Saturday, July 30, 2011

With No 'Plan B,' U.S. Marine Corps Shows Off F-35B

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. - In a graphic demonstration of the U.S. Marine Corps' strident support of its F-35B version of the tri-service Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the service flew the first-ever live demonstration the aircraft's short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) capability before reporters on July 29.
BF-01, the first F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) Joint Strike Fighter built for the U.S. Marine Corps, performs a slow flyby for media July 29 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (Christopher P. Cavas / Staff)
Piloted by Marine Lt. Col. Fred Schenk, the F-35B accelerated down the runway and lifted off in less than 450 feet. Once in the air, it flew past the assembled reporters and senior Marine Corps, Navy and industry brass at 60 knots airspeed. Schenk brought the plane, designated BF-1, to a hover and landed it vertically.
The display was all the more impressive because it was made during a humid summer day when temperatures exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat and humidity reduce aircraft and engine performance.
Moreover, BF-1 is a test aircraft, not a mature production plane. That is not without risk and the service took precautions. Multiple aircraft had been prepared as back-ups, test pilots at the base said.
At least one backup aircraft, BF-3, flown by test pilot Marine Lt. Col. Matt Kelly, went on to conduct a test sortie after BF-1 successfully flew its demonstration. BF-4, which is a mission systems test plane, was also on standby in case both aircraft aborted.
U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, himself an F/A-18 Hornet pilot, reiterated that the F-35B is vital to his service. The Corps' position is that the service has no backup plans if the F-35B does not make it though the two-year probation period that then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates placed upon the variant when it encountered technical problem and fell behind in flight testing.
"There is no Plan B," Amos said. "We need this airplane."
Asked what would allow the F-35 to exit probation, Amos said that the exit criteria have not yet been set. But he voiced confidence the jet would meet whatever those requirements might be.
Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, the service's deputy commandant for aviation, said the F-35B's progress in test flights since last year was "amazing." The F-35B caught up on last year's test points, and is now head of this year's flight test schedule, he said. Soon, in September, the F-35B will go to sea onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, he said.
Robling also expressed confidence that the STOVL version, which is the most expensive version of the jet, will come down in price as production increases.
"As soon as that ramp goes up, the costs will start coming down dramatically," he said.
Robling and Amos both reiterated the Corps' argument that the service needs an aircraft that can be based anywhere, which is the primary requirement behind the F-35B. The F-35B model will allow the Navy and Marine Corps to effectively double the number of aircraft carriers in the U.S. fleet because amphibious assault ships would be able to carry strike aircraft.
However, the service is also buying five squadrons of the carrier variant F-35C model planes to support the Navy's carrier fleet. Robling said that even though the service is buying some 80 C-models, the F-35B can also operate from a Navy carrier.
The F-35B will also play in the DoD's Air-Sea Battle concept, Robling said. Despite sacrificing some range, the jet retains all the capabilities of the Air Force and Navy versions. The F-35B would also support the land component of Air-Sea by providing support to Marine ground operations with having to rely on a carrier, he said.
Robling reiterated the Marines' need for a fifth-generation fighter to counter emerging threats such as advanced Russian and Chinese aircraft.
"It's absolutely the aircraft that we need to counter the fifth-generation aircraft that are coming online in places like China, "Robling said. "If we take this fifth-generation aircraft away, there is not another one on the drawing boards in the United States."

Iraq Plans to Double Planned F-16 Purchase

BAGHDAD - Iraq will ask for future defense contracts to include provision for trainers, bypassing MPs to allow some U.S. soldiers to stay past a year-end pullout deadline, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.
Maliki also told reporters on July 30 that he had revived talks to purchase 36 U.S. F-16 fighter jets, rather than the originally mooted 18, in a multi-billion-dollar deal that has been on the cards for several months.
"Training missions do not need the approval of parliament," the premier told a news conference. "The government will include in agreements to purchase weapons that there should be trainers to train Iraqi forces to use these weapons."
Maliki said he submitted a report to parliament which concluded Iraq's security forces still required training on purchased weapons. He did not give details on the report.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said this month that plans for a contingent of U.S. military trainers were gaining traction among Iraqi leaders, but no agreement has yet been reached on the future of the American presence here.
Iraqi leaders have already missed a self-imposed July 23 deadline to reach agreement and, in the past, political deals have rarely been reached during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is set to start Aug. 1.
Politicians have previously noted the difficulty of reaching an agreement in parliament on a prolonged American troop presence, as many Iraqis still view U.S. forces as occupiers.
Maliki said he had signed documents restarting talks to purchase F-16s from the United States, a deal that had been close to agreement earlier this year but was put off due to widespread protests railing against poor basic services.
The original deal had involved the acquisition of 18 jets, but Maliki said the new contract would lead to the purchase of 36 F-16s.
"The new contract will be larger than what we agreed earlier, to provide security for Iraq," he said.
Any potential deal would be worth billions of dollars and take years to implement, as it would require the manufacture of the planes and the training of Iraqi pilots.
U.S. commanders say that while Iraq's forces are able to maintain internal security in the country, improvement is required in protecting Baghdad's airspace, territorial waters and borders.

Chinese General: Country Needs 3 Crriers

BEIJING - China needs at least three aircraft carriers to defend its interests, a general said, days after the state media broadcast footage of its first carrier in a rare public mention of the project.
"If we consider our neighbors - India will have three aircraft carriers by 2014 and Japan will have three carriers by 2014," Gen. Luo Yuan, a senior researcher with the Academy of Military Sciences, was quoted as saying by Beijing News.
"So I think the number [for China] should not be less than three so we can defend our rights and our maritime interests effectively."
His comments, published July 29, came after China sought to downplay the capability of its first aircraft carrier, saying July 27 the vessel would be used for training and "research."
Beijing believes that the three Japanese carriers it referred to, built for helicopter operations, could eventually be converted into full aircraft carriers.
China recently confirmed it was revamping an old Soviet ship to be its first carrier, a project that has added to regional worries over the country's fast military expansion and growing assertiveness on territorial issues.
"We are currently refitting the body of an old aircraft carrier, and will use it for scientific research, experiments and training," defense ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told a news briefing.
Asked whether the carrier's addition to China's military arsenal would significantly raise the country's military capability, Geng said only that to "overrate or underrate the carrier's role are both incorrect."
The United States has welcomed China's mention of the carrier, calling it a step toward better transparency between the Pacific powers.
China's People's Liberation Army - the largest armed force in the world - is extremely secretive about its defense programs, which benefit from a huge and expanding military budget boosted by the nation's runaway economic growth. The PLA also operates the country's navy.

U.S., China Discuss Weapons Sales to Taiwan

WASHINGTON - The United States and China on July 29 held top-level talks on Taiwan, with Washington working preemptively to avoid a fallout as a decision nears on whether to sell fighter-jets to Taiwan.
U.S. officials have said that they will decide by Oct. 1 on whether to sell F-16 jets to Taiwan, a longstanding request from the self-ruling island which fears that China's rapidly growing military has gained a major edge.
Wang Yi, the top Chinese official in charge of Taiwan, met with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined part of the closed-door session, a State Department official said.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency said Wang "stressed that the Chinese mainland has been steadfast in opposing the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, because it harms Sino-U.S. ties and the peaceful development of the cross-strait relations."
Burns took office as the State Department's No. 2 just July 28 after his nomination was held up by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who said he relented only after Clinton agreed to release a long-delayed report on Taiwan's arms needs. The jets would be built in Cornyn's home state.
Congress is a stronghold of support for Taiwan, with the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week voting without dissent on a measure urging "immediate steps" for arms sales.
China considers Taiwan to be a territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979 but Congress at the same time approved the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the United States to provide the islands enough weapons for self-defense. The law states that the U.S. administration will make the decision without consulting China.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said he spoke about arms sales to Taiwan during a visit earlier in July to Beijing and "clearly, the Chinese would strongly prefer us to stop doing this."
But he said he explained to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde, that the United States has "responsibilities, and they're legal responsibilities, in my country to support the Taiwan Relations Act."
The United States last year approved $6.4 billion in weapons for Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters, but not jets or submarines. China lodged a protest, suspending military ties with the United States for months.
Mullen has strongly advocated dialogue, saying it will be crucial to avoiding miscalculations as China ramps up its military budget.
The Pentagon offered praise on July 29 after China made a rare acknowledgement that it is building its first aircraft carrier.
State television on July 27 broadcast footage of the old Soviet ship, which is being refitted in the port city of Dalian. The defense ministry said the carrier would be used for "scientific research, experiments and training."
"That's a good sign to us. We've always talked about the need for transparency so that we better understand what their intentions are," Pentagon spokesman U.S. Marine Col. Dave Lapan told reporters.
He said that the Pentagon was already well aware of the carrier project, "but it's at least a positive sign that they are being more forthcoming."
China showed footage of the carrier at a time of high tensions on the South China Sea with Vietnam and the Philippines. China's defense ministry did not say when the carrier would be finished.
At a joint news conference during Mullen's visit, China's military chief Chen defended the project and noted that the United States has 11 aircraft carriers in service.
"China is a big country [and] we only have quite a number of ships, but small ships. And this is not commensurate with the status of the country of China," Chen said.

U.S. Army Moves Forward on JLTV

The U.S. Army insists it plans to go forward with its open competition for Joint Light Tactical Vehicle following completion of its two-year technology development phase even as many defense analysts have the program pegged for cancellation.
Tim Goddette, director of Sustainment Systems, said in a July 28 statement that the program has taken steps forward, refining the requirements during the technology development phase in order to "meet the designated capability gaps."
A program that could be worth up to $20 billion already has a host of defense companies, including BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, Lockheed Martin, AM General and General Tactical Vehicles, all vying to build the next-generation light vehicle.
Army officials hope to build a spree of capabilities into JLTV to include "fortified improvised explosive device, or IED, protections designed to withstand blast attacks, off-road mobility, variable ride height suspension, exportable power and essential command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, capabilities," Goddette said.
However, budgets are shrinking and the Army also plans to field the Ground Combat Vehicle in the next seven years and complete a recapitalization of the Humvee fleet. Army leaders know JLTV costs can't spiral out of control in the current budget environment.
Originally intended to replace the Humvee, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee wrote in the 2012 defense spending bill that "the operational niche to be filled by the JLTV appears to be shrinking," and cut $50 million off the Army and Marine Corps research and development budget request.
"We gained valuable insight into the cost of each capability and effect that one capability might have on another," Goddette said in the statement. "We've learned that some trade-offs are necessary to pursue an overall strategy that best synchronizes requirements, resources, mature technologies and a cost-reducing acquisition strategy."
One such trade-off could be to not include add-on armor known as B-kits to each vehicle. Goddette said the Army does not expect every JLTV will need that level of armor and protection. He also expects more lightweight protective material to be developed in the coming years.
Goddette also tried to dispel the belief that the Army no longer needs JLTV if it recapitalizes the Humvee fleet, integrates MRAPs and delivers the GCV. He said JLTV and the Humvee recap "complement one another as part of an integrated Light Tactical Vehicle strategy."
"These two competitive efforts are also synchronized with one another to invest a limited amount of resources up front enabling a 'try before we buy' approach and capitalize on the vast experience our industry partners have gained over that past five years," Goddette said

Turkey's Top Commanders Resign

ANKARA - Turkey's top military commander Gen. Isik Kosaner and the chiefs of the three forces abruptly resigned July 29 in the worst showdown between the secular military and the government of Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which came to power in 2002, the Turkish media reported.
Former Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Isik Kosaner, right, is shown with NATO Supreme Commander Adm. James Stavridis before their meeting in March. (Turkish Chief of Staff via Agence France-Presse)
Kosaner was the chief of the Turkish General Staff. The other three men who resigned are Army Commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoglu, Navy Commander Adm. Esref Ugur Yigit and Air Force Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay.
News reports here cited a press statement by the three commanders, which said they saw "a need" to resign.
The resignations came only days before Turkey's annual meetings for military promotions.
More than 40 generals and admirals, of the military's 360-plus flag officers, are in jail and facing coup-related charges.