On January 31, 2020, Poland signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance to purchase 32 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) Aircraft produced by Lockheed Martin, and 33 Pratt & Whitney F-135 Engines.
The supersonic F-35A Lightning II represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability with enhanced lethality and survivability in hostile, anti-access airspace environments.
The United States’ offer to Poland for 32 F-35A Lightning II multi-role aircraft is valued at $4.6 billion.
The United States is providing a Total Package Approach that not only includes delivery of the 32 aircraft, but also provides aircraft, pilot and maintenance support training; advanced flight simulators, and ongoing aircraft maintenance; and a robust logistics support system.
The new capability for Airbus’ C295 to serve as an aerial tanker brings additional flexibility for this tactical airlifter, further increasing its already-proven versatility and opening additional mission opportunities.
Airbus Defence and Space developed a removable Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) kit for the twin-engine aircraft that utilises a 100-foot-long/30.5-meter-long deployable hose with a «basket» at the end – enabling the transfer of fuel to receiver aircraft equipped with a probe. A remote vision system allows crewmembers aboard the Airbus C295 tanker to monitor refuelling operations from the cargo cabin.
Recent flights to test the kit involved an Airbus-owned C295 that refuelled a C295 from the Spanish Air Force, as well as proximity tests with the Airbus C295 and a fast fighter aircraft – a Spanish Air Force F-18 Hornet.
The Airbus C295’s removable refuelling system – which weighs 1,500 kg/3,307 lbs. – consists of up to three additional fuel tanks, an operator’s console, and the hose drum unit.
Making the Airbus C295 an even more valuable platform
«Customers are increasingly interested in purchasing not just an aircraft, but a versatile platform that can be used for different missions», explained Martín Espinosa, the Airbus Defence and Space engineering technical manager responsible for the Airbus C295’s aerial refuelling test campaign. «The development of the air-to-air refuelling capabilities of the Airbus C295 forms part of this strategic vision».
The Airbus C295’s aerial refuelling capability would be a highly valuable mission-extender for customers using Airbus C295s. These customers include the armed forces of current and future Airbus C295 operators responsible for civil and military Search and Rescue (SAR) missions.
Additionally, it could serve as a cost-effective platform to train fighter pilots in the skills needed for air-to-air refuelling. «The Airbus C295 tanker kit could facilitate training of fighter pilots for missions involving refuelling, or even for AAR services on a lease-by-the-hour basis at a fraction of the cost of heavier aircraft», explained Luis Díaz-Miguel, the Tactical Airlifters Marketing Manager.
Captain Gabiña, a Spanish Air Force pilot involved in the aerial refuelling tests, gave high marks to the Airbus C295 in its new role as tanker. «The degree of difficulty in flight test is always high since it involves performing manoeuvers that no one has done before. It should be noted that due to the positive behaviour of the aircraft, the operation has been good and straightforward», he said.
The U.S. Navy’s first MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) have arrived in Guam for their initial deployment in the Pacific theater.
Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19, the first Triton UAS squadron, will operate and maintain two aircraft as part of an Early Operational Capability (EOC) to further develop the concept of operations and fleet learning associated with operating a high-altitude, long-endurance system in the maritime domain.
The Tritons forward-deployed to Guam, both of which have arrived at Andersen Air Force base as of January 26, will fall under Commander, Task Force (CTF) 72, lead for patrol, reconnaissance and surveillance forces in 7th Fleet.
«The introduction of MQ-4C Triton to the Seventh Fleet area of operations expands the reach of the U.S. Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance force in the Western Pacific», said Captain Matt Rutherford, commander of CTF-72. «Coupling the capabilities of the MQ-4C Triton with the proven performance of P-8A Poseidon, P-3 Orion and EP-3 Aries will enable improved maritime domain awareness in support of regional and national security objectives».
The U.S. Navy’s Persistent Maritime UAS program office at Patuxent River, managed by Captain Dan Mackin, and industry partner Northrop Grumman, worked closely with VUP-19 in preparation for EOC. Prior to flying the aircraft to Guam, the team completed extensive operational test and unit level training.
«This significant milestone marks the culmination of years of hard work by the joint team to prepare Triton for overseas operations», said Mackin. «The fielding of the U.S. Navy’s premier unmanned aircraft system and its additive, persistent, multi-sensor data collection and real-time dissemination capability will revolutionize the way maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is performed».
The MQ-4C Triton will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions that will complement the P-8A Poseidon and will bring increased persistence, capability, and capacity through its multi-sensor mission payload.
«The inaugural deployment of Triton UAS brings enhanced capabilities and a broad increase in Maritime Domain Awareness to our forward Fleet commanders», said Rear Admiral Peter Garvin, commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group. «VUP-19, the U.S. Navy’s first dedicated UAS squadron supported by an outstanding NAVAIR and industry team, is superbly trained and ready to provide the persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) coverage the Navy needs».
Initial Operational Capability (IOC) will include four air vehicles with capacity to support 24/7 operations.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), along with partner Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fourth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) demonstrator January 23, 2020, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
During the test event, the Valkyrie demonstrator’s flight successfully met all of the test objectives, and the envelope was expanded beyond prior tests before safely landing in the Arizona desert. According to AFRL XQ-58A Valkyrie Program Manager Michael Wipperman, flying at higher altitude allowed researchers to gather data in an operational environment more representative of real-world flight conditions.
«Flying at this altitude helped us gather important data such as vehicle response to temperature and vibration, which will prepare us as we move toward our next flight test», said Wipperman.
This test event represents a return-to-flight for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, which experienced a mishap upon landing after a successful 90-minute flight in October 2019. Following a Safety Investigation Board probe into the mishap, Wipperman says the resulting information was outbriefed to the convening authority, and the recommendations were taken and approved to ensure the success of this latest test.
«We’re very pleased with the outcome of this fourth flight test», said Wipperman. «We were able to show recovery for a successful flight at even higher altitudes. Given that we have overcome these challenges, we have confidence that the aircraft can continue its progression into flying in more representative conditions».
Developed as part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio, the XQ-58A Valkyrie is designed to be a runway-independent, reusable unmanned air vehicle capable of a broad range of operational missions. The XQ-58A Valkyrie was developed through low cost procurement and is designed to be significantly less expensive to operate than traditional piloted or unpiloted vehicles, while capable of achieving the same critical missions. Taking only 2.5 years from contract award to first flight, it is the first example of a class of unmanned air vehicles developed through this time-saving process, which seeks to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft.
A total of five flights are planned for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems. The fifth flight, scheduled for later this year, will be a capability demonstration showcasing the ability of the vehicle to support operational needs.
Airbus Helicopters in the UK is to provide four additional H145 helicopters as part of an expansion of the UK Military Flight Training System (UKMFTS).
The new helicopters will join the existing fleet of 29 H135s and three H145s, known respectively as Juno and Jupiter in UKMFTS service. They will be delivered during 2020.
Operated by Ascent Flight Training Management Ltd primarily from Royal Air Force (RAF) Shawbury and also RAF Valley on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, the aircraft are used to train all UK military helicopter pilots and rear crew.
Airbus Helicopters is fully embedded at both bases as the rotary wing aircraft service provider to Ascent.
Managing director of Airbus Helicopters in the UK, Colin James, said: «The H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter are demonstrating day-in and day-out their exceptional reliability and versatility in the training role at UKMFTS. It’s deeply satisfying for us to see the first aircrew having already graduated and we look forward to delivering the additional aircraft in the very near future».
The H145 helicopter family has completed more than 5.5 million flight hours worldwide with more than 1,300 aircraft in the global fleet.
3rd Marine Air Wing (MAW) made history when it welcomed the Marine Corps’ first F-35C Lightning II to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, January 21, 2020.
The Marines and sailors of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, the «Black Knights», are extremely proud of their legacy and tradition of making aviation history.
«It should be no surprise that VMFA-314 is once again leading the way into the next generation of fighter attack aircraft», said Lieutenant Colonel Cedar Hinton, commanding officer of VMFA-314.
The squadron’s history began with its commissioning in 1943 at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, as the «Bob’s Cats». In 1952, they were the first squadron in 3rd MAW to transition to jet aircraft and fly the F-9F Panther. In 1957, they officially became the «Black Knights» with the arrival of the F-4D Skyray. In October 1961, the «Black Knights» were the first Marine Corps squadron to transition to the F-4B Phantom and in 1982, the first in the Department of the Navy to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.
The «Black Knights» have proven themselves time and again from campaigns in the South Pacific to the Vietnam War and from Operation El Dorado Canyon to the Global War on Terror. VMFA-314’s storied history should give the American people confidence that the «Black Knights» will continue to fix, fly, and fight the next generation of aircraft.
The F-35C Lightning II is one of three variants fielded by the Department of Defense. It is a result of decades of advancements that provide aviation capabilities previously thought unattainable.
The «C» variant was designed to operate from an aircraft carrier and is the first 5th generation long-range stealth strike fighter jet designed for that mission. The F-35C Lightning II’s control surfaces and landing gear are better equipped for carrier operation than the other variants. The F-35C Lightning II is equipped with larger internal fuel storage, which when combined with its ability to refuel in-flight, extends its range and allows for enhanced flight time when compared to other aircraft.
The F-35 Lightning II variants include the F-35A Lightning II, which utilizes conventional takeoff and landing and is designed to operate from traditional land-based runways. The F-35B Lightning II is a short takeoff and vertical landing variant and specifically designed to operate from austere airfields and amphibious ships. 3rd MAW is proud that it now employs the first F-35C Lightning II squadron along with two F-35B Lightning II squadrons with more planned in the near future.
«The F-35C Lightning II represents the leading edge of advanced fighter attack aircraft today», said Hinton. «It will give the ‘Black Knights’ a technological advantage across the entire spectrum of tactical aviation. This includes everything from advanced sensor and weapon integration to increased range and endurance. We will be more survivable and more lethal than we have ever been».
The «Black Knights» are now one of three F-35 Lightning II squadrons in 3rd MAW, with more coming soon, which gives credence to 3rd MAW’s reputation as the Marine Corps’ premier and most lethal aviation wing.
The «Black Knights’» transition to the F-35C Lightning II began in June 2019 and was marked by the traditional «sun-down» ceremony where VMFA-314 flew the Hornet for the last time. After which, they began training on the F-35C Lightning II.
The next 3rd MAW squadron set to transition from the F/A-18 Hornet is VMFA-225, which will celebrate their last F/A-18 Hornet flight on January 23, 2020.
VMFA-314 spent the latter portion of 2019 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California preparing for their operations certifications and completing squadron-wide F-35C Lightning II qualifications. This process ensured the squadron was equipped with qualified personnel to implement the maintenance and safety programs necessary for an operational F-35 Lightning II squadron.
«Transitioning a squadron into a new aircraft with many new Marines comes with a lot of challenges», said Hinton. «However, it also provides a unique opportunity to start fresh and build a strong squadron culture from the ground up. We are all extremely excited to ensure the ‘Black Knights’ continue our legacy of leading from the front as we deliver this new capability to 3rd MAW».
3rd MAW will continue to pave the way for the future of Marine Corps aviation and «Fix, Fly, and Fight» as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing.
F-35С Lightning II specifications
51.5 feet/15.7 m
14.7 feet/4.48 m
43 feet/13.1 m
668 feet2/62.1 m2
Horizontal tail span
26.3 feet/8.02 m
34,800 lbs/15,785 kg
Internal fuel capacity
19,750 lbs/8,960 kg
18,000 lbs/8,160 kg
70,000 lbs class/31,751 kg
Standard internal weapons load
Two AIM-120C air-to-air missiles
Two 2,000-pound (907 kg) GBU-31 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) guided bombs
The first CMV-22B Osprey, built by Boeing and Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company, completed first flight operations at Bell’s Amarillo Assembly Center. The CMV-22B is the latest variant of the tiltrotor fleet, joining the MV-22 Osprey and CV-22 Osprey used by the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force.
The U.S. Navy will use the CMV-22B Osprey to replace the C-2A Greyhound for transporting personnel, mail, supplies and high-priority cargo from shore bases to aircraft carriers at sea. Bell Boeing designed the U.S. Navy variant specifically for carrier fleet operations by providing increased fuel capacity for the extended range requirement. The mission flexibility of the CMV-22B Osprey will increase operational capabilities and readiness, in addition to ferrying major components of the F-35 Lightning II engine.
«With the ability to travel up to 1,150 nautical miles/1,323 miles/2,130 kg, the CMV-22B Osprey will be a lifeline for our servicemen and women out at sea», said Kristin Houston, vice president, Boeing Tiltrotor Programs and director, Bell Boeing V-22 Program. «The quality and safety built into this aircraft will revolutionize the way the U.S. Navy fulfills its critical carrier onboard delivery mission».
Bell Boeing will deliver the first CMV-22B Osprey to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 in early 2020 for developmental test.
Leonardo has announced the maiden flight of its new Falco Xplorer drone aircraft. Falco Xplorer S/N0001 took off from Trapani Air Force base on January 15, cruised over the Gulf of Trapani in a dedicated fly zone, for around 60 minutes and then returned to base, landing safely. The maiden flight is a significant milestone which has been achieved through technical and engineering support, at the test flight planning stages and with other related activities, by the Italian Air Force Test Flight Centre. The Remotely-Piloted Air System (RPAS), which combines endurance of over 24 hours with a max payload of 350 kg/772 lbs., will now embark on a series of flight campaigns which will assess the aircraft’s full range of capabilities including its integrated sensor system. These campaigns will also certify the Falco Xplorer against NATO’s airworthiness Standardization Agreement (STANAG) 4671, dramatically expanding the territory over which it can operate.
The Falco Xplorer was first unveiled at last year’s Paris Air Show. It has been designed to offer persistent, multi-sensor strategic surveillance to military and civil customers and can be procured as either an integrated system or as a fully-managed information-superiority service, flown and operated by Leonardo. With a maximum take-off weight of 1.3 tons and an operating ceiling above 24,000 feet/7,315 meters, the aircraft is an affordable and potent option for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).
Previous Falco variants have been chosen by the United Nations and Frontex, the European border and coastguard agency. The Falco Xplorer design draws on feedback from these and other Falco customers. It features a powerful sensor suite, which includes the Company’s Gabbiano T-80 multi-mode surveillance radar, its SAGE electronic intelligence system, an automatic identification system for maritime missions and an Electro-Optical (EO) turret. An optional hyperspectral sensor will allow the Falco Xplorer to monitor pollution and agricultural development. The native satellite link capability allows for beyond-line-of-sight operations, while its open system architecture means that third-party sensors can be easily integrated. Not subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions and meeting the criteria for Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) class II, Falco Xplorer is readily exportable around the world.
The Falco Xplorer is designed by Leonardo, from the aircraft to its sensor suite, mission system and ground control station, making the company a ‘one-stop-shop’ for unmanned capabilities. Advantages of this approach include the ability to offer competitive pricing and the ability to draw on knowledge and experience from across the business to tailor a Falco Xplorer package to the precise needs of customers, whether in terms of technology or commercial arrangements.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins program has completed the first flight test of its X-61A vehicle. The test in late November at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A Hercules and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half.
The goal for this third phase of the Gremlins program is completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), or «Gremlins». Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range from adversary defenses. Once Gremlins complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.
The team met all objectives of the test in November, including gathering data on operation and performance, air and ground-based command and control systems, and flight termination. A parachute anomaly occurred in a recovery sequence that is specific to the test series and not part of the operational plan. The incident resulted in the loss of the test vehicle, one of five in the program. Four vehicles remain operational and available for the test series, which will continue in 2020.
«The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts», said Scott Wierzbanowski, the program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start, and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground, and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle maneuvers that helped validate our aerodynamic data».
The next step for the program is a full evaluation of the test data, as well as to understand any issues related to the failure for the main parachute to deploy. The team anticipates the second flight test at Dugway in the spring 2020 timeframe to remain on track.
The C-130 Hercules is the demonstration platform for the Gremlins program, but Wierzbanowski says the Services could easily modify the system for another transport aircraft or other major weapons system. Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds/68 kg, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.
The U.S. Air Force designated the Gremlins air vehicle as X-61A in August in recognition of the technical challenges associated with the program.
A Dynetics-led team is the performer for the Phase 3 demonstration series.
For the first time, Boeing and the U.S. Navy flew an F/A-18 Super Hornet equipped with an Infrared Search & Track (IRST) Block II pod in late 2019. IRST Block II is a critical component of the Block III Super Hornet. The Block III conversion will include enhanced network capability, longer range with conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system, signature improvements and an enhanced communication system. The updates are expected to keep the F/A-18 Super Hornet in active service for decades to come.
IRST Block II is a passive, long-range sensor incorporating infrared and other sensor technologies for highly accurate targeting.
«The IRST Block II gives the F/A-18 Super Hornet improved optics and processing power, significantly improving pilot situational awareness of the entire battle space», said Jennifer Tebo, Boeing Director of F/A-18 Super Hornet Development.
Currently in the risk reduction phase of development, IRST Block II flights on the Super Hornet allow Boeing and the U.S. Navy to collect valuable data on the system before deployment to the fleet. The IRST Block II variant will be delivered to the U.S. Navy in 2021, reaching Initial Operational Capability (IOC) shortly thereafter.
«The IRST Block II sensor gives U.S. Navy fighters extended range and increasing survivability. This technology will help the U.S. Navy maintain its advantage over potential adversaries for many years», said Kenen Nelson, Lockheed Martin Director of Fixed Wing Programs, supplier of the IRST Block II sensor.