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.
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.
Boeing and partner Saab on Tuesday 20 December completed the first flight of the all-new T-X aircraft,. Bot companies earlier joined efforts in an attempt to win the US Air Force’s TX competition, which is aimed at replacing hundreds of ageing T-38 Talon trainers.
During the 55-minute flight, lead T-X Test Pilot Steven Schmidt and Chief Pilot for Air Force Programs Dan Draeger, who was in the seat behind Schmidt, validated key aspects of the single-engine jet and demonstrated the performance of the design.
“I’ve been a part of this team since the beginning, and it was really exciting to be the first to train and fly,” Schmidt said. “The aircraft met all expectations. It’s well designed and offers superior handling characteristics. The cockpit is intuitive, spacious and adjustable, so everything is within easy reach.”
“It was a smooth flight and a successful test mission,” Draeger added. “I had a great all-around view throughout the flight from the instructor’s seat, which is critical during training.”
Both pilots trained for the flight using the complete Boeing T-X system, which includes ground-based training and simulation.
Boeing and Saab revealed their first two T-X aircraft in September. The second is currently in ground testing and expected to fly in early 2017.According to Boeing, with one engine, twin tails, stadium seating and an advanced cockpit with embedded training, their T-X is more affordable and flexible than older, existing aircraft.
Boeing this week gave itself a handful of exactly the right cards when it comes to the winning the T-X competition that is aimed at replacing hundreds of ageing US Air Force T-38 training jets over the next decade. Their solution is the twin-tailed, single-engined and apparently cleverly designed Boeing T-X, developed in partnership with Swedish Saab. The new jet may very well come out victorious.
It’s not often these days that a major aircraft manufacturer unveils a jet that was 100 percent designed from scratch. All eyes were therefore set on Boeing as the company revealed its T-X on Tuesday 13 September. Prior to that, only an artist’s impression and a few sneak peeks of the aircraftwere revealed. Boeing is producing two aircraft at first, which are registered as BT-X in the Federal Aviation Authority register.
The result positively surprised many; a futuristic looking jet that however also steals some looks from the legendary F-104 Starfighter, especially when it comes to the front section. The rear more resembles modern fighter such as the F-15, F-22 and F-35. As a whole, it even looks remarkably similar to the new-ish AirLand Scorpion.
And yet, the BT-X was actually not 100 percent designed from scratch and steals more than just looks for other jets. It steal the F-16’s front and main landing gear and internally uses many parts of the Saab Gripen. In the past, this design method was also succesfully used on aircraft such as the F-117. Commonality helps keeping development and production costs low and gives the jet an immediate edge over its competitors, being the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 (based on the M-346) and the Northrop Grumman T-X design. According to Boeing, their BT-X can be produced and put together relatively simple, whatever that precisely means.
Yes, Lockheed Martin T-50 is an exisiting design and also should benefit from lower development costs, and the same goes for the T-100. But both are non-US designs, and the lengthy and unimpressive process that finally led to the US designed KC-46 over the existing European Airbus A330 MRTT as the US Air Force’s next tanker aircraft, proves Washington’s preference for US designs.
Boeing T-38 contract
The Boeing T-X is just that: a design mainly from a US contractor, with just the right amount of development to be done. Considering criticised projects such as the And remember, Boeing earlier in 2016 won a ten-year contract worth $855 million for updating T-38 trainer jets, the very aircraft the T-X will replace. It’s the perfect way to gain expertise and insight into the exact requirements of modern day fighter pilot training.
Engine Also, Boeing uses the afterburning General Electric F404 engine in its design, as do the T-50 and Northrop Grumman T-X competitor – not to mention the Saab Gripen. The yet-to-fly Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 will use two Honeywell/ITEC F124 turbofans and is he only contender to use two engines and not use afterburner. That’s a problem for the joint US-Italian designed T-100 right there in terms of costs, maintenance and performance. Northrop Grumman meanwhile has it hands full with developing the new Longe Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), also known as the future B-21.
The US Air Force’s new trainer should be fully operational in 2024 at the latest. A decision on which design wins the competition, is to be taken over the next few years. Boeing drew its cards right. No need even for a pokerface, it seems.
Boeing and its partner Saab revealed their entry in the US Force’s T-X competition on Tuesday 13 September. The Boeing T-X is an all-new aircraft designed for training mission and according to the design team incorporates the latest technologies, tools and manufacturing techniques. An afterburning F404 engine provides power.
The Boeing T-X aircraft has one engine, twin tails, stadium seating and an advanced cockpit with embedded training. The system also offers state-of-the-art ground-based training and a maintenance-friendly design for long-term supportability.
Both Boeing and Saab will use the two production T-X aircraft, revealed today, to show the U.S. Air Force the performance, affordability, and maintainability advantages of their approach. “Our T-X is real, ready and the right choice for training pilots for generations to come,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret.
“It’s an honor to build the future of Air Force training,” said Saab President and CEO Håkan Buskhe. “We have created the best solution thanks to great cooperation and a clear strategy since day one.”
The T-X will replace the Air Force’s aging T-38 aircraft. Initial operating capability is planned for 2024. Other entries into the competition are the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 (based on the M-346) and the Northrop Grumman T-X design.
A debate has started in Sweden to keep part of the current Gripen C/D fighter fleet of the Swedish Air Force flying, even after the purchase of the new and more capable E/F-model. Target: to safeguard that Sweden is able to protect its borders and economic zone.
The newest contribution to the debate comes from expert Robert Dalsjö of the Royal Swedish Academy for War Sciences. “The Gripen C/D has an average age of seven years and only a handful of planes have flown more than 1,000 hours. Combat aircraft are designed for 8,000 flight hours and in the Western world the are used for up to 30 and 40 years,” Dalsjö writes in the Swedish national daily Svenska Dagbladet.
Axe the Gripen
Having invested huge in the Gripen C/D Dalsjö argues that it is a wrong burning of money to axe the aircraft already. Sweden officially has 97 Gripen C/Ds on its three main airbases of Ronneby (southeast), Såtenäs (centrewest) and Luleå-Kallax (north) and on maintenance locations, with currently about 87 of them rotating operationally between the units. The Swedish government decided to buy 60 brand-new, larger and more capable Gripen E/F in the near future – with Brazil getting another 36 in cooperation with Brazilian Embraer.
Many in Sweden with insight in the defence world believe the expanded range, heavier payload and newer features of the Gripen will improve the readiness and survive chances of the Swedish Armed Forces, but the number of 60 aircraft is overall considered to low for the vast Scandinavian country. The Swedish Air Force will then have to protect, defend and – if necessary – attack with only max. 15 operational aircraft at its three air bases. The remainder 15 aircraft will be likely be held in reserve.
The low number is seriously going to limit the Swedish reaction in international crises, for example when Russia will increase it already quite visible presence in the Baltic Sea area. During the last century SAAB built 329 Viggen combat aircraft for the Swedish Air Force. Eighty-five of them were fully multirole and were considered the absolute minimum to keep Sweden safe.
“Protected” by neighbours
Safety is no longer a post-Cold War luxury. The Swedes need to worry, even when it comes down to being “protected” by its neighbours. The 55 F/A-18s of the neighbouring Finnish Air Force are good, but even when dispersed during a war situation they will likely not be a match to Russian air power.
The same goes for the new Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35A, with only a handful planned to serve as Norway’s own QRA on Eveness Airbase in the north and the main force much further south on Ørland Airbase near Trondheim. Unlike Norway, Sweden is no real NATO member and the future president of the USA might not even consider to come to Sweden’s aid to live up to the military coop and support contracts Stockholm and Washington DC have signed. However, politically Sweden has shown combat aircraft support to especially NATO-neighbour Norway several times the last couple of years during high-profile war games.
Keeping a mixed fleet of 60 Gripen E/F aircraft and – let’s say – 30 to 60 Gripen C/D seems like a reasonable, future solution for the Swedish Air Force, from both a financial and military-strategical point of view. It will even support Sweden’s indigenous aviation industry of Saab – a reason why Sweden fully chooses the 60 new aircraft – more, with maintenance contracts as well as new-build options for the defence firm based in Linköping.
No follow-on order
Of course at SAAB HQ they are hoping there will be a follow-on order from the Flygvapnet for another 10 to 30 Gripen jets, but that may never come. Cash-aware as Sweden needs to be these days, the Defence is buying new submarines (from SAAB), is in an urgent need for an effective long-range ground-based air-defence system to counter Russian offensive air and the remaining six of originally eight ancient Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft are in need of replacement. The new aircraft, which may be the Brazilian Embraer KC-390 will likely have to feature in-flight refuelling as well – currently being provided by the C-130 fleet.
The debate to keep the JAS 39C/D flying for many years to come has just started. Whatever the outcome, many Swedes are increasingly worried by their country’s safety. And that is normally fuel for decision makers to weigh more options.