Norway: ‘NH90 not usable on board coast guard frigates’

Norway is reported by national newspaper Aftenposten to not be happy with the way its military NH90 helicopters operate in bad weather while at sea. Problems arise when the helicopter are parked on smaller coast guard frigates in high seas, sources tell.

The Norwegian military and coast guard apparently fear that NH90 helicopter will sustain damage while operating from the smaller frigates. They point out that Norwegian coast guard vessels are smaller in size than previous generations of ships, while the NH90 in fact is considerably bigger than the Lynx helicopter it replaces.

For now, the decision is to not operate the NH90 from the smaller vessels, even though the country aims to operate two HN90s in a  search-and-recue role for the coast guard.

In total, Norway ordered fourteen NHIndustries NH90 helicopters, at least six of which have already been delivered. Twelve NH90s are configured for the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role. For increased SAR coverage, the Nordic country has ordered sixteen additional AW101 helicopters.

 

Trump executive order: Iraqi F-16 training in US uncertain

Donald Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants from seven, largely muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa, casts uncertainty of Iraqi Air Force F-16 training in Tucson in the US. According to various sources, US and Iraqi diplomats are working on ways to exempt Iraqi student pilots from the ban.

The Iraqi Air Force is in the process of receiving 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets purchased in 2011. Pilot training on these advanced jets is done in Tucson, Arizona, where the first Iraqi aircraft arrived over two years ago. Since then, pilots from Iraq stayed in Tucson to learn to fly the F-16.

According to critics, the ban that was announced on Friday has all the marks of an executive order that was not thought out properly. It took the US State Departement and the Pentagon by surprise.

According to officials, an agreement on continued Iraqi F-16 training seems likely. US servicemen and Iraqi personnel have been working together closely for the last few year, not in the least to defeat so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq.

Fresh order for KC-46 Pegasus

The US Air Force on Friday awarded Boeing a 2.1 billion USD contract for 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft, spare engines and wing air refueling pod kits. This order is the third low-rate initial production lot for Boeing. The first two came in August 2016 and combined 19 included airplanes, as well as spare parts.

Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based refueling aircraft for the air force to replace its KC-135  tanker fleet. Deliveries will begin later this year.

“This award is great news for the joint Boeing-Air Force team and reinforces the need for this highly efficient and capable tanker aircraft,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46A tanker vice president and program manager. “Our Boeing industry team is hard at work building and testing KC-46 aircraft, and we look forward to first delivery.”

Boeing received an initial contract in 2011 to design and develop the Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft. As part of that contract, Boeing built four test aircraft – two configured as 767-2Cs and two as KC-46A tankers. Those test aircraft, along with the first production plane, have completed nearly 1,500 flight hours to date.

Review of F-35 and Air Force One programs ordered

US Secretary of Defense Mattis has ordered a complete review of both the F-35 program and the program to replace the current Boeing VC-25 aircraft in their role as Air Force One. The review of the F-35 is to include a comparison with the F-18 Super Hornet.

The announcement should come as no surprise, given president Trumps recent criticism of both programs. Even before his inauguration on 20 January, Trump said F-35 costs are out of control while at the same time he asked Boeing to come up with the F-18 Super Hornet as a reasonably priced alternative.

For the F-35, a recent DOT&E report by the Pentagon’s own watchdog is an excellent starting point. That report mentions plenty of delays in F-35 development and testing.

It remains uncertain what the outcome of both reviews could be. Chances of the program being cancelled are close to zero given the program’s strategic and economic importance. However, the naval F-35C version may be under threat. The DOT&E mentions persistent problems in this version specifically.

In a response, Lockheed Martin said it ‘stands ready’ to support the review. Earlier, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing promised to keep costs down. This fresh review will put even more pressure on both manufacturers to actually make up on that promise.

First Lightnings for NAS Lemoore

US Navy Air Station Lemoore in California on Wednesday 25 January saw the arrival of the first Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning IIs. Lemoore is the first West Coast naval installation to have F-35Cs permanently assigned.  By the end of this year, the base will have ten F-35Cs assigned, building to more than 100 jets in the early 2020s.

The four jets now belong to VFA-125 Rough Raiders, which earlier flew F-18 Hornets and has now been reestablished as a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). The squadron is to gain no less than 30 Lightning IIs. The squadron is expected to reach Initial Operational Capbility (IOC) on the new jet in 2018.

Back in 2014, Lemoore was chosen over Naval Air Facility El Centro as the US Navy’s West Coast F-35 base. According to the US Navy, Lemoore meets operational needs and minimizes potential environmental impact. Apart from the FRS,  Lemoore is to house seven Navy Pacific Fleet squadrons with 10 aircraft per squadron.

US Navy F-35C’s are also based at Edwards Air Base in California for test purposes.