Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rescuers find wreckage of missing U.S. F-22 fighter jet

A rescue plane has discovered the wreckage of an U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet that went missing Tuesday night, the Elmendorf-Richardson airbase in Alaska said in a statement on Wednesday.

The fighter jet lost contact with air traffic control at 7:40 p.m. Alaska time Tuesday (04:40 GMT on Wednesday) while on a night-time training mission.

The crash site has been located at about 160 kilometers north of Anchorage. A rescue team is searching for a missing pilot, the airbase said in a statement.

F-22 is a single-seat, twin-engine fifth-generation fighter aircraft that uses stealth technology.

The $150-mln plane entered service with the USAF in 2005. Over 160 F-22s have been built by Lockheed Martin with projected goal of 187 aircraft. The export sale of the F-22 is prohibited by U.S. federal law.

The USAF already lost two F-22s – during takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base in December 2004 and during a test flight near Edwards Air Force Base in March 2009.

Russian MiG-31 fighter crashes in Urals, pilots eject

MOSCOW: A Russian MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor/fighter crashed on Friday in the Perm region of the Urals, but the pilots ejected safely.

The Defense Ministry has grounded all MiG-31s following the crash.

A preliminary cause of the crash was that the plane went into a tailspin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee's military department said.

The crash site has been located and investigators have arrived at the scene, he added.

Officials said the plane was not carrying any weapons and posed no danger to residential areas.

Defense Ministry spokesman Vladimir Drik said the pilots were "in a satisfactory condition."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saab Receives Rapid 3D Mapping Order for Gripen Simulators

STOCKHOLM, Sweden: Defence and security company Saab has received an order from FMV, the Swedish Defence Material Administration, for the delivery of 3-dimensional (3D) models to the Swedish Gripen simulators. The 3D-models will give the simulators a highly realistic visualisation model.

The 3D-models will be generated by the system Rapid 3D Mapping based on aerial images, developed by Saab.

“This is an important milestone that proves that 3D-models generated by our new product Rapid 3D Mapping can be used with excellent results for visualisation in simulators”, says Ulf Hellberg, Head of Business Development within Saab’s business area Dynamics.

“The 3D-models provides the customer with a more realistic solution compared to traditional ways of building visualisation models”, says Magnus Brege, Marketing Director Rapid 3D Mapping.

The world-leading technology behind Rapid 3D Mapping is a result of Saab’s unique competence in image processing, navigation and systems integration resulting from the long experience in developing advanced systems for missiles.

Saab serves the global market with world-leading products, services and solutions ranging from military defence to civil security. Saab has operations and employees on all continents and constantly develops, adopts and improves new technology to meet customers’ changing need.

Pakistan to arm fighter aircraft with Chinese missiles

Beijing: Pakistan has confirmed it will buy Chinese missiles and flight systems to equip its 250 JF-17 Thunder jet fighters as it seeks to deepen military cooperation with Beijing, state media said Thursday.

Rao Qamar Suleman, air chief marshal of the Pakistan Air Force, told the Global Times newspaper Chinese radar systems and SD-10 mid-range homing missiles would be used on the fighters co-developed by the two nations.

"PAF has no plans to install Western devices and weapons on the aircraft for the time being," the newspaper quoted Suleman as saying.

Pakistan may also buy up to four Chinese surface-to-air missiles, as it seeks stronger cooperation with China to help upgrade its armed forces, Suleman told the China Daily in a separate interview.

He made the remarks on the sidelines of the annual Zhuhai Air Show now under way in southern China.

Chinese defence experts played down the comments, saying any cooperation did not target any country and did not compare with deals adopted during a visit to India this month by US President Barack Obama, the China Daily said.

Among the deals struck during Obama's trip was a preliminary accord worth 4.1 billion dollars for India's air force to buy 10 C-17 transport aircraft from US aviation giant Boeing.

Pakistan had initially planned on arming its JF-17 fighters with missiles made by French firm Thales SA in a deal reportedly worth 1.2 billion euros (1.6 billion dollars).

But French officials confirmed to AFP in April the deal had been put on hold without explanation. The French daily Le Monde reported that it was cancelled to avoid damaging relations with Pakistan's nuclear rival India.

China is a strong ally of Pakistan and Islamabad draws heavily on Beijing for its defence and infrastructure needs.

Pakistan's air force has a fleet of Chinese aircraft, including F-7PGs and A-5s, but also US-built F-16s and French Mirages. The medium-tech JF-17 or Thunder jets, manufactured jointly with China, are a recent addition.

Indian Light Fighter Tejas LSP-5 makes first flight

Tejas, India’s Light Combat Aircraft, achieved an important milestone today when the fifth Limited Series Production (LSP-5) aircraft made first flight. LSP5 aircraft is the first LCA in the Operational Configuration for the Indian Air Force.

The LSP-5 was piloted by test pilot Lt Cdr Ankur Jain, from the Indian Navy. The aircraft took off at 1054 hours and achieved a max speed of 0.8 mach, 4G turns, and an altitude of 11 km during the 40 min flight.

LCA Tejas LSP-5The flight was uneventful and all systems functioned normally, clearing all the test points.

This is the culmination of the efforts of all the stakeholders viz., HAL, IAF, DRDO Labs, Defence PSUs, CEMILAC, DGAQA and Aeronautical Development Agency. This has been a great team effort to get the final standard aircraft in the flight line.

The LSP-5 first flight was directed by Wg Cdr Sreedharan Toffeen, Test Director. Gp Capt G Thomas, Chief Test Pilot of the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) piloted the chase aircraft.

Lockheed reassures India over F-16 fighter

NEW DELHI -- Lockheed Martin said it improved its version of the F16IN Super Viper on offer to India under the country's largest ever combat aircraft tender.

The corporation's tailor-made advanced F-16IN aircraft for the Indian air force has improved electronic scanned array radar, enhanced high-thrust engine and larger weapons inventory.

"The F-16 has a long history of operations around the world," Michael R. Griswold, director of advance development program at Lockheed Martin, told reporters. "The F-16 that we are offering here to India is by no means the end of the line of F-16s. In fact, it represents the beginning of what we think is great future for F-16 in India."

The F-16 Fighting Falcon, originally made by General Dynamics, first flew in 1974 and was inducted into the U.S. Air Force in 1978. In 1993, General Dynamics sold its aircraft manufacturing business to the Lockheed Corp., which became part of Lockheed Martin after a 1995 merger with Martin Marietta.

More than 4,400 of the F-16 aircraft have been built since production was approved in 1976. No units are sold in the United States any more but upgraded versions are available to export customers, such as India and Pakistan.

Air trials in India have finished for the most part and Lockheed also has shown additional features to the Indian air force during laboratory testing. "We had to provide new capability beyond what the F-16 block has," said Griswold.

Lockheed is one of six aircraft manufacturers chasing the $9.5 billion contract for 126 aircraft under the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Competition, known as the MRCA. Up to 20 of the first units will be purchased from overseas manufacturing bases. The rest of the planes must be produced in India through stringent technology transfer agreements.

Delivery will start within 36 months of contract signing and be completed 48 months later.

Also in the running for the MRCA are the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault-Rafale, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, Mikoyan MiG-35 and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

The acquisition is strategically important for India because of its aging jet-fighter fleet.

The air force attained 44 squadrons during the 1980s after acquiring Mirage 2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar aircraft. But many of the air force's older aircraft -- mostly MiG planes including MiG-21 units -- are obsolete with some not airworthy and others lost to accidents. As a result, the country has 32 squadrons, a worry for Indian defense officials as they believe the country's air superiority over Pakistan could be threatened.

The Indian air force phased out the MiG-23MF air-defense interceptor in 2007 and retirements of MiG-23BN ground-attack aircraft began in March 2009. The MiG-23s will be replaced by MRCA winner.

The F-16IN is based on the F-16E/F Block 60 version supplied to the United Arab Emirates and conformal fuel tanks, AN/APG-80 active electronically scanned array radar, GE F110-132A engine with 32,000 pounds of thrust and an electronic warfare suite with infra-red searching and helmet-mounted cueing system.

In April, during an interview in Dallas, Orville Prins, Lockheed's vice president of business development in India, praised the F-16IN version of the F-16 "I can assure you, the Super Viper is much more advanced in all aspects than the F-16s being given to Pakistan," he said.

AgustaWestland that it has been awarded a contract for nine T129 combat helicopters

AgustaWestland that it has been awarded a contract for nine T129 combat helicopters. The contract is valued at €150 million also including a spare parts package. The nine T129 helicopters will be assembled by Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI) and delivered by mid 2012 in a basic configuration, one year earlier of the 51 T129s already on order. This contract increases the total ordered by the Turkish Land Forces Command to 60. TAI is the Prime Contractor for the overall ATAK Programme, with ASELSAN as the supplier of avionics and mission equipments while AgustaWestland is acting as subcontractor to TAI. As the Prime Contractor of the ATAK Program, TAI is responsible for ensuring the T129 ATAK helicopter meets all the operational requirements of the Turkish Land Forces Command.

Ironic that while the rest of Europe disarms, Turkey is going full speed ahead. They have an original order for 100 F-35's and increased it by another 20. They have a huge ship building program going on (definitely under the radar but real) and the armed forces in general are sharpening their teeth on insurgents in Northern Iraq.

The Sixth Generation Fighter

The technologies are emerging, but what’s needed is a program to pull them together.

Within the next few years, we will begin work on the sixth generation [fighter] capabilities necessary for future air dominance.” The Secretary of the Air Force, Michael B. Donley, and the USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, issued that statement in an April 13 Washington Post article.

The Air Force may have to move a little faster to develop that next generation fighter. While anticipated F-22 and F-35 inventories seem settled, there won’t be enough to fix shortfalls in the fighter fleet over the next 20 years, as legacy fighters retire faster than fifth generation replacements appear.

The Air Force will have to answer a host of tough questions about the nature of the next fighter.

Should it provide a true “quantum leap” in capability, from fifth to sixth generation, or will some interim level of technology suffice? When will it have to appear? What kinds of fighters will potential adversaries be fielding in the next 20 years? And, if the program is delayed, will a defense industry with nothing to work on in the meantime lose its know-how to deliver the needed system?

What seems certain is that more is riding on the Air Force’s answers than just replacing worn-out combat aircraft.

Initial concept studies for what would become the F-22 began in the early 1980s, when production of the F-15 was just hitting its stride. It took 20 years to go from those concepts to initial operational capability. Industry leaders believe that it will probably take another 20 years to field a next generation fighter.

That may be late to need. By 2030, according to internal USAF analyses, the service could be as many as 971 aircraft short of its minimum required inventory of 2,250 fighters. That assumes that all planned F-35s are built and delivered on time and at a rate of at least 48 per year. The shortfall is due to the mandatory retirement of F-15s and F-16s that will have exceeded their service lives and may no longer be safe to fly.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has set the tone for the tactical aviation debate. He opposed the F-22 as being an expensive, “exquisite” solution to air combat requirements, and has put emphasis on the less costly F-35 Lightning II instead. He considers it exemplary of the kind of multirole platforms, applicable to a wide variety of uses, that he believes the US military should be buying in coming years. He and his technology managers have described this approach as the “75 percent” solution.

Gates has also forecast that a Russian fifth generation fighter will be operational in 2016—Russia says it will fly the fighter this year—and a Chinese version just four years later. Given that US legacy fighters are already matched or outclassed by “generation four-plus-plus” fighters, if Russia and China build their fifth generation fighters in large numbers, the US would be at a clear airpower disadvantage in the middle of the 2020s. That’s a distinct possibility, as both countries have openly stated their intentions to build world-class air fleets. If they do, the 75 percent solution fails.

What You See Is What You Get

The Air Force declined to offer official comment on the status of its sixth generation fighter efforts. Privately, senior leaders have said they have been waiting to see how the F-22 and F-35 issues sorted out before establishing a structured program for a next generation fighter.

The Air Force has a large classified budget, but it seems there is no “black” sixth generation fighter program waiting in the wings. A senior industry official, with long-term, intimate knowledge of classified efforts, said the F-22 wasn’t stopped at 187 aircraft because a secret, better fighter is nearly ready to be deployed. He said, “What you see is what you get.”

That opinion was borne out in interviews with the top aeronautic technologists of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, the three largest remaining US airframers. They said they were unaware of an official, dedicated Air Force sixth generation fighter program and are anxiously waiting to see what capabilities the service wants in such a fighter.

The possibilities for a sixth generation fighter seem almost the stuff of science fiction.

It would likely be far stealthier than even the fifth generation aircraft. It may be able to change its shape in flight, “morphing” to optimize for either speed or persistence, and its engines will likely be retunable in-flight for efficient supersonic cruise or subsonic loitering.

The sixth generation fighter will likely have directed energy weapons—high-powered microwaves and lasers for defense against incoming missiles or as offensive weapons themselves. Munitions would likely be of the “dial an effect” type, able to cause anything from impairment to destruction of an air or ground target.

Materials and microelectronics technologies would combine to make the aircraft a large integrated sensor, possibly eliminating the need for a nose radar as it is known today. It would be equipped for making cyber attacks as well as achieving kinetic effects, but would still have to be cost-effective to make, service, and modify.

Moreover, the rapid advancement of unmanned aircraft technologies could, in 20 years or so, make feasible production of an autonomous robotic fighter. However, that is considered less likely than the emergence of an uninhabited but remotely piloted aircraft with an off-board “crew,” possibly comprising many operators.

Not clear, yet, is whether the mission should be fulfilled by a single, multirole platform or a series of smaller, specialized aircraft, working in concert.

“I think this next round [of fighter development] is probably going to be dominated by ever-increasing amounts of command and control information,” said Paul K. Meyer, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Programs and Technology Division.

Meyer forecast that vast amounts of data will be available to the pilot, who may or may not be on board the aircraft. The pilot will see wide-ranging, intuitive views of “the extended world” around the aircraft, he noted. The aircraft will collect its own data and seamlessly fuse it with off-board sensors, including those on other aircraft. The difference from fifth generation will be the level of detail and certainty—the long-sought automatic target recognition.

Directed Energy Weapons

Embedded sensors and microelectronics will also make possible sensor arrays in “locations that previously weren’t available because of either heat or the curvature of the surface,” providing more powerful and comprehensive views of the battlefield, Meyer noted. Although the aircraft probably won’t be autonomous, he said, it will be able to “learn” and advise the pilot as to what actions to take—specifically, whether a target should be incapacitated temporarily, damaged, or destroyed.

Traditional electronics will probably give way to photonics, said Darryl W. Davis, president of Boeing’s advanced systems division.

“You could have fewer wires,” said Davis. “You’re on a multiplexed, fiber-optic bus ... that connects all the systems, and because you can do things at different wavelengths of light, you can move lots of data around airplanes much faster, with much less weight in terms of ... wire bundles.”

Fiber optics would also be resistant to jamming or spoofing of data and less prone to cyber attack.

A “digital wingman” could accompany the main fighter as an extra sensor-shooter smart enough to take verbal instructions, Meyer forecasted.

Directed energy weapons could play a big role in deciding how agile a sixth generation fighter would have to be, Meyer noted. “Speed of light” weapons, he added, could “negate” the importance of “the maneuverability we see in today’s fashionable fighters.” There won’t be time to maneuver away from a directed energy attack.

Pulse weapons could also fry an enemy aircraft’s systems—or those of a ground target. Based on what “we have seen and we make at Northrop Grumman,” Meyer said, “in the next 20 years ... that type of technology is going to be available.”

With an appropriate engine—possibly an auxiliary engine—on board to provide power for directed energy weapons, there could be an “unlimited magazine” of shots, Meyer said.

Hypersonics—that is, the ability of an air vehicle to travel at five times the speed of sound, or faster—has routinely been suggested as an attribute of sixth generation fighters, but the industry leaders are skeptical the capability will be ready in time.

While there have been some successes with experimental hypersonic propulsion, the total amount of true hypersonic flying time is less than 15 minutes, and the leap to an operational fighter in 20 years might be a leap too far.

“It entails a whole new range of materials development, due to ... sensors, fuzes, apertures, etc.,” Meyer noted, “all of which must operate in that intense heat environment at ... Mach 5-plus.”

Still, “it is indeed an option that we would consider” because targets will be fleeting and require quick, surgical strikes at great distances. However, such an approach would probably be incompatible with a loitering capability.

Davis said he thinks hypersonics “will start to show up in sixth generation,” but not initially as the platform’s power plant, but rather in the aircraft’s kinetic munitions.

“I think it will start with applications to weapons,” Davis said. And they may not necessarily be just weapons but “high-speed reconnaissance platforms for short missions on the way to the target.”

Because of the extreme speed of hypersonic platforms and especially directed energy weapons, Davis thinks it will be critical to have “persistent eyes on target” because speed-of-light weapons can’t be recalled “once you’ve pulled the trigger,” and even at hypersonic speed, a target may move before the weapon arrives. That would suggest a flotilla of stealthy drones or sensors positioned around the battlefield.

Not only will hypersonics require years more work, Davis said it must be combined with other, variable-cycle engines that will allow an aircraft to take off from sea level, climb to high altitude, and then engage a hypersonic engine. Those enabling propulsion elements are not necessarily near at hand in a single package.

The sixth generation fighter, whatever it turns out to be, will still be a machine and will need to be serviced, repaired, and modified, according to Neil Kacena, deputy director of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works advanced projects division. He is less confident that major systems such as radar will be embedded in the aircraft skin.

“If the radar doesn’t work, and now you have to take the wing off, ... then that may not be the technology that will find its way onto a sixth gen aircraft,” he said. In designing the next fighter, life cycle costs will be crucial, and so practical considerations will have to be accommodated.

Toward that end, he said, Lockheed Martin is working on new composite manufacturing techniques that use far fewer fasteners, less costly tooling, and therefore lower start-up and sustainment costs. It demonstrated those technologies recently on the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft program.

Given the anticipated capabilities of the Russian and Chinese fifth generation fighters, when will a sixth generation aircraft have to be available?

Davis said the Air Force and Navy, not industry, will have to decide how soon they need a new generation of fighters. However, “if the services are thinking they need something in 2020” when foreign fifth generation fighters could be proliferating in large numbers, “we’re going to have to do some things to our existing generation of platforms,” such as add the directed energy weapons or other enhancements.

Kacena agreed, saying that Lockheed Martin has “engaged with both services and supplied them data and our perspectives” about the next round of fighter development. If the need exists to make a true quantum leap, then sixth generation is the way to go, but, “if it’s driven by the reduction in force structure [and] ... the equipment is just getting old and worn out in that time frame, then [we] may very well be on a path of continuous improvement of fifth generation capabilities.” Lockheed Martin makes both the F-22 and F-35.

He said the company’s goal is to find the knee in the curve where “you get them the most bang for the buck without an 80 to 90 percent solution. Something that doesn’t take them beyond the nonlinear increase in cost.”

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance and a fighter pilot, said the next fighter generation may well have characteristics fundamentally different from any seen today, but he urged defense decision-makers to keep an open mind and not ignore hard-learned lessons from history.

Although great strides have been made in unmanned aircraft, said Deptula, “we have a long way to go to achieve the degree of 360-degree spherical situation awareness, rapid assimilation of information, and translation of that information into action that the human brain, linked with its on-site sensors, can accomplish.”

Numbers Count, Too

Despite rapid increases in computer processing power, it will be difficult for a machine to cope with “an infinite number of potential situations that are occurring in split seconds,” Deptula added, noting that, until such a capability is proved, “we will still require manned aircraft.”

It’s important to note that America’s potential adversaries will have access to nearly all the technologies now only resident with US forces, Deptula said. Thinking 20 to 30 years out, it will be necessary to invest properly to retain things US forces depend on, such as air superiority.

However, he warned not to put too much emphasis on technology, per se. “Just as precision air weapons and, to a certain degree, cyberspace are redefining our definition of mass in today’s fight, we have to be very wary of how quickly ‘mass’ in its classic sense can return in an era of mass-precision and mass-cyber capabilities for all.”

In other words, numbers count, and too few fighters, even if they are extremely advanced, are still too few.

Hanging over the sixth generation fighter debate is this stark fact: The relevant program should now be well under way, but it has not even been defined. If the Pentagon wants a sixth generation capability, it will have to demonstrate that intent, and soon. Industry needs that clear signal if it is to invest its own money in developing the technologies needed to make the sixth generation fighter come about.

Moreover, the sixth generation program is necessary to keep the US aerospace industry on the cutting edge. Unless it is challenged, if the “90 percent” solution is needed in the future, industry may not be able to answer the call.

Under Gates, Pentagon technology leaders have said they want to avoid cost and schedule problems by deferring development until technologies are more mature. Unfortunately, this safe and steady approach does not stimulate leap-ahead technologies.

Meyer said, “We need to have challenges to our innovative thoughts, our engineering talents, our technology integration and development that would ... push us ... to the point where industry has to perform beyond expectations.”

He noted that today’s F-35 is predicated on largely proven technologies and “affordability,” but it was the B-2 and F-22 programs that really paved the way for the systems that underpin modern air combat.

The B-2 bomber, he noted, “was a program of significant discovery,” because it involved a great deal of invention to meet required performance. The B-2 demanded “taking ... basic research and developing it in the early ... phases” of the program, which yielded nonfaceted stealth, enhanced range and payload, nuclear hardening, new antennas, radars, and flight controls.

Today, Meyer said, most programs are entering full-scale development only when they’ve reached a technology readiness level of six or higher (see chart).

“We probably had elements on the B-2 ... that were at four, and a lot at five,” Meyer said.

Programs such as the sixth generation fighter “are the ones we relish because they make us think, they make us take risks that we wouldn’t normally take, and in taking on those risks we’ve discovered the new technologies that have made our industry great,” he asserted.

Davis said that other countries are going to school on the US fighter industry and taking its lessons to heart.

“We still think you have to build things—fly them and test them—in order to know what works and what doesn’t,” said Davis. “And, at some point, if you don’t do that, just do it theoretically, it doesn’t get you where you need to be.”

He added, “If we don’t continue to move forward, they will catch us.”

Fighter Generations

The definition of fighter generations has long been subject to debate. However, most agree that the generations break down along these broad lines:

Generation 1: Jet propulsion (F-80, German Me 262).

Generation 2: Swept wings; range-only radar; infrared missiles (F-86, MiG-15).

Generation 3: Supersonic speed; pulse radar; able to shoot at targets beyond visual range (“Century Series” fighters such as F-105; F-4; MiG-17; MiG-21).

Generation 4: Pulse-doppler radar; high maneuverability; look-down, shoot-down missiles (F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000, MiG-29).

Generation 4+: High agility; sensor fusion; reduced signatures (Eurofighter Typhoon, Su-30, advanced versions of F-16 and F/A-18, Rafale).

Generation 4++: Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or some “active” (waveform canceling) stealth; some supercruise (Su-35, F-15SE).

Generation 5: All-aspect stealth with internal weapons, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise (F-22, F-35).

Potential Generation 6: extreme stealth; efficient in all flight regimes (subsonic to multi-Mach); possible “morphing” capability; smart skins; highly networked; extremely sensitive sensors; optionally manned; directed energy weapons.

Technology Readiness Levels

Pentagon leaders now seek to reduce weapon risks and costs by deferring production until technologies are mature. Pentagon technology readiness levels—TRLs—are defined as follows:

TRL 1: Basic principles observed and reported. Earliest transition from basic scientific research to applied research and development. Paper studies of a technology’s basic properties.

TRL 2: Invention begins; practical applications developed. No proof or detailed analysis yet.

TRL 3: Active R&D begins. Analytical and lab studies to validate predictions. Components not yet integrated.

TRL 4: Basic elements are shown to work together in a “breadboard,” or lab setting.

TRL 5: Fidelity of demonstrations rises. Basic pieces are integrated in a somewhat realistic way. Can be tested in a simulated environment.

TRL 6: Representative model or prototype. A major step up in readiness for use. Possible field tests.

TRL 7: Prototype of system in operational environment is demonstrated—test bed aircraft, for example.

TRL 8: Final form of the technology is proved to work. Usually the end of system development. Weapon is tested in its final form.

TRL 9: Field use of the technology in its final form, under realistic conditions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lockheed Martin F-35 Begins Flying Block 1 Software

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md: The fundamental building block for all future avionics software on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter has entered flight testing on an F-35 test jet.

"Block 1," the first of three principal software-development blocks for the F-35's mission systems, made its inaugural flight on Nov. 5 in the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft known as BF-4. The functional check flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River lasted 1.5 hours, and all planned test points were accomplished.

"Getting this software up and flying in an F-35 is a big step in the process of validating our avionics system and ensuring that it operates in a way that gives our warfighters a clear advantage over any adversary," said Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin F-35 program general manager. "The flight went as planned, and we look forward to expanded mission systems testing in the coming months."

The Block 1 software will enable most of the primary sensors on the F-35, which possesses the most powerful and comprehensive mission systems package of any fighter ever to fly. Block 1 forms the foundation of all subsequent software blocks. It enables information fusion from the F-35's radar, electronic warfare system, distributed aperture system, electro-optical targeting system and other sensors, and provides initial weapons-release capability.

Block 1 has been undergoing airborne testing since May on the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, a highly modified 737 airliner that incorporates the entire integrated F-35 mission systems suite, including an F-35 cockpit. The test bed provides initial in-flight validation for F-35 software blocks before they are introduced into actual F-35 aircraft.

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.

Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Two interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 133,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation's 2009 sales from continuing operations were $44.0 billion.

CRUZEX V: Airmen share ideas, best practices in multi-national exercise

NATAL AIR BASE, Brazil: More than 145 Colorado Air National Guard Airmen are taking part in the fifth annual Brazilian-led exercise CRUZEX, in Natal, Brazil, Nov. 8 through Nov. 18.

CRUZEX V, or Cruzeiro Do Sul (Southern Cross), is a multinational, combined exercise involving the air forces of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France and Uruguay and includes more than 82 aircraft and almost 3,000 Airmen. Observers from several other countries also are there.

To support the exercise, Air Guardsmen from the 140th Wing at Buckley Field, Colo., deployed to maintain, plan and fly sorties of six F-16 Fighting Falcons alongside their multi-national counterparts.

"It has been terrific working with the other forces," said Brig. Gen. Trulan A. Eyre, the 140th Wg commander and exercise co-director. "We are all working together and we have enjoyed every minute of it."

The two-week exercise focuses on building strong partnerships with airmen from across Latin America and France while ensuring they are prepared to assist the international community as part of UN-type coalition efforts.

"It is about partnership building," General Eyre said. "A unique aspect of the Air National Guard is that we have partnerships all around the world. It is an absolutely fascinating opportunity for the (140th Wg) to expound our horizons a little bit beyond our partners of Slovenia and Jordan and deploy to Brazil."

He said the most important aspect of the deployment is the opportunity for U.S. Airmen to meet others from around the world.

"(The airmen from the different countries) have done stuff that we have never done before, and we have done stuff that they have never done before, so we can share those experiences and learn better techniques to accomplish our unique missions," General Eyre said. "Any time you get to work with coalition partners, it is a great time to learn from them. However, we aren't down here to teach, although we will when we are called upon to do so. We are down here to learn."

This learning and sharing of ideas built and solidified bonds between the participating countries, opening communication channels that didn't exist before, General Eyre said.

"We now have personal contacts with the participating countries," he said. "If another partner country is in need, we now have face-to-face contacts with (representatives) from these countries, people who we may ask for help or who may ask us for help. We now have the type of partnership that whatever is needed, we will be there to support each other."

The general also expressed his gratitude that 140th Wg Airmen were able participate in the exercise.

"The host-nation hospitality has been wonderful," he said. "We appreciate being asked to participate in this exercise, and we would very much like to participate in future exercises."

Sukhoi Conducts Flight Tests of Su-34 Fighter Bombers

MOSCOW: Sukhoi Company conducts flight tests of serial Su-34 fighter bombers at the Chkalov Aviation Production Association (NAPO) flight testing station in Novosibirsk. Serial production of the Su-34 has been set up at the NAPO plant, which is a part of the Sukhoi holding company.

The Russian Air Force already has in service several Su-34s. Another consignment of such planes is due by the end of the year.

In 2008 a state contract was signed with the government to supply the Russian Defense Ministry with Su-34 serial-production aircraft.

The Su-34 can effectively attack land-based, sea- and airborne targets by day and night in all weathers using the entire suite of its airborne munitions, including high-precision types. In terms of operational capabilities this is a 4+ aircraft. Its active safety system, along with the newest computers, provides extra capabilities for the pilot and navigator to perform aimed bombing and to maneuver under enemy fire.

The excellent aerodynamics, large capacity internal fuel tanks, fuel-efficient bypass engines with a digital control system, in-flight refueling device and add-on fuel tanks enable the aircraft to fly long distances close to those of medium strategic bombers.

The aircraft features an outstanding flight performance, maintainability and maneuverability. It has long-range aiming systems and modern onboard devices for communications and information exchange with on-land control posts, ground troops, surface ships and in-flight aircraft. It is fitted with a smart anti-radar defense system. The Su-34 has a sophisticated survival system, including an armored cockpit. The aircraft can perform missions at a low altitude in by-pass and fly-by modes.

Last July Su-34s proved their high combat capabilities and flight performance at the Vostok-2010 military exercises. The aircraft successfully hit mock targets in the Russian Far East after flying non-stop all the way from a base in the European part of Russia. The mission involved a mid-air refueling operation.

Su-34's combat potential will be enhanced soon by new airborne munitions.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Russia sends 3rd AWACS plane to India

Russia has completed its part of a contract on the delivery of A-50 Mainstay AWACS aircraft to India, a Russian aircraft industry official said.

India ordered three A-50EI variants, developed on the basis of the Russian Il-76MD military transport plane and fitted with the Israeli-made Phalcon radar system, in 2004. The first two aircraft are already in service with the Indian air force (IAF).

"We have finished retrofitting a [third] transport plane for special tasks, and sent it to Israel in October to be fitted with electronic equipment for future delivery to India," a spokesman for the Taganrog-based Beriyev aircraft center said on Wednesday.

In many aspects, the A-50 is comparable to the E-3 Sentry of the U.S. Air Force. It is fitted with an aerial refueling system and electronic warfare equipment, and can detect targets up to 400 km (250 miles) away.

According to the Indian media, the IAF could order two more A-50 planes from Russia and Israel in the future.

In addition to the Russian A-50 aircraft, India has purchased eight Boeing P-81 long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft from the United States, and signed a deal with Brazil to jointly integrate domestically developed AWACS systems onto three Brazilian-made Embraer-145 aircraft to be later commissioned with the Indian air force.

Buy a fighter for war, not air shows

Tomorrow's IAF must be a comprehensively 5th Generation force, using custom-designed aircraft for specific operational tasks

A firestorm of criticism from hundreds of indignant netizens followed my last column (“Scrap the MMRCA, buy US F-35s”), which argued that the Indian Air Force is blundering in buying a 4th Generation Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) just a couple of years before Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter enters operational service. Given that the IAF will operate its 126 MMRCAs till about 2050, anything short of today’s cutting edge would become irrelevant long before that.

Broadly speaking, the critics’ arguments were: the F-35 is not designed as a high-speed fighter (true); its primary role is striking ground targets and is, therefore, merely a “bomb truck” (Churchill might have said: “ Some truck! Some bombs!!”); the F-35 is many years away from operational readiness (false); it is too expensive (depends on how you calculate); and, of course, the unsurprising, “Goddamit! We can’t trust the Yanks.”

Since my previous 900-word article could hardly cover all corners of this $10-billion question, I shall stay on this subject this week and outline the military realities and doctrinal issues that must shape the IAF’s decision.

What are India’s foreseeable security threats and how must the IAF respond? While Pakistan remains a lingering hangover, especially in its embrace of cross-border terrorism, it is diminishing as a full-blown military threat to India. The IAF’s most likely missions against Pakistan centre on air-to-ground strikes: punitive raids against terrorist camps or ISI locations, perhaps in retaliation for yet another terrorist outrage; or pre-emptive strikes against Pakistani ballistic missiles when a nuclear launch against India seems imminent.

A devastating ground strike capability is also primary for contingencies on the China border. With Beijing relentlessly developing roads and railways to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already built, and is increasing, the ability to amass an invading force faster than the Indian Army can rush in troops to defend the threatened area. With an attack imminent, or some Indian territory already captured, New Delhi’s immediate response will inevitably centre on air strikes against PLA forward troops and the routes on which their logistics — ammunition, fuel, food, water and medical care — depend. In the 1962 debacle, one of New Delhi’s most unforgivable, and inexplicable, blunders was to abjure the use of air power. This time around, as evident from the rapid creation of IAF infrastructure along the China border, India’s first response will be with air strikes.

Given these requirements, it is evident that the IAF needs powerful ground strike capabilities. But the fighter pilots who dominate the pinnacle of the IAF (and every other air force) have a special fascination for “air supremacy fighters”, those glamorous machines that incestuously dogfight with enemy fighters during war and mesmerise air-show audiences with aerobatics during peace. The IAF has traditionally focused less on enemy ground troops and more on that fighter-jock ambition, shooting down enemy fighters in air-to-air duels. The Indian Army has long remonstrated with the IAF over the latter’s airy neglect (pun unintentional) of the crucial ground war.

The MMRCA procurement reflects this bias: the IAF’s tender emphasises air-to-air combat capabilities — speed, rate of climb, turn rate, etc. — with ground strike capability a mere side benefit. Already deficient in air-to-ground strike power, the IAF’s two major fighters under development — the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) — are primarily air supremacy fighters. The third fighter in the pipeline, the MMRCA, cannot share the same bloodline. Instead, procuring a top-notch strike aircraft — and the F-35 is the undisputed king of this realm — will equip the IAF to contribute to the war effort where it matters the most.

To mask its ideological proclivity for air superiority fighters, the IAF argues that the “multi-role” MMRCA can also strike enemy ground forces. Strike it can, but nowhere as effectively as the F-35, which is designed ground-up for this role. To use an athletics analogy, decathletes hurl the discus, throw the javelin, and also sprint 100 metres. None of them, however, achieve world standards in each of these events.

The army has not forgotten the IAF’s irrelevance during the Kargil conflict. When IAF fighters should have been supporting assaulting infantry by hammering Pakistani positions with air strikes, fire support came almost exclusively from the army’s own guns. Meanwhile, the IAF was searching for a way to equip its Mirage-2000s (an MMRCA!) to deliver bombs accurately onto mountaintops. Without a world-class, customised strike fighter like the F-35, this sorry saga could be replayed some day on the Sino-Indian border.

Another argument fallaciously made, against the F-35, is that its design — optimised for ground strike — renders it vulnerable to predatory enemy fighters. In fact, owing to its stealth capabilities, US Air Force combat simulations have found the F-35 the equal in air-to-air combat of four fighters of the 4th Generation, which the IAF is now procuring.

Finally, New Delhi must be clearer about its threats and opportunities. The US sale of F-35s to Israel, and its willingness to condone the retro-fitment of Israeli avionics and weaponry illustrate Washington’s strategy of building up clearly friendly countries against clear long-term threats. Just as it is supporting the creation of capabilities against Iran’s nuclear programme, the US will equally facilitate capabilities against China’s growing militarism. Furthermore, an F-35 procurement by India would dramatically dissipate the suspicions that currently dog US-India defence relations.

But the basic argument for the F-35 remains Indian self-interest. Tomorrow’s IAF must be a comprehensively 5th Generation force, using custom-designed aircraft for specific operational tasks. In the US Air Force, the F-22 Raptor obtains air superiority; meanwhile, US ground forces are supported by the F-35 joint strike fighter. The IAF cannot fall short on either of these counts. With the 5th Generation FGFA, an air superiority fighter, perhaps a decade away, the IAF must obtain a war-winning advantage from a matching strike fighter: the F-35.

Transport fleet woes force IAF to look West

BANGALORE: Hampered by the lack of spare parts and serviceability issues, India is increasingly looking West for its military transport aircraft fleet, even as it beefs up its presence along its borders.

The military is currently served by two squadrons of the IL-76, its flagship transport aircraft, and little over a 100 medium-range airlifters, the AN-32. Even as its northern neighbours, China and Pakistan, step up their aggressive posturing, the country is facing a serious shortfall of airlifters.

“We need to have more aircraft, considering the amount of troop movement that is happening, and more importantly, those expected to take place at our borders. While we do have the IL-76 and the AN-32, it may not be enough,” air marshal (retd) BU Chengappa pointed out.

The serviceability of the IL-76 has also been called into question. Since the aircraft is manufactured in Uzbekistan , there is a constant lack of spare parts, adding to IAF woes. “The spares availability of the IL-76 is not good. We have to get them from Russia , and that takes a lot of time, and additionally, they are not easily available. Secondly, it is not economically viable to set up an overhauling facility for the IL-76 in India. So, it is not the best situation to be in,” Mr Chengappa said.

Over the last two years, New Delhi has been increasing its military presence along its borders with China and Pakistan, with several underutilised airfields in the process of being upgraded.

“The Rs 1,000-crore Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure plan has been formulated to ensure that a huge number of IAF bases are equipped to handle not just the Sukhoi-30 MKI combat aircraft, but also our transport aircraft,” said air commodore (retd) Jasjit Singh, who heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Air Studies, a major think tank for the IAF.

Since 2001, the Chinese have been putting finishing touches on their version of the Lockheed Martin C-130 J, the Shaanxi Y-9, while rumour also abound that it plans to start manufacturing a 200-tonne airlifter, based on the IL-76 design.

India’s refusal to sign three strategic agreements with the United States could see it receiving its muchrequired military transport aircraft from the US, shorn of critical electronic systems, a situation that could hamper its border defences. The six Lockheed Martin C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft purchased by the country in 2008, and to be delivered in January 2011, will be delivered without, roughly, five communication interfaces, due to the country refusing to sign the agreements.

New Delhi’s position, shaped largely by the hardball stand adopted by the IAF, has found a great deal of support amongst the country’s defence personnel and analysts, who argue that the strategic agreements, Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), infringe on its military sovereignty.