International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

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Kartik
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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 05 Nov 2019 00:21

brar_w wrote:Indonesia Wants Two Squadrons of F-16 Block 72s


The Indonesia Air Force (TNI-AU) chief, Air Marshal Yuyu Sutisna, told local media that the service has inaugurated a plan to acquire two squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 72 Vipers from 2020. He said that the purchase will be made in stages as part of the TNI-AU’s five-year strategic plan for 2020-2024.

“Purchasing that variant means we will have the most sophisticated F-16s,” said Yuyu. Indeed, the new jets would mean that the TNI-AU’s fleet will be on par with the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s F-16C/D/D+ fleet, which is currently undergoing a midlife upgrade program that will also include the installation of the Northrop Grumman APG-83 AESA radar and Link 16, with certification of the AIM-9X, JDAM, and GBU-39B small diameter bomb. Work began in 2016 and the first aircraft is expected to be ready in 2020. “Indonesia is a longstanding and valued partner,” added a Lockheed Martin statement. “We are committed to supporting the Indonesian Air Force and stand ready to support their future defense needs.”

Without giving more details, Yuyu also said that the TNI-AU is in the process of acquiring the Sukhoi Su-35 as a replacement for the withdrawn Northrop F-5E/F fleet, a program that has seen significant delays and sanctions that were thought to have jeopardized the deal.

The TNI-AU currently operates two squadrons of 33 F-16s, with 19 ex-U.S. Air Force F-16C Block 25s and five F-16D Block 25s as the backbone, delivered under the Peace Bima-Sena II program following upgrading in the U.S. to Block 52 standards. The six-year project commenced in 2011 and ended in December 2017, allowing the existing 3 Skadron Udara at Madiun to bolster its inventory with new aircraft, and the formation of 16 SkU at Pekanbaru.

Indonesia originally received 12 F-16A/Bs under Peace Bima-Sena I for 3 SkU in 1989-90, and nine of them are believed to remain operational. The TNI-AU’s other principal fighter unit is 11 Skadron Udara at Hasanuddin, which flies a mixed bag of 16 Su-27SKs, Su-27SKMs, Su-30MKs, and Su-30MK2 “Flankers.”


Was just about to post this same article. It could be an upgrade for the existing 33 F-16s or 2 squadrons that TNI-AU operates. New builds will stretch their limited budgets with other procurement programs planned as well.

The Indonesians are supposed to get Su-35s and 50 of the Indonesian variant of the KF-X as well. Their deliveries should begin by 2028 or there after, as I would guess.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 05 Nov 2019 04:20

The quote attribute to Yuyu Sutisna indicates 2 squadrons procured in the 2020-2024 time-frame with a request going out early next year. I believe only a small subset of their fleet is upgraded to 50/52 standard and some may be too old to even bother that upgrade. Lockheed has an active program for follow on sales to them and have in the past indicated them as potential customers (based on the business case for which they restarted the line in South Carolina). Of course this may not pan out and I certainty expect that between the F-16, Su-35, more Korean trainers and the KF-X something will have to give and they won't be able to have them all.
Last edited by brar_w on 05 Nov 2019 05:46, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 05 Nov 2019 04:44

GA-ASI's Predator Series Aircraft Pass Six Million Flight Hours


SAN DIEGO – 04 November 2019 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) today announced that its Predator®-series of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), which includes the Predator, Predator B, Gray Eagle, Avenger® and MQ-9B SkyGuardian® lines, has surpassed six million flight hours. The milestone was achieved on October 31, 2019 with GA-ASI aircraft having completed 430,495 total missions with close to 90 percent of those missions flown in combat.

“Six million flight hours is a testament to the reliability of our unmanned aircraft systems that are designed, built, and sustained by a dedicated group of skilled and innovative professionals for operations around the world,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “In our more than 25 years in business, GA-ASI has achieved a list of historic ‘firsts’ in RPA development and we have leveraged those accomplishments to better support our customer’s requirements.”

The identification of the specific aircraft and customer that achieved the milestone is unknown as every second of every day, 69 Predator-class Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) RPA are airborne throughout the world. Flight hours have continued to grow at unprecedented rates in recent years, with 500,000 flight hours achieved from 1993 to 2008, one million hours in 2010, two million hours in 2012, three million hours in 2014, four million hours in 2016 and five million in 2018.

“The demand for persistent situational awareness using our RPA is demonstrated daily through the accumulation of flight hours. The demand for our aircraft is consistently answered by our team of employees, suppliers, and partners who work hard to meet our customers’ dynamic mission requirements,” said David R. Alexander, president, GA-ASI. “Because of the dedication of our employees, our suppliers and partners, our aircraft have the highest mission capable rate in the USAF aircraft inventory.”

GA-ASI aircraft average more than 60,000 hours per month supporting the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the Italian Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, the UAE Armed Forces, and other customers. Missions include helping protect ground units on the battlefield; supporting U.S. Customs & Border Protection operations, and first responders in the wake of natural disasters. These aircraft systems continue to maintain the highest mission capable rates for U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army aircraft inventories.

GA-ASI has produced more than 900 aircraft and over 400 Ground Control Stations (GCS). In addition to RPA and GCS, GA-ASI also produces Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (PED) systems as well as sensor payloads that deliver radar and video imagery, detect moving targets on the ground and over water, and provide Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) on signals of interest. GA-ASI also integrates the data products from these disparate sensors in real time via SATCOM data links to the GCS that can be correlated and displayed as actionable intelligence for use in Operations and Intelligence Centers around the world.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 05 Nov 2019 18:22

Airbus just lifted the lid on one of their prior S&T projects around Low Observables. Appears to be mostly a design exercise and doesn't look like a scaled variant ever left the wind tunnel and RCS measurement facilities (indoor or outdoor). This would serve as a good work up exercise for them on FCAS even though Dassault has actually flown a LO design and probably has more data and tools. Looks like a mash between Northrop's ESAV and its cranked kite and flying wing X-47 configurations. But a really good VLO option for a strike UCAV perhaps.

I guess stealth isn't dead after all :roll:

Airbus reveal #LOUT (Low Observable UAV Testbed) stealth aircraft. Development began in secret 2007, with contract awarded 2010. Diamond-shaped, 12 x 12 m (about Taranis-sized) platform shown to journos in anechoic chamber. Classified programme, but details & images to follow...LINK


The more astute among you will notice a canopy on the
@AirbusDefence
#LOUT unmanned stealth demonstrator. Told to test stealth properties of various transparencies, rather than indicative of a manned function. Vehicle designed to be LO against ground-based threats...LINK


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Last edited by brar_w on 05 Nov 2019 18:36, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby JayS » 05 Nov 2019 18:32

Good to see a different form. Is it a subsonic aircraft..?? Looks like one from the design. But well, frankly there aint any such supersonic drones AFAIK. So its probably a foregone conclusion.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 05 Nov 2019 18:39

This appears to be designed around a subsonic requirement. But obviously was just a design effort aimed at developing and validating a competency. Perhaps it could see the light as a companion UCAV to the manned FCAS component. Design blends aspects of many other that have come before it..A-12 and some Northrop configurations from the past but probably also some Airbus's internal non disclosed projects..

Low supersonic drones do not make very much sense because you probably trade away lots of what you value in a UCAV vis-a-vis a piloted aircraft - Long range and high Loiter. Even the efficient supersonic configurations studied by AFRL earlier this decade pointed to significant compromises or increase in size and weight. So either you fly closer to Mach 0.9 for maximum efficiency, or aim to fly out to Mach 1.3+ which gets pretty difficult from a propulsion and range/payload standpoint for a supercruiser especially since UCAV's are designed with cost in mind (more so than manned aircraft).

High supersonic drones make sense for specific mission and China revealed theirs just a few weeks ago and Lockheed is supposedly working on one as well.

https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/01/l ... -sr72.html

Here's what they've shared on the FCAS schedule -

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Being at the mercy of governments in Germany, France and Spain and expecting a glitch free political process over the 2+ decade developmental timeframe for this project, does seem quite risky. It would be interesting how much control transfer actually occurs (vs what is claimed to have been agreed upon) and how they avoid similar type of issues as those that occurred on the much smaller, and much less riskier, EURO MALE project. Would have been better to say get a nEUron fielded in under a decade and then build on that success but alignment would have likely been impossible with the Germans. If they stick to this, it would seem that it wouldn't be till 2040 that many of the top European forces like Germany and France will begin fielding VLO in numbers (or any number). Thats a long wait and it is quite likely that even some of the smaller players around the world would have operational capability by then.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 06 Nov 2019 02:05

brar_w wrote:The quote attribute to Yuyu Sutisna indicates 2 squadrons procured in the 2020-2024 time-frame with a request going out early next year. I believe only a small subset of their fleet is upgraded to 50/52 standard and some may be too old to even bother that upgrade. Lockheed has an active program for follow on sales to them and have in the past indicated them as potential customers (based on the business case for which they restarted the line in South Carolina). Of course this may not pan out and I certainty expect that between the F-16, Su-35, more Korean trainers and the KF-X something will have to give and they won't be able to have them all.


It would have to be the F-16 Block 72s that would have to go then..my understanding is that the Su-35 deal is going ahead, and they have already been spending on the KF-X program. They would jeopardize their work share on the program if they pulled out of the KF-X program or didn't pay their share, although they've been actively trying to re-negotiate the amount they will pay.

I see this as something like the Malaysian fighter program. It's been up in the air forever and budgetary constraints may preclude it ever being signed.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 06 Nov 2019 02:10

From AW&ST

Marine Corps F/A-18 C/Ds to also get collision avoidance

With the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) now proliferating into the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 and F-35 fleets, Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) is seeking industry input for the development of a similar safety capability to retrofit into the Marine CorpsF/A-18C/D force.

The move follows three years of grassroots efforts mostly led by Marine test pilots to pursue the development of some form of automatic protection system from ground collisions and comes five years after Auto GCAS was first introduced on the Air Force F-16 Block 40/50. Developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), NASA and Lockheed Martin, the Auto GCAS system is now officially credited with saving at least nine pilots and eight aircraft.

In Auto GCAS, algorithms continuously compare the aircraft’s trajectory against a terrain profile generated from an onboard digital terrain elevation data unit. If the predicted trajectory touches the terrain and the system calculates the aircraft is in imminent danger of collision, it executes a last-minute automatic recovery maneuver. The system is designed to protect against accidents caused primarily by pilot disorientation or temporary incapacity due to high g.

According to industry sources the Navair solicitation is focused on achieving an Auto GCAS capability rather than acquiring a specific system. It is therefore expected to zero in on a software-based solution that will run a highly modified version of the current terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) algorithm in a retrofitted flight control computer. As well as the upgraded flight control computer, the overall system will introduce modified software to the digital map and mission computers and the amplifier control intercommunications system, Navair says.


The introduction of Auto GCAS, which will be retrofitted to the F/A-18C/D only, forms part of a final phase of upgrades for the Marine Corps Hornet fleet, which is gradually being replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35B/C. Although the phase-out is not expected to be completed until 2030, the current aircraft continue to be upgraded with AESA radars, Link 16 datalinks and improved navigation capabilities such as RNP/RNAV for GPS approaches. In 2020 the aircraft also is due to be fitted with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out capability.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby JayS » 06 Nov 2019 02:16

brar_w wrote:
Being at the mercy of governments in Germany, France and Spain and expecting a glitch free political process over the 2+ decade developmental timeframe for this project, does seem quite risky.


Exactly my initial thoughts on the FCAS timeline. 2-2.5decades for EIS is is a long time. There are multiple risks involved apart from political ones. If the EFT can bring in some of the maturing technologies from FCAS program starting 2030, and if the UAVs come into service around the same time, and next generation fighter from US on horizon around 2040 (though we don't know if it will be exported at all), the need of FCAS in good numbers might lose steam.

BTW what is the status of the next-generation fighter program of the USAF..?? I expect it to be a true blue 6th generation fighter with a proper 6th generation engine on it, unlike the 5+ generation platforms like FCAS/Tempest. I don't see anyone other than the US having any visibility on 6th Gen engine, which I feel is the key enabler and differentiator for a 6th generation fighter.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 06 Nov 2019 06:05

Kartik wrote:
brar_w wrote:
It would have to be the F-16 Block 72s that would have to go then..my understanding is that the Su-35 deal is going ahead, and they have already been spending on the KF-X program.


Funny how it is so obvious as to which procurement project was going to go but that was not apparent to their Air Chief who basically said that the request/LO Intent would be going out early next year. :mrgreen: I think it is too early to tell how they will prioritize all this. Right now, there is very little investment in the KF-X. In fact it will likely stay minimal till perhaps very late next decade long after any potential F-16's and/or Su-35's would have been delivered.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 06 Nov 2019 22:26

Major Milestone: Norway declares IOC for F-35A


November 6th 2019 Norwegian air chief Brig. Gen. Tonje Skinnarland declared Norway's F-35As operational after completing a deployment in November meant to validate that they are able to operate the jets away from Norway's home base of Ørland Main Air Station.

Norway becomes the third European country to declare IOC, after the United Kingdom and Italy. – I would like to congratulate the Norwegian Armed Forces on declaring IOC with the F-35. This is a big day for the entire Armed Forces, says Norway’s Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen.

With more than 455 aircraft operating from 20 bases around the globe, the F-35 is playing a critical role in today's global security environment. More than 955 pilots and 8,485 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 230,000 cumulative flight hours. Nine nations have F-35s operating from a base on their home soil and eight Services have declared Initial Operating Capability.

Over the last two years, the Norwegian Air Force has conducted intensive operational testing and evaluation (OT&E) of special Norwegian conditions such as winter operations, operations in the northern areas and cooperation with Norwegian Army, Navy and Special Forces.

To conclude the test period, the Norwegian Armed Forces spent several days transferring aircraft and equipment from Ørland Air Station to Rygge Air Station (close to the capital Oslo). Deployment of Rygge's fighter aircraft system includes technicians and other important personnel as well as necessary equipment in order to train and practice operations from there. This was the first time the fighter aircraft were operated from a base other than Ørland Air Station.

Next year Norway’s F-35s will deploy to Iceland to conduct air-policing efforts on behalf of NATO. Finally, by 2022, the Norwegian Air Force will have built up enough F-35s, pilots and maintainers in the country to let the F-35 take over the “quick reaction alert” mission, which calls for operators to stand on a 24/7 alert and scramble, if needed, to intercept aircraft flying near Norwegian airspace. These F-35s will be ready for air-policing in Evenes, Northern Norway.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 08 Nov 2019 01:03

Badly needed piece of defensive equipment for all IAF fighters in the coming decade. Only the Rafale will come equipped with towed decoy as of 2020.

US Navy picks Raytheon and BAe for F/A-18 towed decoy

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The US Navy (USN) picked Raytheon and BAE Systems to develop and demonstrate competing versions of a dual-band towed decoy for its Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.

The service awarded Raytheon $33 million and BAE Systems $36.7 million to develop and demonstrate their next generation of decoys over a 27-month period, the USN says in a media release on 1 November.

Towed decoys are meant to trick an enemy missile into thinking it is tracking and targeting a fighter aircraft, when really it is aimed at the decoy. The decoys are dragged behind fighters using a long cable and create a larger radar cross-section than the aircraft it is protecting by emitting a deceptive pattern of radio frequencies.

Typically, towed decoys offer several layers of defence for their parent aircraft. Within the cable attaching the decoy to the fighter aircraft is a fiber optic line meant to help the two communicate and change electronic warfare tactics as the situation changes.

Initially, decoys are programmed to use their radio emitting abilities to jam and then confuse a radar’s ability to track a fighter aircraft. Sacrificing the decoy to an oncoming missile is seen as a last resort.

Raytheon and BAE Systems plan to develop enhanced versions of the decoys they already supply for the USN’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as part of the competition. For its part, BAE Systems manufactures the ALE-55 decoy. Raytheon makes the ALE-50 decoy.

The USN, Raytheon and BAE Systems did not disclose how the next generation of decoys would be enhanced. Electronic warfare techniques are closely guarded secrets by most militaries.

US Naval Air Systems Command plans to test the new decoys via Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems Program based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 08 Nov 2019 01:26

Germany may be going in for AESA radar for its Eurofighters and may also buy new Eurofighters to replace Tranche 1 Eurofighters. Those T1 Eurofighters would've barely used up half of their service lives. And we've already seen that no one wants to touch un-upgraded Tranche 1 Eurofighters on the second hand market either, despite the Italians and the Spanish trying to sell theirs to multiple nations. Spain did put its T1 Eurofighters through a basic upgrade to bring some T2 and T3 capabilities to these jets, so theoretically the Luftwaffe could do the same to their T1 Eurofighters.

But they'd rather replace these with new builds since they're way more capable and it does keep the assembly line running longer.

Berlin targets Eurofighter AESA deal and top-up buy

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Proposed SEAD/Escort Jammer Eurofighter for the Luftwaffe


Germany appears poised to advance a joint programme with Spain to equip the nations’ later-model Eurofighters with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, as Berlin also nears approving the acquisition of 38 new aircraft to replace its Tranche 1-standard interceptors.


“The [AESA] contract is ready – we are in negotiation with NETMA [the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency] and the German customer to make sure that this contract can be implemented as soon as possible,” says Kurt Rossner, Airbus Defence & Space’s head of combat aircraft systems.

A deal should be finalised late this year or in early 2020, he says, with deliveries for both nations to commence in 2022. To be supplied by the Leonardo-led Euroradar consortium, the new “E-Scan Mk1” radar sets will be retrofitted to 110 Tranche 2 and 3 jets for Germany, while Spain plans to acquire an initial batch of 19 units.

Rossner notes that export buyers Kuwait and Qatar will receive Eurofighter Typhoons with “Mk1A” radars, with the German and Spanish configuration differing through the use of new multi-channel receiver technology. He indicates that the UK plans to field a future “Mk2” sensor optimised for electronic warfare tasks to complement operations with its Lockheed Martin F-35s.

Meanwhile, Airbus expects a contract from Berlin early next year for a Project Quadriga buy of 38 AESA radar-equipped Eurofighters. These are required to replace Tranche 1-standard aircraft delivered from around 2004.

Spain also appears intent on ordering additional examples to replace its Boeing F/A-18A/Bs. “Eurofighter has already been identified as an ideal replacement by the Spanish air force,” says Airbus Defence & Space head of military aircraft Alberto Gutierrez.

..

Longer term, Airbus is pursuing a requirement to replace the German air force’s Panavia Tornado fleet by 2030. It is proposing to supply 45 Eurofighters with “strategic capabilities” – including nuclear weapons – and 40 in an electronic combat reconnaissance/suppression of enemy air-defence configuration suitable for use in an escort jammer role.

Securing new orders from Germany would support an Airbus-led campaign to sell Eurofighters to Switzerland. Rossner says the 40 aircraft offered to the nation are in the Quadriga configuration. A selection decision is expected late next year or in early 2021, with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-35A and Dassault Rafale as rival candidates.

Rossner says deliveries of new aircraft for Germany could begin some 40-46 months after a contract signature, with final assembly in Manching to be at a rate of between eight and 10 per year. Airbus is already managing a production gap at the site following the completion of orders for the Luftwaffe, including reassigning personnel to support MRO tasks.
..

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 08 Nov 2019 03:19

M-346FA

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First experimental @Leonardo M-346FA is being prepared for an extensive flight test campaign in 2020 aimed at expanding the flight control system (FCS) envelope. A full rep prototype is now in production to support the avionics system (AVS) upgrade.


Twitter link

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Indranil » 08 Nov 2019 04:41

Wow! A very good looking plane!

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 09 Nov 2019 04:31

Turkey reported to be considering Su-35s and then possibly the Su-57E. This may also just be a ruse to try and get the US to take Turkey back into the F-35 program. Turkey has a very large number of F-16s and cannot afford to antagonise the US too much without the possibility of a complete break in ties impacting their defence severely.

Turkey set to go Russian and acquire Sukhois to take place of F-35

Key Points

Turkey looks set to buy Russian Su-35s and Su-57s, having been ejected from the US-led F-35 programme
Ankara has reportedly been offered its own variant of the Su-57

Turkey, now ejected from the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme, may be poised to make a major change in procurement policy and acquire advanced fighters from Russia. Such a decision would align with a previous Turkish procurement in which US and other NATO-nation air defence systems were rejected in favour of the Russian Almaz-Antei S-400.

That S-400 purchase is what initially led to Turkey being pushed out of the F-35 project over concerns that Turkey's operation of the S-400 could put radar signals analysis of the F-35 in the hands of the Russians.

Turkish news outlets have reported that negotiations between Moscow and Ankara on the purchase of the Sukhoi Su-35 'Super Flanker' began shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin held one-to-one discussions at the August 2019 Moscow Air Show. The negotiations reportedly took two months to finalise.

That said, as recently as 29 October Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was denying any Su-35 deal, reportedly maintaining, "We are F-35 partners, and we say give us what is rightfully ours."

The initial Russian proposal was that Turkey join the Su-57 programme to replace its F-35 acquisition plans. This idea was initially declined, with a Turkish counterproposal including two streams of activity. The first was the acquisition of 36 Su-35s, with a contract signing to be announced by the end of this year. Turkish interest in the Su-35 has been partially based on evaluation of its performance in the Russian air campaign over Syria.

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby Kartik » 09 Nov 2019 05:40

First serial built Su-57 on the assembly line

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Re: International Aerospace Discussion - Jan 2018

Postby brar_w » 09 Nov 2019 07:39

JayS wrote:[

BTW what is the status of the next-generation fighter program of the USAF..?? I expect it to be a true blue 6th generation fighter with a proper 6th generation engine on it, unlike the 5+ generation platforms like FCAS/Tempest. I don't see anyone other than the US having any visibility on 6th Gen engine, which I feel is the key enabler and differentiator for a 6th generation fighter.


The USAF has an active, funded program and has committed $5+ billion over the next 5 years for technology maturation and risk reduction on mission systems and aero vehicles and networks on top of the few billion they’ve already spent publicly. This does not include the propulsion investments which are ahead of the rest from a maturity perspective. The goal is to have Next generation fighters heading over to squadrons by 2030 with IOC a couple of years from then. The USN is about 5 or so years behind but they are not yet fully committed to a clean sheet design. They’re still doing an analysis of alternatives to determine what replaces the SH and Growler.

Q&A: A New Way to Build Fighters

Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, is the point man within the Air Force for accelerating acquisition and finding ways to leverage technology to save money and build a more lethal Air Force. He served previously as the head of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, and before that as the Chief Architect of the Missile Defense Agency. He spoke exclusively with Editorial Director John A. Tirpak about the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) system, and Roper’s “Digital Century Series” concept for developing future combat aircraft. This is an excerpt from that interview.

Q. Air Combat Command needs a new air superiority capability by 2030, and the Air Force is talking with industry about possible technologies. But it seems like you want to restructure the way you design and build aircraft before you jump into NGAD.

A. I don’t think the immediate set of technologies for NGAD … have shifted at all. They are a good set. I wish we could talk more broadly about them, but they make sense.

But how we build aircraft, that doesn’t make sense. Approaching NGAD the way we did the F-35 would put us at great risk. It would shrink the industry base even further and incentivize companies to get out of the fighter-building business.

The idea of the ‘Digital Century Series’ is not about building aircraft that are different, but about building aircraft differently. The key tenet is a new ‘holy trinity’ of technologies that would flip the pace of building new things and the price we pay for them. That trinity is: agile software development—no surprises, there—modular, open-systems architecture—because we want to be able to change out components quickly and seamlessly—and, finally, digital engineering, which is the new element.

We’re accustomed to doing things digitally in the Air Force. Flight simulators, for example, help pilots get proficient faster than just flying. It’s cheaper to do it that way, as well.

Digital engineering brings that same idea into design, production, and sustainment. It brings a high level of fidelity, and not just in the design of the aircraft. It’s the assembly line, where people are doing work; what work is being done; the machines that do the work; the tooling. … All digitally modeled, so you can optimize it. You can get expensive tooling out if you can find a better substitute. You can change a process from requiring an artisan with years of training to one requiring a lower skill level. The idea is to find a better way of assembling things, and raise the learning curve in the digital space, before you ever build the first aircraft.

The ambition—which I think is completely achievable—is building the first airplane as if it was the hundredth.

Q. Are there any examples that prove this works?

A. The T-7A [formerly known as the T-X] trainer is one. It gives you a leading indicator that when you apply digital engineering—and Boeing has, for that airplane—amazing things are possible. Now we want to show that we can do the same thing for advanced aircraft, and bring in the software and modularity. Everything is empowered by software—we want to have apps on airplanes that change every day if necessary—and the modularity because we want to be able to change the subsystems frequently.

Think about combining those things. You could be in production at a very low rate with a very small team if you get the hard tooling and highly skilled workforce out of the assembly line. You could build airplanes LEGO-style.

Q. So this lowers the bar for companies to compete for design work?

A. At the time of the original Century Series [the F-100 through F-117], we had over a dozen companies that could design and build airplanes. We want to get back to that, where companies design things and build them at a small rate.
With digital engineering, as technologies mature, you can modernize the design; cut new things into production without slowing down the flow. And do it between multiple vendors so that there’s competition.

Q. Instead of winner-take-all, you’ll have multiple companies designing aircraft for you constantly?

A. Multiple companies designing and building concurrently, with different technologies, and not designing ‘X’ planes but aircraft that could be produced in quantity—if the nation needs them—and flown by any pilot in the Air Force without specialized training. That’s the core idea.

We hope for radically different results in terms of quality, and to keep quantities low until we need quantity in bulk.

We have to try something different, because we have so few major acquisition programs that it has shrunk the industrial base for tactical aircraft down to two or three companies that can do it. We have to change the paradigm so there’s profit in design, and not ask companies to buy into a program, and hope to make their investment back in production and sustainment of a large number of things.

If we don’t change that, we’re in danger of collapsing to a single national fighter company, and that is not where we want to be.

Q. It used to be, companies lost their shirts in design, but made profits later. That’s been the model since the 1980s.

A. See, we don’t want people to lose their shirt in design. We want people to get paid in design. If you want a cutting-edge Air Force, give companies profit for designing cutting-edge things.

I love design. That’s where I want to be. The last thing I want is a program saying, ‘hurry, hurry, let’s get into production’ and not think about cutting-edge because we’re already in the hole. That’s the model we now consider normal, and there’s nothing normal about asking industry to lose money in design if you want to be cutting-edge.

Q. What would change in the usual production process, particularly on the back end?

A. With the Digital Century Series, we want to give profit in design, keep production rates low, never go to ‘full rate’ production, not buy hundreds or thousands of things so that we can keep upgrading and modernizing, and re-competing who builds the next aircraft every few years. If we do this well, and digital tools become common industry practice, you don’t have to be a producer of thousands to be a competitor. You can be a competitor as a great design company. And if this sounds like science fiction, it’s already happened in the automotive industry.

If we do it, we can start building cutting-edge aircraft every few years, and … we can build satellites this way, as well.

Q. How many would you make?

Maybe a wing’s worth or two wings’ worth of aircraft, not designing them to last 30 years, but with a shorter service life so we retire the airplane as the next aircraft comes online. We could grow the industrial base again. And if we do one every four or five years, then we can impose cost on our adversaries, because they’d never know what’s on the next airplane we’re fielding.

What would be great for a platform developer is, they could keep their design teams together and profit from doing it. No win would be a big one, and no loss would be a big loss, so you don’t have to fight us in court. The loser cannot lose and be out forever. There has to always be a way to enter and keep designing. You just need to get back to designing the next one.

Q. Notionally, how many are we talking about? 50? 100?

A. That’s part of why I’m going to focus a whole team on doing this, with a program executive officer to lead. It’ll be a special organization with autonomy, similar to Big Safari, with a very different mission, but focused 100 percent on building digital aircraft.

I’ve been discussing this with industry, the platform manufacturers, the suppliers, and there’s general enthusiasm. You can imagine, the idea of building things frequently has a lot of appeal. Because the intervals between major programs have grown to about 20 years. But there’s a general sense of caution as well, because this is new.

The idea has appeal, too, because they … would not be in a place where they have no idea when the next fighter or bomber is going to be built.

This is different from ‘X-planes’ because those are about high-tech demonstrators, never meant to go into production. We’re designing these with the idea that any one of them could go into production. And we’ll crunch the numbers, but we envision that production of 50-60 is probably the minimum for any aircraft, because if we make too few, there’s no business case for industry.

General [Mike] Holmes, [commander of Air Combat Command], sees operational advantages to this, but what I’ve been told is, it’s more difficult to use anything less than a wing of about 72 aircraft. Doing this every five years, and maybe four, an acquisition strategy might look like: award a contract for 50, and then evaluate whether or not you want to award another option for 25, and then another option for 25. And then, at year four, move into competition for the next aircraft. And if you’re not happy after 50, maybe switch to a new design earlier.

I’m envious, because I’d love to be the program manager for this.

There’s a painting in the Pentagon with every airplane used by the Army Air Corps and Air Force, [“Wings Through Time” by Robert Emerson Bell]. And it shows that at the beginning, there was this big boom in development, but as you get into the Cold War, the aircraft get more sparse. And every time I pass it, I think, ‘I wish I’d gotten to do acquisition during the earlier parts of the painting.’ How exciting it would have been to have a new airplane coming out so frequently?

Q. How long would you keep these airplanes?

A. We don’t yet know what to tell industry to design for, in terms of service life. We’re going to have maverick-y maintainers and sustainers on the team. I’ve asked General [Arnold] Bunch, [head of Air Force Materiel Command], for help on this because we don’t want these things to go through 30-year service lives. We want to balance the number of flight hours with the pace at which we can upgrade. And if we do that, we don’t end up doing deep overhaul maintenance at the depots because we’re taking them out of service sooner.

The good news is, we can pull some of the profit and cashflow industry currently gets from long-term sustainment contracts and plow that back into design and micro-production. So, we won’t get any new money from Congress, but we can shift where it’s spent. We’re not going to compete with China by sustaining old things well.

Q. So you can apply this idea to unmanned aircraft as well?

A. You can apply this to anything. And although this is not a sharper point on the spear, it is a much faster spear-building process, and that’s what our adversaries should fear.

I want to achieve the same revolution in aircraft and satellites and weapons that the automotive industry has achieved. Our cars [today] are increasingly digital, they run forever and they never break down. And companies can produce multiple cars in the same production lines, seamlessly, without any bump in progress or flow. We could do that.

Q. Is there enough time to apply this to NGAD? Can you risk figuring this out on such an important project?

A. We’ve got a set of technologies ready to go. We’ve got a healthy supplier base for the subsystems and they are excited to bring technologies to us, but they’re not all at the same level of maturity. There’s value in beginning—and demonstrating—that we can make this digital process work, getting some advanced tech on the airplanes that we don’t have today, and then including the additional technology from the subsystems as it matures.

How we go forward is a warfighter decision. I will offer best advice on what’s possible, and they will pick and choose what we do and when. But we’ve had great support from our senior leaders. I fully expect that we will begin as soon as we’ve figured out how you make a positive business case, balancing all the variables of design timeline, technology, maturation, sustainment, and then what it takes to make this profitable for industry.



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