An Australian program to acquire baseline Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-Off Missiles has achieved its final acquisition milestone after achieving “final operational capability” status with the delivery of the required stock of missiles to the country’s inventory. The Australian government’s defence minister announced the milestone in a statement on May 28.
Australia is one of three international partners acquiring the AGM-158A JASSM missile from the U.S. Air Force through the foreign military sales process. The long-range missile is produced by Lockheed Martin in Troy, Alabama, and was selected through the Australian Defence Force’s $317 million Follow-on Standoff Weapon program, established in 2004.
According to the latest major projects report by the Australian government’s main weapons acquisition body, the Defence Materiel Organisation, the JASSM program was due to achieve “final operational capability” status last September.
Global Hawk prime contractor Northrop Grumman announced a new record for the number of flight hours flown by its Global Hawks, with the total fleet logging 665 in a single week in February. The milestone comes as Congress considers an Air Force plan to keep and improve its RQ-4 fleet while retiring the older U-2 spy planes.
The service’s main argument for keeping Global Hawks instead of U-2s involves a significant reduction in the average cost-per-flight-hour (CPFH) for the unmanned platform, driven mostly by increases in the number of hours flown across the entire fleet.
According to a May 28 company statement, Northrop’s total fleet of high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) systems — which consists of the Global Hawk and its Navy and NASA derivatives — logged a record 665 hours during the week ending Feb. 23, flying operational and exercise missions.
Forest Service brings additional airtankers online
The head of the 302 Airlift Wing’s aerial firefighting operations hopes the U.S. Forest Service’s acquisition of additional civilian and Coast Guard airtankers does not significantly diminish its reliance on Air Force Modular Airborne Firefighting System operators, even though the aircrews could use some relief from the demanding operational tempo experienced during recent wildfire seasons.
Stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, the 302 AW faces an uncertainty in relation to its future operating tempo as the Forest Service adopts additional airtankers. It also stands to lose four C-130 airlifters if Congress were to authorize sweeping force-structure changes being proposed by the Air Force in its fiscal year 2015 budget request. Under the plan, the Air Force Reserve Command wing would also lose its active-duty associate unit.
Australian F-35 commitment gives clarity to military planners
The Royal Australian Air Force is confident in its ability to transition to new fighter, electronic attack and maritime surveillance capabilities smoothly and within the designated initial and full operational capability dates, according to Australia’s air attache in Washington.
The Australian government is acquiring U.S. Air Force F-35 fighter jets and U.S. Navy EA-18G electronic attack aircraft and P-8 Poseidons for the RAAF through its lead acquisition body, the Defence Materiel Organisation, and it is scheduled to begin accepting those new capabilities as early as calendar year 2017 and 2018.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s representative to the United States has laid out Australia’s plan to support pilot and maintainer training on the conventional-variant F-35 fighter jet at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, which is ramping up training activities with the reactivation of one fighter squadron and delivery of the first aircraft to the base.
Australia is slated to be the first partner nation on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program to join the Air Education and Training Command F-35A training community at Luke AFB, as part of a shared-use pooling arrangement between the U.S. Air Force, partner militaries and prime contractor Lockheed Martin.
The acquisition team overseeing preliminary work on the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System recapitalization effort has been pleased with the industry response to two requests for information posted earlier this year and is confident in its ability to deliver a new platform to replace the legacy E-8C early in calendar year 2022.
The team, which is part of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center theater battle control division at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, is conducting market research to identify vendors that can deliver a new JSTARS aircraft and the associated communications and battle management command-and-control subsystems. The two notices attracted about 35 responses and more than 100 participants attended the related industry days in February and April.
The Senate Armed Service Committee’s version of the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill includes provisions that would prohibit the Air Force from retiring any legacy E-3 battle management aircraft or transferring MC-12 spy planes.
The bill, which the committee approved Thursday, would also delay a C-130 rebasing effort.
The proposed legislation includes a long list of consequential provisions relating to the Air Force that, if made law, would go against many of the service’s wishes and delay for another year several significant force structure changes.
EAST HARTFORD, CT — Pratt & Whitney is hoping to avoid losing future sustainment contracts on the F135 engine it produces for the F-35 program to companies such as General Electric and Rolls-Royce by upgrading and improving the engine to reduce depot maintenance costs, a company executive told Inside the Air Force this week.
The Joint Strike Fighter program’s top executive has said the Defense Department wants to compete future sustainment and training activities on the F-35 program and will not automatically select prime contractor Lockheed Martin and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney as the product support integrators (PSIs) for that work.
The Air Force’s legacy fleet of Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft will begin receiving its final significant mission system upgrade in late July, although the service’s plan to divest five of those 16 aircraft in fiscal year 2016 means not all of the E-8Cs would receive the modernization package.
The Prime Mission Equipment-Diminishing Manufacturing Source (PMS-DMS) upgrade is being delivered by JSTARS prime contractor Northrop Grumman and is expected to greatly improve the processing power of the legacy mission equipment, which entered service in the early 1990s.
The remnants of a legacy E-8C aircraft re-engining program will be shipped from a Northrop Grumman facility in Melbourne, FL, to the Air Force’s boneyard facility in Arizona for permanent storage by this summer, a service official said this week.
The Air Force is also preparing to divest the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) program’s controversial T-3 test aircraft, also at Melbourne, that Congress has kept funded against the Air Force’s wishes until the end of fiscal year 2014. The aircraft is expected to be put into flyaway storage sometime this year so it can be used if the need arises.
EAST HARTFORD, CT — A Navy program to boost the fuel efficiency of the Joint Strike Fighter engine is the nearest opportunity for Pratt & Whitney to transition new fighter engine technology into a product for the military, a company executive said this week.
While P&W is mostly focused on transitioning the three baseline variants of the F135 engine from the system development and demonstration phase to initial operational capability in fiscal year 2016, the company is also laying the groundwork to deliver new configurations that are more fuel efficient and can operate at higher temperatures.
EAST HARTFORD, CT — The F-35 fighter and KC-46 tanker aircraft programs will drive the growth of Pratt & Whitney’s military engines business over the next decade as Defense Department technology development and demonstration efforts foster new opportunities, according to company executives.
Speaking to reporters at a company media event on Tuesday, Pratt & Whitney President of Military Engines Bennett Croswell pointed to the Air Force’s KC-46 tanker, which will use Pratt engines, as a major growth driver.
Boeing, the prime contractor, is expected to deliver 18 KC-46A tankers by 2017, and Pratt & Whitney so far has delivered seven engines in support of that goal.
EAST HARTFORD, CT. — Lockheed Martin’s new F-35 Final Assembly Check Out facility in Italy has taken delivery of its first F135 engine as international participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program ramps up, according to engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.
In a May 20 press release, the company said the engine is the 137th delivered to date, and the first to be built at its newly-established F135 production facility at West Palm Beach, FL.
The bulk of F135 engine production takes place at Pratt’s engine facilities here, which includes the short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant for the Marine Corps and the conventional and carrier variants for the Air Force and Navy.
The Air Force is looking for potential suppliers of contractor logistics support for the Air National Guard’s specialized fleet of RC-26B intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft despite uncertainty about where they will be located.
The service had wanted to retire the fleet by fiscal year 2015, but is instead planning to consolidate the aircraft at a single operating base after Congress blocked the retirement plan in the FY-13 Defense Authorization Act.
This week the RC-26 program management office at Tinker Air Force Base, OK, posted a sources-sought notice to identify potential providers of CLS site maintenance for the RC-26 fleet.
The commander of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, MS, wants to expand the role of his wing’s 10 specialized WC-130J weather reconnaissance aircraft, known as Hurricane Hunters, by supporting additional tactical airlift, airdrop and aeromedical evacuation training missions in the offseason. The call comes amid uncertainty about whether the wing will retain a tactical airlift capability after its two airlift squadrons are inactivated later this year.
In accordance with fiscal year 2014 defense authorization legislation, the reserve wing is preparing to lose the tactical airlift leg of its enterprise, consisting of 10 J-model C-130s, to other operators within the Air Force, leaving Keesler AFB with only one primary mission — weather reconnaissance.
The Air Force’s next-generation trainer will have a second heads-up display for the instructor and a wider field of view from the back seat compared to the legacy T-38 thanks to human systems integration experts from the 711th Human Performance Wing.
Col. William Mueller, who heads the wing’s human systems integration directorate (HSID), spoke to Inside the Air Force on May 9 about his directorate’s mission and its involvement on high-profile programs including the T-X and the Air Force One replacement.
The directorate is also heavily involved with designing new types of control stations and training requirements for unmanned aerial vehicle pilots.
The Federal Aviation Administration is progressing with its integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System by approving two formal certificates of authorization to establish UAS testing ranges in Alaska and North Dakota. The agency is also expecting to meet its targets for establishing Defense Department test sites for sense-and-avoid technology flight testing.
The latest certificate of waiver or authorization (COA) approval, announced last week, allows the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ team of UAS operators to conduct animal surveys at the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex in Fairbanks, AK, using small Aeryon Scout drones.
The announcement comes just weeks after a similar two-year COA was approved for North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Northern Plains UAS test site.
The lead operator of an unmanned aircraft systems test site in Texas has submitted requests to the Federal Aviation Administration for clearance to operate drones in additional airspace, which is a tentative first step toward achieving operational status as part of the FAA’s UAS test-site program.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is one of six FAA-approved test range operators participating in the FAA’s UAS test-site program through a joint venture known as the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation.
On May 7, the university applied to the FAA for two Certificate of Authorization or Waivers (COAs) for authorization to use small helicopter-type drones to survey its campus and operate larger unmanned platforms over nearby Baffin Bay on the Gulf Coast.
A Center for Strategic and International Studies recommendation that the Defense Department establish an unmanned aircraft systems office at the Pentagon is gaining traction among House lawmakers and UAS experts.
The House Armed Services Committee mark of the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill includes a provision that, if enacted, would direct the defense secretary to brief the committee on the merits of establishing such an office.
Although the creation of a joint office to oversee DOD’s vast remotely piloted aircraft enterprise is not new, the amendment signals congressional interest in the proposal.
Afghanistan’s fledgling air force will take delivery of two C-130H tactical airlifters from the U.S. Air Force in August and December based on current depot maintenance schedules, according to an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center official.
The aircraft transfer is being coordinated through NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan in Kabul, which consists of U.S. Air Force advisers from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing.
After receiving an anti-corrosion coating and programmed depot maintenance at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, the two aircraft will join two other U.S. H-model C-130s that were delivered to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) last October.