Paris air show military roundup


ADITHere is a roundup of military aviation news from the 2019 Paris Air Show, which took place from 17 to 23 June at Le Bourget, France.

Raytheon International’s President (Chris Davis) stated that the Paris Air Show (PAS) was a “key show” for his firm as it represented an “opportunity to interact with all our international customers”. Mr Davis aslo added that for now a lot of interest has been shown for Raytheon’s counter-UAS technologies, which range from detection to engagement using air-defence equipment. As declared to Flight Global, he stated there has been “very broad demand signals across our international markets for a complete kill-chain” adding that interest has come from the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Middle East. The offer was also presented as “a scalable solution”. While European industry turns its focus to a future generation of air combat systems, Davis says he sees Raytheon’s AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120D Amraam air-to-air missiles as strong earners for the coming years, justifying his claim by the need to equip current fourth- and fifth-generation fighters with such weapons in order to ensure their operational relevance.

Raytheon and Northrop Grumman announced their partnership on 18 June for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program which will be tested under a U.S. Air Force and DARPA contract. The aim is to develop a cruise missile by applying the scramjet propulsion expertise that Northrop has developed to Raytheon’s tactical missile experience. HAWC is expected to result in flight tests on board the B-52 bomber later this year. Other test flights of the Raytheon/Northrop system are planned soon, the companies said, following a series of ground tests that have already been carried out. Both manufacturers noted that additive manufacturing (3-d printing) is also planned for the engine to help reduce the weight of the weapon.

Lockheed Martin declared on 17 June that it successfully delivered the 500th Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) for F-35s. All units have been delivered on time or ahead of schedule to support aircraft production and sustainment requirements according to the OEM. “We know how important this capability is to the warfighter and we continue to invest in our Advanced EOTS upgrade, which will bring extended capabilities to the cockpit,” said on that occasion Michael Williamson, vice president of Sensors & Global Sustainment at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control (MFC). The device is the world’s first sensor to combine forward-looking infrared along with infrared search and track functionality to provide precise air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting capability. EOTS allows aircrews to identify areas of interest, perform reconnaissance and precisely deliver laser and GPS-guided weapons. The company also delivered the 4,000th Distributed Aperture System (DAS) Window for the F-35 Lightning II which consists of six polycrystalline silicon, low-observable, infrared transparent windows for Electro Optical (EO) DAS sensors on the F-35. The system provides, among other things, threat detection and 360° situational awareness to the pilot.

Boeing’s KC-46 tanker made its international debut at the Paris Air Show although troubles remain since the US Air Force stopped accepting deliveries following the discovery of foreign object debris (FOD) on the aircraft. “We have had missteps. We owned those, and we have placed a fierce, focused approach upon that to ensure that it never occurs again” Leanne Caret, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told journalist at the airshow on 17 June. “The debris and tools that were left on the KC-46 upon its delivery were unacceptable,” she added, noting that “decisive actions” have been taken to ensure that future processes aren’t plagued by such issues.

Referring to the oncoming partnership with Embraer, Mrs. Caret was enthusiastic regarding the future promotion of the KC-390 by both Boeing and the Brazilian OEM. “We very much look forward to the KC-390 becoming one of our products” she declared. As reported by AIN Online, Embraer has capacity to build 12 of these KC-390s per year, but could make more by adding a third shift at the factories where components and final assembly are done. This would also require “solving some bottlenecks in the supply chain” according to Jackson Schneider, president and CEO of Embraer Defense & Security.

On 16 June, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced that it had flown more than 100 test flights on its MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The first delivery for the Royal Air Force, related to the Protector RG Mk1 programme, is scheduled for the early 2020s. The Government of Belgium has also approved negotiations for the acquisition of SkyGuardian to meet the nation’s Remoted Pilot Aircraft (RPA requirements). The aircraft is also being considered by the Australian Defence Force, who chose General Atomics-ASI to supply an RPA system for Project Air 7003. The aircraft comes with a maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian, which is available with a multimode 360 degree Maritime Patrol Radar and a host of other maritime capabilities.

Instead of bringing one of its flying prototypes, Boeing displayed a full-size mock-up its T-X advanced jet trainer after the aircraft won a $9.2bn competition with the USAF last October to replace Northrop’s ageing T-38. Jointly developed with SAAB, the plane has a lot of potential according to Boeing’s VP Thom Breckenridge as he believes that up to 2600 units could be sold over the coming years, with roughly 40% of those for the US alone. “We’re absolutely focused on the USAF customer […] that’s our first and foremost priority. At the same time we are out discussing this brand new capability. We’ve got a lot of international interest, and that is reflective of having the full scale model at Paris this week.” Mr. Breckenridge added.

As reported by AIN Online, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) subsidiary Elta Systems and Embraer signed a strategic cooperation agreement to jointly develop an airborne early warning (AEW) variant of the Praetor 600 business jet on Tuesday. The P600 AEW is targeting a new segment of the airborne early warning market, namely one for air forces with lower defense budgets that want to be able to operate this type of capability. Under the agreement, Embraer is charged with the aircraft, ground support, and communications provision, while Elta will deliver the S-band active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar, signals intelligence system, and other electronics and associated integration. IAI provides a range of AEW aircraft based on different platforms, including the G550-derived Conformal AEW that is operated by Italy, Israel, and Singapore, and considers this a newtype of capability within that family.

The JF-17 single-seat fighter jointly developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation and the Pakistani Air Forces (PAF) was displayed both on the ground and in flight during the entire week under Pakistani colours. A total of three aircraft were flown four years after their first appearance at le Bourget. An official familiar with the program declared to Flight Global that a number of key decisions are set to be made regarding an oncoming variant (Block III) which is due for a maiden flight by year-end. One major element of the Block III upgrade is the addition of an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The Block III will also have a new integrated electronic warfare suite, with Chinese and European options on the table for this requirement. Most notably, the Block III will see the JF-17’s intakes widened to improve air flow which could also set the stage for a new engine potentially replacing the Klimov RD-93 engine. The quoted official said that “another engine is in mind” but declined to discuss further details.

Nine Turkish companies displayed their products during this year’s event, with Ankara’s presence spearheaded by airframer Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) whose CEO (Temel Kotil) unveiled a full-scale mockup of the country’s ambitious indigenous fighter aircraft, the TF-X/MMU. TAI hopes to fly the twin-engine, 27-tons, fifth-generation fighter in 2026 and make it available to the Turkish Air Force by 2030. According to Aviation Week, prototypes will be powered by the General Electric F110 engine, but production aircraft will feature a nationally developed engine produced by Ankara-based TR Motor Power Systems, a joint venture of Tusas and BMC Power Motor, a subsidiary of the larger BMC group. Design is also supported by BAE Systems which currently has about 100 engineers in Ankara working on the project. Turkish providers such as Aselsan, also present at the show, are working on the TF-X’s avionics systems and sensors including an indigenous active electronically scanned array radar (AESA), and potentially indigenous weapons in the future.

A mock-up of the advanced, indigenous trainer jet (Hürjet) has also been displayed, the plane being expected to replace the Turkish Air Force’s current Northrop T-38 Talons. Engineers have recently completed wind tunnel work confirming the configuration, while a preliminary design review is due to take place imminently for a maiden flight planned by 2022. A mock-up of the indigenous Anka-S drone, of which the latest ‘Goksungur’ super-fast variant is derived (380km/h), was also on display at PAS. TAI also flew its T129 ATAK attack helicopter developed from Leonardo’s Mangusta during the display, and the aircraft has already generated interest from Pakistan and the Philippines. Other Turkish firms present this year include missile manufacturer Roketsan and Tusas Engine Industries, the latter being currently developing an indigenous turboshaft for the Gokbey helicopter that could also be fitted on the T129. The engine, dubbed TS1400, is currently under accelerated development and is expected for testing in roughly 30 months.

Dassault Aviation on Monday unveiled the much awaited New Generation Fighter (NGF), the “cornerstone” of Europe’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS). The French OEM is expected to conduct most of the NGF’s development while Airbus will for itself focus most of its efforts on the systems that will support the fighter. It was revealed at the same time that both manufacturers had laid out a series of milestones, including an initial ‘Demonstrator phase’. This will cover the period between 2019 and mid-2021 and will serve as a starting point for demonstrators and technology development for a New Generation Fighter (NGF), Remote Carriers (RC) and an Air Combat Cloud (ACC) to perform their maiden flight by 2026. MBDA, Thales, Safran and MTU are already expected to join the project as part of various teaming agreements based on “transparent and fair handling of Intellectual Property Rights” (Dassault Aviation, 2019/06/17). Dassault and Airbus also expect a contract award for the first Demonstrator Phase by Q4 2019. The event was also used to announce that Spain, a historic member of the Airbus project, will join the development program and ultimately field the aircraft once it becomes available. Expected to be fully operational by 2040, the jet’s capabilities remain evasive so far, although a few hints have been given. It already features an elevated bubble canopy, promising good visibility. It also has two engines and F-35-shaped air intakes, while appearing to have a cranked kite wing formation similar to the X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle. The cranked kite design broadens the fuselage, increasing the interior volume of the aircraft and allowing more room for internally stored fuel and weapons. FCAS also looks like it has a single set of low-angle stabilizers replacing traditional, separate horizontal and vertical stabilizers, thus increasing the aircraft’s stealth. However, a Defense News interview with Air Force Gen. Frédéric Parisot published on Monday revealed that “hyper-stealth” was not considered as a valid solution given current evolutions on sensor technologies. The NGF is also expected to be a single-seat only jet, as fifth- and sixth-generation fighters are expensive enough without having to develop one and two seat versions. The NGF’s engine remains unknown however, as Dassault’s CEO Eric Trappier stated in an interview with Challenges (June 17) that initial demonstrations will happen on engines currently used by the Rafale A. Also a mock-up of the cockpit, posted on Twitter, appears to show a digital screen that takes up virtually the entire space in front of the pilot, providing ample view for inflight monitoring. According to Tony Osborne (Aviation Week) who was present at Monday’s unveiling, the plane is roughly “1/3 or ¼ bigger than a Rafale”. France is very likely to ask for a carrier-capable version for the NGF which shall require stronger landing gears. FCAS will also have the ability to carry nuclear weapons: the French version will carry the ASMP nuclear missile or its replacement, while Germany and other NATO countries will want it to be certified for the new American B-61-12 nuclear bomb. However in an interview published on June 15, Gen. Lavigne (head of the French ‘Armée de l’Air’) stressed that common operational needs had already been validated in February by both Berlin and Paris, thus brushing aside any critics regarding the risk of a disjointed development. Mr. Lavigne also added in another interview (June 17) that it hasn’t been decided yet whether or not the NGF will ultimately be an unmanned or pilot-driven system.

Dassault also exposed its new variant for the Rafale jet, the F3-R which should be available for operations in the French Air Force by late 2019. The model will most notably include the new Meteor air-to-air missile developed by MBDA along with Thales’ Talios pod which helps the pilot in spotting and assessing threats in real time. The jet will also feature a head-up viewfinder which will enable the display of all necessary flight informations in real-time to facilitate decision-making and prevent unnecessary distractions.

As the Air Show’s opening was drawing nearer, Airbus completed a flight demonstration of a “connected airborne battlespace scenario, centred on (an) MRTT aircraft,” as the firm stated on June 13. The test was part of the development of Airbus’ network for the sky (NFTS) program which is portrayed as a prefiguration of the FCAS system and features terrestrial and satellite communications, tactical air-to-ground, ground-to-air, air-to-air links, 5G mobile communications and laser connections. The demonstration reportedly simulated wideband communication links between ground forces, fighter jet, a multirole transport aircraft, and a combined air operations centre on the ground. As pointed out by David Kingdon Jones, head of airborne connectivity at Airbus, “the level of connectivity is much greater than in current systems”, adding that their aim was to make sure that FCAS nodes could push information securely and intelligently wherever needed. According to Bruno Fichefeux, director of the FCAS programme for the firm, prototypes will ideally fly before year-end in order to test certain AI-related features along with initial capacities for the NGF. He also added that Rafale and Eurofighters should remain in service until 2050 in order to ensure air-readiness before the full deployment of future NGFs.

Missile maker MBDA published a communiqué on 17 June promoting its ‘Future Air Systems’ (FAS) designed as an integrated suite for combat cloud and combat support, ranging from remote carriers to jamming pods. These various devices “will need to be able to enter denied areas, see threats before being seen, force hidden threats to uncover early enough to suppress them and to always react quicker than the adversary” while also providing ‘’robust survivability strategies” against evolving threats. According to MBDA, FAS will feature a number of capabilities, including deep strikes (Anti-access breachers), tactical strikes, air-to-air (Meteor missiles), self-protection (missile killers) and penetration enablers (remote carriers). Said remote carriers are presented as compact, stealthy, and able to co-operate with other armaments and platforms, along with the ability to be launched from combat, transport aircraft, or surface ships. MBDA also implied that it was the ‘’only European player’’ able to deliver on key capacities of the current FCAS programme, including “stealthy or supersonic long range vehicles […] very compact airframes and sub-systems for high loadouts [and] networking, infrared and radio frequency sensors with data fusion and artificial intelligence for automated target identification”. Also under development is the ’smart glider’ which is described by as a “standoff, general-purpose, anti-surface pack teaming missile”. Up to 18 of those could be carried by a Rafale-type aircraft and could glide beyond 100 kilometers to its target, ideally a ground-to-air facility. Eric Beranger, the firm’s newly appointed CEO, declared in conclusion that “MBDA’s vision for future air armaments is exhaustive and ambitious, and we are ready to take on the challenge to deliver to our domestic nations the full sovereignty of their future air combat systems”.

Alex Cresswell, Thales’ executive VP for land air systems, said in an interview that his firm has invested ‘heavily’ in the concept of augmented, connected and collaborative combat in order to fulfil the needs envisioned, among others, by the FCAS program. That concept of an integrated approach to combat was based on “the immense amount of data that these sensors and systems will collect to […] to make smarter, faster decisions with regard to the application of military force and the organization of military capabilities,” Mr. Cresswell said, adding that the aim was ultimately to “flatten command structures and make these assets more useful”. To that extent a number of devices have been displayed at the Paris air show, including an upgraded Talios airborne target designation pod and Ground Force 300 land-based radar. The Talios pod will equip the Rafale F3-R and F4 fighters with a capability called neural process imagery, which allows to process the imagery in flight and deliver target detection in real time. The upgraded version is therefore expected to replace seven or eight image analysts working for a week to find a strike target.

The GF300, a land radar based on Sea Fire 500, is for its part a digital sensor initially developed for the French Navy. According to ‘Second Line of Defense’ (SDL Info), the French procurement agency (DGA), which funded development of GF300, is in talks with Thales for a selection of a new radar to equip the next-generation SAMP/T, an update for a Franco-Italian air defense system with the Aster missile. GF300 is pitched as having longer range than the present Arabel system and offered at a similar price as the latter, with greater reliability. A dec ision on the radar is due by the end of the year, Thales said.

SABCA and the American company Borsight Inc, signed an agreement from PAS to respond to the call for tenders for maintenance and repair services of the USAF’s F-16s based in Ogden (UT). The contract valued at roughly $900mn and both partners now seem ideally positioned. “The strength of this collaboration between our two companies lies in the complementarity of their respective areas of expertise” said Thibauld Jongen, CEO of SABCA. Borsight has indeed the necessary and available infrastructure, avionics expertise, and is located close to the customer, while SABCA Group has for itself more than 40 years of experience in the maintenance, repair and upgrade of the F-16 aircraft for the European and American Air Forces. Both companies are reportedly looking forward to long-term collaboration and will also explore new business opportunities. After a recent expansion of its presence in North Africa (Morocco), this new cooperation leading to a SABCA presence in the United States is part of a broader expansion strategy focused on fleet and life cycle management.

Anticipating the promotion of the FCAS program, Airbus submitted by late May with its relevant partners (Dassault Aviation and Leonardo) an offer to Brussel’s Joint Armaments Cooperation Organisation (OCCAR) for its EuroMale drone as they hope to sign a contract by the end of 2019. A mock-up was therefore unveiled at Le Bourget. With a wingspan of 26m, a 16m fuselage and a weight of 11 tons, this new generation UAV is expected to perform its maiden flight by 2024. “The first deliveries to the four countries involved in this program are scheduled from 2025” said Jana Rosenmann, Director of the Airbus Defence UAV Division. The initial contract concluded by France, Germany, Italy and Spain covers 63 EuroMale systems and a few non-European countries have also manifested their interest according to Ms. Rosemann. She added that her firm was “in discussions to reach an agreement with [OCCAR], including on the amount of the contract. We hope to achieve this by the end of 2019 or early 2020”. However, said offer is considered “excessive” by the French Ministry of Armed Forces which recently stated that they had to “discuss in order to reach a more reasonable offer in a few months”. The European Defense Fund (EDF) has already invested €100mn in the project. Once the contract is signed, the first drones will be produced at the final assembly site in Mansching, Germany. The program is also slated significant economic benefits in all four client countries. During the start-up phase, once actual development starts, it will employ about a thousand people, then increase in its workforce for the manufacturing phase.

GE Aviation and Leonardo announced that they were jointly developing digital products aiming to help the Italian OEM manage components on its AW101 helicopter fleet, but also on Eurofighter Typhoons. The MoU between both companies calls for creation of digital component tracking tools that would enable staff to quickly determine the location of parts. The technology will also allow Leonardo to better forecast component requirements, GE Aviation said. Relevant data will be stored on a cloud-based database.

On 17 June Leonardo unveiled its Falco Xplorer drone, the latest in the Falco UAS family developed by the manufacturer. Being the largest drone in the Falco class, the Xplorer has a carrying capacity of 350kg and a maximum take-off weight of 1.3tons. Equipped with a satellite communication link, it has an autonomy of more than 24 hours. The first flight of the aircraft is scheduled to take place this month from Trapani Airport, Italy.

Italian electronic warfare specialist Elettronica – which provides systems for the Eurofighter Typhoon– displayed its new SISPROS family of ‘interception, analysis and intelligence systems’. The SISPROS family includes a warning receiver for the ELT/162 radar. Daniela Pistoia, corporate chief scientist at Elettronica, says fight testing of the ELT/162’s RWR mode will be conducted later this year, while the ESM mode will undergo the same process during 2020. The new system will supersede the company’s existing ELT/160 unit, introducing new technologies such as direct sampling and artificial intelligence.

Safran announced on the first day of the show that the first qualification flight for the Patroller tactical UAV under the DGA’s scrutiny. This maiden flight marks the beginning of the industrial qualification phase by the French Defence Procurement Agency for Safran’s Patroller Tactical Drone System (SDT). The Patroller was chosen to equip the army to replace the SDTI (Intermediate Tactical UAV System) and carries a 250 kg multi-sensor payload including an optronics sensor, radar and electronic warfare system. The first SDT system with two ground stations and five vectors is scheduled for delivery by the end of 2019. According to the manufacturer, the Patroller has already performed more than 220 test-flights.

Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.