Welcome to The War Report, your *Friday morning roundup of articles and posts by Aviation Week & Space Technology Defense Editor James Drew. Send your questions, comments or news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, but for an immediate response, dial the Bat Phone: +1 (202) 704-8852 or +1 (267) 475-5072. For personal correspondence, email Secret Squirrel via email@example.com. All exchanges are on deep background, unless otherwise expressed.
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Designed to fly at roughly twice the speed and 2-3 times as far as today’s helicopters, the leading contenders for the U.S. Army-led Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program promise to revolutionize the way U.S. land and maritime forces fight wars while reducing the logistics burden through commonality. The platforms Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky/Boeing are pursuing under the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD)—the V-280 Valor and SB-1 Defiant, respectively—are making rapid progress and could fly for the first time by year-end.
The Army, which is taking a steady approach to development, maintains that the V-280 and SB-1 platforms are not in a flyoff for the FVL program, but the contractors see it differently. They plan to demonstrate that the configurations are ready to begin full-scale engineering and manufacturing development, rather than a three-year technology maturation phase that would delay service entry from the mid-2020s until the early 2030s. The V-280 is more than 85% complete at Bell’s manufacturing site in Amarillo, Texas, and the SB-1 composite fuselage is being delivered to Boeing in Mesa, Arizona. Read more at Aviation Week.
The days of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles from flying command posts in testing and nuclear war are here to stay, with the U.S. Air Force making provisions to link current and future “Doomsday Planes” with its next-generation missile, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). Since Strategic Air Command launched the Boeing EC-135 as part of Operation Looking Glass in 1961, the U.S. has maintained airborne operation centers for directing nuclear strikes from submarines and underground missiles silos.
Many of today’s nuclear command-and-control systems were designed during the Cold War, back when nuclear war with the then-Soviet Union was a daily fear. Now, the Air Force is beginning to modernize its portion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including the majority of its missile launch architecture.
The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center has already begun developing a replacement for the E-6B’s airborne launch control system, known by the acronym ALCS-R (replacement), to deal with obsolete parts. The Air Force tells Aviation Week that this missile launch system must support current and future generations of ICBM. For the next-generation Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the requirement is termed Survivable Launch Platform—Airborne (SLP-A). Read more at AWIN.
The U.S. Air Force is one step closer to replacing its worn-out fleet of Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (J-Stars) tank hunters after beginning a $6.9 billion competition to develop and deliver 17 replacements based on a “smaller and more efficient airframe.”
The radar-carrying E-8C was designed in the 1980s and delivered through the ’90s for ground surveillance, battle management and command-and-control missions. The 16 aircraft remaining in the fleet are secondhand, 1970s-vintage Boeing 707-300 commercial airframes that have become too expensive to fly and maintain, due to their age.
On Dec. 28, the Air Force issued its long-awaited request for proposals (RFP) for development and production of a more efficient replacement aircraft, with service entry expected by fiscal 2024 or sooner. Read more at Aviation Week.
Up to six industry teams are preparing to fight in one of the most significant aircraft battles of the decade, the recently launched U.S. Air Force next-generation trainer contract, valued at $16.3 billion for 350 aircraft. A request for proposals for the so-called Advanced Pilot Training program was released on Dec. 30, triggering the Air Force’s fourth major weapons competition of the year, after the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Stars replacement effort on Dec. 28 and next-generation nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile and long-range cruise missile solicitations in July.
The T-X solicitation covers delivery of five test aircraft for the engineering and manufacturing development phase, with contract options covering production of the 350 trainers over 11 annual batches. The winning aircraft must be ready for service by late fiscal 2024 “or earlier,” the Air Force says. Read more at Aviation Week.
The U.S. Air Force’s six-year development of a guidance kit for the 1968-vintage B61 thermonuclear bomb has entered the final stretch, with qualification flight testing due to begin in March followed by a developmental test and an evaluation series in August. The new phase of flight testing comes after Boeing, which manufactures the nuclear weapon’s tail kit assembly, rectified radiation hardening issues with the inertial measurement unit (IMU), a key component.
Two B61-12 tail kit assembly program officials, who spoke to Aviation Week in an interview at the Pentagon but asked not to be named, said the inertial measurement device did not meet stringent requirements for use in a nuclear environment and needed better radiation shielding. This was considered the largest remaining technical obstacle for the $1.3 billion guidance kit program, a sum that covers development, flight testing, production and sustainment of 813 tail kits and 11 trainer devices. The total program cost is $9.6 billion, when including the Department of Energy’s (DOE) $8.3 billion modernization and life-extension of an undisclosed number of B61s all-up rounds. Read more at AWIN.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army’s annual order of Lockheed Martin Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) hit-to-kill interceptors has increased 32% to $1.45 billion compared to last year’s bulk buy. The late-December order provides the Army with standard PAC-3 and dual-pulse solid rocket motor PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) types, as well as missiles for Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through the foreign military sales process.
Last year’s year-end deal totaled $1.1 billion for interceptors, launcher modification kits and associated equipment and spares for domestic consumption as well as for Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Qatar. The air and missile defense weapons are sourced from Lockheed’s Missiles and Fire Control business in Dallas, Texas, via the Army’s program executive office for missiles and space in Huntsville, Alabama. Read more at Aviation Week.
Thank you for reading!
*This edition is being issued on Friday instead of the regular time on Monday, as I will be out of reach for the next week. The next issue of The War Report will arrive in late January.