Sunday, February 24, 2013

Engine Crack Grounds Entire Lockheed F-35 Fleet

By Amy Butler, Jen DiMascio
ource: AWIN First

The entire F-35 fleet is being grounded owing to an engine issue, to avoid what U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) calls a potential “catastrophic failure.”

A crack on the 3rd stage low-pressure turbine airfoil was found Feb. 19 during an inspection of a conventional F-35A at Edwards AFB, Calif., says Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, which makes the stealthy, single engine fighter’s F135 engine.

“As a precautionary measure, all F-35 flight operations have been suspended until the investigation is complete,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “It is too early to know the fleet-wide impact of the recent finding.”

Bates also describes the grounding as a “precautionary measure.” The damaged turbine module and associated hardware are being shipped to the manufacturer’s facility in Middletown, Conn., for investigation. This engine had 700 total hours of service, 400 of which were executed in flight, before the crack was found, he says.

The company hopes to figure the issue out and return the fleet to safe flight as soon as possible, Bates adds.
Navair’s commander, Vice Adm. David Dunaway, says an update on the issue is not expected for Congress earlier than March 1.

This grounding, if extended, could cripple the pace in flight testing that was pleasing prime contractor Lockheed Martin and government customers. And it could delay the testing of critical systems — including the 2B software needed for an initial operational capability declaration by the Marine Corps.

The news comes just after the lifting of a grounding of the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing F-35B fleet that was blamed on improperly crimped fueldraulic lines also managed by Pratt & Whitney.

The grounding may provide a small measure of satisfaction to proponents of General Electric’s failed effort to provide an alternate F-35 engine. After years of tough debate and lobbying spanning two presidential administrations, the Pentagon finally secured Congress’ agreement to terminate the GE/Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine in 2011.

Photo Credit: USAF

A400M Certification Imminent, Without Full Capability

By Jens Flottau
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Jens Flottau Seville, Spain

After huge delays and cost overruns, the Airbus A400M is finally nearing first delivery to the French air force, a milestone that will also mark the beginning of a series of upgrades spanning five years.

Airbus Military “firmly committed” to handing over the first A400M before the Paris air show, toward the end of May or early June. “With the level of readiness technically and industrially, we can do it,” program chief Cedric Gautier says. Airbus Military expects to obtain European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification for the aircraft in the next few days, saying, “all documents have been released; certification is imminent.”

France will still receive its initial aircraft more than three years later than originally planned but with a series of capability upgrades slated for later. The first aircraft will only have initial operating clearance, essentially allowing its use as a freighter with no significant additional military functionality.

Airbus Military has also signed an initial in-service support contract spanning the first 18 months of operations for the French aircraft with Occar, the intergovernmental organization that negotiates A400M contracts on behalf of France, Germany, the U.K., Turkey, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg.

With the program entering a new phase, spare parts and maintenance support are becoming more urgent issues to resolve, but senior industry officials say it is already apparent that negotiations will be tough. The A400M was originally based on a commercial business model that placed all the program risk with the manufacturer. Given the program's high number of change requests and subsequent delays, that was later altered somewhat in protracted and highly controversial talks.

Particularly on the engine side, program returns are mostly achieved through profit margins in the aftermarket business. Senior industry officials say A400M customers consider maintenance and spare-parts prices too high, but the industry side is reluctant to give up too much margin.

The cost overruns mean the program will not make a profit with only its 174 firm orders, so there is a strong incentive to earn as much as possible from parts and repairs. Initial rounds of talks on this point were held early in the development phase, but few concrete agreements have been reached. Other countries are likely to make adaptations to the French approach, one executive says.

First delivery will be followed by a busy period of production ramp-up and capability upgrades scheduled to be completed in 2018.

MSN007, the first delivery aircraft, has been transferred to the flight-test center and is expected to make its initial flight next week. The delivery process, to be started in mid-April, is expected to last around six weeks.
If Airbus can meet the schedule, it will achieve first delivery of the much-delayed A400M and first flight of the A350 before the Paris air show.

Currently four other A400Ms are in various stages of completion on the final-assembly line here. MSN008, MSN010 and MSN011 will also be delivered to France, while MSN009 will be the first aircraft for Turkey.
Airbus Military expects the first parts for MSN012 to arrive within the next two weeks. In addition to handing over four aircraft this year, the company aims to deliver 10 in 2014, all of which will enter the final assembly process before year-end. Production of parts has been launched for aircraft up to MSN029.

Following the deliveries to France and Turkey, the U.K. is scheduled to receive its first aircraft in September 2014, Germany in November, Malaysia in January 2015 and Spain in January 2016.

The latest of many snags leading to the compounded delays was the detection of metallic chips in the oil system in one of MSN006's TP400 engines. Airbus suspended function and reliability testing after 160 of 300 planned flight hours.

Greater than expected imbalance of the fan contributed to the mechanical issues, industry executives say, including damage in the gearbox. As a consequence, software had to be developed to more closely monitor vibration levels. The latest version of that software was delivered before the end of last year, but an engine retrofit on the first three aircraft will be needed in 2015 mainly to replace the gearboxes.

Function and reliability testing was also completed in December 2012. One of the test aircraft was taken to Northern Canada in February for the cold-weather campaign, exposing the aircraft to temperatures as low as -32C (-25F).

Before year-end, the A400M will undergo its first upgrade to standard operational capability 1 (SOC1), allowing for initial aerial delivery and self-protection. That is to be followed by SOC1.5 in late 2014 and SOC2 a year later. According to Gautier, upgrades up to SOC1.5 are likely to be performed here because they also involve hardware changes, but later upgrades are expected to be implemented at the various main operational bases because they are limited to software adaptation. The final step to SOC3 will clear the aircraft for low-level flight.

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Credit: Photo Credit: Jens Flottau/AWST

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hello, Unit 61398

Chinese cyber-attacks

AN AMERICAN information-security firm has identified a secretive Chinese military unit as the likely source of hacking attacks against more than a hundred companies around the world. In a report made public on Tuesday, the firm, Mandiant, based in Alexandria, Virginia, said it could now back up suspicions it first reported in more qualified form in 2010.
The firm had said then the Chinese government may have authorised the hacking activity it had traced to China, but that there was “no way to determine the extent” of official involvement. In its new report, Mandiant upgrades its assessment. “The details we have analysed during hundreds of investigations convince us that the groups conducting these activities are based primarily in China and that the Chinese government is aware of them,” the report said.
China’s government has denied the allegations. Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said on February 19th that China has itself been a victim of cyber-attacks, and that it enforces laws that ban such activity. “Groundless criticism is irresponsible and unprofessional, and it will not help to solve the problem," he said of the Mandiant report.
According to the report, a Shanghai-based unit of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department, known as Unit 61398, is staffed by hundreds and possibly thousands of people specially trained in network security, digital signal processing, covert communications and English linguistics. The unit’s 12-storey building (pictured above) has been equipped with special fibre-optic communications infrastructure “in the name of national defence”.
Mandiant said that since 2006, it has observed attacks from this unit against at least 141 companies spanning 20 major industries, including four of the seven strategic emerging industries that China has identified in its current five-year plan.
The New York Times, which hired Mandiant to investigate China-based cyber-attacks against its news operations, was the first to report on the firm’s findings. Mandiant concluded that the attacks against the newspaper had come from a different Chinese source.
In the case of the attacks described in the new report, Mandiant said it could not prove that the attacks came from within the military building it identified. But it concluded that this was the most plausible explanation for its findings. “Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398, or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighbourhood,” Kevin Mandia, the founder and chief executive of the company told the paper.

India Defense Scandal's Wider Impact

Written by Neeta Lal   

Helicopter bribe allegations could slow massive defense plans

The little helicopter that could

India is no stranger to defense corruption scandals and it is in the middle of yet another multi-million dollar global defense scam, one that analysts say threatens its entire procurement program in its headlong effort to upgrade its creaking defense structure to meet challenges from Pakistan and China. 

In the latest episode, Italian defense and aerospace company Finmeccanica's Chief Operating Officer Giuseppe Orsi is believed to have paid €51 million to secure a US$755-million contract for selling 12 VVIP helicopters to India. Orsi, who has been jailed in Milan, denies wrongdoing while New Delhi says it is will scrap the 2010 contract. The scandal threatens to slow India's defense upgrade.

"All these plans will now go into deep freeze," Avinash Garg, a Delhi-based defense analyst formerly with the ministry of external affairs, told Asia Sentinel. "The latest controversy will delay the ongoing acquisition of weapons in India as the government probes the allegations." The scandal, Garg adds, will also lead to a stormy upcoming parliamentary budget session, followed by stricter reviews of all defense deals and delays in the awarding of defense contracts.

The slowdown is certain to frustrate the armed forces, which have been urging the government to increase defense spending to modernize. Decelerating defense purchases will also have an impact on aerospace and defense companies worldwide who are betting on India's plans to spend tens of billions of dollars each year for new equipment.

India already slashed its defense budget for the fiscal year ending March 31 as economic growth has slowed. (GDP growth projections for 2013 have been recalibrated to 5.4 percent by the government after an earlier projection of around 6 percent.

Finmeccanica's bribes were allegedly paid to many Indian intermediaries, including retired Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, a former chief of the Indian Air Force, and his relatives, who swung the controversial deal for the choppers in favor of AugustaWestland, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Finmeccanica. 

Alarmingly, despite the fact that allegations have swirled for years in India's scandal-prone defense procurement industry, this is the first time an Indian service chief has been directly named. According to a preliminary inquiry, the technical requirements for the helicopter were "tweaked" to allow the AugustaWestland to bid. 

The defense ministry ratified the nearly US$1 billion contract in February 2010, and had consistently refused to order a probe into the deal despite more than a year of allegations of huge kickbacks. It is only now, after the report directly named Air Chief Marshal Tyagi, that the government ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry.

The scandal has provided grist for the opposition's mill in an election year. "I see the making of a second Bofors in this scam," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, a spokesman for the country's largest opposition party, Bharatiya Janata. 

The Bofors scandal in the late 1980s implicated former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi and several others who were accused of receiving kickbacks from Swedish defense company for winning a bid to supply field howitzers. The company paid US$11.65 million and the scandal led to the defeat of Gandhi's ruling Indian National Congress party in 1989 general elections. 

India is also on the verge of finalizing a contract with Dassault Aviation of France to purchase 126 Rafale fighter jets in a deal estimated at over US$10 billion. The Rafale acquisition is part of a massive Air Force plan to buy 400 planes and helicopters through 2022. 

Fearing a backlash from the Finmeccanica episode, French President Francois Hollande, who is currently on an India visit, assured New Delhi that no "middlemen" will be involved in the country's biggest defense deal. 

Besides the Rafale deal, the Indian Army is also in the process of acquiring new tanks, artillery, missile batteries and machine guns while the Navy is upgrading its fleet with new frigates and submarines. 

Sullying the atmosphere further was a revelation by India's former army chief General VK Singh last month that he was offered a hefty bribe by a lobbyist to approve a defense procurement deal. Singh's public announcement shocked many over the unhindered access that international arms middlemen enjoy to senior Indian military and defense personnel. 

"Just imagine, one of these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me [US$2.73 million]," Singh told reporters. "He was offering a bribe to me, to the Army Chief. He told me that people had taken money before me and they will take money after me. I was shocked. If somebody comes and tells you, you will get so much, what can you do?"

Singh's public disclosure sent the government scurrying to institute a high-level enquiry, which is probing whether a serving general was indeed offered a bribe to clear the purchase of substandard vehicles.

Analysts say the corruption scandals can be largely blamed on middlemen in the procurement process. "Wherever big bucks are involved, such dubious characters will exist," a Home Ministry Secretary said. "One has to evolve a system where they can operate legitimately within a system of checks and balances. Why has the defense ministry not been able to register them as official agents for companies?" 

Analysts are also shocked that despite India being the world's largest arms importer, having spent well over US$50 billion over the last decade, the nation does not boast a single authorized agent of a foreign armament company on the defense ministry's rolls. What exists instead are shady "consultants" and middlemen. 

"Defense deals normally amount to about 10 percent of the total contract value, with a lion's share going to politicians. Middlemen normally get around three percent with bureaucrats and officers from the Army, Navy and the IAF sharing the rest of the spoils," the secretary said privately.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lockheed Martin and Nanyang Technological University to Collaborate on Nanotechnology

SINGAPORE, Feb. 19, 2013 – Lockheed Martin and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) today announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to explore the science of nanotechnology, with special focus on nanocopper and related technologies for the commercial market.
Lockheed Martin and NTU will set up a joint research laboratory at NTU’s Yunnan campus. The lab will allow NTU students and faculty to work directly with Lockheed Martin scientists on developing the nanocopper CuantumFuse™ technology platform, which can be used for a variety of high-tech applications.
Nanocopper is the main ingredient in a revolutionary electrical interconnect material, or solder. Known as the CuantumFuse™ solder, this material is expected to produce joints with up to 10 times the electrical and thermal conductivity compared to tin-based materials currently in use.
The collaboration was inked today by Professor Freddy Boey, NTU Provost and Dr. Kenneth Washington, Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center.
“This collaboration is a good example of how NTU can connect to global industrial partners to collectively develop innovative solutions to many global challenges faced today,” said Professor Boey. “We hope that in the near future, scientists from both institutions will continue to explore other research topics of joint interest in areas such as satellite technology, interactive media and perhaps even deep sea mining.”
The NTU-Lockheed Martin Joint Laboratory will have an initial fund of $10 million over the next four years, and will employ up to eight scientists working on collaborative research projects. It will provide a platform to allow the exchange of researchers and knowledge between the two institutions, as well as to produce various prototypes and to host prototype demonstrations.
“The collaboration we are beginning today is an enormous step forward in moving our revolutionary CuantumFuse™ technology out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. We look forward to working with our colleagues at NTU to identify specific commercial target markets and applications for both Lockheed Martin and NTU’s intellectual property,” said Dr. Washington. “There’s so much we can learn from each other, this collaboration is hopefully just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Lockheed Martin and the University.”
About Lockheed MartinHeadquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs about 120,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services.  The Corporation’s net sales for 2012 were $47.2 billion.

About NTUA research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, and Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences. This year NTU will enroll the first batch of students at its new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, which is set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to four world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).


Eurofighter Typhoon over Malaysia

How we are getting ready for at this year's Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition

The focus of our presence at this year's LIMA event is our partnership commitment to Malaysia, with Typhoon performance and capabilities taking centre stage on the Eurofighter GmbH stand. 

Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris, this year’s Typhoon Display Pilot, has confirmed that his first display of the season will be performed at LIMA. He said: “It will be an honour to be at LIMA 2013 and to have the opportunity to display some of the capabilities of Typhoon. This will be my first visit to Malaysia and LIMA will give me the opportunity to meet the crowds and engage with fellow pilots.”

Following LIMA, a number of 1 Squadron Typhoons will be based at Butterworth Air Base and will take part in bi-lateral training exercises with the Royal Malaysian Air Force front-line squadrons. The joint exercise gives the air forces an opportunity to work together through a series of air exercises designed to explore the capabilities of respective aircraft types in different scenarios.

BAE Systems

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Trials and Tribulations of India’s Armed Forces

By James Hardy

While spending billions of dollars on defense equipment, India's military faces a number of challenges in its quest to enter the 21st century.


The old saying that a developing country is at a crossroads, whether it’s India or Indonesia, is especially tempting when it comes to India’s armed forces. Decades of underinvestment, corruption, bureaucratic ineptitude and hazy strategic thinking have left the country with a decidedly mixed bag of military capabilities.
On one hand it is strengthening its strategic arsenal, with a triad of nuclear options preparing to come online and well-documented successes in ballistic and cruise missiles (the latter with some serious assistance from Russia). It also has a healthy appetite: despite recent budget cuts across the federal government, my IHS Jane’s colleague Craig Caffrey predicts that defense spending will reach USD 64.5 billion by 2020, with annual spending on equipment alone expected to reach USD 17.4 billion.
On the other hand, India has a world of problems: it has obsolete artillery and air defense systems; a rigid attitude to military doctrine and interservice cooperation; a navy whose only aircraft carrier is creaking towards retirement after more than five decades in British and Indian service; and two neighbors – China and Pakistan – which seem to have a much better record of getting a better return on their defense investments.
With all this in mind, the recent Aero India 2013 airshow in Bangalore was a great chance to assess whether, from a military standpoint, India was going in the right direction or continued to suffer from the same issues.
First up, the good news for India: the Indian Air Force (IAF) is one part of the military that is buying its way into being a capable, 21st century force. While local journalists told me that the big story was whether Russia was losing its edge as India’s preeminent military supplier, the other side of the coin is how New Delhi’s diversifying its supply chain to get the best from an increasingly competitive global defense market.
A case in point is the selection of France’s Dassault Rafale for the Medium Multi-Role Aircraft (MMRCA) contest, a multi-billion dollar deal that France won at the expense of the Eurofighter Typhoon (aircraft from the U.S., Sweden and Russia were also in the running but didn’t make the shortlist). Aviation enthusiasts will continue to disagree which aircraft is better, but what’s undeniable is this: the Rafale has more weapons certified for use and has a latest-generation fire control radar that is actually in production.
France has provided fast jets to India before, so this in itself is not a revolutionary change. Russia is also not out of the fast jet game: India recently agreed to take an option on its Sukhoi Su-30MKI that will eventually see the IAF with 272 of the 4.5-gen fighter – ample to defend Indian air space against any threats from noisy neighbors.
Delhi is also preparing to sign a full design contract with Russia for Sukhoi’s T-50 PAK-FA fifth-gen fighter – Indian sources reckon that at least 300 will enter service with the IAF. Throw in upgraded Mirage 2000s, SEPECAT Jaguars, MiG-29s (both land and carrier based) and a few hundred of the indigenously developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and it’s clear that the pointy end of India’s military aviation should be pretty sharp for quite some time.
The IAF’s also investing in the support aircraft that keep combat aircraft in the fight: it has two different Airborne early warning and control (AWE&C) programs ongoing – one indigenous and one with Israeli knowhow – and recently selected Airbus’ A330 MRTT for it mid-air refueling tanker/transport program. On the pure transport side, the U.S. has cleaned up at Russia’s expense, selling 12 C-130J Hercules tactical transports and at least 6 C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifters to the IAF. It’s not all bad news for Moscow, however – the IAF has signed a deal with Russia to co-design and produce a Medium Transport Aircraft and is looking for replacements for its HAL-748 Avro, with Russian, Ukrainian, pan-European and Italian manufacturers ready to take part.
Where the scales start to tip away from Russia and toward the U.S. is on the rotary side: Boeing recently received preferred bidder status on two major helicopter contracts. India’s heavy attack helicopter will be an AH-64E Apache, while its heavy lift helicopter will be the CH-47F Chinook. Both wins were over Russian competition.
But again, that’s not the full story. Vladimir Putin recently signed a follow-on order for the Mil Mi-17 – the workhorse of the Indian Air Force, and while U.S. and Western suppliers are making inroads into the army’s needs – BAE Systems’ M777 light howitzer is on its way to Delhi – the navy remains a Russian-dominated affair (European design support for the indigenous aircraft carrier being built in Cochin notwithstanding).
Of course, all of this horse-trading and point scoring would be moot if India had an indigenous defense industrial base that could provide the military with what it wants. Right now, that’s just not the case. Whether it is the Tejas fighter, the INSAS rifle or the Arjun tank, India’s failure to develop systems that inspire confidence in its soldiers ensures that the subcontinent remains a world of opportunity for foreign defense manufacturers.
Unsurprisingly, the massive sums involved mean that the threat of corruption is never far away. Although local journalists complained at Aero India that it was a little short on news, organizers will feel that they dodged a bullet when – only three days after the show ended – Italian police arrested Finmeccanica CEO and Chairman Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini on bribery charges relating to a USD 751 million deal for 12 helicopters. The AW101 helicopters in question were to be used to transport India’s prime minister, president and other VVIPs. Finmeccanica and its subsidiaries deny any wrongdoing.
Military corruption scandals have a long and storied place in Indian politics – the Bofors howitzer case ran for over two decades. Still, it is not clear that corruption has more of a negative effect on India’s military capabilities than its tangle of bureaucratic inefficiency and institutional petrifaction.
James Hardy is Asia-Pacific Editor of IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hard Times For Long-Endurance Vehicles

By Bill Sweetman, Graham Warwick
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Boeing's Phantom Eye was damaged on landing during its first flight in June 2012.

Last June, Boeing's Phantom Eye unmanned air vehicle lifted off its takeoff trolley at Edwards AFB, Calif., under the power of two modified Ford automotive engines burning hydrogen fuel. After a first flight, the UAV returned to a lake-bed landing using a lightweight skid under its belly. Its landing skid dug into the landing surface and the UAV was damaged. It is now being prepared for a second flight attempt.

The mishap followed the April 2011 loss at Edwards of AeroVironment's Global Observer, also hydrogen-powered but using a single generator serving eight electrically powered propellers. A second demonstrator had been nearly completed, but funding for further tests had run out.

First-flight blues likewise afflicted Lockheed Martin's High-Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator (HALE-D), a prototype for a solar-powered high-altitude airship. Its inaugural sortie from Akron, Ohio, in June 2011 ended up with the limp envelope tangled in Pennsylvania treetops, 3 hr. into a planned two-week mission.
As recently as 2010, the U.S. was funding eight ultra-long-endurance UAV projects through flight-testing and, in many cases, operational evaluation. Two have been canceled outright, two have no funding, two have been cut back to technology demonstrations and two more survive on minimal money.

The Phantom Eye demonstrator, built using company funds, performed a 40-kt taxi test Feb. 6 in preparation for another flight attempt “later this year.” The trolley and skid landing gear have been modified. One timing issue, Boeing says, is the variability of conditions at Edwards, particularly for lake-bed operations, and pressure on the flight schedule there, where major U.S. Air Force programs take precedence over an experimental program.

Even though the demonstrator has a 150-ft. wingspan, it is not considered large enough for operational use: The baseline operational vehicle discussed before the accident would have spanned 250 ft. and carried twice as much fuel, offering a 10-day endurance with a 1,000-2,000-lb. payload, and the company had talked about a 350-ft.-span monster with a payload up to 10,000 lb.

Distantly related to Phantom Eye is Aurora Flight Sciences' Orion. Aurora was a subcontractor to Boeing and the aerodynamic and structural designs are similar. However, Orion has an entirely conventional propulsion system—two commercial Austro diesel engines that, like its flight-control system, it shares with Aurora's Centaur optionally piloted vehicle. Unlike most ultra-long-endurance types, it is designed to operate at medium altitude, and it was funded under a Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) program as a carrier for the Gorgon Stare wide area surveillance system. The vehicle was completed but had not flown before funding was exhausted, and the USAF has asked the contractor not to talk about it.

AeroVironment's Global Observer was being developed as a JCTD, funded by no fewer than six U.S. government agencies, and was to fly with the Air Force's Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN) payload, designed to allow multiple tactical communications systems to talk to one another and connect to distant command centers. AeroVironment says it is still talking to its customers.

The U.K.'s solar-powered Qinetiq Zephyr was developed through a series of larger and more ambitious prototypes, and set a number of flight-endurance records in 2010—including a 336-hr. flight—after which nothing more was announced publicly. Qinetiq says it has no further progress or plans to report.

A much more ambitious solar-electric program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (Darpa)Vulture, was cut back last April from a flight demonstration to research into critical technologies, 18 months after an $89 million contract award to a Boeing team. Vulture was designed to demonstrate a five-year operational endurance: one of the original competitors envisaged a vehicle that would be carried to altitude by an aerostat and recovered by parachute after a single mission, with its components being recycled as possible. However, the program is now focusing on solar-cell materials and fuel-cell technology.

Lighter-than-air craft have been faring no better, as contractors fail to deliver on their promises because of technical problems, schedule delays and cost overruns.
Of four Pentagon programs launched to develop and demonstrate long-endurance surveillance airships, one has crashed, one has been terminated, one scaled back substantially and one survives on only a trickle of funding. All have come to grief in the process of developing the air vehicle itself.

The first of the four airship programs to spring a leak was HALE-D, begun by the Missile Defense Agency in 2003 and taken over by Army Space & Missile Defense Command (SMDC) in 2008. At 232 ft. long, HALE-D was a subscale demonstrator for an unmanned airship designed to stay aloft at 65,000 ft. for more than 30 days. But after the prototype's crash, there was no more money, and the program ended.

Another stratospheric airship brought down to Earth is Darpa's Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS), an ambitious program to integrate a dual-band active-array radar into a 1,000-ft.-long solar-electric airship capable of staying aloft for 10 years, tracking hundreds of air and ground targets from 70,000 ft. Started in 2004, ISIS encountered problems with the radar array and regenerative power system, and plans for Lockheed Martin to build a 510-ft.-long demonstrator capable of flying for a year were put on hold. For now, the program is focusing on radar and airship risk-reduction while Darpa reassesses the plan with the Air Force, says the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Next to be punctured was the Air Force's Blue Devil 2 program, launched in 2010 to meet an urgent requirement to provide persistent multisensor surveillance in Afghanistan. The goal was to take a commercial airship, make it unmanned and install multiple video, radar and signals-intelligence sensors, communications links and onboard processing to create an ISR “fusion node.” The 370-ft.-long Blue Devil 2 was intended to fly for up to four days at 20,000 ft. with a payload up to 2,500 lb.

The Air Force set an aggressive schedule and awarded the integration contract to virtually unknown Mav6. Then the problems began. Based on a TCOM Polar 1000 airship, the program had problems with the envelope, overweight tail fins that failed structural testing, and flight-control software that did not scale up from a smaller version of the craft. The Air Force canceled Blue Devil 2 in June 2012, before the airship could fly, to avoid further delays and increasing costs, says the GAO.

Not yet canceled but cut back is the U.S. Army's Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program, also launched in 2010 to meet surveillance needs in Afghanistan. The system was based on promising but unproven hybrid airship technology. This combines buoyant, aerodynamic and propulsive lift for greater payload and endurance and easier ground-handling.

With Northrop Grumman as the integrator and the U.K.'s Hybrid Air Vehicles as airframe supplier, the 302-ft.-long LEMV is designed to fly for up to 21 days at 20,000 ft. carrying a 2,500-lb. payload. But the first airship is 12,000 lb. overweight, says the GAO, reducing its endurance and altitude capability to 16 days at 16,000 ft. Development was supposed to be completed in December 2011, but the LEMV did not fly until August 2012—and has yet to fly again.

Work continues but funding has been sliced. The core LEMV team is waiting while Army leadership debates where to spend money as the defense budget is cut. Even if funding is forthcoming, both manned and unmanned flight-testing has yet to be done and deployment looks unlikely without demand for Afghan operations.
And therein lies a cause of the halting progress of ultra-long-endurance UAVs: a lack of strong, consistent customer support. To a great degree, this is because user requirements for ISR and other functions have evolved in directions that make ultra-long-endurance platforms less attractive.
In the last half decade, many ISR users have called for sensor suites that provide situational awareness rather than just a video image of a small spot on the ground. One approach is to use electro-optical (EO) wide-area surveillance systems such as the U.S. Gorgon Stare and Vigilant Stare, and Israeli equivalents, and the other is multisensor, multisource integration using radar, communications-intelligence sensors and databases.

Wide-aperture EO systems need to operate at low-to-medium altitudes; radar requires rapidly increasing power with altitude and range; and multisensor systems add weight and drag, to which ultra-long-endurance vehicles are sensitive. Operators are looking for affordable, reliable medium-altitude sensor trucks. Most UAV procurement and export activity today is centered on the class of the GA-ASI Predator, IAI Heron and Elbit Hermes 900.

There are some missions for which high altitude, long range and endurance may be valuable even with a small payload, including communications relay (one target mission for both Global Observer and Zephyr) and carrying an EO sensor for ballistic missile defense operations (which involves forward operations close to launch sites). Both could be important for the USAF/Navy Air-Sea Battle concept, but those planners have higher funding priorities.

Finally, it was revealed last year that Sandia and Northrop Grumman had completed studies of a UAV propulsion system that would offer longer endurance and lower operating cost than with hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuel. According to an earlier study for the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessments, Sandia said its development “would not be an R&D project, but rather an engineering development effort that could culminate in a flight test within a decade.” However, the project was terminated (and practically buried) because its power source would be a nuclear reactor.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Persian Gulf Countries Favor High-Tech Defenses

By Tony Osborne
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Saudi Arabia is to expand its fleet of F-15 Eagles in the coming years as part of a recapitalization program.

Middle Eastern governments have been busy recapitalizing their armed forces in recent years with the latest technology.
New fighters, main battle tanks and intelligence-gathering capabilities have been snapped up from defense companies eager to sell, given the historic lows in their traditional U.S. and European markets. Key to this strengthening is concern about Iran—which continues to make noises about its nuclear program and wield major political influence in the region despite heavy sanctions—and perhaps about U.S. involvement in the region.

In 2011, when President Barack Obama announced a “strategic pivot” in U.S. foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, he was also signaling a turning point for U.S. energy policy. Improved techniques for extracting shale oil mean the U.S. could potentially become the world's largest oil producer and thus be almost self-sufficient in terms of energy production.

“The governments in the Middle East have known this was coming for a long time, but were slow to recognize its significance,” says Jonathan Eyal, a Middle East expert with the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute defense think tank. “Of course, the U.S. has some strategic allies in the region, but these countries are realizing that they increasingly have to do more for themselves.”

While the U.S. mulls how it will re-distribute its forces after the pull-out from Afghanistan, it is likely that the huge number of U.S. troops, aircraft and ships deployed in the region is likely to shrink significantly, leaving those Middle Eastern countries to deal with problems on their periphery.This may require greater cross-border cooperation or even joint military operations.

“Military cooperation lies at the very core of the [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council] agreements, and the countries do work together, albeit on a relatively small scale,” says Eyal.

He suggests the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations may need to take a greater role in operations in which the U.S. and European navies have invested in the past decade, such as anti-piracy or surveillance of the Straits of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supply is transported.

Flights of fancy

Unmanned gliders


ALTHOUGH undeniably graceful, gliding has until now been suitable only for pleasure flights. But this is changing, as researchers exploit wind power to enhance the capabilities of unmanned aircraft, especially small drones. Soon, these gliders will be able to stay aloft for weeks. They will thus be able to act as communication relays, keep a persistent eye on the ground below and even track marine animals thousands of kilometres across the ocean.
One such glider, the hand-launched Tactical Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial System (TALEUAS) is being developed at the Unites States’ Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. It needs an electric propeller to get airborne, but give it a few minutes to reach a reasonable altitude and TALEUAS can fly all day just by riding rising currents of warm air called thermals.
When TALEUAS encounters a thermal it senses the lift and spirals around to take advantage of it. Vultures and eagles use the same technique, and Kevin Jones, who is in charge of the project, says he has often found TALEUAS sharing the air with these raptors. On some occasions, indeed, the birds found that the thermals they were attempting to join it in were too weak for their weight, as the drone is more efficient than they are at gliding.
TALEUAS’s endurance is limited only by the power requirements of its electronics and payload, for at the moment these are battery powered. Dr Jones and his team are, however, covering the craft’s wings with solar cells that will generate power during the day, and are replacing its lithium-polymer battery with a lithium-ion one capable of storing enough energy to last the night. That done, TALEUAS will be able to stay aloft indefinitely.
TALEUAS does, however, depend on chance to locate useful thermals in the first place. Roke Manor Systems, a British firm, hopes to eliminate that element of chance by allowing drones actively to seek out rising air in places where the hunt is most likely to be propitious. As well as thermals, Mike Hook, the project’s leader, and his team are looking at orographic lift, produced by wind blowing over a ridge, and lee waves caused by wind striking mountains. Their software combines several approaches to the search for rising air. It analyses the local landscape for large flat areas that are likely to produce thermals, and for ridges that might generate orographic lift. It also employs cameras to spot cumulus clouds formed by rapidly rising hot air. Such software replicates the behaviour of a skilled sailplane pilot—or a vulture—in knowing where to find rising air and where to avoid downdraughts.
Perhaps the most ambitious scheme for a robot glider, however, is the artificial albatross proposed by Philip Richardson of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts. Like its natural counterpart, this artificial bird harnesses wind shear—the difference in wind speed at different heights—in a technique called dynamic soaring.
The air is quite still near the surface of the sea even when it is blowing powerfully just a few metres above, so an albatross can rise up and face into the wind, gaining height like a kite in a breeze, then turn to glide down in any direction. By repeating this manoeuvre it can fly thousands of kilometres without flapping its wings, and by tacking it can travel anywhere, regardless of the wind direction, with an average speed six times that of the wind. Dr Richardson thinks he can replicate this with his robot bird. If he does, he will surely break all records for the time a heavier-than-air artefact has stayed airborne.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Twitter Devolutions


How social media is hurting the Arab Spring.

Tahrir Square launched a thousand dissertations on how social media drove the frenetic mobilization of the Arab Spring. Egyptian activists may rage at the notion that the revolution was driven by technology rather than by their determined efforts, but there's a good case to be made that social media did matter -- at least a bit -- in shaping the uprisings across the Arab world. But the celebratory narrative about social media needs to be tempered by the reality of the struggles that have befallen most of these countries in transition. Whether or not Twitter made the Arab revolutions, is it now helping to kill them?

Don't get me wrong -- I love Twitter (that's me at @abuaardvark). I rely on it for information and the unfiltered opinions of hundreds of Arab citizens every day, and I've written often about how new media forms affect politics -- for good or for ill. The relentless spread of Internet access and social media use represents a genuine structural transformation in how political information flows in the Arab world, and it is only becoming more powerful as millions more Arab citizens come online. But if we take seriously social media's role in the revolutions, how can we avoid asking tough questions about how it might have affected their aftermath?

It's easy to understand why so many people saw "Facebook revolutions" and "Twitter revolutions" during the Iranian uprising of 2009 and the Arab uprisings of 2011. The outsized role of online activists, the reliance of many outsiders on Twitter for instant updates, and the undeniable immediacy of online information proved irresistible to academics and journalists alike. Casual observers felt an unprecedented connection with the activists they followed on Twitter. Meanwhile, academics had a multitude of good reasons to believe that new media forms were enabling radically new forms of political organization and communication that just had to matter. And it did! The effects of social media in facilitating opposition organization and shaping the coverage of protests in the mainstream media may have been at the margins. But much of politics is often waged in those margins.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Indian Fighter Contract Expected By Midyear

By Jay Menon
Source: AWIN First

India expects to sign a contract to purchase up to 126 Dassault Rafale fighters by the middle of this year, the country’s air force chief says, trying to put to rest speculation that recently announced budget cuts could delay the acquisition.

The government has cut defense spending for its current fiscal year ending March 31 by about 5% from the originally allocated 1.93 trillion rupees ($38.6 billion), mainly due to the ongoing economic downturn (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 7).

“The deal is highest priority for us,” Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne says. “The project is very much on track.”
Discussions are under way on the work share between Dassault and the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), which will manufacture the aircraft under licensed production.

As per the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract, estimated to be worth $12-20 billion, 18 of the 126 fighter aircraft will be bought in flyaway condition from Dassault and the remaining 108 will be manufactured by HAL later this decade.

“It was only a year ago that Dassault was selected as the L1 [lowest bidder] for acquiring the aircraft and the CNC [contract negotiation committee] was established to finalize the deal soon after. We want the deal to happen as early as possible for induction soon,” Browne said on the sidelines of the ninth Aero India show in Bengaluru.

Three French air force Rafales are at this year’s show, with two performing flight displays and one on static display.
Browne concedes that some defense programs take years to clear the negotiation committee stage. “We hope it won’t happen in the case of the MMRCA,” he says. There appear to be six or seven layers of bureaucratic approval before the MMRCA deal reaches the Cabinet Committee on Security, which has final say on the procurement.

Meanwhile, Dassault Aviation says it hopes to conclude the deal this year, with negotiations set to be taken up when French President Francois Hollande visits India next week.

“The ideal would be to sign it in 2013,” Dassault chief executive Eric Trappier told French media.

Meanwhile, HAL says it has begun advanced preparations to build a facility for assembling the Rafale fighters in India.

Rafale photo: Dassault

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Avic Y-20 Airlifter Awaits Better Engines

By Bill Sweetman, Bradley Perrett
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

If ever there were an aircraft that should grow in capability, China's newly flown Y-20 airlifter would be it. The prototype that took to the air on Jan. 26 mates what looks like a modern airframe with obsolete 1960s-technology engines. Together, they probably represent no more than a serviceable design standard, offering only modest advances in capability over the Ilyushin Il-76 that China already operates.

But a better engine is under development for the Y-20. If and when China's technologically challenged aero-engine industry can get that high-bypass turbofan ready, then the airlifter should surge in performance. More distantly, a truly modern engine under development for the Comac C919 airliner could also be available.
Successful development of the Y-20 airframe is in itself an important accomplishment for the Chinese industry, which in more than six decades of Communist history has been only slowly and haltingly weaning itself from copying foreign types, mostly Soviet-era Russian designs. Underscoring this point, the Y-20 is the largest indigenous Chinese aircraft built so far, exceeding the unsuccessful Y-10 airliner tested in the early 1980s.

The Y-20 will not enter service before 2017, according to two Chinese military academics, Zhang He and Li Wei, writing in China Youth Daily, a major national newspaper. They also say that the Y-20 airframe incorporates composite materials (although most of it appears to be aluminum) and a “supercritical” wing. It is not clear whether the objective is to have a new engine ready by service entry.

The Y-20 is an entirely new design, even though it is close in size and shape to the Il-76, which uses the same Saturn D-30KP medium-bypass engine as the Chinese airlifter's prototype. Compared with the Il-76, the Y-20 has a shorter wingspan and a shorter, but slightly wider, fuselage. The Y-20 is larger than the Airbus A400M and has about the same fuselage diameter, but is much smaller than the Boeing C-17.

Specifications estimated by Aviation Week (see table) and including dimensions determined photometrically, vary from figures quoted by Zhang and Li. The academics say the Y-20's span is 45 meters (148 ft.), length 47 meters, height 15 meters, gross weight “over 200 tons” and payload 66 tons. They give no source, but their figures could be preliminary numbers estimated in 2006, when the project was launched after about 15 years of study. Comparison with the Il-76 suggests that the published weight and payload figures are too high for a version fitted with the D-30KP.

In late 2009, Hu Xiaofeng, the general manager of Avic Aircraft—the large-airplane specialist subsidiary of aeronautics group Avic—said the Y-20 was in the “200-ton class” and would be unveiled at the end of that year. But it was not unveiled then, suggesting that the airframe or engine program had hit trouble. The Xian Aircraft plant is building the Y-20, which was rolled out in December 2012.

The Y-20 follows the configuration set by the Lockheed C-141, with a high-mounted wing, moderately swept to combine good low-speed performance with reasonable cruising speed, fuselage-mounted landing gear and a T-tail. (Since the C-141, all successful jet airlifters have used that configuration, except the An-124, which has a low tail.) The Y-20's wing has full-span slats and triple-slotted trailing-edge flaps, the latter comprising two articulated segments with a fixed vane on the forward surface. The engines are hung low as on the Il-76—in its current form at least, the Y-20 does not use externally blown flaps in the same way as the C-17.

The ailerons can also droop to increase lift at low speeds, and large spoilers are fitted for roll control and lift dumping. Like the C-17, the Y-20 has a four-piece rudder, with upper and lower double-hinged segments. This provides both redundancy and the ability to use higher deflection on the lower half than on the upper rudder panels, reducing loads on the vertical tail.

In comparison with the Il-76, a smaller cockpit for just three crew members should have helped designers to increase cargo volume. Chinese media stress that the aircraft is fatter than the Il-76, the skinniest of the strategic airlifters now in service, though the difference may not be great. Extra diameter should help in stowing outsize items such as helicopters and engineering vehicles, but the Y-20's cargo bay is shorter than the Il-76's.

The landing gear looks similar in layout to the A400M's, with three separate twin-wheel units on each side. Operating jet airlifters from truly unimproved surfaces is more spectacular than practicable, but the Y-20 should be as good as any of its contemporaries in this regard. Zhang and Li say it can operate from “relatively simple” fields. The nose wheel can pivot 90 deg., they add, giving a detail that suggests they have been well-briefed. (Zhang is on the faculty of the Command College of the Second Artillery and Li is of the National Defense University.)

The Y-20's overall size and weight are such that it could be an effective aircraft with D-30KP engines, which China already imports for its H-6K cruise-missile carrier. At least 20% more thrust will probably be available from the Chinese turbofan that Avic Engine is developing at Shenyang, possibly under the name WS-20. It is believed to be a derivative of the WS-10 Taihang fighter engine.

In contrast to the medium-bypass D-30KP, it will have a high bypass ratio, making it comparable with the CFM56, to which it may be related (AW&ST Nov. 7, 2011, p. 28). The Y-20 must have entered flight testing with the D-30KP because the Chinese engine was not ready—perhaps not fully developed or maybe just not trusted for early flights.

A more distant prospect is the CJ-1000, which Avic Commercial Aircraft Engines is developing for the Comac C919 airliner as an alternative to the CFM Leap-1 and with the aim of matching the performance of that Franco-U.S. engine. CJ-1000 development faces great technical challenges but is probably being well funded. With abundant thrust and, it is hoped, world-class efficiency, the CJ-1000 would transform the performance of the Y-20.

The prospective use of the Y-20 raises a contradiction that has become familiar as the Chinese navy has developed its amphibious assault capability and commissioned an aircraft carrier. China's government consistently downplays its interest in power projection. And, like all authoritarian states, it strongly promotes the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. No wonder, then, that state media stress the humanitarian and disaster-relief role of the Y-20. Those will undoubtedly be prominent roles of the Y-20, internationally as well as domestically, helping China's image abroad.

As a tool of power projection, the Y-20 will probably not worry China's neighbors too much, says Andrew Davies, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra. Naval forces, which can transport much more than aircraft can, are likely to be of greater concern. “The Y-20 is part of the bigger picture of Chinese power projection, but it is a less significant element,” he says. Also, China is such a big country that the aircraft has obvious internal uses.

The country does, however, place strong emphasis on airborne forces, as Russia does. China has built a rapid reaction force around the 15th Airborne Corps, which is able to respond to crises within China and around its borders. It has continued to develop specialized combat vehicles designed to be air-dropped. The most recent type is the Norinco ZBD03, derived from the Russian BMD-3 and armed with a 30-mm 2A72 cannon. The 15th Airborne also operates with its own helicopter force, so the Y-20's relatively high and wide cabin will be useful in ferrying helicopters with minimal dismantling and reassembly. China's airborne force has been restricted in its mobility by the small available force of Chinese Il-76s.