F-35 Photo Of The Day

•October 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Photo by Carl Richards

AF-35, a USAF F-35A taking its first flight on 7 Oct.

Syria Happenings..

•October 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Today, the large task of destroying and rendering inert Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal began in earnest. Under the supervision of a joint team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations, Syrian forces using cutting torches and grinders began destroying chemical weapons capable missile warheads, and air dropped munitions. Mixing and filling equipment, designed to mix chemical weapons for transfer to munitions, are also being destroyed.

Despite this welcome development, Syria remains a nation gripped by violence. Many see the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as the fix needed, and one that will bring violence in Syria to an end. That, sadly, couldn’t be further from the truth. No longer is Syria a government vs rebel conflict. Now, its more of a rebel vs rebel vs rebel vs government style conflict. Since this bloodiest chapter of the Arab Spring began nearly three years ago, over one hundred thousand people have died. A small fraction of that total number came from the use of chemical weapons.

Long story short; this mess won’t be ending anytime soon. Its likely the death-toll in Syria will climb much higher. Combine this with the unrest seen across the Middle East and Africa, and you have a recipe for a less than tasty meal.

Pak-Fa Troubles?

•October 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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The partnership between Russia and India, as it applies to the Sukhoi designed Pak-Fa, may be in trouble. India’s commitmerouble. India’s commitment of R&D funds, totaling 5.5 billion, is seen as a necessary investment to fully develop Pak-Fa, and bring the design into service in both the Russian and Indian Air Forces. While draft contracts for the proposed R&D joint venture have been exchanged, the overall contract has not progressed beyond the draft stage at this point.

Several snags have cropped up, that could potentially scuttle the joint venture altogether. India reportedly wants access to all technical data, and to be more than just a monetary contributor, by directly contributing to the overall R&D effort. Technology exchange is a factor seen in several other Indian defense procurement deals, so it should come as no surprise that it is an Indian desire for this partnership. In an effort to further their own defense industry, Indian technology exchange demands make sense.

India is also reportedly seeking a prohibition on sales of the aircraft to countries other than Russia, and India. Due to heavy reliance on export orders by the Russian defense industry, this could be problematic for the deal as a whole. Lack of widespread export could easily lead to upwardly spiraling airframe costs, due to a lack of economies of scale.

The head of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Browne, has stated that the FGFA, as Pak-Fa is known in India, is on hold for now. Browne went on to state that the R&D contract would require another year, and until such time as technical details are provided, financial terms could not be discussed.

From India’s standpoint, I can see the reasoning behind the path they are taking. To put it mildly, Russia burned India on INS Vikramaditya, in terms of overall cost, and schedule. That situation left India feeling a bit like a cash machine, being repeatedly abused.

Lacking a cash infusion into the Pak-Fa program from India, it is possible the program will become financially untenable for Russia. Compound this with India’s desire to prohibit export orders, and the financial sense Pak-Fa offers falters even more. Its very possible India is facing a choice, between the partially developed Sukhoi, or the already developed Rafale. Defense dollars need to be invested wisely, and in Indian defense circles, the Sukhoi may not be seen as a sound investment.

Will Pak-Fa go the way of many other aircraft to emerge from Russia, that never went beyond the prototype stage? Its too soon to tell. The fact that hardware for the Pak-Fa, such as radar, have been developed and shown to the world, points towards a large Russian commitment to the aircraft. Lacking an Indian investment, and commitment for airframes, the Pak-Fa might never see service within the Russian Air Force in large numbers, or with many envisioned capabilities.

The moral of this story is developing modern aircraft is an expensive proposition, made affordable and possible by international partnerships. For those who would point to the Chinese J-20 as an example against this, I would remind them of the J-20’s use of Russian engines, and the possibility of the J-20 design coming from the abandoned MiG 1.44 program.

VFA-101 Rollout Ceremony For F-35C

•October 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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On Tuesday, the official rollout ceremony for VFA-101 and the F-35C took place at Eglin Air Force Base. This event marks a milestone for the Navy’s ramping up of integration of the F-35C into naval aviation.

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Admiral Bill Gortney, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, spoke on the importance of the F-35C.

“Today, we formally recognize the next generation of Naval Aviation – the F-35C,” said Gortney. “The most important revolution is fusing these weapons systems with the rest of the weapon system. Our cruisers, destroyers, P-8s, Tritons, and operational and tactical headquarters – the decision makers.”

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Vice Admiral David Buss, Commander, Naval Air Forces, also spoke.

“Our Navy needs aircraft capable of overcoming a variety of threats – surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles, and tactical aircraft. The F-35C brings stealth capability to the ultimate sea base – the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier – for the first time in our history.”

“The F-35C mixed with the capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, E-2D Hawkeye, MH-60R/S helicopters will provide carrier-based Naval Aviation the ability to fulfill these requirements well into the future,”

Certain critics of the F-35 loving claiming, sometimes at great length, that the Navy is uninterested in the F-35C, and is looking for an exit ramp. When you point out the flawed thinking these critics are operating under, they often plug their ears, and attempt to ignore away facts. Based on the comments made by both Adm. Gortney, and Vice Adm. Buss, it is clear that the Navy is committed to the F-35C, and the capabilities this aircraft will bring to the Navy.

Osprey Aerial Refueling Proof of Concept Flight Video

•October 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This is something I’ve posted on before, only now with video. Instead of jumping into the ongoing debate on the Osprey’s suitability for the COD role, I’m going to focus on the tanker package. As a roll-on/roll-off mission package, I see this being a great addition to USMC aviation, on platforms like the future USS America (LHA-6). This capability is one I hope the Pentagon procures.

Northrop Grumman Delivers Fuselage For Australia’s First F-35

•October 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Scheduled for a 2014 delivery, Australia’s first F-35 will be used for pilot training by the Royal Australian Air Force.

Israel To Seek Second F-35 Order

•October 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Concerns over Iran’s recent diplomatic efforts are leading to procurement decisions in Israel. Currently, Israel has a deal in place for nineteen F-35A’s. Fearing a thawing of relations between the US and Iran, Israel is now moving to add another twenty F-35A’s, in a second batch order. This would allow Israel to standup a second squadron.

It is very likely Israel fears a thawing of relations between the US and Iran due to such a development preventing US participation in any effort to prevent an Iranian nuclear program through military means. Should Israel decide to strike on its own, the F-35 would solve the issue of Iraq denying overflight, due to the stealth nature of the aircraft making detection unlikely.

On a separate note, adding twenty more airframes to the program further diminishes claims of the JSF program entering a ‘death spiral’.

 

 

 

Latest F-35 Deals Finalized

•September 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Last Friday, the Pentagon finalized contracts for the next two rounds of F-35 purchases. LRIP 6 and LRIP 7 contains seventy one new aircraft. In addition to aircraft meant for the US, this round of LRIP purchases contains aircraft for Italy, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Overall, LRIP 7 pricing reflects a six percent drop over LRIP 5 pricing. F-35A pricing, coming in at $98 million, marks a major development, as this is the beginning of price points below the $100 million dollar range. F-35B pricing also fell, to $104 million. F-35C pricing also decreased, to $116 million per aircraft. Pricing for LRIP aircraft is traditionally higher, due to low rate purchases. Despite that, prices across the three variants have fallen with each LRIP purchase. Looking at these trends, it seems likely the F-35, once in full rate production (FRP) will meet initial Lockheed price estimates. To critics, I ask where is this ‘death spiral’ you love to proclaim? Prices are decreasing instead of rising. Orders are increasing instead of shrinking. These two factors are the exact opposite of a ‘death spiral’.

International orders are up, while costs are going down. These developments show the flawed arguments being put forward by certain critics. Not only is the F-35 not in a ‘death spiral’, the program is thriving, and gaining momentum with each passing day. In short, you can write off those claims from the peanut gallery, like so many others they have made over time, to be not only false, but intellectually dishonest. If only critics would use a bit of math….its like critics aren’t even really trying anymore….

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Up-Gunning Stryker, And Light Tank Potentially In The Works

•September 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Lately, the Army has been making many smart moves. Following this trend, another potentially smart move is in the works. Stryker program officials, working with Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) are developing a plan to fit a 30mm cannon, on a remote weapons station, to the Stryker infantry carrier.  This change would allow greater firepower, without an internal space restriction due to use of a remote weapons station. The driving force behind this effort comes after years of study, focusing on combat actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The name of the game is firepower overmatch, which lends itself to freedom of maneuver.

Some may wonder why interest is aimed at a 30mm, instead of the 25mm Bushmaster used on the Bradley. Limitations were discovered on the 25mm, when employed against certain structures. Many will look at this as a simple 5mm difference, which is an overly simplistic way of viewing this. Instead, they should view this as the percentage of increase in diameter, and the increase in round volume, as this is an exponential function. To simply things further, you get rounds that are much larger, with only a modest decrease in muzzle velocity.

Overall, I see this as a very intelligent move, and one that allows the Army to make the most of a platform already in service. Current budget trends mean the highest level of functionality and lethality must be found, at the lowest price point possible.

Amy officials are also seeking to address a capability gap. To address this capability gap, Army leaders are lobbying for an air droppable light tank. This is a capability gap that has existed, for Airborne forces, since the retirement of the M551 Sheridan in the 90’s. A solution already exists, that was never put into service.

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Army officials are interested in revisiting the M8 Armored Gun System. The AGS is a light tank, with an upgradable armor package, fitted with a 105mm main gun. Officials at Ft. Benning refer to the AGS as ‘old technology that kills T-72 tanks’.

I always liked the concept of the AGS, and hated it when it was not put into production. AGS met Army requirements in the mid 90’s, and does so today. I can see international interest in the AGS being likely as well. For any scenario in a Pacific theater gone hot, large armored forces centered around the M-1 Abrams are the wrong tool, and one that would pose more problems than they solve, on a logistics level alone. An up-gunned Stryker/AGS combo provide an excellent solution for the Pacific, while providing a much needed uptick in firepower for the US Army’s Global Response Force mission.

While its questionable if an AGS procurement program can survive, let alone thrive, in the current budgetary environment, I like the thinking. The problem I see, is the AGS might find itself competing for increasingly scarce vehicle procurement funds, which are being focused on the Ground Combat Vehicle program. If the USMC could be brought onboard, with the AGS being used as a replacement for Marine M-1’s, this might offer economies of scale that could make the program more palatable. Time will tell…

 

 

 

Netherlands Sells F-16’s To Jordan

•September 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Fifteen Dutch F-16’s, along with fifty two AGM-65 Maverick ground to air missiles are being sold to Jordan. The contract for this sale is expected to be signed in early October. Delivery will begin in late 2015, and take place in three waves of five aircraft apiece. Jordanian maintenance personnel, and pilots, will train in the Netherlands. These F-16’s will replace aircraft in Jordan’s existing F-16 fleet.

Any bets on how long it takes before critics of the F-35 spin this sale into an event forced by the recent Dutch decision to procure the Joint Strike Fighter?