Author Archives: Jacek Siminski

U.S. Air Force has approved mass production of the stealthy JASSM air-launched cruise missiles

According to Lockheed Martin the U.S. Air Force granted a consent to start mass production of the extended range variant of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, also known as AGM-158B.

The JASSM-ER has successfully completed the USAF program of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Out of 21 launches, 20 were successful. USAF plans to acquire 100 ER variant missiles within Lot 11 and 12, specified by the contract signed in Dec. 2013.

According to Lockheed Martin, more than 1500 examples have been produced so far. Target quantity to be delivered to the USAF is 4,900 missiles.

Lockheed Martin stated that the decision undertaken by the U.S. Air Force means that the flying branch is confident the new missiles can provide an effective first-strike capability in dense air defense environments.

AGM-158B JASSM-ER missile is capable of striking targets at ranges of at least 925 kilometers (ca. 500 miles), and it is armed with a dual-mode penetrator equipped with a blast-fragmentation warhead.

The missile itself has been designed, similarly as the A variant, with stealth features. Missile uses two-mode GPS/Infra-Red guidance system, which contributes to its precision strike capabilities.

So far, solely the B-1B bombers possess a capability of using the ER variant of the missile. The basic version, the AGM-158A, can be dropped by B-2s, B-52s, F-16s and F-15Es. However, back in April this year press releases by USAF suggested that JASSM-ER is to be also integrated with F-15E, F-16 and B-52H fleets.

Whilst Australia and Finland use the A-variant of the missile with their F/A-18 Hornets, the baseline JASSM is also to be procured soon by the Polish Air Force for the F-16 Block 52+ planes.

As explained earlier this year, the Polish deal, a bit expensive at the first sight (with 40 missiles worth about $250 million), should also include a modernization bundle for the Polish Air Force F-16 fighters.

The Polish Vipers are to be upgraded up to the M6.5 standard, in order to facilitate use of the new weapons system. The upgrade includes modification in the avionics to improve Link-16 data exchange system and IFF capabilities, the update of the AIDEWS defensive suite, as well as modernization of the Sniper targeting pods. Nevertheless, a larger Mid-Life Update program should be undertaken by the fleet in the next few years, according to the Polish media outlet Dziennik Zbrojny.

According to the official information released by the Polish Ministry of Defense, Minister Tomasz Siemoniak expressed the Poland’s will to procure the ER variant as well even though it is yet unclear whether the M6.5 upgrade would provide the Polish Vipers with the -ER capability in advance.

Poland has signed Letter of Acceptance, regarding procurement of the first 40 missiles on Dec. 11. 2014 at Krzesiny AB, near Poznan.

The agreement falls within the US Foreign Military Sales program and the first deliveries are to take place in the second half of 2016. One additional missile is to be delivered for test firing purposes. Initial Operational Capability is planned to be achieved by 2017, as the F-16 modernization program is to be started in the 2nd half of 2016, at a pace of 2 fighters per month.

The JASSM-ER can be considered to be a strategic weapon, so it will most probably boost Poland and NATO’s deterrence capabilities in eastern Europe: will it be an effective deterrent? Hard to say. For sure, the air-launched cruise missiles are not the only measure the Polish Armed Forces are acquiring at the moment to face the Russian threat. There are additional programs, including the procurement of NSM (Naval Strike Missile) systems.

Secondly, as one of The Aviationist readers pointed out, the M6.5 upgrade for the F-16 fighters may mean that they would be capable of using the AIM-120D air-to-air missiles that have been reserved exclusively for the USAF so far.

These missiles may provide a significant boost of the Polish Viper’s air-to-air capabilities, which would be implemented in the shadow of JASSM deal, but this claim has not been officially confirmed. The Air Force has already stated that it analyses potential implementation of new armament that may be used by the Viper thanks to the envisaged upgrades.

Lastly, as Polish MoD Secretary of State said the use of the JASSM missiles will not be externally limited by the US Authorities. This means that Poland will be free to use the missiles at its own will, if needed.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

 

Fuel Trucks for the F-35 Painted White to keep the Jet Fuel Cool (and prevent engine shutdowns)

Air Force fuel trucks repainted to keep temperature within the F-35’s threshold.

According to an Air Force press release, the F-35 jets may face another issue.

The problem is not related to the jet itself, but to the fuel trucks thermal management: the Lightning II has a fuel temperature threshold and may not function properly if the fuel is delivered to the aircraft at high temperature. Should the temperature of the  fuel get too high, the F-35 could face engine shutdowns.

Therefore trucks at Luke Air Force Base, in Arizona, where temperature can reach beyond 110° F (43° C) in summer months, were given a new look, by applying a two layer coating, dubbed “solar polyurethane enamel”, that will help prevent fuel stored in the tanks from over-heating.

However, the professionals providing the new coating of the trucks, said that the layer does not necessarily need to be white, since only the “reflective” coating is of white color. Additional green paint may be applied in order to add camouflage. Some of the Luke AFB specialists stated that this is still to be tested.

Nevertheless, the ground crew hope that the green color can be used again, keeping the temperatures down, since the white refueling trucks are visible at long distances.

fuel truck

White color is a definitely an intermediary-short term fix, mainly due to the tactical deficiencies it brings along. Long-term solutions?

The Air Force may change the composition of the fuel used by the Lightnings.

Another option is to refine the software used by the engine. Cost-wise, both these options are more expensive than re-painting the fuel trucks, which, as the Air Force claims, costs $3,900 per truck.

In the light of the more significant problems faced by the F-35 program, the fuel issue might just simply have been overlooked.

Nonetheless, as some analysts pointed out, it may add an overhead in terms of cost, management, procedures etc. meaning that the development of the F-35 would become a bit more expensive (and this would not be a good news).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Russia Wants To (Ultimately) Acquire the Mistral Helicopter Carriers

Moscow wants to buy the Mistrals, a deal that is not going be closed anytime soon, unless Putin resigns from his involvement in Ukraine.

Press release by the Russian Helicopters company suggests that the naval version of Ka-52 helicopter, with Ka-52K designation (where K stands for korabielny, which means naval), is ready and the first examples of this rotor-craft have already been manufactured.

They are to undergo test flying program quite soon.

The naval variant has an ability to have its rotor blades folded, in order to provide better space management aboard the helicopter carriers. Lack of the tail rotor means that the choppers are well suited for being carrier-based, even though they are slightly taller than their Western counterparts.

The piece of information above is particularly interesting in the light of France suspending the deliveries of the Mistral vessels, which are to be the carrier for the new helicopters.

Ka-52K’s prototype has been tested aboard another Russian carrier, Kuznetsov. Though, the latest events suggest that the naval variant of Hokum may not get a mother-ship on which it would be stationed. Reports by defence24.pl claim that the Mistrals would be home for 8 Ka-52Ks and same number of multipurpose utility Ka-29TB’s.

According to another report which has been published by the Polish State Radio, Jean-Yves Le Drian, head of the French MoD, stated that Mistrals will not be delivered to Russia anytime soon. The French have their reasons for such course of action.

The Russians do not act in compliance with the Minsk Memorandum, hence, as Le Drian stated, they should not be surprised with the fact that France would cancel the Mistral deals. This situation is caused by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. The change in the French policy on the issue of the Mistrals is quite visible, since Francois Hollande stated earlier that the helicopter carrier deal has been suspended. Now, the fate of the contract is on the edge, it may not even be concluded.

The Mistrals deal was to facilitate a purchase of two vessels, and its value is worth $1.6 billion. This is the most lucrative military equipment import agreement in which the Russians have been involved since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The first ship was to be delivered in October or November, while the second example was to be procured next year.

The deal is especially sensitive, due to the fact that the ships in question are not a defensive piece of equipment, they are rather an offensive weapon; they are able to accommodate 700 soldiers, 16 assault helicopters and 50 armored vehicles, which makes them similar in character to the assault ships used by the US Marines.

During the meeting between Russia, Ukraine and OSCE, a plan for peace, consisting of 12 sections, has been made. It assumes that all the personnel and equipment that supports the rebels in the Eastern part of Ukraine shall be withdrawn, and the hostages should be released.

The press officer of the Ukrainian Defense and National Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, stated that 3 columns of the Russian vehicles with military equipment have crossed the Ukrainian border at night on Dec. 5. 2014. Donetsk airport is a theater for particularly intensive fights during which, according to the official information released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the Russian troops were decimated.

So what’s next for the Mistrals?

Well, their fate is still unknown. One thing seems to be certain as of yet – France will not deliver the ships until the Russians stop their activities within the Ukrainian territory. The latest events suggest that Mistral may be a key factor in the negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and UE. Both Russian and Western media outlets pointed out, that Putin may treat the acquisition of Mistral as an important deal for the Russian Navy. In the meanwhile, helicopters are ready.

Image credit: Russian Helicopters

 

Analysis of Ukrainian Air Force Losses in eastern Ukraine clashes

It’s hard to say how many aircraft the Ukrainian Air Force has lost.

Some reports, especially those on the pro-separatists side seem to be a bit exaggerated but, as Ainonline website reported, on the basis of Ukrainian and British sources, the Ukrainian Air Force has lost 22 aircraft throughout the crisis.

Ukrainian military aviation had not been in a very good shape before the hybrid-conflict with the separatists started, and any losses may be considered to be severe.

The total loss count includes 9 combat planes, 3 cargo planes and 10 helicopters, most of which have been shot down with MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) and, in case of some of the lost helicopters, with rocket propelled grenades.

In total, the UAF conducted 740 sorties during the operation, which is dubbed by the Kiev government to have an “anti-terrorist” character.

Starting from losses within the group of combat planes, one Su-24 Fencer, six Su-25 Frogfoots and two MiG-29 Fulcrums have been lost, where one of the Fulcrums was reportedly shot down by a Russian MiG-29.

The cargo planes which have been lost include single examples of An-26 Curl, An-30 Clank and Il-76 Candid. The Curl was reportedly hit by a Buk missile system; the same type of anti-aircraft system behind the downing of MH17 flight (according to most analysts). The Il-76 mentioned above was shot down in Luhansk, and it was a Candid in a flight of three such planes landing at Luhansk at the time. The first Candid made a safe landing, while the crew of the last one aborted landing.

The British sources state that lack of proper flight experience and intelligence data was the main reason for the incurred losses. The ECM systems on the Ukrainian jets have been made in Russia, which means that they were easy to overcome. According to the Polish outlet altair.com.pl, the Western countries were asked to supply new electronic countermeasures, however in fear of these being intercepted by the Russians, they were never delivered.

In the light of the analysis of the potential of the Ukrainian Air Force conducted by Dr Sean Wilson, which has been published in the Polish “Lotnictwo” magazine last year, the above losses may be considered to be significant.

According to Wilson, Ukraine, back in 1992, inherited 3,600 aircraft, including 850 helicopters, out of which 285 assault choppers and 2,750 aircraft, out of which 1,650 were combat planes. Back in 2013 the estimated data suggested that out of these numbers only 200 combat aircraft were in active service and about 70 were combat capable.

At that time, the fleet consisted of 15-20 MiG-29 Fulcrums, 10-12 Su-24M/MR Fencers, 14-18 Su-25 Frogfoots and 16 Su-27 Flankers. 16 MiG-29’s, 4 Su-24’s and 15 Su-25 were to be withdrawn by 2015.

Reports claim that 80 Frogfoots remain in active service and at least 14 are combat-capable. Which may be a significant notion, as the number is almost as high as the number of Frogfoots which were to be withdrawn.

Ukraine also had 66 examples of Su-27 Flankers, respectively 40 Su-27S Flanker-B’s (which are capable of conducting air-to-ground sorties), and 26 Su-27P Flanker-B’s (interceptor variant) and Su-27UB Flanker-C’s (two-seater). 36 of these were to remain in active service, while 16 were to be fully operational.

All of the Flankers are being currently used as interceptors. Modernization of these has been planned, and some examples have been updated before the conflict started.

When it comes to cargo planes, Ukrainians inherited 180 Candid-B transport aircraft, however, not many of these remained active. Two examples of An-30 Clanks were said to be still flying within the Open Skies program. About 20 Il-78 air tankers have been also a part of the post-Soviet inheritance; nonetheless the refueling equipment on these has been removed and maximally 8 of them remained active back in 2013 in a cargo role.

When it comes to the qualitative side of the analysis, the Ukrainian AF undertook several modernization programs for both fighters and attack aircraft. The modernizations included new avionics and navigational systems based on both GPS, as well as on its Russian counterpart – GLONASS.

Still, the Ukrainian Air Force suffered considerable losses during such a limited conflict a sign that the weapons in the hands of the separatists have been extremely effective against Kiev’s combat planes and helicopters so far.

Image credit: Wiki

US, Poland accelerate F-16’s Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missiles deal amid Russia tensions

In August last year we analyzed the reasons for the possible Polish purchase of the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missiles (JASSM). Now, in the light of the Ukrainian crisis, a contextual change has occurred and the deal seems to be closed-up soon.Nevertheless, there are still some unaswered questions.

The latest development about the Polish air-launched cruise missiles deal started with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DCSA) and the US State Department giving consent for the Polish procurement of the JASSMs in their AGM-158A variant, along with a modernization bundle for the Polish Air Force’s F-16C/D Block 52+ jet fighters. The Congress received the information on the potential transaction on Sep. 17 .

The contract assumes that Poland will obtain 40 AGM-158A JASSM missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin with 2 additional combat-ready AGM-158A that will be used for testing, along with the testing instrumentation and self-destruction system, 2 training missiles with the same instrumentation, and 2 missiles for certification purposes.

Additionally, the mission computers of the Polish F-16s will be modernized, up to the Tape M6.5 standard, in order to integrate both the AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles and some other new weaponry, including the AIM-120D AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II air-to-air missiles and the SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs).

As we can see, JASSM is just the tip of the iceberg.

M6.5 software was designed in order to meet the needs of the European users of the F-16 jets, dubbed EPAF (European Participating Air Forces). There are some rumours that the Polish Viper jet fighters will also get new Electronic Warfare suites.

Defence24.com claims that additionally GPS navigation system of the Polish Vipers will be jam-proofed, and the Link 16 communications suite improved. The deal will also include logistics bundle, along with transportation and storage cases for the missiles, spare parts, equipment and technical documentation. The media outlet also gained access to some unconfirmed information, according to which the modernization of the Polish Vipers is planned to start in 2015.

The value of the potential contract is yet to be unveiled, but rumors are that it is going to be approximately 500 million USD.

There are some doubts that still need to be addressed though.

The Polish MoD states that potential signing of the contract for the procurement of the JASSM will happen in October or November, while the deliveries are a matter of 2 years. According to the statements made by Tomasz Siemoniak, the Polish Minister of Defense, the US is willing to conduct the deal swiftly. The negotiations regarding the JASSM deal took place last April, when Chuck Hagel visited Poland.

Another issue is of a different nature.

There are two versions of the missile, one with a range of 370 km, and another, with a range of almost 1,000 km, which is called JASSM-ER.

In the last days, some rumours surfaced that Poland is going to get the ER version as well – it was all published by General Bogusław Pacek, who is one of the advisors in the Polish MoD, via his twitter account, but the news was denied shortly later. Other media outlets, such as Dziennik Zbrojny seem to suggest that Poland will get the missile with a shorter range. The justification is simple – integrating the ER version with the Polish F-16 may be expensive since in the U.S. these missiles are used solely by the B-1B bombers.

Moreover, the deal will probably not be executed too quickly, since Lockheed Martin has a capability of manufacturing no more than 20 AGM-158As per month whilst JASSM-ER missiles are produced simultaneously, and the US plans to acquire 360 pieces per year, starting from FY 2017.

The Polish order thus seems to be beneficial for Lockheed: once the U.S. forces resign from acquiring the basic version, the production may continue to equip the Polish Air Force. JASSM-ER is to enter the full-scale production from 2015. Dziennik Zbrojny claims that due to the higher production cost (caused by the lack of other foreign sales) the Poles may pay as much for the A version, as the Americans would pay for the ER variant. Polish procurement of the ER has been unfortunately postponed, and it would surely be a solution to the issue. Another way to walk around the problem would be choice of an alternative weapon, such as the Turkish Roketsan SOM.

JASSM will significantly enhance the deterrence capabilities of Poland. JASSM-ER would be even a better choice in that respect. Poland currently executes Polish Tusks modernization program, which will enhance the capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces.

The program also includes NSM missiles and Homar long range unguided missile launchers.

Taking into account the fact that the Russian threat has become more realistic, procuring the new weapon system may be a logic step towards increasing the Polish security.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

Image Credit: Wikimedia