Category Archives: Fighters

First Flight

The new Boeing F-15EX Strike Eagle fighter jet completed its first flight on February 2, 2021, paving the way for the early delivery of the first two jets to the U.S. Air Force later this quarter. The jet took off and landed from St. Louis Lambert International Airport, completing a 90-minute test flight before returning to the airport.

F-15EX Strike Eagle
The F-15EX Strike Eagle fighter jet demonstrates a vertical «Viking» departure during its first flight on February 2, 2021 (Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower)

Boeing F-15 Chief Test Pilot Matt Giese checked out the multirole jet’s avionics, advanced systems and software. A test team monitoring the data collected during the flight in real time confirmed that the aircraft performed as planned.

«Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet», said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager. «Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Our customer can feel confident in its decision to invest in this platform that is capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors and weapons due to the jet’s digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture».

The fighter’s digital backbone means it can serve as a testbed for future technology insertion, a key capability for the Air Force. Modern variants of the F-15 also include fly-by-wire flight controls, an all-new digital cockpit, modern Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the ADCP-II, the world’s fastest mission computer. The F-15EX Strike Eagle, the most advanced version to date, features the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System electronic warfare system to improve mission effectiveness and survivability for operators.

In July, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract to build the first lot of eight jets. Future plans call for as many as 144 aircraft.

Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company and leading provider of commercial airplanes, defense, space and security systems, and global services. As a top U.S. exporter, the company supports commercial and government customers in more than 150 countries. Building on a legacy of aerospace leadership, Boeing continues to lead in technology and innovation, deliver for its customers and invest in its people and future growth.

Combat Training System

The Naval Aviation Training System and Ranges program office (PMA-205) recently completed the first flight test of its next-generation air combat training system, the Tactical Combat Training System Increment II (TCTS II), on an F/A-18F Super Hornet at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland. The second flight test, the first for this system involving two aircraft, followed in quick succession using two F/A-18E Super Hornet aircraft.

TCTS II
The Tactical Combat Training System Increment II (TCTS II) pod successfully completed its first single aircraft flight test at Patuxent River December 11, followed by its first two aircraft flight test on December 15

Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 conducted the test flights and the PMA-205 test team collected and analyzed the data in real time with its industry partner, Collins Aerospace Systems, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Collins).

«Our team faced software, COVID, and platform challenges but worked with urgency to stay on track for low rate initial production decision in April. The fact that the date has not changed since contract award in 2017 speaks volumes of not only our team but also the level of support from the Navy to field this capability», said Captain Lisa Sullivan, PMA-205 program manager.

The TCTS II system, developed by Collins, is an open architecture system enabling highly secure air combat training between aircraft, replacing and advancing the existing range training infrastructure. The TCTS II system is the first certified encrypted, multi-level security training pod that communicates with both airborne and ground equipment.

«This is the first time the team has been able to see the system in use in a real-world environment using an operational platform. These tests provide valuable insight into system performance, including pod-to-pod and pod-to-ground datalink performance, positional accuracy, and weapon simulations», said Jake Kiehlmeier, PMA-205 TCTS II lead test engineer.

The U.S. Air Force joined the Navy’s TCTS II program, leveraging investments made by the Navy and delivering training capabilities sooner and at a lower cost. The services are working together to develop and use this system to train against real-world threats.

«This is just the beginning of how this system and integration of additional Live, Virtual, Constructive capabilities in the portfolio will revolutionize training for the U.S Air Force and the Navy alike», said Sullivan.

PMA-205 provides full life cycle acquisition of naval aviation platform and general training systems, training range instrumentation systems, and distributed mission training centers to provide U.S. Navy and Marine Corps pilots, naval flight officers, aircrew, and maintainers with the training equipment required to provide lethal capability and operational readiness.

Training devices include flight simulators, part-task trainers, maintenance trainers, airborne and underwater training range instrumentation, threat systems, and associated curricula to ensure optimum performance for naval aviation. Responsibilities include execution of naval aviation’s Live, Virtual, and Constructive training strategy, execution of the Navy Aviation Simulator Master Plan, commonality and interoperability across training systems, procurement and sustainment of training products and services to include equipment overhaul and/or replacement, engineering changes, modernization and technology refreshes, and future technology advancements for training systems and training ranges.

12 Rafales

Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, on January 29, 2021 signed a contract for the sale of 12 Rafale aircraft with Florence Parly, French Minister of the Armed Forces.

Rafale
Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, on January 29, 2021 signed a contract for the sale of 12 Rafale aircraft with Florence Parly, French Minister of the Armed Forces

These aircraft will replace the 12 Rafales of the French Air and Space Force (FASF) sold to the Hellenic Air Force.

The contract was signed during a visit by the French Minister of the Armed Forces to the Argonay plant in Haute-Savoie which has produced the flight control systems for all Dassault aircraft since 1963.

Dassault Aviation and its industrial partners would like to thank the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, the French defense procurement agency DGA and the Armed Forces for their renewed confidence.

«This contract for 12 new aircraft will enable our Air and Space Force to continue the Rafale build-up while awaiting the fifth tranche, which is scheduled for delivery between 2027 and 2030. The contract is a great satisfaction for Dassault Aviation, Thales, Safran and the 500 French companies involved in the program, in the particularly difficult conditions facing our aeronautics sector in the context of the Covid crisis», said Eric Trappier.

gatewayONE

On December 9, the joint force took another step toward achieving a military Internet of Things (IoT) when fifth-generation aircraft overcame long standing connectivity limitations to share actionable operational data in their native secure digital «languages» with and through multiple sources for the first time.

gatewayONE
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II fly in formation with the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground testing range, Arizona, during a series of tests December 9, 2020. This integrated test follows a series of gatewayONE ground tests that began during the inaugural Department of the Air Force on-ramp last year in December (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sergeant James Cason)

This test was the latest demonstration of the transformative warfighting impact of the open architecture underpinning the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).

The joint effort included a Marine Corps F-35B variant and the Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II variant flying with an attritableONE XQ-58A Valkyrie for the first time. The primary tests took place at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona with preparatory tests at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Lieutenant Colonel Kate Stowe, gatewayONE program manager at the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, set out with 18 test objectives and successfully achieved nine.

«Testing is all about pushing the limits of what’s possible, finding out where the toughest challenges are, and adapting creative solutions to overcoming difficult problem sets», Stowe said. «The real win of the day was seeing the gatewayONE establish a secure two-way translational data path across multiple platforms and multiple domains. That’s the stuff ABMS is all about».

Fifth-generation fighters are typically limited to communicating with each other and to command and control centers via legacy tactical data connections, not in their native, but incompatible digital «languages» – Multifunctional Advanced Data Link for F-35 Lightning II and Intra-Flight Data Link for the F-22 Raptor. Not only can gatewayONE translate between those formats, in this test it moved data that is normally relegated to an operations center or tactical ground node, directly pushing it into the cockpit at the edge of the multi-domain battlespace for the first time.

Additionally, the test pushed the position data of each platform outside of the aircraft’s close-proximity formation through gatewayONE, which enables battle managers on the ground or in the air to better orchestrate operations. The gatewayONE payload also passed tracks or cues from ground operators to both fighters and passed a cue from the F-35A Lightning II to the F-22 Raptor for the first time. These bi-directional communications pathways occurred in the platforms’ native digital «languages» and the data was displayed through the aircrafts’ organic systems.

«The gatewayONE payload really showed what’s possible and helped us take a big step towards achieving (Joint All-Domain Command and Control)», said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wright, a 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron F-35 pilot. «This critical capability provides additional connections between our advanced fighters and other forces and battle managers across all domains. The future is promising, and gatewayONE will allow the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II to connect to and feed data sources they’ve never before accessed. Those future connections will bring additional battlefield awareness into the cockpit and enable integrated fires across U.S. forces».

Additional successful tests during the week included establishing a communications pathway between the KC-46 Pegasus tanker and a ground node using commercial internet routing standards over the Tactical Targeting Network Technology waveform and the F-35B Lightning II sending full-motion video to a ground controller.

«If fifth-generation platforms are going to be quarterbacks of a joint-penetrating team, we have to be able to communicate with those quarterbacks in an operationally relevant manner and enable data sharing between them, to them, and from them. For years people said it couldn’t be done. Today the team turned another page toward making the impossible possible», said Preston Dunlap, Air and Space Force’s chief architect. «In just 12 months, the team has opened the door to a world where we can put the power of an operations center into the cockpit at the tactical edge».

The December 9 flight test included the attritableONE platform, also known as the XQ-58 Valkyrie, a lower-cost, unmanned, aerial vehicle. The rocket-launched Valkyrie successfully conducted a semi-autonomous flight alongside the F-22 Raptor and F-35s for the first time. The gatewayONE payload was integrated into the Valkyrie for its maiden voyage with the fifth-generation fighters to conduct an initial test of gateway capabilities from an attritable platform; however, shortly after takeoff, the communications payloads lost connectivity and those test objectives were unable to be accomplished.

The acquisition team – comprised of Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center personnel working in conjunction with Eglin Air Force Base, Florida’s 46th Test Squadron – came together to make this test a success and empower the platforms involved with capability desired by the warfighter and operator.

This integrated test follows a series of gatewayONE ground tests that began during the inaugural Department of the Air Force architecture on-ramp last year in December.

ABMS is the Air Force and Space Force’s priority program to develop the military’s first Internet of Things and is the services’ primary contribution to Joint All-Domain Command and Control, a Defense Department-led effort to securely connect all elements of the U.S. military–every sensor and shooter–across land, air, sea, space and cyberspace.

German Quadriga

Airbus has signed a contract to deliver 38 new Eurofighter aircraft to the German Air Force. This makes Germany the largest ordering nation in Europe’s biggest defence programme. The order, also known by its project name Quadriga, covers the delivery of 30 single-seater and 8 twin-seater Eurofighters. Three of the aircraft will be equipped with additional test installations as Instrumented Test Aircraft for the further development of the Eurofighter programme.

Eurofighter
Airbus signs contract for 38 Eurofighters with Germany

Dirk Hoke, CEO Airbus Defence and Space, said: «The new Tranche 4 Eurofighter is currently the most modern European-built combat aircraft with a service life well beyond 2060. Its technical capabilities will allow full integration into the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS)».

The renewed order from Germany secures production until 2030 and comes at a strategically important time for the programme. In addition to an expected Eurofighter order from Spain to replace its legacy F-18s, procurement decisions in Switzerland and Finland are imminent in 2021.

The variant offered in Switzerland corresponds to the configuration of the German Quadriga order. The equipment includes the world’s latest electronic radar, future-proof hardware and software and unlimited multi-role capability for engaging air and ground targets.

Eurofighter is Europe’s largest defence programme, in which the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy are involved alongside Germany. In addition to technological capabilities, it secures more than 100,000 jobs in Europe.

Bulgaria selects AMRAAM

Bulgaria became the world’s 40th Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) user when the European nation recently signed an agreement to purchase the missile from the U.S. Air Force through a foreign military sales contract. This letter of offer and acceptance allows the U.S. government to begin contract negotiations with Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, for production of an undisclosed quantity of missiles.

AMRAAM
Bulgaria selects AMRAAM missile to bolster its air-to-air defense capabilities

«AMRAAM delivers unprecedented air superiority to pilots, giving them a decisive advantage in the sky», said Paul Ferraro, vice president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense’s Air Power business. «The weapon will significantly improve Bulgaria’s ability to defend against advanced threats».

The AMRAAM is a dual-role missile, offering operational flexibility in air-to-air and surface-launch engagements. In the air-to-air role, the weapon’s advanced active guidance section and mature seeker design allow it to quickly find targets in the most challenging environments.

AMRAAM is the world’s most sophisticated, combat-proven air dominance missile. With more than 30 years of design, upgrades, testing and production, the AIM-120 missile continues to meet warfighter requirements in all weather and beyond visual range engagements. Its capabilities have been fully demonstrated in over 4,800 test shots and more than 10 air-to-air combat victories.

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.

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.

Blue Angels

The U.S. Navy delivered a C-130J aircraft to the Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (NFDS) this month completing the squadron’s logistics transport aircraft transition from a legacy C-130T to a C-130J.

The new Blue Angels C-130J flies over Marshall Aerospace and Defense Group in Cambridge, England. The aircraft was delivered to the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, August 4

«This has been a great example of cooperation between allies and professionals. Coordination and work to deliver this Blue Angels C-130J highlight a unique program office partnership with UK MoD and Marshall Aerospace. The team has worked through challenges to deliver this high-visibility asset to our fleet, and provide a ‘new’ aircraft to support our Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron for years to come», said Major General Greg Masiello, program executive officer air ASW, assault and special mission programs. «We have all been able to witness the transformation of this particular C-130 Hercules transition into a valuable addition to our Blue Angels flying demonstration team. We are pleased to deliver this Super Hercules as the Blue Angels transition to Super Blues. Definitely a job well done by all involved».

The aircraft, purchased from the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) in June 2019, underwent a year-long refresh, which turned a former UK MoD aircraft into the logistics and transport aircraft that will be used by the Blue Angels.

Tactical Airlift Program Office (PMA-207) and UK MoD co-managed the refurbishment with all efforts performed at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (ADG) in Cambridge, England.

«The UK MoD was proud to work alongside multiple stakeholders to help deliver this great aircraft to the United States Navy Blue Angels. It really was a team effort from both sides of the Atlantic», said Air Marshal Sir Julian Young, director general Air for Defence Equipment and Support. «This C-130J aircraft served the Royal Air Force well over the years, and I am delighted that following a refurb it will now go on to serve another military force. With its bright new livery, I’m sure the new Blue Angels C-130J aircraft will turn heads wherever it goes».

This is the sole C-130J in the Navy’s fleet and while it is almost identical to its sister aircraft, the KC-130J, currently flown by the Marine Corps, it required a collaborative effort between NAVAIR engineering and Lockheed Martin to identify configuration deltas and test requirements. These efforts were done to meet U.S. and FAA requirements and included a major rework inspection, hardware and software configuration changes, and ground and flight testing.

«The teams were united in the one task to meet the needs of the fleet», said Captain Steve Nassau, PMA-207 program manager. «The return of an organic-based logistics aircraft to the Blue Angels squadron will free up much needed assets currently being utilized to meet the NFDS mission needs.  Thank you to everyone within the entire NAVAIR enterprise and our allies across the ocean for executing this delivery with utmost expedience».

The aircraft, now bearing the distinctive Blue Angels Blue and Gold, will be sure to thrill air show attendees for years to come.