20 Nov 14. Japan announces Global Hawk, Osprey, Hawkeye purchases. Japan has announced the selection of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk for its high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) requirement and the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey for its tilt-rotor requirement. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) also confirmed that it would buy a Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. All three requirements were announced in the fiscal year 2015 budget request. Northrop Grumman said in a statement that it was “proud that the Japanese Ministry of Defense has selected the RQ-4 Global Hawk as the primary system to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities” and confirmed that the sale would process via the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
20 Nov 14. Russia flies first radar- and avionics-upgraded Tu-160 bomber. The first upgraded Tupolev Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’ strategic bomber aircraft made its maiden flight on 16 November, Russian state media has announced. The flight, which took place out of the Kazan Aircraft Plant (KAPO) east of Moscow, lasted two hours and 40 minutes, the TASS news agency reported. Known as ‘White Swan’ in Russia, the supersonic and variable-geometry Tu-160 is being upgraded with a new radar and enhanced avionics systems. The precise nature of the improvements has not been disclosed. The Russian Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnyye Sily – VVS) has 16 of the 1980s-vintage Tu-160 bombers in its inventory. A modernisation programme to bolster the aircraft’s nuclear armament with the capacity to carry 12 conventionally armed Raduga NPO Kh-555 (AS-15 ‘Kent’) long-range cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs has been ongoing for some years, with the first such upgraded aircraft having been delivered back to the VVS in April 2008. This weapons upgrade, which is also understood to include improvements to the aircraft’s Kuznetsov NK-32 engines, has been dogged by funding problems, but should now be complete by 2020. While it is unclear how this latest radar and avionics upgrade ties in with the weapons modernisation package, it is likely that the remaining aircraft to be enhanced will receive both sets of improvements, with those aircraft already delivered with an enhanced weapons capability being retrofitted with the new radar and avionics also. This work, which is being done with the Pacific and Atlantic theatres of operation in mind, will see the Tu-160 remain in service until its replacement by the developmental PAK-DA bomber around 2030. The PAK-DA bomber is set to replace the Soviet-era Tu-160, Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’, and Tu-95 ‘Bear’ platforms, with the first prototype PAK-DA scheduled to begin trials around 2020.
With a weapons load of up to 40,000 kg, an unrefuelled range of 12,297 km, and a maximum speed of 1,800 km/h, the Tu-160 is one of the most formidable assets in the VVS’ inventory. As such, the nuclear-armed strategic bomber has been used extensively by President Vladimir Putin as a means of demonstrating his fortitude in the face of pressure from the US and NATO over the crisis in Ukraine. That the upgrades being rolled out for the Tu-160 have been designed specifically with the Pacific and Atlantic theatres of operation in mind, further demonstrates the value that Putin places in the aircraft specifically, and in the VVS’ strategic bomber fleet in general, for delivering ‘messages’ of resolve to the West. Over recent months Russian bomber flights over European air space in particular have increased markedly, and earlier in November the Russian president announced that long-range overflights spanning the Arctic region to the Gulf of Mexico would begin shortly. Given the utility of the VVS’ bomber fleet to Putin at the present time, it is highly likely that the funding problems that have dogged the Tu-160 upgrade programme over the past few years will not be a problem in the years to come. (Source: IHS Jane’s)