USAF prepares upgrade strategy for F-15E fleet

By Stephen Trimble

Boeing confirms that its single-largest customer for the F-15E, the US Air Force, is finalising a new, long-term upgrade “roadmap” for the multirole fighter.

The ongoing initiative by the Air Combat Command, which is scheduled to be complete in July, is aimed at improving the F-15E’s avionics and “supportability”, says Mark Bass, Boeing‘s vice-president for F-15 programmes. That timing will allow the USAF to propose the roadmap for budget approval starting in fiscal year 2012.

The USAF has meanwhile been briefed about the F-15 “Silent Eagle”, Boeing’s newly unveiled F-15E development featuring a reduced head-on radar cross section, BAE Systems digital electronic warfare suite (DEWS) and horizontal stabilisers canted by 15°.

However, Boeing offered the briefing only as a courtesy, as the aircraft is focused primarily on the international market. The USAF “thinks it’s a very good fit for the international market”, says Bass.

Boeing F-15 Strike Eagle

Separately, Boeing has also presented additional details about BAE’s DEWS equipment to the USAF, Bass says, with the design – which includes an integrated radar jammer and radar warning receiver (RWR) – is among the F-15E upgrades under review by the service.

BAE confirms that the DEWS package is derived from the EW suite designed for the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, using a modular software architecture system called Barracuda. A key feature of the system is an interleaving mode that allows the pilot to continue jamming while simultaneously operating the radar and RWR.

The USAF plans to continue operating at least 200 F-15Es until 2035. But upgrade proposals, including digital avionics and towed decoys, have faced budget pressure from the USAF’s strategy to buy a full complement of fifth-generation fighters.

Last year, the USAF awarded Boeing a contract to launch a radar modernisation programme for the F-15E, which upgrades the type’s radar with Raytheon’s APG-63(V)3 active electronically scanned array.

Elisra to supply South Korean C-130Hs with electronic warfare suite

By Arie Egozi

South Korea has awarded Elisra a $25 million contract to supply an integrated electronic warfare suite for its air force fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130H tactical transports.

The company, which is 70% owned by Elbit Systems and 30% by Israel Aerospace Industries, says the selected EW equipment will be capable of coping with infrared- and radar-guided threats.

The South Korean air force operates 12 C-130Hs, according to Flight’s MiliCAS database.

Elisra earlier this year received a $7 million contract to provide EW equipment for four prototypes of the Korea Aerospace Industries F/A-50 strike aircraft within the next two years, including an advanced radar warning receiver and chaff and flare dispensers.

KAI hopes to later secure a production order for at least 60 F/A-50s from the South Korean air force, and to sell dozens more to export customers.

The repeat selection of Elisra equipment by Seoul proves a high level of customer satisfaction and confidence in the company’s products, claims chief executive Itzhak Gat.

UK signs for first three F-35B Joint Strike Fighters

By Craig Hoyle

The UK has kept its commitment to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme despite massive pressure on its procurement budget, today signing for its first three production aircraft to support initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) of the fifth-generation fighter.

Signed during a visit to Washington DC by defence secretary John Hutton, the deal will see the UK take delivery of its first short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs in 2011, with the aircraft to be drawn from the JSF programme’s third low-rate initial production batch.

© Team JSF

To be delivered in 2011-12, the UK aircraft will be assigned to a joint test team for the F-35 in the USA, with the Netherlands also expected to acquire two conventional take-off and landing F-35As to support IOT&E activities.

Describing the JSF as “an essential part of our Future Combat Air Capability”, Hutton says: “Working alongside their US colleagues, our pilots will gain an unrivalled understanding of this awesome aircraft and its capabilities.”

As the USA’s lone Level 1 partner to the JSF programme, the UK expects to spend £2 billion ($2.79 billion) during the design’s ongoing system development and demonstration phase. More than £1.1 billion of this total had been spent by 31 March 2008, according to the UK National Audit Office’s Major Projects 2008 report.

The MoD declines to reveal the value of its 18 March contract, citing “commercial sensitivity”, but confirms that the sum is in addition to its previously identified £2 billion investment in the programme.

To be acquired under its Joint Combat Aircraft project, the UK’s future F-35Bs will replace its current BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9s, operated by the Royal Air Force/Royal Navy Joint Force Harrier organisation. Up to 138 of the aircraft are expected to be purchased.

Up to 32 of the aircraft will be deployed aboard each of the RN’s two 65,000t Future Aircraft Carrier vessels, and today’s IOT&E acquisition “will enable the MoD to move forward in developing the Carrier Strike capability”, Hutton says.

UK Signs For F-35 Test Aircraft

Douglas Barrie/London

British officials March 18 signed a deal to purchase three Lockheed Martin F-35Bs that will allow the United Kingdom to participate fully in the operational test and evaluation phase of the program.

British Defense Secretary John Hutton announced the decision during a visit to Washington. “By purchasing three aircraft for testing, we will secure access to the development of the program. Working alongside their U.S. colleagues, our pilots will gain an unrivalled understanding of this awesome aircraft and its capabilities.”

Involvement in the operational test and evaluation (OT&E) phase will provide a litmus test of sorts of whether Britain is actually getting the level of access to the aircraft, and data, that it believes it requires to help sustain what it terms “operational sovereignty” with regard to the F-35.

The F-35B is presently the favored variant to meet the United Kingdom’s Joint Combat Aircraft requirement to replace the Harrier GR9. A final decision on the initial procurement number, and F-35 variant, however, will not be taken until around 2013. The aircraft is due to enter service in 2017.

The three U.K. OT&E aircraft will be delivered in 2011 and 2012.

Photo: Lockheed Martin

Atlas V Rolling Back From Pad After Scrub

Jefferson Morris

United Launch Alliance is rolling the Atlas V rocket carrying the U.S. Air Force’s second Wideband Global Satcom (WGS-2) spacecraft back from Launch Complex 41 to its integration building at Cape Canaveral this afternoon, where technicians will attempt to determine the cause of the upper-stage liquid oxygen leak that resulted in the scrubbing of Tuesday night’s launch attempt.

The oxidizer valve leak was discovered during fueling of the Centaur upper stage at about 7:45 p.m. EDT, in preparation for a 9:24 p.m. EDT launch. Liftoff of WGS-2 already had been postponed from Saturday, to deconflict with Sunday’s liftoff of space shuttle Discovery.

Once the Atlas V arrives back at the 30-story Vehicle Integration Facility (VIF), “hopefully we can do anything we need to do there in the VIF,” ULA spokesman Mike Rein said. He doesn’t expect that the rocket will have to be destacked to diagnose and solve the problem.

Once the leak is taken care of, ULA will request a new launch date from Eastern Range officials. Even in a best-case scenario, it appears unlikely the flight will be able to try again before the end of the month, due to the upcoming March 24 launch of the Global Positioning System IIR-20 satellite aboard a Delta II, as well as Discovery’s scheduled landing at Kennedy Space Center March 28. The Air Force has said it definitely cannot attempt another launch before the GPS flight.

If WGS-2 tries to go after the shuttle, the earliest possible date would be March 30, Rein said, since range officials need about a day of turnaround after a shuttle landing before another flight.

File photo of Atlas V: USAF

StratCom Chief Talks Cyber, Nuclear

By Michael Bruno

The combatant commander in charge of U.S. Strategic Command told House defense authorizers March 17 that the United States remains vulnerable across a swath of cyber threats, but he asserts that the military is indeed making progress on the issue.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton also respectfully lobbied the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee on behalf of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, or something of the kind, to modernize, secure and even reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Chilton predicted that “2009 will be an important year” for deciding and pursuing the nation’s new strategic forces vision due to major military reviews, as well as groundwork laid by years of debate over the RRW and other related issues.

Chilton and subcommittee Chair Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) appeared mostly to agree on issues discussed at the public hearing, although Tauscher hinted at continued hesitation over RRW, which she has resisted before because of the image that it gives of the United States building new nuclear weapons. But she also outlined “fences,” or restrictions, under which she seemed to offer support.

According to Tauscher, nuclear stockpile modernization must maintain the ban on atomic testing, provide no new capabilities in regards to nuclear yield or robustness, adhere to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and work toward U.S.-Russian efforts at cutting their Cold War arsenals. Accordingly, modernization “really is a policy that can be reviewed in an interesting way.”

Chilton did not challenge any of those assumptions, and he repeated purported benefits that RRW would bring. Both the nuclear weapons workforce and stockpile are aging, he reminded lawmakers, and the RRW was conceived toward addressing those issues. He also stressed that numerous allies rely on the U.S. nuclear “umbrella” for their own strategic protection, and the RRW moves toward assuring them of U.S. reliability.

Meantime, Chilton sidestepped the ongoing debate about who in the federal government should lead its cyber efforts, but he noted that the military has a cyber command force inside StratCom, which works part and parcel with the National Security Agency on the issue. Still, StratCom is only responsible for protecting military networks and developing any related cyber attacks, if ordered. And even in the defense department, the military must make more cultural and behavioral changes.

The combatant commander said the defense sector must see cyber as a necessity, not a convenience, and charge its operational leaders with the responsibility to defend and develop the capability in their areas of command. Meanwhile, the country faces the potential for attacks from bored teen-agers causing mischief to organized nation-state aggression.

“I’m worried about all of them,” Chilton said. “Are we vulnerable today across the spectrum? I would say yes.”

Photo: Aviation Week & Space Technology