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Canada and Australia are looking at other jet planes for their military just in case the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program face new setbacks. Australia is thinking about buying 24 units of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, Defense Minister Stephen Smith said on Thursday, a day after Canada Defense Minister Peter McKay announced that they are considering other fighter jets apart from F-35.
McKay said that the Canadian government needs to ensure the balance between the military and taxpayer expenses.
The F-35 program is the costliest procurement program in US Defense history. It had been hampered due to numerous budget cuts that resulted delays and overruns. These announcements show that development partners are going frustrated with the $396 billion programme. Australia was expected to buy 100 units of F-35, but buying new F/A-18 can lesses their F-35 order.
Other countries had earlier expressed similar sentiments. Japan has cancelled their order of F-35 jet fighters while the Netherlands and Italy have trimmed down their orders.
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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was billed to be one of the most high-tech military aircraft. However, it also comes with a hefty price tag, which is something that the budget of the military can hardly afford.
The highly advanced fifth-generational aircraft had been conceived since 1990′s during the post-cold war. The F-35 JFS was envisioned to have evading radar system while having the ability to fly at supersonic speed. It is supposed to serve three branches of the U.S. military namely the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps. Each service also wants its own customized model of the aircraft.
The aircraft was supposed to be built in rush, but production snags and flight-test problems that resulted to years of cost overruns lands the F-35 project to the chopping block of the Pentagon. This issue is vital for South Carolina where the three bases – Lower Richland, Sumter and Beaufort - that was assigned to receive the fighter jets are located. The F-35 will replace the aging aircraft on the bases like the F/A-18 and F-16. When the F-35 arrives in these bases, it will have the most modern aircraft in the service which will guarantee its continued operation and it can generate jobs for the locals. But if the project would not push through, the bases might close down and lead to unemployment.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the F-35 JSF program would not be terminated outright. However, his deputy is less optimistic about the future of the fighter jets.
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Two jet fighter squadrons with crews of 500 officers and enlisted men and women are in line to move from the East Coast to Lemoore Naval Air Station, probably in spring 2014, the Navy said last Friday, Oct. 21.
An environmental assessment, which was made public Friday, determined that relocating two squadrons from Virginia to Lemoore would have no significant impacts. The assessment removes a major hurdle in possibly relocating the squadrons.
Navy Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., wants to move the two 12-jet squadrons west to be closer to Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, and Lemoore is the best place because of its status as the Navy’s West Coast master jet base, the environmental assessment said.
The Navy also is considering reducing the number of jets assigned to a Lemoore training squadron, which would lead to a slight reduction in fighter jets at the base.
The Navy will make a final decision on the move by 2014, said Ted Brown, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command.
The move would pump $1.9 million in salaries annually into the Valley’s economy, the report said.
Maureen Azevedo, CEO of the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce, hailed the potential move as “an awesome thing” for Lemoore, as well as Kings, Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties.
However welcoming the prospect of the relocations might be for Lemoore boosters, the looming question of where the next generation of jet fighters — 100 Navy F-35C Joint Striker Fighter jets — will be based remains up in the air.
An environmental-impact statement is being prepared to evaluate both Lemoore and an air base in El Centro in Imperial County, with a recommendation slated to be released in 2013.
But the announcement that the path is cleared for two new squadrons — which ones haven’t been determined yet — to make Lemoore their home “strengthens the viability of this base,” said John Lehn, president and CEO of the Kings County Economic Development Corp.
The squadrons would move west from the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia. They would fly F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, said Melinda Larson, Lemoore base spokeswoman.
That’s not the only change the Navy is moving toward. According to the environmental assessment, five squadrons at Lemoore would have their older F/A-18C Hornet jet fighters retired and replaced by Super Hornets, and a squadron assigned to train pilots would lose 30 older Hornets that won’t be replaced.
But the smaller training squadron would be more than offset by the two new squadrons, resulting in 180 more uniformed military at the base, Larson said.
The number of takeoffs and landings and other air operations at the Lemoore base would be cut by about 24% because there would be fewer jets in the training squadron. But the total number of fighter jets at Lemoore will be about the same, dipping from 238 to 234.
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San Francisco, CA — It was 1986 when a young Sammy Holmes first witnessed the Blue Angels soaring above Andrews Air Force Base in his native Maryland.
“It was a childhood dream of mine” to work with the Navy’s premier flight demonstration squad, he said. Holmes gets to wear the traditional blue-and-gold garb donned by members of the Blue Angels, but he realizes his job is one that Fleet Week air show attendees will likely overlook.
As part of maintenance control, Holmes, 33, directs and manages maintenance on the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. In layman’s terms, he acts as the trainer in the corner, assuring that his fighter is in peak condition before answering the bell for the next round.
“The maintenance team has a very vital role,” said Holmes, who has spent five years in the Navy. “The public is usually not aware of the maintenance aspect of flying. However, everybody in our command, as well as our officers, they understand the vital role we play in making sure that they are able to fly their show, and they are very grateful for that.”
But despite accomplishing his boyhood dream, the future looked uncertain after Holmes graduated from high school.
“I was pretty unsure about what I wanted to do with myself,” he said. “I had a couple of dead-end jobs and finally landed myself a position working at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.”
After a six-year stint there, Holmes opted for a “change” and decided to continue his education in aviation.
“I felt that the Navy was the best career path for me to do that with,” he said. “I have been blessed in my Navy career in a very short time to make it to this level of perfection.”
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Sen. John Cornyn says he will vote to approve the nomination of a top Pentagon official whom he criticized just three weeks ago for not supporting the F-35 joint strike fighter strongly enough.
At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Cornyn briefly praised Ashton Carter and said he would vote for his confirmation as deputy secretary of defense.
Cornyn’s remarks came after several of his colleagues, notably Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were extremely critical of the F-35 program and pressed Carter on the importance of controlling “intolerable cost overruns.”
On Aug. 24, Cornyn wrote a letter to Carter “to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success” of the F-35 and to urge “you to step up your defense of this key program.”
Cornyn was also critical of the Pentagon buying more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets rather than spending the money on the F-35.
As the Pentagon’s head of weapons acquisition, Carter has had to restructure and rebudget the program twice in two years to compensate for delays and cost increases as Lockheed Martin struggled to get airplanes built and flying.
So what changed in the last three weeks?
“Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program,” Cornyn said in a statement issued after the hearing.
Carter wrote a letter to Cornyn in which he largely reiterated his past comments and official Pentagon policy on the F-35. Carter said that there are “no alternatives” to the F-35 as the nation’s principal future warplane and that his “focus is on managing the cost and making decisions now that will affect affordability in the future.”
The twin specters of soaring weapons costs, with the F-35 as the leading culprit, and likely defense budget cuts hang over Carter’s confirmation hearing.
He assured the senators that his primary focus, after getting needed weapons and supplies to troops in the field, will be curtailing costs.
Those threats were manifested when a separate Senate panel, the defense appropriations subcommittee, voted to cut $26 billion from the Pentagon’s $656.8 billion budget request for 2012, including trimming $695 million from the F-35 program.
The subcommittee action is one step in the budget process that will unfold in coming weeks as Congress cuts spending to meet deficit reduction targets mandated last month.
Separately on Monday, Cornyn and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced legislation that would require the Obama administration to allow Lockheed Martin to sell F-16s to Taiwan. The jets would be built in Fort Worth.
“This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope.”
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For the first time in the history of the Joint Strike Fighter program, a senior Pentagon appointee has raised the question of whether one of the three versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 should be canceled to save money. The move comes as program leaders and Pentagon cost experts are trying to prepare for a long-delayed Defense Acquisition Board review of JSF, including a comprehensive effort to establish reliable predictions of acquisition and operating costs.
Navy Undersecretary Robert Work told the Navy and Marine Corps in July to provide lower-cost alternatives to the Navy’s current tactical aviation plan, and to examine the consequences of terminating either the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) version or the carrier-compatible F-35C. Work is seeking decisions in time for the 2013 budget submission.
He also directed service leaders to study whether the Navy and Marines could operate fewer than the 40 squadrons of JSFs currently planned (supported by 680 aircraft, divided equally between Bs and Cs) and to look at the possibility of accelerating development of unmanned alternative systems.
The instructions were included in a July 7 memo from Work to Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. Work told the leaders to form a team to develop three alternative tactical aviation force structures, respectively representing cost savings of $5 billion, $7.5 billion and $10 billion across the future-years defense plan. Ultimately, Work expects to determine “the best value alternative, factoring in both cost and capability.”
“This relook must consider every plan and program,” Work wrote. “Even cuts to long-planned buys of JSF must be on the table.” The team was also tasked to define “the key performance differences between the Block II F/A-18E/F with all planned upgrades, F-35B and F-35C.”
The quick-look analysis was due to be completed three weeks after the memo date; that is, by July 28. That was also the date on which Marine leadership organized a high-profile demonstration of the F-35B’s Stovl capability at the Navy’s Patuxent River, Md., flight test center.
Under Work’s leadership, the Marines and the Navy signed an agreement in March under which the Marines would operate 80 F-35Cs and 340 F-35Bs. Earlier, the Marines had argued that all 420 of their JSFs should be F-35Bs.
Work did not direct the team to assess the economic or operational impact of F-35 program changes on the Air Force or international partners. A reduction in Navy Department orders for both the F-35B and F-35C would increase unit costs. Canceling either version would eliminate some remaining development costs, mostly in flight test, and could lead to increased production of the surviving variant.
The largest international JSF partner, the U.K., changed its plans in October 2010, switching from the B to the C model. If the F-35C were to be canceled, the U.K. would withdraw from the program and “look for a European solution” to its requirement for a carrier fighter, a senior U.K. official said in Washington earlier this month. Italy is the only international partner that plans to operate the F-35B.
Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the memo, saying that it was an internal Navy document. The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) had no immediate comment.
As an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Work coauthored studies that supported the case for early development of a carrier-based unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with greater range and better stealth characteristics than the F-35.
Currently, there is a debate in Washington about the characteristics of a future Navy UCAV system. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. is still proposing the 15,000-lb. weight class, moderately stealthy Avenger design, while Northrop Grumman confirmed earlier this month that it would be proposing a design similar to its larger and stealthier X-47B. The latter would potentially fill some of the deep-penetration missions that the F-35C is intended to perform.
Boeing, meanwhile, is continuing to work on an improved version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which would reduce capability and performance gaps between it and the F-35C. The company plans to conduct wind-tunnel tests, late this year or early next, of the conformal tanks, which add 3,000 lb. of fuel, and a centerline weapons pod. General Electric is also offering an Enhanced Performance Engine variant of the Super Hornet’s F414, increasing thrust by as much as 25%.
The F-35B variant remains on probation, under a decree issued by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January. Gates said at the time that problems affecting the aircraft—including the need for a redesigned lift-fan door, driveshaft and clutch mechanisms—would have to be solved without increases in cost or weight. The U.K. government said, in switching from the B to the C variant, that the Stovl aircraft cost more than either the F-35A or F-35C, and U.K. government reports repeatedly described the F-35B’s “bring-back” performance—its ability to land vertically with fuel reserves and unused weapons—as marginal.
Last year, Work suggested in remarks to a Washington forum that forward basing and refueling on improvised airstrips—one of two pillars of the Marine case for the F-35B—would become much more hazardous in the presence of G-RAMM (guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles) threats.
The F-35B’s basing flexibility is also being called into question by unresolved issues about the effects of the fighter’s hot, high-velocity exhaust on ground and deck surfaces. Lockheed Martin and senior Marine leaders have downplayed these issues, stated that the environment under a landing F-35B is almost identical to that of an AV-8B Harrier, and claimed that early 2010 tests confirmed these characteristics.
Navy construction specifications continue to warn that the F-35B will impose temperatures as high as 1700F (several hundred degrees higher than a Harrier exhaust) on vertical-landing pads, with a transonic exhaust velocity. This is enough to cause standard concrete to “spall”—that is, shed surface flakes in a near-explosive manner—with a 50% chance of damage on the first landing.
Navy standards require F-35B landing pads to comprise 100 X 100-ft. slabs of special heat-resistant concrete, poured in one piece and continuously reinforced in two directions. At least one contract has been issued to these specifications since early 2010, when Lockheed Martin asserted that such measures were not necessary.
The Office of Naval Research still has an active program to develop a cooling system for the decks of LHD- and LHA-class ships that will carry F-35Bs, reflecting concerns that thermal expansion and contraction and consequent buckling will cause fatigue and premature failure.
The JPO has not responded to repeated inquiries about the discrepancies between Lockheed Martin’s statements and Navy specifications. Navy engineering organizations have referred all queries to the JPO.
The Defense Acquisition Board review is required in order to renew Milestone B approval of the JSF development and low-rate initial production program—granted in 2001 but rescinded automatically after last year’s critical breach of Nunn-McCurdy cost limits. In May, the review was expected in June, but it was abruptly delayed into the fall.
Any changes in the Navy’s plans will also factor into the board’s review. Among other factors being considered is a trend among international partners to delay deliveries, driven by last year’s slip in the completion of development testing, which will have an impact on production rates, ramp-up plans and costs.
JSF test aircraft were cleared to return to flight on Aug. 18, after a two-week grounding caused by a failure in the integrated power pack (IPP). Production aircraft, including two at Eglin AFB, Fla., and F-35s being prepared for delivery at Fort Worth, remain grounded and restricted from engine and IPP runs.
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The 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron aerial port flight assisted the C-5 Galaxy’s loadmaster crew in successfully loading an F/A-18 Super Hornet into the Galaxy’s cargo bay on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
The Hornet experienced malfunctions which caused it to divert and land at Kandahar Airfield while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom last March. Upon landing, the aircraft experienced hot brakes and upon stopping, both brakes were engulfed in flames. The Kandahar, Fire and Rescue extinguished the fire, but the right fuselage was severely damaged.
Charles Miller, the F/A-18 deputy program manager, and a team of four Defense Department civilians have been preparing to recover the aircraft in order to bring it back to the U.S. to Fleet Readiness Center Southwest to perform the necessary repairs since July.
The preparation included coordinating with senior leadership at the Navy’s Commander of Naval Air Forces and the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command in order to obtain the required certification to transport the aircraft back on a C-5 to Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Calif.
“Typically, an aircraft would be flown back to the states if the damage was minor,” said Miller. “But this F/A-18 sustained substantial damage which our engineering support team determined to be critical and unflyable.”
The C-5 aircrew was eager for the opportunity.
“We’re willing to help any of our sister services who need it,” said Air Force Maj. Steven Hertenstein, the pilot of the C-5 Galaxy who is deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. “Carrying cargo is what this aircraft was designed to do, and we’re glad to be a part this.”
Source: U.S. Air Force
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Upcoming national elections in Switzerland and Denmark could re-energize fighter competitions there, although the outcomes are far from certain.
The Danes will cast votes for their representatives in the fall, and industry officials believe the outcome could shape the fighter procurement process, which is unfolding slowly. Last year, Denmark delayed a decision on whether to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing F/A-18E/F or Saab Gripen NG; but a U.S. industry official says the country’s involvement in NATO’s Libyan operations has put renewed focus on fighters and could lead to an acceleration of the program.
Less certain is whether the competitive landscape could change again. Copenhagen earlier opened the door to a new competitor, when it allowed the F/A-18E/F into the battle. Now Eurofighter Typhoon officials are ramping up efforts to jump back into the fray as well.
The situation in Switzerland is similarly fluid. Last year, the government decided to halt the F-5 replacement program to save money and effectively deferred introduction of a new aircraft to no earlier than the end of the decade. The move was a setback for Saab, Eurofighter and the Dassault Aviation Rafale, which were in the running and had undergone extensive trials; Boeing had earlier withdrawn its bid.
The Swiss defense ministry, meanwhile, has begun an assessment on whether the F-5s can be upgraded again to bridge any operational gap. At the same time, Bern is still devising financing plans on how to pay for the eventual Tiger replacement, with a report due by year-end.
But the two chambers of the Swiss parliament are raising objections to the decision by the Federal Council, or executive branch, to hold off on the fighter modernization effort. The National Council, the lower house of the Federal Assembly, has passed a motion to expedite the program, with the other chamber arguing that the replacement decision should come during the next legislative period during 2012-15. But there are differences between the motions passed by the two chambers, which are due to be reconciled in September.
Whether the competitive arena shifts again, or whether any accelerated modernization planning will open the door again to other players, remains uncertain. A European industry official believes a type selection could come late this year or early next, which would restrict the competition to the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. The bids put forward by Swiss industry remain valid until the end of the year.
Another element of uncertainty is how the Tiger replacement might be funded. The program to buy roughly 22 aircraft is expected to cost 4 billion Swiss francs ($4.7 billion). Options being studied include raising taxes, generating savings in other areas or selling infrastructure such as airports.
The stakes are high in both contests for all players. Saab, for instance, is eager to secure an export order in Europe for its Gripen, particularly in light of being eliminated from the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program. Lockheed Martin is looking to Denmark to further expand its European footprint for the F-35. And for Eurofighter, completing deals in Switzerland and Denmark would bolster the company’s effort to secure more European air force orders while supporting its argument to new operators—in Eastern Europe, for example—that acquiring Typhoon offers huge interoperability potential and cooperation opportunities.
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Surrogate flight tests of the software and systems for the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat aircraft system demonstrator (UCAS-D) have resulted in “hands-free” landings of an F/A-18 Hornet on a U.S. Navy carrier.
Controlled by the avionics and software from the X-47B, the F/A-18 conducted 58 coupled approaches to the USS Eisenhower on July 2, including 16 intentional touch-and-gos and six arrested landings, program officials say.
The tests keep the UCAS-D program on track for carrier trials of the unmanned X-47B in 2013. The first aircraft has flown at Edwards AFB, California, and both air vehicles will be delivered to the NAS Patuxent River, Md., test center for shore-based testing in 2012.
Acting as a surrogate, the F/A-18 showed the X-47B will be able to land autonomously under command from the ship. The tests included 28 straight-in, or Case 1, instrument approaches where the unmanned system took over control 8 mi. behind the ship.
The other 30 were visual, or Case 3, approaches where the system took over control as the F/A-18 passed the carrier on the downwind leg and then turned the aircraft on to its final approach, says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager.
Flights were conducted using precision GPS and Tactical Targeting Network Technology high-speed data links to navigate relative to the carrier and send commands to the aircraft.
Engdahl says the tests demonstrated the Navy’s distributed control concept, in which a mission operator on the carrier always has positive control of the aircraft, but the ship’s air traffic controller, the air boss in the tower and landing signals officer on the flight deck can send commands to the unmanned vehicle as they would to a manned aircraft.
“You send basic commands to the aircraft and the system calculates all the paths itself and puts together a profile,” says Don Blottenberger, deputy program manager. “The carrier exercises oversight and override, everything else is automated.”
The next steps are to complete flight-envelope expansion at Edwards and then ship the X-47Bs to Patuxent River for shore-based catapult launches, arrested landings and carrier pattern work through 2012, Engdahl says.
Further surrogate test flights are planned next year, working with the USS Truman, and one of the X-47Bs will be hoisted aboard the carrier to evaluate maneuvering of the unmanned aircraft on the flight deck.
Carrier trials of the X-47B in 2013 will be followed in 2014 by flight tests of autonomous aerial refueling. Flight tests for this phase of the program will begin late this year using a Learjet as a surrogate.
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The Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, The Blue Angels, have cancelled the practice demonstration and air show scheduled for May 24 and 25 at the United States Naval Academy (USNA).
This cancellation is due to a safety stand down period imposed by the team’s commanding officer after a lower-than-normal maneuver that took place during the team’s last performance at Lynchburg Regional Air Show, May 22 in Lynchburg, Va.
Following this low maneuver all aircraft landed safely without damage or injury to personnel.
During the training stand-down the team will remain in Pensacola for additional training and air show demonstration practice. It has yet to be determined if the Blue Angels will perform the flyover at the USNA graduation May 27, 2011.
The United States Navy’s Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels, first performed in 1946 and is currently the oldest formal flying aerobatic team. The squadron’s six demonstration pilots fly the F/A-18 Hornet in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year, where they still employ many of the same practices and techniques used in their aerial displays in 1946.
The show narrator flies Blue Angel 7—a two-seat F/A-18B—to show sites. The Blue Angels use this jet for backup, and to give demonstration flights to civilians (usually members of the press). The #4 slot pilot often flies the #7 aircraft in Friday “practice” shows. The Blue Angels use a United States Marine Corps C-130T Hercules nicknamed “Fat Albert” for logistics, carrying spare parts, equipment, and to carry support personnel between shows.
Source: Aero-News Network, Wikipedia