Textron owned Beechcraft is putting its hope on a fat order from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence for its T-6 turboprop trainer aircraft, a company spokesman acknowledged. Beechcraft is about to finish the production of the 700-aircraft deal for the US military.
Since 2000 the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II has been replacing the Cessna T-37B Tweet within the US Air Force, with 449 T-6s delivered. The remainder of the 700-aircraft US deal goes to the US Navy (T-6B) and US Marine Corps, plus four specially adapted aircraft ordered by the US Army.
The Beechcraft trainer has had success abroad as well, with versions flying with the NATO Flying Training in Canada (24 CT-156 Harvard II), the Hellenic Air Force (25 T-6A + 20 armed T-6A NTA), the Israeli Air Force (25 T-6A), the Iraqi Air Force (15 T-6A + 24 T-6C ordered), the Mexican Air Force (12 T-6C+), the Mexican Navy (2 T-6+), the Royal Moroccan Air Force (24 T-6C), the Royal New Zealand Air Force (11 T-6C).
Now hopes are high for the United Kingdom, which sees the T-6 as the replacement for the Short Tucano in training both the Royal Air Force as well as Royal Navy future combat jet pilots; with an order in the range of 80 to 120 aircraft awaiting. As for new export customers: it won’t be easy for Beechcraft. The Pilatus PC-9 and PC-21 and the armed Embraer A-29 Super Tucano are very tough competitors, already having scooped up orders like for the Afghan Air Force that years earlier might have gone more naturally to Beechcraft.
There may be some other light on the horizon though. Upgrades of the basic A-model within the US Air Force, US Navy and Hellenic Air Force to C-standard are expected. The current C-model has a digital class cockpit with HUD, multi-function displays, HOTAS to access functions with buttons on the flight control stick and wing hard points, nice featured to incorporate on the A-model.
The Westland Battlefield Lynx Mk7 is no more. The British Army Air Corps said goodbye to the type on 31 July 2015, with a flypast of six Mk7 performing the so-called backflip that is typical for the type.
The Lynx has served the UK for 38 years, being part of major military operations and supporting humanitarian missions. In 2018 the newer Lynx Mk9 is to retire, with all Lynx’s to be replaced by its successor: the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, dubbed AH1 in Army Air Corps service.
The Wildcat is a further development of the Lynx, desinged not only for the ground support role, but for utility and maritime tasks as well. The Republic of Korea Navy has ordered eight of the ASW version, while the United Kingdom ordered 34 Wildcats for the Army Air Corps and 28 for the Fleet Air Arm.
The Wildcat AH1 is able to accommodate 7 passengers, including a door gunner, plus a crew of 2. It has a maximum speed of 157 knots (181 mph / 291 km/h) and a range of 420 nautical miles (777 km). When equipped with auxiliary fuel tanks it can remain airborne for 4.5 hours. Its standard armament includes forward firing machine guns and rockets, a pintle-mounted machine gun in the door plus up to 20 Thales Martlet missiles. The naval HMA2 version can carry up to 4 MBDA Sea Venom anti-surface weapon as well as torpedoes and depth charges.
Since August 2014 Wildcat AH1s fly already with 652 Squadron of the Army Air Corps. The Royal Navy’s Wildcat HMA2 went on its first operational cruise onboard Type 23 frigate F229 HMS Lancaster in March 2015, with the Fleet Air Arm flying the HMA2 version with 825 Naval Air Squadron and the AH1 attack version in support of the Royal Marines with 847 NAS.
The US Department of Defense is seeking Congressional approval to buy another 400 (!) Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealthy multi-role fighters at once. Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said this on Friday 29 May during a press conference. Aim is to buy for both the US armed forces and export partners and get a large discount in the process.
Currently orders for the future backbone of many air forces are placed in batches of tens up to 150 a year, but the Pentagon thinks it could get a larger reduction from Lockheed Martin if it orders 400 jets at once, to be produced over the course of three fiscal years: 2018 to 2021. In between the lines: such a block buy would also ensure a fairly quick modernization of many of NATO’s and other allies air forces with a capable 5th generation fighter jet to keep up the pace with Russia and China. Cutting down on the current unit base cost of 98 to 116 million per aircraft will certainly help.
Three base versions
Lockheed Martin is producing the Lightning II in three base version. The F-35A is the conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant originally designed for the US Air Force, with more than 1,750 planned.
The F-35B is the short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) version for the US Marine Corps, which is planning 420 aircraft including some of the C-variant developped for the US Navy. This F-35C is adapted for carrier-based (CV) operations but lacks the vertical landing and hover option of the USMC jets (which can land on carriers as well of course). That should make the C both cheaper and easier to fly, and easier to maintain. The US Navy plans for 260 F-35Cs.
Britain’s Royal Air Force/Royal Navy are also buying the most advanced version. The UK’s F-35Bs are to operate from the RN’s two new large aircraft carriers: HMS Queen Elizabeth to be commissioned in 2016 (initially without the F-35s, because they are not ready yet) and the HMS Prince of Wales planned for 2020. A total of 48 F-35Bs are ordered, of which 4 are in testing phase, with plans for another 32 or more.
Both the Italian Air Force and Navy are to operate the F-35, with 15 B-versions planned for the Marina Militare – to fly from the aircraft carrier C 550 Cavour – and 60 F-35As for the Aeronautica Militare (with 6 ordered so far). Italy is much involved in the F-35 program, with the Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi being a strategic part of the production. On 26 May the first F-35A wing-set produced by the Italian manufacturer at its plant in Camiri entered the F-35 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. , marking a milestone for the Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)-Alenia Aermacchi collaboration on the program. Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi has been contracted for 835 full wing assemblies. Italy is even producing entire aircraft.
All other export orders are for the “simplest” F-35A variant: to the Turkish Air Force (100 planned); the Royal Australian Air Force (72 ordered of which 2 in testing; with the Australians making hundreds of tails); the Royal Norwegian Air Force (52 planned of which 16 ordered); the Japan Air-Self Defense Force (42 planned of which 5 ordered); the Republic of Korea Air Force (40 ordered) and the Royal Netherlands Air Force (37 planned of which 8 ordered with 2 in testing).
The Israeli Air Force plans for 75 F-35Is, which are F-35As with Israeli modifications such as in the electronics on board. Thirty-three F-35Is are ordered, with the first 2 to be delivered in 2017. The Royal Canadian Air Force is opting for the CF-35, which will be an A-variant with a drag parachute (like the Norwegian jets; handy on short icy runways) and possible a refuelling probe like on the F-35Bs and Cs. Denmark and Belgium are likely to choose for the F-35A as well.
Embedding at sea
Just this week the USS Wasp has seen the debut of the first semi combat-ready F-35 unit-style training at sea ever, after the US Air Force put 10 of its jets through a deployment in April. Six F-35Bs flew more than a hundred sorties, clocking 85.5 flight hours during Operational Testing 1 (OT-1) to see how the embedding at sea is going. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel went along as well, to use the experience to incorporate on their vessels once the F-35s are delivered. Meanwhile Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at MCAS Yuma in Arizona is working to reach initial operational capability in Mid-2015, becoming the world’s first F-35 combat unit.
The Royal Navy’s newest anti-surface, troop insertion, (C)SAR, recon, ship protection and utility helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, has gone on its first operational cruise. On board Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster, the Wildcat and crew will patrol the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for the coming nine months.
The chopper – officially called 201 Flight of 825 Naval Air Squadron – started operations after the frigate left Portsmouth navy harbour on 21 March 2015.
The AW159 is a further development of the legendary Westland Lynx helicopter. Equipped with new avionics, new missions and COMNAV systems and the possibility to operate newer weapons, the Wildcat has one huge advantage over other maritime helicopters like the NHIndustries NH90: it is smaller and therefore more easy to fit in. Two turboshaft engines with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) provide the chopper of power.
Operated by a pilot and co-pilot/Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) the Wildcat is big enough to accommodate 6 additional persons in crash resistant seating, or 9 passengers in non-crash resistant configuration. While staying airborne for up to 3 hours or fly 300 nautical miles (500 km) before refuelling is needed, the Wildcat can reach speeds of 150 knots (172 mph or 277 km/h) with the ordinary cruise speed being 143 knots (164 mph or 264 km/h). Its operational ceiling is at 15,000 feet. Out at sea the crew should be able to hover all the way up to 4,800 feet.
Eyes and ears
The Wildcat has armoured crew seats and an armoured floor. For its versatile missions it is equipped with a rescue hoist, a cargo hook, a rappelling / fast roping kit, a four bag emergency flotation system and it has a waterproof floor installation. An infrared engine exhaust suppression system is meant to reduce the risk of being detected. Electro-optical sensors, a 360 degree AESA surveillance radar (underneath the nose) and an anti-submarine active dipping sonar give the Wildcat eyes and ears. The chopper can be armed with a forward firing cannon, plus 7.62 or 12.7 mm pintle mounted machine guns, as well as air-to-surface missiles / rockets, torpedoes and depth charges.
The Royal Navy is expected to receive a total of 30 Wildcats, while 30 in battlefield support configuration are destined for the Army Air Corps. Another eight machines have been designated to serve as Light Assault Helicopters with the UK’s Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing. Eight Wildcats have been ordered by the Republic of Korea Navy.
Not the Royal Navy/Royal Air Force’s 14 planned F-35Bs will sail with the new British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, but similar stealthy fighters of the United States Marine Corps. At least in the first years of the sea operations of the new naval asset if London will have its way, according to fresh reports from BBC Newsnight.
As insiders and sources to the BBC have confirmed the Royal Navy is likely not be able to field its essential air coverage on board the Queen Elizabeth until 2021 or later, while the carrier is planned to report for duty in 2018. Having such a strategic asset without anything proper to fly from it than helicopters, will put further delay on training of the vessel’s crew. Thus a fully ready British carrier combat group might not be able to sail earlier than 2023 to 2025.
Inviting the US Marine Corps, which plans to have their F-35Bs vertical take-off and landing jets operational by 2016, seems to be a logic request. It won’t even be such a problem in military operational terms, since the United Kingdom and the United States often go to war together. If the American say “yes” the two countries are even more able than before to train on interoperability of their armed forces, while the UK can deploy its carrier with air defence assets in place.
But as one of our fans with insight in aviation points out to us via our twitter.com/airheadsfly: “Inviting is one thing. To implement another Marines’ unit will keep their ships empty to fill the British one.” Absolutely right, in case Washington says yes we believe that no more than a skeleton USMC F-35B force of 4 to 6 aircraft will land and operate from the Queen Elizabeth at a time.
Even when the British own Lightning II stealthy jet force is at full strength in 2021 it will take some years for the fighter jocks and ground crews to work up to full combat operational status. The US Marines and US Navy are much further in their planning, with Navy’s F-35C recently conducting successful sea trials.
A proud British product, the British Aerospace Harrier and Sea Harrier were once THE air asset of the British naval fighting force, providing critical combat power during the 1982 Falklands War / Guerra de las Malvinas against Argentina. Shipborne “jumpjets” saw combat again during the operations Deny Flight, Deliberate Force and Allied Force in the 1990s over the former Yugoslavian republics.
Until the introduction into service of the Lockheed F-35B Lightning II the last take-off from a British aircraft carrier by a UK fighter jet was done on 24 November 2010, when a Harrier took of from HMS Ark Royal shortly before this aircraft carrier itself was decommissioned.