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Shiny New Hybrid

World Aerospace Developments 2009

National security threats may have changed, but more to the point, they’ve multiplied, analysts say. A superpower can no longer specialize in one set at the expense of another. Traditional defense strategy and systems must fuse with non-traditional techniques and equipment. For 2009 and beyond, defense planners must balance the demands of “hybrid warfare.”

It’s the new buzz phrase. And hybrid warfare has implications for aerospace procurement, particularly in the United States, where it appears to put the acquisition of manned/unmanned (stealthy) intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) systems and counter-insurgency platforms like the Hawker Beechcraft MC-12W and OA-X light attack aircraft on par with or above acquisition of more traditional strategic systems like the F-22, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, and a full pipeline of satellites. That is, of course, if the hybrid warfare concept figures prominently in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and if its recommendations are actually heeded.

Too often, defense analyst Anthony Cordesman pointed out, such reviews have been “decoupled from meaningful budget figures, realistic force plans, and honest procurement decisions.” This “strategy-reality gap,” Cordesman concluded, means that concepts like hybrid warfare are often of limited practical value. The machinations of the nearly dysfunctional American defense procurement establishment dilute them further.

A Brazilian air force Super Tucano. The Super Tucano, along with a new version of the OV-10 Bronco, an "AT"-6 Texan II, and other light aircraft are contending to be the U.S. Air Force's new light attack aircraft. Photo courtesy of Embraer.

A Brazilian air force Super Tucano. The Super Tucano, along with a new version of the OV-10 Bronco, an “AT”-6 Texan II, and other light aircraft are contending to be the U.S. Air Force’s new light attack aircraft. Photo courtesy of Embraer.

That dysfunction presented an arguably greater challenge to the freshly minted Obama administration than allotting priorities for the fiscal year

2010 budget. In January, outgoing USAF Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Sue Payton said the administration faced a dearth of skilled program overseers and a consolidated industrial marketplace, issues that make keeping large programs on cost and on schedule very challenging. Bad for the industrial complex but potentially good for disentangling procurement is the fact that there will likely be fewer large programs to manage in the midterm.

Foreseeable American defense budgets will almost certainly be flat as U.S. domestic entitlements expand and the war in Afghanistan rolls on. Current estimates indicate there could still be a procurement shortfall of some $60 billion over the next five years. But, with some exceptions, aerospace spending has already declined globally.

PricewaterhouseCoopers reported aerospace acquisition activity declined 57 percent in 2008, though military contract backlog levels actually increased for many defense contractors. Not surprisingly, China bucked the trend, announcing defense spending increased by 14.9 percent; however, its public pronouncement is likely understatement. India too has held its own. Aerospace consultancy Frost & Sullivan forecasts that India will become the Asia Pacific region’s second largest defense spender within five years and the seventh largest globally by 2016.

American priorities reflect current challenges and some “potholes.” The FY 2010 budget reinforced ISR/strike programs like the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon and the Army’s AH-64D Block III Apache. Following the mistakenly armed B-52 debacle of 2007 and a number of other nuclear management hiccups, the 2010 budget allocates equipment/training funding for 76 B-52s and for Minuteman ICBMs. Unmanned aircraft programs, from the RQ-4 Global Hawk to the Reaper, Predator, and Fire Scout, will see continued acquisitions and funding. But a range of strategic priorities are either being dismissed or deferred. Two F-22 Raptors flying from Andersen AFB, Guam, over the Pacific Ocean during a theater security mission. Perhaps the controversial defense-related decision of the Obama administration has been ending production of the Raptor at 187. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

Two F-22 Raptors flying from Andersen AFB, Guam, over the Pacific Ocean during a theater security mission. Perhaps the controversial defense-related decision of the Obama administration has been ending production of the Raptor at 187. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

Two F-22 Raptors flying from Andersen AFB, Guam, over the Pacific Ocean during a theater security mission. Perhaps the controversial defense-related decision of the Obama administration has been ending production of the Raptor at 187. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

The freeze of F-22 production at 187 aircraft announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in April and the Obama administration’s diplomatically calculated cancellation of missile defense interceptors in Eastern Europe during the winter are the most publicly visible changes, but are not the only ones. Despite the scheduled launch of the USAF’s Space Based Space Surveillance satellite (now delayed to early 2010), the satellite pipeline is drying up. In November, U.S. Strategic Command Chief USAF Gen. Kevin Chilton warned that so few satellites are now in the queue for critical missions that the United States risks service gaps that could impede the military’s ability to function effectively.

As the year began, the very relevance of NASA had already come into question. The final space shuttle sortie, STS-133, will launch on May 31, 2010, after which the geriatric three-shuttle fleet will be retired. With it, America’s four decade-plus tradition of human spaceflight will be reduced to hitching rides to the International Space Station (ISS) on Russian Soyuz capsules. Largely paid for by the United States, ISS funding will run out in 2016. By that time, NASA’s Constellation program is supposed to have readied a four-person Orion crew exploration vehicle for launch atop an Ares 1 rocket booster for missions to the ISS. However, progress on and funding for both the Orion and the Ares has been scarce, raising serious skepticism about their readiness before the end of the next decade. A White House human spaceflight review panel sought to determine a useful course for NASA, but the Obama administration hinted early in the year that funding will likely be so constricted that the government will cede human spaceflight to the private sector in the foreseeable future.

China, meanwhile, has announced its intention to forge ahead with human spaceflight, launching a mission to the ISS or its own space station by 2020. Whether it can pull off such a feat is questionable, but late in the year the possibility of U.S.-Chinese cooperation in manned spaceflight was raised, and a series of preliminary meetings between American and Chinese officials kicked off. The collaboration was set against late-year recommendations by the White House panel that the Constellation program strategy be revisited, possibly incorporating commercial booster vehicles and missions to support a life-extended ISS out to 2020 or later.

Notable early year developments included France’s reintegration into NATO and continuing heavy operational tempo in Afghanistan. The latter was contrastingly highlighted by the wheels-up landing, subsequent runway blockage, and removal of a C-17 at Bagram Air Base, and the late-year revelation that the USAF had been operating a stealthy unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Afghanistan (the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ RQ-170 Sentinel, sometimes referred to as the “Beast of Bagram”), since 2007. An Air Force One (VC-25A) “photo flight” over Manhattan with two F-16s on its wing created brief panic in New York, and embarrassment for the White House, while a USAF effort to certify plant-derived biofuels for use in its fleet sought to court the administration’s favor. The Air Force is looking to certify a 50-50 mix of alternative fuel and jet kerosene, a blend that it wants half its domestic aviation fuel to contain by 2016. In October, Congress reluctantly allowed a temporary reduction in the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10 between 2012 when the Enterprise is scheduled to retire and 2015 when the Gerald R. Ford will come online.


The F-35 was in the news throughout the year, largely due to program delays. First up, however, was a March item in The Wall Street Journal reporting the cyber theft of 10 to 20 terabytes of data from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program by “unknown” attackers using Chinese Internet hosts. Lockheed Martin and the U.S. government denied the loss of any classified material, but with 600 suppliers in 30

countries exchanging information via the Web, the program’s vulnerability is obvious. The attack raised consciousness of the need for cyber security and of the necessity of a unified cyber warfare/electronic warfare command. Nevertheless, a proposed Air Force Cyber Command was aborted and such activities folded into U.S. Strategic Command, though late-year discussion again raised the idea of central control of this hybrid warfare activity.

In January, Defense Technology International Editor Bill Sweetman opined that the JSF could monopolize the fighter market in the West if its performance and schedule targets were met. U.S. Marine Corps planners mulled the possibility of acquiring an electronic warfare (EW) version of the F-35 based on the Navy’s F-35C, and the same month, the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 alternative engine ran in production configuration for the first time. Though the administration and Senate removed funding for the F136, it looked likely to survive again as 2009 closed. The Pentagon asked Congress to bolster the FY 2010 F-35 budget request to acquire 100 to 110 aircraft per year beginning in 2018 versus the planned 80.

In April, the Dutch parliament delayed its purchase approval of the first of 85 F-35As until 2012. Lockheed Martin formally unveiled the first F-35C prototype in July, its first flight having slipped to 2010. As of late August, the first three JSF developmental test aircraft had accumulated 113 sorties and 149.9 flight hours, well short of that expected.

Even before, DoD’s Joint Estimating Team (JET) was contradicting JSF Joint Program Office (JPO) schedule projections, predicting that developmental and operational testing would conclude in 2016 versus the JPO’s date of October 2013. JET also put the program cost $15 billion higher than the JPO and the current unit cost higher than the F-22. In September, the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., was formally designated as the unit for all F-35 training, moving from Air Combat Command to Air Education and Training Command.

Two F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to the "Swordsmen" of VFA-32 during flight operations aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in 2008. Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 were on a scheduled deployment supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations. Congress authorized a buy of 18 more Super Hornets to help close a looming Navy "fighter gap."  U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Ricardo J. Reyes.

Two F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to the “Swordsmen” of VFA-32 during flight operations aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in 2008. Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 were on a scheduled deployment supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations. Congress authorized a buy of 18 more Super Hornets to help close a looming Navy “fighter gap.”  U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Ricardo J. Reyes.

By December, Pentagon officials were poised to take a more conservative approach to the program, projecting a six month or greater slip in developmental aircraft deliveries, which might mean 30 extra months of development. The first F-35B vertical landing slipped to January 2010, and the USMC’s IOC of 2012 looks increasingly like wishful thinking. In October, Congress authorized $512 million to buy 18 additional F/A-18E/Fs, part of a third multi-year buy to fill the Navy “fighter gap” created by F-35 delays. The first two multi-year buys total 467 aircraft.

The OA-X light attack program is the kind of project finding traction with the secretary of defense. The USAF has defined it as a manned platform with five to six hours endurance able to carry a datalink, targeting pod, at least two 500-pound precision bombs, and two AGM-114N Hellfire missiles. Airframes are to cost about $10 million per copy and have an operating cost less than $1,000/hour. Hawker Beechcraft believes it has a good shot at the competition, having flown a derivative (AT-6) version of its model 3000 T-6A/B Texan. Boeing is offering an updated OV-10 Bronco and Embraer a proven version of its EMB-314 Super Tucano.

Perhaps the most significant American initial operational fighter debut was that of the EA-18G Growler. The USN declared VAQ-132, with a complement of three aircraft, “safe for flight” at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., in September. The Growler is possibly the last dedicated manned airborne electronic attack (AEA) platform and is envisioned working in concert with non-dedicated manned/unmanned platforms like the F-35 as effective EW/AEA payloads become smaller. In March, Australia announced it has asked Boeing to change half its order of 24 Super Hornets to Growlers in order to gain the capability.

The Air Force had wanted part of that mission for standoff B-52 jammers, but with the rejection of that idea, the service has again turned its attention to a next-generation bomber. The FY 2010 budget put developmental funding for the program on hold while the USAF reassessed the proposed bomber’s stealth and weapons carriage requirements, the latter of which would become clearer after the year’s Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) negotiations with Russia. Boeing, meanwhile, received a $45 million contract to upgrade B-1B avionics software across the 66-strong fleet.

April’s announcement capping Raptor production at 187 overshadowed March comments by the National Guard Bureau chief, USAF Gen. Craig McKinley, that decisions on recapitalizing the mostly Air Guard domestic air sovereignty fighter force must be taken soon. If not, according to the general, 11 of 18 domestic alert sites could be without aircraft by 2020.

The Air Force also needs an advanced trainer, as demonstrated by a halt to T-38 flight operations in late 2008 after failed aileron levers grounded the 546 aircraft fleet. T-38s, which average 42 years in age, will have to soldier on until 2020 when a replacement, possibly in the form of a U.S. prime-led Aermacchi A346 or Korean Air Industries T-50 can be found. The USN received its first Hawker Beechcraft T-6Bs at Whiting Field, Fla., in August, joining its T-6As in replacing the T-34C, which is to be phased out by 2014. The USN will acquire 272 of the glass-cockpit T-6Bs.

Boeing's NewGen contender for the KC-X contest. Photo illustration courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Boeing’s NewGen contender for the KC-X contest. Photo illustration courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Gates and company mulled KC-X options as the year opened, including buying both the Boeing and Airbus contenders and skipping a KC-X re-competition (which refers to the first 179 KC-135 replacements) for a “KC-Y” competition. Such a move would “put a wrapper of legitimacy around [splitting the buy]” one industry official told AviationWeek. Boeing provided more detail on its KC-X offering, saying it can provide a 767- or 777-based tanker depending upon whether cost or capability is favored. The Pentagon’s November KC-X RFP posited fixed-price development and production contracts, drawing little enthusiasm from Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS. [Update: The February 2010 RFP resulted in the Northrop Grumman-led team bowing out of the competition, but EADS recently said it would compete. The Pentagon agreed to extend the bid deadline by 60 days.-Ed]

In early fall, the Senate ended a ban on retiring C-5As, possibly paving the way for more C-17 orders, and the USAF could end up with 223 of the airlifters. Plans remain in place for all 59 C-5As to go through the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) and some through the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) along with C-5Bs. C-5s that undergo both modifications are designated C-5Ms. The first was delivered to the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base, Del., in September and Lockheed Martin is scheduled to upgrade 52 aircraft to M standard by 2016.

A Hawker Beechcraft MC-12W Liberty ISR aircraft flew the type’s 300th combat mission in Iraq in September. ISR demand in Afghanistan has prompted orders for 43 MC-12Ws, 23 new aircraft to be delivered by late 2010 and some 24 to deploy to the Afghan theater by April. Though E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft remain in high demand in the same theater, the 2010 budget put funding for re-engining and a software package for tracking small, slow-moving targets on hold. The upgrades are being weighed against purchasing a new platform to meet ground tracking requirements. C-130 Avionics Modernization Program funding was axed from the 2010 budget as well, and will be reviewed for 2011. Three C-130s have completed AMP developmental testing and Lockheed has low rate initial production (LRIP) kits ready for installation.

The Navy announced basing for its 84 P-8As at four locations, from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., to Marine Base Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii, with initial operations to begin in 2012. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys will benefit from an order for 96 new Rolls-Royce AE 1107C engines. Likewise, the Corps’ CH-53K appears largely on track despite minor delays that will shift its first operational deployment to 2016.

Elsewhere in rotary affairs, the June cancellation of the VH-71A presidential helicopter program and subsequent congressional re-authorization of five aircraft demonstrated the disconnect between executive/DoD vision and legislative constituent interests. The Army has begun upgrading its aged OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helo fleet after last year’s stoppage of the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program, which may resume in 2010. CH-47F acquisition got under way with delivery of the first F model to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C. Boeing plans to put either the CH-47F or the V-22 forward for a relaunched CSAR-X program once the Pentagon issues a new RFP.

Demand for UAV flight hours rose unabated as commanders from Southwest Asia to Central America sought to leverage these assets. As RQ-7 Shadow flight hours have decreased in Iraq, they have doubled every month in Afghanistan, and the clamor for battlefield recon/targeting from other small unmanned aerial systems (UASs) like the RQ-11 Raven B and Aerovironment Wasp gets louder with each day. In February, the first USN-owned Global Hawk Block 10 arrived in the Middle East for maritime surveillance as the USAF verified the capability of its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar (MP-RTIP) equipped Block 40 Global Hawk for ground surveillance. Global Hawk delays led to counter accusations between Northrop Grumman and the Air Force in May.

An MQ-8B Fire Scout hovers over the flight deck of the guided-missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8). U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Alan Gragg.

An MQ-8B Fire Scout hovers over the flight deck of the guided-missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8). U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Alan Gragg.

Amidst the sniping, DoD pressed the USAF to accelerate development of next-generation unmanned aircraft, in part because of high accident rates (particularly landing accidents) with its medium-altitude RQ-1, MQ-1 Predator/MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Such losses to pilot error will hopefully slow as the Air Force separates UAS pilot training and operations, centering Predator/Reaper training at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and operations at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The first class of non-rated, non-pilot Air Force Predator operators graduated at the end of the summer. With USAF plans to field 50 Predator/Reaper combat air patrols by 2011, many more are needed. The Navy will need MQ-8B Fire Scout operators. The unmanned rotorcraft deployed aboard the USS McInerney in October for counter-narcotics work in the Caribbean, marking the first sailor-run shipboard UAV operations.

Overseas, Australia announced it would not provide $300 million required to participate in the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program. The USN said the program’s 70 Global Hawk derivatives remain on course for delivery starting in 2015. Still, Australia entered the world of large UAV operations in December with the first of two IAI Heron UASs it is leasing from a Canadian firm for use in Afghanistan. Northrop Grumman’s October Euro Hawk (SIGINT) rollout signaled the United States’ first major international UAS sale. Germany will receive the RQ-4 variant in late 2010. NATO, Spain, Australia, South Korea, and Japan have expressed interest.

The Gripen NG is contending for both Brazil’s F-X and India’s MMRCA programs. Gripen International KB photo by Katsuhiko Tokunaga.

The Euro Hawk sale is a sign of a surge in U.S. arms exports despite flat global aerospace defense procurement. Ten years ago the United States rang up $10 billion in Foreign Military Sales (FMS). By 2008, they had reached $28 billion. A jump to $38.1 billion in FY 2009 surprised Pentagon officials, who predict sales approaching $50 billion for FY 2010. FMS sales have kept the F-15 and F-16 lines open years beyond domestic demand, preserving valuable production infrastructure and bridging the gap to the F-35.

The as yet undecided fighter competitions in Brazil (FX-2) and India (MMRCA), with 40 and 126 unit orders respectively, may well reshape the world fighter market. Their selection choices could possibly force two of the globe’s seven fighter manufacturers out of business, with Saab and RAC-MiG seen as particularly vulnerable.

During the summer, India began to put contenders (Boeing’s F/A-18E/F, Dassault’s Rafale F3+, Eurofighter’s Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen, Lockheed Martin’s F-16, and the MiG-35) through phased field trials. France’s looser technology transfer restrictions are thought to give Dassault an edge, while Indian focus on cost may favor the Gripen or F-16. As India completed avionics upgrades of its MiG-29s and considered co-development of a scanned array radar for its future Light Combat Aircraft, Brazil made a possibly premature announcement of its “preferred choice” for FX-2, the Rafale F3.

Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim shortly thereafter issued a statement declaring the decision is not yet final. Though France certainly has an edge, the Brazilians may be using the Rafale to put price pressure on other contenders Boeing and Saab. Or, vice versa.

The August Moscow International Air and Space Salon (MAKS) provided a snapshot of the dismal state of Russia’s aerospace sector. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin used the opportunity to castigate Russian industry bosses for poor management and waste, then proceeded to bail out both Sukhoi (3 billion rubles) and RSK MiG (15 billion rubles). MiG is $4 billion in the red and in February, the

A Rafale M above the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. The F3 update of the Rafale seems the leader in Brazil’s F-X competition. Dassault Aviation photo by Alex Paringaux.

Russian air force struggled to get its MiG-29 fleet back in the air after a series of late 2008 vertical stabilizer failures grounded it. The Russian government did announce its first new-build fighter order in nearly two decades at MAKS, touting a 64-unit order from Sukhoi, though only 48 Su-35S models will be new. A spring crash of Sukhoi’s Su-35-based PAK FA prototype set back development of the fifth-generation fighter. A new prototype is set to fly (without its intended engines or weapons systems) some time in 2010. [Update: The PAK FA has flown several test flights already in 2010.-Ed]

Recognition of its situation led to the Russian air force’s December announcement of its intention to cut 40 percent of its aircrew and retire hundreds of older types as part of a revised operational command structure that will emphasize quality over quantity. Russia will shoot for a smaller force with 70 percent of its inventory constituted by new types or upgraded aircraft by 2020.

RAF No. 11 Squadron Typhoons at Exercise Green Flag. The far Typhoon is loaded with enhanced Paveway II bombs, Litening III designater pod, and drop tanks. Eurofighter Gmbh photograph by Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Ltd

In Europe, the Eurofighter partners struggled with Tranche 3A numbers and defining capabilities (AESA radar, cruise missiles, medium-range air-to-air missiles, and smart bombs) for the final batch of Typhoons. As difficult as these negotiations are, they look like child’s play compared to those ongoing through 2009 and into 2010 on the A400M.

EADS kicked off 2009 with a request for several years more to complete development of the airlifter, raising the ire, and risking the departure, of some of the seven partner nations. The first flight of the A400M was slated for 2007, with development largely finished by 2010 – all of it to a fixed-price contract cited as untenable by Airbus CEO Tom Enders. Delays with the aircraft’s Europrop TP400-D6 engines and other design/construction glitches saw Airbus/EADS trying to shift more cost to subcontractors and going back to governments for more funding.

The A400M did make its first test flight in December, and the program is now expected to deliver its first low-rate production aircraft by 2012. The challenge will be stiff, but as 2009 wound up and 2010 began, inter-nation negotiations had not been concluded, leaving full partner participation in question. Partners, including the United Kingdom and France, are evaluating options for stopgap airlift, including further C-17 purchases or Airbus A330 leases.


Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...