On the Horizon
May 15, 2010

Indian Space Program Suffers Setback. Indian news agencies have commented on the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D3), which failed to launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre launch pad in Sriharikota, south-eastern Andhra Pradesh state. Data from GSLV-D3 stopped just 5.5 seconds after lift-off and the rocket fell into the Bay of Bengal. The rocket’s cryogenic engine, which is fuelled by liquid rather than the usual solid propellant and can be kept under low pressure, is far lighter than a solid propellant launch vehicle, allowing for much heavier payloads to be carried. It has taken 18 years for ISRO to develop replacement engines in the GSLV-D3 in order to be able to produce indigenous instead of buying Russian rocket engines. India is looking develop its domestic ballistic missile sector and enter the lucrative satellite launch market, with prices of USD $10,000 per kilo predicted as soon as the GSLV rocket becomes reliable. However much work is still required. As of the six GSLV launches so far, only two have been successful and one partially successful while the rest have crashed into the Bay of Bengal.

Malaysia seeks new fighter and AEW aircraft. Aviation watchers noted that last month, the Malaysian government issued a third request for information (RFI) from a number international companies regarding the possible purchase of new fighter jets as well as a number of airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. The RFI, which was issued in late March, is intended to solicit bids from these manufacturers for enough jets to fill two squadrons. Most Asian aviation analysts suggest that Malaysia’s current air force inventory, which is a mixed bag of American, European, and Russian planes, is becoming too costly to maintain and is too expensive to justify keeping these ancient aircraft in service instead of procuring new aircraft. Although Malaysia has purchased Russian and European aircraft in the past, some aviation analysts suspect that the leading contenders to fill the order are the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Lockheed Martin’s F-16, or the Saab Gripen. As for the AEW planes, potential leading contenders could be the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye or the Embraer ERJ-145. Some analysts have predicted that Malaysia may turn to new AEW suppliers such as Bombardier to avoid political strings or entanglements. So far no date has been set with regard to the selection of the winning aircraft, but Malaysia is likely feeling the need to move rather quickly since other states in the region, particularly neighbouring Singapore, have bolstered their air forces with more modern fighter jets.

U.S. and Brazil sign mutual defence pact. Sources in Washington have noted that the U.S. and Brazil have recently signed a new defence accord that will deepen their mutual defence contacts with a new re-emphasis on “defence cooperation at all levels.” This is the first such agreement between these two countries in over 30 years and signals an emerging reawakening of U.S. Military interest in South America. The pact will promote military exchanges, such as naval ship visits and mutual cooperation on defence procurement, but does not include provisions for American use of Brazilian bases. Despite this agreement, Brazilian Defence Minister Jobim made no mention of the impending purchase of the 100 new fighter aircraft, nor did he mention a preferred choice for the most suitable aircraft.

DoD to request funding for a new long-range bomber. Sources in the U.S. Department of Defense have indicated that the DoD will submit a new request for funds in order to develop and build a new more capable long-range bomber in Fiscal Year 2012. As the DoD waits for approval, it will invest more than US$1 billion to maintain the industrial capacity for developing and building the new aircraft in the forthcoming interval. The Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Jim Miller, said at a press conference on 6 April that the Pentagon will probably make a decision on the whole family of systems – a bomber and perhaps some other airframes – that it will require for its long-range strike mission in time for the FY12 budget cycle in order to determine the magnitude of the new project and its potential costs.

Rolls-Royce wins Tornado and KC-130J support contracts. Rolls-Royce corporation has been awarded separate engine support contracts by both the UK and United States that is worth a estimated combined US$1.8 billion. Under a GBP(£) 690 million (US$1.28 billion) signed accord with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), Rolls-Royce will support the Royal Air Force’s fleet of Tornado aircraft until 2025. The company will provide a “guaranteed level of availability” for its RB199 engines, spares and ground-support equipment. It will also continue to provide similar support the KC130J in-flight refueling aircraft and ­systems for a similar period.

Predator crosses the 1 million hour mark in flight operations. On 6 April, General Atomics announced that the “GA-ASI” Predator-series of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) had amassed over one million operational flight hours. To achieve this level, the company stated that this milestone encompasses just under 80,000 missions. They noted that over 85% have been flown on various combat missions.
According to the corporation, the exact identity of the specific aircraft and operator that achieved this milestone will likely not be known until sometime in mid-May due to delayed reporting from the field.
The Predator-series UAV flight hours have increased from 80,000 hours in 2006 to over 130,000 hours in 2007, 235,000 hours in 2008 and 295,000 hours in 2009. The new milestone was announced less than a month after the USAF issued a statement indicating its use of the UAV had surpassed 700,000 flight hours for the MQ-1B Predator alone.
It should be noted that the Predator-series UAVs are in constant daily operations, supporting not only the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA operations but also, the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana – AMI), the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) as well as other customers.

Is China hiding J-10 crashes? Several reports in Asian aviation publications this week suggest that two of China’s new fourth generation fighter jets, the J-10, have recently crashed, and that Beijing is keeping quiet about the crashes in order to maintain their expected export orders for the jets.
On 13 April, in Beijing, Chinese officials proudly displayed the J-10 to defence attaches from 50 countries. The display was designed both to show off China’s growing technological capabilities and to promote the plane to any would-be buyers. However, several days after the event, rumours began to circulate that the test jet had crashed during a routine training flight, much to the embarrassment of numerous Chinese officials. Even though the crash was meant to remain secret, the pilot of the plane was a senior colonel in the PLAAF, and his funeral ultimately substantiated the rumours and exposed the crash. Some analysts say that crash and subsequent reports may indicate the presence of possible design flaws in the J-10. That possibility could seriously impact potential future export deals to countries (such as Burma, Pakistan, Iran, and Bangladesh) which have all expressed great interest in the relatively inexpensive advanced fighter.

IAF seeks modernization but encounters difficulties. There are growing financial concerns regarding the IAF’s program of acquiring new innovations in procurement for the Israel Air Force (IAF) as it continues its current modernization drive to replace its older and less capable fighter, transport and trainer aircraft.
One of the most important programs facing delays due to cost and equipment problems is the currently planned procurement of a first squadron of 25 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs).
After years of protracted negotiations with both the U.S. Department of Defense and the prime contractor, the IAF has finally secured, in a letter of agreement (LoA), which is due to be signed in coming weeks, a base price for each of the advanced fighter aircraft which has now been set at US$130 million.
Senior IAF sources stated on 28 February that while the United States and Israel have bridged the majority of their issues on the integration of Israeli indigenous technology into the aircraft, the LoA will probably be postponed for political reasons. The IAF is committed to this procurement. Talks to lock down a ‘delivery window’ in late 2014 will be continuing even if the contract is not signed in March as expected. Once these details have been finalized, the IAF will begin pursuing an additional purchase of 50 aircraft which will be delivered during the remainder of the decade.

U.S. Army plans UAV tests in support of inventory expansion.
The U.S. Army has stated that it is planning to test two new types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the next year or so as it seeks to broaden its current UAV inventory. The Army intends to conduct Joint Concept Technology Demonstrations (JCTDs) for a new cargo resupply UAV helicopter and the new unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft, known as Orion.
This decision to conduct JCTDs for two new types of unmanned aircraft has surfaced just as the army released a new unmanned aerial system (UAS) roadmap that calls for a dramatic expansion of UAV mission areas. Observers have stated that the army has been closely following the U.S. Marine Corps’ unmanned cargo resupply technology demonstrations and its positive results. Army observers ­recommend that plans be initiated for its own version of the demonstration of these new capabilities within the next 18 months. This technology will obviously companion the existing project concerned with the precision cargo parachute delivery which is designed to lessen the risk for cargo helicopters in forward combat zones

Indian Army trials the BAE Systems M777. Sources within the Indian Army have confirmed that they will be conducting ‘confirmatory’ trials of the BAE Systems M777 155 mm/39-cal lightweight howitzer in the western Rajasthan desert to determine the weapon’s suitability for service within the Army. This testing will be done prior to the decision to purchase some 145 guns through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
Military and defence industry sources in New Delhi have stated that the M777 trials will be conducted with Indian-made ammunition that they are intended merely to ‘validate’ the FMS agreement under which it is proposed that India will acquire some 145 units equipped with Selex Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems for approximately US$647 million.
Army sources say the deal will be signed by both parties before the end of Fiscal Year 2010-11 next March. Deliveries of the new howitzer are expected to begin within 18-24 months in order to equip two mountain divisions with the modern artillery for deployment along India’s disputed northeast frontier with China.
It is anticipated that the required logistical and technical support for the trials will be provided by a joint venture between BAE Systems and Mahindra Defence Systems. These firms have also agreed to focus on a new family of Indian armoured vehicles – the partnership formed recently with INR1 billion (US$22.22 million) equity which was split on a 26:74 basis with the Indian firm carrying the greater share of funding. BAE Systems has declined to confirm or deny the M777’s date of arrival in India for testing.

India now admits serious delays in delivery of Indian-built Scorpene submarines.
The first delivery of the six locally built Scorpene submarines that are being built under license from French shipbuilder DCNS for the Indian Navy (IN), has been acknowledge by the Indian Government as likely being delayed for over two years and perhaps more. A senior shipbuilding executive has acknowledged that there have been serious delays due to various reasons. The INS has requested that every effort be made to correct these problems and shortfalls. As these submarines are an instrumental component of the Indian Navy’s strategic defence plans.

USN encounters problems with new littoral combat ships. The USN has revealed that neither of the rival sea-frame designs developed for the U.S. Navy’s embattled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) programme is fully proven to launch and recover the unmanned vehicles which are a major part of two of the program’s three modular mission packages for the LCS. This was also confirmed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In its annual report on defence acquisition (published 31 March), the watchdog body also warned that the design of Lockheed Martin’s steel mono-hull USS Freedom (LCS 1) may not meet the navy’s damage stability standards, and that General Dynamics’ aluminum trimaran USS Independence (LCS 2) had suffered corrosion problems in its waterjets and diesel engine intakes. These failings were in addition to their inability to launch and recover amphibious vehicles
While an unmanned vehicle launch and recovery is essential to the completion of LCS mine-countermeasure and anti-submarine warfare missions for this class of ship, the GAO report also stated that neither seaframe has undergone any significant testing with the semi-submersible Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV).
Although each of the designs has its own launch and recovery systems, neither met specifications which, if not remedied, may cause the whole project to be reviewed with an eye to termination for cost cutting reasons.

© FrontLine Defence 2010