Category Archives: Fighters

F-16 Block 70

Lockheed Martin on January 24, 2023 announced the successful first flight of the F-16 Block 70 at its Greenville, South Carolina site.

F-16 Block 70
F-16 Block 70 first flight

The flight occurred January 24 at 9:17 a.m. ET, with Lockheed Martin test pilots Dwayne «Pro» Opella and Monessa «Siren» Balzhiser at the helm. Total flight time was approximately 50 minutes and included airworthiness checks, such as engine, flight control and fuel system checks, as well as basic aircraft handling.

«Today’s successful flight is a testament of the hard work, dedication and commitment to our customers and their missions», said OJ Sanchez, vice president, Integrated Fighter Group, which includes the F-16 program. «This milestone demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to advancing this program and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced 21st Century Security capabilities to the warfighter».

This F-16 Block 70 jet is the first of 16 jets to be delivered to Bahrain. Six countries have selected Block 70/72 aircraft. In addition to the current official backlog of 128 jets to-date to be built in Greenville, Jordan last year signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for eight jets and last week signed an additional LOA for four more jets. Lockheed Martin has received a contract to begin Jordan’s long-lead activities. Bulgaria has also signed an LOA for an additional eight jets for its fleet. Once these are finalized, the backlog will increase to 148.

«Lockheed Martin is fully committed to delivering quality platforms for our customers’ critical missions, and I am so proud of our talented team in Greenville», said Danya Trent, F-16 Vice President and Site Lead in Greenville. «This is the culmination of significant development, design, digital engineering, supply chain and production line advances to an already proven platform that will continue to deliver decades of service in support of customers’ national security».

F-16 Block 70/72
F-16 Block 70 first flight against the sky

 

About the F-16

The F-16 is a strategic and valuable choice for many customers around the world seeking advanced, 4th generation fighter aircraft capabilities, regional and worldwide partnerships, and affordable lifecycle costs. More than 3,000 F-16s are operating today in 25 countries. The F-16 has flown an estimated 19.5 million flight hours and at least 13 million sorties. Today’s latest version, the Block 70/72, offers unparalleled capabilities and will be flown by at least five countries beginning in the mid-2020s.

GV22-0020 F-16 Bahrain EB1 First Flight 20230125 V2 from LM Aero Multimedia on Vimeo.

Royal Canadian Air Force

The Government of Canada announced on January 9, 2023, it is procuring Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-35A Lightning II aircraft as a result of the Future Fighter Capability Project competition.

F-35A Lightning II
Canada Announces the Procurement of the F-35 Lightning II

The Royal Canadian Air Force will receive 88 F-35A Lightning II multirole stealth fighters, a sustainment solution tailored to Canada’s sovereign requirements and a comprehensive training program.

«Canada is our friend and a close ally. Their decision to procure almost 90 jets underscores the value of the incredible F-35 Lightning II», said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Mike Schmidt, program executive officer, F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office. «The F-35 is the best in the world, providing unmatched interoperability to America, Canada and the additional 15 nations that have selected the fighter. It is a global game-changer. Through power-projection, the F-35 is at the tip of the spear for deterrence. Its forward presence will continue to ensure that potential adversaries choose diplomacy over armed conflict».

«We are honored the Government of Canada has selected the F-35A Lightning II, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian defence industry to deliver and sustain the aircraft», said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II program. «The selection of F-35 strengthens allied airpower in Canada, North America and around the world».

The F-35 Lightning II strengthens Canada’s operational capability with its allies as a cornerstone for interoperability with NORAD and NATO. As a critical node in the 21st Century Security mission space, the F-35 Lightning II gives pilots an advantage against any adversary and enabling them to execute their mission and come home safe.

«Together with our Canadian industry partners, we are honoured by this selection and the sustainment of critical jobs that will continue to equip Canadian workforces with advanced skills», said Lorraine Ben, chief executive, Lockheed Martin Canada. «The F-35 program yields tremendous economic benefits for Canada’s aerospace and defence industry, and we look forward to continued growth».

To date, the F-35 Lightning II operates from 27 bases worldwide, with nine nations operating F-35s on their home soil. There are more than 890 F-35s in service today, with more than 1,870 pilots and 13,500 maintainers trained on the aircraft.

Next Generation Radar

Northrop Grumman Corporation is developing AN/APG-85, an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the F-35 Lightning II. Northrop Grumman currently manufactures the AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fire control radar, the cornerstone to the F-35 Lightning II’s sensor suite.

AN/APG-85
Northrop Grumman is developing the next generation radar for the F-35 Lightning II (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The AN/APG-85 is an advanced multifunction sensor that will be compatible with all variants of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft and will be capable of defeating current and projected adversarial air and surface threats.

The development and integration of APG-85 will incorporate some of the latest technologies available and help ensure air superiority. This advanced sensor will provide unparalleled battlespace situational awareness that translates into platform lethality, effectiveness and survivability.

Northrop Grumman plays a key role in the development, modernization, sustainment and production of the F-35 Lightning II. In addition to producing the AN/APG-85 and AN/APG-81 radars, the company manufactures the center fuselage and wing skins for the aircraft, produces and maintains several sensor systems, avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, pilot and maintainer training systems courseware, electronic warfare simulation test capability, and low-observable technologies.

12 air-to-air missiles

Flying locally over the Gulf of Mexico, two F-15EX Eagle II aircraft launched missiles from their new weapon stations, known as Stations 1 and 9, here November 29.

F-15EX Eagle II
F-15EX Eagle II proves out full air-to-air capability

The 96th Test Wing’s pilots fired an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) from Station 1 and an AIM-9X Sidewinder from Station 9 over the Eglin Test and Training Complex’s water range.

This Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force (OFP CTF) mission was the first Air Force test flight to validate the weapons could be fired effectively and safely from those stations. The successful employment of these weapons is a major step in demonstrating the F-15EX Eagle II aircraft’s missile capacity of 12 air-to-air missiles.

«I’m really proud to be a part of this milestone for the F-15EX Eagle II program to deliver increased payload capacity to the combat air forces», said Major Jeremy Schnurbusch, 40th FLTS-attached pilot, who fired the AIM-9X missile.

This is one of many upgrades F-15EX Eagle II brings to the Air Force inventory. Prior to the F-15EX Eagle II, F-15 aircraft models could carry eight air-to-air missiles. The F-15EX Eagle II adds four additional missile stations located toward the wing tips. This mission provided the first test points for validating the expanded carriage and employment capabilities of the Eagle II.

Both aircraft successfully released the missiles on separate passes against a target drone. The releases were another milestone in the F-15EX’s developmental test program, but also incorporated many operational test objectives during the mission.

«Having been a part of the Eglin F-15EX team from day one, it’s exciting to see the progress made and new milestones achieved as we work to field the most combat-capable F-15EX», said Major Brett Hughes, OFP CTF, who successfully fired the AIM-120 from Station 1.

With this success, these missile launches pushed forward the aircraft’s integrated developmental and operational testing here, where the F-15EX Eagle II fired its first missile just nine months ago.

«The integrated test strategy has been critical to our test success, allowing us to break the mold of traditional testing, ultimately resulting in a better overall product for the warfighter in a shorter timeline than a traditional approach», said Colton Myers, OFP CTF F‑15EX Eagle II test project manager.

Once initial testing is complete, operational units receiving the new F-15EX Eagle II will be able to carry and employ a full load-out of 12 missiles on the aircraft upon fielding.

«The F-15EX Eagle II is an incredible addition to the USAF inventory. This event, executed by a top-notch team of test pilots, engineers, and experts, proves yet again the F-15EX Eagle II will be ready if, and when, our adversaries challenge our nation’s interests», said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Wee, OFP CTF commander.

Combat Air System

On behalf of the governments of France, Germany and Spain, the French General Directorate for Armament (DGA) has awarded to Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra, Eumet and their industrial partners the contract for the Demonstrator Phase 1B of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). This landmark contract, amounting to € 3.2 billion, will cover work on the FCAS demonstrator and its components for about three and a half years.

Future Combat Air System
Europe’s Future Combat Air System

Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra and Eumet welcome this major step forward that reflects the determination of France, Germany and Spain to develop a powerful, innovative and fully European weapon system to meet the operational needs of the countries’ armed forces.

This contract notification comes on the heels of the signature of the industrial agreements supporting the demonstrator Phase 1B by Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Indra and Eumet as prime contractors of the programme and by their industrial partners from the three nations. Discussions held over the last months have enabled the creation of a solid basis for cooperation between industry and the three governments.

This continues the successful Phase 1A demonstrators’ related Research and Technology (R&T) work and development activities, which enabled the identification of key technologies and the launch of the demonstrators’ developments. Paving the way for the development phase of the programme, this demonstration phase 1B will allow continuation of flying demonstrators and required cutting-edge technologies development and maturation as well as project architectures consolidation, with in-flight demonstrations targeted in the next phases by 2028-2029.

The programme is made up of a set of systems: New Generation Fighters teaming with Remote Carriers and connected through a Combat Cloud. In order to meet the ambitions and challenges of such a programme, an adapted and efficient industrial organisation has been set-up and built around technological pillars. Each pillar is under the leadership of an industrial champion acting as prime, working in close cooperation with its main partners and leveraging each nation’s aeronautical industrial ecosystems.

In addition to their prime role per pillar, Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra act as national coordinators to ensure the overall coherence of the demonstrators and the overall programme’s steering and work consolidation.

FCAS
On the way to the first flight

The industrial governance of the Phase 1B is organised per domain as follows:

  • Next Generation Weapons System (NGWS) Consistency, Demonstrations and Consolidation with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra Sistemas as co-contracting partners;
  • New Generation Fighter (NGF), with Dassault Aviation for France as prime contractor, and Airbus as main partner for Germany and Spain;
  • NGF Engine with the 50/50 Joint Venture Eumet – between Safran Aircraft Engines for France and MTU Aero Engines for Germany – as prime contractor and ITP Aero for Spain as main partner;
  • Unmanned systems, Remote Carrier (RC) with Airbus for Germany as prime contractor, MBDA for France and Satnus for Spain as main partners;
  • Combat Cloud (CC) with Airbus for Germany as prime contractor, Thales for France and Indra Sistemas for Spain as main partners;
  • Simulation with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra Sistemas as co-contracting partners;
  • Sensors with Indra Sistemas as prime for Spain, and Thales for France and FCMS for Germany as main partners;
  • Enhanced Low Observability (stealth) with Airbus as prime contractor for Spain, Dassault Aviation for France and Airbus for Germany as main partners;
  • Common Working Environment with Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Indra Sistemas and Eumet as co-contracting partners.

The industrial partners thank the three nations for their confidence and reiterate their firm commitment and total mobilisation to make this programme the armed wing of Europe’s strategic autonomy thanks to the reinforcement of the operational, technological and industrial sovereignty of its defence.

 

F-35 Fleet

The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and Lockheed Martin have finalized the contract for the production and delivery for up to 398 F-35s for $30 billion, including U.S., international partners and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) aircraft in Lots 15 and 16, with the option for Lot 17.

F-35 Lightning II
F-35 Lightning II Fleet Now at 894 Aircraft After 141 Deliveries in 2022

«The F-35 delivers unsurpassed capability to our warfighters and operational commanders», said Air Force Lieutenant General Mike Schmidt, program executive officer, F-35 Joint Program Office. «This contract strikes the right balance between what’s best for the U.S. taxpayers, military services, allies and our foreign military sales customers. The F-35 is the world’s premier multi-mission, 5th-generation weapon system, and the modernized Block 4 capabilities these new aircraft will bring to bear strengthens not just capability, but interoperability with our allies and partners across land, sea, air and cyber domains».

The agreement includes 145 aircraft for Lot 15, 127 for Lot 16, and up to 126 for the Lot 17 contract option, including the first F-35 Lightning II aircraft for Belgium, Finland and Poland.

Lot 15-17 aircraft will be the first to include Technical Refresh-3 (TR-3), the modernized hardware needed to power Block 4 capabilities. TR-3 includes a new integrated core processor with greater computing power, a panoramic cockpit display and an enhanced memory unit.

These aircraft will add to the growing global fleet, currently at 894 aircraft after 141 deliveries this year. The F-35 Lightning II team was on track to meet the commitment of 148 aircraft as planned; however, due to a temporary pause in flight operations, which is still in effect, necessary acceptance flight tests could not be performed.

The finalized contract caps off a year of the F-35 Lightning II delivering combat-proven airpower around the world and continued international growth. This year, Finland, Germany and Switzerland signed Letters of Offer and Acceptance (LOAs) as an important step in their procurement of F-35 Lightning II aircraft.

«Continuing to add new countries to our global F-35 fleet further validates the capability and affordability of this aircraft in providing 21st Century Security to nations and allies», said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager, F-35 Lightning II Program. «There is simply no other aircraft that can do all that the F-35 does to defeat and deter even the most advanced threats».

F-35 Lightning II program participants currently include 17 countries. To date, more than 1,870 pilots and 13,500 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 Lightning II fleet has surpassed more than 602,000 cumulative flight hours.

LITENING Pod

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s LITENING advanced targeting pod has successfully completed its first test flights on the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. The U.S. Navy selected LITENING to replace the legacy targeting pods on the F/A-18 Super Hornet fleet in early 2022.

LITENING
Pod demonstrated surveillance, autonomous target tracking capabilities

«This first flight demonstrated LITENING’s ability to rapidly add modern, upgradeable mission capabilities to the F/A-18 Super Hornet», said James Conroy, vice president, navigation, targeting and survivability, Northrop Grumman. «The pod’s digital video, autonomous target tracking, and laser sensors will give Naval aviators an entirely new set of capabilities for operations over land and sea today, and the growth capabilities built into LITENING’s modular design ensure that the pod can evolve to meet changing requirements».

During the flight, pilots executed maneuvers and operations representative of combat missions, including ground moving target tracking, air-to-air tracking and target designation. The pilots also engaged the eye-safe training laser mode that allows the pod to be used for realistic training with combat controllers on the ground. The pilots were able to carry out these operations without advance training, showing the ease of use that has been made possible by close collaboration with the aviation community.

LITENING is currently in service with the Marine Corps, Air Force, Air National Guard and international customers. Northrop Grumman has delivered more than 900 LITENING pods.

First live-fire test

The U.S. Air Force and Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, successfully conducted the first Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) F3R, an AIM-120D3 missile, live-fire test against a target. The test used production missile hardware developed under the AMRAAM Form, Fit, Function Refresh program, which updates both the missile’s hardware and software.

AMRAAM F3R
An F-15E Strike Eagle equipped with an AIM-120 D3 taxies at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida for the first live-fire test of an AMRAAM F3R missile against a target (Photo: First Lieutenant Lindsey Heflin, U.S. Air Force)

The AIM-120D3 combines System Improvement Program 3F software updates with F3R hardware, putting tremendous capability against advanced threats into the warfighter’s arsenal.

During the June 30, 2022 test, the missile was fired from an F-15E Strike Eagle and guided toward an aerial target at long range. The primary objective was to prove out sub-system integration to support all phases of guided flight. The test also demonstrated full system integration and performance.

«Our warfighters deserve to have the most advanced technology in the air when they need it», said Paul Ferraro, president of Air Power at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. «F3R upgrades multiple circuit cards to address obsolescence, enhances the weapon’s capabilities, and extends the production line for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and our Allied partners».

The live fire was the first of five planned missile shots in an integrated test series for the AIM-120D3 to qualify the new configuration for production and fielding. These tests incorporate various scenarios and targets to prove out the weapon’s advanced functionality and capabilities. An additional live fire for the Foreign Military Sales AIM-120C8 variant will occur in the near future. These live-fire tests are the culmination of captive flight tests, workup flights, and simulations.

Under the F3R program, engineers used model-based systems engineering initiatives and other digital technologies to upgrade multiple circuit cards and hardware into the guidance section of the missile and to re-host legacy software in the AIM-120D3 and AIM-120C8 AMRAAMs. Over the past year, F3R software was merged with SIP 3F advanced software capabilities to accelerate the fielding of this combined upgrade to the warfighter.

Manned-unmanned teaming

The F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler Program Office (PMA-265) has conducted a successful series of Manned-UnManned Teaming (MUM-T) flight tests in which a Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet demonstrated command and control of three Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet
U.S. Navy Super Hornet teams with unmanned aerial vehicles in flight demos

The event took place at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Point Mugu, California, and included four flight tests supported by Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons (VX) 23 and 31 and industry partners, Boeing and BAE Systems.

«The MUM-T concept explores interoperability between manned aircraft and unmanned autonomous systems to conduct missions», said Captain Jason Denney, program manager for PMA-265. «Such collaborative endeavors are imperative for resource and requirements planning to ensure the warfighter is equipped with best-in-class capabilities».

During the flight tests, F/A-18 pilots Super Hornet entered commands into a third-party tablet instructing the UAVs to perform various maneuvers used in combat missions. The tablet was connected to the Block III’s adjunct processor, known as the Distributed Targeting Processor – Networked (DTP-N), which transmitted these commands to the UAVs. The UAVs successfully carried out all commands given by the pilots.

«The U.S. Navy conducts exercises of this nature with industry partners to evaluate current and future capabilities», said Doctor Michael Yu, PMA-265 science and technology, and experimentation/demo lead. «The comprehensive analysis of data captured during these events further informs development and refinement of technologies that could potentially be incorporated into Navy platforms».

Yu said MUM-T could allow the U.S. Navy to extend the reach of its aircrew, while keeping them farther away from enemy fire. This capability could also enable pilots to delegate tasks or incorporate UAVs into missions such as patrolling airspace, fueling aircraft or serving as a communication relay node.

«MUM-T has the potential to transform tomorrow’s fleet into a more lethal, better-connected force», said Denney. «MUM-T will help us maintain the technological advantage and competitive edge against our adversaries».

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet serves as the backbone of carrier-based aviation power projection. PMA-265 continues to evaluate MUM-T and other innovative technology to keep the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler strategically relevant in today’s dynamic combat environment.

Manned-Unmanned Teaming

The ability to task unmanned systems from a manned aircraft is an important force multiplier in Airbus’ vision for future air power, with a wide range of applications extending to combat scenarios and beyond.

Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T)
Key milestones achieved in Manned-Unmanned Teaming for future air power

As a pioneer in the realm of Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T), Airbus has developed an ambitious technological roadmap to make this innovative concept – which boosts the effectiveness of piloted and pilotless aircraft alike – a reality. The company demonstrated leading technological and industrial capabilities in 2021 and 2022, including key flight tests.

Fully implementing Manned-Unmanned Teaming – which will play an instrumental role in such initiatives as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and Multi-Domain Combat Cloud – requires a high level of automation. However, the involvement of human operators will ensure that meaningful control always will be retained.

 

Leveraging Airbus’ expertise

The involvement of Airbus with Manned-Unmanned Teaming began in 2018, when the first flight test campaign took place to validate initial capabilities. Since then, the development has seen increasing levels of maturity – with Airbus and its partner teams focusing on several key areas.

Synchronized and efficient use of manned and unmanned vehicles necessitates coordination and optimisation, with requirements that may vary from one mission to the next. To address this, Airbus is developing artificial intelligence-based teaming concepts and algorithms, including swarming behaviours and distributed teaming intelligence shared among the platforms.

This novel approach is reflected in the payloads, which can be integrated on the unmanned aircraft, as well as in the way they are used. For example, a distributed electronic warfare sensor was shown to be capable of precisely and quickly locating a threat and sharing its location across the network.

To achieve such capabilities, the unmanned assets must be able to communicate with the manned resources – and among each other in an agile and robust way, which is why an advanced data link is one pillar of the development.

Additionally, Airbus is preparing airframe solutions for future unmanned systems, building on experience in both unmanned aerial vehicles and combat aircraft. As the development progresses, these solutions will materialise as the FCAS Remote Carriers – unmanned aircraft designed to cooperate with fighters. To achieve the full potential, MUM-T technologies will also need to be relevant for already-existing unmanned aerial systems and for those developed in the future.

 

Continuing development

Building upon lessons learned from the previous MUM-T-related milestones, Airbus marked a major achievement with a live demonstration that linked company-built Do-DT25 target drones acting as surrogate Remote Carriers with an in-flight German Air Force Eurofighter aircraft. This occurred during the Timber Express 2021 multinational exercise organised by the German Armed Forces.

During the trial, the Eurofighter was able to assign tasks to two Airbus Do-DT25 Remote Carriers in real time. These unmanned platforms demonstrated the ability to perform several tasks, including aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare. Upon receiving the tasks, the Remote Carriers autonomously planned their flight routes, adhering to prescribed airspace restrictions and circumnavigating known threats.

In 2022, MUM-T-related flight tests were performed outside of Germany for the first time. A test campaign organized in the Finnish areas of Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi – and directed by the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) – marked the official start of cooperation with the German Armed Forces on this key capability.

As stated by the FDF in a press release: «The research cooperation strengthens the Defence Forces’ understanding of the development of unmanned aviation, which enables experimenting and evaluating the teaming of unmanned and manned aerial vehicles in the local operational environment».

In parallel, the capabilities of manned platforms are increasing to accommodate the future potential of Manned-Unmanned Teaming. Airbus’ multi-role A400M Atlas airlifter is envisioned as a launcher of FCAS Remote Carriers, with the first flight test already performed to confirm this capability.