Washington has formally offered the MQ-9 Predator B (Reaper) Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS) to two additional European air forces. At present the air forces in Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the UK are expected to procure MALE UAVs, aiming at initial operating capability by 2010 – 2012. The UK, Germany, and Italy are currently considering the Predator B. Only a year ago the market was widely open for the American Reaper. The RAF is already operating two of these aircraft; the third has been crashed in Afghanistan in April this year; Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain were keen to gain access to the exciting unmanned fighting drone.
One year later, the situation is much more complex. New competition has evolved within Europe. EADS officially launched an ambitious development program for a multi-role UAV system that could directly compete with the US MALE drone. Italy is also proceeding with the Sky-B drone which could assume some of the roles anticipated for the Predator B. The UK has launched the locally developed Mantis UAV, currently in development under an MOD-BAE Systems Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (ACTD) program. For the near term, major European companies in Germany, France and Spain have allied with Israel’s IAI to promote the Israeli Heron TP platform as a near-term solution.
In two separate announcements released earlier this week by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon is offering Germany five MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, four ground control stations, various logistics and support services and one year of support, at a total value of $205 million. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $205 million. The Pentagon has also offered Italy four MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Aircraft supported by three Mobile Ground Control Stations, and five years of maintenance support, for $330 million. Apparently, the higher value of the Italian package reflects the high system’s maintenance and support cost. For comparison, the UK received its two MQ-9s for merely $77 million, but that package did not include maintenance and support package at all since the aircraft are being flown under the US 42nd UAS attack squadron in Afghanistan. Both German and Italian packages also include synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and electro-optical payloads (Raytheon’s MTS-B and General Atomics Lynx II are considered standard on the Predator B).
The impressive combat reputation gained by Predator B in Afghanistan has not helped much to promote the system to the German public. The sensitive issue of deploying military forces on international missions was aggravate by the notion that the Predator B can be employed as an unmanned combat aircraft, not only a reconnaissance and intelligence collecting platform. The Defense Ministry (Bundeswehr) in Berlin denied any hints that Germany could be interested in a dual role Reaper “There are no plans to purchase a fighter drone for the Bundeswehr” a spokesman for the Defense Ministry stated.
The event provided the venue for the public unveiling of Israel’s latest armored vehicle, the Namer (Leopard in Hebrew). Sharing the same chassis of the Merkava 4, the 60 ton heavily armored vehicle is designed carry infantry units in the battlefield, engage enemy forces and protect the troops from all types of threats, including heavy IEDs, heavy anti-tank missiles and tank rounds. The first Namer AIFVs are being deployed with the Golani elite infantry brigade, replacing T-55 based Achzarit AIFVs previously used by the brigade.
The Namer is equipped with a remotely operated weapon station, fitted with electro-optical observation and sighting systems, and ‘see-through armor’ optics providing the crew 360 degrees view around the vehicle. The vehicle is equipped with a 0.5″ heavy machine gun mounted on the weapon station, a secondary, manually operated 7.62mm machine gun and a 60mm mortar. The rear access door which also acts as a ramp has a transparent firing port for a sniper, utilizing a design originally developed for the Merkava tank. Smoke dischargers are located on both sides of the vehicle. The vehicle was designed to receive an integrated active protection system which is expected upon the completion of the development of candidate systems.
The IDF is evaluating two systems for the Namer, the IMI Iron Fist and a modified version of the Aspro-A designed at Rafael (formerly known as Trophy). Aspro A has already been developed for the Merkava Mk4. The system is currently undergoing final integration into the tank, and is expected to be fielded next year. The MoD has funded the procurement of about 100 systems to equip new built tanks while additional systems could be installed as add-on protection on existing tanks.
Further coverage from the exhibition:
IDF Unveils the Latest Heavy Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle – Namer
Among the artillery systems shown at the exhibition were the Atmos self propelled, truck based howitzer gun displayed here mounted on an armored Tatra truck. Atmos developed by Soltam, is designed as an autonomous, self-contained artillery weapon system, comprising of the 155mm main gun, semi-automatic ammunition loader and an integral load of 27 rounds. The gun can engage targets at ranges up to 41 km, at an initial rate of fire of 3 rounds in 15 seconds. In fact, a single Atmos barrel can generate the effect of an artillery battery, employing effective and accurate fire on target, within a short period of time. The gun can continue firing at a sustained rate of 75 rounds per hour. The version displayed here was built on a Tatra 6×6 chassis.
While the IDF has yet to determine its level of interest in the program, Soltam has already delivered Atmos guns to several international clients and the weapon is positioned as a leading competitor on a few lucrative procurement programs worldwide. The IDF has fielded the Cardom, an automated 120mm mortar platform, installed on the Keshet 120mm mortar carrier M113. Another artillery system on display here was the Lynx autonomous rocket system from IMI. Like Atmos, Lynx utilizes an autonomous navigation and fire control system to establish the firing position, calculate firing parameters and launch its payload rapidly, dramatically improving its chances for survival.
Extending the accuracy and availability of artillery support, IMI is developing a range of GPS-guided munitions. Under this effort, IMI and Raytheon are cooperating to develope a GPS guided 120mm bomb capable of hitting targets at a range of 10 km with precision level of 1-3 meters CEP.
This capability is achieved by integrating GPS guidance and laser targeting. Course correction and terminal control will be performed by employing four steerable canard fins.
The companies plan to complete the development by 2009. At the exhibition IMI unveiled the follow-on product, currently at an early development phase – a 105mm Guided Artillery Munition (GAM). This GPS guided projectile will complement IMI growing line of 105mm artillery ammuniti
Head of IAF Operations Division and Commander of the IDF Land Forces Command Agree that Better Communications and Coordination is required for more effective air support for the ground battle.
The air force made a tremendous move in its capability to support ground forces, with the transformation from statistical to precision weapons. These new capabilities provide a unique advantage for land forces and land maneuver battle. “Targets that would require tens or hundreds of sorties in the past could now be destroyed with a single weapon launched from a single aircraft” Brigadier General Nimrod Shefer, Head of Israel Air Force (IAF) Operations Division told attendees at the ‘2nd Latrun Conference for Land Warfare’, September 2008. Targets can be engaged soon after they are detected, as kill-chains cycles are minimized by improved networking. Furthermore, operational tempo is increased by the use of high-precision, autonomous weapons that can be launched under all weather and visibility conditions, from stand-off range. General Shefer considers air support as an essential component to the success of the land battle. “Battlefield preparation’ preceding an attacks becomes a critical factor for the success of the land maneuver battle” said Shefer. Such attacks will precede any land maneuver, eliminating the majority of known targets and prepared installations, and wear away the much of the enemy front line forces, command structure and reserves. “The air force can attack and destroy hundreds or even thousands of targets in the front and rear, assisting the ground forces before and throughout their land maneuver” he said. Nevertheless, such attacks require a ‘price’ – since the ‘volume’ of such activities is limited, as each mission requires extensive preparation and control throughout the engagement.
Air Supperiority – Prerequisite for Air to Ground Support
General Shefer indicated that the success of such support is dependent on achieving ‘air superiority’ over the battle area. “The enemy always tries to challenge our air superiority with air defenses. that’s why this superiority is not total, and could be challenged in certain areas or times, and is particularly problematic when operating deep in enemy territory” said Shefer. Another factor that might influence the availability and success of direct air support is the quality of intelligence and targeting. “Precision weapons require highly accurate targeting and intelligence, hence, the cost and demand for better intelligence is always growing. Precision attacks are definitely more accurate and effective but usually reduce the capacity of attacks being generated. He considers statistical attacks, particularly in close air support, as passé “High volume air attacks is a complex, progressive operation which is very difficult to stop when mistakes are realized, therefore they are least used in situations involving close air support” said Shefer.
Better Air/Ground Coordination Needed
General Shefer recommended the land and air forces should employ cooperative engagement centers to plan, prepare and process a dynamic target set for future operations, and execute attack plans to sustain attacks at the high capacity levels required in future conflicts. Further effort should be placed to improve communications between the land and air components, establishing a ‘common language’ facilitating simpler coordination between pilots and ground forces. Although the IDF considers ‘owning’ fire support weapons capable of firing at extended ranges a priority, Major General Avi Mizrachi, Commander of the IDF Land Forces Command admits that “being realistic, it will be easier to get this support from the air force”. He agrees that the establishment of better coordination with the air force is an essential requirement for improving direct close air support for the land forces. In the future, General Mizrachi said the IDF plans to develop a range of unmanned combat vehicles and reestablish its amphibious landing capability. Through their recent training, IDF commanders are trained to conduct full scale, high intensive operations that prepare their units for both asymmetric and high intensive warfare. Maneuver warfare has become part of their training, and this will further improve with the fielding of more advanced platforms in the coming years. “We plan to establish a common mobility capability for all combat elements of the land maneuver force” said General Mizrachi. “While the IDF has always favored the indirect approach, we must be prepared to take the enemy head on, if necessary.” This means improving obstacle breeching, urban combat, protection from roadside bombs and heavy mines and the better capability to handle targets in buildings and bunkers.
Farnborough 2008 provided a stage for several teaming announcements that have the potential to change the course future missile of developments. Two industry groups, from both sides of the Atlantic announced plans to pursue collaborative developments of common multi-role missiles, seeking to improve missile performance utilizing state-of-the-art sensors and processors, improve life-cycle management, and introduce cost saving through economies of scale – features sofar absent from current missile systems.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched at the airshow a long-term cooperative strategy with the missile industries, aiming at streamlining of research, development and future acquisition of missile systems, defined under the common term as “Complex Weapons”. These are tactical weapons reliant upon guidance systems to achieve precision effects. Tactical complex weapons fall largely into five categories: Air-to-Air; Air Defense; Air to Surface; Anti-Ship/Submarine (including Torpedoes); and Surface to Surface. The new initiative is part of the Defense Industrial Strategy (DIS), announced in 2005.
MoD has launched the Assessment Phase for Team Complex Weapons (Team CW), under partnership with a UK based industry group including MBDA, Thales, QinetiQ and Roxel. The current assessment phase valued at around £74 million for the first year is expected to help defining future military requirements for the next generation guided weapons. This effort covers multiple contracts awarded to MBDA and Thales aiming at streamlining current missile development programs within the scope of a long-term partnering arrangement, aiming to better use approximately £6 billion expenditure in this sector over the next 10 years.
These programs will help assess a modular approach which has been developed for the delivery of future missile programs. This approach aims to reduce the number of different weapons in service by migrating to a smaller number of weapon families and variants with optimum modularity and re-use of sub-systems/technology. It has the potential to offer a greater level of capability while achieving value for money for MoD and maintaining UK operational sovereignty over the armed forces’ Complex Weapons.
Six ‘complex weapons’ projects are already underway at MBDA and Thales, under the CW umbrella, including the Fire Shadow Loitering Munition developed by the MBDA-led ‘Team LM’, development of a Sea-Skua successor for Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) for Royal Navy helicopters (under development at MBDA). This new missile will become the lead member in a new 100Kg weapon family. MBDA is also developing a 50Kg weapon family, augmenting the current Brimstone, to meet Air-to-Ground Attack requirements (MBDA). An even lighter weapon included in the program is the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Light) developed for Royal Navy helicopters by Thales UK. An air defense system known as ‘ Future Local Area Air Defense System’ is also included in the complex weapons program, being a successor for the Sea Wolf, to be deployed on T23 Frigate and the Future Surface Combatant. This weapon will be a derivative of MBDA’s Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM). Other thrusts of the ‘Complex Weapons initiative focus on modernization and enhancement of existing systems, such as the Storm Shadow currently used on the Tornado GR4.
Another collaborative weapons development announced at the show, was a new team by Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LM), Alliant Techsystems (NYSE: ATK) and the Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC). The three companies signed a teaming agreement to jointly develop and market multi-role weapons. Optional fields of cooperation cover all aspects of development, operation and support of future missiles including sensors, automatic target recognition, guidance navigation and control, air vehicles, propulsion, lethality, survivability, mission planning, platform integration, system engineering, and program management. The team plans to exploit common technologies that could apply to different missions, in an effort to introduce common missiles addressing different target sets. Of particular importance are advanced radar sensors that could be programmed to match specific mission requirements and form and space restrictions of future missiles.
As the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, unmanned aerial systems, and future aircraft platforms are envisaged over the next decade, the team believes that an advanced multi-role weapon requirement will emerge in the future that covers both the air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. A possible application for such weapons could be the Joint Dual-Role Air Dominance Missile System (JDRADM) considered as one of the future weapons for 5th Generation Fighters (F-22, F35) and unmanned combat aircraft. JDRADM is currently at an early concept development phase at Boeing, where future sensor and warhead designs are being evaluated. JDRADM will pack both air/air and air/ground capabilities in a single airframe. Boeing is already working on risk reduction programs to demonstrate key technologies associated with the dual-role warhead and terminal seeker, including the Seeker Integrated Target Endgame Sensor (SITES) guidance and integrated fuse, the Guidance Integrated Fuzing (GIF) technology and Multi-Role Responsive Ordnance Kill Mechanism (MRROKM).
Meanwhile, after producing over 3,000 missiles, Raytheon is preparing to shift its AIM-9X production to the more advanced ‘Block 2’ variant, which adds a ‘one way’ datalink, enabling the launching aircraft to update the missile with up-to-the-second target location, enabling the pilot to launch AIM-9X before the missile’s imaging IR seeker ‘locks on’ the target. This procedure extends the missile’s range and maneuverability to the maximum kinematic envelope of the missile. The missile is currently undergoing flight testing, to be followed with qualification tests on all platforms including F-16, F-15 and F/A-18. With Lock-On After Launch capability confirmed, AIM-9X could be cleared for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighters. These stealth fighters are currently limited to carry only LOAL missile, since the weapons cannot acquire targets when stationed inside the weapons bay.
Toward Smaller Weapons
Modern weapons are no longer compared on the size and power of their warheads. In a world where illusive targets take cover amongst innocent civilians, and friendly forces are located across the street or behind a wall, the smaller, more “surgical” effect a weapon has is better. To successfully engage targets under such restrictions, an attack should be pursued swiftly as soon as a target is exposed and while nearby friendly forces and non-combatant elements are least vulnerable. A range of such new weapons were on display at this year’s airshow.
After Brazil and Columbia, Chile becomes the third Latin-American Country to fly the Brazilian Super-Tucano Trainer
Following the selection of the Brazilian Super Tucano in a public bid held by the Chilean Air Force (FACH), the Air Force will field 12 aircraft for tactical training missions. According to the contract signed between FACH and Embraer, the aircraft manufacturer, the first trainer should be delivered in the second half of 2009.
The Brazilian proposal chosen by the FACH includes a broad Integrated Logistic Support (ILS) package and an advanced Training and Operation Support System (TOSS), for the aircraft and ground support stations including the including the navigation and attack Mission Planning Station (MPS), Mission Debriefing Station (MDS) and Flight Simulator (FS). Super Tucano is currently operated by the air forces of Brazil and Colombia, where these aircraft are also used as light attack aircraft on internal security missions.
Embraer considers the choice of the Super Tucano by the Chilean Air Force as an opportunity to expand cooperation with the Chilean aviation industry, primarily Empresa Nacional de Aeronáutica de Chile – ENAER, established over ten years ago for developing the ERJ 145 regional jet.
The F-22A Raptor is undergoing flight qualification at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) where its capability suitability to carry and drop the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb is being evaluated. As part of the flight test program, weapons carriage and drop are performed through an enhanced flight envelope, including supersonic speed. In a recent test the F-22 Raptor dropped a 250 pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb traveling at supersonic speed. This first supersonic SDB drop was part of a safe separation test currently being performed to integrate the bomb with the F-22.
“An SDB has never been dropped from a supersonic aircraft,” said Maj. Michael Starr, 411th FLTS test pilot. “Supersonic separation testing will give the F-22 the ability to drop the SDB at supersonic speeds, which synergistically enhances the Raptor’s air-to-air mission.” Currently, the F-15E Strike Eagle is the only aircraft outfitted with the SDB weapon system. On ‘Global Strike’ missions the F-22A’s currently takes two internally carried 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
Configuring the Raptor for SDB will increase the number of precision weapons carried on each sortie up to eight, each individually programmed from the cockpit to strike a specific target. Furthermore, the SDB with its ‘diamond back’ glide kit can be launched from an extended stand-off range, further increasing the aircraft survivability.