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September 28, 2022 | International, C4ISR

Lockheed, Verizon testing 5G-linked drone swarm for intel collection

Army, Air Force and Pentagon representatives, among others, attended a demonstration in May.

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  • F-35 gives European air forces an edge over Russia, but coordination is key

    November 9, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    F-35 gives European air forces an edge over Russia, but coordination is key

    By Garrett Reim5 November 2020 The growing number of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters possessed by European air forces would give the NATO alliance an edge over Russia in high-intensity conflict. That's according to a report by think tank RAND, released last month, which explains that Russian political and military leaders are already concerned about NATO's advantage in the air domain – a worry that is likely to worsen as the number of fifth-generation aircraft grows to the west. There are seven European NATO nations that operate or plan to buy the F-35: Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and UK. By 2025, those militaries ought to collectively own more than 200 examples of the stealth fighter. “This will exceed the number of US fifth-generation aircraft stationed in the European theatre by a wide margin,” says the report. The combined force of F-35s possessed by European allies is likely to approach 400 aircraft by 2030 and would represent roughly 30% of the combined fleet. For its part, Russia plans to acquire 76 examples of Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter by 2028. Moscow said recently the first such stealth aircraft would be delivered by December 2020. European allied air forces have around 1,900 fourth-generation fighters comprising types such as the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed F-16. The combined force currently has less than 100 F-35s fielded, according to RAND. Those fourth-generation aircraft would be vulnerable in a high-intensity conflict against Russia, a country with robust surface-to-air missile defences. “During the opening phases of a conflict with Russia, vulnerability to advanced ground-based threats would constrain the roles of most fourth-generation and so-called fourth-generation-plus platforms,” says the report. “As long as an extensive [integrated-air defence] threat persisted, more advanced platforms such as the Rafale or Eurofighter could theoretically perform strike missions inside the threat zone in conjunction with fifth-generation platforms, although this approach could yield unacceptable attrition.” But with fourth-generation fighters likely still to make up 70% of European NATO air forces by 2030, the alliance needs to find ways to make better use of the aircraft. MISSILE TRUCKS The fast jets could be used to launch long-range missile strikes from beyond the range of Russia's surface-to-air missiles. And, if upgraded with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, European fourth-generation fighters would be more capable on defence. AESA radars can detect, track and identify more targets, faster and at much longer distances, notes RAND. “The resultant situational awareness and ability to defeat multiple threats at the same time makes an AESA capability essential for aspects of high-intensity operations—for example, to intercept cruise missiles,” says the think tank report. “The French decision to procure AESA [for the Rafale fighter] is informed by the opportunity to provide a 50% increase in detection range, including of low-observable targets, and maximise the value of new weapon systems such as the [MBDA] Meteor beyond-visual-range missile.” The Meteor is an active radar guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile that is reported to have a reach of 54nm (100km). In theory, if a fourth-generation fighter like the Rafale has an AESA radar and is armed with a beyond-visual-range missile like the Meteor it ought to be able to see and hit incoming Russian aircraft, while staying out of reach itself. However, beside the addition of AESA on the Rafales, other European fourth-generation aircraft lack the advanced radar. “Uncertainties remain as to which nations will invest in AESA radar technology, advanced and long-range munitions, and secure communication links, among other important capabilities,” says RAND. “The degree to which European air forces acquire these technologies will directly impact their ability to contribute to the range of combat air missions expected in a high-intensity conflict.” The UK Royal Air Force announced in September plans to add the Leonardo UK ECRS Mk2 AESA radar to 40 examples of its Tranche 3 production-standard Typhoons, with initial operational capability targeted for 2025. Ultimately, to make the most of a mixed fleet of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft NATO will need to invest in communications technologies to link the jets, as well as training exercises to practice coordinating the combat aircraft. F-35's can communicate among themselves with their multifunction advanced data link (MADL), a low probability of intercept communications link. RAND points to a fourth and fifth generation fighter operating concept called “combat intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mode” described by Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute think tank. “In the ‘combat ISR' mode, a four-ship flight of F-35s connected by MADL generates situational awareness and shares targeting data with legacy platforms that can then fire their payloads from outside the range of the most capable of the enemy's air defences,” explains RAND. The fourth- and fifth-generation combat aircraft would communicate and pass targeting information with the Link 16 system, adds the report. RUSSIAN EW HAS A VOTE However, this might be a vulnerability point. “It is reasonable to assume that the Russian military would seek to disrupt this synergy during a conflict, particularly in light of recent Russian investments in EW [electronic warfare] capabilities,” RAND says. Still, European NATO militaries are getting more practice with the F-35. “Already, allies have undertaken initial steps to establish common tactics, techniques, and procedures for incorporating fifth-generation assets into combined operations through targeted exercises as well as preliminary synthetic training systems that link fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft,” the think tank says. One of the highest hurdles to NATO collaboration might be investment in aircraft readiness. “To be operationally relevant during a theatre conflict, NATO's air forces must maintain a sufficient number of available aircraft, munitions, and aircrew,” says RAND. “Currently, most European air forces maintain around half of their existing fleets or less at mission-capable status, with some allies falling below that mark.” What's more, many fourth-generation aircraft are suffering from “rising maintenance costs from platform age, operational wear and tear resulting from a high operational tempo, and challenges associated with spare parts pipelines serve as significant constraints to aircraft availability”, says the report. The new F-35 also has teething problems, including its Autonomic Logistics Information System, a support system that is so troubled that it has to be replaced across the worldwide fleet. RAND recommends a number of solutions to NATO aircraft readiness problems including making public data on mission capable rates. It also suggests “public agreement by NATO leaders on standard availability objectives could provide renewed political and budgetary focus on efficient and adequately funded maintenance and sustainment”. Ultimately, RAND concludes that the growing number of stealth aircraft in Europe means the “trend lines lead in the right direction”. “With additional budgetary and policy attention to increasing readiness, European allies have the opportunity to significantly enhance combat airpower over the coming decade,” says the think tank.,F%2D35%20gives%20European%20air%20forces%20an%20edge,Russia%2C%20but%20coordination%20is%20key&text=The%20growing%20number%20of%20Lockheed,Russia%20in%20high%2Dintensity%20conflict.

  • GA-ASI Selected for Further Skyborg Vanguard Development

    July 31, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    GA-ASI Selected for Further Skyborg Vanguard Development

    San Diego – July 28, 2020 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is pleased to announce the recent award of an indefinite-delivery / indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract by the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) for the Skyborg Vanguard Program. Skyborg is an autonomy-focused capability that aims to integrate attritable, autonomous unmanned aircraft with open mission systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. According to the AFLCMC's press release, this program will provide a “game-changing capability to the warfighter.” “We appreciate the opportunity to continue work on the Skyborg Vanguard program,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “We are always looking for innovative, affordable ways to significantly increase USAF capabilities that address new mission challenges.” GA-ASI was one of four companies selected for further support to the program. These initial awards establish a vendor pool that will continue to compete for up to $400 million in subsequent delivery orders under the Skyborg Vanguard Program. About GA-ASI General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator® RPA series and the Lynx® Multi-mode Radar. With more than six million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. The company also produces a variety of ground control stations and sensor control/image analysis software, offers pilot training and support services, and develops meta-material antennas. For more information, visit SkyGuardian, SeaGuardian, Predator and Lynx are registered trademarks and SkyGuardian is a trademark of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. For more information contact: GA-ASI Media Relations General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. +1 (858) 524-8108 View source version on GA-ASI :

  • Australia releases RFI for at least 16 special operations helicopters

    October 3, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Australia releases RFI for at least 16 special operations helicopters

    By: Nigel Pittaway MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia's Defence Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group issued a request for information for at least 16 special operations support helicopters. The helicopters will be acquired under Project Land 2097 Phase 4, which has not been formally approved by the Australian government but has been identified as a priority for future defense spending in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The proposed timeline calls for a request for tender in the fourth quarter of 2019, with the major delivery of equipment to follow in 2022. “The project is currently in the exploratory phase, collecting information and proposals to inform concepts for capability realisation,” according to the RFI's cover letter, authored by CASG's acting first assistant secretary of the helicopter division, Brigadier Jeremy King, and the head of land capability at Army Headquarters, Maj. Gen. Kath Toohey. “The project is considering a wide range of procurement options based around a light helicopter as the major system. The acquisition strategy is developmental and is subject to Government approval,” the letter read. According to the RFI, the requirement is for a proven commercial or military off-the-shelf light helicopter, which is already in service with other operators. Other requirements include optimization for use in dense urban environments, capable of rapid deployment by the Royal Australian Air Force's C-17A airlifters, and the ability to be fitted with simple and proven intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and weapons. The helicopters are intended for use by the Australian Army's 6th Aviation Regiment, based at Holsworthy, south of Sydney, and will complement a squadron of larger NHI MRH-90 Taipan helicopters. The Taipans are replacing the 6th Aviation Regiment's existing Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawk, beginning in January 2019. The RFI does not specify a desired size for the new helicopter, but four are required to be deployed aboard one C-17A. In an earlier update to the Army's major battlefield aviation programs, CASG's first assistant secretary of the helicopter systems division, Shane Fairweather, and Toohey discussed a helicopter in the four-ton class. The primary role of the new helicopter will be to provide an air assault capability by small teams of special forces, with secondary roles including ISR (using electro-optical sensors), fire support and general utility. The RFI calls for a helicopter that can be rapidly reconfigured between these roles. The main base for operations will be at Holsworthy, but the Australian Army is considering the establishment of a permanent detachment of helicopters — referred to in the RFI as the “independent detachment” — in a yet-to-be-decided location. Australia's Special Operations Command has two commando regiments based at Holsworthy and the Special Air Service Regiment based in Western Australia. The RFI calls for four helicopters to be maintained online at Holsworthy, in addition to the independent detachment (four aircraft) and two deployable elements, each of four helicopters. The number of helicopters to be acquired is not specified in the document, but respondents are asked to provide an assessment of how many will be needed to support 16 aircraft online at any given time. The forthcoming RFI was a major focus at the 2018 Land Forces exhibition, held in Adelaide in early September, with several major helicopter manufacturers declaring their intention to respond. Then-head of Airbus Group Australia Pacific Tony Fraser said the European manufacturer intends to offer its 3- to 7-ton H145M helicopter. “We will compete the H145M and we expect it to be a very strong competitor,” he said. Also speaking at Land Forces, Bell's business development director for Australia, Dan McQuestin, revealed that the company intends to bid the 2.5-ton Bell 407GT, an armed version of the popular 407GX civil helicopter. “It's COTS, it's already deployed in the field in the Middle East and maintained through a commercial supply chain,” he said. Boeing Defence & Security's vice president of global sales and marketing for Australia said he was keen to see what the Commonwealth's requirements would be, but the U.S. manufacturer saw its 1.6-ton AH-6i Little Bird as a candidate. “Based on our conversations, we think the AH-6i is a viable alternative for Land 2097 Phase 4,” he said. “We'll see what is in the RFI, but we certainly expect to bid.” Leonardo's helicopter division announced during the show that it will propose the AW109 Trekker helicopter. Other potential contenders include MD Helicopters with its MD530G helicopter, and Northstar Aviation with the 407MRH Lightning, a multirole helo based on the Bell 407.

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