According to variopus sources on Wednesday 26 April, Bulgaria has selected the Saab Gripen to replace its small fleet of ageing MiG-29 fighter aircraft. The Swedish over topped that of Portugal for used F-16s, as well as an Italian offer for second hand Eurofighter Typhoons.
A special committee is to start negotiations with Sweden for a deal involving Saab Gripen C and D fighter jets, at a total estimated cost of 836 million USD. Off set orders are likely part of the deal.
Bulgaria now operates about a dozen MiG-29 aircraft, which were modernized over the last years to meet NATO standards. Also, the country recently ordered additional engines from Russia in an effort the extend the MiG-29’s service life.
Bulgaria has been on the market for a replacement fighter aircraft for a number of years. Neighbouring Romania has opted for second hand F-16s from Portugal to replace even older MiG-21s.
The US Air Force deployed two of its latest and newest fighter jets to the vicinity of Russia on Tuesday, as two latest generation F-35 Lightning IIs flew from the UK to Ämari airbase in Estonia. The visit resembles that of two F-22 Raptors to the same location in September 2015.
The F-35s in question left Lakenheath airbase in the UK on Tuesday morning and in the company of a KC-135 tanker over flew the Netherlands, Germany and Poland on their way to Estonia . The F-35s are part of a larger deployement of eight jets in total, which all arrived in Europe earlier in April for training exercises, according to the Pentagon.
Washington last week stated the visit to Europe was ‘long-planned’ and not aimed at anything other than training. Nevertheless, sending the latest piece of US flying military hardware to within 100 miles of the Russian border can be regarded as more than just training.
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission provides air defense for the Baltics states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. In the past week alone, NATO aircraft intercepted four Russian Su-24 Fencers and a single AN-26 over Baltic waters.
Boeing and partner Saab have completed the first flight of their second TX aircraft, which they hope in the future will replace hundreds of T-38 Talon trainer jet in the US Air Force.
Boeing and Saab’s TX was designed specifically for the US Air Force advanced pilot training requirement. During the one-hour flight, lead test pilot Steve Schmidt and Boeing test pilot Matt Giese validated key aspects of the aircraft and further demonstrated the low-risk and performance of the design, proving its repeatability in manufacturing. Both pilots trained for the flight using the complete Boeing T-X system, which includes ground-based training and simulation.
“The jet handled exactly like the first aircraft and the simulator, meeting all expectations,” said Giese. “The front and back cockpits work together seamlessly and the handling is superior.”
Boeing and Saab revealed their design in September 2016 and flew the first aircraft last December. Initial operating capability is planned for 2024. Also in the TX competition are Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerspace Industries with their T-50, plus Italian company Leonardo with their T-100.
Ok, so maybe today doesn’t offer the most challenging weather for deck landings in an NH90 helicopter. But when you’re in that same NH90 and you’re facing a wind and rain swept deck in high seas, it will get you adrenaline running and you’ll be thankful for every last bit of training you’ve had. And so, the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC) of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) regularly heads out to sea for deck landings aboard Dutch navy vessels. Even on a perfectly calm day such as this one.
Location: the North Sea, aboard the Royal Netherlands Navy’s 108 meter long Ocean-going Patrol Vessel (OPV) Zr. Ms. Groningen. Job at hand: landing an eleven tonnes NH90 helicopter on the 16 by 30 meter landing deck over the stern of the ship. Inbound for doing exactly that is Neptune 11, an NH90 from De Kooy air station near Den Helder, which is also the Royal Netherlands Navy’s home port.
As Neptune 11 approaches the ship, it becomes clear that these deck landings provide training to more than just the helicopter crew. It’s the flight deck crew who also are being put to work to gain experience in getting the helicopter down on the deck safely, which never is a routine task given ever changing winds and waves.
Suddenly, things are not so calm anymore. The flight deck becomes a flurry of noise, wind and rotor blades going around a high speed.The one braving the elements in particular is the flight deck officer, who has to withstand the gale-force downwash from the NH90’s main rotor. Using forceful handsignals and clear commands over the radio, the flight deck officer direct Neptune towards the desired landing spot.
Taking the flight deck officer’s directions and using other visual clues, the NH90 pilot seemingly without too much effort lands his helicopter aboard Zr. Ms Groningen and is immediately secured in place with chains. The NH90 is a hugely automated helo, but a landing like this mostly depends on pilot skills and smooth interaction between the helo’s crew and the folks on the flight deck.
The helo is not here to stay, however. Shortly after landing and after another bit of hand signalling, the NH90 takes off while creating more hurricane-force winds for the deck crew to battle. Throughout the rest of the day, this scene will be repeats itself many times as the cycle of approaching, landing and taking off continues.
The NH90 has been in Dutch service for seven years now, first in what was called a Meaningful Operational Capability since upon delivery not all helicopter were fully equipped for all task. In their Final Radar Configuration, the helicopters are also capable of anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The first ASW-qualified Dutch crew recently took part in large scale exercise Joint Warrior. in which the crew succesfully managed to find and track a Norwegian submarine.
And yes, during an exercise in the waters around Scotland, you are certainly glad that you’ve working on deck landings, adds NH90 pilot Tim. “As soon as you see the deck rolling, and you see the waves and the wind, that will certainly get your adrenaline up. You’ll be glad to know that you are properly trained and perfectly capable of landing that eleven tonnes helicopter on that ship.”
Boeing has dropped out of the race to replace the F-16 in Belgian service. The aircaft manufacturer, which offered its F/A-18 Sper Hornet, claims the competition is unfair and the playing field ‘not even’. The move comes as nu surprise, since the odds in Belgium seem very much in favour of the Lockheed Martin F-35.
The Belgian government in Brussels has put aside 3.5 billion EUR to replace 54 F-16 with a total of 34 new jets. The first new fighter jet should enter service in 2023.
Still in competition are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon. A final decision is expected in 2018.
Belgium will use the F-16 until 2028. Of the original European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) in the seventies, Belgium will use the F-16 the longest. The other participating countries – the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – all already selected the F-35 as their F-16 replacement. Norway is expected to loose its F-16 by 2021, with the Netherlands following in 2023. Denmark should not be far behind.