House Lawmakers Want Air Force To Explain Duplicative ISR Capability

House authorizers want the Air Force secretary to brief Congress on why the service shelved a mature beyond-line-of-sight airborne communications exchange system, known as the Tactical Airborne Communications Pod, only to fund the development of another system to meet similar requirements.

On Tuesday, the House Armed Services intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee releasedmark-up language for a fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill that would instruct the service secretary to provide a briefing on “existing and planned activities” relating to systems that support beyond-line-of-sight command and control for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

On Wednesday, the committee approved the language without amendments; it will be debated future at a full House Armed Services Committee mark-up meeting next week.

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2015authorizersHouse Armed Services Committeeintelligence surveillance reconnaissancemark-upNDAA

Global Hawk, Triton, E-2D Bolster Northrop’s Aerospace Systems Business

FY-15 budget bodes well for Northrop programs

Northrop Grumman remains upbeat about the future of its aerospace systems enterprise despite a modest decrease in first-quarter sales and ongoing budget uncertainty, thanks mostly to continued domestic investment and international interest in the RQ-4B Global Hawk, MQ-4C Triton and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye platforms.

Following the release of first-quarter earnings on April 23, Wes Bush, Northrop’s chairman, CEO and president, said most of the company’s programs are well-supported in the fiscal year 2015 president’s budget released in March, giving the company a positive outlook.

“Over the long term we see a significant set of opportunities aligned with our core capabilities both domestically and internationally,” he said.

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4B Global HawkE-2D Advanced HawkeyeMQ-4C TritonNorthrop GrummanWes Bush

Lockheed Marketing Modern F-16s To Shore Up Production Beyond 2017

Fort Worth could deliver 48 aircraft per year

Lockheed Martin is not waning in its support for the scaled-down F-16 production facility at Fort Worth, TX, and intends to keep the plant running as long as there is demand, even as F-35 production ramps up at a neighboring facility, a company program official said on April 22.

The U.S. Air Force has not ordered F-16s since fiscal year 2001, and the service recently zeroed funding for a major F-16 avionics modernization program that would have upgraded 300 aircraft.

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avionics modernization programF-16 productionFort WorthLockheed MartinTexas
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AWACS Office Looking For Savings To Counter Nunn-McCurdy Breach

Seven fewer E-3s avoids $136M in modernization costs

The program office overseeing the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System modernization effort is looking for additional cost-saving initiatives to offset a spike in the estimated average unit cost of the Block 40/45 upgrade and other modifications, an Air Force spokesman said this week.

The AWACS modernization program experienced unit-cost growth of around 22 percent in fiscal year 2013 and was flagged in the Defense Department’s latest Selected Acquisition Report, which is prepared annually to monitor the cost, schedule and performance status of major acquisition programs.

Because the cost increase was above 15 percent, constituting a significant Nunn-McCurdy cost breach, the program will be subject to additional scrutiny and oversight.

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GAO: Work Demands Impacting RPA Pilot Training, Quality Of Life

No plans to hand RPA throttle to enlisted personnel

Pilots who operate the Air Force’s unmanned aircraft are promoted less frequently than conventional pilots and high work demands are negatively impacting their training, development and quality of life, the Government Accountability Office says in a new report

The April 10 report assesses the Air Force’s management of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) pilots. It includes seven recommendations, including that the service update its 2008 optimum crew ratio, establish a minimum or “red line” for the number of pilots needed to safely operate an unmanned aircraft, and evaluate the possibility of allowing enlisted personnel or civilians to perform RPA missions.

The Defense Department concurred with four recommendations and partially concurred with three.

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AFRICOM Refines Logistics Plan With Industry, Multinational Input

Bundling requirements for June work notice .

The head of U.S. Africa Command’s logistics directorate is reaching out to industry and foreign partners to “optimize and synchronize” the Defense Department’s logistics network in continental Africa.

On Tuesday, Brig. Gen. James Johnson, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, told industry representatives at a National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored forum in Washington that the command is working to complete a theater distribution plan that leverages existing partner and industry assets to improve the flow of supplies to meet the needs of Defense Department operators in Africa.

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Blackbird, Discovery Shuttle & Others

National Air and Space Museum

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Dulles, Virginia.

April 12, 2014

 

Photos by James Drew.

 

aircraftDullesNational Air and Space MuseumSteven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in ChantillyVirginia

Air Force Vice Chief Denies Reports Of Cuts To A-10 Training, Modernization In Late 2014

The Air Force vice chief of staff has denied the service is violating the law by taking actions to retire its fleet of A-10 close-air-support aircraft, such as cutting pilot training hours and canceling modernization work in calendar year 2014.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer told the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee Thursday that the aircraft are fully funded through FY-14, which ends on Oct. 1. He said the Air Force understood, and would comply with, FY-14 authorization legislation that bars the service from taking preparatory actions for future A-10 divestment in calendar year 2014.

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110222-F-JW424-062

Transfer Plan: Liberty Aircraft To Be Relocated To AFSOC Bases In FY-15

AFSOC-operated MC-12s replace U-28s 

U.S. Special Operations Command wants to consolidate its MC-12 Liberty aircraft operations with Air Force Special Operations Command as SOCOM prepares to take control of 33 additional MC-12 aircraft from the Air Force’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing.

SOCOM has for years owned a fleet of 10 MC-12s, although they are operated by U.S. contractors, AFSOC spokeswoman Raquel Sanchez told Inside the Air Force in an April 9 email. But when those aircraft transition to AFSOC, they will be operated by active-duty and Air National Guard crews.

Funding to transition those 10 aircraft, and the additional 33 MC-12s the Air Force is making available for special operations missions, is included in the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget request, and any transition would require lawmakers to authorize that part of the budget in its current form.

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Operation Unified Assistance

Forest Service To Receive First HC-130H From Coast Guard In Late 2014

More details on Sherpa, C-27J transfer

The first of seven repurposed Coast Guard HC-130H search-and-rescue aircraft is being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service later this year, a USFS fire and aviation spokeswoman said this week, referring to an interservice airplane swap authorizes by Congress. The final six aircraft will start being delivered in 2017 as the Air Force converts them into airtankers for firefighting missions.

The Hercules transfer is one part of a larger airplane swap deal, brokered by lawmakers after the Air Force’s controversial decision in 2013 to divest 21 relatively new C-27J Spartan airlifters. Congress would only allow the divestiture if the aircraft or other platforms could be modified and transferred to other operators.

Under the deal, seven C-27Js were transferred to U.S. Special Operations Command, and the rest will go to the Coast Guard, in exchange for that service giving seven HC-130Hs to the Forest Service. The Defense Department is required to spend up to $130 million on the HC-130H modifications.

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USAF Signals Interest In Building More Precision-Lethality Bombs

Sources-sought notice published

The Air Force is exploring options to potentially increase its inventory of precision-lethality BLU-129B bombs and it is conducting market research to identify American companies that are capable of doing the work.

The service has bought relatively few BLU-129Bs, which are specialized 500-pound-class MK-82 bombs, since they were introduced as a quick reaction capability for U.S. Central Command in 2010. However, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s armament directorate signaled its intention to eventually procure more units by publishing a sources-sought notice to identify potential industry providers.

According to the March 18 notice, the service wants to determine the technical capability and qualifications of industry to meet the government’s need to increase its inventory of BLU-129B warheads.

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Pentagon: Little To Change About QDR Despite Russian Military Situation

Pentagon officials are trying to decouple the Quadrennial Defense Review from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other recent events in Eastern Europe as a way of countering calls by House lawmakers for the document to be rewritten.

The review was released in early March, before Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, but House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) claims the QDR does not adequately reflect global volatility and instead places too much emphasis on cooperation and nuclear arms reductions to make the United States safer.

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F-35 PEO Refutes Reports Of F-22 Technology Transfer To South Korea

The Pentagon’s top F-35 official has rejected reports that South Korea will receive F-22 technical information as part of the country’s deal to buy 40 F-35 fighter aircraft.

The transfer of technical documentation from Lockheed Martin’s F-16, F-22 and F-35 programs to support South Korea’s development of an indigenous fighter aircraft, known as KF-X, was reportedly key to the country’s selection of the F-35 over the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle.

But F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said South Korea is unlikely to receive more technical information than is permitted through the current foreign military sale process.

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Air Force’s 25-year RPA Plan Includes Unmanned Cargo, Tanker Aircraft

The Air Force has released its latest guidance on the development of remotely piloted systems and aircraft in an attempt to look beyond the “tyranny” of the current budget cycle, which is forcing the service to recalibrate its spending on unmanned capabilities, according to service officials.

Among the concepts presented in the document, titled “RPA Vector: Vision and Enabling Concepts 2013-2038,” are remotely piloted cargo aircraft, medical evacuation and combat rescue platforms, unmanned aerial refueling tankers, a near-space “mother ship” launch platform and new types of hypersonic vehicles for rapid, long-distance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

But while new platforms are being explored, the service’s fleet of MQ-9 Reapers is expected to remain in the force mix out to 2044 — long after the 25-year vector expires, RPA officials said at the Pentagon April 4.

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Air Force Reaps Cost Savings From Engine, Energy Efficiency Programs

DOD to consume 105 million barrels of liquid fuel in FY-14

The Air Force’s top official for installations, environment and logistics has emphasized the service’s commitment to improving the energy efficiency of its aircraft and military installations even as budget realities force service leaders to make deep cuts to force structure and modernization programs.

Representing the Air Force at a Senate hearing on April 2, acting Assistant Secretary for Installations, Environment and Logistics Kathleen Ferguson said her service is the largest consumer of power and fuel within the Defense Department, having spent approximately $9 billion on energy in fiscal year 2013 — money she believes could be spent elsewhere in the enterprise if efficiencies can be found.

EnvironmentInstallationsKathleen Fergusonlogistics

Air Force To Issue Work Order For U-2, Global Hawk Sensor Study

Weather radar to improve RQ-4 availability 

The Office of the Secretary of Defense has cleared the Air Force to proceed with a $10 million study to assess the technical feasibility of migrating the U-2 spy plane’s unique imaging sensors onto the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the service’s top intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance acquisition official said.

The study comes as the service looks to retire the aging U-2 fleet in favor of the Global Hawk — something Congress has prohibited it from doing until the capabilities of the RQ-4 Block 30 fleet are brought up to parity with the militarily popular and more capable U-2.

Speaking to Inside the Air Force on March 28, Air Force Materiel Command’s Program Executive Office for ISR and Special Operations Forces Col. Eric Fick said his office is planning to release a request for proposals to industry to solicit work on the study soon.

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Air Force Materiel CommandCol. Eric FickProgram Executive Office for ISR and Special Operations ForcesRQ-4 Block 30U-2 spy plane
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Smaller, Lighter Laser Technology Advances HEL Avenger Plans

A reduction in the size and weight of high-energy laser technology is making it possible for General Atomics to realistically consider integrating an airborne laser with its Predator C Avenger Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, creating what is fondly known as a HEL Avenger, a company official said. The Air Force has one Avenger in its inventory as a test asset, and the service has put GA on contract to deliver a second aircraft in early 2015.

General Atomics is the lead contractor for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, or HELLADS, which seeks to foster laser technology to the point where a high-energy laser weapon system can be integrated with a tactical aircraft.

In a March 24 interview with Inside the Air Force, GA’s Director of Strategic Development for Defense Department programs Chris Pehrson said the company plans to leverage the technology generated in HELLADS to fit a High-Energy Laser (HEL) into the weapons bay of its Avenger aircraft. This capability is depicted in an Avenger promotional video on YouTube, although Pehrson concedes this type of system is a future ambition.

“We’re looking at a fairly powerful solid-state laser that could be used for anything from ground attack — taking out soft to semi-hard targets such as an antenna or a soft vehicle,” Pehrson said. The company is similarly interested in using the HEL to shoot down incoming missiles, thereby making the Avenger more survivable. But Pehrson said that capability requires much more development, specifically the processes for directing the HEL beam and queuing threats.

The Defense Department has a long, expensive track record of trying to employ high-energy lasers on aircraft, most notably its $5 billion investment in a Boeing 747 Airborne Laser Testbed which entered long-term storage in 2012. In spite of past attempts, the department is continuing its laser research efforts on a smaller scale through DARPA — particularly the complementary HELLADS and Excalibur programs.

In a March 27 news release, DARPA said its Excalibur program recently used low-power optical phased array laser system to precisely hit a target four miles away. The test demonstrated the laser’s ability to to outperform legacy lasers with conventional optics and overcome the atmospheric turbulence which diminished the laser’s intensity at the target, the release said. Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are the prime system integrators for the Excalibur program.

Pehrson did not give a time line for the HEL integration, but he said it was not a capability which exists today and the company was not on contract to do any integration work.

Avenger

In terms of the standard Avenger configuration, the Air Force will take delivery of its second Predator C unit in early 2015, Pehrson said. The aircraft was originally intended to be a follow-on to MQ-9 Reaper UCAV, but the Air Force has not formally pursued an MQ-X program.

A maritime variant of the Avenger, known as the Sea Avenger, is an entrant in the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike competition, and Canada is also considering buying the Avenger platform.

In an email in March, a service spokesman told ITAF the service only has one Avenger aircraft in its inventory and there is no “acquisition strategy/plan” to purchase a Reaper successor at this time. Pehrson said the Air Force’s new Avenger will be the fourth Predator C to be built by the company since the platform’s maiden flight in 2009. It was reported in 2011 that the Air Force was using the Avenger on operations in Afghanistan, however, Pehrson said the service is not currently deploying the Avenger operationally.

GA keeps some units in-house for flight testings and development. Pehrson said the most recent development effort is to integrate the Avenger with UTC Aerospace System’s new multispectral sensor, known as the Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System — a follow-on to the SYERS-2A carried by the Air Force’s U-2 spy plane fleet.

“We’re already underway on that as a demonstrator,” Pehrson said. “There’s no requirement but we’re going to demonstrate it.”

The Avenger represents a departure from conventional turboprop-powered Reaper and Predator aircraft. The Predator C is a faster and more maneuverable aircraft powered by a Pratt & Whitney turbofan engine. Like the MQ-9, the Avenger has hard points on its wings to carry precision-guided munitions, although the Avenger also has a 3,000-pound internal weapons bay and there is additional space in the nose bay. Depending on the weight and fuel load, the Avenger can fly for up to 18 hours at an altitude of 50,000 feet. “It still has a glider characteristic,” Pehrson said, “so it has a lot of persistence with speeds of up to 400 knots. You can reposition across the battlespace faster and it’s more responsive to pop-up threats.”

Whether the Air Force decides to pursue the Avenger as a next-generation Reaper depends on a number of factors, including the outcome of the Navy’s UCLASS competition and the details of a 25-year strategic document being unveiled by the service late last month.

“They’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” Pehrson said. “They don’t have the stomach right now for a new program start and it’s not a stealthy aircraft for a high-threat area.” He said the Avenger was designed to be more maneuverable and have a lower radar cross-section than legacy platforms.

Another area of development for the Avenger is its integration with airborne sense-and-avoid technology, similar to the efforts being undertaken by the Air Force with Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk platform. This sense-and-avoid technology is one of the main capabilities unmanned aircraft operators need to demonstrate before RPAs can be integrated with the National Airspace System. Without the technology, RPAs are unable to autonomously identify and avoid other aircraft.

In 2013, GA tested a prototype air-to-air Due Regard Radar system on a Reaper aircraft — a critical component of the company’s developmental sense-and-avoid system. Pehrson said the company is pursuing the technology as a way of building confidence in unmanned aircraft and to help it meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirements for RPA integration into the national airspace. — James Drew

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Chris PehrsonDefense Advanced Research Projects AgencyHELLADSHigh-Energy LaserHigh-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense SystemPredator C

Air Force: No Near-Term Plans To Buy Next-Gen Targeting Pods

Total requirement for 1,100 targeting pods

The Air Force has stopped buying new targeting pods for its fighter and bomber aircraft even though years of investment have produced units with capabilities far superior to the legacy systems currently being employed.

In response to questions from Inside the Air Force about the service’s acquisition plan for Advance Targeting Pod-Sensor Enhanced (ATP-SE) units, service spokesman Ed Gulick said the service has no near-term plans to procure additional pods due to higher priorities. “However, there is an Air Force minimum requirement for approximately 1,100 targeting pods to meet the fighter/bomber precision attack requirement,” Gulick said.

The Air Force held a competition to develop next-generation advanced targeting pods in 2010, and contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin for its Sniper ATP-SE system and Northrop Grumman for its LITENING G4.

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040514-N-0295M-005

Pentagon Programs $6 Billion Over Six Years To Support FY-17 BRAC

Official: Savings from closures would offset spending

Pentagon and service officials have appealed to Senate lawmakers to authorize another base realignment and closure round in fiscal year 2017 — a process the Defense Department estimates will be cost-neutral over a six-year implementation period.

Testifying at a Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee hearing April 2, acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment John Conger said the department has programmed $6 billion in its new future years defense plan to implement the recommendations of a base closure commission.

He told lawmakers the department expects to spend $2 billion on BRAC initially, and a total of $6 billion over six years — by which time the savings will have balanced the costs. Conger said by the third year of implementation, the savings from initial base closures will have outpaced spending.

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ISR Acquisition Official: Air Force Rethinking RPA Command And Control

As the Air Force prepares to unveil a 25-year strategy for the development of remotely piloted aircraft, the service’s top acquisition official for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets has spoken about some avenues already being explored — including the creation of a common mission control center for RPAs and the possibility of having one pilot control a fleet of unmanned aircraft.

Speaking to InsideDefense.com on March 28, Program Executive Officer for ISR and Special Operations Forces Col. Eric Fick said Air Combat Command’s recent decision to stand up an ISR futures office to establish the requirements for a next-generation remotely piloted aircraft is a “strong, positive step.”

“The notion of ACC standing up a futures office to look at the next steps in ISR is brilliant and I fully support it,” he said. According to a service spokeswoman, ACC established the office in part to assess the lessons learned from medium-altitude remotely piloted aircraft operations and to determine what is needed in a next-generation platform.

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