 14/12), and other “government furnished equipment” add-ons. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and will run to May 30/18. The ASC/WWMK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8615-12-C-6012).

July 13/12: DB-110. Goodrich Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems in Westford, MA received a $71.5 million firm-fixed-price, time and materials, and cost-reimbursable, unfinalized contract action/letter contract for 4 DB-110 reconnaissance pod systems, for use on Iraq’s F-16IQ fighters. The amount involved suggests a substantial training, infrastructure, and service component, in addition to the pods; Oman’s cost for its same-day 4-pod contract was just $34.3 million.

Goodrich’s exportable derivative of the U-2 spy plane’s SYERS cameras offer 3 separate optical fields of view, and the pod has been ordered by 12 customers: Britain (Tornado), Egypt (F-16 C/D), Iraq (F-16C/D), Japan (P-3), Morocco (F-16C/D), Poland (F-16 C/D), Oman (F-16C/D), Pakistan (F-16C/D), Saudi Arabia (F-15S), the UAE (F-16E/F), and the USA. The DB-110 can be operated autonomously on F-16s, controlled by the pod’s reconnaissance management system, while imagery is viewed on the cockpit video display. Iraq’s Dec 15/10 and Nov 14/11 DSCA requests each specified up to 4 pods, as a competition between BAE’s AARS and Goodrich’s DB-110. The DB-110 appears to have won, and it’s a fairly high-end system to export to any country that’s a security concern. Then again, Pakistan and Egypt already operate them.

Work is to be complete by Sept 30/18. The ASC/WINK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract on behalf of its Foreign Military Sale client.

March 14/12: Radars. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Linthicum Heights, MD receives an $87.8 million dollar firm-fixed-price Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program contract, to provide 43 AN/APG-68v9 radar systems to the Republic of Iraq (22), the Royal Air Force of Oman (15), and the Royal Thai Air Force (6). Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD, and is expected to be complete by March 3/15. The ASC/WWMK at Wright Patterson AFB, OH manages this contract (FA8615-12-C-6047).

The AN/APG-68v9 is the standard radar for new F-16C/D aircraft. Northrop Grumman cites a 33% increase in air-to-air detection range over earlier versions, plus ground-looking synthetic aperture radar with mapping and 2-foot point target response. They also claim that the radar’s reduced weight, power, and cooling help contribute to 25%-45% lower support costs, though their baseline comparison for those costs isn’t clear.

Jan 20/12: Training begins. Gannett’s Military Times reports that:

“The first of the Iraqi pilots that will learn how to fly F-16s recently arrived in Tucson with the 162nd Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard unit that specializes in training foreign pilots to fly F-16s, said wing spokesman Maj. Gabe Johnson. The Iraqi pilot is slated to start the academic part of his training on Jan. 23 followed by hands-on flying from February through September, Johnson said.”


Iraq delays F-16 contract, then issues it. Iraq requests another 18 F-16s. So, what’s that backup option? USAF F-16 w. AIM-9L/M
fires AGM-65D Maverick
(click to view full)

Dec 12/11: 2nd Squadron Request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Iraq’s request for what amounts to a 2nd operational squadron of F-16IQs, plus weapons. The request for 18 more fighters would bring Iraq’s total to 36, but unlike their initial December 2010 request, the figure given is up to $2.3 billion, instead of $4.2 billion; 1st-time sales are always more expensive.

Also included: site survey support equipment, Joint Mission Planning System, Ground Based Flight Simulator, tanker support, ferry services, Cartridge Actuated Devices/Propellant Actuated Devices (CAD/PAD), repair and return, modification kits, spares and repair parts, construction, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering, and logistics support services, ground based flight simulator, and other related support. Along with the F-16s and support, Iraq is interested in:

  • 24 F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 Increased Performance Engines. There are strong signs that the initial buy will use the F100-PW-229s from Pratt & Whitney, but a number of air forces fly a mix of both engines, including Egypt & South Korea. Time will tell.
  • 24 APG-68v9 radar sets, the most modern radar available in Block 50 aircraft;
  • 20 pairs of Conformal Fuel Tanks, which mount along the back/top of the F-16;
  • 20 AN/ARC-238 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radios;
  • 120 of VSI’s Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) helmet-mounted displays. The previous request hadn’t included them, and 120 is a very significant number. It may serve as an early indicator that Iraq is looking at an all F-16 fleet for its 6 planned squadrons.
  • 20 AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Systems (without Mode IV)
  • 22 ITT ALQ-211 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suites (AIDEWS); or Raytheon Advanced Countermeasures Electronic Systems (ACES), including the ALQ-187 Electronic Warfare System and AN/ALR-93 Radar Warning Receiver. The previous DSCA request had only specified ACES;
  • 22 AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing Systems (CMDS);
  • 20 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), using Standard Positioning Service (SPS) commercial code only

On the weapons front, the request includes:

  • 19 M61 20mm Vulcan Cannons
  • 10,000 rounds PGU-27A/B target practice 20mm ammunition
  • 30,000 rounds PGU-28 SAPHEI (semi-armor piercing high explosive incendiary) 20mm ammunition
  • 120 LAU-129/A Common Rail Launchers, which fit the F-16’s wingtips. They can be used with all AIM-9 missiles including the AIM-9X, and with the AIM-120 AMRAAM;
  • 100 AIM-9L/M-8/9 Raytheon Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. These missiles are effective, and the AIM-9M missiles are still in widespread American use, but they’re a generation behind the current AIM-9X;
  • 150 AIM-7M-F1/H Raytheon Sparrow Missiles. A couple of generations behind current beyond visual range air-to-air missiles. They lack the current AM-120 AMRAAM’s independent radar guidance and other improvements;
  • Undetermined number of LAU-117 Maverick launchers;
  • 50 AGM-65D/G/H/K Raytheon Maverick Air to Ground Missiles;
  • 230 MK-84 2000 lb. bombs;
  • 800 MK-82 500 lb. bombs;
  • 200 GBU-12 Paveway-II laser guided 500 lb. bombs;
  • 50 GBU-10 Paveway-II laser guided 2,000 lb. bombs;
  • 50 GBU-24 Paveway-III laser guided 2,000 lb. bombs with longer glide range and a “bunker busting” warhead;
  • 20 Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-33 Sniper or NGC AN/AAQ-28 LITENING advanced surveillance and targeting pods. As noted earlier, almost certain to be Sniper;
  • 4 BAE F-9120 Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance Systems (AARS) or Goodrich DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods.

Potential contractors include:

  • BAE Advanced Systems in Greenlawn, NY
  • Boeing Corporation in Seattle, WA
  • Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in St Louis, MO; Long Beach, CA; and San Diego, CA
  • Raytheon Company in Lexington, MA; and Goleta, CA
  • Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ
  • Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, TX
  • Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control in Dallas, TX
  • Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support in Fort Worth, TX
  • Northrop-Grumman Electro-Optical Systems in Garland, TX
  • Northrop-Grumman Electronic Systems in Baltimore, MD
  • Pratt & Whitney United Technology Company in East Hartford, CT
  • General Electric Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati, OH
  • Goodrich ISR Systems in Danbury, CT
  • L3 Communications in Arlington, TX
  • ITT Defense Electronics and Services in McLean, VA
  • Symetrics Industries in Melbourne, FL

Iraqi Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Anwar Amin has admitted that the 1st F-16IQs won’t be operational before 2015 at the earliest, and USAF adviser Col. Steve Burgh adds that recruiting and training Iraqi pilots who can speak English, which has become the international language of aviation, remains a big challenge. Implementation of this particular proposed sale will require multiple trips to Iraq involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, program management, and training over a period of 15 years. Agence France Presse | Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Stars & Stripes | Wall St. Journal [subscription].

F-16 request #2

Dec 5/11: Well, those mystery aircraft are still a mystery. But the initial funding for the F-16 sale isn’t. Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, TX receives an $835 million firm-fixed-price, time-and-material and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for 12 F-16C and 6 F-16D Block 52 base aircraft, plus support equipment, technical orders, integrated logistics support, and contractor logistics support.

There are still other expensive parts like Pratt & Whitney engines (tipped by the “Block 52” designation), Northrop Grumman radars, etc., still to be bought, and modifications to be made to bring the planes to F-16IQ Block 52 status – unless those are covered by the “technical orders”. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and the contract runs to May 30/18. The ASC/WWMK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages this contract, as an agent for the government of Iraq (FA8615-12-C-6012).

Nov 4/11: Two separate Arabic reports by the Al-Baghdadeya satellite channel shed more light on Iraq’s timelines and plans. One quotes Iraq’s parliamentary Commission on Security and Defence, saying that Prime Minister Maliki will be pressing the USA for accelerated F-16 delivery by 2013, and denying any existing deals to lease further aircraft from the USA or elsewhere.

The other report quotes the same committee, which says that Iraq will need at least 6 fighter squadrons in order to exert full control of its airspace. That works out to about 78-96 aircraft, depending on how they choose to define squadrons. Absent foreign help, that will take some time.

Nov 14/11: Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee Chair Hassan Sinead had an interesting teaser for us all. Translated from URA Agency’s report [in Arabic]:

“The next week will see the flight of military aircraft to Iraq since 2003, as part of our national armament efforts for the protection of Iraqi airspace.” Sinead did not mention any other details about the quality of the aircraft, saying only: “you will see next week.”

DJ Elliott, who compiles the Iraqi Order of Battle, had these thoughts regarding the possibilities:

1. Mirage F1s in storage in France.
2. Obsolete MiGs in Serbia [I hope not]
3. Iran returning some Fighters [unlikely]
4. Salvage [unlikely]
5. Loaned from US
6. Not a “Fighter” but instead just a Jet [E.G. the Czech L159s? This is my bet.]

DID agreed with his top-odds pick, and that eventually came true. The deal had been in the works for some time, and L-159s were just the next step up from Iraq’s fielded T-6 trainers, but they can carry a wide array of aerial and ground attack weapons. We saw stored Mirage F1s as the 2nd most likely option, since there may be Iraqi pilots who have flown them before, a critical requirement for a true stopgap. Loaned F-16s from the USA are certainly possible, with the proviso that pilot training requirements mean they won’t be effective for a year or so. The one “instant delivery” option we might add is a loan from Gulf Cooperation Council countries: a handful of Mirage 2000-9s from UAE (same issues as F-16), or retiring Tornado F3 Air Defense Variant fighters from Saudi Arabia. The latter could even come with Saudi pilots in one of the fighter’s 2 seats; it wouldn’t be the first time foreign pilots have flown for a Mideast air force.

Greek F-16D Block 52s
(via EPA: click to view full)

Sept 28/11: The Pentagon confirms that Iraq has an F-16 contract:

“The Iraqi government has transferred its first payment for 18 F-16C fighter aircraft, bringing Iraq closer to independently securing its airspace, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said yesterday… The fighters are the block 50/52 variant of the aircraft…”

Other reports place that payment’s value at $1.5 billion, and Defense News says that this will extend the F-16’s production line to 2015. US DoD | Defense News | Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sky Talk | Iran’s PressTV | Voice of America. See also Reuters: “Iraqi Air Defense: A Work in Progress.”

18 F-16s

Sept 14/11: The USAF doesn’t quite confirm a deal, but they do give the strongest indication to date that one is close. Maj. Gen. Russell J. Handy, the commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq and director of Air Component Coordination Element-Iraq:

“I do not have any word yet that a letter of offer and acceptance is signed, but as you probably know, we did have a senior member of the Iraqi government visit Washington… Everyone that I talk to at every level of government in Iraq is convinced that that is the right approach for them. And so we’re very encouraged by those words, and we feel that we’re very close to them signing that letter of offer and acceptance… They are seeking to buy a larger number of F-16s than they had originally — up to 36… This first letter of offer and acceptance is for 18 of them … we hope to hear very soon that’s signed, but no final word yet on that.”

July 30/11: Aswat-al-Iraq:

“Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki announced today the 36 fighters deal with USA. In a press conference, following the parliamentary meeting of today, he declared that he signed a contract to develop Iraqi Air Force by buying 36 F16 fighters. This announcement denotes that Iraq has doubled the fighters deal from 18 to 36 planes, which shall be financed from the increasing oil revenues.”

Accounts differ slightly, with other reports mentioning only documents that revived negotiations, rather than a signed contract. There is no clarity at press time, though it’s worth noting that Lockheed Martin has not made any announcement. Defense News | Reuters.

July 11-12/11: After the Wall Street Journal reports that negotiations have started up again for F-16 fighters and air defense systems, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh denies it. He reiterates that the F-16 plan is postponed, not canceled, due to budget issues. WSJ | Bloomberg.

Feb 16/11: Iraq is shifting the $900 million down payment on F-16s into food aid support, as global currency devaluation, a long global cycle of under-investment in farming, and some event-related shocks conspire to create significant inflation in global food prices. That has already led to significant unrest in many middle eastern countries. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said that 6 million Iraqis out of a population of around 31 – 32 million possessed food ration permits, and pledged to increase spending on that program from $3 billion to $4 billion.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh has now stated that the F-16 money has been diverted toward improving food ration subsidies, and finance committee member Mohammed Khalil has confirmed it, adding that Iraq’s projected budget deficit of $13.3 billion ($68.56 billion revenues – $81.86 billion spending) also played a role in the decision.

That deficit’s size suggests that the F-16s won’t be replaced by a cheaper option like Mirage F1s, either, which creates some large long-term questions regarding Iraq’s defenses and foreign military presences. One option might be to station Gulf Co-operation Council country fighters at Iraqi bases, which would surely represent a seismic reversal from the Saddam years. Another option might be to have NATO assume air policing duties, as a fig leaf that could keep a substantial US presence. Middle East Online | Agence France Presse.

Jan 27/11: The French Ambassador to Iraq, Boris Boillon, confirms that France is proposing a deal for 18 Mirage fighters. The planes are not Mirage 2000s, however, but retrofitted Mirage F1s. Iraq operated that type before the US invasion, and had 18 ordered aircraft impounded by France as part of the international sanctions regime. Morocco operates an upgraded variant, the Mirage F1 MF2000, which may provide some guidance regarding potential retrofits. The planes are reportedly being offered for EUR 733 million ($997 million), or about 1/4 the price of 18 new F-16IQs.

Ambassador Boillon cited that price when he presented the French deal as a complementary option, rather than a competing choice. Tactical Report, on the other hand, contends that Iraqi Air Force Lt-Gen. Anwar Ameen prefers the Mirage 2000v9. The UAE is the only operator of that type, and wants France to buy back its fleet in return for a deal covering new Rafale fighters. Expatica France | Tactical Report | UPI.

Jan 26/11: Iraqi Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh tells a press conference that the Council of Ministers has approved the purchase of 18 F-16s, and budgeted an unspecified sum, thought to be a $900 million down payment. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is also the acting Defense Minister, would negotiate the deal’s final parameters. There has been talk of a $13 billion weapons buy, which would include the existing DSCA request for F-16IQs, but no confirmation as yet. The USA will reportedly deliver the F-16s to Iraq within 2-3 years, but in the meantime, and even for some time thereafter, Iraq will not be able to police its own airspace effectively. Iraq Order of Battle author DJ Elliott believes that 2018 would be the earliest date.

The F-16 is not Iraq’s only option. France is offering Mirage F1s, and DJ Elliott reports that the Iraqis may also be looking at a 3rd option: China & Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder. The JF-17 fills the same lower cost, non-interfering seller requirement as the Mirages, but offers a more modern aircraft than the Mirage F1, from an Islamic vendor. Al-Sumaria News [in Arabic] | Iraq-Business News | Saudi Arab News re: Iraqi readiness | DJ Elliott re: Iraqi readiness.

2008 – 2010

Iraq mulls its fighter options, but there will be a big gap; F-16 request. French Mirage F1s
(click to view full)

Dec 14/10: Aswat al-Iraq reports that Iraq’s Council of Ministers authorized the government to negotiate with the USA to buy 6 F-16s, and also authorized the minister also to continue negotiations with the French side to buy 18 Mirage 2000 jets as of 2012. Nearby, the UAE also flies this mix, and both aircraft are popular with countries in the Gulf region.

The composition of this set appears to indicate an interim buy, and there is some question regarding the accuracy of the Mirage designation. Continued negotiations could also involve the 18 Mirage F1s that Iraq ordered under Saddam, but France never delivered. France has sold used Mirage 2000s to other countries as well, vid. Brazil, and it may be in their interest to offer the Iraqis an aircraft that could become the foundation for a longer term force split. The UAE is looking to replace its Mirage 2000v9 fleet, which is very advanced by most standards, but they have asked Dassault to buy back their Mirage fleet in exchange for a Rafale sale. An Iraqi Air Force that’s already flying Mirage 2000s, and looking for a good price, would offer a natural option for some kind of 3-way deal. Time will tell.

Sept 15/10: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Iraq’s formal request to buy 18 “F-16IQ” fighters and assorted weapons, at a cost of up to $4.2 billion. Items requested show a pattern of slight downgrades, alongside advanced base Block 50/52 systems. Its determined avoidance of sophisticated air to ground weapons like GPS-guided JDAMs, or advanced air-to-air missiles, seems designed to assuage regional fears. The exact agreed-upon official request includes:

  • 18 F-16IQ aircraft;
  • 24 F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 Increased Performance Engines;
  • 24 APG-68v9 radar sets, the most modern radar available in Block 50 aircraft;
  • 20 pairs of Conformal Fuel Tanks, which mount along the back/top of the F-16;
  • 20 AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Systems (without Mode IV)
  • 22 Advanced Countermeasures Electronic Systems (ACES), including the ALQ-187 Electronic Warfare System and AN/ALR-93 Radar Warning Receiver;
  • 22 AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing Systems (CMDS);
  • 20 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), (using Standard Positioning Service (SPS) commercial code only)

The wording does not refer to “excess defense articles,” so presumably these will be new-build planes whose equipment suggests a downgraded F-16C/D Block 50 or so base standard. Plus, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, ground based flight simulators, support equipment, tanker support and ferry services, modification kits, Cartridge Actuated Devices/Propellant Actuated Devices (CAD/PAD), spares and repair parts, repair and return, site survey (usually for basing), construction, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support services.

The order also requests weapons and equipment to arm the fighters. Here, too, a number of requests reveal downgraded or past-generation equipment, alongside other requests which are top of the line:

  • 19 M61 20mm Vulcan multi-barrel cannons, which are mounted internally;
  • 36 LAU-129/A Common Rail Launchers, which fit the F-16’s wingtips. They can be used with all AIM-9 missiles including the AIM-9X, and with the AIM-120 AMRAAM;
  • 200 AIM-9L/M-8/9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. These missiles are effective, and the AIM-9M missiles are still in widespread American use, but they’re a generation behind the current AIM-9X;
  • 150 AIM-7M-F1/H Sparrow Missiles. A couple of generations behind current beyond visual range air-to-air missiles. They lack the current AM-120 AMRAAM’s independent radar guidance and other improvements;
  • 50 AGM-65D/G/H/K Maverick Air to Ground Missiles;
  • 200 GBU-12 Paveway-II laser guided 500 lb. bombs;
  • 50 GBU-10 Paveway-II laser guided 2,000 lb. bombs;
  • 50 GBU-24 Paveway-III laser guided 2,000 lb. bombs with longer glide range and a “bunker busting” warhead;
  • 20 AN/AAQ-33 Sniper or AN/AAQ-28 LITENING advanced surveillance and targeting pods. Almost certain to be Lockheed Martin’s Sniper, given LITENING’s Israeli origins;
  • 4 F-9120 Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance Systems (AARS) or DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods (RECCE)

The principal contractors include some firms who will only be selected if their particular technologies are chosen. These are highlighted via brackets, though it’s also possible for those contractors to offer other items not subject to competition within this sale. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is the base F-16 manufacturer, and system integrator:

  • Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, TX
  • Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support in Fort Worth, TX
  • BAE Advanced Systems in Greenlawn, NY (F-9120 AARS pod)
  • Boeing Corporation in Seattle, WA
  • Boeing Integrated Defense Systems St Louis, MO; Long Beach, CA; and
San Diego, CA
  • Raytheon Company in Lexington, MA and Goleta, CA
  • Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ
  • Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control in Dallas, TX (Sniper pod)
  • Northrop-Grumman Electro-Optical Systems in Garland, TX (LITENING pod)
  • Northrop-Grumman Electronic Systems in Baltimore, MD
  • Pratt & Whitney United Technology Company in East Hartford, CT (F100-PW-229 engine)
  • General Electric Aircraft Engines Cincinnati, OH (F110-GE-129 IPE engine)
  • Goodrich ISR Systems Danbury, CT (DB-110 pod)
  • L3 Communications in Arlington, TX
  • ITT Defense Electronics and Services in McLean, VA
  • Symetrics Industries in Melbourne, FL

There are no known offset agreements in connection with this proposed sale, but implementation will require multiple trips to Iraq involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, program management, and training over a period of 15 years.

F-16IQ request

Aug 2/10: The Government of Iraq has signed an agreement with the U.S. for 10 Iraqi Air Force pilots to begin prerequisite F-16 training. “This agreement follows the request submitted by the GoI to purchase 18 new Block 52 F-16 airplanes.”

The pilots are projected to begin training in the U.S. this fall, and upon graduation, these pilots will have completed all prerequisite flight training necessary to move immediately into F-16 training. The 12-17 month program will include all necessary components of T-6A Texan II and T-38 Talon training, including a course called Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals. The intensive flight training will be complemented with specialized English language training for aviation. Pentagon DVIDS.

April 9/10: AHN quotes General Nasier A. Abadi, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces:

“On the building of the Iraqi military forces, the general said the need of today is to build “Airforce” strength as till now most of the budget went to building army which has now “14 divisions.” From now on, “70% of the budget will go to Airforce,” he noted.

Although the Iraqi government will need at least “three sources (quotations),” for Airforce procurements, the general explained that there is a “special deal with the U.S. over the supply of F-16 fighter jets,” with a plan to partner with F-16 squadrons based in Iraq to “train” Iraqi pilots.”

April 6/10: DJ Elliott, who pens the Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle, reports a tip that:

“Iraq has finally and formally requested 24 F-16s from the US. At this time they are not at the ‘order’ stage but as I noted in my commentary to you in November 2008 the possibility of an Iraqi LOA by the end of this year – if President Obama agrees – is feasible. Delivery could start as early as next year but likely in 2012/13 time frame.”

That tip came without confirmation or sourcing, but DJ later received a verbal confirmation from Scramble magazine, and adds:

“Boss of the IqAF thought that he would need 96 F16s minimum. 24 indicates the start of the first of at least 4 orders. Looks like the planned target is still 2020.”

The next step for Iraq is formal DSCA publication of their request, once it gets through the US State Department’s bureaucracy and political approvals. Congress would then have 30 days to block the sale. Failing that, a contract/ Letter of Acceptance could be signed.

March 5/10: DJ Elliott, who pens the Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle, offers his assessment of both the Iraqi Air Force by 2012, and the most probable USAF force required to secure the country:

“In 2012, the Iraqi Air Force will not have any fighters unless they are provided with used aircraft. Even in that case, they will be 3 years at minimum training personnel to make those aircraft a functional and effective air defense force. Helicopter support forces will be further in development but, still under strength and in training. Fixed-wing transports will still be in delivery. Only the reconnaissance and training wings will be [fully] operational in 2012.”

…US Air Force in Iraq – Will probably base 6 Fighter Squadrons at Tallil, Balad, and Al Asad. Their duties will include training the Iraqi Air force in air combat maneuvering and providing air defense until they are operational. This will probably be needed until 2018-2020, however, delays in delivery and training could extend this requirement.

US Air Force in theater support – Transport aviation would probably be based in Kuwait to provide the majority of the supply needed by air. Additional aviation could be rapidly deployed to reinforce from Europe and the US if needed.”

Nov 22/09: Al-Sabah reports [in Arabic] that Iraqi Prime Minister Talabani’s visit to France:

“…resulted in the signing defense agreements to train the Iraqi army and updated on 18 aircraft (Mirage F-1) and helicopters, and provide 300 scholarships,…”

Thanks to DJ Elliott for assistance with translation. The Mirage F1s were left in France for servicing during the 1990s, and apparently remained there due to arms embargoes imposed after Operation Desert Storm. The report offers no delivery date, but fielding Mirage F1s would offer Iraq a near-term option that would be difficult to fulfill with new-build aircraft.

Oct 20/09: Lockheed Martin CFO Bruce Tanner, discussing Q3 2009 earnings, reveals that Morocco and Iraq will be delaying their planned F-16 purchases “beyond 2011”. Q3 Podcast [MP3] | Q3 Earnings slides [PDF] | Flight International.

Sept 9/09: U.S. Air Forces Central have sent a team to assess how Iraq will maintain sovereignty of their airspace after U.S. Forces withdraw from Iraq on Dec 31/11. From Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq:

“During their visit to Iraq in early September, the Air Sovereignty Assessment Team met with the Iraqi minister of defense, the deputy commander of the Iraqi air force, the Iraqi air force staff, and U.S. advisors attached to Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission- Air Force.

“The goal is to make sure Iraq maintains sovereignty by bridging the gap after we leave,” said Lt. Col. Daniel E. Rauch, deputy advisor from ITAM-Air Force to the Iraqi air staff for planning. “The accelerated schedule of the Security Agreement creates a period of time when Iraq does not possess the foundational capability to ensure air sovereignty or defend against the perceived threat.”

July 28/09: Looks like the timeline is indeed serious. An American Forces Press Service article says the US Air Force is sending an assessment team to Iraq to look at how the Iraqi military can field an air defense once American forces leave in 2011.

“The Iraqis probably will not be able to field advanced air-to-air manned interceptors by the time U.S. forces leave the country at the end of 2011, [Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq] said. The U.S. team will work with Iraqi officials to look for creative solutions to the problem, the general said… “We’re going to bring this team over here to try and get them some creative solutions that might allow them to have some capacity by 2011,” Odierno said, citing use of retired U.S. F-16 fighters or the purchase of aircraft from other countries as possible steps in the process.”

March 31/09: Reuters quotes IqAF head Lt. Gen. Anwar Ahmed as saying that Iraq wants to buy an initial squadron of F-16s in 2009, to help guard against perceived threats from Iran and Syria.

“[Ahmed] said he hoped to sign a contract for 18 advanced F-16s… “This is very important to us… It is a priority.” Provided funds are made available by Iraq’s Parliament, he said his goal was to acquire up to 96 F-16s through 2020. He cited the F-16C/D Block 50/52 models now being produced for Poland, Israel, Greece and Pakistan…

If the funds are freed and a deal is wrapped up this year, the first two Iraqi-piloted F-16s would be patrolling Iraqi skies by 2012, he said… Ahmed, 54, said he had met a U.S. Air Force team in Baghdad on March 18 to discuss F-16 purchases and held follow-up talks with Pentagon officials on Tuesday. So far, he said, U.S. officials supported Iraq’s push to acquire the F-16.”

Sept 5/08: The Wall Street Journal reports that Iraq is seeking 36 “advanced model” F-16s.

Appendix A: Technology Options UAE F-16F
(click to view full)

So, far, Iraq has picked 18 modified F-16C/D Block 52 fighters as its initial core. That’s a start, but its parliamentary Commission on Security and Defence has indicated that 6 squadrons of fighter jets (about 96-100) is the minimum required for control of Iraqi airspace.

Iraq can choose to meet that need by buying more F-16s, or it can look to a mixed fleet, and try to make training rather than manufacturing the gating item for readiness. Technology options for Iraq’s front-line fighters separated into 2 tiers: F-16 options, and supplementary aircraft.

In September 2008, the Wall Street Journal’s use of the term “advanced F-16s” was generally interpreted to mean the standard F-16 C/D Block 50/52+ models requested or bought by recent customers like Chile, Greece, Morocco, Poland, Pakistan, Romania, Turkey et. al. Even Iraq’s DSCA request could not come to pass without technology export approvals, and clearance for various F-16 types, and for equipment and weapons sold in conjunction with the aircraft, are a political issue in the region. Fortunately for Iraq, the F-16 is already flown by a number of countries in the region, including Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. These aircraft include a number of early F-16A/B models, plus a larger set of upgraded early models and F-16C/Ds. Which is more or less what Iraq ended up ordering in its downgraded F-16IQ Block 52s.

The question is what comes next.

Advanced F-16 variants beyond even the Block 50 models also exist in the region. Israel flies all F-16 models including its own F-16I, which modifies the F-16D Block 52+ and adds a lot of Israeli electronics, equipment, and weapons. The UAE is a another exception, flying the world’s most advanced F-16s: the F-16 E/F Block 60 Desert Falcon with built-in infrared surveillance and targeting, the AN/APG-80 AESA radar, and an engine upgrade, among other improvements.

Both of these options are future non-starters, given the impossibility of an Israeli sale, and the ground reality that some of Iraq’s political parties have close ties to Iran.

Iraq could choose to keep ordering similar F-16s. The formal US DSCA request did match DID’s earlier estimate of $4-6 billion for an initial new-build fighter fleet of 18, plus its associated spares, weapons, etc. Subsequent deals can be expected to be cheaper, and what Iraq actually spends will be set by negotiations, but ramping up to a full fleet of 96 new planes won’t be cheap, or fast.

One way to reduce the additive total for subsequent jet purchases is if Iraq chose to buy some used F-16s, like the AIM-7 Sparrow missile capable American “F-16 A/B ADF” models bought by Jordan and Portugal. Former US Air National Guard flies F-16C/D Block 25 aircraft have been offered to Romania, for example, and a similar possibility still exists for Iraq as a stopgap measure. American F-16 C/D Block 30-42 aircraft may also be available.

The ultimate question is not one of money, however, or even of model, but of time. The 2010 formal DSCA request is just the beginning of the process. Actual signed contracts can take anywhere between 30 days to 4+ years after the official request, and in this case, they took a year. Fighter aircraft delivery times add another 1-3 years. Full training and proficiency adds another 2-3 years.

An Iraqi state that will need serious national fighter options as of 2012, was always certain to be disappointed by even the best timelines. Buying used aircraft for immediate delivery can help, which is why a future buy of used F-16s cannot be entirely ruled out.

Mirage 2000-9
(click to view full)

Another way around the problem is to induct more than 1 type of fighter, raising numbers quickly through parallel purchases.

The most prominent option may already be flying nearby. The United Arab Emirates currently operates a fleet of just over 60 Mirage 2000-9s, an advanced variant that’s comparable to any F-16C/D now flying. Their Thales RDY-2 radars are upgraded for full ground strike capability, including SAR/GMTI (synthetic aperture radar with ground moving target indicator). That’s complemented by the Shehab laser targeting pod (a variant of Thales’ Damocles), the Nahar navigation pod, and a datalink to improve integration with MBDA’s MICA-ER radar guided missiles. This information feeds into upgraded cockpit color displays, and the optional TopSight helmet mounted display. Defensive systems and internal navigation also feature strong improvements over earlier Mirage 2000 models.

The Emirates are considering a replacement purchase of Dassault Rafale fighters, which would be even more advanced than their F-16 E/F Desert Falcons. As part of that deal, however, they’re pushing for France to buy back their Mirage fleet. France isn’t likely to do do that without a ready buyer, and the new Iraqi Air Force would be the best option by far for all concerned. France would cement its position with a new-old customer, the UAE could assist Iraq with training and transition, and both countries wold also have financial and geo-political interests served by the transaction.

It remains to be seen whether that deal can be done. There is reported interest within Iraq’s air force, but there are also budgetary limitations, given the apparent commitment to F-16s. A Mirage 2000-9 buy would offer Iraq a diversified supplier base, but it would also carry a completely different maintenance and weapons base, driving up the air force’s operating costs and reducing its flexibility. On the plus side, a 3-way deal with the UAE would offer very rapid delivery, and local support.

In the mean time, France is offering Iraq a low-cost supplement: upgraded Mirage F1s. Iraq operated this type for a number of years, but France impounded 24 of the 126 ordered F1EQ planes as part of the sanctions effort against Saddam Hussein. The products of a September 1985 order wouldn’t be very helpful in 2010, but the type’s own state of the art has advanced since then. Dassault and Thales have been working with Morocco on a “Mirage F1 MF2000” upgrade, which would bring the type to near-parity with many of the systems and weapons used on the Mirage 2000.

A similar set of upgraded Mirage F1s would offer Iraq a fast near-term solution. One that’s available by 2012 and familiar to some of its old pilots, while forming a natural bridge to future sales of Mirage 2000 or Rafale aircraft, at only 25-33% of the cost of a new F-16 buy. Iraq has been looking to recover EUR 651 million for that failed delivery, which could factor into negotiations. On the other hand, France forgave 80% of Iraq’s EUR 4.8 billion debts, and could easily argue that any damages have already been redressed as part of that EUR 3.84 billion forgiveness package.

FC-1/ JF-17, armed
(click to view full)

There are also rumors of a wild card option: Pakistan and China’s JF-17 Thunder, which entered operational service with Pakistan in 2010. The type uses a Russian RD-93 engine, derived from the RD-33 engines that used to equip Iraqi MiG-29s, but the weapons and avionics are Chinese. Reliability would be lower than F-16s or Mirages, but performance would be similar to mid-range F-16 models or upgraded Mirage F1 MF2000s. The initial cost would be cheap compared to other new aircraft choices, but the planes would require their own maintenance, supply and weapons chains, driving up long term operating costs.

Unless negotiations with Lockheed Martin go seriously sideways, the JF-17s would appear to be dueling with Dassault’s Mirages for the role of “possible F-16 supplement” in the new Iraqi air force. Unlike France, China doesn’t have a deep relationship history with Iraq’s military, or a strong presence in the region. What it does have is state-linked firms that have bought into significant Iraqi oil leases, and growing international credibility as a “no strings” supplier and political backer. Pakistan’s role in the JF-17’s design would even give it a unique positioning as an “Islamic alternative.”

Beyond the operational questions, lies a political issue. An Iraqi buy of Chinese fighters would send shockwaves throughout the Middle East. It would be seen as the dawn of a Chinese role as a serious player in the region, beyond its current relationships with rogue nations like Iran and Sudan. That regional impact has both attractions and downsides for the Iraqi government.

Appendix B: Political Background USAF F-16, Balad AB
(click to view full)

While events can always overtake even the best of plans, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has told reporters that he wants all American forces to be able to leave Iraq by 2011. The insertion of language by hostile Iraqi parties that would have made US soldiers subject to prosecution under Iraqi laws, and a surprising lack of focus by the USA on negotiating an extended Status of Forces agreement, will effectively end the US presence by 2012.

An Iraqi request for F-16s would have fit well with that strategy – if it had been made in early 2006.

No country can remain sovereign if it cannot control its own air space, and having its own fighter aircraft available for missions would give Iraqis far more leeway to make independent decisions about the future direction, training, and use of their military. The problem is that procurement, plus training, plus qualification of that air force for serious combat, takes years. With no formal request published as of early April 2010, and a contract that only begins at the end of 2011, Iraq has no realistic internal options.

That 2011 timetable was always a tall order; in fact, it was probably impossible from the outset. Even as the war in Iraq calmed down, and the insurgency was defeated, the USAF operated about 300 aircraft of all types in Iraq, supplemented by US Navy fighters. That force will not be replaced by 18 F-16s – nor would such a force provide sovereignty insurance against Iraq’s neighbors. Indeed, the new Iraqi Air Force is unlikely to have any operational F-16s before 2015 at the very earliest.

If Iraq wishes to go beyond air-air roles for its F-16s and perform close air support as well, its air force will find that this is a demanding task all its own, requiring pilot practice, followed by combined-arms training with properly equipped ground forces, in order to be effective. The USAF has deliberately slowed Iraq’s progress in this area for various operational and political reasons, and so there is no current base of expertise or equipment for the IqAF to build upon. If the IqAF wishes to be able to replicate the crucial role performed by American and British fighter jets in the Iraqi Army’s March 2008 Battle for Basra, therefore, or to support Iraqi troops in the event of hostile incursions from its neighbors, it will need to allocate even more lead time before it can be effective.

In the end, all of the relevant decisions have been political, rather than military, choices. That includes the question of whether the USAF remained in Iraq after 2011, in order to guarantee defense of the country’s air space.

At present, the odds are that Iraq will fly F-16 C/D class aircraft beginning in late 2013, with full effectiveness coming around 2016-2018. Our general assumption has involved a reduced but still present USAF, which would remain in Iraq beyond 2011. A combination of Iraqi demands and Obama administration fecklessness appears to have ended that.

Which still leaves the question of how to guarantee Iraqi air space.

One option might be to station Gulf Co-operation Council country fighters at Iraqi bases, while flying AWACS patrols using Saudi E-3s. That would surely be a seismic reversal from the Saddam years, and could be presented as a regional peace and healing initiative, but Arab rivalries and Iranian influence make that option more politically complex than it may appear.

Another option might be to have NATO assume air policing duties, as a fig leaf that could keep a substantial US presence. The dual challenge there would be (a) convincing budget squeezed NATO allies to join; and (b) managing the quasi-Ottomanist Turkish AKP government’s double-edged interest in being a significant part of (a).

Additional Readings Background: Combat Aircraft Options

Background: Related Iraqi Purchases

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