Category Archives: Air Force

New Capabilities

Northrop Grumman Corporation has delivered a pair of sensors to enhance the capability of its Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance autonomous aircraft system. Enhancements include the deployment of the MS-177 multi-spectral camera system to provide additional high resolution imaging capability for operational users. The second new capability is the first fielding of the increment 1 upgraded AN/ASQ-230 system on Global Hawk to meet expanded electronic threats.

Global Hawk
Global Hawk takes off equipped with a MS-177 multi-spectral camera system. MS-177 provides high resolution imaging capability for operational users

The MS-177 camera system provides multiple channels of intelligence collection in visible and infrared bands and provides a dramatic increase in multi-spectral imaging capacity. When paired with a Global Hawk platform, the MS-177 provides collection coverage in areas that cannot easily be reached by other means. Fielding of the AN/ASQ-230 increment 1 enhances Global Hawk’s support against electronic threats.

«Ongoing improvements to Global Hawk underscore Northrop Grumman’s commitment to the United States Air Force’s ISR mission and reducing costs through agile development and leveraged solutions», said Leslie Smith, vice president, Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman. «New and improved payloads flying on our young, yet proven fleet of aircraft will allow our partners to deploy high value, networked assets to monitor adversaries while not risking the lives of military personnel well into the 2040s».

Global Hawk’s combination of autonomy, range, endurance and payload, and an average aircraft age of under nine years, make Global Hawk a valuable asset for domestic and international customers with critical ISR collection requirements. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments recently published a report highlighting the key role systems like Global Hawk play around the globe.

In the future, Global Hawk is uniquely positioned for additional missions that connect the joint force as one, including persistent high capacity backbone, pseudo-satellite communications coverage, and joint all-domain command and control.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

High Energy Laser

Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RI&S), a Raytheon Technologies business, delivered the next high-energy laser weapon system to the U.S. Air Force. It will be deployed overseas for operator training and experimental testing and evaluation. Following the completion of the Directed Energy Weapon Initial Operational Employment Review and Approval Process, High Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) is now certified for use in combat.

HELWS
Raytheon Intelligence & Space delivers another Air Force laser system ready for operational use

«HELWS builds directly on the feedback we received from operators in the field», said Annabel Flores, vice president of Electronic Warfare Systems at RI&S. «We’ve made the system more rugged. We improved its accuracy and overall efficiency based on real-world lessons learned in an operational environment».

This system features a number of improvements, including ruggedized enhancements to ensure transportability and survivability in a wide range of operational environments; a new beam director for more accurate targeting; and a robust power system for additional magazine depth – the ability to fire the laser for a longer period of time.

«You can take down dozens of drones on a single charge», said Flores. «And if you are plugged into a generator, you have deep, rechargeable magazines».

Mounted on a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle, HELWS uses a variant of RI&S’ Multi-spectral Targeting System, an electro-optical/infrared sensor that detects, identifies and tracks unmanned aerial threats.

A prior version of HELWS was deployed in a forward operating environment earlier this year and recently passed 1,000 hours of operations. RI&S is contracted to deliver another further improved system to the Air Force later this year.

Evreux Squadron

Florence Parly, the Minister of the Armed Forces, and her German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, laid, Thursday, September 17 on the air base 105 of Evreux (Eure), the first stone of the building which will house the first Franco-German air transport squadron. The ceremony was followed by a trip by the two ministers across the Rhine to the Airbus Defense and Space site for a status update on the advancement of the combat system of the future (SCAF). «Defense Europe» is on the move.

Evreux Squadron
The Franco-German Evreux Squadron, a «Revolution» for European Defense

«The birth of this squadron embodies the «Defense Europe» in the most beautiful and concrete way», said Florence Parly, laying the first stone, with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the German Minister of Defense, of the building that will house the future Franco-German C-130J tactical transport squadron on Air Base 105 at Evreux.

A major asset for European defense, this squadron will be unique in Europe. «This is a first, a real revolution», explains Florence Parly. «For the first time, French and German pilots, mechanics and airmen will train, operate and accomplish missions together, sharing daily life in the same squadron».

This binational squadron will be made up of ten aircraft (four French and six German) by early 2024. This fleet of Super Hercules, multi-role par excellence, considerably strengthens the capabilities of the Air and Space Force in the field of tactical air transport. It is also resolutely part of the ramp-up of helicopter in-flight refueling capability, particularly for the benefit France’s H225M Caracal helicopters.

 

Parly: «Giving substance to ideas we pushed with strong political will»

To welcome these new aircraft, the Air Base 105 at Evreux had to undergo a transformation. Large-scale works have been undertaken for the construction of aircraft parking lots and operational areas. From summer 2021, 260 French and German soldiers will gradually transfer to the air base.

A training center with a simulator and training aids will also be set up within three years. This ramp-up of the Evreux air base is also fully in line with the Family plan of the Ministry of the Armed Forces with the integration, at the local level, of military families in terms of housing and education.

The Franco-German squadron, which will be commanded by a French officer and assisted by a German counterpart, shows a common desire to go further in building a strong, united Europe with the capacity for autonomous action. For this, the Franco-German relationship is the foundation in the field of Defense.

Proof, once again, that Defense Europe is not just a concept but well and truly a reality, Florence Parly and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer traveled to Manching (Bavaria) on Thursday afternoon, to the Airbus Defense and Space site.

This was an opportunity to take stock of the development of the Future Air Combat System (FCAS, French: Système de combat aérien futur, SCAF) and the Eurodrone, two structuring projects for Defense Europe. «For each of these Franco-German projects, the efforts made on both sides of the Rhine are colossal. And it is a source of pride to see our teams working together with ardor to give shape to the ideas that we have brought forward with a strong political will», notes Florence Parly.

 

Weapon systems of the future

Particularly close, this Franco-German cooperation notably enables the development of ambitious and innovative programs. This is particularly the case with SCAF, in which Spain is also a stakeholder.

The objective of SCAF? Allow collaborative air combat. Clearly, the aim is to make national military capabilities (Rafale for France, Eurofighter for Germany and Spain, drones, surveillance and air refueling aircraft, command systems) interoperable with future capabilities, like the New Generation Fighter (NGF).

Ultimately, all of these vectors will be interconnected as part of the weapons system of the future (Next Generation Weapon System – NGWS) for which France is leading the project.

At the end of a full day, marked with the seal of European Defense, Florence Parly reaffirmed her «will» and her «determination» to bring Franco-German friendship to life through concrete advances to benefit of a «stronger and more sovereign Europe».

‘Fires Up’ Engine

Boeing Australia powered up the commercial turbofan engine on the first Loyal Wingman aircraft in September, as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight.

Loyal Wingman
Boeing Australia has completed the engine run on its first Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight (Boeing photo)

This milestone comes on the heels of Boeing completing the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force earlier this year, a major step forward for the unmanned vehicle serving as the foundation for the global Boeing Airpower Teaming System, an artificial intelligence-powered teaming aircraft developed for the global defense market.

«This engine run gets us closer toward flying the first aircraft later this year and was successful thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our team», said Doctor Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. «We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft».

Powering on the engine is part of ground testing and preparations for first flight

Greek Air Force

Greece announced on September 12, 2020 its intention to acquire 18 Rafales to equip its air force.

Rafale
Greece announced its intention to acquire 18 Rafales to equip its air force

This announcement illustrates the strength of the partnership that has linked the Greek Air Force and Dassault Aviation for more than 45 years, and demonstrates the enduring strategic relationship between Greece and France.

Greece ordered 40 Mirage F1 from Dassault Aviation in 1974, then 40 Mirage 2000 in 1985 and finally 15 Mirage 2000-5 in the year 2000; this latest contract also includes the modernization of 10 Mirage 2000 to the 2000-5 standard with a large contribution from Greek industry.

«I am delighted with this announcement, which reinforces the exceptional relationship we have had with Greece for nearly half a century, and I thank the Greek authorities for their confidence in us once again. Dassault Aviation is fully mobilized to meet the operational needs expressed by the Greek Air Force, and thus contribute to ensuring Greece’s sovereignty and the safety of the Greek people», said Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation.

KF-X project

According to Oh Seok-min from the Yonhap News Agency, South Korea began assembling a prototype of what would be the country’s first indigenously developed fighter jet Thursday, September 3, 2020, in a landmark step that means the ambitious project is materializing.

This undated photo provided by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration on September 3, 2020, shows a prototype of South Korea’s envisioned fighter jet being assembled at the Korea Aerospace Industries Co. (KAI) facility in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province

Under the KF-X project worth 8.8 trillion won (US$7.3 billion), South Korea has been working since late 2015 to develop a home-grown cutting-edge fighter aircraft to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 jets.

Following the design confirmation last year, Korea Aerospace Industries Co. (KAI) got down to the final assembly of a prototype jet at its assembly line in Sacheon, 440 kilometers/273 miles south of Seoul, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

KAI is the country’s sole aircraft manufacturer and is in charge of the KF-X project.

The prototype is expected to be ready in the first half of 2021, and the agency is eyeing 2026 for the completion of development after ground and flight tests, according to DAPA.

Last month, the state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) produced a prototype of an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system as a key part of the envisioned combat jet.

«Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, the KF-X project has been under way as planned, and the prototype is expected to be available next year», DAPA official Jung Kwang-sun said.

The aircraft is designed to be able to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81, with its flying range reaching 2,900 kilometers/1,802 miles. It bears outward similarities to the fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II, according to the KAI.

With a maximum payload of 7,700 kilograms/16,976 lbs., the fighter is capable of installing 10 pods for missiles and fuel barrels. It will be able to carry several types of air-to-air missiles, such as Germany’s IRIS-T and European developer MBDA’s active radar guided Meteor missiles, it added.

Hypersonic Weapons

September 1, 2020, DARPA and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) announced successful completion of captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) and are ready to proceed to first free-flight testing within the calendar year. The joint Agency and Service effort seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.

DARPA Completes Key Milestone on Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapons Program

HAWC performers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies have each tested advanced air vehicle configurations that promise to achieve and sustain efficient hypersonic flight. Their upcoming flight tests will focus on hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion and thermal management techniques to enable prolonged hypersonic cruise, in addition to affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches.

«Completing the captive carry series of tests demonstrates both HAWC designs are ready for free flight», said Andrew «Tippy» Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «These tests provide us a large measure of confidence – already well informed by years of simulation and wind tunnel work – that gives us faith the unique design path we embarked on will provide unmatched capability to U.S. forces».

The HAWC program, since inception, has been executed as a joint program between DARPA and the USAF. In addition, DARPA is working in cooperation with military services and agencies, including the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to validate, and eventually transition key technologies. The extensive flight data collected is intended to increase the confidence in air-breathing hypersonic systems and reduce the risks to potential future acquisition programs across the U.S. government.

Gremlins Program

After meeting several primary objectives during risk reduction flights at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah in late July, DARPA’s Gremlins program now is targeting additional tests of its X-61A vehicle later this year. The program seeks to develop and demonstrate air launch and air recovery of up to four Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), known as Gremlins Air Vehicles (or just Gremlins), within 30 minutes.

Gremlins X-61-A vehicle flies below an Air Force C-130 aircraft

Over several days in July, the technology development team completed multiple flight tests of the Gremlins air-vehicle ground and recovery systems, including demonstration of a recovery system safely retrieving and stowing the air vehicles. The team also conducted a controlled launch of a Gremlin flying for more than two hours and performed rendezvous and autonomous formation station-keeping between the air vehicle and a C-130 at a separation of 125 feet/38.1 m.

The July flights follow the program’s first flight test in November 2019, during which the program completed one captive-carry mission, and an airborne launch and free flight lasting more than 90 minutes.

«The air vehicle performed beautifully from launch through mission modes, and the consistency between the flight tests in November and July increases confidence in the X-61A», said Scott Wierzbanowski, the Gremlins program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «However, we made a decision to delay the first air recovery attempt and instead focus on key risk reduction activities to better ensure a smooth air recovery test later this year».

The program now calls for flight tests to resume in October with the key objective to recover first one, and then two, air vehicles in the same flight. By the end of the year, the program aims to complete the test series, culminating with airborne recovery of four Gremlins within 30 minutes. This final demonstration will showcase the capability of safe, effective, and efficient air recoveries, opening the way to dramatically expand the application and utility of attritable UASs.

Mission flexibility and affordability are the key attributes of the Gremlins system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while the latter remain beyond the range of adversary defenses. The Gremlins program is using a C-130 as the demonstration platform, but the recovery system is designed to be easily modified and compatible with a wide array of transport aircraft and weapons systems. Once Gremlins complete their missions, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews could prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Gremlins can incorporate several types of sensors weighing up to 150 pounds/68 kg, and integrate technologies to accommodate different stakeholders and missions.

CRIIS on F-22

The 411th Flight Test Squadron in conjunction with the 412th Range Squadron achieved the first successful flight of the Common Range Integrated Instrumentation System (CRIIS) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, August 5. This event marked the first flight of the CRIIS at the Edwards Flight Test Range, and it was also the first flight on a fifth-generation fighter platform.

An F-22 Raptor assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron flies over Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 2018. The 411th FLTS successfully integrated the Common Range Integrated Instrumentation System (CRIIS) during a test flight August 5 (Photo courtesy of Christopher Higgins, Lockheed Martin)

«This successful CRIIS flight test ensures that the 412th Range Squadron will achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for CRIIS and continue the legacy of providing leading edge Time-Space-Position Information (TSPI) capability for Edwards Flight Test Range customers that was started almost 30 years ago with the IOC of the nation’s first Advance Range Data System (ARDS) Global Position System», said Randall Heiling, 412th Range Squadron’s master architect.

CRIIS is a tri-service Test and Evaluation range system designed to replace the aging ARDS. The CRIIS system can downlink and relay aircraft TSPI, as well as other aircraft data to a test range ground station.

«CRIIS will enable F-22 Raptor flight testing for the foreseeable future», said Zachary Rumble, 775th Test Squadron, and F-22 Raptor Navigation Subject Matter Expert. «In initial testing, CRIIS appears to be more accurate than the legacy ARDS plate, with more room for growth».

Recent CRIIS flight testing has proven the ability of the system to record highly accurate TSPI on board the F-22 Raptor. A live stream test of CRIIS data from an F-22 Raptor to a mission control room is on track for later this summer.

«The CRIIS is truly a needed upgrade for the test enterprise», said Lieutenant Colonel David Schmitt, 411th FLTS and F-22 Raptor Combined Test Flight Director of Operations. «The ability to record and utilize TSPI in real-time is a foundational piece of what we do. It is a critical enabler, which unlocks many of the tools the experts use to verify the performance of everything from fire control radars, to datalinks, to new or upgraded munitions. This was the first flight at Edwards of what will hopefully be a long legacy of CRIIS performance across the test enterprise».

CRIIS is currently in the final stages of achieving IOC at Edwards, Eglin AFB, Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) Aircraft Division Patuxent River, Nellis Test and Training Range, NAWC Weapons Division (WD) China Lake, NAWCWD Point Mugu, and White Sands Test Center. CRIIS is being deployed on aircraft platforms such as the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18 Super Hornet. The CRIIS is expected to set a new tri-service standard for test range TSPI instrumentation.

First aerial refueling

Approximately 3,000 feet/914 meters above Eglin Air Force Base, the HH-60W Jolly Green II connected with a HC-130J tanker for the inaugural aerial refueling by the Air Force’s newest combat search and rescue helicopter, August 5.

An HH-60W Jolly Green II connects with an HC-130J tanker for its first aerial refueling over southern Alabama, August 5, 2020. The Air Force’s newest combat search and rescue helicopter is currently undergoing developmental and operational testing (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Tristan McIntire)

The connection marked the start of two weeks of developmental testing of the aircraft’s aerial refueling abilities by 413th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) testers and their mission partners.

«This capability is essential for the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission since it greatly extends the operating range of the aircraft and thus allows the unit to extend their rescue capabilities over a larger battlespace», said Joe Whiteaker, 413th FLTS Combat Rescue Helicopter flight chief.

Throughout the tests, the aircrew and engineers will evaluate the helicopter’s ability to connect with the fuel drogue and its handling qualities during the fueling. They also monitor the functionality of the systems and gauges to ensure the aircraft receives the fuel appropriately with the proper pressures.

«Our job is to evaluate how difficult aerial refueling will be for operational pilots and to identify any unforeseen hazards due to the unique configuration of the HH-60W Jolly Green II, which may not have been present in the legacy HH-60G Pave Hawk», Whiteaker said.

Early missions will be during daylight hours. Testing will conclude with a nighttime evaluation using night vision goggles.

«This is a critical test milestone for the program as it reinforces the superior capabilities of the HH-60W Jolly Green II and its ability to support the Air Force’s CSAR mission», said Greg Hames, Sikorsky Combat Rescue Helicopter program director.

Major Andrew Fama, 413th FLTS pilot, was the Air Force pilot for the refueling mission. He evaluated the handling qualities and made the first contacts. He and the aircrew spent extra time preparing for the mission that included talking through the test sequence and rehearsing the phraseology used during the refueling. It was that extra time spent that made for a smooth mission without issues, according to Fama.

«It’s rare for a test pilot to have the opportunity to test a new aircraft replacing the one he or she flew operationally and to be the first one to do something like this», Fama said. «It was an honor to be the pilot to fly this mission and work with a truly professional test team».

The aerial refueling mission marks yet another 2020 milestone for the HH-60W Jolly Green II program. So far, the HH-60W Jolly Green II has undergone radar, weather and defensive system testing to name a few.

«The execution of this critical test is yet another demonstration of our successful partnership with the Air Force and brings us one step closer to delivering this much needed helicopter to our Airmen», Hames said.