The UK will remain the USA’s key ally in operations to enforce stability and quell insurgency activities in Afghanistan and Iraq over the next 12 months, with an increased level of aviation support to be deployed to Afghanistan. This commitment will involve a variety of helicopter types, possibly including the Royal Air Force’s AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HC3 transports and British Army AgustaWestland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopters, and will support and enhance the current occasional offensive use of the RAF’s BAE Systems Harrier GR7 ground-attack aircraft.
The coming year will see the Royal Navy’s last BAE Sea Harrier FA2 fighters leave service, along with one of the RAF’s remaining Sepecat Jaguar-equipped squadrons and probably its remaining English Electric Canberra PR9 photographic reconnaissance aircraft. The Bombardier Global Express-based Raytheon Sentinel R1 airborne stand-off radar platform will enter the inventory, along with operationally ready Harrier GR9/9As and increasing numbers of Eurofighter Typhoons. A new-generation jet trainer will also move a step closer to service early this year, with BAE expecting a contract for 30 Hawk 128s. Decisions are also expected to select a partner for the UK Military Flying Training System and award a contract for the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft and future aircraft carrier programmes.
Elsewhere in Europe, deliveries of Eurofighter will continue to Germany, Italy and Spain, Poland will receive its first Lockheed Martin F-16s, Hungary will field its leased Saab Gripen fighters and the French air force will introduce the Dassault Rafale to frontline service in September. NATO’s approximately €3.5 billion ($4.1 billion) Alliance Ground Surveillance project is also due to enter its development phase from mid-year.
The European helicopter sector is also likely to be a hotbed of action this year, with increasing numbers of Eurocopter Tigers to be delivered to launch operators France and Germany and NH Industries’ NH90 moving closer to service entry with numerous European nations. In a new push, Bell Boeing also plans to exhibit its V-22 Osprey tiltrotor at major air shows in the UK for the first time during July.
Asia is viewed as a major potential growth market for defence contractors, but patience will remain the key as acquisition programmes advance notoriously slowly and are often subject to the whim of politicians. The next 12 months will be no exception, with several large acquisitions in the pipeline, but selections not anticipated until the second half of the year.
South Korea plans to finally select an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform in May after years of delay, with additional technical data on the Boeing 737 with Northrop Grumman’s Mesa radar and the Israel Aircraft Industries-promoted Gulfstream G550 with Elta’s Phalcon radar to be submitted next April.
Malaysia is expected to launch a competition early in 2006 for new combat search-and-rescue helicopters, but a decision on its long-delayed AEW&C contest is not expected until at least 2007.
Singapore will receive proposals in February for the lease of up to 20 primary trainers and should make a decision around September. It also plans to launch a competition this year for a new advanced jet trainer, but a contract is again not expected until 2007.
Taiwan has suffered a two-year acquisition hiatus amid political wrangling, but may finally move forward this year with the acquisition of three Raytheon/ Lockheed Martin PAC-3 air defence missile systems. It could also buy three Sikorsky S-92 helicopters for search and rescue tasks, but will probably further delay the acquisition of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and attack helicopters.
In Japan, budget constraints continue to hamper military aircraft acquisitions and no new major programmes are planned until 2008, when its F-4 fighter replacement programme is set to start.
Indonesia and Thailand plan to procure structural upgrade kits in 2006 for their Lockheed F-16A/Bs, but budget constraints are likely to delay their respective plans to purchase utility/transport helicopters and new fighters.
In South Asia, India is preparing to award contracts in 2006 for more than 100 new fighters and up to 200 army multi-role helicopters. However, the country, which is also evaluating new AEW&C platforms, maritime patrol aircraft and ASW helicopters, could slip decisions on all these programmes until at least 2007. Pakistan’s contract for 55 new F-16s could be signed around mid-year, although the acquisition – as with most Asian programmes – could face further delay.
CRAIG HOYLE / DEFENCE EDITOR & BRENDAN SOBIE / DEPUTY ASIA EDITOR