Category Archives: Air Force

First Flight

The Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter achieved first flight today at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Florida site, an important step toward bringing this all-new aircraft to service members to perform critical search and rescue operations. The aircraft, developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company and based on the proven UH-60M Black Hawk, is customized for the U.S. Air Force ‘s rescue mission and will ensure the Air Force fulfills its mission to leave no one behind.

Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter Achieves First Flight

Total flight time was approximately 1.2 hours and included hover control checks, low speed flight, and a pass of the airfield.

«This achievement is yet another vital step toward a low rate initial production decision and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced capabilities to the warfighter», said Dana Fiatarone, vice president, Sikorsky Army & Air Force Systems. «We are very pleased with the results of today’s flight and look forward to a productive and informative flight test program».

Today’s flight paves the way for a Milestone C production decision in September 2019, per the original baseline schedule, to which both Sikorsky and the Air Force are committed. A second HH-60W helicopter is expected to enter flight test next week, with a third and fourth aircraft entering flight test this summer. These aircraft will provide critical data over the course of the program which will enable the Air Force to make an informed production decision.

«The HH-60W’s first flight is the culmination of significant development and design advances. We are excited to now move forward to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test program», said Greg Hames, director of the Combat Rescue Helicopter program. «Together with the Air Force, our team is motivated and committed to advancing this program and delivering this superior aircraft to our airmen and women».

The HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter is significantly more capable and reliable than its predecessor, the HH-60G Pave Hawk. The aircraft hosts a new fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the internal tank on a UH-60M Black Hawk, giving the Air Force crew extended range and more capability to rescue those injured in the battle space. The HH-60W specification drives more capable defensive systems, vulnerability reduction, weapons, cyber-security, environmental, and net-centric requirements than currently held by the HH-60G.

«With the Combat Rescue Helicopter’s successful first flight now behind us, we look forward to completion of Sikorsky’s flight test program, operational testing and production of this aircraft to support the Air Force’s critical rescue mission», said Edward Stanhouse, Chief, U.S. Air Force Helicopter Program Office. «Increased survivability is key and we greatly anticipate the added capabilities this aircraft will provide».

The U.S. Air Force program of record calls for 113 helicopters to replace the Pave Hawks, which perform critical combat search and rescue and personnel recovery operations for all U.S. military services. A total of nine aircraft will be built at Sikorsky’s Stratford, Connecticut, facility during the Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the program – four EMD aircraft and five System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA).

Joint Threat Emitter

Northrop Grumman Corporation has received a $46 million delivery order for eight Joint Threat Emitter (JTE) Units. This award is a part of the indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity JTE Enhanced Delivery Initiative contract awarded by the U.S. Air Force in December 2018.

JTE is a ruggedized system that is easily relocated, reactive to aircrew/aircraft for fast-jet, fixed-wing and rotary-wing defensive measures, and can be rapidly reprogrammed with new threat parameters

JTE is a mobile air defense electronic warfare threat simulator that provides high-fidelity replication of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery threats for aircrew training.

«JTE is critical to the success of the U.S. military and our international allies», said James Conroy, vice president, land and avionics C4ISR, Northrop Grumman. «The system ensures aircrews are better equipped to identify and effectively counter the most advanced enemy missile and artillery threats».

Awarded by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, this award includes the delivery of eight wide-band variants of the threat emitter unit, as well as retrofit kits for some existing systems. Deliveries are slated for U.S. training ranges across the country and to select international locations. This will mark the second set of JTE systems delivered internationally. All work under this contract will be performed in Buffalo.

Northrop Grumman’s JTE is the current U.S. Air Force program of record with 30 systems fielded both domestically and internationally. The JTE provides a modern, reactive battlespace war environment, designed to help train military personnel to identify and effectively counter enemy missile or artillery threats.

Fifth AEHF Satellite

The U.S. Air Force is gearing up to launch the fifth global, anti-jam, protected communications satellite after its arrival in Florida.

AEHF-5 is hoisted by crane into its satellite ship container at Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California. After the satellite is securely packed into the container, it boards a US Air Force cargo plane where it will travel from California to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
AEHF-5 is hoisted by crane into its satellite ship container at Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California. After the satellite is securely packed into the container, it boards a US Air Force cargo plane where it will travel from California to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

Lockheed Martin shipped the Air Force’s fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-5) satellite to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ahead of its expected June launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. AEHF-5’s launch comes just eight months after AEHF-4 blasted off from the Cape on October 17, 2018.

Once launched, AEHF-5 will join the AEHF constellation, which provides protected, survivable communications for the nation’s nuclear command, control and communication mission.

Earlier this month, the Air Force and Lockheed Martin marked the successful completion of AEHF-4’s spacecraft on-orbit testing. This event is the last step before the satellite joins the existing AEHF constellation, adding increased resiliency to an on-orbit network that continues to provide highly-secure, protected and survivable communications for the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

«We are thrilled to return to the Cape to launch AEHF-5 less than a year after launching AEHF-4, showing an accelerated pace to support the Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center», said Mike Cacheiro, vice president of Protected Communications at Lockheed Martin Space. «AEHF-4 arrived to its on-orbit operational position a month early, where it demonstrated Extended Data Rate (XDR) connectivity. This is an exciting time where we are witnessing the deployment of critical capabilities of the current four AEHF satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which provide ten times greater capacity than the original Milstar constellation. The AEHF system is essentially a high capacity data network in the sky, and this is a complete paradigm shift for the future of protected communications».

The new AEHF constellation with the advanced technology of XDR will change how users interact with the new high-bandwidth network. Data speeds increase fivefold, and transmissions that used to take hours can take minutes. This enables both strategic and tactical users to communicate globally across a high-speed network that delivers protected communications in any environment.

Lockheed Martin designs, processes and manufactures the AEHF satellites at its production facility in Silicon Valley. AEHF-6 is currently in full production at the company’s Sunnyvale, California advanced satellite manufacturing facility.

The HEL system

Raytheon Company’s advanced high power microwave and mobile high energy laser systems engaged and defeated multiple unmanned aerial system targets during a U.S. Air Force demonstration. The mature High Power Microwave (HPM) and High Energy Laser (HEL) technologies offer an affordable solution to the growing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) threat.

Raytheon directed energy systems down multiple drones in US Air Force exercise
Raytheon directed energy systems down multiple drones in US Air Force exercise

The HEL system, paired with Raytheon’s Multi-spectral Targeting System, uses invisible beams of light to defeat hostile UASs. Mounted on a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle, the system detects, identifies, tracks and engages drones.

«Countering the drone threat requires diverse solutions», said Stefan Baur, Raytheon Electronic Warfare Systems vice president. «HEL and HPM give frontline operators options for protecting critical infrastructure, convoys and personnel».

Raytheon’s HPM uses microwave energy to disrupt drone guidance systems. High power microwave operators can focus the beam to target and instantly defeat drone swarms. With a consistent power supply, an HPM system can provide virtually unlimited protection.

«After decades of research and investment, we believe these advanced directed energy applications will soon be ready for the battlefield to help protect people, assets and infrastructure», said Doctor Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president.

Raytheon’s HEL and HPM were the only directed energy systems that participated in this Air Force experimentation demonstration. The event expanded on previous directed energy demonstrations such as a U.S. Army directed energy exercise held in 2017.

Milestone C

The Northrop Grumman Corporation Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) pod for the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft has achieved Milestone C. This critical milestone, awarded by the Department of Defense Milestone Decision Authority, marks the end of the development and testing phase and enables the beginning of production and deployment.

Northrop Grumman’s laser-based LAIRCM infrared countermeasure packages advanced missile warning sensors, a pointer/tracker and processor into a pod that can be transferred between KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft for survivability (Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force)
Northrop Grumman’s laser-based LAIRCM infrared countermeasure packages advanced missile warning sensors, a pointer/tracker and processor into a pod that can be transferred between KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft for survivability (Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

The Generation 3 podded LAIRCM system, known previously as Guardian, is an infrared countermeasure system that detects, tracks and jams incoming missiles. It incorporates advanced missile warning sensors, a compact laser pointer/tracker and a processor in a single pod that can be readily transferred between aircraft to meet rapidly changing mission requirements. This mature system leverages Northrop Grumman’s decades-long countermeasures experience and requires no aircrew intervention. KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews can focus on their critical refueling, aeromedical evacuation and cargo missions while gaining the full survivability benefit the LAIRCM system provides.

To achieve Milestone C, Northrop Grumman worked closely with the KC-135 Stratotanker Program Office, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command to thoroughly test LAIRCM for KC-135 Stratotanker in the laboratory and the field.

«In this changing threat environment, the LAIRCM Generation 3 pod is ready to provide much-needed protection to KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews as they carry out their critical support missions», said Bob Gough, vice president, land and avionics Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman’s infrared countermeasure systems have been installed on more than 1,800 large and small fixed wing, rotary wing and tilt-rotor platforms of more than 80 types.

Wedgetail aircraft

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has signed a $1.98Bn (£1.51Bn) deal to purchase five E-7 Wedgetail aircraft. The E-7 Wedgetail fleet will replace the current E-3D Sentry aircraft and ensure the continued delivery of the UK’s Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) capability.

Wedgetail to be RAF's new early warning radar aircraft
Wedgetail to be RAF’s new early warning radar aircraft

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: «The E-7 Wedgetail provides a technological edge in an increasingly complex battlespace, allowing our pilots to track and target adversaries more effectively than ever. This deal also strengthens our vital military partnership with Australia. We will operate the same state-of-the-art F-35 Lightning II jets and world-class Type-26 warships, and this announcement will help us work even more closely together to tackle the global threats we face».

The new fleet will be able to track multiple airborne and maritime targets at the same time, using the information it gathers to provide situational awareness and direct other assets such as fighter jets and warships. The E-7 Wedgetail is a proven aircraft that is currently in service with the Royal Australian Air Force and has been used on operations in the battle against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

As part of the plan for a managed transition to E-7 Wedgetail, it has been decided to reduce the existing E-3D Sentry fleet from six to four aircraft by removing the two long-term unserviceable assets from the active fleet. Doing this now will enable the Sentry Force to focus resources on providing better availability from the remaining four aircraft, to better assure the future Sentry Fleet output, including our commitments to the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force and the provision of NATO Assurance Measures missions.

Speaking following the announcement, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said: «Today’s announcement about the procurement of five E-7 ‘Wedgetail’ Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft is excellent news for both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and wider Defence. This world-class capability, already proven with our Royal Australian Air Force partners, will significantly enhance our ability to deliver decisive airborne command and control and builds on the reputation of our E-3D Sentry Force. Along with Defence’s investment in other cutting-edge aircraft, E-7 Wedgetail will form a core element of the Next Generation Air Force, able to overcome both current and future complex threats».

The E-7 Wedgetail is based on a standard Boeing 737 airliner modified to carry a sophisticated Northrop Grumman active electronically-scanned radar. This can cover four million square kilometres over a 10-hour period.

Boeing E-7 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C)
Boeing E-7 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C)

Ghostrider Block 30

The Air Force has received an upgraded version of its Ghostrider gunship.

Air Force Gets First Upgraded Ghostrider Gunship
Air Force Gets First Upgraded Ghostrider Gunship

The 4th Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing, at Hurlburt Field, Florida, received its first AC-130J Ghostrider Block 30 gunship this week during a ceremony at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Florida, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) said in a news release on March 8, 2019.

The 4th Special Operations Squadron currently operates and maintains the AC-130U Spooky.

The Block 30 model marks «a major improvement in software and avionics technology» over the original Block 20 software AC-130J, the release states.

«The Ghostrider is the newest and most modernized gunship in existence, fulfilling the same mission sets as the Spooky but with upgraded avionics, navigation systems and a precision strike package that includes trainable 30-mm and 105-mm weapons», according to the release.

The first Block 30 model will remain in a testing-only status for a year before it can deploy for battlefield operations, officials said.

Along with the 105-mm cannon the U-models sport, the AC-130J is equipped with a 30-mm cannon «almost like a sniper rifle. … It’s that precise, it can pretty much hit first shot, first kill», Colonel Tom Palenske, then-commander of 1st Special Operations Wing, told Military.com last May at Hurlburt.

The model achieved initial operational capability in September 2017.

The J-model also has improved turboprop engines, which reduce operational costs with better flight sustainability, the service has said.

It has the ability to launch 250-pound/113-kg, GPS- or laser-guided Small-Diameter Bombs (SDB). The aircraft is expected to carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, interchangeable with the SDBs on its wing pylons, AFSOC has said.

Palenske said last year that airmen have been waiting to see the aircraft in action.

«It’s going to be the most lethal, with the most loiter time, probably the most requested weapons system from ground forces in the history of warfare. That’s my prediction», he said.

The fourth-generation J is slated to replace the AC-130H/U/W models, with delivery of the final J-model sometime in 2021, according to the Air Force. The service plans to buy 32 of the aircraft.

Crews expect the J to be deployed in late 2019 or early 2020.

«It’s our big gun truck», Palenske said. «It’s going to have more powerful engines, a more efficient fuel rate. … You can keep the sensors on the bad guys longer … and it’s also going to have AGM-176 Griffin missiles on the back, so you can put 10 missiles on the back of them. It’s going to be awesome», he said.

SGM with Datalink

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) have successfully conducted initial testing of the Block I variant of the Dynetics GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition (SGM) incorporating a two-way datalink.

Dynetics Successfully Tests GBU-69 Small Glide Munition with Datalink
Dynetics Successfully Tests GBU-69 Small Glide Munition with Datalink

Flight tests, conducted in February achieved all test objectives including sending via the datalink updated target coordinates from the launch platform to the SGM, redirecting the munition to a secondary target located more than a mile from the initial target location and transmitting an in-flight command to inhibit munition arming. The munition also transmitted critical data such as its position, velocity, flight mode, and arming status back to the launch platform. Acknowledgement and verification of commands sent to and from the munition were verified via the Battle Management System on board the launch platform as well as a ground control station. Additionally, the SGM laser seeker was used for terminal guidance yielding a CE90 strike on the updated target coordinate.

 

Expanded System Capability

Dynetics initiated work with Raytheon Integrated Communications Systems to integrate the X-Net radio in 2017. Due to the highly collaborative design effort between the two companies, the SGM was able to accommodate the new hardware component within existing size, weight and power (SWaP) allocations for the munition electronics. A Dynetics-designed deployable mono-pole antenna, stowed under the wing prior to launch, is the only external modification made to the Block I datalink variant.

The RaytheonX-Net networked radio was designed to provide In-Flight Target Updates (IFTUs) in order to improve weapon performance in dynamic targeting environments and to receive telemetry data for both weapon performance and post-mission analysis. The X-Net is a new small form factor, software-defined, radio that meets the challenging SwaP requirements of small munitions. It is MIL-STD-6016 compatible and supports the SGM’s flyout range of over 20 nm.

The incorporation of a two-way datalink will greatly enhance the capabilities of the SGM allowing the weapon to be part of a network consisting of other airborne platforms and tactical air controllers. In the future, networked communications will facilitate collaborative strikes and lead to new tactics expanding SGM capabilities and effectiveness.

 

SGM’s History

The SGM, which became operational in 2017, was developed by Dynetics working in close collaboration with USSOCOM PEO-Fixed Wing under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). Dynetics invested corporate resources to develop the munition which was first demonstrated under the CRADA. The munition was tested, qualified and fielded in less than two years. The success of the SGM program was noted as one of the key accomplishments of the PEO-Fixed Wing Stand-Off Precision Guided Munitions (SOPGM) Team which was recently recognized with the 2018 David Packard Acquisition Excellence Award – the DOD’s highest acquisition team award recognizing exemplary performance and innovation acquiring and delivering products and capabilities for the Warfighter.

Dynetics has increased SGM production capacity in response to a 1000-unit order from USSOCOM in 2018. Other near term planned activities include integration of SGM on Special Operation Forces (SOF) unmanned aircraft and demonstration of a new composite low-collateral damage warhead. Both are scheduled to occur in 2019.

 

Small Glide Munition Additional Details

The SGM is managed out of the Dynetics Missile and Aviation Systems Division which specializes in the rapid and affordable development of products to meet specific and sometimes urgent customer needs. The division is the Corporation’s lead for research, development, prototyping, testing and production of advanced munitions and unmanned systems.

Inaugural flight

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona

This joint effort falls within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio, which has the objective to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft. The objectives of the LCAAT initiative include designing and building UAS faster by developing better design tools, and maturing and leveraging commercial manufacturing processes to reduce build time and cost.

Developed for runway independence, the aircraft behaved as expected and completed 76 minutes of flight time. The time to first flight took a little over 2.5 years from contract award. The XQ-58A has a total of five planned test flights in two phases with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems.

«XQ-58A is the first example of a class of UAV that is defined by low procurement and operating costs while providing game changing combat capability», said Doug Szczublewski, AFRL’s XQ-58A Program Manager.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle, completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A (US Air Force video)

New H145

Airbus Helicopters is unveiling a new version of its best-selling H145 light twin-engine helicopter at Heli-Expo 2019 in Atlanta. Visible on the Airbus booth at the show, this latest upgrade brings a new, innovative five-bladed rotor to the multi-mission H145, increasing the useful load of the helicopter by 150 kg/331 lbs. while delivering new levels of comfort, simplicity and connectivity.

Airbus Helicopters unveils new H145 at Heli-Expo 2019
Airbus Helicopters unveils new H145 at Heli-Expo 2019

«We’re extremely happy to be able to showcase the new H145 to our customers here in Atlanta as this upgrade owes a lot to the feedback, they have provided us over the years about the aircraft», said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. «Our teams have worked hard to quickly bring to the market a set of innovations that we believe will contribute to the success of our customers’ operations. It is their trust in the H145 and all its predecessor variants over the last decades that have made it the fantastic helicopter it has become today, and I want to thank them for their continuous support».

The H145’s new five-bladed rotor brings a significant increase in overall performance, with a maximum take-off weight raised to 3,800 kg/8,378 lbs. and a useful load now equivalent to the aircraft’s empty weight. The simplicity of the new bearingless main rotor design will also ease maintenance operations, further improving the benchmark serviceability and reliability of the H145, while improving ride comfort for both passengers and crew. The reduced rotor diameter will allow the H145 to operate in more confined areas.

The new H145 introduces new levels of on-board connectivity to customers and operators through the integration of the wireless Airborne Communication System (wACS), allowing seamless and secure transmission of data generated by the helicopter in real-time, including in-flight.

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification of the new H145 is planned for early 2020, with first deliveries to follow later that year. This upgrade will also be offered to current H145 customers as a retrofit option in order to deliver the same improvements in terms of useful load, simplified maintenance and comfort to the existing version of the H145.

Powered by two Safran Arriel 2E engines, the H145 is equipped with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) and the Helionix digital avionics suite. It includes a high performance 4-axis autopilot, increasing safety and reducing pilot workload. Its particularly low acoustic footprint makes the H145 the quietest helicopter in its class.

The new version of the H145 flies in the Pyrénées region of France
The new version of the H145 flies in the Pyrénées region of France