Tag Archives: Air Force

CSBA Study Finds Large, Long-Range Aircraft Would Do Better In Combat

Air combat going beyond visual range

A future fighter aircraft is likely to need more range and payload than speed and agility as countries like Russia, China and Iran invest in long-range air defenses that can keep high-value support assets including aerial refueling tankers up to 1,000 nautical miles away from their military installations, but stealth remains critical despite advances in radar technology, according to a new Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments study.

Advances in beyond-visual-range weapons make it increasingly unnecessary to have highly maneuverable fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor, and first-strike aircraft are unlikely to have support of large, unstealthy bombers, tankers, and airborne surveillance and early warning aircraft, according to John Stillion, an air power analyst with CSBA.

Those are just some of the findings presented in Stillion’s new report on trends in air-to-air combat — unveiled at an Air Force Association event in Washington April 14.

The report comes as Air Combat Command explores its requirements for a sixth-generation air dominance platform to come after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22. Senior service officials have emphasized that the future platform might not be another fighter jet, and that it could be manned or unmanned.

According to Stillion’s assessment, next-generation aircraft would benefit greatly from having a larger combat radius than current fighter designs, and an increased loadout of long-range, air-to-air weapons.

“The aerial combat lethality of large combat aircraft may be competitive or even superior to more traditional fighter aircraft designs emphasizing speed and maneuverability,” Stillion’s report states.

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General Atomics Eying Gunship, Osprey As Future Laser Hosts

Scalable laser module fits Avenger UAV

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has improved upon the laser technology matured under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to create a tactical laser weapon module capable of deploying on an AC-130 gunship or V-22 Osprey.

The company displayed a mockup of the laser module at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition in National Harbor, MD, this week. Company officials claim the module was designed for carriage in the internal weapons bay of the Predator C Avenger unmanned aerial vehicle, but is easily reconfigurable to deploy on a tactical AC-130 or V-22 aircraft, and even a guided missile destroyer or Army ground vehicle.

The high-energy laser technology inside the weapon module is the product of two military programs: DARPA’s High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) and the Defense Department’s Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI). In fact, the HELLADS program is due to conclude later this year with a series of 150 kilowatt laser test shots at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

In an April 14 interview with Inside the Air Force, General Atomics’ chief laser engineer, Jim Davis, said the laser is scalable to 300 kilowatt, and has evolved from the HELLADS and RELI programs through internal investments.

Davis said the laser system has applications for the Air Force, Navy and Army, but which service carries the technology forward depends on who “writes the first check.” The design has been proposed for the Office of Naval Research’s Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program and the Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. The Air Force is pursuing airborne lasers to destroy missiles and ground-based electrical equipment like radars.

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Air Force Considering Old Proposals For UH-1N Huey Replacement

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Black Hawk ‘A2L’ plan still not final

The Air Force has dusted off industry proposals from the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform program that was terminated in 2013 as it explores options to replace the UH-1N Huey instead of automatically going with the recommended plan to use restored Army UH-60 Black Hawks.

Industry sources have suggested the Black Hawk plan might not be a done deal, even though the strategy was approved by the service’s vice chief of staff last year.

This week Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick confirmed the service is considering “all commercial off-the-shelf and government off-the-shelf, non-developmental, vertical lift aircraft” as possible Huey replacements.

“The Air Force is currently examining the previous Common Vertical Lift Support Platform (CVLSP) analysis of alternatives for applicability to the UH-1N way ahead,” Gulick told Inside the Air Force March 26. “This analysis is expected to be completed in July 2015, and the results will fold into a subsequent assessment and development of a UH-1N replacement acquisition strategy in FY-16.”

Air Force Global Strike Command is the lead operator of the UN-1N and uses the 1960s helicopters to guard its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But according to Global Strike Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the small, twin-engine Huey “doesn’t meet any of our requirements” for speed, range or payload. “It’s not capable of doing the mission,” Wilson said at an Air Force Association conference in Washington last September.

The Air Force has wanted to replace the Huey since 2006 after it was rated “not effective.”

CVLSP was the latest attempt to replace the helicopter with a single variant but additional capability requirements drove “an approximate seven-fold increase in estimated life-cycle cost” of operating the replacement options over the Huey, according to a September 2014 letter to Congress signed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

Interested vendors included Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky, AgustaWestland, Airbus and Bell Helicopter-Textron. Two known proposals included Airbus’s UH-72 Lakota and AgustaWestland’s AW139M.

Last year, the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council recommended replacing the UH-1N with upgraded Army UH-60 Black Hawks. The upgrade would “reset” A-model Black Hawks and upgrade them to the L model at a estimated cost of $10 million per aircraft.

The total cost of replacing 62 Hueys with Black Hawks is pegged at $980 million for 72 airframes — 65 primary aircraft and seven reserves. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer affirmed the strategy last July and a UH-1N replacement program is included in the service’s FY-16 budget request.

Although the UH-60 is not specifically mentioned in the budget documents, the requested amounts equal the estimated cost of the UH-60 plan — $980 million. That amount is programmed across the service’s futures years defense program, starting with a $2.4 million request in the procurement account for FY-16. Initial deliveries would start in September 2017 and continue into the early 2020s, according to the budget proposal.

“The UH-60A2L is significantly less expensive than a new aircraft with similar capability,” the service secretary’s letter to the congressional defense committees states.

Five Air Force major commands operate the UH-1N Iroquois, better known as the “Twin Huey.” Global Strike employs 25 of the helicopters at three missile bases for ICBM convoy support and emergency response. Air Force District of Washington flies 20 Hueys from Joint Base Andrews, MD, for VIP-transport and to evacuate top government officials from Washington in the case of an attack on the capital.

According to James’ letter and a 2011 industry day slide presentation, the service requires a vertical-lift aircraft with an endurance of three to four hours and a range of 225-515 nautical miles unrefueled. It must carry up to 3,194 pounds including nine troops plus gear.

RAND Corp. was put on contract to produce two studies on the most effective way to replace the UH-1N. Those studies were due in December, and an initial report in 2014 pointed to the UH-60A2L Black Hawk plan as the most practical way forward. — James Drew

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Air Force To Turn DCGS Into ‘Agile, IT-Based Weapons System’

Moving 30 sites to common technical baseline

The top Air Force official for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance says the service’s Distributed Common Ground System could be operated for “pennies on the dollar” if some of the fundamental cost drivers like redundant processes and the extraordinarily high cost of integrating sensors can be eliminated.

According to Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, moving incrementally to an open architecture could drive down the cost of operating the global intelligence processing and distribution network by 75 percent compared to the price of running the system today. “I’m going to challenge them to do it for pennies on the dollar,” Otto told Inside the Air Force after an Air Force Association event in Washington Feb. 18.

In a phone interview the day before, Col. James Lawrence, director of the 25th Air Force’s capabilities division, said a review is underway to determine how to convert the current system into an “agile, IT-based weapon system” with a common operating baseline across each of the 30 global DCGS sites.

He explained that today the DCGS sites operate off different technology baselines, because as new sensors and platforms have been plugged into the system it has naturally morphed and grown more complex.

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