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  • Another win for Boeing: New Zealand commits to the P-8 with $1.6 billion deal

    July 10, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Another win for Boeing: New Zealand commits to the P-8 with $1.6 billion deal

    By: Nick Lee-Frampton New Zealand has become the fifth export customer (after Australia, India, Norway and the U.K.) for Boeing's P-8 Poseidon, with a $1.6 billion order for four aircraft. Announced July 9 by Minister of Defence Ron Mark, the order includes the cost of infrastructure and training equipment. The aircraft are expected to enter Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) from 2023 and will replace six Lockheed P-3K2 Orions that have served the RNZAF for more than 50 years. New Zealand purchased five P-3B Orions in 1966 and acquired a sixth aircraft in 1985. New avionics led to new designation of P-3K in the late 1980s; they were then given new wings as part of a life extension program in 2000. New radar and digital avionics from 2011 led to the designation P-3K2. A new title for the Orion fleet was introduced too, the Airborne Surveillance and Response Force. Always operated by 5 Squadron RNZAF from Whenuapai air base, Auckland, the squadron will operate its P-8As from Ohakea. Mark says options for a complementary maritime surveillance capability will be included in the forthcoming Defence Capability Plan review, due to be completed by the end of the year. Smaller manned aircraft, as well as remotely piloted aircraft and satellite surveillance will be considered to complement the P-8s. The Annual Report of the New Zealand Defence Force shows that last year the existing P-3K2 Orions flew around 120 hours on search and rescue missions and more than 500 hours conducting humanitarian aid and disaster relief work.

  • Germany’s choice for a Tornado replacement could undermine NATO

    July 9, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Germany’s choice for a Tornado replacement could undermine NATO

    By: Dan Goure It is clear to any reasonable observer that the state of the NATO alliance is not good. Even as a candidate, Donald Trump made it clear that he desired to see the other alliance members contribute more to the common defense. As President, Mr. Trump shifted from a request to a demand that NATO countries meet their self-imposed target of spending 2 percent of their individual gross domestic product on defense. He recently returned to this theme, possibly previewing his message to the NATO summit scheduled for later in July. “Germany,” he complained, “has to spend more money. Spain, France. It's not fair what they've done to the United States.” In February, the German parliament's military commissioner published a devastating report on the German military's lack of readiness. At the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the Luftwaffe's 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs. Much of the rest of the German military's equipment, including fighter jets, tanks and ships, are outdated and in some cases not fully operational because of a lack of spare parts. As a result, fighter pilot training has had to be curtailed because of the number of aircraft unavailable due to maintenance issues. The new head of the Luftwaffe, Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, confirmed the military commissioner's findings. He publicly admitted that his service is “at a low point. Aircraft are grounded due to a lack of spare parts, or they aren't even on site since they're off for maintenance by the industry.” This lack of investment in critical military capabilities has effected NATO's nuclear deterrent. Germany's fleet of nuclear-capable Tornado aircraft are so old and obsolete that they will have to be retired beginning in 2025. Without a timely replacement, Germany will be out of the nuclear deterrence mission. Any new aircraft being proposed to fill the role played by the Luftwaffe's Tornados must meet an extremely stringent set of safety and operational standards. Because this would be a German aircraft deploying a U.S. nuclear weapon, there are two sets of standards at play. Experts familiar with certifying a new aircraft as nuclear-capable say the process generally takes an average of six to eight years and costs hundreds of millions of dollars. The obvious answer is for the Luftwaffe to acquire some number of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters to replace the Tornado for the nuclear mission. The U.S. Air Force and the F-35 team, led by Lockheed Martin, are currently in the early stages of the nuclear certification process. Italy and the Netherlands are acquiring the F-35 and will certainly use some as dedicated nuclear-delivery platforms. Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium have proposed selling Germany additional Typhoon aircraft to replace the Tornados. The German government has asked Washington if it would accept a nuclear-capable and -certified Typhoon Eurofighter as a Tornado replacement. The Luftwaffe currently operates some 130 Typhoons for air defense. There are two problems with this solution. First, given what it would take to design, develop and test a nuclear-capable Typhoon, much less the six to eight years required for certification, it is too late to go with this option and meet the 2025 date for Tornado retirement. Second, even it could be certified to carry the B-61, the Typhoon will not be able to perform the mission in the high-density, advanced air-defense environment that is already blanketing much of Europe. Delivery of a gravity bomb requires the ability to fly over a heavily defended target, and to do so on the first day of a war. Virtually all senior air force leaders in NATO agree that fourth-generation fighters, including the Typhoon, are not survivable without an extensive and protracted campaign to roll back the air defense threat. Only a fifth generation platform such as the F-35 can beat today's air defenses, much less those that will emerge over the next several decades. The German inquiry regarding the acceptability to Washington of a nuclear-certified Typhoon is really motivated by industrial politics. Germany and France hope to begin development of a fifth-generation fighter ― a project that will take at least 15 years. But if Berlin acquires even a limited number of F-35s, this could undercut that objective. In fact, the head of Airbus recently gave an interview in which he declared that “as soon as Germany becomes an F-35 member nation, cooperation on all combat aircraft issues with France will die.” The German government could not have picked a worse time to play industrial politics with its solemn obligation to participate in the alliance's nuclear deterrence mission. President Trump already believes that most of the NATO allies, including Germany, are not paying their fair share for the common defense. An attempt by Germany to shoehorn a Eurofighter variant into the nuclear weapons delivery mission is another signal that Berlin is just not serious about meeting its alliance obligations. Daniel Gouré is a senior vice president with the Lexington Institute. He worked in the Pentagon during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and he has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities as well as the National War College.

  • French procurement office to undergo transformation

    July 9, 2018 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR

    French procurement office to undergo transformation

    By: Pierre Tran PARIS - France seeks to shake up, speed up and closely audit its arms acquisition with a “transformation” of its procurement office, the Direction Générale de l'Armement. In a July 5 speech, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly pointed to the need for a deep restructuring of the DGA in response to changing threats, international relations, technology and innovation. AS part of that process, the DGA will spin up an innovation office for key programs, with a budget of €1 billion (US $1.2 billion). Closer ties with industry will be part of the new approach, with prime contractors sitting down with the DGA and chiefs of staff to draw up a requirement – but industry must also assume responsibility and better share risk, Parly said. “Transformation of the DGA” was the mission assigned to its director, Joël Barre, when he took up the post, Parly told the audience gathered at the defense ministry. Efficiency and responsiveness were key goals, requiring greater dialog between the DGA and the military services, rather than working in silos, she said. There are now three phases in arms programs, half the previous number, she said. Those key stages are preparation, production and use of the equipment. The ministry seeks to simplify procedure, increase flexibility and acquire innovation, while pursuing new legal structures and financing. While greater conversations with industry will be vital going forward, Parly pointed up that there would “balance” in the government's relations with industry. France was ready to talk to industry but the government was not ready to pay any price. There will detailed audits to ensure a right price was agreed to, Parly warned. “The DGA is not a quartermaster's store, nor little old grandma with an open check book,” she said. One of the major reforms for industry will be to pressure prime contractors deliver on time, with the government seeking to move to an approach used in civil aviation, where most of the payment is made on delivery. That encourages a delivery on time, rather than the present phased payment, where defense contractors have no incentive to speed up the work. The DGA will send teams to inspect the contractors to ensure the right price was paid. Additionally, Parly said there will be greater sharing and use of engineering information between the DGA and industry, with increased use of artificial intelligence and large databases. Innovation agency To help drive the new culture, DGA will set up an innovation agency, intended to be the one number to call for inquiries on innovation, and ready to take risk and speed up official backing. There is a search on for director of the agency, which will merge various existing offices including Astrid, Def'invest and Rapid. The agency will have a budget of €1 billion (US $1.2 billion) for investment. There will be a greater cooperation between the DGA, Joint chief of staff and Chief of staff of each of the services, with teams working together in the same office area from this autumn. There are two pilot projects being considered: the Future Combat Air Systems, which will also consider the potential for cooperation with Germany and other European countries, and a maritime surveillance system. There is a search for greater speed by merging the operational requirements set by the services with the technical needs drafted by the DGA. The forces and DGA will, with a prime contractor, draw up a single document setting out requirement. This combined approach will be tested on a new internal communications system for the ministry. The DGA will seek greater flexibility in its staff management as the office relies on technical staff, which are in strong demand in the job market. That includes sending its employees to work temporarily in companies to learn best practice and boost cooperation between the ministry and industry. The DGA manages an average annual budget of €11 billion for some 100 arms programs, employs 9,600 staff, of which 56 percent are engineers and executives. The office has a major role in managing export deals. Parly, in her opening remarks, quoted former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in his 1960 acceptance speech of the Democrats' nomination for the presidential campaign: “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier--the frontier of the 1960′s--a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils-- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.” The DGA was formed just a few months before the presidential candidate delivered his speech at the Democratic National Convention at the Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles.

  • What is 'the backbone' of the Canadian Army doing in a junk yard?

    July 9, 2018 | Local, Land

    What is 'the backbone' of the Canadian Army doing in a junk yard?

    Colin Butler Even an expert in armoured fighting vehicles thinks it's a strange place to find what the Canadian Army calls "the backbone" of its combat vehicle fleet. "I'm surprised that vehicles of this importance and significance are being stored in a conventional steel breaker's yard," said Jon Hawkes, the Land Management Editor for military information publisher Jane's Information Group. "Typically they'd be in a military facility of some kind, even if it's sort of, you know, popped out in the back out of the way in the contractors own facility." "For them to be in this breaker's yard is not where I would expect them to be." "Them," in this case are the LAV III, the workhorse of the Canadian Army. You've likely seen them on television, either helping Canadians stricken by some natural disaster, such as the 2013 floods in Alberta, last year's floods in Quebec, or, maybe overseas, carrying our troops into hot zones in such places as Afghanistan and more recently Mali. What are these LAV IIIs doing in a junk yard? So what on Earth are they doing in the back lot of a junk yard? "I think it's interesting," John Hawke said. "You could read that two ways." "On one hand, these things are being quasi-dumped in a corner somewhere to be dealt with later and perhaps that's not caring for them in the best possible way. Although as I say, they're very hardy vehicles. I wouldn't necessarily fear for their status." "Alternatively you could say that someone somewhere is actually being quite smart in finding a very cost-effective solution for storing them for a period of time. I'd imagine it's not hugely expensive to put them wherever this is." Secretive contractors Except, no one working with these LAVs is willing to talk. CBC News first attempted to visit the site in person, but was told to leave the property by staff at the scrap yard. When contacted by phone, Matt Zubick, a member of the family that owns John Zubick's Limited said "I can't talk about that" before he hung up. Steph Bryson, a spokeswoman for General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, declined to comment, referring the question to the Department of National Defence. So why all the secrecy? No secret at all "I find that a bit amusing," said Daniel Le Bouthillier, the head of media relations for the Department of National Defence. "From our perspective, the work is hardly a secret." It turns out the work inside John Zubick's Limited has been happening for the better part of a decade. After Canadian troops deployed in Afghanistan, they quickly realized the army's fleet of LAV IIIs, which they've had since 1997, needed a few tweaks to give soldiers better protection against the Taliban insurgency. Those tweaks involved better armour, blast absorbing seats and other upgrades. However, the LAV IIIs were never designed to handle the extra weight, according to Le Bouthillier. "This additional weight meant more wear and tear and affected the vehicles' what they call 'full mobility potential.' So these upgrades that are happening now address all those issues." The upgrades are being done by London, Ont.-based military manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems Canada as part of a $1.8 billion refitting and refurbishment program with the Canadian Armed Forces called LAVIIIUP, a deal that was first struck in 2010. The program will see all 550 Canadian-made LAV IIIs, getting new armour and new hulls in order to extend the life of the vehicles until the year 2035. "As part of that process, LAV III hulls, which were not designed to support the weight of upgrades are being sent to a scrap yard, taken apart and melted and this is done because these are considered controlled goods," Le Bouthillier said. "So what you're seeing in that scrap yard are parts that are not being harvested for the upgrades," he said. "These are not drive-in, drive-out full capability vehicles. These are just parts of them. They might look like full vehicles because they're so big. Especially when you look at them from above." The first batch of upgraded LAV IIIs were delivered to the military in 2012, with the delivery of the final batch expected next December.

  • Airbus and Saab consider challenge to Boeing Wedgetail for UK

    July 9, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Airbus and Saab consider challenge to Boeing Wedgetail for UK

    By: Andrew Chuter and Beth Stevenson LONDON -- Two of Europe's top aerospace defense companies are discussing combining their airborne early warning capabilities in an attempt to head off a possible sole-source British purchase of the Boeing Wedgetail. The talks are centered on a potential collaboration bringing together an Airbus-built platform with a version of Saab's Erieye radar, said two sources familiar with the discussions. But a third source though sought to dampen expectations of a deal saying the talks were not exclusive and both companies were also talking to various other potential partners. The British are considering replacing their venerable, and increasingly unreliable, Boeing Sentry E-3D fleet with a new airborne early warning aircraft for the Royal Air Force. The Sentry's are currently due to stay in service with the RAF until 2035, subject to a capability sustainment program to extend their service life. News that the two companies are discussing a potential tie-up comes just three days after UK Parliamentary defence committee chairman Julian Lewis wrote an open letter to British defense procurement minister Guto Bebb urging the MoD to ensure that any tender for a new surveillance aircraft must be open to fair competition, and not awarded sole-source to the Wedgetail. The letter said that it would be “particularly inappropriate for a competition to be foregone in favour of Boeing following their involvement in the imposition of punitive tariffs against Bombardier last year [over regional jet subsidies].” The fight with Boeing threatened Bombardier manufacturing facilities in Northern Ireland with substantial job losses. Airbus didn't confirm that talks were taking place with Saab. But in a statement, it unsurprisingly supported the calls for an open competition -- and gave a clue as to what it sees as potential platforms for a possible British requirement. “As the biggest supplier of large aircraft to the Royal Air Force, Airbus would welcome a competition to present a market leading and cost-effective solution for the RAF's future AWACS requirements,” said an Airbus spokesman. “Building on our successful experience in converting commercial aircraft into the world's market-leading tanker, Airbus is working on further opportunities to use the A330 and A320 as the basis for new mission aircraft,” said the spokesman. To the same effect, Saab also welcomed an open competition from the government to replace the Sentry fleet, although it did not go into specifics regarding the exact offering it would expect to pitch should a competition be held. “Saab, as the one of the world's leading suppliers of airborne surveillance and air battle management systems, would enthusiastically pursue an open competition to replace the UK's aging E-3D fleet, should the UK MoD choose to issue a requirement,” a company spokesman said. Potential signing Late last month, The Times newspaper reported the MoD was heading for a possible sole source buy of between four and six Wedgetail aircraft at a cost of up to £3 billion to replace the Sentry fleet. The NATO summit in Brussels, the Royal International Air Tattoo, or the Farnborough air show later this month, have been touted as possible venues for an announcement. The MoD declined to comment on whether a Wedgetail deal was likely or imminent. ‘Any decision on the way forward for the Sentry capability will be taken in the best interests of national security in the face of intensifying threats, and only after full consideration. We tender contracts competitively wherever appropriate. It is too early to comment further at this time,' said an MoD spokesman. An Australian air force Wedgetail is scheduled to appear at the RIAT show starting July 13 at Fairford, southern England. The 737-based jet has also been sold to Turkey and South Korea. The letter raised the committee's concerns over the state of the RAF's Sentry fleet, saying it was in a poor state of maintenance and often only a single aircraft in the six strong fleet was available at any one time. A statement accompanying the letter said reports have emerged that as part of the Modernising Defence Programme review being conducted by the MoD it is considering cancelling the sustainment program and replacing the Sentry fleet with a new aircraft. The letter from the lawmakers reflects increasing concern on the committee about the award of non-competitive contracts with overseas companies for major defense equipment requirements. The most recent of those was the MoD decision to buy Artec-built Boxer mechanized infantry vehicles from Germany without a competition, but the U.S. industry has also benefited from several sole-source deals in recent times. Boeing has particularly rankled competitors after winning two major UK contracts in 2016 without a competition: the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and the AH-64E Apache attack rotorcraft, the selection of which were announced at that year's Farnborough air show. Lewis said in the letter that the committee had “in the light of convincing evidence of at least one credible alternative to Wedgetail,” it can see “absolutely no reason why, yet again, to dispense with open competition.” It's not known exactly who the committee is referring to, but an Airbus/Saab combination would appear to qualify as being highly credible. Saab's well regarded Erieye radar has sold widely around the world on turboprop and regional jet platforms with countries like Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Sweden operating the capability. Most recently it secured a deal with the United Arab Emirates for the delivery of five of the new GlobalEye early warning and control aircraft which uses the Bombardier 6000 business jet as a platform and boasts a new extended range version of Erieye. Saab executives at the roll-out of the GlobalEye in February said they had briefed the British on the aircraft's capabilities, but their view was the RAF still wanted a larger cabin than a business jet could provide. One option to meet that requirement is the possible use of almost new A330 tanker aircraft available under the AirTanker private finance initiative arrangement to provide inflight refuelling capacity to the RAF. Fourteen A330s were built for AirTanker, in which Airbus is a shareholder, with nine aircraft being available constantly for the RAF and the remainder of the airframes leased out to other users, but available for immediate return to air refueling duties in a crisis. The wings of Airbus' commercial airliners are manufactured in the UK, and uncertainty surrounding the terms of the nation's impending exit from the European Union has caused the company to issue a strong warning to the government that it may move the work elsewhere if Brexit does not favor movement of parts, or the certification of the wings in line with European standards. CEO Tom Enders has been vocal on his views regarding the situation, but opening up other areas of work in which companies like Airbus may participate - such as an open competition for the AWACS replacement – could help companies like Airbus who feel the government has overlooked their interests in the UK. Other executive though wonder whether Brexit supporting Government ministers in Britain are in any mood to do Airbus any favors in sectors like defense procurement.

  • Air Force quietly, and reluctantly, pushing JSTARS recap source selection ahead

    July 9, 2018 | International, Aerospace, C4ISR

    Air Force quietly, and reluctantly, pushing JSTARS recap source selection ahead

    By: Valerie Insinna WASHINGTON — Congress is waging a public battle on the fate of the JSTARS recap program, but behind the scenes, the Air Force is quietly taking steps that will allow them to award a contract for a program that leaders say they don't need. The service received final proposal revisions for the JSTARS recap program on June 22, confirmed Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Emily Grabowski in a statement to Defense News. “The Air Force wants to be postured to move forward with JSTARS recap, if required. Therefore, we are continuing source selection while we continue to work with Congress on the way forward,” Grabowski said in a statement. Usually, the government solicits final proposals and pricing information from competitors just weeks before making a final downselect. Thus, if Congress decides to force the Air Force to continue on with the program, it's likely the service will be able to award a contract in very short order. The Air Force began the JSTARS recap program as an effort to replace its aging E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System ground surveillance planes with new aircraft and a more capable radar. The initial plan was to buy 17 new JSTARS recap jets from either Boeing, Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman. However, the service announced during February's fiscal year 2019 budget rollout that it preferred to cancel the JSTARS recap program and fund an “Advanced Battle Management System” that would upgrade and link together existing aircraft and drones, allowing them to do the JSTARS mission. The Air Force's continued source selection efforts are necessary due to Congress, which is split on the issue of whether to continue to the program. Both Senate defense committees have sided with the Air Force, and would allow it to kill JSTARS recap as long as it continues to fund the current JSTARS fleet. The Senate version of the defense spending bill also includes an additional $375 million to accelerate the ABMS concept with additional MQ-9 Reapers and other technologies. Meanwhile, the House version of the bill would force the Air Force to award an engineering and manufacturing development contract for JSTARS recap to one of the three competitors, which had been valued at $6.9 billion. However, some lawmakers have said they might be willing to accept a truncated recap program to bridge the way until ABMS is fielded. “All of the committees understand the need for moving to the advanced battle management system,” Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, told reporters in June. “If there are disagreements between the committees, it's about whether we can move straight to that and hold onto our legacy JSTARS as a way to bridge until we do that, or do we need to do one more recap of that system” The timing of final proposal revisions actually puts source selection for JSTARS recap ahead of that of the still ongoing T-X trainer jet program, which as of late June had not reached that stage. However, Congress will likely need time to resolve the JSTARS recap issue — meaning a contract decision is far from imminent. The House and Senate armed services committees began the conference process in June, which could allow them to reconcile differences in the defense policy bill as early as this summer. However, only appropriations bills can be used to fund government programs like JSTARS recap, and spending legislation could be stuck in limbo for months past that. If deliberations stretch out, “the Air Force will continue to assess contract award timelines and approvals. If necessary, the Air Force will request an extension of proposal validity or updated pricing as appropriate,” Grabowski said. Meanwhile, lawmakers continue to debate the case in the public eye. In a July 3 editorial for The Telegraph, Republican Rep. Austin Scott, one of the biggest proponents of the recap program, argued that it would be more economical to proceed with JSTARS recap than to continue to do extensive depot maintenance on the legacy aircraft. “After 10 years of work, the Air Force is considering canceling the JSTARS recap program,” wrote Scott, whose district in Georgia is home to Robins Air Force base, where the JSTARS aircraft reside. “Their arguments do not take into account the significantly improved capabilities and increased capacity that the new aircraft will provide. The Air Force has ignored its own assessments in their recommendation for cancellation.”

  • La Suisse fait redécoller son projet d’achat d’avions de combat

    July 9, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    La Suisse fait redécoller son projet d’achat d’avions de combat

    Philippe Chapeleau La Suisse a lancé un nouvel appel d'offres pour ses futurs avions de combat, après de longues péripéties qui ont conduit à l'annulation de l'achat de 22 Gripen E/F de Saab à la suite d'un référendum en mai 2014. La nouvelle flotte, entre 30 et 40 avions doit remplacer à la fois les Tiger et les F/A-18. Il va y avoir du dog fight (un duel aérien) dans les cieux de la Suisse : les autorités helvétiques ont en effet lancé un nouvel appel d'offres pour doter l'armée de l'air de nouveaux avions de combat en remplacement des F-5 Tiger et des F-18vieillissants. En 2014, les électeurs Suisses avaient dit "non" au projet d'achat d'intercepteurs suédois. L'achat de 22 avions de combat Gripen pour 3,126 milliards de francs avait été rejeté par 53,4 % des votants. Le marché porte sur au moins 30 avions, peut-être 40. Vendredi, Armasuisse, l'agence fédérale qui s'occupe des achats d'armes, a annoncé que cinq avions de combat étrangers allaient être évalués : le Gripen E suédois (Saab), le Rafale français (Dassault), l'Eurofighterallemand (Airbus), et côté américain, le successeur du FA-18, le Super Hornet de Boeing, et le F-35A de Lockheed-Martin. Des tests au sol et en vol en Suisse seront menés entre mai et juillet 2019. Un deuxième appel d'offres pour les jets sera mené en novembre 2019 et les réponses sont attendues pour fin mai 2020. Le choix des modèles devrait tomber vers fin 2020. Le parlement puis le peuple devraient pouvoir se prononcer sur la facture.

  • Fighting for “Future Vertical Lift”

    July 6, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Fighting for “Future Vertical Lift”

    BY JAN TEGLER ROTORCRAFT ADVOCATES IN THE U.S. MILITARY HAVE BEEN LAYING THE RESEARCH GROUNDWORK TO REPLACE MANY OF TODAY'S HELICOPTERS WITH VERSIONS THAT WOULD EMPLOY A REVOLUTIONARY PROPULSION CONCEPT TO-BE-DECIDED. JAN TEGLER LOOKS AT THE BATTLE TO ELEVATE THE FUTURE VERTICAL LIFT INITIATIVE INTO AN ACQUISITION PROGRAM AND SPEED UP ITS SCHEDULE. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joseph Priester was jolted awake at 4 a.m. by the sound of rocket and mortar fire. He sprinted to his OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, a lightly armed reconnaissance helicopter, and took off with his co-pilot from Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Afghanistan. They didn't have to fly far. A group of 30 insurgents about 2 kilometers from the base had launched an attack on the coalition base. At one point, Priester landed in the middle of the fight to pick up a wounded American soldier — his left-seater remaining behind so that the two-seat Kiowa Warrior could transport the wounded man back to the base. Priester's response to the 2008 attack was emblematic of many of the missions flown by U.S. helicopter crews in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many could be accomplished by short dashes by light-lift, maneuverable helicopters. Now, however, recognition is growing in the Pentagon that range and speed could turn out to be paramount in the next conflicts. For years, the Pentagon has been laying the technological groundwork for the possible creation of a multibillion-dollar acquisition program called Future Vertical Lift. Preliminary plans call for the Army to manage development of FVL variants for itself, the Marines and Navy, with the designs founded on a revolutionary propulsion concept still to be decided. The overarching goal would be to double the range and speed of today's helicopters by rolling out conventionally piloted and unmanned versions in the mid-2030s, a schedule that the Army and allies in Congress want to accelerate. At the moment, FVL remains a modestly funded research effort, although in late June the Army announced a “draft” solicitation to industry to get their feedback on a Future Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype. The Army wants to have prototypes of an armed reconnaissance rotorcraft (one of two FVL aircraft types it is prioritizing) flying by 2023 in an effort to choose a design that will enter service within a decade. The White House is proposing to spend $125 million on FVL and related efforts in fiscal 2019, a request that is making it through the congressional appropriations and authorization process with minimal adjustments up or down. The FVL initiative appears to be at a crossroads. On one path is a multiservice, multibillion-dollar acquisition program. On the other lies something short of that. The Army, Marine Corps and Navy are in the midst of analyzing their rotorcraft alternatives for the years ahead in an analysis of alternatives, or AoA, that will spill into 2019 and largely determine the path for FVL. Brig. Gen. Walter T. Rugen, who manages the FVL initiative from Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state, expresses confidence that the path will be a bold one, with some questions still to be addressed. “We've moved on from the ‘why' question. We're not having to justify why we need Future Vertical Lift. It's how we do it,” he said in a phone interview. I spoke with Rugen, Marine Corps leaders, a member of Congress, former Army helicopter pilots and defense analysts to take the pulse of FVL about this critical crossroads. SCHEDULE On the question of timing, the plan to roll out FVL aircraft in the 2030s has not set well with Army aviation advocates in the Pentagon or on Capitol Hill. One of them is Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., a former Army OH-58 pilot whose state is home to the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, where rotorcraft research could aid FVL, and Naval Air Systems Command, or NAVAIR, which manages rotorcraft acquisitions for the Navy and Marine Corps. Brown says he was surprised when he was briefed about the timeline by the Army. Plans still call for releasing the FVL request for proposals in 2021, which is itself a two-year slip from the plan as it stood in the fiscal 2017 budget. That release would put the first FVL aircraft in the hands of pilots in the mid-2030s. “I must say my first impression was ‘Man, this is going to take a long time,'” Brown says. Earlier this year, the House authorization subcommittee that Brown sits on told the Army to “weigh speeding modernization and fielding” of weapons, including FVL. Rugen tells me “we have to go faster,” which would mean flying operational FVL aircraft within a decade rather than the mid-2030s. He says accelerating FVL “is being pushed at the highest levels, so we enjoy that priority.” Rugen leads the Cross Functional Team that has been assembled to ensure that all relevant subject matter experts are included in the FVL initiative. He sounds cognizant of the complexities and speckled history of other attempts at large programs serving multiple agencies. “We're focused on accelerating this capability as much as we can, balancing the risks,” he says of FVL. For one, he and others shun the word “joint” in reference to the structure of the FVL program. “If we had a joint program we'd have a joint program office and all that stuff. We don't have that,” he says. On the question of timing, the answers I received from NAVAIR's PMA-276 office, which manages the Marine Corps light-attack helicopters, are strikingly different from those of the Army. “The Marine Corps need is currently unchanged,” PMA-276 said when I asked whether the Marines also would like to see FVL rotorcraft delivered sooner than the mid-2030s. Also, the Marine Corps explained that the “driving factor” in its planning is an aircraft that can carry six to eight passengers and match the V-22 tiltrotors in range and speed to escort them. An open question remains how these divergent visions of timing would translate into budget planning, once the services finish analyzing their rotorcraft futures early next year. Richard Aboulafia, who analyzes military aviation spending for the Teal Group in Virginia, cautions that the Army has only a “small window of time” to get an FVL program funded and moving forward. That's because the Trump administration spike in defense spending would peak in 2019. If FVL is elevated to an acquisition program, the stakes would be enormous. Early plans call for producing a family of aircraft to replace such stalwarts as the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk, the Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter and the AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter. The new aircraft must exceed the performance of those flown by near-peer competitors, meaning China and Russia, which would mean flying about twice as fast and far as most of today's rotorcraft. The foundational propulsion technology has yet to be chosen. Two concepts are facing off against each other under a related demonstration initiative, called the Joint Multi-Role Demonstrator program, with funding tracing back to 2013. Vying are the V-280 Valor tiltrotor built by Bell of Fort Worth, Texas, and the SB-1 Defiant, an unusual helicopter built by Sikorsky and Boeing. The SB-1 team says it is “fighting hard” to fly for the first time by the end of this year. The two concepts could not be more different. The Valor design was partly inspired by the larger V-22 Osprey tiltrotors. The main difference is that the V-22's engines tilt entirely when transitioning between horizontal and vertical flight, whereas just the gearbox on each Valor engine tilts. “V-22 is the number one in-demand VTOL aircraft within DoD because of its speed and range,” says Keith Flail, Bell's vice president for advanced tilt-rotor systems. “We're taking all the knowledge from the Osprey — over 400,000 flight hours — and we've applied that to Valor, a clean-sheet design with today's technology.” SB-1 gets at the range and speed problem another way. Its two coaxial rotor blades are mounted one above the other, and they rotate in opposite directions to prevent clockwise or counterclockwise torque on the fuselage. This strategy eliminates the need for a tail rotor (sometimes called an anti-torque rotor) and frees up space for a pusher prop to add speed and maneuverability. The design is based on Sikorsky's experimental X2 that the company flew in 2008. “Not only does our X2 technology preserve all of the best characteristics of traditional single- or double-rotor aircraft like the Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache, it betters them in some ways. Yet it can still achieve speeds well north of 200 knots to get to the expanded battle space the government appears to be looking at,” says Rich Koucheravy, Sikorsky's business development director. At the moment, it's not clear whether one or both of these approaches will be chosen as the way forward for FVL. The Marine Corps light-attack helicopter office, PMA-276, says the analysis of alternatives is “reviewing multiple aircraft concepts, not just those used for the full scale technology demonstrators.” Perhaps complicating budget matters, FVL is one of six modernization priorities the Army has identified across all domains: air, land, space, cyberspace, electromagnetic spectrum, information and the cognitive dimension. All require significant expenditures. SPEED = REACH The requirements for the FVL aircraft have yet to be written, but the demonstrators are targeting a cruise speed of 230 knots or 425 kph and a range of up to 800 nautical miles or 1,481 kilometers. Rugen rattles off the broad brushstrokes of what rotorcraft experts want: “We're looking for sweeping improvements in our lethality, agility, survivability, sustainability and what we call reach.” “Reach” alludes to a different kind of fight from the counterinsurgency war that Priester, the Kiowa Warrior pilot, was thrown into. In future conflicts, the air superiority that U.S. forces have enjoyed could be contested, Rugen says. In that case, dotting the battlefield with forward operating bases and refueling points for rotorcraft won't be practical. Missions would have to cover greater distances, whether for attack, reconnaissance, transport, medevac or special operations. Speed and range will “get them to the fight rapidly,” Rugen explains. Penetrating sophisticated enemy defenses would be done by teaming rotorcraft with an “ecosystem of unmanned aircraft and modular missiles.” The question is which concept — the coaxial SB-1, the V-280 tiltrotor or perhaps another idea — would be best suited. MANEUVERABILITY Army helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael LaGrave, an ex-Kiowa Warrior pilot, says tilt-rotor aircraft “lack the agility at low speed” of traditional helicopters, noting that the Army is the only service that does not operate the Osprey. Bell officials are aware of this perception, and the company has invited current Army aviators to fly its V-280 simulator. Bell's Flail says the V-22 is in fact “incredibly agile” at low speed. “We've been able to do a lot of things with this next-generation tiltrotor to have even greater agility at low speeds,” he says. “As we go through the envelope expansion we will demonstrate that.” Sikorsky and Boeing think they have an edge with an aircraft that traces its heritage to previous helicopters. Looking at the initial FVL description, “we realized that while the Army did want the extended range and speed of a fast vertical lift platform, it did not appear they were willing to sacrifice much in terms of low-speed hover and performance in the objective area,” says Sikorsky's Koucheravy. That's why Sikorsky and Boeing based their SB-1 Defiant design on the X2, which was a compound helicopter, meaning it combined the propulsion of rotors and propellers. COST The Army wants this new generation of rotorcraft to cost about the same to operate and maintain as the latest variants in its fleet, from the UH-60V Black Hawks to AH-64E Apaches. “I'll echo what Gen. [James] McConville, our vice chief of staff, said,” says Rugen. “We're looking at the price point that we have now for procurement and flight hours as our targets.” Aboulafia of Teal Group doesn't believe it's realistic to think that the FVL aircraft will cost the same as today's versions. “I don't think you can get this incredible capability for the same or anything like the same price,” he says. Given the costs, funding uncertainty of FVL and the history of multiservice programs, Aboulafia is skeptical about the future of FVL. He thinks it makes little sense to try to compress diverse demands into one program. “Rather than building one giant mega-
cathedral, how about just a small village church?” If he were the Army or Marines, he'd think about a “fallback” option of continuing with “upgrades or existing new-build helicopters.” “I tell everybody who will listen,” Aboulafia quips, “be prepared for a future of ‘Black Hawk-N' models, ‘Apache-G' models or ‘Chinook-Q' models, take your pick.” Aboulafia notes that the Army is continuing to make incremental upgrades to its existing fleet. The service continues to buy the latest version of the Apache, the AH-64E and the UH-60M while upgrading UH-60L Black Hawks with a digital cockpit as UH-60Vs. The Army also has an Improved Turbine Engine program underway to replace the engines in its Black Hawks and Apaches with more powerful, fuel-efficient turbines. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is continuing to procure the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper utility and attack helicopters. PRIORITIZING DESIGNS FVL rotorcraft are classified under “capability sets” — two Light variants, two Medium variants and two Heavy variants. These capability sets encompass the variety of roles Army and Marine helicopters fulfill, from light attack and reconnaissance to airborne assault and heavy lift missions. In March, Army aviation leaders, including Rugen, indicated the service would focus on two FVL variants — a light future reconnaissance attack aircraft (the subject of the draft solicitation) and a long-range assault aircraft similar to the medium-lift SB-1 Defiant or V-280 Valor rotorcraft now progressing through JMR-TD. I had heard speculation that the Army wants an armed scout to be the first FVL variant fielded. I asked Rugen if that was the plan, and he says that's “yet to be determined.” Sikorsky thinks that's a real possibility and is offering its S-97 Raider for the future reconnaissance role. Not part of the current demonstration program, Raider was developed for the Army's Armed Aerial Scout program (canceled in late 2013) to replace the OH-58D. The S-97 has the same coaxial rotor configuration as the SB-1 Defiant. It remains unclear how the Marine Corps would fit into the FVL initiative, given the statement from PMA-276 that it still likes the 2030s date and that the “driving factor” is not a light FVL but one capable of carrying six to eight passengers and escorting V-22s. At the end of June, Marine Corps sources confirmed this, explaining to me that the service's “primary interest” is in a long-range assault aircraft, “not in an FVL Light/armed reconnaissance-attack aircraft.” They add that the Marine Corps and Army continue to explore “a potential for a joint program on the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft.” Aboulafia of Teal Group contends that Bell's tilt-rotor V-280 is more suited for the type of missions the Marine Corps performs while Sikorsky-Boeing's SB-1 may be more appropriate for Army missions. If FVL is to go forward, “each service should pick one of the aircraft now in development for JMR TD and get going.” Staff reporter Tom Risen contributed to this report.

  • Study finds these gaps in Army’s small unit counter-drone capabilities

    July 6, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Study finds these gaps in Army’s small unit counter-drone capabilities

    Army units at and below the battalion level are unprepared to defeat aerial drones and current plans can't keep up with rapidly evolving technology, according to a recent study. Back in 2016, the Army Research Office asked an outside organization, The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, to evaluate their counter drone capabilities for battalion and below operations. The report they published earlier this year notes some significant gaps and threats to soldiers with this technology. “Contrary to the past, when U.S. warfighters may have found (improvised explosive devices), now the IEDs will find our warfighters,” according to the report. While the Army and Marine Corps, which also included representatives in the study, are throwing resources at the small drone problem, they are not keeping pace with the threat. “Army time frames are significantly out of sync with the rapidly advancing performance capabilities of individual (small Unmanned Aerial Systems) and teams of sUASs,” according to the report. The report noted that most of the service's counter drone asset work was focused on heavy vehicle platforms or on fixed sites, which leaves smaller units most likely to first encounter the threat more exposed. “Significant quantities of man-portable” counter-drone systems have been fielded, Army spokesman Maj. Chris Ophardt told Army Times in an email. The Army will continue to pursue those capabilities based on emerging threats. Based on his response, which did not include details of capabilities, the Army is pursuing other ways to defeat drones. A large portion of the study was classified, due to operational security concerns. “Future Army C-UAS systems will encompass a variety of potential platforms to include fixed, mobile, and Soldier-portable capabilities,” Ophardt wrote. But beyond the types of systems employed, what they're targeting or attacking also came under fire in the report. The Army and other branches have invested significantly in counter-drone technology, “often focusing on detecting radio frequency transmissions and GPS signals of individual sUASs. However, today's consumer and customized sUASs can increasingly operate without radio frequency (command and control) links.” Drones now available can use automated target recognition, tracking, obstacle avoidance and other software-enabled activities instead of traditional RF and GPS. Ophardt did not divulge specifics of how the Army is addressing this, but responded that the service's counter drone capabilities, “include multiple methods in order to detect, identify and defeat enemy UAS.” A new school began last month at Fort Benning, Georgia to give basic trainees familiarity with small drones. The drone school gives infantry and scouts the ability to fill out a seven-line report when they encounter a drone then relay that info to their headquarters. The students use both fixed-wing and helicopter small drones. They also learn defensive tactics such as how to use dispersal and hiding tactics to minimize casualties from drone-coordinated fires, according to an Army release. Those introductory tactics can help even brand-new soldiers start thinking about how to deal with drone threats. But, at the same time, the low-level tactics currently used for counter drone work have tried to use “kinetic effects,” basically shooting down the drone by interfering with its signals or overheating its circuits. The report noted that method isn't practical on a wide scale for large numbers of troops, especially dismounted units. That path only adds more gear from the equipment to the batteries, to an already overloaded soldier, not to mention the “cognitive load” of training and using another piece of equipment, according to the report. Ophardt responded that the Army's counter-drone strategy included “multiple methods” to detect, identify and defeat” enemy drones. The major provided a similar response when asked about Army efforts at counter-drone tactics, capabilities against swarming drones and collaboratively acting drone groups, which the report remarks will be more prevalent and sophisticated as soon as 2025. Report authors urge Army leaders to adjust their timelines for matching tech development, which are woefully inadequate for the exponential changes in software, hardware and drone capabilities. Current Army time frames consider near-term planning to run from now until 2025; mid-term planning in the 2026 to 2035 window and far-term at the 2036 to 2050. Those efforts mirror vehicle acquisition strategy timelines, not the drone arena. The report pushes for a near-term planning of one to two years, mid-term at the three- to five-year level and far term in drone tech at the six- to eight-year range. The advances are happening so quickly, authors point out, that it is “impossible to predict performance capabilities beyond eight years.”

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