April 2011 Archives
Lockheed Martin can earn a $52.5 million extra pay-day this year on the F-35 program, chief executive Robert Stevens told Wall Street analysts on Tuesday. That may seem like chump-change compared to the roughly $11.4 billion in the Fiscal 2011 budget for F-35, but these days a defense contractor will gladly take anything it can get.
The list also helps clarify what the F-35 joint program office thinks are some of the most important objectives for the struggling program to achieve this year.
1. Complete all structural testing = $10.5 million
2. Complete carrier suitability tests on F-35C = $10.5 million
3. Start sea trials for the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant = $10.5 million
4. Release Block 1 software training update to Eglin AFB = $10.5 million
5. Release Block 2 software to flight test program = $10.5 million
Last week, F-35 executive Vice Adm David Venlet revealed that Lockheed missed on four of five milestones worth $7 million each last year. The remaining $28 million in the bonus budget last year is lost forever.
Venlet's bonus plan comes from the $614 million award fee withheld from Lockheed in February last year. The fund was broken into annual lots of milestone-based incentive bonuses that increase in value each year.
UPDATE: India's equally definitive StratPost blog reports today that Typhoon and Rafale have been effectively shortlisted, leaving the F-16IN, F/A-18E/F, Gripen and MiG-35 out of the running. Shiv Aroor's LiveFist blog also is reporting that the competition has narrowed to Typhoon and Rafale ]
The Financial Express in India reports today that the shortlist of candidates for the $10 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract should be released by "early May".
Given the India defense ministry's track record on MMRCA and other tortuously drawn-out acquisition decisions, it's perhaps forgivable for a cynic to wonder if the Financial Express' source in the ministry intended to mean early May of 2011, or some other year.
Shiv Aroor of the definitive LiveFist defense blog, meanwhile, has a good breakdown of India's options as the clock ticks down on the validity of the competitors' proposals.
So place your bets: India is expected to downselect as many as three candidates to continue negotiations, with a final contract scheduled to be signed in September, although ... [insert preferred caveat language here].
After dispensing with questions about cost overruns, schedule delays and technical problems (you know, the usual), I asked Venlet about the air show possibilities.
I know the flight test jets are spoken-for through at least 2016, but perhaps the first two low-rate initial production jets about to be delivered to the US Air Force could be spared for an air show appearance.
Thinking the Paris Air Show was out of the question, I asked if the LRIP jets might be dispatched to the Dubai Air Show in November or to Farnborough in July 2012.
Venlet's response: Maybe.
(Apologies for the lack of a proper quote. I agreed to delete my recording after Venlet surprised me by walking us into the JSF "war room" as we chatted. I was using my flip-cam as an audio recorder, thereby breaking about a dozen security rules as soon as I stepped inside the F-35's visually-sensitive "war room". For details about the room's contents, I can firmly deny the vicious rumors about the presence of a dartboard adorned with a picture of an F/A-18E piloted by Bill Sweetman.)
Anyway, Venlet said the production jets would be at the disposal of the chief of staff of the air force, Gen Norton Schwartz. If he sees fit to deploy the F-35As to an air show, that's his call, Venlet says.
Let's start the wagering, shall we? The bets are on Dubai, Singapore or Farnborough.
(Photo of a STOVL-model F-35B flight test aircraft courtesy of Lockheed Martin.)
1. The Hatchet
Alliant TechSystems (ATK) displayed this miniature guided bomb for RQ-7 Shadow-class unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), with this rendering showing an attack on a mobile surface-to-air missile launcher. According to ATK, the Hatchet is designed 24 bombs inside the launcher of an AGM-114 Hellfire missile. If the launcher can carry one 108lb Hellfire, that may imply a roughly 4lb weight for the Hatchet.
2. The Fury
ChandlerMay's booth showed this full-scale mock-up of the Fury 1500 unmanned air vehicle (UAV) with a retractable electro-optical/infrared sensor payload. A different version with two canoe-mounted synthetic aperture radar (SAR) pods were used in the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Sand Dragon program, which demonstrated a counter-improvised explosive device (IED) capability. The Fury is a product of ChandlerMay subsidiary AeroMech, which builds the Desert Hawk UAV for Lockheed Martin.
3. Joint Multi-Role options
This quad-chart shows the universe of configurations in consideration for the US Army's joint multi-role (JMR) demonstrator program, which aims to achieve first flight in 2017.
4. Next-generation engines
A US Army briefing slide reveals the first known images of early digital mock-ups of the competitors vying to replace the General Electric T700 engine, which powers the AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk. It's not clear which mock-up belongs to the GE3000 or to the Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC), the Pratt & Whitney/Honeywell joint venture developing the HPW3000.
Photos of China's J-20 stealth fighter prototype are all the rage on online military forums, after word emerged that another test flight was completed Sunday when officials in Beijing celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China's aviation industry.
Some of the online footage showed scores of military enthusiasts yelling when an aircraft flew over the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute's airfield in Sichuan Province, but it was unclear whether the plane was the J-20 prototype.
"The J-20 made several passes and waggled its wings (rolling the plane first to one side then to the other) to salute the crowd near the airfield," a witness told the Global Times on condition of anonymity, adding that the plane took off at around 4:25 pm and landed at about 5:50 pm.
1. Sikorsky S-97 Raider
PROs: The coaxial-rotor, compound S-97 helicopter is designed to be at least twice as fast as the OH-58D. Sikorsky has self-funded the building and testing of prototypes that will fly in 2014. The S-97's 225kt speed would allow the armed scout to be compatible with the army's vision for a high-speed replacement for the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache by 2030.
CONs: Record-breaking flights by the X2 demonstrator are still no substitute for a proven aircraft. The S-97 will need a multi-billion dollar development program even after Sikorsky flies the S-97 prototypes in three years. The current budget climate makes it difficult to launch an all-new helicopter development program, and the army's track record with new armed scouts may not inspire confidence in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
2. OH-58F Block II
PROs: The OH-58F cockpit and sensor upgrades (CASUP) eliminate the biggest maintenance and obsolescence problems with the current airframe. Bell Helicopter's Block II proposal, meanwhile, addresses the Kiowa Warrior's biggest performance shortfall. The Block II adds the 1,021shp HTS900-2 engine or a more powerful Rolls-Royce Model 250-C30R, allowing the OH-58 to hover at 6,000ft with temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Training and maintenance pipelines already exist within the army.
CONs: Even if Bell can deliver the re-engined OH-58F Block II on time and on schedule, the army is still left with the airframe it never really wanted in the first place for at least another 15 years. The army would have no options in 2025 except to replace the OH-58, but that requirement may compete for funding with the Black Hawk/Apache replacement program.
3. EADS North America AAS-72X
PROs: The armed scout version of the Eurocopter EC-145 leverages the army's investment in the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter. As a twin-engine helicopter, the AAS-72X is more powerful, versatile and modern than the OH-58D, yet remains very agile. On a demonstration flight yesterday, the EADS pilot landed the TDA-1 demonstrator in a clearing with 4ft between the tips of the rotor blade and tree branches.
CONs: The AAS-72X is not a high-speed helicopter, potentially leaving the army with a mismatch between the armed scout and its vision for a post-2030 fleet. The army would have to replace its training and logistics pipeline for armed scout units (although EADS argues this must be done eventually anyway). The AAS-72X offers a slightly larger target than the OH-58 without the stealth of the RAH-66 Comanche or the speed of the S-97, but EADS says the added performance and safety of the twin engines and the versatility of the larger cabin are worth the trade-off.
4. Boeing AH-6i or AH-6S
PROs: Boeing's proposals based on an international or stretched version are based on the special operations-proven AH-6M Little Bird, but adapted to meet the army's requirements for hovering at high-altitude in extremely hot temperatures. The AH-6 also "wakes up in the morning thinking it's an Apache," Boeing business development vice president Mike Burke says, with more than 80% of the AH-64's avionics system installed. The AH-6 has the smallest footprint, making it less of a target.
CONs: The AH-6 design comes from the same legacy as the OH-58. Indeed, the OH-6 Cayuse was originally selected as the army's armed scout in 1967, but production problems at Hughes forced the army to switch to the OH-58A a year later. Boeing officials say the new AH-6 models can meet all of the army's requirements, but it's not clear how much growth potential is left in the airframe.
5. AVX Corp OH-58D
PROs: Although seemingly the most radical of the armed scout proposals, the start-up AVX Corp's concept for modifying existing OH-58Ds with a coaxial rotor and dual-ducted fans should cost only $1 million more per aircraft, says Troy Gaffey, an AVX founder and former chief engineer at Bell. For that investment, the army gets a slight bump in cruise speed to 120kt, hover out of ground effect at 6,000ft at 95degF with a 5,500lb load and 3.1h of endurance.
CONs: AVX officials acknowledge that the lack of an existing concept demonstrator hurts their chances, but they are "close" to signing financing deals with possible investors. The concept remains unproven, with no similar propulsion configurations in service anywhere in the world.
Maj Gen Anthony Crutchfield, head of army aviation headquarters at Fort Rucker, set an "aimpoint" to field an optionally manned rotorcraft with speed greater than 200kt within 19 years.
"We're not going to waiver. Our knees will not buckle. And we're going to field this aircraft," Crutchfield said. "Because I don't want my grandchildren flying the [AH-64] Longbow Block 80. It's a great aircraft but we need technology to take us further into that future."
Crutchfield's briefing included a slide with these requirements for a new "joint multi-role" helicopter:
Radius: 424km unrefueled
Endurance: 2hr station time
Payload: Nine-man squad, sensor/weapons package
"I don't think we can do all those things just by incrementally improving our current aircraft. It's going to have to be something new," Crutchfield says. "We're not going to get everything we want. But we have to to get everything we need, and I believe we need this."
If the 200kt minimum speed requirement sticks, Crutchfield is right. The army will need more than an all-new helicopter. It will need a new kind of rotorcraft, such as a coaxial-compound combination like X-2 or a tiltrotor like the V-22. Convention helicopters are limited to a maximum of 170-180kt due to retreating blade stall.
Without further ado, here are photo highlights of my favorite Latin American arms bazaar.
1. Dassault's futuristic stealth bomber:
It's only an artist's concept, but this vision (see bottom left-corner, below) of a French fifth-generation strike aircraft definitely caught my attention. The slide appeared during Dassault's press briefing on the Rafale. I didn't have my best camera, it was a dark room, and I had a bad angle, so this is the best I could do with the image. It makes you wonder what else Dassault is thinking about after the Rafale and the unmanned nEUROn demonstrator.
2. Brazil's scramjet-powered, hypersonic waverider:
This is no scale-model. It's a full-scale mock-up of the 14-X, which the Brazilian air force's research laboratory hopes to launch for the first time in 2013. Read my news article for more details about this fascinating project.
3. Foliage-penetrator UAV
The US is apparently not the only country with a foliage penetration radar. OrbiSat, which has been acquired recently by Embraer, has been flying the SARVANT unmanned air vehicle for about three years on plantation surveying missions. The 140kg UAV with 20h endurance is packaged with a 35kg synthetic aperture radar with X- and P-band scan modes.
4. Is this Brazil's future hunter-killer UAV?
I still haven't received details about this project, but AviBras' signage indicates that the Brazilian air force has funded development of the Falcao UAV. Local news reports have said the Falcao's first flight should be this month, but I have not been able to confirm that with AviBras or the Brazilian air force. It's presented as a surveillance-only UAV, but I suspect there are a few hard points inside the wing.
5. Finally ... Just for fun!
Why am I in lovely Rio de Janeiro this week to cover the Latin America Aerospace and Defense (LAAD) exhibition? The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) timely provided one answer yesterday, reporting that military spending in Latin America last year out-paced the rest of the world. While global outlays increased a measly 1.3% in 2010, Latin America spending jumped 5.8%. True, the region still accounts for only about 4% of global defense spending, but it's one of the few markets expecting long-term, sustained growth.
Fueling the boom market is Brazil's growing interests as a regional and world power, and my to-do list for today is to get caught up on all the big stories, including:
1. The three-way competition for Brazil's FX-2 contract. We'll be hearing from each of the competitors -- Gripen, Rafale and Super Hornet -- today, as well as getting an update from the Ministry of Defense.
2. Embraer has scheduled two press conferences today and five overall this week. Topics for each event have not been announced, but I anticipate at least one conference today will provide an update on the pivotal KC-390 tanker-transport program.
3. UAVs are suddenly all the rage in Latin America more than five years after Colombia began flying Scan Eagles against the FARC. Brazil has contracted with Elbit Systems to demonstrate UAV capabilities with the Hermes 450, but the military plans to develop its own systems eventually. We'll be hearing from several new Brazilian UAV companies, including Flight Technology, which is introducing a new family of UAVs today.
4. Brazil's national defense strategy also may drive a new wave of consolidation in this country's aerospace industry. There are rumors that Odebrecht and Mectron will formally announce a partnership this week, uniting one of Brazil's largest engineeering and construction companies with an entrepreneurial aerospace leader. Meanwhile, Embraer will introduce its standalone defense business at the show for the first time. But local competitor and partner Avibras must answer questions about its future viability after cutting hundreds of jobs a few months ago.
5. And I'm always looking for anything new and interesting. I hope to learn more about Brazil's ambitious 14-X hypersonic aircraft, which is allegedly scheduled to fly next year. Updates on Avibras' new cruise missile and Mectron's MAR-1 missile are also on my radar this week.
We are sure that this sled test of the F-35 ejection seat shows the system has made progress since malfunctions derailed flight tests temporarily in late 2008. Monthly assessment reports by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) revealed the ejection seat problems:
"As of 12 Dec 08, aircraft testing has been impacted as a result of engine and ejection seat anomalies. Seat anomalies were observed in the ejection sequence during an escape system sled test on 20 Nov 08, with two successive failures occurring during subsequent qualification testing. An investigation revealed that the ejection seat sequencer failed to function properly and the ejection seat operated in back-up mode. Data indicates a communications fault during sequencer power-up -- bench testing has shown that the sequencer is fully functional following the communications fault."
BAE Systems now says the system has completed tests of the ejection seat in full-scale mock-up of the nose section at 600mph.
Watch the Portugese-language movie trailer below (you can get the overall gist despite the language barrier, I think), then read my article: "Brazilian ambitions propel Embraer Defence Systems".
Retired Vice Adm Robert Dunn remembers being called to the Secretary of the Navy's office. It was 1989 and the US Navy was still at the peak of its Cold War, 600-ship glory. Defence spending, however, was already in decline and the navy's top civilian, Henry Garrett, had a tough decision to make. As deputy chief of naval operations for aviation, Dunn's portfolio included two projects for a carrier-based, long-range strike aircraft - a re-engined Grumman A-6E Intruder called the A-6F - and a far more ambitious project called the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II.
"We can't afford the A-12 and the A-6F," Garrett told Dunn. "Which
one do you want?" "I think we better go with the A-12 because that is
going to be a more capable aircraft," Dunn said. Almost 22 years on,
however, Dunn says: "In retrospect, I don't know if it was good advice
or not." In fairness, there were few options. An era of naval aviation
was coming to a close. In 1989, navy leaders could choose between two
projects for a long-range strike aircraft; by the end of the next decade
there were no such projects in development or anything similar in