Feb 19, 2017

Trump flirting with big Super Hornet order

At the rollout of Boeing’s newest commercial airliner, President Donald Trump indicated his administration could be looking at a large Super Hornet order. Huge, even.
“We are going to fully rebuild our military. By the way, do you care if we use the F-18 Super Hornets? Or do you only care about—what do you think?” Trump said Friday, addressing veterans and servicemembers in the crowd at a Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C. “We are looking seriously at a big order. We’ll see how that [goes].”
Trump’s trip marks a growing relationship between the new president and Boeing, which has been a target of both his praise and scorn. In December, Trump tweeted that the Air Force One replacement, which is to be helmed by Boeing, should be cancelled because of what he viewed as inordinate expense.

USAF A-10 'Warthog' will stick around until at least 2021

A-10 Warthog fans can breathe a sigh of relief: The Air Force won’t start retiring the famed close-air support plane until 2021, at the very earliest.
The decision delays initial retirement of the aircraft by three years, as the Air Force had planned to begin mothballing the A-10 as early as 2018. However, the service is still deliberating the future of the platform, including whether it still needs to start a new program to replace it, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said Tuesday.
“We’re going to keep them until 2021, and then as a discussion that we’ll have with [Defense] Secretary [Jim] Mattis and the department and the review over all of our budgets, that is what will determine the way ahead,” he told reporters.

Feb 18, 2017

France to receive A400M airlifters beefed up for combat

The French air force expects to receive shortly the third A400M airlifter which has been retrofitted to the more capable “tactical” version, a spokesman for the service said on Thursday.
The service expects to receive the upgraded turboprop aircraft “very soon,” the spokesman said. The delivery schedule “overall is on the right track,” he said.
That unit will complete the three-strong batch of Airbus A400Ms which underwent a retrofit in Spain to equip the aircraft with a self-protection package, to use short and rough runways, air-drop paratroopers and cargo from a side door and the rear ramp, and some in-flight refueling.
The Direction Générale de l’Armement received the first two retrofit aircraft Jan. 9 and 18, a spokesman for the procurement office said. After DGA inspection, the air service took possession of the planes.
Airbus had pledged to deliver six “tactical” A400Ms last year, with the first three units built to that standard and delivered to France.
Delivering that close to the schedule on such a large program can be seen as satisfactory, the Air Force spokesman said. The service now has a fleet of 11 A400Ms at the Orléans airbase, central France. Of that total fleet, seven are flying missions to Jordan and the African sub-Saharan Sahel region, which is a reasonable rate of use, he said.
There remain a further five units to undergo a retrofit, and these are expected to upgraded when they undergo a detailed maintenance “C check” for airworthiness after two years of service.
France is due to operate a fleet of 15 A400Ms under the 2014-2019 defense budget.

Feb 17, 2017

US Air Force must retrofit 108 F-35As

The US Air Force’s number of F-35As in need of hardware or software retrofits has grown to 108 aircraft, and the service could deliver more fighters without Block 3F capabilities.
The air force is now facing a fleet of 108 F-35As that must be retrofitted from the Block 2B or 3i configuration, Lt Gen Jerry Harris, USAF deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, states in a 16 February testimony to Congress. The USAF and the F-35 Joint Programme Office are working together on a Block 3F upgrade plan.
When the USAF declared its F-35A variant ready for limited combat last August, the service’s chief of Air Combat Command noted the aircraft still needed significant and would gain greater capabilities with impending software and hardware upgrades. Block 3F and 4, which the USAF expects will be available in 2018 and 2021, will increase the F-35’s weapons capacity and improve targeting.
Twenty-six of those 108 aircraft will require a software-only upgrade, according to Harris. In addition to software modifications, 19 aircraft will also require new signal processor cards which the service says will take an average of three days to install and test. The service must install 18 aircraft with a newer helmet mounted display system, in addition to the processor cards and software, which will take 15 days to install.
“The remaining forty-five aircraft will require significant hardware modifications in the form of a Tech Refresh 2 modification,” Harris states. “This modification consists of twenty-six major components and takes approximately 30 days per aircraft to install and checkout.”
The USAF’s operational test aircraft also require Block 3F hardware modifications. But with availability of the full fleet of 23 aircraft projected in 2018, those modifications have fallen behind.

Feb 12, 2017

Spain to keep flying old C101 Aviojet trainers

The Spanish government has given the go-ahead for a spares package contract for the air force's CASA C101 Aviojet advanced trainer and light attack aircraft, effectively extending its in-service life for a further four years.
An air force spokesman told Jane's on 7 February that they had "no further information at this time" on the acquisition of a replacement for the aircraft, which was first mooted eight years ago.
The bidding process approved by the cabinet is for up to EUR20 million (USD22 million) to be spent on parts for the aircraft and their engines, half of which will cover the period up to the end of 2018 and the remainder for a potential extension of the contract for a further two years.
The single engine Aviojet first entered service in 1980. They were built by the then state-owned plane maker Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA (CASA), which later became part of the pan-European Airbus group.
Spain received 88 C101EBB Aviojets, which are also used by the air force's Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol) acrobatic display team.
The export standard C101BB aircraft was also sold to Honduras (4) and Chile (12), which also received 23 of the longer ranger C101CC version, as did Jordan (16).

Germany says only one of 8 A400M transports ready for use

Only one of Germany's eight Airbus A400M military transport planes is currently ready for use, the German air force said on Thursday, days after one of the aircraft broke down during the German defense minister's visit to Lithuania.
A spokesman for the Luftwaffe said three aircraft, including the one stranded in Lithuania, were out for unscheduled repairs, with two more in planned inspections and one receiving scheduled retrofits. The seventh aircraft was still going through the acceptance process after arriving on Jan. 31, he said.
"Of course, we'd like to have more of the aircraft ready for use, but it's also normal that aircraft need to be inspected and maintained," the spokesman said.
German officials said on Thursday they were still investigating what caused an oil leak in one of the four engines on the aircraft that carried Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to Lithuania, and whether it marked a new technical problem for Europe's largest defense project.
Airbus declined comment on the air force data. The company, which has written off over 5 billion euros on the program after gearbox problems and fuselage cracks, said it is doing all it can to support the current investigation.
Tobias Lindner, a Green party lawmaker and member of parliament, said the latest incident reflected continuing problems with the A400M, and particularly its engines, and he was concerned it could further stall aircraft deliveries.
Airbus has told the German defense ministry that it plans to deliver 10 aircraft this year, down from 12 aircraft initially planned, and 13 in 2018, down from 14 planned.
The defense ministry told Lindner last month that it had asked for compensation of 39.4 million euros from Airbus for delayed deliveries of the first 5 aircraft, of which 27.2 million euros had been received. Payments for the first and fifth aircraft were still being discussed.
Technical problems have put the A400M program years behind schedule, with Germany's share of the costs having risen to 9.6 billion euros ($10.2 billion) from an initial estimate of 8.1 billion.
Germany is the largest customer for A400M, which was initially developed for seven European NATO nations at a cost of 20 billion euros.


At the direction of Adm. Harry Harris Jr., U.S. Pacific Command commander, Pacific Air Forces will send 12 F-22 Raptor aircraft and approximately 190 Airmen to Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal in early February to conduct combined exercises and training missions with the Royal Australian Air Forces as part of the Enhanced Air Cooperation Initiative under the Force Posture Agreement between the United States and Australia.
The rotation of the aircraft is designed to modernize and strengthen our already firm mil-to-mil relationship, facilitate interoperability, exercise combined capabilities and increase regional engagement.
While at RAAF Base Tindal, the F-22 detachment, alongside their RAAF counterparts, will provide credible forces able to support a wide range of exercises or training activities. Through this initiative and the continued enhancement of the RAAF facilities, Pacific Air Forces and the RAAF will build upon their individual and combined capabilities, advancing interoperability between the nations. This interoperability will extend to regional partners as the initiative progresses. The enhanced, combined operational capability and interoperability are integral to regional security, stability and combined readiness.
“This F-22 Raptor deployment represents a key milestone for U.S. and Australian Airmen as together we build a robust fifth generation fighter presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” said Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander. “Our steadfast relationship with Australia, deeply rooted in our common principles and shared values, stems from working together day in and day out across the full spectrum of operations and will continue to prosper as we further integrate our efforts through this initiative.”
This rotation of F-22 Raptors to RAAF Base Tindal marks the initial fifth generation asset deployment of this duration and scope within Australia, and will be the first time the F-22 has conducted combined training to this extent in the country. While there, they will conduct integrated training opportunities with Royal Australian Air Force’s 75 Squadron F/A-18A/B Hornets along with ground assets and personnel. This activity will vastly enhance RAAF and USAF fourth to fifth generation integration, while introducing fifth generation operations and requirements to RAAF Base Tindal.
“Australia is a critical partner in the F-35 program and playing a key role in helping PACAF lead fifth generation aircraft integration into the region,” said O’Shaughnessy.
We greatly value the enduring relationship with our Australian allies across the globe from the Indo-Asia-Pacific to the Middle East. Through deployments like these, we can better leverage the increased survivability, lethality and situational awareness that the F-22 and F-35, along with our fourth generation fighters, bring to this theater to ensure allied air superiority for years to come."
usaThe additional capability of conducting joint and combined exercises from northern Australia is an integral part of the Force Posture Agreement between the United States and Australia.

Feb 11, 2017

US, Chinese aircraft in 'unsafe' encounter in South China Sea

The U.S. Pacific Command detailed what it called an "unsafe" close encounter between a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft and a Chinese aircraft Wednesday.
The two planes reportedly flew within 1,000 feet of each other in the general vicinity of the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
Maj. Rob Shulford, a spokesman for PACOM, told Defense News that “on Feb. 8 (local), an interaction characterized by U.S. Pacific Command as 'unsafe' occurred in international airspace above the South China Sea between a Chinese KJ-200 aircraft and a U.S. Navy P-3C aircraft.”
He also said that "the U.S. Navy P-3C was on a routine mission operating in accordance with international law," adding that the “Department of Defense and U.S. Pacific Command are always concerned about unsafe interactions with Chinese military forces."
There have been no other details about the relative flight paths of both aircraft at the time of the encounter, which has been described as “inadvertent,” although other reports said that the American P-3 had to alter course to avoid an aerial collision.
The Chinese aircraft involved has been identified as a Shaanxi KJ-200 Airborne Early Warning aircraft, which suggests this was unlikely to be an intercept of the P-3 by the Chinese.
The KJ-200 carries a phased array radar inside a long, rectangular housing mounted on struts on top of its fuselage. The aircraft is used by both the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and the air arm of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, to provide air surveillance.
It is unclear to which branch of China’s armed forces the aircraft involved in this latest encounter belongs, although PLAN KJ-200s have been known to operate from air bases on China’s southern Hainan Island, 530 miles from Scarborough Shoal.
The aircraft are usually on temporary rotations to Hainan, being normally assigned to the PLAN’s 2nd Air Division, 4th Regiment based at Laiyang in Shandong Province, northern China.

Greece military plans modernization of its F-16 fleet, could eventually acquire F-35

Greece plans to modernize its fleet of F-16 fighters and then acquire F-35 aircraft from the Unite States at a later date, according to a news report.
The publication Ekathimerini, quoting unidentified aides of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, said the decision was taken in line with recommendations made by military chiefs.
Ekathimerini reports that in addition to upgrading existing F-16s and notifying the United States of its interest in procuring the F-35, Greece will also seek maintenance for the military's S300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems.
A letter of request for modernizing the F-16s was signed by Kammenos on Tuesay.
Upgrading Greece's entire fleet of F-16s will cost between $1.7 billion and $2 billion, according to the report, and would be paid over a period of time.
A deal for the maintenance of the S300 missile systems is not yet clear.
Greece has a total of 155 F-16C and F-16D aircraft.

More than half of all US Marines aircraft unflyable in December

More than half of all Marine Corps fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft were unable to fly at the end of 2016, officials said on Wednesday.
The Marines are struggling to keep aging aircraft flying amid budget cuts, delayed spending bills and more than 15 years of wartime wear-and-tear.
Out of 1,065 Marine Corps aircraft, 439 were flyable as of Dec. 31, said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation. That represents roughly 41 percent of the service’s fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
“My target should be 589 [flyable aircraft]; so I am 150 airplanes shy of what I need to make my flight-hour goal,” Davis told reporters on Wednesday. “In order to meet my operational commitments, I need a little bit more than that.”
Since taking the job in June 2014, Davis has been working furiously to get enough Marine Corps planes and helicopters flyable until the service can receive new aircraft, such as the F-35.
While the number of aircraft ready to fly on any given day fluctuates, overall the number of flyable aircraft has been improving, Davis said.
But only 72 of the Marine Corps’ 280 F/A-18 Hornets were flyable as of Dec. 31, officials said. This is just a quarter of the Corps' Hornets, and down from September, when 90 Hornets could fly.
Davis explained that readiness declined at the end of 2016 due to holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
“November and December every year are low productivity months,” said Davis, who noted that 473 Marine aircraft were flyable at the beginning of October.
Of the Marine Corps’ 280 F/A-18 Hornets, 109 were either at or headed to depot in December, Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns explained. Because the Navy runs the depots, those aircraft do not fall under the Marine Corps, she said. The service tracks the 171 Hornets that are under its direct control, of which about 42 percent are flyable.
It should be noted that depot-level maintenance is deliberately planned and scheduled with few exceptions,” Burns said in an email. “We expect and plan for a certain percentage of our aircraft to be in the depot at any given time. It is through depot-level maintenance that we ensure the Marine Corps maintains a ready and balanced fleet while we transition F-35.”
In addition to the 72 Hornets that were flyable in December, another 26 needed repairs that were expected to be completed in less than 120 days, Burns said.
The Marine Corps can only repair so many aircraft at any given time, Davis said.
“I can’t collapse that gap any faster than I am right now with the funding restrictions we’ve been under in the past,” he said. “We are funded to the max. I can only reset a CH-53E so fast. I’ve got seven on the East Coast; eight on the West Coast and one in Hawaii — 16 airplanes in reset right now. I can only get so many of those into reset at any given time.”