Sunday, November 13, 2011

U.S. To Buy Decommissioned British Harrier Jets

WASHINGTON and LONDON - Britain has agreed to sell all of its 74 decommissioned Harrier jump jets, along with engines and spare parts, to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps - a move expected to help the Marines operate Harriers into the mid-2020s and provide extra planes to replace aging two-seat F-18D Hornet strike fighters.
A Harrier GR9 takes off for the last time in November 2010 from the now-decommissioned aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are buying 74 decommissioned British Harrier jump jets. (U.K. Ministry of Defence)
Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, chief of the U.S. Navy's Supply Corps, confirmed the two-part deal Nov. 10 during a conference in New York sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch in association with Defense News.
Heinrich negotiated the $50 million purchase of all Harrier spare parts, while Rear Adm. Donald Gaddis, the U.S. Navy's program executive officer for tactical aircraft, is overseeing discussions to buy the Harrier aircraft and their Rolls-Royce engines, Heinrich said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in London confirmed the Disposal Services Agency was in talks with the U.S. Navy for the sale of the Harriers. The deal had yet to be concluded, he said Nov. 11.
Britain retired its joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier aircraft late last year in one of the most controversial moves of the defense reductions, which also cut the aircraft carriers that operated the jets, other warships, maritime patrol planes and personnel.
Most of the retired Harriers are stored at the Royal Air Force base at Cottesmore, England.
They have been undergoing minimum fleet maintenance, including anti-deterioration measures, in order to keep them airworthy, Heinrich said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Systems Command declined Nov. 11 to comment on the deal, deferring to the British military.
An MoD source said Nov. 11 that he thought both deals could be signed in the next week or two. The MoD source confirmed that the entire fleet of 74 Harrier aircraft was involved in the sale.
Heinrich noted that payment details were the only outstanding issue on the parts deal discussions, and he said the purchase will give the U.S. Marines a relatively economical way to get their hands on key components to keep the Harrier fleet running.
Similar Aircraft
While it is unusual for the U.S. to buy used foreign military aircraft for operation, integration of the British planes into Marine Corps squadrons shouldn't be a major problem, one expert said.
"I don't think it will be costly to rip out the Brit systems" and replace them with Marine gear, said Lon Nordeen, author of several books on the Harrier.
Nordeen noted that the British GR 9 and 9As are similar in configuration to the Marines' AV-8B night attack version, which make up about a third of U.S. Harriers. The British planes also are night planes dedicated to air-ground attack, he said, and while both types carry Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) sensors, neither is fitted with a multimode radar such as the APG-65 carried by U.S. AV-8B+ models.
The absence of the big radar, Nordeen said, makes the GR 9A and AV-8Bs "a better-performing plane. Weighing less, it's more of a hot rod."
British GR 9s, although upgraded with improved avionics and weapons, are powered by the Rolls-Royce Mark 105 Pegasus engine. GR 9As have the more powerful Mark 107, similar to the Rolls-Royce F402-RR-408s that power Marine AV-8Bs.
British and U.S. Harrier II aircraft had a high degree of commonality from their origin. The planes were developed and built in a joint arrangement between British Aerospace - now BAE Systems - and McDonnell Douglas, now a division of Boeing. While each company built its own wings, all forward sections of the British and American Harrier IIs were built by McDonnell in St. Louis, Mo., while British Aerospace built the fuselage sections aft of the cockpit.
"All the planes have to fit together," Nordeen said.
The Harrier IIs, built between 1980 and 1995, "are still quite serviceable," he said. "The aircraft are not that far apart. We're taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them. It's like we're buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it."
Operationally, Nordeen said, "these are very good platforms. They need upgrades, but on bombing missions they have the ability to incorporate the Litening II targeting pod [used by U.S. aircraft]. They're good platforms. And we've already got trained pilots."
Marine Corps Harriers are to be phased out by 2025, when replacement by new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters should be complete.
Nordeen, however, said he expects the British Harriers to be used initially to replace two-seat Marine F-18D Hornet fighters now operated in the night attack role.
"The F-18Ds are more worn out than the Harriers," Nordeen said. "Most of the conversions [of ex-British aircraft] early on will be to replace 18Ds and not Harriers." He noted the first Marine F-35B squadron already is slated to replace an F-18D unit.
Nordeen applauded the move.
"I would see this as a good bargain to extend the operational utility of the Harrier II fleet, no matter what," he said.

UAE Also Eyeing Typhoon in Combat Aircraft Competition

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has asked Britain to bid the Eurofighter Typhoon for its combat aircraft fleet competition, a British government spokesman said, dealing a blow to French efforts to sell the Rafale to the Gulf state.
"We have received the request for proposal for the Eurofighter Typhoon," an official from the U.K. Defense & Security Organization said Nov. 13 on the opening day of the Dubai Airshow. "We're working on it."
No figures were immediately available for the British bid.
The U.K. Minister for International Security Strategy, Gerald Howarth, was attending the exhibition as part of London's official support to place the Eurofighter in the UAE.
The British Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen Dalton, was also in Dubai, flying the flag for the Royal Air Force, which flew two Eurofighters to the show. A Eurofighter was scheduled to fly in the daily display, as was the Rafale.
Dassault Aviation declined comment.
French Air Force officers heard of the Eurofighter news on Nov. 11, through a London embassy attaché.
The UAE has been in talks with France since 2008 on a sale of 60 upgraded Rafales, but the negotiations suffered political upsets along the way and Gulf officials saw the initial $10 billion tag as excessive.
On the Rafale talks, French defense minister Gérard Longuet told journalists here "the final stage has been well engaged and a flick of the eyebrows could mean hundreds of millions of euros either way."
Each side was defending its interests, but the talks were essentially between the Rafale commercial team and the UAE, he said.
The UAE's request for a Eurofighter bid was a case of "livening up the procedure," Longuet said, adding he still expected the UAE would order the Rafale in December when the Gulf state celebrated its 40th anniversary of founding.
An important price element was the Rafale's multirole capability, which meant the same crew could perform air combat, reconnaissance and close air support missions, Longuet said. For a country with a small population, that was a big saving in crew costs.
On the UAE's Mirage 2000-9 fleet, any decision in an "innovative solution" was a decision at the state level as part of a strategic relationship, above that of the ministry or manufacturer, he said.
Some Mirage 2000-9 units were aging, others were more recent, he said.
In the official opening of the show, UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Bin Rashid Al-Makhtum made the briefest of visits at the Rafale stand in his tour of the exhibition.
Lockheed Martin has been in talks with the UAE on F-16 upgrades, mainly communications, to allow the U.S.-built fighters to talk to the F-35, F-16 business development executive William Henry said here.
In an upgrade that took units out of service, Lockheed offered sales of new F-16s to allow operators to maintain force levels, he said.
Lockheed also has talked to the UAE about sales of the F-35, Henry said.
"As air forces look to the future, the F-35 is going to be a key element of their force planning," he said.
Lockheed sees potential sales of 50 to 100 F-16s around the world, Henry said. On top of 18 F-16s ordered by Iraq, 52 units are on the backlog.
Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Naser Al Alawi, deputy commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense, told an air chiefs conference Nov. 12 that, in a new generation combat aircraft, the air force was looking for network capability, open architecture and interoperability.
A future weapon system would be versatile, multirole, and capable of handing modular sensors and payloads, Al Alawi said.
Other elements of the future aircraft would include upgradeable and expandable hardware and software, and the plane would be fast, agile and easily serviceable, he said.
The systems should also draw on dual use military-civil technology and offer versatility.
MBDA Chief Executive Antoine Bouvier said the European missile company has not received a request from Eurofighter or the UAE to work on an offer of weapons for the Typhoon.
The UAE Air Force flew its F-16 and Mirage 2000-9 fighters in the NATO-led coalition operation over Libya. Qatar also flew alongside with French missions.
That deployment yielded many "firsts," including the UAE's first time flying as a non-NATO member in a coalition air campaign, Al Alawi said.
Among the lessons learned from Libya were the need for integration of non-NATO elements into the alliance procedures, need for a well thought out communications plan among partner nations and the importance of exchange liaison officers, Al Alawi said.
The UAE is still in talks with the French government and industry for the Rafale, a Gulf source said.
UAE foreign minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan recently held a first meeting with his counterpart Alain Juppé, who has been tasked by president Nicolas Sarokzy to lead the export drive for the Rafale.
The request for a Eurofighter bid is the latest setback for France's Rafale foreign sale campaign. UAE officials asked Lockheed for information on the F-16s, on which the Gulf state has invested in co-development on its Block 60 version.
The U.S government was also out in force at the show, displaying the V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for the first time here, as well the F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighters. The Apache attack helicopter was also at the show.
Bilateral ties between France and the UAE were back to normal after a hitting a low patch last year, when the Gulf state viewed the Paris government as ignoring its concerns.

Britain Denies Troop Cut Claims in Leaked Memo

LONDON - Britain's Ministry of Defence on Nov. 12 denied claims in a leaked memo that up to 16,500 service members - thousands more than originally proposed - faced the axe of budget cuts.

The memo emerged as British Defence Minister Philip Hammond, above, was returning from his first trip to visit troops in Afghanistan. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)
The internal memo seen by The Daily Telegraph also reportedly showed that 2,500 wounded troops, including 350 who have lost limbs, would not be spared in an ongoing string of defense cuts.
The MoD dismissed the memo as the "factually incorrect" work of a junior officer and said there were no plans to change the level of cuts to the armed forces set out this year.
It also insisted there had been no change in the way it handled injured personnel, saying they were protected from the cuts until they "reached a point in their recovery where leaving the armed forces is the right decision."
The memo emerged as Defence Minister Philip Hammond flew back from his first visit to troops in Afghanistan and amid preparations for annual national ceremony in honor of the war dead on Nov. 13.
An MoD spokesman said: "The information in this leaked army memo from a junior officer is incorrect. Beyond those already announced, there are no further army reductions planned. There is absolutely no plan to change our treatment of service personnel who are wounded, injured or sick.
"Personnel injured on operations will not be included in the redundancy process while they are undergoing medical treatment. No one will leave the armed forces until they have reached a point in their recovery that is right for them."
Following a defense review last year by the Conservative-led coalition government, the British Army has been told to cut its numbers by almost a fifth to 82,000 by 2020.
In July, Army chiefs warned that an extra 5,000 soldiers faced the axe by 2015, on top of the 7,000 redundancies announced for the first phase, which has already started.
The classified document quoted by The Telegraph, sent to commanders in Afghanistan, states that wounded soldiers who have been "temporarily downgraded will not be exempt" and could be dismissed in the next round of job cuts early next year.
Jim Murphy, defense spokesman for the opposition Labour party, warned that an accelerated redundancy program could have "dangerous" consequences and that axing injured troops would be "the cruelest cut of all."
In the past month, six British soldiers have undergone double amputations as a result of injuries caused by the roadside bombs used by the Taliban, which have accounted for many of the 385 British deaths in Afghanistan since 2001.
An officer serving with a unit in which a soldier suffered a triple amputation this month told The Telegraph the memo had badly damaged morale.
"We now know that not only will we be left with a life-changing injury serving our country over here but we will more than likely be kicked out of the army," he said.

French Air Chief: UAVs Taxing Available Satellite Bandwidth

DUBAI - A move to a new standard communications band is needed because of a saturation of current bandwidth, French Air Chief of Staff Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros said Nov. 12.
Increasingly relied-upon unmanned aerial vehicles such as Predators, Reapers and the French Harfang generate huge amounts of data, including full motion video, and complex sensors such as high definition video, laser designators, imaging radar, ground moving target indicators and multispectral imagers demand high bandwidth for transmission, Palomeros told an Air Chiefs conference ahead of the Dubai Airshow's Nov. 13 opening.
Planners estimate a large bandwidth is needed because of a "multitasking of UAVs," with many remote piloted vehicles being operated simultaneously, Palomeros said.
Some 20 gigabits per second is needed to cope with the growing number of UAVs, which are swamping the current Ku bandwidth available on satellite communications links.
"Ka band appears to me as an interesting option," even if the signals are much more sensitive to weather conditions, Palomeros said.
Some technology has been developed, dubbed adaptive codage modulation, that limits the weather's impact on the signal, but a good solution would be to get industry to furnish a dual-band Ku-Ka antenna, Palomeros said.
"This option allows us to benefit from the maturity of the Ku, while anticipating the potential benefits of the Ka-band," he said.
Among "pragmatic options" for boosting UAV efficiencies, Palomeros suggested:
■ Chat rooms between coalition UAV operators, to allow coordination of surveillance missions and to boost interoperability.
■ Greater training in simulation to improve joint operations of UAVs and to overcome "ignorance of UAV performance" among ground commanders.
■ Fuse and share imagery, communication and signal intelligence as a single intelligence chain of command; to think of intelligence as a "whole operational concept" and not as "different pillars."
■ Operate UAVs as elements of a distributed air operation in which the air vehicles work alongside manned aircraft such as the Rafale, so they contribute to the entire mission set of an air operation.
■ Co-locate experts in the same unit, so intelligence professionals can provide the best situational awareness in near real-time in their specific domain, and intelligence experts should deploy regularly to keep information up to date.
■ Develop software to allow automatic detection of "suspicious activity," although most of the time human intelligence and operational expertise will be more effective than sophisticated software.
■ Work on autonomous flight rather than target detection, with manual override for pilots on the ground to reroute.
As an example of the concept of operations to be expected in UAV use, Palomeros showed a video in which a Rafale pilot used data from a Predator UAV to cross cue the designation pod on the French warplane, allowing the pilot to locate and identify a target.