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The next industrial (r)evolution: What implications for the security and defence sector?

EDA News - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 16:00

The following article is part of a comprehensive dossier focused on new trends related to European defence innovation and R&T which appeared in the 10th edition of European Defence Matters, the EDA’s official magazine, which is available now.

European Defence Matters, Magazine issue 10

In times of ever faster technological change and constant emergence of new innovation and business models, the European defence sector has to adapt quickly if it wants to remain relevant.

In 2016, more than ever, Europe needs to respond to short and longer-term security challenges both on its territory and beyond. The forthcoming EU Global Strategy will inevitably consider those developments, setting out European interests. Notably, for Europe’s security and defence sector this means preparing for an age of relative uncertainty that is prone to strategic surprises: at the level of threats that have become increasingly diverse, hybrid and versatile; and at the level of emerging technologies that, beyond inducing new vulnerabilities, may well require the defence sector to adapt to changing innovation patterns, new mind-sets and corporate cultures.

In this strategic context, an innovative and competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) is a strategic asset that supports the implementation of a credible and effective EU Global Strategy. “The industrial and technological dimension is not a mere enabler, it is at the core of any security and defence-related capability”, says Jorge Domecq, the Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA). This is why the so-called ‘Key Strategic Activities‘, be they specific technologies, skills or industrial manufacturing capabilities, will also have to be supported at the EU level if Europe wants to retain the necessary freedom of action, be interoperable with key Allies, and participate in global standard setting.

As early as 2003, the Thessaloniki European Council underlined that the EDA was to aim at “promoting, in liaison with the Community’s research activities where appropriate, research aimed at leadership in strategic technologies for future defence and security capabilities, thereby strengthening Europe’s industrial potential in this domain.” Today, the question of how to achieve or safeguard leadership in strategic technologies is more pressing than ever. EDA has enabled close to € 700 million of investment in defence R&T projects, it has established synergies with the EU’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, and it has participated in the identification of critical defence technologies, key enabling technologies and space technologies for European non-dependence.

And there is more to come: the preparation of the forthcoming Preparatory Action for CSDP-related research and potential defence research programme that may follow within the next EU budgetary cycle may signal a paradigm shift. EDA is playing its part by shaping the content, setting priorities and preparing for the implementation of future defence-related research at the EU level. The European Defence Action Plan announced by the European Commission for the end of 2016 provides a further opportunity to reflect on how Europe will capture future innovation and drive leap-ahead technologies rather than be taken by surprise by disruptive technologies emerging elsewhere.

Changing innovation patterns?

For Europe to successfully spearhead innovation, it has to deal with at least four accelerating trends: (i) global competition for the lead in technology; (ii) emerging knowledge domains and technology convergence; (iii) increasingly faster innovation loops; and (iv) the growing importance of private investment in support of innovation. Each of these factors taken alone may hardly seem revolutionary, yet any combination and convergence of them in a fast-paced environment may prove to be so. The defence industrial and technological base is indeed part of a wider industrial and technological ‘ecosystem’ that is about to change dramatically, and this may lead to the disruption and far-reaching adaptation of public policy and traditional business models and practices. What has been qualified as a possible ‘third industrial revolution‘ by 2030 is characterised by an ever-accelerating speed of technological change and the ‘digitalisation of world markets’. The mastery, application and development of digital technologies and big data management will be a key ingredient of economic and industrial competitiveness. Already today US digital exports are estimated at € 500 billion a year, and Europe is the main customer. 4% of US GDP is estimated to be related to the Internet and associated business opportunities. Global revenues related to the ‘Internet of things‘ (big data and data-mining, cloud computing and super computers) are estimated in the order of USD 14 trillion between 2013 to 2022. ICT technology in particular will help to catalyse innovative applications in the area of human/machines, human/human and machine/machine interfaces, in addition to the expected convergence of bio-, nano-, and information technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence, materials and energy over the 2025-2050 time horizon.

New players are emerging

Based on such convergence, disruptive applications are expected to emerge from highly innovative start-ups and fast growing players that are modelled on today’s success of the so-called ‘GAFA‘ (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon…). These players will share important characteristics. R&T spending levels will be high (20% and more of annual turnover). They will embrace a risk culture and have access to venture capital. They will focus on prototyping, test and experiment with ‘rapid prototyping‘, ‘lean start-up‘, ‘minimal viable products‘ and spiral development, all with reduced procurement cycles and manufacturing lead times. From Silicon Valley and ‘Silicon Wadi’ in Israel to Bangalore, “access to finance, R&D investment and flexible and fast development and production are the ingredients of ever-fiercer competition among global innovation centres”, stresses Mr Domecq. The innovation models and philosophy of those commercial companies and start-ups has little in common with a highly regulated sector such as defence, which is characterized by the need for reliable, robust and complex systems, long-development cycles, public funding and a focus on quality control through customer engagement in design, production and servicing.

Yet, it is with these emerging players that both governments and defence companies will have to interact to stay ahead. Beyond defence-specific R&T, there will be increasing spin-in from commercial technologies being developed by highly specialised SMEs or start-ups. Today, such companies may not even be thinking of interacting with the defence sector. Connected technologies will be among the most decisive factors in the development of security and defence-related technologies. “Robotics, automation, supercomputing, synthetic biology, data analytics and deep learning will play a growing role”, according to Michael Simm, EDA Project Officer. Private actors will bear important responsibilities as to cyber security. This also implies a new way of looking at how drones and robots are networked with the increased integration among human and technological factors. Keeping a highly competitive defence industrial base with highly skilled workers will be all the more crucial if innovation is to translate into cutting-edge defence capabilities.

“The key challenge for defence will therefore be to find a modus vivendi with this ‘new economy‘, and to effectively integrate future innovations into defence development and production cycles”, Mr Simm states. It will be key for the defence sector to: (i) gain awareness of emerging leap-ahead technologies; (ii) effectively get access to non-traditional sources of innovation; and (iii) ensure the reliability of trusted supply chains. Overall, the challenge is for governments to be able to counter threats and increase society’s resilience while ensuring that the defence technological and industrial base remains a smart integrator of highly innovative products and technologies.

A matter of resources and prioritisation…

Innovation does not come for free. The sharp drop in defence-related R&T in recent years puts Europe’s standing at risk: the investment ratios in certain key domains such as electronic components being about 1:15 when compared to the US clearly endanger Europe’s status as a ‘smart follower‘. More investment, more cooperative investment and clear prioritisation in resource allocation are clear answers to that trend. Yet, more than today, an emphasis will also need to be put on ‘whole-of-government approaches‘ and cross-sectorial technological and industrial strategies that strike the right balance and allow for a mutually beneficial relation between the defence and the civilian dimension.

Some of the more recently published national defence-related strategy documents indicate a growing awareness and provide inspiration regarding the need for increased foresight activities and refined analysis of innovation cycles; the need to craft industrial policies that are supporting key areas of security of supply with regard to industrial manufacturing capabilities, skills and critical technologies; or the need to launch defence-related innovation initiatives. As the UK Strategic Defence & Security Review (2015) recognises:

“… to secure operational advantage and control our costs into the future, we need to recognise and respond quickly to transformative ideas and technologies. These will come from outside the traditional national security field, […] we must find, listen to and work effectively with new partners. We must test unconventional ideas rigorously against traditional ones, and be prepared to take risks […] we do not have all the answers, but continuing with our traditional mindset will not work”.

In the case of the UK, this assessment is supported by the creation of a national cross-government Emerging Technology and Innovation Analysis Cell and the establishment of a defence and security accelerator for government to help the private sector turn ideas into innovative equipment and services for national security users.

Inn a similar fashion, the US Third Offset Strategy recognises that many of the technologies that are potential game changers are no longer in the domain of DoD development pipelines or traditional defence contractors. Indeed, the DoD risks no longer having exclusive access to neither the most cutting-edge technologies nor the ability to control the development of them. This insight has led US officials to seek proposals from the private sector, including from firms and academic institutions outside the DoD’s traditional orbit. Robotics in particular is seen as an area where commercial investment outpaces military spending. The DoD’s ability to rapidly scout for and import commercial sector innovations and quickly develop new concepts of operation and doctrine is seen to be key. Numerous partnerships between the commercial sector and the US military, research and innovation centres, intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to date. The creation of a permanent DoD office - called ‘Defence Innovation Unit X‘ - is part of this approach as is investment in promising technologies through a dedicated investment fund. Additionally, in March 2016 the US DoD announced the establishment of a Defense Innovation Advisory Board. The new board aims to enhance the DoD’s culture, organisation and processes by tapping innovators from the private sector. DoD will also further implement its ‘Better Buying Power Initiative‘ aiming, among others, at easing procurement procedures.

… but even more of changing mindsets

Yet innovation is not a mere matter of resources and stated policy objectives. It ultimately requires both the demand and supply side to have a capacity of early adoption of innovation.

As far as the demand side is concerned, the new environment may have an impact on acquisition choices and investment decisions and the defence customer will have to adapt to much higher innovation rates and to potentially shorter life-cycles for equipment. The new environment may increase the need for plug-and-play systems, be a strain on obsolescence management or even change the type and way of procuring defence-related equipment and services. Modular Open System Architectures (MOSA) could be utilised to enable rapid incorporation of innovative upgrades throughout system lifecycles. A stronger focus on prototyping and experimentation may be a corollary to this approach. “The fact that innovation will increasingly flow from the civil to the defence sector does not mean that the defence sector should refrain from heavily investing in exploration, testing, adapting and integrating relevant innovations”, insists Mr Domecq.

Prototyping and experimentation can allow the defence sector to keep pace with technology, to partner with industry and maintain critical industrial capabilities. Such efforts would help contextualise current capabilities in light of requirements and technical feasibility of future acquisition programmes. An innovative and adaptive approach may also impact on wider operational concepts, interoperability with partners and standard-setting. “Ultimately, MoDs will have to constantly adapt their in-house skills base and working practices in order to interface with the commercial sector”, explains Mr Simm. MoDs may also have to adapt procurement schemes (i.e. fast-track contracting vehicles), introduce more flexibility, shorten decision-making cycles and address certain perceived ‘costs‘ (i.e. administrative burdens and IPR regimes), which may dissuade high-tech commercial firms from engaging with the defence sector.

Regarding the supply side, the change may be less fundamental and rather signal an acceleration of a longer-term trend. For some time now, the most innovative components have been generated by SMEs. While traditional defence companies are likely to continue playing the role of intermediary towards governments, they will nevertheless increasingly rely on the ability to integrate technologies according to a non-linear open innovation model based on a combination of internal and external knowledge, iterative shorter innovation loops and adding reliability and resilience to commercial technologies. This will mean to increasingly monitor cross-domain technology development. The role of a firm’s internal ‘gatekeepers‘ or ‘boundary spanners‘ able to understand and adapt technological innovation will rise.

New partnerships, joint ventures

For example, with the aim of capitalizing on transformative technologies and business models in the high-tech sector, a big European Group has followed US defence industrial players in establishing a ‘Technology and Business Innovation Center’ in Silicon Valley. In parallel, the company has established a venture capital fund worth an initial US $ 150 million in order to invest in promising, disruptive and innovative businesses generated around the globe. More widely, cooperation with non-traditional industrial players may take the form of partnering with high-tech companies in the ICT sector, joint business incubators or joint ventures according to the ‘make, team or buy‘ paradigm. This may alter the very fabric of industry, leading to more complex supply chain management and, ultimately, requiring increased flexibility and fluid cooperation between primes, SMEs and entrepreneurs across sectors. At the same time, one may have to deal with some side-effects. Indeed, the defence industry could be facing additional pressures on prices and margins, unexpected forms of competition, plus a growing mismatch in skills.

Overall, both the demand and supply side, will have to develop a whole new risk culture: on the one hand, taking on more risk through a steady investment in expensive but potentially game-changing technologies; on the other hand, ensuring reliance on fully trusted and secure supply chains up in the context of a globalised and digitalised economy. It may imply changes to how one conceives of dual-use export (and import) control and the protection of sensitive technologies. The predominance of non-European and commercial software companies, clouds and cyber networks that are supposed to generate, manage and control big data may actually increase the vulnerability of European digital networks. The globalisation of R&T and commercial innovation is within the reach of players who can transform them into military relevant capabilities. This risk needs to be counterbalanced by capability development focused on resilience such as ‘rapid network recomposability’ technologies or ‘split fabrication’ (i.e. ICT building blocks that are designed, developed, manufactured in Europe). This is all the more important in the context of heightened hybrid threats, which may target the wider defence supply chain e.g. in terms of hostile takeovers (foreign investment), saturation of production capacities or second-round effect industrial sabotage (compromising single components or production processes).

Think big – act smart

Some of the aforementioned trends will develop, others may not. Yet, by failing to prepare for a potentially game-changing (r)evolution, one may well be preparing to fail. “When putting its Global Strategy into action, Europe requires a long-term vision and effective technological and industrial policy that supports its freedom of action”, underlines Mr Domecq. As with any other player in the world, Europe needs to acknowledge its industrial base as a strategic and economic asset alike, a cornerstone for safeguarding its influence and interests. This also means injecting the ‘whole-of-government‘ concept with real content, notably in support of guaranteed security of supply and autonomy in areas deemed critical. There is a need for systematic technology foresight, more dual-use innovation clusters and technology incubators and long-term spiral development programmes. As competition for and access to cutting-edge technologies will increasingly be done across globalised and non-defence specific supply chains, both the ‘E‘ (European) and the ‘D‘ (Defence) dimension of the EDTIB may increasingly vanish. “This raises an essential question: how does Europe want to ensure mastery over technologies that will be critical in the future? This is not a question of industrial competitiveness alone but of Europe remaining among the most capable defence players”, insists Mr Domecq.

EDA can contribute by raising awareness, being a platform for exchange and building concrete tools when it comes to identifying Key Strategic Activities to be supported by available European funding tools, supporting longer-term security of supply and European non-dependence. On-going work developed inside the EDA together with Member States on critical defence technologies, Technology Watch, strategic research agendas or key skills and competences contribute to this effort. The support provided to innovative dual-use SMEs in accessing European Structural and Investment Funds is a further key work strand. EDA can also further provide a platform for innovative industry to engage with defence stakeholders on concrete projects, to present ideas and to understand defence-specific requirements.

In order to move to the next level, however, Member States should also make systematic use of the programmatic, financial and policy instruments offered by the EU. These instruments can support defence research, identify key enabling technologies and support their testing & experimentation in view of potential uptake in defence products. The forthcoming European Defence Action Plan should make a strong plea for a credible defence-related research programme within the next Multiannual Financial Framework. This should be further supported by a wider European Defence Innovation Initiative that facilitates the scouting of emerging technologies for defence, increases interaction between the defence community and commercial communities and promotes innovative SMEs. One will also have to move towards a careful mapping of critical and cross-sector supply chains. Increasing the resilience and security of related key technological and industrial assets that are considered as genuinely critical infrastructure may also be required.

As the defence sector will have increasingly to interact with players, processes and innovation models outside the traditional remit of defence, it will be all the more important to mainstream the defence dimension across available industrial policy tools, be they at the national or EU level. 2016 should provide ample opportunity to move ahead in this direction.

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EDA and EUMS cooperate on Personnel Recovery

EDA News - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 15:27

Jorge Domecq, the Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency, shared today the Personnel Recovery Functional Area Service Advanced Technology Demonstrator (PR FAS ATD) with Lieutenant General Wolfgang Wosolsobe, Director General of the EU Military Staff. During the meeting at the Agency other topics of common interest like EDA support to operations and other capability development issues and projects were discussed.   

Successful Personnel Recovery (PR) tasks have a positive impact on operational security, the morale and the confidence of deployed forces in theatres of operations, as well as public support. It is therefore imperative to ensure the effective and quick recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel. EDA, with its Project Team Personnel Recovery, has been working in mitigating identified shortfalls for the full spectrum of PR.    

The Personnel Recovery Functional Area Service Advanced Technology Demonstrator (PR FAS ATD) is an information management and Command & Control (C2) tool which is expected to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of PR for operations and missions.   

“The continuous support of the EUMS to address challenges in Personnel Recovery is much appreciated. We invite the EUMS to use the tool within the EU Operations Centre and to share with the Agency lessons identified and best management practices”, said Jorge Domecq.   

The Agency continues to work on various aspects of the through-life management of the tool to ensure its operational functionality in the long-term.


More information:
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Hearings - Cyber warfare: a real menace to EU security - 21-04-2016 - Subcommittee on Security and Defence

On 21 April, SEDE held a public hearing to address the cyber defence and resilience from the CSDP perspective at the EU level and national levels. How to build the resilience and efficiently protect critical infrastructures? Which are the cyber warfare capabilities in our changing world? Given that cyber security stays high on the European agendas and is one of the Presidency priorities, it will be extremely interesting to gather different experts and hear which their insights are.
Location : Paul-Henri Spaak 5B001
Presentation by Steve Purser, Head of Core Operations Department, ENISA
Source : © European Union, 2016 - EP

Publications - Meeting documents : SEDE Meeting on 20-21 April 2016 - Subcommittee on Security and Defence

Speech by Jacek Bylica, Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament, EEAS : [EN]
Source : © European Union, 2016 - EP

USS Arleigh-Burke successfully conducts PASM missile firing exercise

Naval Technology - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 01:00
The US Navy's Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) has successfully launched a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) missile off the coast of Virginia, as part of a post-availability SM-2 (PASM) missile-firing event.
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HMS Defender Type 45 Class Destroyer

Naval Technology - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 01:00
HMS Defender is the fifth destroyer vessel of the Royal Navy's Type 45 Class Destroyers. It is also the largest and most powerful destroyer in the navy's fleet.
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US Navy awards $3.1bn contract to BWXT for naval nuclear reactor components and fuel

Naval Technology - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 01:00
The US Naval Nuclear Propulsion Programme has awarded contracts to two subsidiaries of BWX Technologies (BWXT) to manufacture naval nuclear reactor components and fuel.
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BAE completes revamp of UK Royal Marines’ Viking amphibious vehicle fleet

Naval Technology - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 01:00
BAE Systems has completed a £37m upgrade of the UK Royal Marine's 'Viking' amphibious all-terrain vehicles.
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Galil ARM - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 21:15

Israeli Galil ARM Light Machine Gun
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Publication Summary – Women’s participation in communal justice in rural Bangladesh

SSR Resource Center - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 16:01
In many developing countries women continue to be marginalized and discriminated, which has propelled the issue of women empowerment into a key component of development policy interventions. A new ODI report titled Women and power: Mediating community justice in rural Bangladesh focuses on rural Bangladesh, where women have historically been excluded from participating, yet alone
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News Roundup: 25 April – 1 May 2016

SSR Resource Center - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 15:15
Want to keep up to date on the SSR field? Once a week, the CSG’s Security Sector Reform Resource Centre project posts pertinent news articles, reports, projects, and event updates on SSR over the past week. Click here to sign-up and have the SSR Weekly News Roundup delivered straight to your inbox every week!   SSR Resource Centre
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Seminar on EU funding for the defence sector

EDA News - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 11:36

The European Defence Agency (EDA) and the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Cyprus are co-organising an EDA seminar on EU funding for the defence sector which will take place on 18 May 2016 in Nicosia, Cyprus.

The objective is to raise awareness and inform defence-related stakeholders (SMEs, academia and research associations) about existing possibilities to access European Union funding programmes running till 2020, including the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) and COSME (EU Programme for COmpetitiveness of SMEs).

A particular focus will be put on ways and means to benefit from dual-use R&T funding and Enterprise Europe Network free-of-charge services.

The seminar is also intended to inform interested parties on how to participate in collaborative EDA programmes/projects and explore Horizon 2020 funding possibilities.

Location: the seminar takes place on 18 May (9:00h-16:30h) in the Filoxenia Conference Center, Nicosia (

Registration: by email to or online on the Ministry of Defence website (before 12 May)

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Unknown Armor. Zhalo 2S14-S Fire Support Vehicle...

Snafu-solomon.blogspot - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 07:00
Never heard of the Zhalo 2S14-S Tank Destroyer?  Neither did I.  Luckily I monitor the tank video games just so I can see the latest and greatest "obscure" vehicle that the developers...

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General Atomics - Blitzer Railgun Land-Based Mobile Combat Simulation

Snafu-solomon.blogspot - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 04:28

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The USMC didn't tell us the whole truth about F-35 performance at Steel Knight.

Snafu-solomon.blogspot - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 02:01
via (Dec 2015) - Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 conducted the F-35B Lightning II’s first-ever expeditionary test in support of exercise Steel Knight 16, Dec. 10, 2015. Exercise...

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F-15 Wheel & Brake Upgrades to Save USAF $194M | Osprey Successfully Refuels F-35B | US Will Not Subsidize F-16s for Pakistan

Defense Industry Daily - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 01:50

  • Textron is currently testing their upgraded RQ-7 Shadow M2 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which they believe will allow the system to undertake increased mission capabilities currently reserved for larger UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator. At present, Shadow V2s are used by the US Army in conjunction with AH-64 Apaches to fill the armed reconnaissance mission, following the retirement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter. The Shadow M2 will add longer endurance, more capable payloads, and more power than the M2 version, and also gain a satellite uplink that allows it to communicate beyond-line-of-sight.

  • USAF’s fleet of more than 500 F-15s are to get a wheel and brake upgrade after successful flight testing. Once completed, F-15C/D/E fighters will be capable of undertaking 1,400 landings before having to swap out their brakes. The USAF stands to save over $194 million in F-15 maintenance costs once all of the aircraft are fitted with the upgrade, and this will be the first brake testing to be carried out on the jet since the 1980s.

  • A USMC MV-22 Osprey has given a successful ground refueling of a Marine F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The one-hour test consisted of hooking up fuel transfer lines between the two aircraft with the MV-22 fueling the F-35B with an aerial refueling to follow. Both aircraft will be used to allow the Marine Corps to employ assets in austere environments on short notice without having to rely on long-term planning and fixed facilities.

  • The Missile Defense Agency has awarded a $235.3 million contract to Millennium Engineering & Integration to provide advisory and assistance services for test, exercise, and wargames in support of technical, engineering, advisory and management support. This contract provides support for the development, implementation, sustainment, and assessment of test processes, procedures, plans, and policies to support the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) through the test life cycle. Completion of the contract is expected for June 2020.


  • The first prototype of the Ka-62 twin-engine helicopter successfully completed its maiden flight. Items tested on the multi-purpose rotorcraft included the main power supply systems and avionics during a ten minute hover flight at Progress Aircraft-Manufacturing Enterprise’s site in eastern Russia. Capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions, the Ka-62 has been designed for transportation, search and rescue, and for work in Russia’s oil and gas industry.

Asia Pacific

  • Pakistan’s hope to procure subsidized F-16 fighters from the US has been scuppered by US Congress. State Department officials reported that if Islamabad wishes to purchase eight of the aircraft, it will cost up to $480 million, two and a half times the original cost. US foreign military financing of the deal had been criticized by many lawmakers who believed that Pakistan wasn’t doing enough to tackle Islamic militants operating in the country, and who would more likely use the F-16s against neighboring India than combating terrorism.

  • Longbow LLC, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, has been awarded a contract by the Indian government to provide fire control radar (FCR) systems with advanced air and ground targeting capabilities. The $57.1 million contract will see Longbow install 12 systems on India’s AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, and could be worth up to $116.7 million. The FCR’s air over-watch mode provides aircrews with 360-degree situational awareness, improving survivability and mission success.

  • Japan and the Philippines will conclude talks this week to lease five Beechcraft TC-90 Kind Airs from the Maritime Self-Defense Force to Manila. Japan’s Defense Minister Gen. Nakatani will call his Filipino counterpart Gazmin today, May 2nd to finalize the deal. The aircraft will help boost the Philippine’s maritime security efforts, particularly patrolling territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Today’s Video

  • Turkey’s indigenous Bayraktar TB2 UAV successfully dropped a Roketsan MAM-L laser-guided glide bomb on April 29:

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Arming RQ-7 UAVs: The Shadow Knows…

Defense Industry Daily - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 01:45

RQ-7 Shadow
(click to view full)

By 2007, US Army RQ-7 Shadow battalion-level UAVs had seen their flight hours increase to up 8,000 per month in Iraq, a total that compared well to the famous MQ-1 Predator. Those trends have gained strength, as workarounds for the airspace management issues that hindered early deployments become more routine. Some RQ-7s are even being used to extend high-bandwidth communications on the front lines.

The difference between the Army’s RQ-7 Shadow UAVs and their brethren like the USAF’s MQ-1A Predator, or the Army’s new MQ-1C Sky Warriors, is that the Shadow has been too small and light to be armed. With ultra-small missiles still in development, and missions in Afghanistan occurring beyond artillery support range, arming the Army’s Shadow UAVs has become an even more important objective. It would take some new technology, but that seems to be on the way for the US Marine Corps RQ-7B Shadow UAV fleet.

Pieces of the Puzzle RQ-7 launch, Mosul
(click to view full)

SecDef Robert Gates’ has consistently offered strong support for more attention to the needs of the counterinsurgency fight. Surveillance is part of that, but it needs to be backed by action. Pending and emerging approaches tie UAVs, manned propeller planes, artillery, and helicopters into a cohesive, fast, and flexible solution for finding, identifying, and capturing or killing opponents.

Larger RQ-5 Hunters have been tested with Viper Strike mini-bombs, and MQ-1C Sky Warriors can carry up to 4 Hellfires – but both UAV types are far outnumbered by the Army’s smaller RQ-7 Shadows. Precision weapons can also be dropped by fighters or bombers, but the planes’ $10,000 – $25,000 cost per flight hour is prohibitive, they require extensive planning processes to use, and declining aircraft numbers affect their potential coverage and response times.

M270 firing M30 GMLRS
(click to view full)

Small UAVs can still pack a punch without weapons by providing GPS targeting data to M30 GPS-guided MLRS rockets, long-range ATACMS MLRS missiles, or 155mm Excalibur artillery shells – as long as those weapons are (a) appropriate and (b) within range.

Using an ATACMS missile to take out an enemy machine gun position seems a bit silly, but that’s exactly the sort of help that could really make a difference to troops on the ground – and has been used in urban fights, against building strongholds. With that said, maximum effectiveness comes when battalion-level “Tactical UAVs” like the RQ-7B Shadow can perform the full spectrum of missions: surveillance, laser or GPS target designation, or close support for infantry fights.

The U.S. Army’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ has funded some R&D in order to provide “Tactical Class Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TCUAS)” with a low-cost weapon, US NAVAIR is busy developing a 5-pound missile called Spike, and global trends are pushing companies like Raytheon and Thales to invent designs of their own. The US Army ended up dragging its feet on arming its small tactical UAVs, but they are fielding GBU-44 Viper Strike weapons on MQ-5B Hunter UAVs, and have a small but growing fleet of Hellfire-armed, Cessna-sized MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs. The US Marines have no such option, and decided that arming their own growing fleet of RQ-7Bs was the way forward.

Step 1 requires a lightweight laser designator that would add the ability to actively mark targets for common helicopter and UAV weapons like Hellfire missiles, laser-guided 70mm rockets, or Paveway bombs. That way, the small and relatively cheap RQ-7s could mark targets for any component of Task Force ODIN, or its equivalent. That effort is already underway, across the board.

Step 2 involves arming even RQ-7 size UAVs, but their payload weight limits make that a very challenging task. Small missiles like the US Navy’s Spike are in development, in cooperation with Finmeccanica’s DRS, but parallel private developments

ATK: Hatchet. This 7-pound weapon is extremely small, and half its weight is warhead. GPS and GPS/laser guidance variants are both said to be possible.

GD: RCFC. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems makes the US Army’s mortar rounds, and had an interesting idea. What if their 81mm mortars could receive a small add-on GPS guidance kit, similar to the JDAM kits used on larger air force bombs? The Army’s 81mm mortars weigh just 9-10 pounds each, and GD-OTS’ clip-on Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) is an integrated fuze and guidance-and-flight control kit that uses GPS/INS navigation, replacing current fuze hardware in existing mortars. A standard M821 81mm Mortar with fuze weighs 9.1 pounds, and the same mortar with an RCFC Guidance system and fuze weighs just 10.8 pounds. US Army ARDEC funded their development testing.

The nose-mounted RCFC guidance has now been successfully demonstrated on multiple mortar calibers, in both air-drop and tube-launch applications. The tube-launched application has been successfully demonstrated at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ in a tactical 120mm guided mortar configuration known as the Roll Controlled Guided Mortar (RCGM), which uses the existing 120mm warhead and the M934A1 fuze.

Lockheed Martin: Shadow Hawk. In 2012, Lockheed began discussing its “11 pound class”, semi-active laser-guided Shadow Hawk bomb.

Raytheon: Pyros. STM. Raytheon has a privately-developed effort called Pyros, a 22-inch, 13.5-pound bomb that uses dual GPS/INS and semi-active laser guidance. It also has also 3 warhead options: height-of-burst, point-of-impact or fuze-delay detonation.

Thales/ Textron: FF-LMM/Fury. Thales’ beam-riding Lightweight Modular Missile with its tri-mode (burst height, impact, delayed) warhead will equip Britain’s AW159 Wildcat helicopters, and single launchers are small enough to fit on tactical UAVs like Schiebel’s S1000 Camcopter. Removing the propulsion system lightens the missile even further as the Free-Fall LMM, which adds a dual-mode GPS-laser guidance system up front. A partnership with Textron is aimed at the US market, where the weapon is known as the Fury. It was tested from an RQ-7B in 2014.

These and other systems will offer the US Marines the options they need. In the end, however, they key change isn’t the individual weapons – it’s the concept. That concept’s influence will extend past small UAVs, in 2 ways.

MC-130W: next
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One is the growing trend away from sole USAF control of air support, and toward a much more responsive era of “federated airpower” that includes high-end aircraft and UAVs operated by the US Air Force, and lower-tier propeller planes and small UAVs operated by the US Army and Marines. Those lower-tier options use lower-cost platforms that are far more affordable to operate, which means they can be bought and operated in numbers that provide far wider battlefield coverage for small-unit engagements.

The USAF’s long-running and pervasive deprecation of relevant counter-insurgency capabilities, and strong institutional preference for high-end, expensive platforms, has left them vulnerable to lower-cost disruptive technologies that meet current battlefield needs. While the service still has a key role in maintaining American power, strategic control of the air, and high-end capabilities, the new reality involves a mix of high and low-end aerial capabilities, with a lot more aerial control nested closer to battlefield decision-making.

The other change is reaching beyond UAVs, and into USAF and USMC aircraft, which can carry larger weapons. Related tube-launched small precision weapons, which already include Raytheon’s Griffin missile, are finding their way to USMC KC-130J and Special Operations MC-130W Hercules, which are receiving roll-on/ roll-off weapon kits that can turn them into multi-role gunship support/ aerial tanker aircraft. Similar weapons, like Textron’s G-CLAW and many of the weapons discussed here for UAVs, will make it easier to equip more planes with more on-board weapons. As Airbus and Alenia both begin fielding smaller gunship aircraft of their own, and more countries begin arming other kinds of counterinsurgency aircraft, the market is expected to grow.

Contracts and Key Events Pyros strike
click for video

May 2/16: Textron is currently testing their upgraded RQ-7 Shadow M2 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which they believe will allow the system to undertake increased mission capabilities currently reserved for larger UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator. At present, Shadow V2s are used by the US Army in conjunction with AH-64 Apaches to fill the armed reconnaissance mission, following the retirement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter. The Shadow M2 will add longer endurance, more capable payloads, and more power than the M2 version, and also gain a satellite uplink that allows it to communicate beyond-line-of-sight.

Sept 23/14: FF-LMM. Textron Systems touts a pair of successful live-fire demonstrations from an RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAV at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, using its new GPS/laser guided Fury (FF-LMM) collaboration with Thales. Textron’s AAI subsidiary makes the Shadow, and the demonstration to TRL 7 levels (prototype tested in representative environment) took 15 months of planning and work with Thales.

As noted above, Fury is derived from Thales’ beam-riding Lightweight Modular Missile, but it uses a different guidance system and removes the rocket motor. It’s properly a glide bomb, which is true for the vast majority of entrants in this market niche. Sources: Textron Systems, “Textron Systems Fury™ Lightweight Precision Weapon Engages Target During Live-Fire Demonstrations”

July 13/14: FF-LMM. Thales unveils an unpowered version of LMM at Farnborough 2014, as a smaller and lighter option for use on tactical UAVs, as well as larger platforms. It’s 70cm / 2’4? long and 6 kg / 13 pounds in weight, with a combined GPS and laser guidance system. The initial model won’t have an airburst fuze, though. Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Farnborough 2014: Thales unveils new LMM variant” | Aviation Week, “Thales Reveals 6-Kg Glide Bomb For UAVs”.

Aug 7/12: STM-II Pyros. Raytheon announces a successful test for their 13.5 pound “Small Tactical Munition,” now redesigned and named “Pyros.” The end-to-end test from a Shadow-sized Cobra UAV validated the weapon’s dual laser/GPS guidance, its height-of-burst sensor, electronic safe and arm device, and multi-effects warhead.

May 2/12: Shadow Hawk test. Lockheed Martin announces successful tests of its privately-developed Shadow Hawk bomb from an RQ-7B. The “11 pound class,” 2.5 inch diameter weapon is laser-guided, and hit within 8 inches of the target at at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah after being dropped from 5,100 feet.

April 4/12: Army update. The US Army discusses its plans for the RQ-7 Shadow. The army’s product manager, ground maneuver, UAS is Lt. Col. Scott Anderson. He says the Army is observing USMC efforts to add weapons to the Shadow, but is more interested in giving the UAV a new engine to improve reliability. That multi-phase competition got 14 responses, and could indirectly help weaponization efforts, especially if the new engine also provides more power.

Jan 12/12: Armed to Afghanistan? Flight International reports that the USMC plans to send 8 armed RQ-7Bs to Afghanistan as a combat demonstration program, after 94 “high-value targets” escaped during a recent Marine unit’s deployment, even though they were spotted by RQ-7s circling overhead. There isn’t always someone else on hand to fire.

The goal is to arm the Shadows with guided bombs weighing under 25 pounds, which was cleared for treaty compliance (?!?) by the US State Department in July 2011, and reportedly followed by a $10 million December 2011 contract. Installation and certification is expected to take a year, followed by a $7 million follow-on contract for deployment. The magazine reports that the weapon isn’t Raytheon’s STM, MBDA’s SABER, or ATK’s Hatchet, but is “another guided weapon that already has been developed and fielded in secrecy.”

Dec 30/11: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $54.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to supply RQ-7B laser designator retrofit kits.

Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of March 31/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).

FY 2011

STM-P2 on Cobra UAV
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Sept 16/11: STM-II test. Over at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, Raytheon’s 12-pound, 22″/ 56cm Small Tactical Munition Phase II finishes captive carry tests on the company’s smaller Cobra test UAV, paving the way for full weapon tests.

STM Phase II is more than 2 inches shorter than the Phase I design, and has foldable fins and wings that allow it to be used from the U.S. military’s common launch tube. It uses both GPS and semi-active laser guidance. Raytheon is taking the production-ready mandate seriously, as well; STM Phase II is also easier to assemble than the Phase I design. Raytheon Nov 30/11 release.

Aug 17/11: Cleared to arm. Flight International, quotes US NAVAIR’s Small Tactical UAS program manager, Col. Jim Rector, who says that the Marines have received clearance from policymakers to arm the RQ-7 Shadow. The USMC made its intent to do so clear late last year (vid. Jan 18/11 entry). Field trials are to be performed on with unnamed munition selected by AAI, within the Marines’ request that it be a production-ready item. This evaluation process is scheduled to last 18 – 24 months.

Aug 15/11: Collision. When an RQ-7 flies into a C-130 Hercules, at least the latter gets to land in one piece. This time.

The incident underscores the role that “deconfliction” needs to play, when armed UAVs are used over the battlefield without “sense and avoid” technologies on board. Experiments are underway to give Shadow-sized UAVs those capabilities, but without that, expect sharp flight restrictions that emphasize long advance notice of flight plans, and narrow altitude bands. Those restrictions will reduce an armed “MQ-7C” Shadow’s potential value, which means the full impact of small tactical armed UAVs won’t be felt until that technical hurdle is cleared.

June 21/11: First test flight at Webster Field, MD of a RQ-7B Shadow UAS under the direction of NAWC Aircraft Division’s UAS Test Directorate. Col. Jim Rector, program manager for Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical UAS program office (PMA-263), said:

“Having a RQ-7B at the UAS Test Directorate allows for the test and evaluation of system enhancements and ultimately provides the ability to quickly get new technologies into the hands of Marines”.

Rector was appointed in April after last serving in the V-22 program office (PMA-274).

May /11: Competition: T-20. Arcturus in Rohnert Park, CA has built the T-20 tactical UAV drone, whose wings can carry MBDA’s 10-pound Saber mini-missile.

The USMC has a few in testing now, and this wing-mounting capability may give Arcturus an opening to supplement, or even replace, AAI’s RQ-7 Shadow as the USMC’s armed tactical UAV.

Jan 18/11: USMC in. Flight Global reports that the US Marines have decided to arm Shadow UAVs as their own initiative, since the Army is dragging its feet, and the Marines don’t have a larger armed UAV like the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle:

“Although the Army Aviaton [sic] and Missile Command issued a request for information in April seeking data on precision-guided weapons weighing 11.3kg (25lb) or less… and said as recently as October that it would take the lead on development of Shadow weaponisation with the USMC, the programme is no longer on the table for the army… says Col Robert Sova, capability manager for UAVs at the Army Training and Doctrine Command.”

The Marines reportedly want a solution fielded within 12-18 months. Beyond options like RCFC, NAVAIR’s Spike, etc., Raytheon has been pressing ahead with its 13 pound Small Tactical Munition (STM), with its dual-mode, laser/GPS guidance system.

Dec 3/10: R&D projects. Aviation Week reports that the US Navy is working on weapons that could give even the ScanEagle UAV hunter-killer capability – and implicitly, the Marines’ Shadow 200s as well.

The 2 pound next-generation weapon management system (WMS GEN2) is designed for use on small UAVs like the Shadow. It has been tested in the lab, and the development team is now looking at using the WMS GEN2 with the 5 pound NAWCAD Spike mini-missile, the Scan Eagle Guided Munition (SEGM), and a GPS-Guided Munition (G2M).

Oct 26/10: STM tests. Flight International reports that Raytheon has conducted tests of its 13 pound, unpowered Small Tactical Munition (STM) at the Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. The 2 successful tests used Raytheon’s Cobra UAV, which was picked because it’s close to the RQ-7 Shadow’s size. Raytheon estimates needing 12 to 18 months to get STM production lines running at quantity, and is readying the project in response to interest from the USMC and, they expect, from Special Forces.

FY 2008 – 2010

81mm RCFC test
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April 19/10: Army RFI. Looks like the US Army is getting more serious about fielding armed Shadow UAVs. US FedBizOpps solicitation #W31P4Q-10-R-0142 says that “Responses to this RFI will be used for information and planning purposes only and do not constitute a solicitation…,” but its issue does show a higher level of seriousness, and could well be a prelude to a real solicitation if an acceptable candidate emerges:

“The US Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) Program Executive Office (PEO) Missiles and Space (M&S), Program Management (PM) Joint Attack Munition Systems (JAMS), on behalf of the war fighter, seeks information from industry on weapons systems ready for production and suitable for integration on the RQ-7B with POP 300D laser designator payload Shadow Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs). Potential weapons systems must be ready to field within 12 months from the date of a potential contract award. The primary interest is in weapon systems approximately 25 lbs or less total system weight (to include munition, launcher, wiring, fire control interface, etc). The weapons system should be able to engage stationary and moving targets such as light vehicles and dismounted combatants in day and night conditions with low collateral damage when launched from a Shadow UAS flying at speeds of 60-70 knots and between 5,000 and 12,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). Terminal accuracy must be on the order of that demonstrated by currently fielded Semi Active Laser / Imaging Infrared / Millimeter Wave (SAL/IIR/MMW) weapons…”

That level of terminal accuracy may be an issue for RCFC mortars, depending on how the Army interprets it. SAL/IIR/MMW weapons are generally considered to be more accurate that GPS guidance, but if “on the order” means “approximately,” then a GPS guidance kit would qualify. It is intended that this RFI will be open for 21 calendar days from date of publication (to May 10/10).

April 1/10: RCFC test. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces successful 81mm Air-Dropped Mortar guide-to-target flight demonstrations at Ft. Sill, OK. The RCFC weapon was released from a TUAV (Shadow) using the GD-OTS’ newly developed “Smart Rack” carriage and release system.

Feb 12/09: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary Army Armaments Incorporated (AAI) in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $9.3 million cost plus fixed fee contract modification, exercising options for additional engineering hours related to these Shadow UAV modifications. These services are related to low-rate initial production of Laser Designators, Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) interoperability, and integration with the Army’s Universal Ground Control Station and Universal Ground Data Terminal.

Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of April 30/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0033).

Jan 21/09: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $12.2 million firm-fixed-price finalization of Letter Contract Modification P00012. It will purchase 25 Laser Designator Retrofit Kits for its RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

Work will be performed at Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).

Dec 16/08: RCFC test. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces that it has successfully demonstrated the ability to maneuver and guide 81mm air-dropped mortars to a stationary ground target after release from an aircraft. These test results in Kingman, AZ build on previous pre-programmed maneuver flight tests successfully conducted by General Dynamics in 2007, and use the company’s patented Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) flight control and guidance system.

Additional Readings

  • DID thanks subscriber Trent Telenko for his research assistance with this article.

The Trends

The Weapons

Listed in alphabetical order of manufacturer.

MBDA – SABER. Their Small Air Bomb Extended Range (SABER), whose unpowered version is about 10 pounds. The powered version of this GPS/laser guided weapon is 30 pounds.

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Aging Aircraft: USAF F-15 Fleet Grounded

Defense Industry Daily - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 01:43
F-15C over DC
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Array of Aging American Aircraft Attracting Attention” discusses the issues that accompany an air force whose fighters have an average age of over 23.5 years – vs. an average of 8.5 years in 1967. One of the most obvious consequences is the potential for fleet groundings due to unforseen structural issues caused by time and fatigue. That very fear is responsible for the #1 priority placed on bringing new KC-X aerial tankers into the fleet to complement the USA’s 1960s-era KC-135 Stratotankers.

It can also affect the fighter fleet more directly.

Following the crash of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C aircraft Nov 2/07 (see crash simulation), the US Air Force suspended non-mission critical F-15 flight operations on Nov 3/07. While the cause of that accident is still under investigation, preliminary findings indicate that a structural failure during flight may have been responsible. In response, Japan suspended its own F-15 flights, which left them in a bit of a bind – even as Israel’s F-15s joined them on the tarmac. As the effects continue to spread and the USAF and others continue to comment on this situation, DID continues to expand its coverage of this bellwether event. A conditional restoration of the American F-15A-D fleet to flight status was soon overturned by the re-grounding of that fleet as a result of the report’s conclusions – a status that remains only been partially lifted. Meanwhile, the accident report has been released (compete with video dramatization) and the status of the remaining aircraft will have significant implications for the USAF’s future F-15 fleet size. Not to mention its other procurement programs.

Then, too, this is America. Now there’s a lawsuit.

F-15E, Afghanistan
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The F-15A reached initial operational capability for the US Air Force in September 1975, and approximately 670 F-15s remain in the USAF’s inventory. Current F-15 flying locations include bases in the continental United States, Alaska, England, Hawaii, Japan and the Middle East, and the aircraft are active on the Iraqi and Afghan fronts. The Missouri Air National Guard F-15C that crashed was built in 1980.

Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, US CENTCOM Combined Forces Air Component commander, is maintaining the newer F-15E Strike Eagles on ground alert, to be used if required. Otherwise, he says he will accomplish all assigned missions using a variety of fighter, attack and bomber aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Lt. Gen. North added that:

“I worry about the health of our aging fleet and how sometimes it is not well understood by those our Airmen protect… The investigation will get to the cause of the accident.”

USAF Chief of Staff Michael Moseley was even more specific in an Oct 30/07 interview with

“The F-15s and F-16s were designed and built in the late ’60s and ’70s. Some of them were produced up until the early ’80s. But they’ve led a pretty hard life of 17 years of combat. So you have to replace them with something, because we were continuing to restrict the airplanes. In the F-15 case, we’ve got the airplane restricted to 1.5 Mach. It was designed to be a 2.5 Mach airplane. We’ve got it limited on maneuvering restrictions because we’ve had tail cracks, fuselage cracks, cracks in the wings. The problem with that is – and Mike Wynne uses this analogy – it’s almost like going to the Indy 500 race practicing all the way up until Memorial Day at 60 miles an hour, and then on game day, accelerating the car out to 200 miles an hour. It’s not the time to be doing that on game day.

So in our training models and in our scenarios, we’re limiting these airplanes because they’re restricted and getting old. So there’s two parts to the recapitalization of the fighter inventory. The first part is the existing stuff is old and it’s getting broke, and it’s getting harder to get it out of depot on time. And our availability rates and our in-commission rates are going down. The ability to generate the sorties on those old airplanes is in the wrong direction.”

And Flight International:

“A USAF F-15 crashed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2002 when it broke up after the leading edge of its left vertical stabiliser detached in a high-speed dive to Mach 1.97. The pilot was killed.

The USAF says it began replacing the leading edge and upper aft portion of the vertical stabilisers during depot overhaul and has so far completed 463 of its 664 aircraft. The F-15 involved in the Missouri accident had its vertical stabilisers repaired in August 2003, the service says.”

Further investigation focused on the plane’s longerons, which connect the aircraft’s metal ‘skin’ to the frame, and run along the length and side of the aircraft. Both the Accident Investigation Board and Boeing simulations have indicated them as a possible source of catastrophic failure; indeed, DID had wondered why structural failure was suspected immediately, and it with that revelation it began to make sense. As DID explained at the time, if one or more of those longerons had failed, the stresses on the airframe could have folded or broken the plane in half – a very unusual form of accident. Eventually, the publication of the formal report confirmed that hypothesis:

“The one longeron, already not up to design specifications, cracked apart under the stress of a 7G turn, the colonel said. This led to the other longerons failing as well, which then caused the cockpit to separate from the rest of the fuselage. The pilot was able to eject, but suffered a broken arm when the canopy snapped off.”

F-4EJ “Kai(zen)”
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Nor is this problem confined to the USA – or even to the here and now.

The Chinese government’s Xinhua agency reports that Japan has also grounded its F-15 fleet. Japan’s F-15Js were built locally under license, on a more recent production schedule, but their oldest planes do date back to 1980. This is a precautionary measure until more is known.

Since Japan’s F-16-derived F-2 fighters are also grounded in the wake of a recent crash at Nagoya, this leaves 1960s era F-4EJ ‘Kai’ Phantom IIs as Japan’s interceptor and fighter patrol fleet for the time being.

Israel confirmed to Flight International that it had also grounded its 70 F-15A-D air superiority aircraft, which are undergoing multi-role conversions, and its F-15I Strike Eagles. The Strike Eagles were later removed from the USA’s concern list, but its F-15 A-D fleet is an important component of Israeli air defenses alongside its larger F-16 fleet.

Gen. John D.W. Corley, the commander of US Air Combat Command, was not encouraged by the results of the report, and of the in-depth fleet inspections that led to 40% of the Eagle fleet remaining on the ground over 3 months after the investigation:

“The difficulty is that issues have been found with F-15s built between 1978 and 1985, across A through D models at several bases, so no one source of the problem can be isolated… This isn’t just about one pilot in one aircraft with one bad part… I have a fleet that is 100 percent fatigued, and 40 percent of that has bad parts. The long-term future of the F-15 is in question… We don’t have a full and healthy fleet, so we’ve gotten behind on training missions, instructor certifications, classes and exercises…

We’re going over each and every aircraft to make a determination. We will take some F-15s out of the inventory. It just doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money if it won’t be worth it for some aircraft.”

Updates F-15E, P-51, F-22A
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May 2/16: USAF’s fleet of more than 500 F-15s are to get a wheel and brake upgrade after successful flight testing. Once completed, F-15C/D/E fighters will be capable of undertaking 1,400 landings before having to swap out their brakes. The USAF stands to save over $194 million in F-15 maintenance costs once all of the aircraft are fitted with the upgrade, and this will be the first brake testing to be carried out on the jet since the 1980s.

May 26/09: Aviation Week reports that the USAF is looking into the possibility of a Service Life Extension Program for its F-15A-D fleet, designed to increase their service lives from 8,000 flight hours to 12,000.

The move is driven, in part, by the impending collapse of Air National Guard wings that can be used in domestic air sovereignty patrols, as older fighters retire and are not replaced. The USAF is accelerating the retirement of 250 F-16 and F-15 fighters in FY 2010, and current plans calls for 2 ANG air sovereignty mission units to get F-22s, 4 to get receive upgraded F-15A-Ds, and the remaining 12 are yet to be determined.

March 22/08: Maj. Stephen Stilwell, a pilot for Southwest Airlines whose Missouri Air National Guard F-15C’s mid-air crackup began the fleet groundings, has filed suit in U.S. District Court against claiming Boeing Corp. His injuries left him with a 10-inch metal plate in the injured arm and shoulder, and he reports that he has suffered from chronic pain since the accident.

Stilwell’s suit, filed by attorney Morry S. Cole, says that Boeing knew or should have know that the F-15 as manufactured allowed and permitted for catastrophic flight break-up, and adds that Boeing failed to notify the Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard of “the likelihood of excess stress concentrations, fatigue cracking, structural failure and in-flight aircraft break up as a result of the structural deficiencies.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

February 2008: The largest effects of the F-15 fleet’s grounding may yet play out on the procurement front. If many of the USAF’s F-15s, which were supposed to serve until 2025 or so, must be retired, how should they be replaced? Read “Aging F-15s: Ripples Hitting the F-22, F-35 Programs.”

Jan 21/08: This week’s edition of the “Today’s Air Force” show highlights how the Air Force carried on its mission while more than 700 of its F-15 Eagles were grounded. See “The Eagle flies once again!” on the Pentagon Channel, American Forces Radio and Television Service stations around the world, and video podcast [30 minutes].

Jan 14/08: Officials begin flight operations again as 39 of the 18th Wing F-15C/Ds at Kadena Air Base, Japan are cleared to fly again after remaining on the ground for more than 2 months as a result of a fleet-wide stand-down. See USAF story.

Jan 10/08: According to the Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board report released on this day. Their conclusion? The plane was simply too old:

“…a technical analysis of the recovered F-15C wreckage determined that the longeron didn’t meet blueprint specifications. This defect led to a series of fatigue cracks in the right upper longeron. These cracks expanded under life cycle stress, causing the longeron to fail, which initiated a catastrophic failure of the remaining support structures and led to the aircraft breaking apart in flight… the pilot’s actions during the mishap sequence were focused, precise and appropriate. The pilot’s actions did not contribute to the mishap, said Colonel Wignall. In addition, a thorough review of local maintenance procedures revealed no problems or adverse trends which could have contributed to the accident.”

Col. William Wignall, the head of the accident investigation added that:

“We’ve had great involvement from Boeing during the investigation. In fact, they’re the ones who determined the longeron was the problem. This was then confirmed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.”

See the USAF’s “F-15 Eagle accident report released,” and the accompanying video dramatization, as well as “Air Force leaders discuss F-15 accident, future.”

Jan 9/08: Air Combat Command officials clear 60% of the F-15A-D fleet for flying status, and recommends a limited return to flight for those planes that have cleared all inspections. The decision follows detailed information briefed on Jan 4/08 to Air Combat Command from the Air Force’s F-15 systems program manager, senior engineers from Boeing and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center; as well as a briefing received on Jan 9/08 from the Accident Investigation Board president.

The USAF report describes inspections as “more than 90% complete,” with remaining inspections focusing primarily on the forward longerons. Thus far, 9 other F-15s have been found with longeron fatigue-cracks, and almost 40% of inspected aircraft have at least 1 longeron that is thinner than blueprint specifications. ACC believes each affected F-15 will have to be analyzed to determine if there is sufficient strength in the non-specification longeron, and this analysis will take place at the Warner-Robbins Air Logistics Center over the next 4 weeks. A number of F-15s are scheduled to be retired in 2009, and calculating the cost of fixes and airframe life of fixed aircraft could have a substantial bearing on the size of the USAF’s future F-15 fleet.

Meanwhile, the 2-month grounding, which has been the longest of any USAF jet fighter, is a gift that keeps on giving. Fully 75% of US Air Force and Air National Guard F-15A-D pilots have lost their currency status for solo flight, and another week would have made it 100%. Instructor pilots have retained their currency and will begin flying F-15B/Ds with the other pilots, so the pilots can land the plane and regain their status. This will be followed by further pilot training, which is required to regain operational proficiency status. USAF report | Flight International.

F-15C CAP(Combat Air Patrol)
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Dec 27/07: The Associated Press details some of the ripple effects created by the F-15 A-D grounding. With the F-15s in Massachusetts out of commission, the Vermont Air National Guard (ANG) is covering the whole Northeast. The Oregon ANG’s fighters are grounded, so the California Air National Guard is standing watch for the entire West Coast plus slices of Arizona and Nevada. To meet that need, the Fresno, CA based 144th Fighter Wing has had to borrow F-16s from bases in Indiana and Arizona and trim back training.

The Minnesota ANG is manning sites in Hawaii, while the Illinois ANG covers Louisiana. In Alaska, the new F-22 Raptors are stepping in – and so are Canadian CF-18s, which have intercepted several Russian bombers near Alaska in recent weeks.

Dec 10/07: The F-15 A-Ds remain grounded. A USAF update informs us that throughout the Air Force, maintainers have found cracks in the upper longerons of 8 F-15s so far: 4 from Air National Guard 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, OR; 2 from USAF 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan; 1 from 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall AFB, FL; and 1 from ANG 131st Fighter Wing, St. Louis, MO.

Inspections are underway using previous methods, until the Warner Robins ALC develops new ones for the fleet. After the area’s paint is stripped and bare metal is exposed, Airmen apply chemicals that reveal cracks under a black light. “Other inspections in hard-to-see areas are done with a boar scope [sic… maybe they mean “borescope”?] – a tool that uses a tiny camera and fits in tight areas.” Inspection time per aircraft is 12.5 to over 20 hours, and the 2-seat B and D models are more time consuming because the rear seat must be removed to access the upper longerons. USAF story.

UPDATE from USAF: “Yes, other readers pointed that out as well (although yours was the funniest). The story was corrected…”

Dec 3/07: It’s now official. Gen. John D.W. Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command orders the stand-down of all ACC F-15 A-Ds until further notice, and recommends the same for all other branches of the USAF. The stand-down does not affect the F-15E Strike Eagle and its variants abroad.

Technical experts with the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA are developing a specific inspection technique for the suspect area, based on the recent findings. However, unlike previous inspections, the inspected aircraft will not be returned to flight until the F-15 A-D model findings and data have been analyzed, required inspections have been accomplished, and the necessary repair or mitigation actions have been completed. To date, longeron cracks have been discovered in an additional 4 aircraft. USAF release.

F-15E: Mission executed.
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Nov 28/07: The accident investigation board (AIB) report leads to the recommended re-grounding of the USAF F-15 A-D fleet, and almost certainly those of other countries as well. The new AIB findings have drawn attention to the F-15’s upper longerons near the canopy of the aircraft, which appear to have cracked and failed. Longerons connect the aircraft’s metal ‘skin’ to the frame, and run along the length and side of the aircraft. In addition to the AIB’s conclusions, manufacturer simulations have indicated that a catastrophic failure could result from such cracks, which were also discovered along the same longeron area during 2 recent inspections of F-15C aircraft.

The commander of Air Combat Command has recommended the stand-down of all F-15 A-D model aircraft across the US military, and ordered a renewed fleet-wide inspection of all ACC F-15 A-D model aircraft using a very specific inspection technique for the suspect area. The multi-role 2-seat F-15E Strike Eagles, which were manufactured later and had several design changes made, remain exempt from these cautions and exceptions. USAF article.

Nov 21/07: All USAF’s F-15s are being returned to flight status, despite acknowledgment that the service is accepting a degree of risk in doing so. Gen. John D.W. Corley, commander, Air Combat Command:

“The cause of the mishap remains under investigation… At the same time, structural engineers have conducted in-depth technical reviews of data from multiple sources… First, we focused on the F-15Es. They are… structurally different than the A-D models. Problems identified during years of A-D model usage were designed “out” of the E-model… Next, we concentrated on the remainder of the grounded fleet. The AIB(Accident Investigation Board) is now focused on the area just aft of the cockpit and slightly forward of the inlets. Warner Robins ALC mandated a thorough inspection and repair of all structural components in this area. I have directed each F-15 aircraft be inspected and cleared before returning to operational status. Today, ACC issued (a flight crew information file) and Warner Robins ALC issued an Operational Supplemental Tech Order to further direct and guide your pre-flight and post-flight actions.”

There are 666 F-15s in the Air Force inventory. As of this day, 219 of the 224 E-models and 294 of the 442 A-D models in the USAF’s inventory have been inspected and re-cleared for flight.

Nov 19/07: Shortly after becoming the first deployed F-15E unit in the Air Force to return to full operational capability following the Air Force’s fleet-wide grounding of the aircraft, the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron at Bagram AFB, Afghanistan, began the move from 5-7 day phase inspections every 200 flight hours, to a phase inspection every 400 flight hours. This change isn’t slated for implementation until 2008, but it’s being implemented early at Bagram AFB to keep more F-15Es in the air and meet mission demands.

The USAF says that its engineers at the Warner-Robins Air Force Base Air Logistics Center, GA looked carefully at all the data after years of F-15E analysis and testing, before approving the change. USAF release.

Nov 15/07: A USAF release says that an order issued by Air Combat Command’s Commander Gen. John Corley on Nov 11/07 mandates a 13-hour Time-Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) on location for each of the USAF’s F-15E Strike Eagles, to inspect hydraulic system lines, the fuselage structure, and structure-related panels. Aircraft that pass this inspection may return to flight status, and similar procedures are likely to be underway for Israel’s F-15Is. ACC Combat Aircraft Division chief Col. Frederick Jones said that this was possible because:

“We were able to determine, based on initial reports from an engineering analysis, that the F-15E is not susceptible to the same potential cause of the Missouri mishap.”

The TCTO inspection is designed to confirm the engineering analysis, and aircraft deployed the CENTCOM has apparently completed inspections and returned to flying status. This still leaves 2/3 of the USAF’s F-15 fleet grounded, however, as the F-15A-D models remain under suspicion. The F-15Es are about 15 years old on average, but the F-15A-D models were introduced earlier. Maj. Gen. David Gillett, ACC director of Logistics said that:

“What we’ve got here is an example in the C model of what happens when you have an airplane that’s about 25 years old… What you find is that it becomes more and more expensive to modify [the F-15 airframe] over time… Our costs have gone up 87 percent in the last five years and continue to rise rapidly. Even when you invest in an old airframe – you still have an old airframe.”

Additional Readings & Sources

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If a single ALIS server were to go down, whether from loss of electricity or sabotage, it could cripple the entire F-35 fleet?

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Snafu-solomon.blogspot - Sun, 01/05/2016 - 23:12
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