The US Navy has become the first American armed force to order a very special Gulfstream air asset: the G550 Green heavily modified for Airborne Early Warning & Control duty.
With a price tag of almost 92 million dollar the people at the Gulfstream plant in Savannah, Georgia (USA), must be very excited that finally their own country recognized the quality of their platform, made in cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Conformal Airborne Early Warning
Planned for starting operations in January 2019, the US Navy G-550 Green AEW&C will join a small international fleet, although it has not been disclosed yet if the machines will be similar in looks as the pair of G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) the Israeli Air Force is flying. Other users are the Italian Air Force (2 G550 CAEW) and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (4 G550 CAEW).
Gulfstream to US armed forces
The Gulfstream as such is not new to the US armed forces, but until now was mainly enrolled in VIP transport duties as C-37B and the current numbers are small: one with the US Air Force, three with the US Navy and one with the US Army.
The Italian Air Force still has gotten no funds to finance its own signal intelligence gathering capability to replace the Alenia G.222 SIGINT aircraft it took out of service already in 2012. The stop gap solution with the leased Lockheed Martin Airborne Multi-Intelligence Laboratory (AML)/Gulfstream III will continue to fly for at least another one to three years, sources in Rome confirm.
Although Italy does get valuable intel with the single aircraft it has rented from the American weapons manufacturer, it is not owned nor even piloted by Aeronautica Militare crew. Lockheed Martin provides the crew, maintenance personnel and the three ground intelligence processing systems. After three years of service, there is no sign yet that Rome is looking for a replacement of its own or even buying the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin’s AML can be adapted for many other business jets, although in the case of Italy it is cramped into a Gulfstream III. The AML is a collection of systems and sensors with wideband and narrowband data-links. The software, architecture and payload bay options allow for custom-made solutions with different equipment, sensors, processors and communications. It is called a laboratory, since the jet is actually still flown as a try-out Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) solution, even if it has seen several years of action.
But already today the single jet based at Pratica di Mare Air Base cannot provide what Italy needs. With a need to get proper intel in time, the US military has been flying leased Beechcraft King Air 350 ISRs out of southern Italy to keep an eye on things. Recent with terrorist activities just oversees in Tunisia, an increasing unstable Libya, streams of thousands of people trying to make it across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and an increasing active Russian military, sustaining a grown-up airborne intelligence fleet seems more essential than ever for the Italian Air Force.
Providing business jets to those who want to fly them but not own them fully, fractional jet owner company Flexjet celebrated its 20th anniversary (May 2015) with the delivery of its first Gulfstream G450LXi, as part of an order for up to 50 new aircraft from the American manufacturer placed in October 2014.
The new aircraft is a nice addition to the fleet that also compromises the G500LXi (since October 2014) and from early 2016 the G650LXi. Flexjet unveiled its first G450LXi at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Regional Forum at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on 25 June 2015.
Capable of being outfitted for up to 16 passengers, the G450LXi can travel 4,350 nautical miles (8,056 km) with eight passengers, easily allowing for non-stop trips between the United States to European and South American destinations.
The G650LXi that will enter service early in 2016 will seat 12 passengers, yet can fly farther and faster. Its range of 7,000 nautical miles (12,964 km) enables it to travel nonstop from the U.S. to Europe or Asia. The G500LXi Flexjet received in October is capable of flying 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km).
In total the approximately six years old and includes the Bombardier Learjet 45LXi and 75LXi, the Bombardier Challenger 300/350 and 604/605, the Bombardier Global Express and the Gulfstream G450, G500 and G650.
Timing could not be better: right at the start in Geneva of the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE), Gulfstream Aerospace celebrates the first flight of its new G500 on 18 May. The aircraft is part of Gulfstream’s new family of clean-sheet aircraft, the G500 and G600, and the first of the two to begin flight tests. Not very coincidentally, Gulfstream today also announced the delivery of the 500th built Gulfstream G550 to its US customer.
The G500 took off at 10:39 hrs local time from Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, with Gulfstream experimental test pilots Scott Martin and Kevin Claffy at the controls. Flight Test engineer Bill Osborne provided on-board support.
The aircraft climbed to an initial altitude of 10,500 feet/3,200 meters and reached a maximum altitude of 15,000 ft/4,572 m. During the 2-hour-and-16-minute flight, the crew exercised all primary flight control systems; evaluated handling qualities in takeoff and landing configurations; performed a simulated approach and go-around; and checked all systems using the flight deck touchscreen controllers. The aircraft achieved a maximum air speed of 194 knots. It landed back in Savannah at 12:55 hrs local time.
The G500 flight-test program consists of five aircraft, including a fully outfitted production aircraft that will allow the company to test all the interior elements and complete integration of the aircraft systems with the passenger experience.
The type is expected to receive type certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency in 2017. It is slated to enter service in 2018.
With several offers on the table and Russia showing no sign in easing its military readiness exercises nor its concentration of forces on the border with Ukraine, NATO is eager to semi-permanently increase its Baltic Air Policing detachment from four to a dozen aircraft.
NATO officials confirmed on 9 April 2014 four Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrums, four Royal Air Force Typhoon FRG.4 and six Royal Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters will start their four month air defence mission of NATO’s in May this year. The force might get even more back-up as France is expected to send four Rafale or Mirage 2000s to a Polish air base.
The former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are since 2004 part of NATO. Since they lack proper air defence assets themselves, other NATO members jump in on the joint task to protect the airspaces of its member nations. The same defence agreement also counts for the NATO countries of Luxemburg, Iceland and Slovenia who all lack fighter aircraft. Until Russia took control of the Crimea peninsula further southeast, the NATO Air Policing mission consisted of four fighter jets making 15 tot 20 flight hours per month of a combined total of 320 flight hours. The mission rotates between member states.
To spread the air coverage and to take some of the nervousness amongst the Baltic states away the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission will use two airbases from May on. Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania will still be the main base of operations, with the RAF Typhoons and the Polish MiG-29s arriving for their four month tour of duty at the end of April. A quartet of Danish F-16s and about 50 Danish military personnel will deploy to Ämari in Estonia, confirmed the Danish Forsvaret on 9 April 2014. Ämari is situated in the northwest of Estonia. Another two RDAF Vipers will be on dedicated Baltic scramble alert at Skrydstryp in Denmark, ready to forward deploy to Estonia as well if necessary.
Despite the fact that Sweden is not part of NATO the biggest country of Scandinavia has also increased its military readiness. SAAB JAS 39 Gripen fighter planes are forwardly deployed to Visby Airport at the big Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Moreover, a pair of Swedish Air Force Gripens trained with the USAF F-15C Eagles and Lithuanian defences in the beginning of April flying from Šiauliai in Lithuania as part of a pre-planned Partnership for Peace exercise. Several Swedish sources report increased flying activity of the Flygvapnet Gulfstream IVS or S 102 B Korpen as it is known is Swedish service. Two of these aircraft have been especially modified to gather electronic information (SIGINT) on behalf of the Defence Signal Intelligence Agency (FRA). The Swedish national security police Säpo recently called Russia a threat to the the Swedish state, for the first time in more than 20 years.