Tanker War: Not Over Yet

March 6, 2011

In the wake of EADS’s announcement on March 4 that it would not protest the U.S. Air Force’s award of the KC-46A program to Boeing there has been a lot of talk that the big tanker war is now over.

But that may be a far too narrow view of the massive program.

With the competitive phase now over, the Pentagon has lost one of its best tools to hold industry’s feet to the fire. When there was no competition, Boeing was ready to charge the U.S. government $42 billion for the KC-135 replacement program. Thanks to the intervention by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who nixed the sole source contract arrangement on the table a decade ago, the U.S. taxpayer will now end up paying $10 billion less for an aircraft that should be more capable.

However, the risk now is that with competition out of the way, the tanker price will start creeping up. Yes, the deal is being structured as a fixed price contract, but history has seen ample examples of such arrangements being changed — either because the government changes requirements or because a company pleads its future is at risk if it does not get contractual relief.

The USAF was very diligent during this last round of the KC-X program to structure a competition that was protest proof. It now needs to put as much effort into making sure Boeing has no excuse to require a price revision.

The tanker war between EADS and Boeing may be over, but that doesn’t mean there will not be a tanker war between Boeing and the U.S. taxpayer.


KC-X: Split Buy Is Back, Or Is It?

January 17, 2011

There has been a persistent drum beat in Europe about a split buy in the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X tanker program.

Now, with the Pentagon about to solicit “best and final” offers from Boeing and EADS, there are again rumblings in Europe of a split buy. EADS officials note they will talk to the Pentagon about any deal that involves buying their A330-based tankers, whether it is a dual-buy or an outright win.

It is not quite clear what is driving Europe’s insistence a split buy is looming.

One possibility is that the Pentagon’s decision, last month,  to split the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship, is seen as a sign of what is to come. There are big differences, though, between the LCS and KC-X situation; whereas the two LCS designs differ significantly, which could explain why the Pentagon may have decided to take a closer look at the operational benefits of each, that is not the case on the tanker program. Buying a 767-based and A330-based tanker hardly comapares with the operational differences offered by buying both a monohull and catamaran. Replicating the LCS situation on tanker would require one bidder to offer, perhaps, a blended wing body.

So why does the split buy idea keep being resurrected, especially given that, time and time again the Pentagon has said an acquisition of both is not a road it wants to pursue? Among European program watchers, the customer’s preference does not seem to mean much. One likely reason is that in Europe, customer interests are usually subservient to industrial interests and political expedience, so a split would be a natural choice.

Perhaps the best chance for a split buy is competition and program fatigue. The original tanker acquisition plan — at the time conceived as a lease — is now almost a decade old. Will the Pentagon and Congress tire of another competition, GAO protest, and lack of progress to actually fielding hardware to replace the aging KC-135s? If so, perhaps the Europeans may end up being right, even if at the cost of extra taxpayer money being spent on tankers throughout the program’s life.


Zhuhai: Unusual Models on Display

November 16, 2010

The Airshow China typically has its collection of interesting models. Here’s a few of the concepts that are perhaps a bit further from representing a real military threat to anyone, but are fun to look at nonetheless.

The first is from Avicopter. It has no name and details are scant, but it’s a fun concept to look at:

Second is the wing folding unmanned aircraft, the ASN-213 from the Xi’an ASN Technology Group:

And the ASN-211 flapping wing air vehicle, of a mere 220 grams, with a span of 600 mm.


ASQ-236 Unveiled

November 9, 2010

The U.S. Air Force recently unveiled the ASQ-236, a previously classified radar pod for the F-15E:

(Photo: USAF)

What is not quite clear is what special capabilities the system offers beyond the all-weather capability. One theory is it may have counter-IED uses, although that would not have been a primary mission given development began before that threat was front-and-center on the minds of military planners. So perhaps the real value is simply the high-resolution synthetic aperture radar capabilities.

Here’s the USAF write up for the system:

U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet

AN/ASQ-236 RADAR POD

An/ASQ-236 Radar Pod

Mission
The AN/ASQ-236 Radar Pod contains synthetic aperture radar that provides detailed maps for surveillance, coordinate generation and bomb impact assessment purposes. This technology provides Combat Air Forces with the ability to precisely geo-locate points of interest and conduct surveillance activities day or night, in adverse weather conditions.

Features
Operational on the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft, the AN/ASQ-236 pod system is externally mounted and fully integrated with the aircraft. The radar pod is a self-contained system consisting of an antenna, inertial navigation system, and environmental cooling system. The antenna is attached to a positioner plate that allows it to move about the roll axis.

The pod design also incorporates a fully automated built-in-test, or BIT, that indicates the health of the system to the operator and maintenance crews. The BIT allows fault isolation to the line-replaceable module level enabling high system availability.

Background
Recognizing the need for an all-weather precision geo-location and reconnaissance system with the reliability and performance inherent in Active Electronically Scanned Array radars, the U.S. Air Force with Northrop Grumman embarked on a program in the late 1990s to design, fabricate, test and field a unique radar system known as the AN/ASQ-236.

Information concerning the design, development, and production of the ASQ-236 is classified to protect critical technologies and improved operational capabilities. By leveraging the technology development associated with the F-22 Raptor, the release of this new sensor will enhance all-weather precision geo-location and provide greater surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities supporting current and future operations.

General Characteristics
Primary function:
Precision geo-location and non-traditional intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corporation
Length: 130 inches (3.302 meters)
Diameter: 20 inches (0.508 meters)
Weight: 1, 000 pounds (454 kilograms)
Aircraft: F-15E
Date Deployed: June 2009
Inventory: Classified

Point of Contact
96th Air Base Wing, Public Affairs Office, 101 West D Avenue, Suite 109; Eglin AFB, FL 32542; 850-882-3931.


Unusual Aircraft: C-12J

November 9, 2010

Check out this specially modified Beech 1900C, with two pylons and bomb rack:


(Photo: USAF)

The C-12J belongs to the USAF’s 586th Flight Test Sq. and is used for weapons testing.

The system was first used to support development of the Laser Maverick.

 

 

 


January 30, 2010

Here some early glimpses of what will be flying at this year’s Singapore Airshow:

RAAF F-111 At Singapore Airshow 2010

Singapore shows the RSAF's Conformal AEW aircraft

An RSAF F-16 and Apache fly in formation at the Singapore Airshow


Brazil Highlights U.S. Tech Transfer Concerns

November 8, 2009

The Brazilian fighter competition is proving how hard it is for the U.S. to make the case it will support technology transfer demands posed by potential buyers of U.S. equipment.

Brazil has been asking for extensive technology transfer as it considers buying the Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen or Boeing F/A-18E/F. Early in the competition, the knock on the U.S. campaign was that Washington wouldn’t let enough technology transfer take place to satisfy the Brazilian government. However, U.S. officials say that eventually changed, and that the U.S. put together an extensive tech transfer package.

But in Brazil there are apparently still questions about the U.S. technology release approach, as this article highlights. If Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim really doesn’t have confidence in the U.S. committment, then that’s bad news for Boeing, regardless of what promises may have been made when the aircraft maker, along with its rivals, submitted final bids last month.

Washington should get an answer soon, with Brazil promising to announce by year-end the winner of its muddled fighter competition — with President Lula having first announced Rafale had won, only for the military to say the competition was still open.

If Boeing can’t win, the Pentagon may want to undertake the kind of after action France undertook after Rafale failed repeatedly to secure export orders.