PARIS AIR SHOW 2011 - Defence cutbacks cause concern

With representation from over 100 leading global aerospace and defence companies, and a total exhibitor list of more than 2,100, the 49th Paris International Air Show, held at Le Bourget airport in June, was the biggest event of its kind in 2011. The show opened with the customary war of words between Boeing and Airbus over new aircraft and sales announcements, but there was no news from Boeing on what it intends to do to maintain its competitive position on the 737 family up against the re-engined Airbus A320neo (which has clocked up over 1,000 orders). However, in the guise of the P-8A Poseidon, the Wedgetail AEW&C, and other possible special mission variants, the 737 is clearly going to remain in production for many years yet as a military air platform. But aside from commercial programmes which tended to dominate the headlines, there was nevertheless very comprehensive defence sector representation at Paris with companies anxious to talk about future developments and prospects for current programmes.

22nd Jul 2011


 PARIS AIR SHOW 2011

Defence cutbacks cause concern

With representation from over 100 leading global aerospace and defence companies, and a total exhibitor list of more than 2,100, the 49th Paris International Air Show, held at Le Bourget airport in June, was the biggest event of its kind in 2011. The show opened with the customary war of words between Boeing and Airbus over new aircraft and sales announcements, but there was no news from Boeing on what it intends to do to maintain its competitive position on the 737 family up against the re-engined Airbus A320neo (which has clocked up over 1,000 orders). However, in the guise of the P-8A Poseidon, the Wedgetail AEW&C, and other possible special mission variants, the 737 is clearly going to remain in production for many years yet as a military air platform. But aside from commercial programmes which tended to dominate the headlines, there was nevertheless very comprehensive defence sector representation at Paris with companies anxious to talk about future developments and prospects for current programmes.

Unsettling backdrop

Widespread cut-backs in defence spending in Europe provided an unsettling backdrop to the show, with few military orders being announced, but there was evidence of plenty of competition for new aircraft, missiles and systems. Europe is not alone in frightening itself to death over the runaway costs of major new programmes, and the Obama Administration in Washington is now facing up to the inevitability of large-scale cuts in military expenditure over the next decade.  In a few years time it will no longer be unchallenged as the world’s only super-power as Russia is doubling defence spending, with plans to build 800 new combat aircraft and over 1,000 new helicopters and transport aircraft over the next decade, and China is embarking on a 13% annual defence spending increase year-on-year. China’s long-term vision includes a significant strengthening of its ability to project air and sea power over a more global footprint, along with a determination to modernise its aerospace capability.

As at previous Paris air shows, the lack of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on display did nothing to diminish interest in the highest profile US military air programme and at the show Lockheed Martin was keen to describe the latest progress with the flight trials and to highlight the fact that production examples of the F-35A are now about to start preparing USAF instructor pilots for the first training unit at Eglin AFB, Florida over the next year. After years of delays and technical issues, it seems as if the F-35 will finally enter limited service soon, with an initial operating capability by 2014. Progress on the naval F-35C model is at the stage where the first two aircraft have now been delivered to the US Navy for test evaluation. This should lead to the first deck-landing trials before the end of this year. The US Marine Corps is now planning to fly initially with F-35Cs from conventional aircraft carriers before the STOVL F-35B is ready to operate from the USMC’s assault ships. The delays on the more complex F-35B are being overcome and over 100 vertical landings having been accomplished so far this year. Over 528 flight hours have been flown on this variant on 414 flights (at the beginning of June). There is still deep concern in the US Senate over the continuing rise in JSF programme costs, particularly its through-life supportability. Being a stealthy design, there are extra maintenance issues that do not figure in more conventional aircraft, but the company was bullish about “factoring in” such requirements, which it insists will not become a show-stopper.

According to the latest information to emerge from Washington DC, the programme unit cost per aircraft is now $133 million, which is almost twice the original estimate. The F-35B is the most expensive version to buy and operate, and the F-35A the least expensive. Some of the higher unit cost figures being talked about at the show undoubtedly include other elements of the programme, so it is far from clear what the true costs are of each variant. However, the flight tests are now progressing well, with a total of nearly 3,300 hours flown to date by all three versions in a test fleet of 13 aircraft, and an F-35A has flown at Mach 1.53. The international customer base remains loyal, with small trial batches of aircraft being ordered before export nations commit to large scale orders.

Some customers wish to equip their F-35s with their own choice of weapons but there is a perception that the US is not over-enthusiastic if such added integration work is seen as expensive and time-consuming for only a limited requirement.  More cynical overseas observers suspect a more protectionist motive aimed at encouraging export customers to select US missiles. One example of a customer expressing these concerns openly at the show was Norway, which has ordered four evaluation F-35As, but wants its Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile (JSM) integrated onto the aircraft for use as an internally-carried cruise missile. It would like to sell this to the US Forces as well as its own air force, and to offer it to other F-35 operators. The UK also wishes to carry the MBDA Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile and the ASRAAM.

Export dog fight

With the Mig-35, Gripen NG, F-16 and F/A-18 all eliminated in the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, the two finalists, Eurofighter and Dassault are now running head-to-head in the final stages of the bid evaluation process. With at least 126 aircraft at stake, possibly extending to 200 aircraft later on, the Indian competition is of major importance to these two rival fighter teams. The final choice will be made on the basis of a combination of aircraft performance and the extent of the technology transfer offered. India is demanding 50% offset value on the deal.

The Indian prime contractor, HAL, which will build the chosen aircraft locally, has plenty of experience on supersonic fighters, but companies throughout the Indian supply chain will be expected to gain much from new work on the chosen aircraft. The choice is a finely balanced one on best performance. France has already ordered the advanced Thales RBE-2 AESA radar for its next batch of 60 Rafale fighters and will upgrade earlier versions, whereas the rival Eurofighter team is planning to introduce its own AESA radar, the Selex Galileo Captor-E, in 2015. A bonus that is available, though India is not currently seeking it, is the Rafale’s availability off-the-shelf for aircraft carrier operations. France has high hopes of selling Rafale to Brazil and in the Middle East as well as India, while Eurofighter sales personnel are also hoping to export Typhoons to Japan, Oman, and Eastern Europe.

Missiles

The NATO military campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya have provided a timely showcase for some of the latest European attack weapons.  The MBDA Duel-Mode Brimstone missile has been shown to be an extremely accurate new precision stand-off weapon which can minimise collateral damage. Export interest in this new missile has risen considerably following its operational success in Libya. The French Air Force and Navy have been using the Sagem AASM Hammer modular stand-off weapon with great effect, and both French and British aircraft have launched MBDA Storm Shadow/Scalp cruise missiles against identified fixed targets at extended range. Thales has recently received a large order from the UK for its new Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM), which was on show. This is a small high-speed strike weapon that can be carried aboard light close support aircraft, helicopters and UAVs in multiple or individually. It is aimed at a growing market for low-cost precision missiles that can be used against surface threats (vehicles or fixed targets), small warships and fast attack craft and attack helicopters. First use will be on the new Agusta Westland AW159 Wildcat.

Israel’s extensive defence industry was well represented at Paris, with a large national pavilion, an outdoor display area featuring missiles and UAVs, and individual stands. Rafael had a major presence and was keen to show its overall Network Centric Warfare capabilities and the Spike family of precision missiles. In Rafael’s outside display area were all the key components in Israel’s impressive two double-layered defensive shield missile defence systems. Iron Dome is used against short-range artillery rockets and David’s Sling, built in conjunction with Raytheon, will defend against medium and long-range rockets, short- range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. We shall look closer at these systems in a forthcoming article.

Raytheon is developing a Small Tactical Missile (STM) for use on UAVs. It weighs just 13lbs but has an effective warhead that is claimed to be suitable for attacking enemy groups or small vehicles. Clusters could be carried on larger platforms, and tests are continuing on this glide weapon. One of the most interesting missile developments announced at the show was the CVS401 Perseus from MBDA. This is a design concept for a Mach 3, stealthy, highly manoeuvrable all-weather weapon for use against ship and land targets. It could replace such widely used anti-ship missiles as the Harpoon and Exocet as well as current land attack missiles. It would have multi-platform compatibility and high velocity for quick response and could fly 300kms against time sensitive targets in less than 7 minutes from launch. The missile is powered by a ramjet motor built around a revolutionary highly compact Continuous Detonation Wave Engine. A modular composite structure is designed to reduce the overall mass of the weapon and the lethal payload comprises three separate warhead packages for a dispersed effect. This is one of a series of next generation weapons being studied by MBDA.

Radars and patrol aircraft

Radar suppliers, including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Selex Galileo, Thales and Elta were all showing their latest AESA radar systems because the next few years will see an increase in the demand for upgraded combat and search and track radars for a variety of roles and air platforms. The latest maritime patrol aircraft can carry AESA radars which, combined with other onboard sensors, can create a very effective added ISR capability as well as maritime surveillance and coastal/ border protection. Australia is not the only country considering a multi-layered maritime surveillance solution, combining traditional long-range manned MR aircraft and high altitude, long endurance UAVs, such as the US Navy’s BAMS combination, with Boeing P-8A aircraft and Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs.

Australia has the world’s largest civilianised coastal patrol fleet, operated by Cobham, under its Coastwatch programme. Other nations are looking closely at how this model might be applied to give a more affordable but effective coastguard capability. At Paris, SAAB was marketing a whole family of radar-equipped platforms based on the SAAB 340, or larger SAAB 2000 turboprop airframes, or an Embraer ERJ 145 twin jet. These included the SAAB 340 MSA ( Maritime Security Aircraft), with a belly-mounted rotating surveillance radar, the SAAB 2000 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft), with rotating surveillance radar and electro-optical sensor turret, the SAAB Air Tracer for Integrated Communications and Electronic Intelligence special missions, and the SAAB 2000 or EMB145 Erieye AEW & C platforms with AESA radar and Electronic Support Measures.

A surprise all-new AEW&C offering emerged at Paris in the form of the Airbus Military C-295 AEW&C. This is in a similar size category to the Northrop Grumman Hawkeye AEW&C naval aircraft and is intended to offer a more affordable alternative to larger AEW platforms such as the Boeing 737 Wedgetail AEW&C. The C-295 has been fitted with an AESA radar by Elta, in a 360 degree fast-rotating rotodome, which can provide all-round radar coverage in the air-to-air detection mode, but also can be focused on areas of interest to identify and track moving air or surface targets. The aircraft can also carry a multi-mode radar under the fuselage to give high resolution SAR images of surface targets, such as ships. Inside the cabin is the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) which Airbus Military also uses aboard other special mission aircraft. Airbus claims this new radar platform, which can stay on station for up to 8 hours, can combine several important operational roles, including AEW, MR, ISR, EW and intelligence gathering.

Growing light attack market

With the United States preparing to reduce military manpower in Afghanistan, new attention was focused at the show on programmes to supply the Afghan government, and other nations, with modern, affordable air assets that require less maintenance support. (KYM TO TASHA, BPS) The upsurge in interest in light combat aircraft and STOL transports could be seen with armed military versions of turboprop and jet trainers, such as the Embraer Super Tucano and Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C, and the Alenia M-346, and new military versions of small regional airliners from ATR and Airbus Military. Trainers were also well represented, reflecting a large worldwide need to replace ageing types still in service. A potentially huge order for the USAF for a T-38 replacement advanced pilot trainer will have to be built in the USA, but the three most likely off-the-shelf contenders are the Finmeccanica T-100 (M-346), BAE Systems Hawk AJT and South Korea’s KAI T-50, which has just been selected by its first export customer, Indonesia. Boeing is understood to be proposing an all-new design. India has followed Singapore by turning to Pilatus for its interim basic trainer, though selecting a PC-7 Mk II airframe rather than the latest PC-21. No less than 75 PC-7 Mk IIs are to be bought by the IAF off-the-shelf from Switzerland. From China, AVIC displayed a model of its L-15 advanced trainer and light attack jet. It could easily be mistaken for the Alenia M-346!

The Airbus Military A400M was at Paris and available for close-up inspection in the static aircraft park, but a gearbox problem led to it being taken out of the daily flying display. The aircraft is now about to start series production, with the aim of entering service in March 2013. Great efforts have been underway to share as much commonality as possible in the military specifications, though some operators will also have additional national requirements to fund. The five partner nations signed an agreement at the show that will establish a joint in-service support infrastructure for the 170 aircraft ordered to date.

The twin turboprop Alenia C-27 is finding a new niche role as a special forces support aircraft and for electronic warfare, fitted with intelligence gathering and jamming systems. Alenia is also a partner in the successful ATR consortium, and a military ATR 42MR, fitted with external stores, electro-optical and search radar pods was displayed to illustrate how well suited the type is for maritime patrol and coastguard duties. RUAG has put the Dornier 228 light transport back into production (with a fuselage imported from HAL in India) with a new glass cockpit and composite propellers, and sees a growing market for the 19-seat utility transport and light patrol aircraft. It can be fitted with search radar and EO sensors and internal operator stations for coastguard and border protection duties. Hawker Beechcraft displayed its King Air 350ER Special Missions platform, fitted with belly radar housing. This aircraft has a large number of military ISR platform roles, and in recent years has been sold to many export customers, including Iraq and the UK, as the Shadow R1, as well as the USAF as the MC-12W Project Liberty. It is also being considered for a new US Army ISR requirement for use in Afghanistan.

New UAVs

Turning to Unmanned Air Vehicles, the biggest European UAV at the show dominated the Dassault outdoor and indoor displays. Named Telemos, this project is aimed at meeting the joint UK/French requirements for a new generation of Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) platform. If it looked familiar that was because it is based on the BAE Systems Mantis demonstrator, which has already completed its flying trials in Australia. This is causing a stir with France’s German partner in EADS however, as Telemos competes directly with the rival jet-powered Talerion UAS project, which in turn competes with the larger Northrop Grumman/EADS Euro Hawk. On the Thales display was a production example of Watchkeeper, which has been developed in the UK, based on the airframe of the Israeli-built Hermes 450, but fitted with an all-new sensor suite which includes SAR imagery giving Multiple Moving Target Indication as well as electro-optical, IR and Laser sensors. Over 50 are on order for the British Army, in Europe’s largest UAV programme so far. Selex Galileo used the show to reveal the latest configuration of its Falco Evo UAV. This has extended wings enabling it to have an endurance of up to 18 hours, and a heavier 100kg kilo payload. On the Chinese AVIC stand was a model of a new unmanned air vehicle, the Wing-Loong, that looked exactly like the General Atomics Predator!

Helicopters

Agusta Westland had examples of the company’s latest helicopters on view, including the AW 149 transport and an early production Lynx Wildcat, or AW159. Close by was an example of the first Sikorsky CH-92A Cyclone, a military version of the S-92A destined for Canada. Sikorsky was celebrating its win in the competition to supply 28 MH-60R naval helicopters to Australia. Meanwhile Boeing has sold more AH-64D Apache attack helicopters to Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, which is taking 70. Licking its wounds on the lost Australian NH-90 bid, Eurocopter was able to demonstrate for the first time at Paris its new X-3 compound helicopter, which was very quiet as well as fast.

Paris 2011was, if anything, too vast a show to be able to take in all that was on display and being presented. While the European defence scene remains sombre, the commercial market is once again booming, which is easing the pain for companies who are in both markets. With $ trillions to be spent over the coming decades, a high proportion being in the Asia Pacific Region renewing air power assets, there was confidence that the best programmes would survive and be joined by new generation products that are now being developed.


 

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