Air Force Approves Replacement Strategy For UH-1N Huey Helicopter

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Service moving to H-60 Black Hawks

The Air Force’s vice chief of staff has approved a replacement strategy for the service’s 40-year-old UH-1N Huey fleet that would involve replacing the outdated aircraft with retired Army UH-60A Black Hawk utility helicopters.

The plan, which Air Force Global Strike Command has been developing throughout the year, was approved by Gen. Larry Spencer — a member of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council — on July 24, the service confirmed this week.

The plan would recapitalize all 62 Hueys with a commensurate number of retired Army Black Hawks. Those choppers would be upgraded from the A-model to the newer L-model configuration, as suggested by in RAND Corp. study published earlier this year.

“On 24 July 2014 the Air Force vice chief of staff approved a replacement strategy utilizing divested UH-60A aircraft from the U.S. Army and modifying those aircraft into UH-60L,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Eric Badger wrote in an Aug 28 email to Inside the Air Force. “These aircraft would undergo further mission-specific modifications. The Air Force intends to replace all UH-1N aircraft. The specific acquisition management office has yet to be determined.”

The service would not disclose how much the replacement plan would cost. Badger said until funding is allocated to stand up program office to manage the acquisition, a formal cost estimate cannot be developed.

Badger would not say if funding for Huey replacement would be included in the Air Force’s fiscal year 2016 budget submissions to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “The budgetary information is still pre-decisional and the Air Force is unable to comment on pre-decisional budget information,” he said.

The statement from the service comes after the head of the command’s newly created helicopter operations group, speaking during an Aug. 22 interview with ITAF, expressed confidence that a long-term Huey replacement plan is taking shape.

The Air Force has been trying to replace the outdated Huey for several years, most recently through the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform program that was terminated in 2013 due to financial constraints. This year, a RAND Corp. study suggested the best way forward is to replace 62-aircraft UH-1N fleet with retired A-model Army Black Hawks. Those aircraft should then be converted to the L-model, the study recommended.

That work would be performed by the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas at an estimated cost of $6.5 million per aircraft, a spokeswoman there told ITAF in March. Black Hawk manufacturer Sikorsky would almost certainly be the lead industry partner on that effort.

This Black Hawk replacement plan has gained the most traction among the Air Force’s Huey community, with officials from the schoolhouse at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, and at various squadrons stating during a series of interviews that moving to a common H-60 airframe Air Force-wide is the best way forward.

Sikorsky officials have also offered suggestions for replacing the Hueys with Black Hawks. Depending on what the Air Force can afford, company officials said the service could either restore and reset the excess Army Black Hawks and keep them in the A-model configuration or simply purchase new production M-model H-60s — a more expensive option.

The Black Hawk procurement strategy appears to align with the Air Force’s recent decision to buy 112 new Combat Rescue Helicopters from Sikorsky to replace the old and war-weary HH-60G Pave Hawks. The CRH is a close derivative of the Army H-60M.

Global Strike Command is the lead operator of the UH-1N and its policy staff took the lead on developing a recapitalization plan. The command’s three Huey squadrons support operations around the nuclear missile fields in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Earlier this week ITAF asked AFGSC whether the Black Hawk plan had been approved, but the command declined to say. In an Aug. 25 email, Pampe said the Air Force continues to consider a rang of options.

“Final cost is dependent on which option is selected.” Pampe said.

Replacing the UH-1N with baseline UH-60 helicopter will allow the Air Force to eliminate an entire line of helicopters from its inventory, if funded. This would potentially free resources and bring a level of commonality to the vertical-lift enterprise, leaving just H-60-variant choppers and tilt-rotor CV-22s remaining in the service’s inventory.

“It just makes things more efficient,” Col. David Smith, head of the Global Strike Command’s helicopter operations group said during the recent interview.

In July, the director of operations for the 512th Rescue Squadron, the Air Force’s only UH-1N and HH-60G formal training unit, outlined his case for moving to a common airframe. He did not point to any airframe in particular.

“The benefit of transitioning to a common platform Air Force-wide may benefit the entire fleet by offering greater opportunities for cross-flow between units that conduct different Air Force rotary-wing missions,” Lt. Col. Nicholas Dipoma said. “I think that the potential benefits emerging from that, if the transition is well-managed, cannot be understated. The reasons have to do with standardization in training, maintenance, and some tactics — but especially in terms of career opportunities for USAF rotary-wing personnel.” — James Drew

Inside the Air Force – 08/29/2014, Vol. 25, No. 35  

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F135 Fix?

Pratt & Whitney believes it is getting closer to solving a mechanical issue that caused an Air Force F-35A fighter jet to catch fire at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, in June.

The mishap incident grounded the Joint Strike Fighter fleet for nearly two weeks in July and caused the Marine Corps F-35B jets to miss their scheduled international debut in England.

This week, a Pratt spokesman confirmed the company is testing a potential solution.

“We have a potential fix that we believe will eliminate the problem and we will conduct engine and rig tests next month to verify that with the services and the [F-35] joint program office,” Pratt spokesman Matthew Bates said in an email. His comments were first reported by Defense News.

Speaking to InsideDefense.com Aug. 29, F-35 joint program office spokesman Joe DellaVedova said Pratt has been working to develop a solution at its facility in West Palm Beach, FL.

“They’ve been working on ensuring they get the measurements they need and ensuring things will work,” he said. He said testing of the technical solution will continue through September.

DellaVedova confirmed the F-35 fleet, which includes around 100 Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, continues to operate under a restricted flight envelope while a root-cause examinations of the mishap engine continues. Those flight rules have been relaxed slightly for the 20 F-35 test aircraft to limit delays to the Marine Corps’ schedule for achieving initial operational capability.

Right now, all aircraft are cleared to fly to Mach 1.6 and 3.2G normal acceleration with an angle of attack of 18 degrees. The aircraft require a borescope engine inspection every three hours of flight, whereas the test aircraft can fly for six hours between inspections for weapons testing and aerial refueling missions.

Defense Department officials have said the engine fire was an isolated incident associated with excess rubbing of the fan blades in the hot section of the engine. — James Drew

View the story at InsideDefense.com

Posted on InsideDefense.com: August 29, 2014

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Program Chief: Saudi AWACS Deal Could Help Government Recoup Costs

Foreign partnership bolsters supply and support base

A pending deal with Saudi Arabia for an estimated $2 billion in E-3 Sentry command-and-control aircraft upgrades could help the United States recoup costs associated with the development of the Block 40/45 mission computing system, the head of the Air Force’s international airborne early warning and control office said this week.

The Air Force has already spent nearly $1.7 billion on the Block 40/45 Airborne Warning and Control System modernization and expects to spend an additional $1 billion across the balance of the program, according to the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Report, published in April.

The new configuration replaces the old Block 30/35 mission computing systems with faster and more modern computing equipment and displays, greatly improving the aircraft’s surveillance, target-indication and battle-management capabilities. The United States and Saudi fleets, like many others, are based on a common Boeing 707 airframe.

While the Block 40/45 costs are considered stable, the program incurred a Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach in 2013 because of the Air Force’s decision to retire seven aircraft instead of upgrading the entire fleet to the new configuration.

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AFRL Officials: X-51 Tests Validated Hypersonic Vehicle S&T Efforts

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Air Force Research Laboratory officials say the series of X-51 Waverider hypersonic test flights conducted between 2010 and 2013 represent the “high-water mark” for high-speed airframe and scramjet propulsion development because they validated many core science and technology efforts and set the trajectory for ongoing technology maturation.

The X-51 program was a collaboration between the Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and a Boeing-led industry team. The program performed four flight tests; two succeeded and two failed.

The most notable flight occurred last May when an X-51 flew at hypersonic speeds for more than three minutes using a scramjet propulsion system. The tests occurred over a Naval sea range in the Pacific Ocean and test data was gathered by nearby ground stations and P-3 Orion maritime-surveillance aircraft.

“X-51 was a high-water mark in a long string of research and development,” Glenn Liston told Inside the Air Force on Aug. 14. Liston heads the AFRL aerospace systems directorate’s new high-speed experimentation branch at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, TN.

“You can trace back the development activities for quite a while before that, but it accomplished the goal of validating the S&T in the propulsion technology and air vehicle technology — which is exactly what we set for the program to accomplish,” he continued.

According to Liston and fellow AFRL official Robert Mercier, deputy for technology at the aerospace systems directorate’s high-speed systems division, the laboratory can now claim confidently that it is “knocking down the technology challenges” related to scramjet propulsion because of the X-51 program. The tests also validated the laboratory’s work on high-temperature composite materials and air vehicle structures.

“We demonstrated viability and practicality,” Mercier said, referring to the X-51 tests. “It validated all the rules and tools that went into making that happen and those are the pieces we rely on to go forward.”

The government has for decades, through the Defense Department and NASA, been working to overcome the challenges of operating at hypersonic speeds, both through aircraft and space programs and in pursuit of advanced high-speed missiles. The X-51, for instance, followed NASA’s X-43 Hyper-X program.

According to Liston and Mercier, there are a great number of technical challenges that need to be overcome to operate within the hypersonics flight envelope. The airframes need to be incredibly aerodynamic and heat-resistant.

Furthermore, the propulsion systems need to be able to power through the intense aerodynamic drag experienced at speeds exceeding Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound — without consuming too much fuel.

“The aerodynamic drag increases roughly to the square of the velocity — so double the velocity and your drag goes up four times,” Liston said. A great deal of work has also gone into understanding shockwave boundary layers and how they interact with aerodynamic shapes at hypersonic speeds, Liston added.

“The biggest challenge is bringing these technologies together and integrating them into a flight vehicle,” he said.

Of the four X-51 tests, Liston said the first one in 2010 was “substantially successful,” flying for 143 seconds until hot gases destroyed the internal components due to a seal leak. Flight 2 encountered ignition problems and Flight 3 malfunctioned. Mercier said Flight 4 was a “home run.”

“Flight 4 was in essence as complete as it could have been,” Liston added. “Everything went according to plan.”

Liston and Mercier did not provide a firm time line for a follow-on hypersonic flight demonstration, other than to say there were a number of ongoing efforts and the Air Force was on track to postulate a formal requirement for a hypersonic weapon system by around 2020.

Earlier this year, an AFRL spokeswoman at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, said the Air Force is working with DARPA in the near term on maturing and testing the technologies needed to develop air-breathing scramjet and boost-glide hypersonic weapon systems. This activity relates to the High Speed Strike Weapon program.

“We expect important demonstrations in this vein to be completed toward the end of this decade,” the spokeswoman said in a Jan. 29 email to ITAF. She said the enabling technologies for this type of weapon system are: high-temperature materials, thermal protection systems, scramjet propulsion, thermal management, high-speed fuzing and guidance, navigation and flight controls.

The Air Force’s latest spending request contains some details relating to a follow-on hypersonics demonstration. The Air Force has requested $67 million in FY-15 “to support DOD priorities in hypersonics demonstration” through a new-start High-Speed/Hypersonic Integration and Demonstration program. The spending plan includes an additional $161 million for the program between FY-16 and FY-19.

FY-15 budget documents note that the funds support accelerated development and demonstration of high-speed strike technologies and the advancement of high-temperature materials and structures for hypersonic vehicles. –James Drew

Inside the Air Force – 08/22/2014, Vol. 25, No. 34 

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New Hypersonics Branch Helps Move Technology From Lab To Systems

More wind tunnel access. . .

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s recent decision to establish a new high-speed experimentation branch at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex in Tennessee will give its hypersonics researchers more access to advance ground testing equipment and help move technologies from the laboratory to future systems, officials say.

The new office is being established within AEDC’s Von Karman Gas Dynamics Facility, home to three high-speed wind tunnels. The office is an extension of the AFRL aerospace systems directorate’s high-speed systems division, which focuses on hypersonic propulsion, structures and aerodynamics research.

According to Air Force officials, the service wants to eventually develop and field several new hypersonic capabilities, including scramjet and boost-glide missiles and hypersonic aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike missions.

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Final Air Force Global Hawk Order Helps Northrop Bridge Production Gap

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Transitioning to Navy Triton. . .

Northrop Grumman executives say a recent $241 million contract for three unmanned RQ-4B aircraft will preserve the Global Hawk production line until the Navy ramps up procurement of its maritime derivative, the MQ-4C Triton.

In an Aug. 18 email to Inside the Air Force, company executives confirmed the award helps bridge a potential gap between the end of Global Hawk production and the start of Triton low-rate initial production in fiscal year 2016. The Triton is a derivative of the RQ-4B and there is a high degree of commonality between the two manufacturing processes. So far, two early-development Tritons have been built alongside the Global Hawk.

Both versions of the remotely piloted aircraft begin production at Northrop’s facility at Moss Point, MS, before moving to an Air Force installation at Palmdale, CA, for final assembly and testing.

The transition from Global Hawk to Triton production could have been a disruptive and messy process. In 2012, the Air Force tried to terminate Global Hawk production early and place its Block 30 aircraft in storage.

Fortunately for Northrop, Congress rejected the move and directed the Air Force to complete its planned buys even though the service argued the money could be better spent elsewhere. The service reversed course in its latest budget proposal, opting instead to keep the Global Hawk and retire the manned U-2 spy plane, saying it can’t afford to keep both high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleets. Without the final order, Global Hawk production at Moss Point and Palmdale might have ended before the Navy’s Triton program could ramp up. Further complicating the situation was the Navy’s decision to delay Triton production this year in favor of other priorities.

Bill Walker, Northrop’s head of Global Hawk business development, said the additional Air Force orders help the company smooth the transition to MQ-4C production.

“Also, our production line at USAF Plant 42 in Palmdale has several other aircraft programs in production and modification,” Walker wrote in an Aug. 18 statement provided by a company spokeswoman. “Because we use the same processes and training for technicians on all of the production lines, we are able to move technicians from one aircraft to another as production lines surge and slow,” he added.

According to Walker, Northrop expects to deliver two Global Hawks from an existing Lot 10 contract within the next month. The new order, detailed in an Aug. 15 Defense Department contract notice, represents Lot 11 and will be delivered between 2016 and 2017.

In addition to the Air Force orders, Northrop is on contract to build five Block 40 Global Hawks for NATO and expects a deal with South Korea for four Block 30 aircraft.

The Navy’s first two Tritons entered production in 2011. According to a Government Accountability Office report published in March, the Navy expects to spend around $9.6 billion procuring 65 Tritons, previously known as the Broad-Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft. The program’s total research and development cost was around $3.6 billion in 2013, the GAO report states.

Discussing similarities between Global Hawk and the MQ-4C production, Northrop’s Triton program manager Mike Mackey said the aircraft are produced at Moss Point before being shipped to Palmdale for wing mating, software integration and flight testing.

“The Triton aircraft is based on the Global Hawk Block 30, but features a number of structural and technological enhancements,” Mackey said in an Aug. 18 statement to ITAF. “Triton has strengthened wings, a wing de-icing system, hail and bird strike resistance, and lightning protection. Built for the U.S. Navy, Triton will also be equipped with a unique set of sensors for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, including a multifunction active sensor radar, which will offer a 360-degree field-of-regard.”

The Air Force operates three types of Global Hawks: Block 20, Block 30 and Block 40. The Block 20 and Block 30 variants contain advanced sensors for ISR missions whereas the Block 40 aircraft generally provide wide-area surveillance and ground-moving target indication.

The Air Force currently operates 32 aircraft, a figure that accounts for the early Block 10 aircraft that have been retired. The service originally planned to acquire around 63 Global Hawks but cost overruns and development issues saw that requirement drop to 45 in FY-11.

The program has not been re-baselined since 2000 and there has never been a formal full-rate production decision.

The total program acquisition cost was more than $9 billion as of December 2013, according to the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Report summary table, published in April.

According to the Aug. 15 contract notice, the Air Force’s Global Hawk order includes associated imaging and signals intelligence sensor packages, particularly the Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite and an Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP). The contract includes the delivery of two improved versions of the ASIP sensor to replace legacy sensor suites on existing aircraft. — James Drew

Inside the Air Force – 08/22/2014, Vol. 25, No. 34  

 

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GAO Stalls Second Air Force NETCENTS Contracting Vehicle

Back to source selection. . .

The Government Accountability Office has stalled another Air Force Network-Centric Solutions-II contracting vehicle due to flaws in the source-selection process, putting on hold 12 indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts worth up to $5.7 billion in total while the service makes a new award decision.

The problem relates to the Network Operations and Infrastructure Solutions Small Business Companion (NOSB) acquisition, one of five contracting vehicles that form NETCENTS-II.

Several competitors for NOSB contracts filed bid protests with GAO after the Air Force’s initial award decision in March, and two companies successfully argued that the source-selection process unfairly favored performance confidence ratings over price.

In an Aug. 15 statement, the office overseeing the NOSB competition told Inside the Air Force that none of the 12 IDIQ contracts awarded in March would be available for ordering until the acquisition team re-evaluated the performance confidence assessment and made a further award decision — as recommended by the GAO in a July 15 decision notice.

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State Department: F-16 Basing Preparations On Hold At Iraq’s Balad Air Base

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The State Department has confirmed that site preparations at Iraq’s Balad Air Base for the delivery of the country’s first F-16 fighter jets have been placed on hold as the scheduled delivery date nears and the security situation in the country worsens.

In a statement to InsideDefense.com this week, State Department officials confirmed that F-16-related construction at Balad, Iraq’s largest military air base and a key Air Force installation during the Iraq War, has been suspended due to the security situation.

The confirmation means the on-time delivery of the first two jets, long scheduled for this September, is unlikely. The government has for months refused to state that publicly, even as Islamist fighters overrun large parts of the country and assault Balad Air Base directly.

“Delivery of Iraq’s first two F-16 aircraft was scheduled for this fall pending final preparations for housing and securing the aircraft, completion of pilot training and completion of required financial and administrative details,” an Aug. 13 statement to from department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said.

“Due to the security situation, construction at Balad Air Base is currently on hold. We continue to assess the environment and work with the Government of Iraq on details of the F-16 program, including basing and delivery,” the statement continued.

Iraq has ordered 36 F-16s, as well as related equipment, munitions, training and facilities, from the United States. Balad Air Base — known as Joint Base Balad or Camp Anaconda during Operation Iraqi Freedom — was selected to house Iraq’s first squadron of F-16s.

Government and industry contractors were evacuated from the base in June before it came under attack. It is unclear whether the security situation there has improved since the initial assault.

Iraqi officials have been highly critical of how long it has taken to produce and deliver the F-16s, with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, before he resigned from his post this week, telling the BBC in June: “We were deluded when we signed the contract.”

Russia has since provided a number of fighter jets and other military equipment to the Iraqi government, according to news reports.

The F-16 deal is worth an estimated $6.5 billion, according to Defense Security Cooperation Agency foreign military sales notices in 2010 and 2011.

Lockheed Martin completed work the first Iraqi F-16 in June, just before the invasion of Iraq by Islamic State militants, then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The aircraft are powered by Pratt & Whitney F100 engines. The Air Force manages the contract through the FMS process and coordinates the training of Iraqi F-16 pilots.

The service has repeatedly referred all questions about the program, including those related to pilot and maintainer training, which occurs at Luke Air Force Base, AZ, to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the State Department.

In late June, a Lockheed spokesman told InsideDefense.com  that production of the 36 Iraqi F-16s is continuing as scheduled, despite uncertainty over the delivery dates.

Meanwhile, the State Department this week said that it has not determined whether the delivery of F-16s to Egypt will proceed. The Egyptian military, which operates more than 200 F-16s, ordered 20 from the United States in 2010. The Obama administration suspended the delivery of the final four aircraft last year due to political unrest; those aircraft remain somewhere in the United States.

“These F-16s remain on hold, as announced by the President last year,” the Aug. 13 statement said.

Meanwhile, Congress was notified earlier this year of further sales of military equipment to Iraq, with 24 Apache Longbow attack helicopters and 200 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) slated to be purchased.

The deals are collectively worth billions of dollars, and the State Department confirmed that those programs are expected to proceed “subject to our ongoing assessment of the environment and work with the Government of Iraq on program implementation.”

The prime contractors on the $4.8 billion helicopter deal are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Longbow and Raytheon, while the principal contractor for the $101 million HMMWV program is AM General, according to Defense Security Cooperation Agency notices issued in January and May. — James Drew

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Green Flag Exercises More Difficult, Integrated In New Strategic Era

Greater role for space, cyber forces

As the Air Force looks to a post-Afghanistan era marked by geopolitical instability and the potential for conflict across a wide range of operating environments, air-land training exercises such as Green Flag are evolving along with the threat to become “more difficult and integrated,” according to the 549th Combat Training Squadron commander.

Lt. Col. Cameron Dadgar, whose team oversees the air, space and cyberspace component of Green Flag-West exercises from Nellis Air Force Base, NV, said this year’s exercises have grown in size and scope, involving almost every type of Air Force and Navy aircraft. Furthermore, the Army is now conducting large force-on-force engagements after years of training as small, mobile teams.

Furthermore, the Air Force’s space and cyber elements are starting to play a bigger role, and for the first time this September the training will include a Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) facility — which will provide a major ramp-up in command-and-control capability.

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Nuclear Force Improvement Posts Wins, But Airmen Need To See Results

Funding and urgency delivering change

Air Force Global Strike Command appears to be delivering on its commitment to improve the nuclear bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces following a string of public embarrassments over the past year, but whether the command’s leadership has gone far enough in addressing the so-called “systemic issues” that plague the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise will ultimately be judged by the airmen performing the mission.

Senior Air Force leaders including Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and Secretary Deborah Lee James have expressed confidence in the airmen carrying out the nuclear mission, despite a series of high-profile missteps, from suspected drug use to cheating on a proficiency test to one commander misbehaving on a trip to Russia.

However, many of the systemic issues airmen have raised through the high-profile ICBM and bomber force improvement programs (FIPs), established in the wake of the test cheating scandal, have been raised before and will likely be raised by airmen again in future force reviews if leaders don’t deliver on their latest commitments.

The ICBM and bomber FIPs delivered their recommendations to the head of Air Force Global Strike Command in March and June respectively, and those two efforts have since merged into one enduring program, known simply as the Force Improvement Program. The follow-on effort is designed to provide a constant feedback loop between the airmen and their AFGSC leaders at higher headquarters to ensure the recommendations are implemented smoothly and decisively.

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NATO AWACS Official: No Formal Decision Yet On Fleet Size

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Further upgrades would require more funding . . .

As the Air Force awaits congressional authorization, however unlikely, to reduce its E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System fleet by seven aircraft in fiscal year 2015, NATO is also running the numbers to determine whether it should retire three of its 17 AWACS jets.

Inside the Air Force reported last week that NATO has put Boeing on contract to outfit only 14 of its aircraft with a modern cockpit and avionics suite through 2018 and three aircraft could be retired through the same time period.

An executive from the administrative branch of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Programme Management Organization (NAPMO) told Inside the Air Force in an Aug. 12 email that a final fleet-size decision has not been made, so NATO still has the option of retaining all 17 aircraft. However, it would need to find more money to modernize the remaining three.

“The results of the force review are not yet finalized,” said George Reibling, deputy general manager of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Programme Management Agency.

“The decision to modify only 14 of the 17 aircraft under our current 4th Amendment Modernization Programme was approved by our NAPMO Board of Directors,” he said.

A decision to retire AWACS aircraft would be politically sensitive, especially at a time of increasing tensions between the NATO nations including the United Sates and the former Soviet power Russia.

The NATO E-3A (NE-3A) fleet is a multinational force, with 16 nations including the U.S. contributing funds and oversight through NAPMO. The program also receives support from the United Kingdom, which operates E-3Ds.

The organization was formed during the height of the Cold War and the aircraft were delivered through the 1980s. The aircraft allow NATO to detect airborne threats over Europe and coordinate a military response.

The fleet has been on heightened alert since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and that is likely to remain the case if Moscow continues to aggravate the situation in Ukraine.

According to Reibling, the force review process was initiated about two years ago, although the results have not been formally approved. What has been approved is the upgrade of only 14 aircraft.

“If at the end of force review the alliance desires to keep all 17 aircraft, then decisions must be made to determine how to operate a ‘mixed fleet’ of NE-3A aircraft in different configurations or to acquire additional funding to modernize the three remaining aircraft. Bottom line: The results of the force review have not yet been formally approved.”

Funding for further upgrades would have to come from NAPMO members, Reibling said.

NATO and U.S. AWACS officials have previously told ITAF that there are reasonable arguments for retiring some E-3 capacity. Although capacity would be reduced, the three aircraft could be harvested for high-value spare parts and the smaller fleet would cost less to operate and require less manpower.

Most Air Force and international AWACS aircraft were delivered in the 1970s and 1980s and are based on Boeing 707 commercial aircraft, which are no longer in production.

NATO is not the only AWACS operator looking to retire some E-3s. Congress is in the process of considering the Air Force’s request to reduce its AWACS fleet by seven aircraft in FY-15. The service is in the advanced stages of a multibillion dollar effort to upgrade its fleet to the new Block 40/45 mission computing system. Senior Air Force leaders have said retiring some aircraft would lower the cost of operating and maintaining the fleet and fewer upgrades would be required.

The request is almost certainly going to be rejected in the FY-15 defense authorization act, according to authorizing legislation already adopted by House lawmakers and the Senate defense committees.

NAPMO’s 4th Amendment Modernization Programme would outfit 14 aircraft with what are known as the Communications Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management package and Mode 5 and Enhanced Mode S transponders. NATO and the United States jointly developed the CNS/ATM equipment to meet new and emerging air traffic control standards and the new digital cockpit means the aircraft require one less operator. Boeing is the prime contractor. — James Drew

Inside the Air Force – 08/15/2014, Vol. 25, No. 33 

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NETCENTS Application Services Ordering On Hold As GAO Decides

Protests delay orders

The delivery of application services through the Network-Centric Solutions-II full-and-open contracting arrangement remains on hold and will stay on hold until November when the Government Accountability Office is due to decide on four bid protests relating to the Air Force’s source-selection process, the NETCENTS-II program management office said this week.

The Application Services Full and Open (ASFO) contracting pool is one of five components of the NETCENTS-II acquisition — a process designed to streamline the delivery of information technology and network services and equipment. The process has instead been encumbered by bureaucracy and bid protests. Companies have repeatedly claimed the NETCENTS-II source-selection process was too complicated and did not properly consider their proposals.

The combined ceiling value of the NETCENTS-II acquisition is about $24 billion.

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Saudis Planning $2 Billion AWACS Modernization; Congress Notified

Potential benefit for Air Force program. . .

Saudi Arabia wants to buy into the Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System modernization program by upgrading its five E-3 Sentry aircraft to the Block 40/45 configuration, according to an Aug. 12 Defense Security Cooperation Agency foreign military sales notice.

If a deal is approved by Congress, the country could begin contract negotiations to buy about $2 billion worth of equipment and support services from the United States to modernize the Royal Saudi Air Force E-3 AWACS aircraft. The upgrades would vastly improve the fleet’s capability and allow it to maintain long-term interoperability with the United States’ AWACS fleet.

The Air Force and AWACS original equipment manufacturer Boeing have developed a range of AWACS upgrade packages including the Block 40/45 mission system upgrade and Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe (NGIFF) and Diminishing Manufacturing Source Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation packages.

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NATO, Boeing Begin E-3A Fleet Modernization; Exploring Final Upgrade

AWACS fleet to shrink from 17 to 14

The NATO aircraft keeping watch over Europe are in line for a major modernization, with Boeing announcing this week that it has received a $250 million contract to move NATO’s E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System cockpit and avionics upgrade from development to production and retrofit.

The announcement comes as NATO AWACS officials say they are already looking beyond the current upgrade to a final mission system improvement to meet mission requirements through to 2035, when the fleet is scheduled to reach the end of its 50-year service life. They say NATO is also planning to retire three of its 17 E-3A AWACS aircraft over the next three to four years, meaning only 14 aircraft are in line for the immediate cockpit and avionics upgrade.

NATO has operated E-3As since the early 1980s. The aircraft detect airborne threats better than most ground radar sites and can coordinate an appropriate military response.

Those aircraft are operated and sustained by the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Programme Management Organization (NAPMO), which has 16 member nations including the United States.

The latest cockpit and avionics modernization was a joint United States-NATO development effort, although the two will part ways during the production and retrofit because of differing subcontractor requirements.

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Wing Commander: Guard Inherently Suited To Reaper, Predator Operations

163 RW switches to MQ-9

Although the active-duty Air Force continues to support the bulk of global remotely piloted aircraft operations, Air National Guard units such as the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing at March Air Reserve Base in California are proving to be invaluable sources of operational expertise and experience.

And as the Air Force shifts more of its MQ-9 Reaper enterprise to the reserve component, the service appears to have backed a winning strategy for supporting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions going forward despite the many implementation challenges.

According to Col. Dana Hessheimer, commander of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, the ANG is particularly well suited to MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper operations because guardsmen tend to stay with the same wing for longer, whereas active-duty airmen transfer every few years as they move through their careers, making it harder to maintain the same level of familiarity with the equipment and mission.

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Air Force Invests In Sensor Upgrade For The Spy Aircraft It Can’t Afford To Keep

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Upgraded sensor could migrate to Global Hawk

After asking Congress for permission to divest the U-2 spy plane, the Air Force is delivering an upgrade to the aircraft’s primary intelligence-gathering tool, the Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System-2B multispectral long-range imagery sensor.

The advanced sensor is at the center of a long-running debate over whether the Air Force should divest the manned U-2 or the less-capable RQ-4 Global Hawk, a remotely piloted aircraft, to save costs.

Both aircraft perform high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and are regularly used for spying and treaty compliance operations over global hot spots.

This week, the Air Force confirmed it has put UTC Aerospace Systems on contract to upgrade its entire inventory of SYERS-2B sensors to the new 2C configuration. UTC announced the upgrade contract during the July Farnborough International Airshow in England, but did not disclose the value of the contract.

Many details about the upgrade program are restricted and it is unclear how many sensors the Pentagon currently maintains. The Air Force has 33 U-2s and most carry the sensor.

The Navy and other agencies have also contributed funding to the program.

In an Aug. 5 email to Inside the Air Force, service spokesman Maj. Uriah Orland said the SYERS-2C contract was awarded to UTC June 5. He noted the SYERS-2C upgrade is not a sensor replacement. Instead, it is a modification to the SYERS-2B, which was an upgrade to the baseline SYERS-2A configuration.

The program achieved initial operational capability on March 5, Orland said.

“We prefer to not discuss sensor inventory levels in public channels, however the current plan is to eventually upgrade all SYERS sensors to the 2C configuration,” Orland continued. “We will withhold actual investment costs in the intelligence sensor. We can say, however, that the efforts were jointly funded between the Air Force and Navy with support from other intelligence community partners.”

Regardless of the exact cost, the upgrade would be a sizable investment in the SYERS capability at a time when the Air Force is proposing to retire the U-2. The service does have a plan to migrate the SYERS capability over to the Global Hawk if Congress were to approve the U-2 drawdown, which is unlikely at this point in the authorization process.

ITAF asked the Air Force to clarify why it would invest in a SYERS upgrade while also asking Congress for permission to divest the U-2 fleet.

“The Air Force has consistently stated that we would prefer to retain both the U-2 and RQ-4 in the FY-15 PB but cannot afford to do so,” Orland said. “Therefore, the Air Force elected to retire the U-2 due to the RQ-4’s lower operating cost and ability to perform long-range and long-endurance ISR missions in support of warfighter requirements.

“A key component of our plan to retire the U-2 is the migration of sensors, including SYERS-2C, to the RQ-4. Therefore, in order to deliver the best possible multispectral capability to meet our global mission needs, the Air Force is investing in upgrades to all SYERS-2 sensors,” he continued.

In March, service spokeswoman Maj. Mary Danner-Jones said the Air Force is conducting trade studies to examine the technical feasibility of employing the U-2’s SYERS and Optical Bar Camera sensors on the RQ-4 Block 30. Danner-Jones noted that a 2013 Air Force report to Congress stated the transfer could take years and is estimated to cost around $487 million.

“The Air Force included funds in the FY-15 PB request to begin transitioning unique U-2 sensor capabilities to the RQ-4 Block 30,” Danner-Jones said at the time. “If Congress reduces the President’s Budget request to conform to the Budget Control Act level, the sensor transition will be deferred in order to fund critical viability and reliability investments on the Block 30.”

In February, UTC spokeswoman Julie Mears told ITAF there was no technical reason to prevent the migration of the SYERS capability to the Global Hawk.

“The key question is meeting the needs of the warfighter in terms of sensor range, clarity and capability as well as combatant commander requirements, national requirements and public law,” Mears said at the time. “No other imagery sensor has parity with SYERS to meet these requirements.”

In a July 31 press release, UTC Aerospace Systems Vice President Kevin Raftery said the company was able to reconfigure the SYERS system to the 2C configuration quickly in response to an Air Force and Navy urgent requirement. He said the initial 2C system is already supporting combatant commander ISR requirements. — James Drew

Inside the Air Force – 08/08/2014, Vol. 25, No. 32  

RQ-4 Global HawkSystem-2CU-2 spy planeUSAF

Air Force Pushing For More Services Acquisition Training, Information Sharing

FY-14 spending on services hits $106 billion

The Air Force is hoping to bring down the cost and cycle time for acquiring services by training more personnel on services acquisition at the Defense Acquisition University and by leveraging cross-service expertise within related acquisition portfolios.

According Randall Culpepper, the Air Force program executive officer for combat and mission support, there are ways to drive down costs and improve efficiencies across the Pentagon’s services acquisition portfolio, and steps are being taken to reform the process.

Speaking at an Aug. 5 Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Conference in Washington, Culpepper said as of July 23 the Pentagon has spent about $106 billion on services this fiscal year, which is marginally more than it has spent on supplies, equipment and major weapons programs. The Air Force’s spending on services accounts for 21 percent of that $106 billion figure.

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combat and mission supportDefense Acquisition UniversityRandall Culpepper

Air Force: JSTARS Recap Would Save $11B; Boost Threat Detection

As Senate considers defense bills. . .

As Congress decides whether to wholly fund the Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System recapitalization effort or chop $63 million from the budget request and force an examination of the proposed acquisition strategy, the service this week said its concept for a next-generation JSTARS aircraft to replace the E-8C fleet would ultimately save $11 billion.

Furthermore, the Air Force believes a new platform procured through the current strategy would be better at detecting threats and would provide greater visibility over the battlespace compared to the legacy JSTARS fleet, which is old and expensive to operate.

The JSTARS recapitalization is a new line item in the Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget, although the service is hoping to bring the official start of the program forward through a $5 million funds transfer in the Pentagon’s FY-14 omnibus reprogramming request.

The Air Force has asked for $73 million in FY-15 to advance the acquisition process and facilitate a development decision in late 2015 for a 2016 start. But Congress is divided over whether to support the program: The House supports the Air Force’s acquisition strategy and funding request in its legislation, whereas Senate lawmakers have moved to cut funding and force the service secretary to revisit the plan.

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NATO Puts Boeing On Contract To Modernize 13 AWACS Aircraft

Boeing has been contracted to upgrade 13 NATO Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, the company announced this week. The upgrades are due to be delivered through 2018, by which time the NATO fleet will draw down from 17 to 14 aircraft, which includes the one aircraft currently undergoing modernization and testing.

The contract moves the important E-3A upgrade effort to the production phase following a flight test in November and is worth approximately $250 million.

The contracting body is the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Programme Management Agency (NAPMA), which is comprised of 16 member nations, including the United States, who provide funding and oversight for the AWACS mission through a board of directors.

An earlier contract for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the modernization program was a cooperative effort between the United States and NATO, and is known here as the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation program, or DRAGON modification.

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Army Monitoring Fallout From L-3 Communications Disclosure

Army Materiel Command is monitoring a fixed-wing aircraft support contract with L-3 Communications after the company disclosed accounting misconduct within its aerospace systems division to shareholders, an AMC spokeswoman said this week.

The multimillion-dollar contract for C-12, RC-12 and UC-35 aircraft maintenance and logistics support is at the center of the company’s internal probe into the misreporting of earnings results, which company officials disclosed during a July 31 earnings call. The revelation led to share price fluctuations, and the Army is unsure what implications the disclosure and subsequent probe will have on the contract itself.

The contract, awarded in 2010, has a period of performance through Jan. 31, 2015 and accounts for approximately $150 million of L-3 Communications’ annual sales, the company’s Chief Financial Officer Ralph D’Ambrosio said during the earnings call. He said the company is delivering those services at a loss — which had not been wholly accounted for in past earnings figures. The company reported $12.6 billion in total sales for 2013.

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