Category Archives: Aviation Headlines

Polish analysis points to more F-16s

Poland is looking at possible solutions to replace ageing Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter and MiG-29 Fulcrum jets. According to an analysis made by the Polish MoD, one such solution could be the purchase of up to 96 second hand F-16s from the US. Wether this will trully materialize, remains to be seen. Poland currently operates 48 advanced F-16C/D jets.

It’s no surprise that the Polish are looking to replace their Soviet-era Sukhois and MiGs for something more suited to operate alongside the F-16. This could very well be F-16C/D aircraft previously used by the US Air Force, although these jets would require extensive updates to fit them into the existing Polish F-16 fleet. Also, while the US is to put aside many F-16s in the years to come, a substantial number of those will end up us remote controlled QF-16s.

Poland has been mentioned before as a country that may very well purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II at some point in the future. According to Warzaw, the jet is to expensive now, plus industrial offsets seem out of reach.

Perhaps Poland has started manoeuvring itself in a more favourable position for a future F-35 purchase by saying it is willing to expand its capabilities by buying a Lockheed Martin product, but not at any costs. In that light, the announcement on Friday 13 January that Lockheed Martin is close to a deal with the US government about reduced F-35 costs, may be welcome news for Poland.

Time will tell wether we indeed see more F-16 in Polish colours, or F-35s.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Italy orders M-345 and looks for Mangusta replacement

Italy has signed a deal with Italian company Leonardo for the delivery of an initial five M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer) aircraft to the Italian Air Force, Leonardo reported on Friday 13 January. Also, a contract was signed for the development of a new light attack and recce helicopter for the Italian Army, replacing the Mangusta. The combined value of the contracts totals over 500 million EUR.

The M-345 HET first flew only on 29 December last year. Leonardo reports that the Italian Air Force has a requirement for around 45 M-345s to replace MB-339 trainers which entered service in 1982.  Most noticable, the M-345 HET is to equip Italy’s aerial demonstration team Frecce Tricolori, which now also uses the MB-339. First M-345 delivery is expected by 2019.

In its training role, the new aircraft will work alongside a fleet of 18 twin-engine Aermacchi M-346s ordered by the Italian Air Force for advanced pilot training. Leonardo puts the M-345 and M-346 on the market as ‘the world’s most advanced training system for military pilots’. Airheadsfly.com flew the M-346 last October and was impressed.

Manugusta replacement

The helicopter contract involves the study, development, industrialization, production and testing of a prototype and three initial production helicopters for the Italian Army. The program is aimed at replacing the current fleet of AW129 Mangusta light attack choppers with 48 new assets By that time, the Mangusta will have been in service for over 35 years in operations.

An Italian Army AW129 Mangusta (Image © AgustaWestland)
An Italian Army AW129 Mangusta (Image © AgustaWestland)

200th F-35 delivered, but development delays continue

The F-35 program celebrated the delivery of the 200th operational jet this week. The aircraft, the second destined for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), departed Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth production facility for Luke Air Force Base, where it will be used to train Japanese pilots. Meanwhile, an official Pentagon progress report mentions continued delays in the F-35’s development and testing schedule.

Along with the delivery of the 200th jet, Lockheed Martin  reports that the entire program has now logged 75,000 flight hours while training more than 380 pilots and 3,700 maintainers. Also, the year 2017 kicked off favourably for the F-35, with the first deployment of operational jets to Japan.

Software issues

However – apart from Donald Trump’s fierce remarks on the F-35 – the program’s Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) mentions delay after delay in development and testing in a fresh report released this week by the Pentagon. The delays among other issues  concern development of the ‘full warfighting capability’ block 3i software, plus problems related to weapons delivery and the aircaft’s gun system, which is now being tested. Also, the report mentions the issues US Navy pilots experience during catapult launches.

ALIS

Structural deficiencies are reported in the aircraft’s tail section. Furthermore, a new version of the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) was supposed to be released in 2016, but this failed to materialize. During operational tests, maintainance crews struggled with the huge amounts of data ALIS generates.

As a result, Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) will likely not start as scheduled in August 2017, but perhaps as late as in 2019.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

F-35 heads to Japan for first ever operational deployment

Breaking news today, as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II started its first operational deployment outside the US ever.  Departing Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, on 9 January, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 headed for Iwakuni airbase in Japan, bringing along their F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) jets.

From Yuma and in the company of KC-10 tanker aircraft, the F-35s first headed for Elmendorf airbase in Alaska, from where they should continue to their new base Japan. Iwakuni is a regular destination for United States Marine Corps (USMC) fighter jets, but this marks the first time the F-35B is send abroad operationally and in fact marks the first operational deployment for the F-35 ever. The step can be regarded as a huge one for the F-35 program, the biggest and most expensive weapon’s program ever in history.

Operations & tests

In July 2015, VMFA-121 was the very first squadron to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation fighter jet. In October 2016, a contingent of USMC F-35B’s, pilots and maintainers participated in Developmental Test III and the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration aboard the USS America (LHA-6). The final test period ensured the plane could operate in the most extreme at-sea conditions, with a range of weapons loadouts and with the newest software variant.

China & Trump

The deployment was announced for this year earlier, but the apparent eagerness for the deployment comes a surprise. This could very well be to deter China from further venturing out in international waters, but also to show president-elect Donald Trump that the F-35 is perfectly capable of operational deployment. Trump, who is just ten days away from being inaugurated as the next US president, showed no sympathy for the F-35 in late 2016, hinting the US would be better of with more F/A-18 Super Hornets.

The year 2017 is likely to also see a deployment of US Air Force F-35s to Europe. The USAF reached IOC on the new jet in 2016. That same year saw US F-35s heading out to Europe for the first time, albeit not for actual operational flying. The purpose of that visit was taking part in airshows in the UK.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Joint air defense over four European countries

The year 2017 will be the year that for the first time in history sees joint air defense over four European countries. Not only are Belgium and the Netherlands operating a combined Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) since 1 January 2017, starting this summer the Czech Republic and Slovakia will do the same. The latter countries today agreed on cooperation.

The joint efforts are quite remarkable in a time of increasing international tension, although the combined effort of Belgium and the Netherlands has been on the cards for quite some time already. Whereas until last year both countries each had four F-16s on constant standby, they now take turns in keeping an eye out for airliners gone astray or potential threats, thus saving costs. Being small countries, they apparently can afford slighly longer transit times for the F-16s to get close to the action.

Czechs and Slovaks

The Czechs and Slovakians also talked about joint air defense before, but mostly in light of Slovakia maybe also leasing Saab Gripen fighter jets, as does the Czech Republic. While Slovakia for now continues to operate older MiG-29 Fulcrums, both countries today still agreed to keep a watch over each other’s skies. The agreement should be officaly ratified and come into effect later this year.

Belgian replacement

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what effect the cooperation between Belgium and the Netherlands has on the former’s selection of a new fighter jet to replace the F-16. The Netherlands has already opted for the F-35 Lightning II, but Belgium is still undediced. The Belgians are looking at the F-35, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Saab gripen and Dassault Rafale.