India finally signs up for 36 Rafales

France and India on Friday 23 September signed a contract finalizing the acquisition by India of 36 Rafales, compromising 28 single seat and 8 two seater aircraft. The contract ends a proces that has caused headaches in both countries for years, but especially since Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, in April 2015 said his country would purchase the Rafale.

Actually, India chose the Rafale three years before, when in 2012 the French jet came out winning a competition with other fighter jets that already started in 2007.  According to Dassault, the new contract ‘demonstrates the strategic relationship and the exemplary partnership between the two countries, and marks the natural culmination of a relationship of trust born in 1953 when India became the first export customer of Dassault Aviation’.

But trust seemed hard to find over the last few years, when fact and fiction about the pending deal became very hard to distinguish from each other. At times, negotiations seemed to be fought out in the media, rather than over the negotiation table. Price, technology transfer and difficulties over license production in India were at the hard of tough talks.

In the midst of this, India saw delivery of newly updated Dassault Mirage 2000s. In the Indian Air Force, the new Rafales will mainly update next to Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers.

The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and the French Air Force in 2006. It was proven in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. In 2015 and seemingly putting pressure on India, Dassault managed to sell Rafale to Egypt and Qatar for 24 Rafale each. In mid 2016, 152 Rafale were delivered.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Could it be? Indian cabinet clears Rafale deal

Could it really, really be true after all? Several sources have just confirmed that the Indian cabinet has agreed to the purchade of 36 Dassault Rafales in an 8.8 billion USD deal with France. A contract is said to be signed on Friday in New Delhi, which would concluded one of the most ridicilously long negotiations in defense history ever.

What really is true, is that a deal was said to have been closed several times before. What is also true, is that India has been eyeing the Rafale for much longer than Qatar and Egypt ever have, while the latter two ordered their Rafales last year. Dassault probably gave them a nice discount to lure India in further.

India was once in the market for up to 126 Rafales, but that option was deed to costly. Also, India wanted to produce the aircraft mostly in-country while France was hesitant the transfer the required technology. New Delhi meanwhile studied the Su-30 Flanker, F-18 Hornet, Saab Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16 also.

It should be interesting to see how the final contract turns out. If there is such a contract, of course.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

 

 

B-21 named Raider: that’s the cheap part over

Naming a new bomber aircraft is the easy and cheap part. Getting it of the ground, into production and into combat is the easy and hard part. But that is exactly where the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman are now at with the newly named B-21 Raider, until now only known as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) or B-21. It should replace B-1 and B-2 bombers in the next decade or so.

The name ‘Raider’ was chosen out of suggestions made by US military service members and made public on Monday 19 September by 101 year-old  World War II bomber pilot Richard E. Cole at the Air, Space & Cyber Conference 2016.

Other than its newly revealed name, the only thing known about the B-21 is that an artist’s impression shows an bomber aircraft that largely resembles a B-2 Stealth bomber. What should be different however, is the price tag. Whereas the B-2 Stealth program resulted in a staggering price tag of 2 billion USD a piece, the current plans are to aqcuire 80 to 100 B-21 Raiders against a price tag of 550 million USD a piece

Yes, so more B-21s than B-2s are to be purchased. But anyone with a bit of aviation and defense knowledge knows that a unit price of 550 million will never be achieved. The actual aircraft will of course end up a lot more expensive, although nobody seems to know or willing to predict how much more expensive it will be. Senator John McCain previously tried to get the Pentagon to divulge more about the total cost.

And that’s a wise thing to request, given the fact that other major weapons program that is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning, with a total program cost that now stand at roughly 400 billion USD. And that’s costs shared with other nations. The costs of developing and producing the B-21 Raider will definitely not be shared with other nations, given the strategic importance of the program for the US.

The B-21 Raider may well be a raider of US taxpayer’s money before anything else. The hard part, is to not let that happen.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

 

Norway spills the beans: dozens of F-35s affected by bad wiring

Faulty wiring has caused 15 Lockheed Martin F-35A’s to be grounded in the US, while 42 aircraft currently in production in Fort Worth are affected by the same problem. The news was  made public solely by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, which saw two of its four F-35s stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, affected by the problem.

The state-of-the-art and highly expensive F-35 uses its fuel tanks as part of its on-board cooling system. Several cooling lines have been installed inside the tanks to allow cooling liquid for the aircraft’s avionics and other systems to pass through. The lines are covered in insulating materials that in some cases have been found to decompose, leaving residue in the fuel.

The issue first came to light during inspection of a US aircraft at Luke, following which 14 more F-35s were found to be affected by the same problem. Among those are two jets that Norway received from Lockheed Martin earlier in 2016, leading to a decision by Norwegian authorities to temporarily suspend flight operations with these aircraft pending corrective measures.

According to the Norwegians the problem is not a design flaw, but instead is caused by a supplier using improper materials and improper sealing techniques for these specific parts. “I expect Lockheed Martin to identify the appropriate measures to correct this issue, and that they implement these as quickly as possible, says Major General Morten Klever, the director of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office.”

Lockheed Martin appears to have no choice, since an additional 42 jets currently on the production line have received parts from the same provider, including three Norwegian aircraft scheduled for delivery early next year.

Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A, and has so far received four aircraft. Beginning in 2017, Norway plans to receive six aircraft annually, and the F-35 will begin taking over missions from the current F-16-fleet in 2019. As of September 2016 more than 200 F-35s have been delivered, including test aircraft, which have completed more than 68 000 flight hours, including roughly four hundred hours with Norwegian F-35s.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Why Boeing plays its cards right with the T-X

Boeing this week gave itself a handful of exactly the right cards when it comes to the winning the T-X competition that is aimed at replacing hundreds of ageing US Air Force T-38 training jets over the next decade. Their solution is the twin-tailed, single-engined and apparently cleverly designed Boeing T-X, developed in partnership with Swedish Saab. The new jet may very well come out victorious.

It’s not often these days that a major aircraft manufacturer unveils a jet that was 100 percent designed from scratch. All eyes were therefore set on Boeing as the company revealed its T-X on Tuesday 13 September. Prior to that, only an artist’s impression and a few sneak peeks of the aircraftwere revealed. Boeing is producing two aircraft at first, which are registered as BT-X in the Federal Aviation Authority register.

Stealing looks
The result positively surprised many; a futuristic looking jet that however also steals some looks from the legendary F-104 Starfighter, especially when it comes to the front section. The rear more resembles modern fighter such as the F-15, F-22 and F-35. As a whole, it even looks remarkably similar to the new-ish AirLand Scorpion.

Stealing parts
And yet, the BT-X was actually not 100 percent designed from scratch and steals more than just looks for other jets. It steal the F-16’s front and main landing gear and internally uses many parts of the Saab Gripen. In the past, this design method was also succesfully used on aircraft such as the F-117. Commonality helps keeping development and production costs low and gives the jet an immediate edge over its competitors, being the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 (based on the M-346) and the Northrop Grumman T-X design. According to Boeing, their BT-X can be produced and put together relatively simple, whatever that precisely means.

Yes, Lockheed Martin T-50 is an exisiting design and also should benefit from lower development costs, and the same goes for the T-100. But both are non-US designs, and the lengthy and unimpressive process that finally led to the US designed KC-46 over the existing European Airbus A330 MRTT as the US Air Force’s next tanker aircraft, proves Washington’s preference for US designs.

Boeing T-38 contract
The Boeing T-X is just that: a design mainly from a US contractor, with just the right amount of development to be done. Considering criticised projects such as the And remember, Boeing earlier in 2016 won a ten-year contract worth $855 million for updating T-38 trainer jets, the very aircraft the T-X will replace. It’s the perfect way to gain expertise and insight into the exact requirements of modern day fighter pilot training.

Engine
Also, Boeing uses the afterburning General Electric F404 engine in its design, as do the T-50 and Northrop Grumman T-X competitor – not to mention the Saab Gripen. The yet-to-fly Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 will use two Honeywell/ITEC F124 turbofans and is he only contender to use two engines and not use afterburner. That’s a problem for the joint US-Italian designed T-100 right there in terms of costs, maintenance and performance. Northrop Grumman meanwhile has it hands full with developing the new Longe Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), also known as the future B-21.

The US Air Force’s new trainer should be fully operational in 2024 at the latest. A decision on which design wins the competition, is to be taken over the next few years. Boeing drew its cards right. No need even for a pokerface, it seems.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

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