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Lockheed, Northrop Trade Blows Over U-2 Vs. Global Hawk As BCA Cuts Loom

FY-14 O&S costs totaled $898M

Following last week’s release of Air Force cost-per-flight-hour data for the U-2 and Global Hawk, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are trading blows over which high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft is operationally better value despite the service’s decision to delay retiring the U-2 until 2019.

On the one hand, Lockheed claims data showing the unmanned Global Hawk spy plane is 53 percent cheaper to operate per flight hour than the Dragon Lady is not a fair comparison since the manned U-2 collects 33 percent more intelligence data per hour and its sensors have superior range. Northrop, however, contends that the RQ-4’s global reach and significantly lower flight-hour cost make it the aircraft of choice for intelligence collection going forward.

Meanwhile, the Air Force wants to keep both aircraft, but claims it does not have enough money. The service still plans to retire the U-2 fleet and a portion of the RQ-4 fleet if there is no relief from 2011 Budget Control Act spending caps.

The programs produce millions of dollars in annual revenue for Lockheed and Northrop and both companies would prefer if the Defense Department didn’t move their aircraft to the scrap yard.

According to Lockheed’s Skunk Works division, which has managed the U-2 program since its inception, the current U-2S model that was delivered in the 1980s and upgraded in the 1990s has another 35 years of structural life remaining and is not the Cold War relic that some people claim.

According to new Air Force flight-hour data, obtained by Inside the Air Force this week, the cost of operating and supporting the U-2 fleet including the trainer aircraft totaled $535.8 million in FY-14 and flew 16,726 hours compared to the Global Hawk fleet, which cost $362.6 million and flew 24,377 hours. The largest cost difference was in the maintenance category: $328 million for the U-2 compared to $202 million for the RQ-4. Surprisingly, the remotely-piloted Global Hawk had a higher unit personnel cost at $144 million.

Despite the cost difference, Lockheed’s U-2 Business Development Manager J. Scott Winstead said the U-2 is far better at collecting intelligence and is still preferred by the combatant commanders. He said the Dragon Lady flies 25 percent higher and 33 percent faster than the RQ-4. Additionally, FY-14 data shows the U-2 mission success rate was 27 percent higher than the RQ-4 in the U.S. Pacific Command and Northern Command theaters. Both aircraft performed in the top tier in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

“The U-2’s track record of success speaks for itself,” Winstead wrote in a March 4 email. “In FY-14, the U-2 collected twice as many target images as Global Hawk, and did it with nearly half the flying hours.”

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AF Special Operations Command Receiving More Wolfhound Transports

Report: C-146 preferred over C-145, PC-12

The C-146A Wolfhound has become the transport aircraft of choice for special operations forces conducting clandestine military operations around the globe and Air Force Special Operations Command needs five more to satisfy operational demand, SOCOM chief Gen. Joseph Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a Dec. 8 report.

The command has determined that other turboprop aircraft like the C-145 Skytruck and Pilatus C-12 lack the speed, range and payload of the Wolfhound and multimission C-130s “have limited access to partner nations due to their overt military appearance,” the report, viewed by Inside the Air Force in January, states.

The Pentagon requested $37 million in fiscal year 2015 to procure two more C-146s. But Congress barred the department from spending the money until it could justify the expense and the plan has since been re-worked and presented in the FY-16 president’s budget.

According to the report, AFSOC has 17 Wolfhounds in its active-duty inventory, although only 10 are available immediately to geographical combatant commanders due to the training, maintenance and upgrade cycle stateside.

Last year, the Special Operations Command Requirements Evaluation Board validated a COCOM requirement for 20 aircraft to be available for operations, and resolved to boost the fleet size to 22 aircraft and one simulator.

According to the documents submitted with the Pentagon’s FY-16 budget request, Congress appropriated $30.2 million in FY-15 to purchase one C-145 and $84 million more is needed in FY-16 and FY-17 to complete the purchase of two additional aircraft and one simulator.

“Other service platforms are both limited in quantity and familiarity with the specialized nature required for non-standard aviation aircraft and crews,” the report states. “Also, the request for forces process to acquire and utilize these platforms does not meet Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC) mobility, efficiency, and agility requirements. Lastly, lengthy time lines for execution do not meet TSOC needs, nor does it allow for persistent positioning at strategic global locations.”

The aircraft cost approximately $15 million each and additional amounts pay for mission-specific modifications and spare parts.

“Since these aircraft are commercial off the shelf, the procurement provides a rapid impact to capacity and ability to better meet geographical combatant commander requirements,” the report adds. “Additionally, the increase will allow SOCOM to expand to an additional operating location if needed.”

According to an Air Force fact sheet, the first C-146 was deployed in 2011 and can carry up to 27 passengers or 6,000 pounds of cargo. The aircraft are deployed around the globe to provide “flexible, rapid and responsive” mobility support to special operations teams. The Wolfhounds even support casualty evacuation missions.

The aircraft do not carry standard unit insignia or tail numbers and have a nondistinct paint scheme. The fleet is operated by the 524th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, NM.

According to the report, roughly two-thirds of the program’s funding comes from the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, which the Pentagon plans to phase out between FY-17 and FY-20 if sequestration is repealed.

DOD’s operations and maintenance base budget account in FY-15 provides $26.3 million for non-standard aviation activities and $66.3 million is provided through OCO. The report shows the base budget line increasing across the future years defense program, peaking at $58 million in FY-19.

Part of the department’s plan to decrease reliance on OCO is to increase reliance on the Air Force Reserve.

“SOCOM plans to utilize Reserve manpower to reduce aircraft operating costs and future reliance of OCO funds,” the report states.

SOCOM’s non-standard aviation division stood up in 2007 and initially included two aircraft types — the Skytruck and Wolfhound. SOCOM purchased at least 10 Skytrucks, and those aircraft now support the foreign internal defense mission, Air Force documents state. That mission provides assessment, training and advice to foreign aviation forces. – James Drew

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C-145 SkytruckC-146 WolfhoundGen. Joseph VotelPilatus C-12Senate Armed Services CommitteeSOCOM

Raytheon’s Final Small Diameter Bomb II EMD Test Shot Planned For February

Raytheon’s third live-fire test of the Small Diameter Bomb II is scheduled for the week of Feb. 9 at the White Sands Missile Range, NM, after an earlier test failure slowed the developmental weapon system’s progress toward milestone C.

The company confirmed the follow-on test date in a Jan. 27 email to Inside the Air Force.
SDB II has been in development since 2010 and has overshot the threshold date for moving past development to the production and deployment phase by one year due to earlier test failures that have since been resolved.

Despite missing the anticipated milestone C date, the Air Force program received a favorable assessment from the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, stated in his 2014 assessment of DOD weapon systems.

“SDB II continues to progress through engineering and manufacturing development with an adequately resourced test program and no major programmatic testing problems outstanding,” according to the report, published Jan. 20. “The failures were thoroughly investigated and corrective actions implemented before proceeding with additional tests. All corrective actions have been successful to date in preventing repeats of the observed failure modes.”

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U-2 Aerials

Air Force Not Pursuing Lockheed Plan For Unmanned U-2 Conversion

Hold on Global Hawk spending

As Congress moves to prevent the Air Force from retiring the U-2 and postpone spending on Global Hawk modifications, the service confirmed this week it does not want to convert the high-altitude spy plane into an optionally-manned aircraft — as proposed by the original manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Last month, Aviation Week reported that Lockheed has revised airframe modification designs that would convert the manned U-2 aircraft into a drone. The concept has failed to gain traction since it first surfaced in 2001.

According to the report, Lockheed has revised its cost estimates for converting the U-2, which involves airframe modifications and the installation of a secondary control system. An initial investment of $700 million would convert three U-2s to the optionally piloted configuration and deliver two ground control stations, unnamed company officials said. After development, the conversion would cost $35 to $40 million per aircraft.

In a Dec. 10 email to Inside the Air Force, service spokeswoman Vicki Stein said the Air Force remains committed to the fiscal year 2015 president’s budget position that would retire the aging U-2 in favor of keeping and upgrading the Global Hawk. Both spy planes have powerful backers in Washington, and Congress has adopted legislation that would deny the service’s request.

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ISR Commander: 25th Air Force To Achieve IOC In March 2015

Wings realign while shedding aircraft

After unveiling an organizational restructure plan in July, the Air Force Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency has started ironing out the finer details of how it will transition from a field operating agency subordinate to the Air Staff to an operationally-focused numbered air force.

The ISR Agency will be officially deactivated later this month and then be re-branded as the 25th Air Force.

This week, the organization’s commander Maj. Gen. Jack Shanahan told Inside the Air Force he expects to achieve initial operating capability under the new numbered air force structure in March of 2015.

As reported in July, the change realigns the ISR enterprise under Air Combat Command and moves the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, CA, and the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, NE, from the 12th Air Force to the new organization. Shanahan said those wings are scheduled to transition to the 25th Air Force by December.

“That’s incredibly fast,” the general said during a Sept. 8 interview, referring to the IOC date. “Our intent is to stand it up by the end of this month, assuming the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force sign off and approve the document that’s called a PAD — a program action directive.”

According to a press statement from ACC in July, most of the organizations the ISR Agency currently oversees, with the exception of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, are being brought into the new organization. That includes the Air Force Technical Applications Center and Air Force Cryptologic Office.

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Posted on September 11, 2014

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Air Force Keeps Long-Endurance Orion Program Alive After Test Success

Funds transferred

The Air Force wants to save its long-endurance Orion Remotely Piloted Aircraft program from termination following a successful series of flight tests that concluded in August.

The service has not requested funds to continue the effort in fiscal year 2015, but recently notified the Senate Armed Services Committee of its intention to transfer $9 million to the program from an FY-13 research and development account to move the effort through to the final stages of development. According to FY-15 budget documents, the program’s objective is to develop an unmanned aircraft capable of flying for 120 hours, five days, with a payload of 1,000 pounds at an altitude of 20,000 feet. The prime contractor is Aurora Flight Sciences.

“While the Air Force feels it is now prudent to continue with Phase Three testing — payload endurance — there are no remaining funds in either FY-13 or FY-14 to support such testing,” a service official wrote in an Aug. 18 letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Orion requires additional funds to complete the third and final phase of developmental testing that will further enable the transition from development to production. These funds are required no later than September 15, 2014, or Orion will be dismantled and the program discontinued.”

Posted on September 11, 2014

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