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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, 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.



Boeing F/A-XX sixth-gen fighter concept New Update

boeing 6th generation concept 300x168 Boeing  F/A XX sixth gen fighter concept New Update

Defense News Asia

The technologies are emerging, but what’s needed is a program to pull them together.

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.



fighter01 Boeing  F/A XX sixth gen fighter concept New Update

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.



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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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Defense News Asia


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.



fighter04 Boeing  F/A XX sixth gen fighter concept New Update

Defense News Asia


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.”

Fighter Generations

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.



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X 51A Waverider 617x416 X 51A Wave Rider Hypersonic Aircraft

X-51A WaveRider

The experimental X-51A Waverider is an unmanned, autonomous supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight test demonstrator for the U.S. Air Force.

The X-51A is designed to be launched from an airborne B-52 Stratofortress bomber. The flight test vehicle stack is approximately 25 feet long and includes a modified solid rocket booster from an Army Tactical Missile, a connecting interstage, and the X-51A cruiser. The nearly wingless cruiser is designed to ride its own shockwave, thus the nickname, Waverider. The distinctive, shark-nosed cruiser has small controllable fins and houses the heart of the system, an SJY61 supersonic combustion ramjet or scramjet engine built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne designed to burn JP-7 jet fuel. Boeing’s Phantom Works performed overall air vehicle design, assembly and testing for the X-51′s various component systems.

The X-51 was made primarily using standard aerospace materials such as aluminum, steel, inconel, and titanium. Some carbon/carbon composites of the leading edges of fins and cowls are used. For thermal protection, the vehicle utilizes a Boeing designed silica-based thermal protection system as well as Boeing Reusable Insulation tiles, similar to those on board the NASA Space Shuttle Orbiters.

Four X-51As were built for the Air Force. The X-51A program is a technology demonstrator and was not designed to be a prototype for weapon system. It was designed to pave the way to future hypersonic weapons, hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and future access to space. Since scramjets are able to burn atmospheric oxygen, they don’t need to carry large fuel tanks containing oxidizer like conventional rockets, and are being explored as a way to more efficiently launch payloads into orbit.

In addition to scalable scramjet propulsion, other key technologies that will be demonstrated by the X-51A include thermal protection systems materials, airframe and engine integration, and high-speed stability and control.

The X-51A represents one of the service’s most significant reinvestments in hypersonic flight since the rocket-powered X-15 program which flew 50 years earlier.

Air Force officials anticipate the X-51A program will provide a foundation of knowledge required to develop the game changing technologies needed for future access to space and hypersonic weapon applications. For example, hypersonic speeds on the order of flying 600 nautical miles in 10 minutes may provide the ability to accurately engage a long-distance target very rapidly.

The X-51A program is a collaborative effort of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with industry partners The Boeing Company and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Program management is accomplished by the Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Hypersonic flight, normally defined as beginning at Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, presents unique technical challenges with heat and pressure, which make conventional turbine engines impractical. Program officials said producing thrust with a scramjet has been compared to lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it burning.

The Air Force currently plans to fly each X-51A on identical flight profiles. Like the X-15, the X-51A is designed to be carried aloft by a B-52 mother ship launched from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. It is released at approximately 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range. The solid rocket booster accelerates the X-51A for 30 seconds to approximately Mach 4.5, before being jettisoned. Then the cruiser’s scramjet engine, remarkable because it has virtually no moving parts, ignites. The ignition sequence begins burning ethylene, transitioning over approximately 10 seconds to the same JP-7 jet fuel once used by the SR-71 Blackbird.

Powered by its scramjet engine, the X-51A will accelerate to approximately Mach 6 as it climbs to nearly 70,000 feet. Hypersonic combustion generates intense heat so routing of the engine’s own JP-7 fuel will serve to both cool the engine and heat the fuel to optimum operating temperature for combustion. The fuel load and flight profile provides for a 240-second engine burn, transmitting vast amounts of telemetry data on its systems to orbiting aircraft and ground stations, before the vehicle exhausts its fuel supply, splashes down into the Pacific and is destroyed, as planned. Flight test vehicles are not recovered.

The X-51A development team elected from the outset not to build recovery systems in the flight test vehicles, in an effort to control costs and focus funding on the vehicle’s fuel-cooled scramjet engine. A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aids in transmitting telemetry data to engineers at both Naval Air Station Point Mugu and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., before it arrives at its final destination, the Ridley Mission Control Center at Edwards AFB.

Conceived in 2004, the X-51A made its first “captive carry” flight Dec. 9, 2009. The flight test verified the B-52′s high-altitude performance and handling qualities with the X-51 attached and tested communications and telemetry systems, but the vehicle remained attached to the B-52s wing.

The X-51A made history during its first supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight May 26, 2010, off the southern California Pacific coast. Officials said the flight test vehicle flew as anticipated for nearly 200 seconds, with the scramjet accelerating the vehicle to approximately Mach 5, nearly 3,400 miles per hour. The fuel-cooled scramjet performed as planned transmitting normal telemetry for more than 140 seconds, then observing a decrease in thrust and acceleration for another 30 seconds. An anomaly then resulted in a loss of telemetry, and the test was terminated and vehicle was destroyed by flight controllers on command.

Despite the anomaly, the May 26 flight is considered the first use of a practical hydrocarbon fueled scramjet in flight. The longest previous hypersonic scramjet flight test performed by a NASA X-43 in 2004 was faster, but lasted only about 12 seconds and used less logistically supportable hydrogen fuel.

Following an extensive analysis of flight data from the X-51A’s first hypersonic flight test, slight modifications are planned to strengthen the rear seal area near the engine exhaust nozzles for the three remaining X-51As.

The next two X-51A flights ended prematurely. The second vehicle was boosted by the rocket to just over Mach 5, separated and lit the scramjet on ethylene. When the vehicle attempted to transition to JP7 fuel operation, it experienced an inlet un-start. The hypersonic vehicle attempted to restart and oriented itself to optimize engine start conditions, but was unsuccessful. The vehicle continued in a controlled flight orientation until it flew into the ocean within the test range.

The third X-51A safely separated from the B-52, however after 16 seconds under the rocket booster, a fault was identified with one of the cruiser control fins. Once the X-51 separated from the rocket booster, approximately 15 seconds later, the cruiser was not able to maintain control due to the faulty control fin and was lost.


The final flight of the X-51A occurred May 1, 2013 and was the most successful in terms of meeting all the experiment objectives. The cruiser traveled more than 230 nautical miles in just over six minutes reaching a peak speed of Mach 5.1.

Overall the more than 9 minutes of data collected from the X-51A program was an unprecedented achievement proving the viability of air-breathing, high-speed scramjet propulsion using hydrocarbon fuel.

article 2187520 14890949000005DC 816 634x400 X 51A Wave Rider Hypersonic Aircraft


General Characteristics
Primary Function:
 Hypersonic scramjet-powered flight test demonstrator
Contractors: Boeing, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne
Power Plant: JP-7 fueled/cooled SJY61 supersonic combustion ramjet
Thrust: 500 – 1,000 pound class
Length: Full stack 25 feet; Cruiser 14 feet; Interstage 5 feet; Solid rocket booster 6 feet
Weight: Approx. 4,000 pounds
Fuel Capacity: Approx. 270 pounds JP-7
Speed: 3,600+ miles per hour (at Mach 6)
Range: 400+ nautical miles
Ceiling: 70,000 + feet
Crew:  ground station monitored
Unit Cost: Unavailable
Initial Flight Test: May 26, 2010
Inventory: Four purpose-built for flight test, not designed for recovery (one vehicle expended as of Feb. 1, 2011)

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USAF 7 Summits Challenge

USAF 7 Summits Challenge

USAF 7 Summits Challenge

SUCCESS!! At 1pm on Oct 3rd, the USAF 7 Summits Team reached the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest peak on the Australian continent. Summit #6 of 7 was an excellent climb in fresh snow and lots of sunshine. A total of six USAF active duty Airmen reached the summit, along with a family member and six Australian Defense Force members. After pushups on the summit, two team members skied from the summit proudly flying the flags as they went. Thanks for your support of this great challenge to put America and the Air Force on the top of the world!!

USAF 7 Summits Challenge

Defense News Asia

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Chinese hackers targeting American Drones Under Operation Beebus

English: An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on a mission...

English: An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on a mission in Afghanistan Oct. 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


China has its own fairly sophisticateddrone program, but that has not prevented the country from being unduly curious about how other countries manage theirs. A sophisticated hacking initiative called Operation Beebus has set its sights on drone programs in both the United States and India, and experts believe that the culprits behind the hacking effort are the notorious Comment Crew — hackers who operate as part of the Chinese military.

The information comes by way of FireEye Labs, a high-profile tech security firm. Since December 2011, hackers have attempted to slip malicious DOC and PDF files into important aerospace, defense and communications machines.

Operation Beebus utilizes the exact same methodology as the Comment Crew: It creates bogus text documents and seeds them with very subtle malware. Later, the Crew can extract sensitive information from a protected system via a backdoor. Although the malware compromises the computers, it does nothing to harm them: Operation Beebus wants information, and likely won’t risk damaging its prize.

The backdoor pretends to be software from Google or Microsoft, which renders it hard to detect, especially since it does not harm users’ computers in any way. Once in place, the backdoor allows alien IP addresses access to private files.

CBP Air and Marine group conduct aerial operat...

CBP Air and Marine group conduct aerial operations with their UAS aircraft over areas affected by Hurricane Ike to help broadly assess damage so as to better deploy rescuers to specific areas with the most need. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the Comment Crew is indeed responsible, it’s hard to say what the group’s ultimate goal is. The organization has been fairly broad in choosing targets. It has attempted to hack into vital systems in companies that produce drones, as well as academic institutes with military funding that research the devices.

The Comment Crew is also interested in more than just drones. In 2012, it targeted North American and Spanish energy companies to learn about their automation processes. The group has also hacked the New York Times database to learn about sources for a damning exposé on the Chinese prime minister, and tried to shut down Tibetan activist websites. The Comment Crew typically seeks protected information, opting for outright harassment less frequently. [See also: Ten Military Aircraft that Never Made it Past the Test Phase]

Most of the DOC and PDF files are unreadable nonsense, intended only to spread malware. However, one document provides a key misdirection: an analysis of a potential Pakistani drone program, purportedly penned by one Aditi Malhotra. Malhotra is a real person, and an expert not only on drone warfare, but also on the links between the Chinese and Pakistani militaries.

Whether Malhotra actually wrote the document is difficult to say, and it’s highly unlikely that she would identify herself so brazenly if she were involved in the attacks. Furthermore, Malhotra is Indian: Indemnifying herself through an attempted hack on her own government would be counterproductive. Although the attacks are veiled in Pakistani garb, FireLabs asserts, responsibility still likely lies with China.

Everyday users don’t have much to worry about from Operation Beebus, since it has only targeted major players in the drone industry. Even so, avoiding strange attachments is always sound advice. If you’re a member of the DIY drone community, keep an eye out for emails from unfamiliar senders, as well.

MQ-9 Reaper

MQ-9 Reaper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Operation Beebus wants some very specific information and likely has nothing good planned for it. Hijacking drones may not be commonplace just yet, but that capability could raise some serious questions about widespread drone use.


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U.S. Air Combat Command Chief Hints at 6th Gen Fighter


6th generation fighter aircraft

6th generation fighter aircraft

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Even as the F-35, America’s first 5th generation fighter, struggles to achieve liftoff, the U.S. Air Force is starting to plan on how to get the 6th generation of jets off the ground.

What capabilities a 6th generation jet will possess remains unclear, but Gen. Mike Hostage, the head of Air Combat Command, dropped some hints at an event hosted this morning by the Center for Strategic and Informational Studies.

During a question-and-answer session, Hostage reiterated a DoD timeline that a new generation of fighter will be needed by 2030.

“That’s why we’re already looking at what defines the 6th generation,” Hostage said. “It’ll be some kind of game-changing ability. Don’t yet know what it is, but we’re out there looking at it carefully.”

After his speech, Hostage expanded on his comments to reporters.

“We’re trying to decide what [a 6th generation technology] is,” he said. “We’re looking at technologies that hold promise to potentially define 6th gen, but we haven’t said ‘that’s it, we’re going down that path.’ We’re starting today to try and define it, because it takes so dang long to procure things,” Hostage added.

The 5th generation fighter designs have been defined by their stealth abilities. Hostage declined to go into specifics on what the Air Force is looking at but hinted it would not be a single piece of technology that moved jets into the 6th generation designation.

“There are some very exciting technologies out there,” Hostage said. “I believe it will be a combination, I don’t believe it will be one … radical thing that says, ‘We’ll do things completely differently.’ I think it will be a combination of some really interesting technologies that will produce the game-changing capabilities.”

However, the possibility of a top-end next generation fighter doesn’t erase the need for other aspects of the Air Force fleet. Hostage said air power still demands a “family of systems,” including the proposed long-range bomber that Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh has identified as one of his key programs.


By Sanindu Fonseka

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Mantis Concept Demonstrator Targeted to Fly In the UK

Mantis UAV

Mantis UAV,

mantis_fb1 Mantis_UAV_1 Mantis-runway-night

BAE Systems has announced its intention to re-fly the Mantis UAS Concept Demonstrator – this time in UK airspace. This will be the first flight of a UAS (Unmanned Air System) of this class in UK airspace

Flying Mantis will enable the Company to continue to mature a number of UAS capabilities and technologies, underpinning BAE Systems’ strategy to become a world-class provider of unmanned air systems. The flight activity will support the development of future MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) and UCAS (Unmanned Combat Air Systems) operational capabilities, including the programmes announced at the Anglo-French Summit in February this year. By looking to fly Mantis in the UK, BAE Systems is directly aiming to address the associated challenges of airspace integration and safe operation of an airborne system in accordance with UK rules and regulations.

Over the coming months the Company will be working with the appropriate regulators to fully understand the safety, airworthiness and regulatory frameworks which will enable such a flight to take place in 2013.

The Company is currently looking at a number of potential locations in the UK which meet the trials objectives and will work with a number of agencies on the feasibility, timing and location of the flights. These locations will be selected in full consultation with the relevant authorities.

Tom Fillingham, Future Combat Air Systems Director, BAE Systems said: “We will undertake a further phase of flight trials for the Mantis but this time rather than going overseas we have given ourselves the challenge to conduct the trials in the UK. To secure our position as a provider of key capabilities in the unmanned market it is necessary that we continue to develop key skills and capabilities. Learning from the re-flight of Mantis will be used in future UAS programmes,
By : Sanindu Fonseka