The FG defense team noticed this model of a two-seat Chengdu JF-17 fighter, though it looks like it also has fatter spine aft of the cockpit. The engine nozzle also looks different from the Klimov RD-93, so this model would probably be equipped with the Guizhou WS-13 turbofan. Our Asia expert Greg Waldron will have more on this later--assuming the Chinese feel like talking (and they often do).
Both the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and its arch-rival the Beechcraft AT-6 are both here at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, which is located in the greater Paris region of France. The military presence here is somewhat limited compared to years past due to the lousy budget environment. The US military barely has a presence here, but Russia has stepped up its game--the Sukhoi Su-35 flew a couple spectacular qualifying demos here yesterday. That jet is just awesome.
Check out this video of the Russian Sukhoi PAK-FA fifth-generation stealth fighter. There is some good footage of the jet undergoing flight tests--my comprehension of the Russian language is virtually non-existent, but I think the reporter is giving an overview of the jet's capabilities.
The Pentagon's top acquisitions official says that he is cautiously optimistic that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has made enough progress in its development to ramp up its production rates starting in fiscal year 2015.
"At this point I can say that I'm cautiously optimistic that we will be able to raise production as planned," says Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. "The development programme is executing close to plan, a couple of areas are slipping a little bit in schedule, but the slips are not dramatic."
As such, Kendall says unless some sort of serious new problem emerges, the Pentagon will be able to order a ramp-up in production of the tri-service stealth fighter later this "fall". The decision would be reflected in the President's 2015 budget proposal, he says, and will follow the existing five-year spending plan.
That means the Pentagon will buy 42 planes in fiscal year 2015, 62 in 2016, 76 in 2017 and 100 in 2018. Production is currently running at 29 aircraft per year plus a few more for international customers.
Kendall says the while sequestration cuts are a problem, the Pentagon will do everything it can to increase the F-35's production rates. "The F-35 is our highest priority conventional warfare weapons system," he says. "Because of that, we'll do everything we can to protect it."
Meanwhile is also good news on the sustainment costs, which are projected to come down "significantly", Kendall says. The Pentagon is working hard to reduce those lifecycle costs--which could involve adding competition to sustaining the jet. "I think we will make a substantial dent in the current projections," he says.
Kendall adds that the F-35's cost per flying hour should decline significantly after a review he expects to conduct in the fall. The current cost figures are based on older estimates by the Pentagon's Cost Assessments and Program Evaluation office, he says, but those need to be updated. "I can tell you that the number is coming down," Kendall says.
Kendall cautions, however, that the F-35 programme still has a long way to go. The jet is only 40% of its way through its flight-test programme, and there are still many aerodynamic and structural tests that have still to be completed. Additionally, software needs to be developed and weapons integration needs to be tested. There are also fixes to problems that were discovered earlier that need to be verified.
As always, software development could still be an issue. For example a critical design review for the next software block has slipped by 45 days. But there has been "nothing dramatic" that might derail the programme.
"It's too early to declare victory," Kendall says, but the programme is on a much more sound footing than it was two years ago. "There is plenty of risk left in the programme."
During the first half of 2013 a couple of new Chinese military aviation projects have come to light. One recent development was the sighting of China's Sharp Sword unmanned combat air vehicle, which was revealed in May. More recently, images have emerged of a structural model of what appears to be a new Chinese stealth bomber.
While many are tempted to dismiss the Chinese developments as mere knock-offs based on stolen Western technologies, there are those who believe that we, particularly those of us here in the United States, are underestimating China's capabilities.
Having examined the Chinese designs, a number of highly experienced US aerospace engineers--all of whom have extensive experience designing low observable aircraft--are convinced that not only are the new designs original, but that they are viable stealth airframes (even if they are not all-aspect stealth machines in some cases). "There is an aerospace renaissance underway in China," one engineer says. "It was just a matter of time."
The Sharp Sword not only looks viable as a low observable aircraft from many angles--save for the distinctly non-stealthy exhaust, it looks like it is an original design, one engineer says. Asked about the structural model for the Chinese stealth bomber, the engineer says that his unfortunate conclusion is that the aircraft is in fact a viable design.
While China is not yet an adversary of the Unites States, there is potential that as the country continues to reemerge as a great economic and military power that it could become one. In that case it would be foolish to underestimate the capabilities of Chinese engineers. "They have talented designers," one engineer says.
If it does come down to some sort of new Cold War, this time around the United States would be facing-off against an enemy with a vibrant economy, as a learned friend notes--a marked contrast to the Soviet Union, which was always hamstrung by its command economy.
Bell-Boeing is being awarded a $4.89 billion contract modification to "definitize" a multi-year production contract for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, the Pentagon announced 12 June.
The contract covers the manufacture and delivery of 92 MV-22 Ospreys for the US Marine Corps and seven CV-22 special operations aircraft for the US Air Force. But, moreover, it "definitizes" a previously "undefinitized" contact to build Lot 17 production aircraft and solidifies plans for the advance acquisitions of long lead items for the eighteenth production lot of Ospreys. According to the Pentagon release, the work will be completed in September 2019.
Boeing had said earlier that it was expecting to sign the multi-year contract for the V-22 on 13 June, which had been delayed to due budgetary squabbles within the US government. Company officials could not immediately comment on the contract award, but say they will make a statement on 13 June.
The Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter made its first Raytheon AIM-120C5 AMRAAM launch earlier this week at Edwards AFB, California. The instrumented missile was launched from aircraft AF-1, which was flown by US Air Force Lt Col George Schwartz, over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range off the California coast.
"The AIM-120 launch is one small, but critical increment toward proving combat capability," says F-35 weapons director Charlie Wagner. "We've spent years working on the design of the aircraft, and many months ensuring that weapons could be contained within the aircraft and dropped as designed."
The significance of the AMRAAM launch is that it demonstrates a successful launch-to-eject communications sequence and firing of the weapon's rocket motor after its release. The test will help pave the way for targeted launches later this year in support of Block 2B configuration, which will the first software load with actual combat capability. "We're rolling into a lot of additional weapons work in the coming months to put that expanded capability on the aircraft," Schwartz says.
Both the USAF and US Marine Corps will declare the F-35 operational with versions of the Block 2B (rehosted as Block 3i for the USAF) software in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
Meanwhile, Kongsberg and Lockheed have completed a fit check of the Norwegian Joint Strike Missile (JSM) inside the internal weapons bay of the F-35. The weapon has already been fit checked on external pylons--those tests took place about four weeks ago.