Flightglobal defence editor Craig Hoyle has confirmed the Dassault Rafale has been selected as the lowest-cost bidder for the Indian Air Force's medium, multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract.
Please ignore, for the moment, the sound of Veuve Clicquot corks popping all over Bordeaux-Merignac.
We've been down this runway before with the Rafale. The French have demonstrated a knack for fumbling away deals even after they seemed to eliminate all of the competition (cough-Morocco, cough-cough Brazil, cough-cough-cough United Arab Emirates).
On the other hand, the MMRCA deal is structured in a way that makes it extremely improbable for the highest-cost bidder -- the Eurofighter Typhoon -- to come away with the contract. But we will see. Crazier things have indeed happened.
A Rafale victory means one thing for sure: Europe will continue to build three different fighters through the end of this decade, as well as begin to absorb the first F-35s. Now who'd have ever thunk that?
NASA two years ago challenged three aircraft makers -- Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman -- to design a next-generation airliner. Boeing's and Lockheed's designs have been revealed before. Northrop's concept finally was unveiled last week at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics Sciences Meeting in Nashville.
It's the first airliner optimized for radar cross section! (Well, that's one way for airlines to get around slot restrictions at LHR.)
Seriously, NASA originally planned to analyze all three concepts and select a single design to build a 737-sized subscale test vehicle. That programme is now on hold due to funding cutbacks.
But Northrop is unlikely to walk away from the concept forever. Company officials emailed us another another image showing a concept for a next-generation military airlifter based on the same technology. In two decades, the USAF will likely need to start replacing the Lockheed Martin C-5A fleet. It's a requirement already being eyed by Boeing with the subscale X-48 blended wing body, and by Lockheed with the Speed Agile concept. It's now clear that Northrop plans to compete for the contract, if it ever comes.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- It was a presentation this morning by Alton "Al" Romig, the new chief of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, on unmanned air vehicle technology, so you know he had to say something about the RQ-170 Sentinel. Anticipation only grew as he began his lecture to the 50th annual Sciences Meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) with this sentence:
"I want to tickle your curiousity with the art of the possible," Romig said. (ED: Go onnnn ...)
Alas, even among his peers, Romig stuck to the unclassified, non-proprietary script on the RQ-170, which was referenced in text-form only on his second slide. Yes, the RQ-170 exists, he conceded. "And before you can ask me, that's all I can say about that," he said.
(ED: Right. Moving along then.)
On the subject of UAVs, Romig allowed that Skunk Works has much more than the RQ-170 in its classified product stable. "There's a whole large collection of classified programmes (within Lockheed) in the area of small UAVs," Romig said.
A major effort at Skunk Works is now underway to make UAVs more autonomous. Internal demonstrations have proven that a single operator can control more than two UAVs simultaneously. "How large that number can get is unclear," he said.
Intriguingly, Romig said that if the US Air Force returns to the days of "back-seat" electronic warfare officers, the F-35 could control a swarm of four "buddy" UAVs. He didn't directly say that Lockheed is considering two-seat F-35s, but the possibility tanatalises. (Two years ago, we reported that Israeli industry officials already anticipated the emergence of a two-seat F-35 eventually.)
In the short clip below, Romig answers an audience member's question about the the possibility of a sixth generation fighter.
Eleven years after it all started, India's, er, patient acquisition process may yield a final downselect for the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract later this week -- or maybe next month, or -- since we are talking about India -- next (fill in the blank).
But the two survivors of India's technical and cost evaluations -- the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Tyhpoon (pictured) -- are probably optimistic of short-term closure, if not victory.
In Paris, the La Tribuneseems hesitant. The Rafale "should" be cheaper than the Typhoon, the newspaper reports, noting also this may overcome the Indian air force's technical preference for the non-French competitor.
In London, The Telegraph also worries the Typhoon may be too pricey. The article quotes Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton acknowledging the Rafale has an advantage on up-front costs. But the Telegraph also a source in New Dehli, who confides the air force judges the Typhoon superior technically.
Not least, in India, the IDRW news network counts the rumours floating around New Dehli, and decides the pro-Typhoon rumours out-number the Rafale.
Lockheed Martin's 2012 calendar -- which your blogger received in the mail but casually deposited, unopened, in the trash -- contained the company's first concept design for a sixth generation fighter to succeed the F-22 after 2030.
Call her "Miss February".
The US Air Force has already started the search for the F-X fighter to replace the F-22 after 2030. Boeing and Northrop Grumman have already revealed their concept designs. But the conceptual ideas of the USAF's sole fighter supplier had been a closely guarded mystery. Conceptual aircraft designs should not be mistaken for prototype blueprints, but they do offer some insight into the starting assumptions and philosophies.
We asked Lockheed to describe the philosophy behind this concept drawing. Here is the company's emailed response in full:
This concept originates from our Advanced
Development Programs group called the Skunk Works®. The Skunk Works primary
objective is to aggressively pursue next generation technology programs and
conduct research and development that will allow it to rapidly respond to
customer needs. U.S. 5th generation fighters are now operational with the F-22
in the USAF and F-35 soon to be operational for USAF, USN, USMC and our
international partners. As with the 4th generation fighters (F-15, F-16, F-18),
5th Gen is poised for growth, and will go through a process of capability
upgrades over their service lives. As such, they will be operationally relevant
for decades to come. Even with that, it is time to start looking at the
technologies that will provide the next quantum leap in capabilities for the
next generation of fighters (IOC ~ 2030+). Simply removing the pilot from an
aircraft or introducing incremental improvements in signature and range does
not constitute a generational leap in capability. These improvements are
already being looked at for our 5th generation fighters.
Future fighter requirements are not set and will depend on
assessments of future threats that may emerge in the 2030 time frame. Greatly
increased speed, longer range, extended loiter times, multi-spectral stealth,
ubiquitous situation awareness, and self-healing structures and systems are
some of the possible technologies we envision for the next generation of
fighter aircraft. Next generation fighter capabilities will be driven by game
changing technological breakthroughs in the areas of propulsion, materials,
power generation, sensors, and weapons that are yet to be fully imagined. This
will require another significant investment in research and development from a
standpoint of both time and money. We will continue to investigate technologies
that demonstrate great promise, and work closely with our customers to define
the future operational concepts and requirements that the next generation of
fighter aircraft must fulfill.
Thanks to ELP's blog for discovering this five-month-old presentation (see Ebersole brief), Here's what the F-35 is supposed to do over the next five years. The clock on LRIP-4 started last year. LRIP-5 is getting sorted out now, although it technically should have been awarded before 1 October 2011.
The timing for Block 2B, 3I and 3C (3F) are currently being reviewed, according to the chart. However, if one was forced to guess, a rightward shift is probably the safest bet, given programme history. It will be interesting to learn which weapons could be accelerated into Block 2B.