The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry is one of the fastest growing military aviation markets. The Asia-Pacific region in particular is investing in these highly useful aircraft on a grand scale, either by buying foreign designs or, in many cases, producing aircraft locally. China, India, South Korea and Pakistan are making notable progress in this regard.
In 2011 the region was the second largest buyer after the United States, spending US $590 million on UAVs, according to Frost & Sullivan, which predicts that the region could spend US $1.4 billion per year by 2017. Almost every Asia-Pacific country has UAVs in service or is flirting with the possibility of acquiring them.
Australia has fielded a number of UAVs, and many of these have seen operational deployment in Afghanistan. The Australian armed forces are leasing Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron I UAVs via Canadian Company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates to support a three platform Army and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from December 2009. These are used extensively to support Australian and Coalition forces, flying 4 000 hours in their first year of operation. The Heron lease was recently extended to 2012.
In May 2011 Australia requested two AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV systems from the United States and has spent A$169.5 million acquiring 18 examples. These are used by army aviation and were deployed to Afghanistan in March 2012. Pending the delivery of the RQ-7s, the Insitu/Boeing ScanEagle was deployed to Iraq in 2006-8 and has been deployed in Afghanistan since 2007. They have flown more than 32 000 hours on 6 200+ missions there.
Other UAVs used by the Australian Defence Force include eight Elbit Systems Skylark Is, ordered in November 2005, and subsequently deployed to East Timor and Iraq (further orders have been placed); four AAI Aerosonde IIIs, which were sent to the Solomon Islands on Operation Anode with the Australian Army in 2003; and 18 Codarra Advanced Systems Avatar UAVs. These were acquired from 2001 and deployed to East Timor in 2003.
Australia may acquire more UAVs in the future. Project Air 7000 Phase I calls for eight new maritime patrol aircraft and seven UAVs to replace the current P-3 Orions by 2018. Trials are being undertaken with the ScanEagle, Aerosonde and Schiebel Camcopter on Navy vessels. The recently-released Defence Capability Plan calls for plans to bring forward by three years the acquisition of high altitude, long endurance (HALE) UAVs, with the Global Hawk being the most likely contender. The RAAF would like seven large UAVs by 2019. Australia has previously evaluated the AeroVironment Aqua Puma, and Heron I for the Border Protection Command.
New Zealand makes minimal use of UAVs, but the Army is running a programme to develop UAV doctrine and technology, using the locally developed Skycam Kahu hand-launched micro UAV since 2006, of which two systems have been acquired. The Kahu has been used in Afghanistan.
Israel has been the main supplier of UAVs to the Indian military, which have used them operationally for some time, notably in Kashmir and on the border with China (China also uses UAVs extensively to monitor Indian activity on the border). The Indian Armed forces operate at least 150 UAVs – this includes the Navy, which has land-based UAVs for maritime surveillance. Several dozen IAI Searcher I and II UAVs are in service with the Army and Navy. The latter has at least a dozen Heron I/IIs operating alongside its Searchers. These were ordered in 2005. The Indian Air Force also has some Heron Is in service. Other Israeli UAVs fielded include the Harpy, 30 of which were delivered from 2005, and the IAI Harop loitering munition. Ten were ordered by the IAF in 2009 for US$100 million, with deliveries from 2011. They will become operational in 2013.
Indigenously, the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have developed the Lakshya high-speed reusable target drone, with around 100 in service from 1998. An improved Lakshya-2 is under development while a reconnaissance version with cameras and Satcom link is being built. A number of indigenous UAV systems are under development, including the DRDO Rustom I with a 12-15 hour endurance. The first (successful) flight was in October 2010 (the prototype crashed in November 2009). This is being developed for all three services and will also be turned into an unmanned combat air vehicle (Rustom-II). The DRDO/ADE in 1990 began development of the Nishant UAV, with the first flight in January 1995, followed by an order for a dozen in 2005. Deliveries of this 4.5 hour endurance aircraft to the Indian Army should be completed in 2013/14. Several hand launched and quadrotor designs are also under development by DRDO/ADE, such as the Imperial Eagle and Pawan micro-UAVs.
Meanwhile, across the border Pakistan has a fairly strong indigenous UAV industry, with local companies producing a variety of small and medium UAVs for commercial and military use. The military has great demand for UAVs in order to monitor the Kashmir region and keep an eye on militants, particularly in the mountainous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Some of the main unmanned aircraft companies in Pakistan include Integrated Dynamics, East West Infiniti and state-owned Air Weapons Complex and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. Satuma (Surveillance and Target Unmanned Aircraft) is a major manufacturer, having developed the Jasoos, the larger and more capable Flamingo, and Mukhbar (a shorter-range version of the Jasoos). The Jasoos is in turn a development of the Air Weapons Complex Bravo+, which has been in Pakistan Air Force service since 2004. The Bravo made its public debut in March 2001.
Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) at the IDEAS show in November 2012 showcased its Shahpar 470 kg (1 000 lb) UAV, with an endurance of seven hours. The aircraft is apparently ready for production and will complement GIDS’ Uqab tactical UAV, which is flown by the Pakistan Navy and Army (entering service with the latter in 2007). The Pakistan Navy is also procuring the Integrated Defence Solutions (IDS) Huma rocket-launched UAV, based on the Uqab. This has been developed into the improved Huma-1 and Huma-2 with an endurance of 5+ hours.
Pakistan’s state-owned National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) is developing the Burraq UAV, which will be fitted with a laser designator and laser-guided missiles, but the status of this programme is uncertain. Pakistan had hoped to acquire a dozen RQ-7B Shadow UAVs in three systems but this procurement project seems to be on hold. In collaboration with Selex Galileo, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex has started manufacturing the Falco UAV. In June 2012 the Pakistan Navy bought eight EMT LUNA UAVs from Germany – the Army acquired the system in 2006, which is essentially an unmanned motor glider.
China is investing heavily in UAVs and has a wide variety in service. In 2008 the Predator-like Chengdu Pterodactyl 1/Yilong was first seen. It is believed that development concluded in 2009 with production the following year. This medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV can be armed with AR-1 air-to-surface missiles.
Xian ASN Technology is China’s largest UAV manufacturer and has developed a number of different models that are in service, including the piston ASN-206 and improved ASN-207 (series production began in 1996 for the People’s Liberation Army), ASN-104/5B, and twin-boom pusher ASN-209 (called Silver Eagle in Navy service).
Believed to have been in service since 2009 is the BZK-005 MALE UAV with a roughly 40-hour endurance. This was developed by the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Harbin. Other models in service include the IAI Harpy loitering munition, controversially sold to China in 1994, the China Aerospace Science Industry Corporation (CASIC) jet-powered WJ-600 maritime surveillance MALE UAV with a 3-5 hour endurance (for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force) and the NRIST W-30/W-50 and PW-1/2, with a range of 100 km (60 miles). These entered People’s Liberation Army service in 2005.
Dozens of UAV designs are under development in China, from hand-launched to HALE. Some of the bigger aircraft include the China Aerospace Science and Technology (CASC) CH-3 with a 12 hour endurance and 180 km (110 mile) radius (it can apparently be fitted with FT-5 guided bombs or AR-1 missiles); armed CASC CH-4 (with a range of 3 500 km/2 200 miles) the Xian ASN Technology ASN-229A armed UAV with a 20 hour endurance and 2 000 km (1 200 mile) radius, and Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation Xianglong (Soar Dragon) long range (7 000 km/4 300 mile) UAV, which resembles the Global Hawk, except for its joined/box wing design. At the November 2012 Zuhai show, AVIC debuted to the public its Wing Loong 400 km (250 mile) range, 20 hour endurance UAV. This closely resembles the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and can carry air-to-surface missiles. In addition, a large number of small rotary wing and hand-launched UAVs are under development or in production for the Chinese armed forces.
Japan has more than a dozen companies able to manufacture UAVs, but has not aggressively pushed UAV procurement. Nevertheless, a number of systems are in service with more in the pipeline due to regional instability. Small numbers of target drones (such as the Fuji Heavy Industries J/AQM-1 and BQM-34AJ are in service), alongside regular UAVs like the Fuji Forward Flying Observation System (FFOS, a rotary wing design equipping Army artillery units from 2004) and Yamaha R-MAX, which was deployed to Iraq in 2005. Japan has expressed interest in the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. In July 2012 Insitu Pacific announced a contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to deliver two ScanEagle systems for operational evaluation by the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force.
North Korea is rumoured to have acquired the Yakovlev Pchela in 1995 and indirectly sourced the Tupolev DR-3/M-141 jet-powered tactical reconnaissance UAV but this is difficult to confirm. South Korea, on the other hand, has several UAVs in service, including the Elbit Systems Skylark II (delivered from 2008), 100 Harpy radar attack UAVs (fielded from 1999) and the indigenous RQ-101 (Night Intruder 300) manufactured by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Development of this system began in 1991, with delivery to the Army from 2001 (five systems, with six aircraft each, have been delivered). The Navy also operates the type, which has an endurance of six hours. The Korean Army deployed a small number of Searchers in the late 1990s in preparation for the RQ-101.
South Korea’s robust aerospace industry has produced a number of local designs. KAI is developing the KUS-11 for delivery in 2015 and Night Intruder NI-11N, while Korean Air Lines Aerospace Division is developing the KUS-9 MALE UAV for the Korean Army, border patrol and wildfire monitoring. It previously developed the prototype KUS-7 reconnaissance/surveillance UAV, which flew in August 2007. Other notable companies are Microairrobot and Ucon Systems, which hav a number of micro UAVs in the works. One interesting project is the Smart UAV being developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). This tilt-rotor design was launched in 2005 and began flight testing in 2008. It is capable of speeds of 500 km/h (300 mph). Another noteworthy project is KAI’s Devil Killer long-range loitering munition, which has a maximum speed of 350+ km/h (220 mph). In 2011 Korea allocated some funding for four Global Hawks, but purchase plans were cancelled due to a doubling of the price between 2009 and 2011. Korea will open a new competition.
Taiwan has developed several of its own UAVs, notably the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) Chung Shyang I and II. 32 of the latter model aircraft (in eight systems) have been ordered for the army, with service entry in 2011. CSIST in 1994 began development of the Kestrel I UAV with a 20 kg (45 lb) payload, followed by the Kestrel II, with a 30 kg (65 lb) payload and eight hours endurance. The military has evaluated the CSIST Cardinal mini-UAV and Soaring Kite trainer UAV.
Several unmanned aircraft are under development, mostly for civil purposes, including numerous small and hand-launched designs by CSIST (under the Ministry of National Defence), Gang Yu Corp (whose AI Rider micro UAV has been used by the military) and National Cheng Kung University (Swan, Spoonbill, fuel cell powered-Grey-faced Buzzard and jet-powered Sky Fortress III UAVs). Aeroland, which produced target drones for the Taiwanese armed forces, has developed several UAVs, including the AL-20, AL-4 and 40 kg (90 lb) payload AL-150, while Uaver makes several small UAVs, such as the Avian, Swallow and Accipiter. The Republic of China Air Force seems to be interested in a HALE UAV, having stated it will pursue an indigenous aircraft rather than buy the Global Hawk.
Singapore’s military is an enthusiastic user of UAVs, with half a dozen different models in service. The Republic of Singapore Air Force operates at least ten Searcher systems (which replaced the Scout from 1994) and deployed them to Afghanistan in 2010. A dozen Elbit Systems Hermes H-450s have been in service since 2007, while IAI in early 2012 delivered the Heron I system to replace the Searcher. From 2006 the Republic of Singapore Air Force received the Skylark UAV from Elbit. The Skylark and IAI Bird-Eye mini-UAVs were bought to develop tactics and procedures. Singapore’s Navy operates the ScanEagle, with its first systems being fielded in 2012 aboard the Navy’s Victory-class missile corvettes.
Singapore’s armed forces operate two different models of UAV from ST Aerospace, including the Skyblade I (from 2005), Skyblade II (from 2006), with a range of 8 km (5 miles), and the Skyblade III, which was fielded with the Army in 2011. ST Aerospace is developing a number of UAVs, including the Skyblade IV with a range of 100 km (62 miles), the FanTail 5000 VTOL micro UAV, MAV-1 (Miniature Air Vehicle-1) low observable jet powered tactical UAV and Skyblade 360 with a range of 15 km (9 miles) and endurance of six hours. It is believed that ST Aerospace has delivered its 150 lb (70 kg) Skyblade IV to Singapore’s armed forces. This UAV has a range of 100+ km (60+ miles) and an endurance of 6-12 hours.
Malaysia has a strong domestic UAV industry, with military use dominated by designs from Composite Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM). This company converted the Eagle Aircraft Eagle 150 light aircraft into a UAV, designated the Eagle ARV System, several of which were procured by the Malaysian government in 2001. CTRM subsequently began developing the EX-01/SR-01 and partnered with Ikramatic Systems and System Consultancy Services to form Unmanned Systems Technology (UST). This company developed the SR-01 and later SR-02 into the Aludra, which was deployed to monitor Malaysia’s borders. An improved version, the Aludra Mk II, has been used in East Malaysia (Borneo) since 2008. CTRM and UAE-based Adcom Systems have developed the 500 kg (11 00 lb) Yabhon Aludra MALE UAV, with an endurance of 30 hours and a range of 500 km (300 miles). Two of the latter will be leased for counter-terror duties. CTRM also offers a variety of micro UAVs, such as the Aludra SR-08 and rotary wing Intisar 100 and 300. In April 2012 Insitu Pacific announced a contract with UST for the lease of one ScanEagle system, which will be operated alongside the Aludra. A number of UAVs have been evaluated by the Malaysian military, such as the Sapura Cyber Eye and Cyber Shark.
Since March 2007 Indonesia’s BPPT (Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology) has developed five UAVs, including the Wulung (with an endurance of four hours), Pelatuk, Gagak, Sriti and Alap-Alap. Some of these (most likely the Alap-Alap and Sriti) will be manufactured by PT Dirgantara Indonesia (Indonesian Aerospace) for the Army, Navy and homeland security forces. Otherwise, Indonesia in 2012 began fielding the Searcher II (after long delays). It briefly used the CAC Systemes/EADS Fox AT1, which entered service since the early 2000s before being withdrawn in 2006 (the Indonesian Army’s BAIS Strategic Intelligence Agency acquired a single Fox ground station and four aircraft).
The Philippines has sought to operate UAVs and in 2001 obtained two EMIT Aviation Consultancy (now UVision) Blue Horizon lightweight UAVs for operational testing. Apparently the Philippines also acquired a small number of EMIT Sting I and II tactical UAVs to support anti-guerrilla operations. In the late 1990s Filipino company OB Mapua and Partners in conjunction with the Philippine Army began development of the Assunta tactical UAV (with an endurance of two hours), which flew in 2002 and was subsequently delivered to the Army to monitor rebel activity. The company is also believed to have developed the related Alessandra and Claudi small UAVs. US drones have struck targets in the Philippines, which needs to keep its insurgents and militants like the Abu Sayyaf under control. It is believed that there are several General Atomics Predator As and Northrop Grumman/IAI RQ-5 Hunters flying in the Philippines.
Sri Lanka has operated UAVs in operations against Tamil Tiger rebels, with IAI supplying Scout (or apparently Super Scout) and Searcher II UAVs. The locally developed Superstar UAV (apparently a derivative of the Hobbico RC aircraft) has allegedly been put into Air Force service.
Thailand has long been a UAV user, acquiring six Developmental Sciences (now BAE Systems) R4E-30 SkyEyes for the Royal Thai Air Force in the 1980s. In 1992 four Searcher UAVs were ordered for the Royal Thai Army and used for border patrol (these were subsequently retired). In 2009 Thailand bought three Sapura Cyber Eye systems from Malaysia for the Royal Thai Air Force Academy; a single Aeronautics Defence Systems Aerostar in late 2010 and numerous AeroVironment Ravens since 2008. The Royal Thai Air Force uses the Silvertone Flamingo for training. In 2009 the RTAF called for three UAV systems (with 15, 30 and 100 km/10, 20 and 60 mile ranges) to equip a squadron and will most likely procure more UAVs in the future.
In a reflection of global economic and technological changes since the Second World War, some nations have given up the ability to produce conventional submarines and new players are emerging. Countries that are no longer in the game are the United States and Britain – concentrating exclusively on nuclear boats – as well as Italy and the Netherlands. These latter two still operate diesel-electric submarines, but seem to have given up the desire to construct them. Sweden continues to produce submarines, but is the first country to give up national ownership of the company undertaking the work following the sale of Kockums to Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
At the end of the Second World War the only nation in Asia with a history of building major conventional submarines was Japan. To this can now be added: India; Australia; China; and South Korea. The first two have the ability to manufacture submarines under license – though India is moving towards indigenous capabilities for nuclear boats – while Japan and China have the know-how to design and produce their own craft. South Korea is in an intermediate position with manufacturing ability beyond question and the country is now also taking the first tentative steps towards an export design – leaning heavily on German technology – with three submarines being built by Daewoo for Indonesia. North Korea produces mini subs up to 300 tonnes displacement – one of which sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010.
Three nations have the ability to design and build both conventional and nuclear submarines: France, Russia and now China. It is only the latter two that operate combined fleets, with the French Navy – like the US and UK – opting for all-nuclear fleets. India also now operates a mixed fleet, and is hoping to introduce the indigenous nuclear powered Arihant class into service soon. Curiously, the next generation of Indian conventional submarines will still be an imported design in the form of the French ‘Scorpene’. The first Indian nuclear submarine to enter service is the imported INS Chakra – an Akulla II leased from Russia in 2004.
The reasons for this substantial geographical change in submarine production capabilities are complex. Both the Netherlands and Italy were producers and operators of high quality conventional designs, but both found the cost of staying in the business too high. The UK and France moved to all nuclear fleets (though France produces conventional submarines for export) partially for cost reasons – when possessing an undersea nuclear deterrent force was their highest priority – and they no longer possessed the military budgets to simultaneously operate mixed fleets. This decision was made easier by the allocation within NATO of various submarine responsibilities, where missions better suited to conventional submarines – such as SSK operations – fell on countries astride the Baltic Sea, especially West Germany. This partially explains the continuing strong position of German submarine design on the export front, which started with the Type 209 series and now with the addition of Type 214s.
While the US had the economic size to maintain both a conventional and nuclear fleet, the hugely influential Admiral Hyman Rickover decided in the early 1950s to go down the all-nuclear path. As a consequence the United States does not sell submarines, though it does release some technology to countries such as Britain and Australia. Russia – and previously the USSR – persevered with both conventional and nuclear submarines that are continuing to enjoy design advances and export success after the economic hiatus of the early 1990s.
So why are Asian nations becoming increasingly heavily involved in submarine production – especially conventionally powered ones? Because they can. China has been investing heavily because their naval doctrine is to be able to push the USN back out to the second island chain and beyond. Submarines are an excellent sea denial asset and China is believed to be examining several design possibilities for future classes. More on this later.
Japan has a long and distinguished history of submarine production and as an island nation wishes to be able to safeguard sea lines of communication. Japan has built the world’s largest conventional submarine – the I400 Class. These were two 6,000 tonne beasts constructed during the Second World War to attack the Panama Canal with embarked seaplanes – from the Atlantic Ocean side. Japan is prevented by its pacifist constitution from exporting military products, including submarines, but there are signs that this situation might change. Australia has had some preliminary discussions with Japan about gaining access to that country’s diesel-electric propulsion technology as a possible alternative to the trouble plagued Hedemora diesels of the Collins Class.
South Korea, India and Australia have all been acquiring the skills not only to manufacture submarines under license, but also to develop indigenous designs. The former two countries have arguably had more success to date, though with Australia looking to eventually introduce a new class of 12 conventional submarines, that country, too, will be ramping up its skill base. Another Asian nation that might also enter the submarine production field is Taiwan, which is believed to be considering building its own submarines.
It is too early to predict that Asia will one day overtake Europe in producing leading edge conventional submarines, but the possibility is not farfetched due to the large number of technology transfer programs that have been put in place. However, for the moment design expertise for diesel-electric submarines remains substantially in the hands of existing producers.
Developments in China are especially interesting. That country certainly added a new dimension to IDEX’2013 and LIMA’2013 by participating in those shows with stands. The wares on display included a scaled model of the S20 diesel-electric submarine, the first-ever submersible vessel from China specially developed for export. With this, the People Republic of China has filed an application (figuratively speaking) to join the very narrow club of nations exporting conventional submarines. China comes in after two other recent applicants, South Korea and Spain. The latter country has split from France and is now returned to the field of submarine design and production in its own right, while South Korea is benefiting from German technology transfer.
LIMA’2013 was the first air and maritime show on the Malaysian holiday island of Langkawi to have a Chinese exhibitor with a stand. During conferences and press briefings at LIMA’2013, the Malaysian defense minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi touched on China several times. Answering a question whether Malaysian government and the military are concerned with growing Chinese naval might, and expanding presence, he answered: “They have been here for ever! We have lived with them by our side for centuries. We do not have issues with China”.
This explains the fact that China Shipbuilding & Offshore Co. Ltd. (CSOC, www.csoc.cn) actually received an invitation from the Malaysian side to take part in LIMA’2013. In other words, Chinese industry is now a welcomed partner for Malaysia, so that collaboration programs between the two countries shall be considered a future possibility. CSOC is a subsidiary of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), one of the two largest shipbuilding conglomerates in PRC with nearly a thousand enterprises and a workforce of 300,000.
A CSOC spokesman told media members that “LIMA is very impressive and interesting” and that his company “enjoys the opportunity to exchange information”. CSOC will certainly take part on the next show on Langkawi in 2015, he added. A number of countries in the region already operate ships built by CSOC. The spokesman said that the company is offering to its traditional overseas customers and potential clients landing platform docks (LPDs), frigates, fast craft and submarines, adding that exportable versions are similar to the baseline designs already in service with the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN).
Information available on the S20 remains scarce: the Chinese manning their stands briefed spoke only to invited guests. Graphics indicated that the S20 can attack surface targets using “anti-ship missile”, lay “mines”, launch “torpedoes” (with no indication of intended targets) and release “frogman”. Nothing indicated the ability to launch the long-range CH-SS-NX-13 ASCM or any other sort of land-strike missiles (which might be of interest to some potential customers, knowing that PLAN’s diesel-electric boats are land-strike capable). The scaled model itself was relatively schematic, with no cutaways. It indicated presence of six torpedo tubes in the nose section and seven-blade propeller in the tail with highly curved blades.
In appearance, the S20 bears resemblance to the Yuan class or Type 041. The latter is believed to have an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, most likely employing Stirling type of engines (which, again, might be of interest to potential customers). By US estimates, the Yuan class possesses a lower relative detectability than the Song. By noise characteristics, the Yang is placed in between the Project 636 and the Type 039, according to Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).
Making an exportable version of the series produced Yang does make sense, as this promises reduced costs, parts commonality and interoperability with PLAN assets. Currently, China is known to have in series production only one diesel-electric boat, with 11 Type 041 vessels completed in 2009-2012 timeframe.
The potential of the local industry has allowed PLAN to keep a steady-state force of conventional submarine force at roughly 50 units throughout this century. Construction rate has been about 2.2 per year in 1995-2012 timeframe, with PLAN intake rising to 2.8 with Russian-built Kilo class included. Ever-growing potential of the local industry leaves little doubt about PRC’s ability to deliver obligations before foreign customers if there will be some making decision in favor of Chinese submarines.
Today, China is one of the established submarines operators, along with India, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and both Koreas. All of them continue building up their submarine fleets. Countries that recently added submarines to their assets or have placed orders include Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Naturally, this fact motivates other countries in the region to consider submersible assets for the navies of their own. “These facts give a clear indication of ongoing arms race in the region. We see a number of new nations coming to possess underwater capabilities and many more considering such a move”, says Andrei Baranov who leads the exportable diesel electric submarine operations at Russia’s Rubin submarine designer. There are quite a few of disputed islands in the Asia-Pacific waters. Submarines are seen as the right argument in defending a smaller nation’s claims to these islands in the case when these are disputed by a larger nation with far bigger naval forces. “Submarines are the sort of weapons that can be successfully employed in the region”, Baranov insists. “There are indications that many nations of the region are going to buy submarines… and buy them in worthwhile quantities”, he continues. For example, Bangladesh indicated its intent to follow the trend as well as Thailand. The Philippines may also join in – though all these countries face budget constraints and competing demands on expenditure.
South East Asia is becoming a very lucrative market for shipbuilding companies. Traditional suppliers of such equipment in Germany, Russia and France hope for a big portion of orders. But they are to meet growing competition from within the region, notably from the Korean and Chinese manufacturers. Viewed from this perspective, the presence of those at IDEX and LIMA with their wares on display makes no surprise.
The sensitivity of the situation is that, while offering the S20 for export, China continues to import Russian submarines. In addition to 12 Kilos – the last batch of which was accepted in 2006 – PRC has recently ordered from Russia four submarines of the Amur 1650 design – which is similar to the S20. This fact might give a third country seeking to procure submarines a base to believe that the Russian design is somewhat more advanced. This, however, will hardly produce a worthwhile affect on the S20 target market. Its core is likely to be made of traditional clients for Chinese military equipment, the countries that receive help from China or in other ways dependant on PRC and motivated/inclined to buy “made in China” products.
Within the next few years, we will begin work on the sixth generation [fighter] capabilities necessary for future air dominance.” The Secretary of the Air Force, Michael B. Donley, and the USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, issued that statement in an April 13 Washington Post article.
The Air Force may have to move a little faster to develop that next generation fighter. While anticipated F-22 and F-35 inventories seem settled, there won’t be enough to fix shortfalls in the fighter fleet over the next 20 years, as legacy fighters retire faster than fifth generation replacements appear.
The Air Force will have to answer a host of tough questions about the nature of the next fighter.
Defense News Asia
From left to right, USAF fighter generations one through five, plus a placeholder for generation six. *Illustrations not to scale. (Illustrations by Zaur Eylanbekov)
Should it provide a true “quantum leap” in capability, from fifth to sixth generation, or will some interim level of technology suffice? When will it have to appear? What kinds of fighters will potential adversaries be fielding in the next 20 years? And, if the program is delayed, will a defense industry with nothing to work on in the meantime lose its know-how to deliver the needed system?
What seems certain is that more is riding on the Air Force’s answers than just replacing worn-out combat aircraft.
Initial concept studies for what would become the F-22 began in the early 1980s, when production of the F-15 was just hitting its stride. It took 20 years to go from those concepts to initial operational capability. Industry leaders believe that it will probably take another 20 years to field a next generation fighter.
That may be late to need. By 2030, according to internal USAF analyses, the service could be as many as 971 aircraft short of its minimum required inventory of 2,250 fighters. That assumes that all planned F-35s are built and delivered on time and at a rate of at least 48 per year. The shortfall is due to the mandatory retirement of F-15s and F-16s that will have exceeded their service lives and may no longer be safe to fly.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has set the tone for the tactical aviation debate. He opposed the F-22 as being an expensive, “exquisite” solution to air combat requirements, and has put emphasis on the less costly F-35 Lightning II instead. He considers it exemplary of the kind of multirole platforms, applicable to a wide variety of uses, that he believes the US military should be buying in coming years. He and his technology managers have described this approach as the “75 percent” solution.
Gates has also forecast that a Russian fifth generation fighter will be operational in 2016—Russia says it will fly the fighter this year—and a Chinese version just four years later. Given that US legacy fighters are already matched or outclassed by “generation four-plus-plus” fighters, if Russia and China build their fifth generation fighters in large numbers, the US would be at a clear airpower disadvantage in the middle of the 2020s. That’s a distinct possibility, as both countries have openly stated their intentions to build world-class air fleets. If they do, the 75 percent solution fails.
What You See Is What You Get
The Air Force declined to offer official comment on the status of its sixth generation fighter efforts. Privately, senior leaders have said they have been waiting to see how the F-22 and F-35 issues sorted out before establishing a structured program for a next generation fighter.
The Air Force has a large classified budget, but it seems there is no “black” sixth generation fighter program waiting in the wings. A senior industry official, with long-term, intimate knowledge of classified efforts, said the F-22 wasn’t stopped at 187 aircraft because a secret, better fighter is nearly ready to be deployed. He said, “What you see is what you get.”
That opinion was borne out in interviews with the top aeronautic technologists of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, the three largest remaining US airframers. They said they were unaware of an official, dedicated Air Force sixth generation fighter program and are anxiously waiting to see what capabilities the service wants in such a fighter.
The possibilities for a sixth generation fighter seem almost the stuff of science fiction.
It would likely be far stealthier than even the fifth generation aircraft. It may be able to change its shape in flight, “morphing” to optimize for either speed or persistence, and its engines will likely be retunable in-flight for efficient supersonic cruise or subsonic loitering.
Defense News Asia
A Northrop Grumman artist’s conception of a sixth generation fighter employing directed energy weapons and stealthy data networking. (Northrop Grumman illustration)
The sixth generation fighter will likely have directed energy weapons—high-powered microwaves and lasers for defense against incoming missiles or as offensive weapons themselves. Munitions would likely be of the “dial an effect” type, able to cause anything from impairment to destruction of an air or ground target.
Materials and microelectronics technologies would combine to make the aircraft a large integrated sensor, possibly eliminating the need for a nose radar as it is known today. It would be equipped for making cyber attacks as well as achieving kinetic effects, but would still have to be cost-effective to make, service, and modify.
Moreover, the rapid advancement of unmanned aircraft technologies could, in 20 years or so, make feasible production of an autonomous robotic fighter. However, that is considered less likely than the emergence of an uninhabited but remotely piloted aircraft with an off-board “crew,” possibly comprising many operators.
Not clear, yet, is whether the mission should be fulfilled by a single, multirole platform or a series of smaller, specialized aircraft, working in concert.
“I think this next round [of fighter development] is probably going to be dominated by ever-increasing amounts of command and control information,” said Paul K. Meyer, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Programs and Technology Division.
Meyer forecast that vast amounts of data will be available to the pilot, who may or may not be on board the aircraft. The pilot will see wide-ranging, intuitive views of “the extended world” around the aircraft, he noted. The aircraft will collect its own data and seamlessly fuse it with off-board sensors, including those on other aircraft. The difference from fifth generation will be the level of detail and certainty—the long-sought automatic target recognition.
Directed Energy Weapons
Embedded sensors and microelectronics will also make possible sensor arrays in “locations that previously weren’t available because of either heat or the curvature of the surface,” providing more powerful and comprehensive views of the battlefield, Meyer noted. Although the aircraft probably won’t be autonomous, he said, it will be able to “learn” and advise the pilot as to what actions to take—specifically, whether a target should be incapacitated temporarily, damaged, or destroyed.
Traditional electronics will probably give way to photonics, said Darryl W. Davis, president of Boeing’s advanced systems division.
“You could have fewer wires,” said Davis. “You’re on a multiplexed, fiber-optic bus … that connects all the systems, and because you can do things at different wavelengths of light, you can move lots of data around airplanes much faster, with much less weight in terms of … wire bundles.”
Fiber optics would also be resistant to jamming or spoofing of data and less prone to cyber attack.
A “digital wingman” could accompany the main fighter as an extra sensor-shooter smart enough to take verbal instructions, Meyer forecasted.
Directed energy weapons could play a big role in deciding how agile a sixth generation fighter would have to be, Meyer noted. “Speed of light” weapons, he added, could “negate” the importance of “the maneuverability we see in today’s fashionable fighters.” There won’t be time to maneuver away from a directed energy attack.
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F-22 Raptors on a training mission soar over the mountains near Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The fifth generation fighter features all-aspect stealth and full-sensor fusion. (USAF photo)
Pulse weapons could also fry an enemy aircraft’s systems—or those of a ground target. Based on what “we have seen and we make at Northrop Grumman,” Meyer said, “in the next 20 years … that type of technology is going to be available.”
With an appropriate engine—possibly an auxiliary engine—on board to provide power for directed energy weapons, there could be an “unlimited magazine” of shots, Meyer said.
Hypersonics—that is, the ability of an air vehicle to travel at five times the speed of sound, or faster—has routinely been suggested as an attribute of sixth generation fighters, but the industry leaders are skeptical the capability will be ready in time.
While there have been some successes with experimental hypersonic propulsion, the total amount of true hypersonic flying time is less than 15 minutes, and the leap to an operational fighter in 20 years might be a leap too far.
“It entails a whole new range of materials development, due to … sensors, fuzes, apertures, etc.,” Meyer noted, “all of which must operate in that intense heat environment at … Mach 5-plus.”
Still, “it is indeed an option that we would consider” because targets will be fleeting and require quick, surgical strikes at great distances. However, such an approach would probably be incompatible with a loitering capability.
Davis said he thinks hypersonics “will start to show up in sixth generation,” but not initially as the platform’s power plant, but rather in the aircraft’s kinetic munitions.
“I think it will start with applications to weapons,” Davis said. And they may not necessarily be just weapons but “high-speed reconnaissance platforms for short missions on the way to the target.”
Because of the extreme speed of hypersonic platforms and especially directed energy weapons, Davis thinks it will be critical to have “persistent eyes on target” because speed-of-light weapons can’t be recalled “once you’ve pulled the trigger,” and even at hypersonic speed, a target may move before the weapon arrives. That would suggest a flotilla of stealthy drones or sensors positioned around the battlefield.
Not only will hypersonics require years more work, Davis said it must be combined with other, variable-cycle engines that will allow an aircraft to take off from sea level, climb to high altitude, and then engage a hypersonic engine. Those enabling propulsion elements are not necessarily near at hand in a single package.
The sixth generation fighter, whatever it turns out to be, will still be a machine and will need to be serviced, repaired, and modified, according to Neil Kacena, deputy director of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works advanced projects division. He is less confident that major systems such as radar will be embedded in the aircraft skin.
“If the radar doesn’t work, and now you have to take the wing off, … then that may not be the technology that will find its way onto a sixth gen aircraft,” he said. In designing the next fighter, life cycle costs will be crucial, and so practical considerations will have to be accommodated.
Toward that end, he said, Lockheed Martin is working on new composite manufacturing techniques that use far fewer fasteners, less costly tooling, and therefore lower start-up and sustainment costs. It demonstrated those technologies recently on the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft program.
Given the anticipated capabilities of the Russian and Chinese fifth generation fighters, when will a sixth generation aircraft have to be available?
Davis said the Air Force and Navy, not industry, will have to decide how soon they need a new generation of fighters. However, “if the services are thinking they need something in 2020” when foreign fifth generation fighters could be proliferating in large numbers, “we’re going to have to do some things to our existing generation of platforms,” such as add the directed energy weapons or other enhancements.
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In Boeing’s conception, traditional electronics give way to photonics, reducing weight and increasing processing speed. (Boeing illustration)
Kacena agreed, saying that Lockheed Martin has “engaged with both services and supplied them data and our perspectives” about the next round of fighter development. If the need exists to make a true quantum leap, then sixth generation is the way to go, but, “if it’s driven by the reduction in force structure [and] … the equipment is just getting old and worn out in that time frame, then [we] may very well be on a path of continuous improvement of fifth generation capabilities.” Lockheed Martin makes both the F-22 and F-35.
He said the company’s goal is to find the knee in the curve where “you get them the most bang for the buck without an 80 to 90 percent solution. Something that doesn’t take them beyond the nonlinear increase in cost.”
Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance and a fighter pilot, said the next fighter generation may well have characteristics fundamentally different from any seen today, but he urged defense decision-makers to keep an open mind and not ignore hard-learned lessons from history.
Although great strides have been made in unmanned aircraft, said Deptula, “we have a long way to go to achieve the degree of 360-degree spherical situation awareness, rapid assimilation of information, and translation of that information into action that the human brain, linked with its on-site sensors, can accomplish.”
Numbers Count, Too
Despite rapid increases in computer processing power, it will be difficult for a machine to cope with “an infinite number of potential situations that are occurring in split seconds,” Deptula added, noting that, until such a capability is proved, “we will still require manned aircraft.”
It’s important to note that America’s potential adversaries will have access to nearly all the technologies now only resident with US forces, Deptula said. Thinking 20 to 30 years out, it will be necessary to invest properly to retain things US forces depend on, such as air superiority.
However, he warned not to put too much emphasis on technology, per se. “Just as precision air weapons and, to a certain degree, cyberspace are redefining our definition of mass in today’s fight, we have to be very wary of how quickly ‘mass’ in its classic sense can return in an era of mass-precision and mass-cyber capabilities for all.”
In other words, numbers count, and too few fighters, even if they are extremely advanced, are still too few.
Hanging over the sixth generation fighter debate is this stark fact: The relevant program should now be well under way, but it has not even been defined. If the Pentagon wants a sixth generation capability, it will have to demonstrate that intent, and soon. Industry needs that clear signal if it is to invest its own money in developing the technologies needed to make the sixth generation fighter come about.
Moreover, the sixth generation program is necessary to keep the US aerospace industry on the cutting edge. Unless it is challenged, if the “90 percent” solution is needed in the future, industry may not be able to answer the call.
Under Gates, Pentagon technology leaders have said they want to avoid cost and schedule problems by deferring development until technologies are more mature. Unfortunately, this safe and steady approach does not stimulate leap-ahead technologies.
Meyer said, “We need to have challenges to our innovative thoughts, our engineering talents, our technology integration and development that would … push us … to the point where industry has to perform beyond expectations.”
He noted that today’s F-35 is predicated on largely proven technologies and “affordability,” but it was the B-2 and F-22 programs that really paved the way for the systems that underpin modern air combat.
The B-2 bomber, he noted, “was a program of significant discovery,” because it involved a great deal of invention to meet required performance. The B-2 demanded “taking … basic research and developing it in the early … phases” of the program, which yielded nonfaceted stealth, enhanced range and payload, nuclear hardening, new antennas, radars, and flight controls.
Today, Meyer said, most programs are entering full-scale development only when they’ve reached a technology readiness level of six or higher (see chart).
“We probably had elements on the B-2 … that were at four, and a lot at five,” Meyer said.
Programs such as the sixth generation fighter “are the ones we relish because they make us think, they make us take risks that we wouldn’t normally take, and in taking on those risks we’ve discovered the new technologies that have made our industry great,” he asserted.
Davis said that other countries are going to school on the US fighter industry and taking its lessons to heart.
“We still think you have to build things—fly them and test them—in order to know what works and what doesn’t,” said Davis. “And, at some point, if you don’t do that, just do it theoretically, it doesn’t get you where you need to be.”
He added, “If we don’t continue to move forward, they will catch us.”
The definition of fighter generations has long been subject to debate. However, most agree that the generations break down along these broad lines:
Generation 1: Jet propulsion (F-80, German Me 262).
Generation 2: Swept wings; range-only radar; infrared missiles (F-86, MiG-15).
Generation 3: Supersonic speed; pulse radar; able to shoot at targets beyond visual range (“Century Series” fighters such as F-105; F-4; MiG-17; MiG-21).
Generation 4: Pulse-doppler radar; high maneuverability; look-down, shoot-down missiles (F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000, MiG-29).
Generation 4+: High agility; sensor fusion; reduced signatures (Eurofighter Typhoon, Su-30, advanced versions of F-16 and F/A-18, Rafale).
Generation 4++: Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or some “active” (waveform canceling) stealth; some supercruise (Su-35, F-15SE).
Generation 5: All-aspect stealth with internal weapons, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise (F-22, F-35).
Potential Generation 6: extreme stealth; efficient in all flight regimes (subsonic to multi-Mach); possible “morphing” capability; smart skins; highly networked; extremely sensitive sensors; optionally manned; directed energy weapons.
Technology Readiness Levels
Pentagon leaders now seek to reduce weapon risks and costs by deferring production until technologies are mature. Pentagon technology readiness levels—TRLs—are defined as follows:
TRL 1: Basic principles observed and reported. Earliest transition from basic scientific research to applied research and development. Paper studies of a technology’s basic properties.
TRL 2: Invention begins; practical applications developed. No proof or detailed analysis yet.
TRL 3: Active R&D begins. Analytical and lab studies to validate predictions. Components not yet integrated.
TRL 4: Basic elements are shown to work together in a “breadboard,” or lab setting.
TRL 5: Fidelity of demonstrations rises. Basic pieces are integrated in a somewhat realistic way. Can be tested in a simulated environment.
TRL 6: Representative model or prototype. A major step up in readiness for use. Possible field tests.
TRL 7: Prototype of system in operational environment is demonstrated—test bed aircraft, for example.
TRL 8: Final form of the technology is proved to work. Usually the end of system development. Weapon is tested in its final form.
TRL 9: Field use of the technology in its final form, under realistic conditions.
A team led by NASA and The Boeing Company has completed the first phase of flight tests on the subscale X-48B blended wing body aircraft at the agency’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
The remotely piloted, 500-pound airplane with the silhouette resembling a manta ray – also called a hybrid wing body — is a tool of NASA’s new Environmentally Responsible Aviation, or ERA, Project, which aims to develop the technology needed to create a quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient airplane for the future.
A flying test bed such as the X-48B enables NASA to assess and validate the key technologies. The recently concluded flight tests ascertained the handling and flying qualities of such an aircraft at speeds typical of landings and takeoffs.
“This project is a huge success,” said Fay Collier, manager of the ERA Project in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “Bottom line: the team has proven the ability to fly tailless aircraft to the edge of the low-speed envelope safely.”
Until recently, Collier was principal investigator for NASA’s Subsonic Fixed Wing Project, which established the partnership with Boeing to conduct initial, fundamental technology development efforts with the X-48B. The ERA Project he now leads is part of a new research program NASA initiated to help further mature promising technology before transfer to industry.
The team completed the 80th and last flight of the project’s first phase on March 19, 2010, almost three years after the X-48B’s first flight on July 20, 2007.
Cranfield Aerospace Limited technician Ian Brooks prepares the X-48B for flight. (NASA Photo / Tony Landis)
In addition to NASA and Boeing, the team includes Cranfield Aerospace Limited of the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory of Dayton, Ohio.
In the mid-2000s, NASA identified low-speed flight controls as a development challenge for aircraft such as the hybrid wing body. This challenge, and the challenge of building a non-circular, pressurized fuselage structure, have been the initial focuses of research since then. The ultimate goal is to develop technology for an environmentally friendly aircraft that makes less noise, burns less fuel, and emits less noxious exhaust.
“These 80 research flights provided engineers with invaluable test data and allowed the team to completely meet the initial project test objectives,” said Tim Risch, Dryden’s X-48B project manager.
The milestones accomplished by the team focused on three main technical objectives: flight envelope expansion, aircraft performance characterization, and validation of flight control software limiters.
The first objective, envelope expansion, consisted of 20 flights over a year-long period. For these flights, the aircraft was flown through a variety of maneuvers intended to define the overall flight capabilities and discern the general stability and handling characteristics of the aircraft. Completion of these tests resulted in a preliminary flight envelope adequate for transition to higher risk testing.
The second objective, aircraft performance characterization, focused on stall testing to define the boundaries of controlled flight, engine-out maneuvering to understand how to control the aircraft if one or more engines malfunctioned, and parameter identification flights to evaluate how movements of flight control surfaces affected the airplane’s performance.
In 52 flights from July 2008 through December 2009, engineers quantified the dynamic response of the aircraft by sending computer commands to the X-48B’s flight control surfaces and measuring how quickly the plane responded to the inputs.
NASA Dryden engineer Gary Cosentino prepares the X-48B for flight. (NASA Photo / Tony Landis)
The third and most important objective were limiter assaults, in which the remote pilot deliberately exceeded the defined boundaries of controllability – such as angle of attack, sideslip angle and acceleration — to see whether the airplane’s computer could keep it flying steady. Eight flight tests validated the programmed limiters and gave the team confidence that a robust, versatile, and safe control system could be developed for such an aircraft.
Tests with the X-48B will continue later this year, after a new flight computer is installed and checked out. The next series of flight tests will focus on additional parameter identification investigations.
NASA has a second hybrid wing body aircraft, the X-48C, which it has modified for a noise profile even lower than the X-48B’s, and is preparing for test flights to investigate other controllability factors.
Before unpiloted or remotely piloted aircraft can safely operate in the same airspace as other, piloted aircraft, robotic aircraft and their operators will need to demonstrate a high level of operational robustness and the ability to “sense and avoid” other air traffic. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge (UAS AOC) is focused on developing some of the key technologies that will make UAS integration into the National Airspace System possible.
This competition is being formulated as part of NASA’s Centennial Challenge Program, which is designed to foster individual, academic, and private sector innovation to solve difficult problems that are important to NASA and the nation. This Centennial Challenge will be conducted in two parts: Phase 1 of the Challenge is scheduled to be held in Spring, 2014 and Phase 2 of the Challenge will be held approximately one year after Phase 1 has been successfully completed.
Phase 1 of the Challenge focuses on important aspects of safe airspace operations, robustness to system failures, and seeks to encourage competitors to get an early start on developing some of the skills critical to Phase 2. Specific skills that Phase 1 competitors will need to demonstrate include:
- Safe Airspace Operations:
- Separation Assurance using ADS-B
- 4 Dimensional Trajectories
- Ground Control Operations
- Robustness to System Failures:
- Lost Link
- GPS Unavailable
- GPS Unreliable
- Preparation for Phase 2 Competition:
- Uncooperative Air Traffic Detection
There are other technical challenges that must be solved to enable the integration of UAS in the NAS, but a competitor that successfully demonstrates the skills required in Phase 1 will be able to field a robust UAS that is significantly closer to the goals of UAS-NAS integration embodied in theNextGen Airspace Concept. The total prize money available for Phase 1 of the competition is $500,000.