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16 Jul 20. Leonardo stays bullish on Puma replacement despite UK’s high-speed helicopter interest. Leonardo Helicopters’ UK arm believes it can still play a part in the replacement of the Royal Air Force’s Puma HC2 fleet, despite signaling that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is keen to look at high-speed designs in the future.
With the fleet of medium-lift Puma transports due for retirement in 2025, Leonardo Helicopters has previously proposed the 9t-class AW149 as a replacement, promising final assembly would be located at its Yeovil facility in southwest England.
But on 14 July, minister for the armed forces James Heapney signed a broad modernisation co-operation agreement with US secretary of state for the army Ryan McCarthy.
Included within that is confirmation of the UK’s interest in Washington’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme, to create “closer affiliation in the development of helicopter capability”.
The UK was already known to be one of several nations with observer status in FVL, but this is the first time the MoD has directly referenced its interest.
Although there have been suggestions that the Puma’s out-of-service date could be extended, the first examples of the medium-class Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) – one of two separate developments within FVL – are not due to enter service with the US Army until 2030 at the earliest.
Leonardo Helicopters UK, whose Westland predecessor built the Pumas, believes it would be hard to further postpone the retirement of what is already “a 50-year-old aircraft”.
The airframer says it is “aware of the UK MoD’s review of a future medium-lift capability”, but stresses that as the country’s “only onshore OEM” it is “well placed” to support the options being explored.
Puma fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2025
“Leonardo is continuing to invest in future skills and technologies especially related to unmanned air systems and future fast rotorcraft,” it says, pointing to its “strategic partnering arrangement” with the MoD.
Describing the AW149 as an “established capability” within its portfolio, it says the helicopter would help address the UK’s “short- [to-] medium-term requirements for a medium multi-role platform”.
“[The AW149] could be an ideal solution for the UK – not just from a capability perspective, but also the value to UK Plc in support of ‘Build Back Better’,” – a reference to the government’s coronavirus economic recovery plan.
“The AW149 fits the bill as a cost-effective, proven single-type multi-mission medium-role helicopter,” Leonardo Helicopters says.
To date, only the Royal Thai Army has ordered the AW149, although there have been reports that Egypt is also negotiating a deal for around 20 examples.
Previously UK defence officials have evaluated the possibility of extending the Puma’s service life to 2035, to coincide with that of the Royal Navy’s AW101 Merlins in 2035, enabling both types to be replaced with a common platform.
The US Army has two active programmes under the FVL initiative, each with two contenders. FLRAA is a contest between the Bell V-280 Valor and Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant to build a replacement for the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. Meanwhile, Bell’s 360 Invictus is competing against Sikorsky’s Raider X for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft armed scout helicopter requirement. (Source: News Now/Flight Global)
10 Jul 20. Spain to receive new Eurofighters under Project ‘Halcon.’ Spain is set to receive new Eurofighter combat aircraft to augment its existing fleet and to begin the process of replacing its Boeing EF-18 Hornet fleet. The proposed deal that the government is currently negotiating with Airbus, announced on 9 July, will involve an initial 20 Eurofighters being delivered to the Spanish Air Force (Ejército del Aire Español [EdAE]) to replace Hornets based on the Canary Islands.
The deal, which Airbus told Janes is expected to be signed in 2021, would be the first part of a wider plan to retire the service’s Hornets with the latest-standard Eurofighters between 2025 and 2030, dubbed Project ‘Halcon’ (Falcon).
As previously described to Janes, these Tranche 3+/Tranche 4 Eurofighters (company officials have used both designations) would be of the latest Tranche 3 standard, and will also feature an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and other modifications. For Spain, the AESA would be ‘Radar 1’, development of which is being led by Hensoldt and Indra.
This new Eurofighter procurement and the retirement of the Hornets is part of a wider modernisation plan for the EdAE’s combat fleet that is called Road Map 2035++.
The EdAE currently fields 73 Eurofighters, comprising 19 Tranche 1, 34 Tranche 2, and 20 Tranche 3 aircraft, as well as 91 EF-18A and EF-18B Hornets. The Road Map 2035++ seeks to manage these fleets out to, and beyond, the introduction of the New-Generation Fighter that Spain is to develop alongside France and Germany as part of the wider Future Combat Air System (FCAS). (Source: Jane’s)
17 Jul 20. US Army releases draft RFP for Bradley vehicle replacement. The U.S. Army on Friday issued a draft request for proposals for the preliminary design phase of its delayed optionally manned fighting vehicle, or OMFV, the first major step in a relaunched competition to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
The preliminary phase will be open for 40 days, with the goal of gathering industry feedback ahead of the final RFP, which will come later this year. That final RFP will award of up to five design contracts in June 2021, setting the next stage in the competition.
“As we continue to progress through the first phase of our five-phased approach for the OMFV program, communication, inclusive feedback and innovative thinking from industry remains key,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, the Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to receiving feedback and learning from industry what’s in the realm of the possible as we continue to develop this truly transformational vehicle for our Soldiers.”
Added Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team: “Accurately defining the desired set of capabilities without over-constraining the design is critically important.
“The Army is committed to open communication with industry to ensure the characteristics and eventual requirements of the OMFV are informed by technological advances.”
The focus on gathering industry feedback should not be a surprise, given the recent history of the program. When the OMFV program was conceived, the Army planned to hold a prototyping competition, selecting two winning teams to build prototypes with a downselect to one at the end of an evaluation period.
But in October, the Army ended up with only one bidder in the OMFV competition — General Dynamics Land Systems — after other competitors dropped out, citing requirements and schedule concerns.
As a result, the Army in January announced it would be relaunching the program to ensure more competition going forward — a decision that led to service leaders taking heat from Congress during testimony in March. OMFV is the first large acquisition effort to come out of Army Futures Command.
The draft RFP, posted on a government contracting website Friday, drives home the point by stating: “To permit industry design freedom and promote innovation, the Army has avoided quantifying or prescribing critical levels of performance wherever possible.”
“We do not want to box industry into a solution,” Cummings said. “We want to incentivize industry as they lean forward and think creatively to bring the Army innovative technologies and solutions necessary to achieve our vision — both in terms of the ability to integrate newer technology we are seeing today and leaving space for future growth on the OMFV platform.” (Source: Defense News)
15 Jul 20. US Army eyeing ways to enhance soldier lethality portfolio. The US Army is looking for new technologies that will bolster the performance of an array of small arms and associated soldier equipment, and is seeking industry input.
In mid-July the service announced that the Project Manager for Soldier Lethality is launching an innovative designs and engineering assessment effort for vendor feedback on “new, innovative, enabling technologies”. Specifically, the army wants technology suggestions on how to improve its portfolio of small and medium calibre weapons, its future 6.8 mm Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSWs), fire control, optics, binoculars, remote weapons stations, suppressors, powered rails, barrel life enhancements, externally powered systems, recoilless rifles, and ammunition.
“These technologies will be used for experimentation, technical evaluation, and/or assessment of operational utility focused on enhancing system performance, sustainment, and/or training,” according to an army announcement. “This information will advise/inform future requirements that would potentially serve as new or replacement systems, complimentary systems or be integrated into existing systems.” (Source: Jane’s)
14 Jul 20. Boeing lands the first order of the F-15EX. The Air Force has officially placed an order for its first batch of F-15EXs, awarding Boeing a contract on Monday that puts a ceiling value for the entire program close to $23bn. The first delivery order, which has a not-to-exceed value of about $1.2bn, covers the first lot of eight F-15EX fighter jets, as well as support and one-time, upfront engineering costs.
The contract award is a massive win for Boeing and gives a second life for the F-15 production line in St. Louis, Mo. After years of urging the Air Force to consider an advanced version of the F-15 as a complementary capability to Lockheed Martin’s F-35, Boeing found an ally in the Defense Department’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, which in 2019 forced the service to purchase F-15EX planes in order to build capacity.
Although Air Force leaders at the time said that the service would have preferred funds to buy additional fifth generation planes like the F-35, officials now say that buying new F-15s is the quickest path for replacing aging Air National Guard F-15C/Ds that are reaching the end of their service lives.
“The F-15EX is the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets,” Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, said in a statement. “The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line.”
The first two F-15EX aircraft are already being manufactured and will roll off the production line early next year, the company said in a news release. They will initially be based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for testing, with the remaining six aircraft set to be delivered to the base in fiscal year 2023, the Air Force said.
Along with the first eight F-15EXs, which were approved in the fiscal year 2020 budget, the Air Force has requested 12 F-15EXs in FY21 and plans to ask for 64 jets from FY22 to FY25. The service could buy as many as 144 aircraft, according to Boeing.
The Air Force has not decided which bases will be the first to receive F-15EX jets, with the service adding in its news release that “the Strategic Basing Process is in work to determine the fielding locations for subsequent aircraft lots.”
The F-15EX will be a two-seat jet with fly-by-wire controls, the new Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System electronic warfare system, an advanced cockpit, and new mission systems. But according to the Air Force, the most significant upgrade comes in the form of an open mission systems architecture that will allow the service to more rapidly update the F-15′s software.
Another major advantage of purchasing additional F-15s is the aircraft’s payload capacity, which will allow it to carry and launch hypersonic missiles at standoff distances.
“The F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15 ever built, due in large part to its digital backbone,” said Lori Schneider, Boeing F-15EX program manager. “Its unmatched range, price and best-in-class payload capacity make the F-15EX an attractive choice for the U.S. Air Force.”
Monday’s announcement follows a firm, fixed-price contract worth up to $101m that was awarded to General Electric in late June for the first lot of F-15EX engines. Under the contract, GE will provide “F110-GE-129 engines, including installs and spares, and modernized engine monitoring system computers,” the department stated. (Source: Defense News)
11 Jul 20. DoD hands out $84m in recovery funds for small drone makers and a space firm. The U.S. Department of Defense announced Friday it is issuing $84.4m in funding through the Defense Production Act to small unmanned technology, space and shipbuilding companies.
The money, divided among seven different companies, will be used to “sustain and strengthen essential domestic industrial base capabilities,” per a Pentagon announcement. “These actions will help to retain critical workforce capabilities throughout the disruption caused by COVID-19 and to restore some jobs lost because of the pandemic.”
The Defense Production Act has been in the spotlight in recent months, as it’s served as a central tool in attempts by the Trump administration to increase production of personal protective equipment to combat the spread of the coronavirus, something critics say the administration was too slow to implement.
Title III of the DPA gives the department the opportunity to fund what it sees as critical suppliers of the defense industry who might otherwise be at risk of closing. Although those authorities have been on the books for years, the department became more serious about using them following a 2018 landmark study of the defense industrial base that identified a number of sectors where small companies that provide key parts for America’s arsenal could go out of business.
The undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, Ellen Lord, previously identified shipbuilding, aviation and the small space sector as three areas that are suffering under the economic impacts from COVID-19. She has said her office will keep an eye on those sectors. That seems to have played out in the Pentagon’s announcement about the $84.4 m in funding.
Of the funding, $13.4m went to five small unmanned systems companies. Funding was authorized and appropriated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and awarded through the Defense Innovation Unit — the Silicon Valley technology hub for the Pentagon. The department claims the funding “saved 14 jobs, created 20 new positions, and will support continued advancement of capabilities providing the companies additional paths for recurring revenue.”
Even before the economic damage from COVID-19, the department had identified small UAS manufacturers as a sector that needs to grow. Included in this latest funding are:
- AirMap, in Santa Monica, California, which received $3.3m. The money will “aid product development and engineering support for integration of sUAS mission planning, post-mission analysis, and unmanned traffic management software.”
- ModalAI, of San Diego, California, which received $3m to “develop their next generation U.S.-made flight controller that will enable advanced autonomy including GPS-denied navigation, and all-environment obstacle avoidance.”
- Skydio, in Redwood City, California, which received $4m to “improve the flight controller hardware/software and data link for their sUAS so that highly capable components can be purchased and used across U.S. Government unmanned systems.”
- Graffiti Enterprises, located in Somerset, New Jersey, which was given $1.5m to “modify their commercial data link for DoD’s sUAS use including operation in restricted frequency bands, reduction in the size, weight, and power of the hardware, and software developments to improve security and resiliency of their data link.”
- Obsidian Sensors, from San Diego, California, which received $1.6m to build a “low-cost, dual thermal sUAS camera that can be mounted onto a stabilization gimbal and then integrated and flown on small, packable, ISR systems.”
In addition, the Pentagon awarded $15m to LeoLabs, based in Menlo Park, California, to “ensure the continued viability of space surveillance capability through the operation and maintenance of a world-wide highly capable phased-array radar network.” The department said LeoLabs is the only domestic commercial supplier with the capability to meet requirements in this area.
Last month, the Space Force invoked the DPA to get funding for six small space companies that were considered at risk, before it reversed those awards two weeks later.
While those are all fairly small technology firms, the biggest dollar amount awarded was $56m for ArcelorMittal Inc., a steel and mining company based in Chicago, Illinois. The funding, also from the coronavirus relief package, will be used to “protect” jobs impacted by the pandemic that are critical to military shipbuilding.
Specifically, the investment will “expand ArcelorMittal’s plate processing footprint and heat-treating capability, subsequently increasing its alloy steel plate production and ensure the U.S. Government gets dedicated long-term industrial capacity to meet the needs of the nation,” per the department. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
10 Jul 20. US Air Force considers adopting the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program. The U.S. Air Force is keeping an eye on the Army’s next-generation rotorcraft program, which could fill a gap for agile airlift that might be needed in a fight against Russia and China, an Air Force general said Thursday.
With its large air bases vulnerable to attacks from a near-peer adversary, there’s no guarantee that the Air Force will be able to rely on its current processes or equipment to transfer supplies in and out of air bases. In a war with China or Russia, the U.S. Air Force would distribute its assets to bases owned by allies and partners, cutting down the threat to aircraft usually located at the service’s large installations.
But that poses a problem for rapidly transporting materiel like spare parts and maintenance equipment to more austere locations in a time of war, said Lt. Gen. Warren Berry, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection.
“We know we’re going to have to get after some other things that might be a different way of doing distribution and lift,” he said during a July 9 event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “It might be a different way of doing airfield recovery. It might be different equipment that’s lighter and leaner that allows us to set up in a more expeditious manner with less fuel.”
“Agility Prime is certainly one [option],” he said, referring to an ongoing Air Force effort to tap into the emerging commercial market for “flying cars” — basically, experimental transport aircraft that the service could use for logistics, search and rescue, or shuttling troops to remote locations.
Another option is the Army’s future vertical lift effort, or FVL, Berry said. “That’s something that we’ll certainly look at, but we know that we need to do lift in a different way.”
The Army intends to break FVL into multiple programs, which could give the Air Force multiple aircraft to pick from if it decides to buy in. The future long-range assault aircraft will replace the UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter and is planned to be fielded in 2030. As part of the Army’s risk-reduction effort, Bell Helicopter is developing its V-280 Valor, while a Sikorsky-Boeing team is working on its own SB-1 Defiant aircraft.
The future attack reconnaissance aircraft would fill an existing capability gap, accomplishing the reconnaissance missions that have been performed by AH-64E Apaches teamed with Shadow drones following the retirement of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior in 2017. It’s currently on track to be fielded in 2028, with Sikorsky and Bell chosen to build prototypes.
Aside from closely watching the Army’s FVL effort, the Air Force is also engaging with the Army-led Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office on ways to defend U.S. bases against small drones, Berry said.
“That’s going to be a demand signal on this force moving forward that we’re going to have to really think through and make sure that we have them [airmen] resourced appropriately to execute that part of the air base air defense mission as well,” he said.
In June, the office rolled out a plan for the Defense Department to consolidate its counter-UAS technologies from about 40 systems to a total of eight. The approved systems were chosen after an Army-led assessment and included fixed, mounted and dismounted solutions. An Air Force system known as Negation of Improvised Non-State Joint Aerial-Threats, or NINJA — which jams radio signals between the UAS and its operator — was among those selected.
“Our goal is to align existing and future counter-UAS technology solutions to best address operational needs while applying resources more efficiently,” said Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, the office’s director.
Berry said that the Air Force has embedded some of its personnel within the counter-UAS office to stay synchronized with the Army’s efforts. “So far we’re happy with where it is and where it’s going,” he said. (Source: Defense News)
REST OF THE WORLD
13 Jul 20. Philippines DND seeks T129 ‘guarantees’ from Turkey. The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) has said it still wants to procure the T129 ATAK helicopter from Turkish Aerospace (TA), but that it will seek guarantees from Turkey about the platform’s export availability. The Philippine Air Force’s (PAF’s) technical working group originally selected the T129 for its attack helicopter programme in late 2018. Since then, the sale of the platform to the PAF has been delayed due to US sales restrictions on the T129’s US-made LHTEC CTS800-4A engine.
The Philippines DND has reaffirmed its plan to procure the T129 ATAK combat helicopter from Turkish Aerospace (TA). (TA)
These restrictions are linked to Ankara’s decision to procure the S-400 Triumf air-defence system from Russia. The US perceived this decision a breach of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Arsenio Andolong, the DND’s chief of public affairs, told Janes on 13 July that the DND retained an intention to procure the T129 platform despite complications with Turkey’s ability to export the helicopter.
“The DND will push through with the acquisition of the T129 ATAK offered by Turkish Aerospace,” said Andolong, adding, “We will require [Turkey] to commit to certain guarantees before proceeding with the acquisition.” Andolong said the required guarantees would be in response to concerns in Manila over the export-availability of the platform.
Andolong’s comments follow a reported decision by the PAF’s technical working group in June to discontinue efforts to procure the T129 in favour of an attack helicopter platform from the United States.
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13 Jul 20. Philippine Navy pushes corvette purchase plan to RAFPMP’s Horizon 3. The Philippine Navy’s (PN) corvette acquisition plan has been moved to Horizon 3 of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program (RAFPMP). The country is purchasing two missile-armed corvettes under the PHP30bn ($0.6bn) Corvette Acquisition Program (CAP) according to the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted by PNA as saying: “The acquisition of the corvette(s) is still being considered, albeit on a later date after our economy recovers from this (coronavirus) pandemic.
Under the CAP, the PN aims to procure heavily-armed and capable platforms. Two Jose Rizal-class missile frigates are currently being introduced in service with the country’s navy.
Having started in 2018, Horizon 2 is expected to end in 2022.
Horizon 3 is scheduled to commence in 2023 and will run until 2028. It will involve the acquisition of additional equipment and platforms.
Under Horizon 1, which ran from 2013 to 2017, the navy acquired two Hamilton-class cutters, six MPACs, 114 armoured personnel carriers, three C-295 aircraft, two C-130 heavy transport planes, five AgustaWestland AW-109 helicopters, and 12 South Korean FA-50PH jet fighters.
The modernisation projects that have been awarded with contracts and funds are expected to be taken forward, whereas the projects with lack of contracts or funding are anticipated to be postponed.
Lorenzana added: “The others might be postponed. Depends on the (decision of the) Department of Budget and Management (DBM).”
In October last year, the navies of the US, Japan and the Philippines commenced the third iteration of the maritime training activity (MTA) Sama Sama in Puerto Princesa, Philippines. (Source: naval-technology.com)
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