Military Contracts Continue Momentum as Russians join AESA Party
Notable highlights related to contract activity in August included news that the US government is deploying the vehicle and dismount exploitation radar (VADER) system designed by Northrop Grumman and incorporated on General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' MQ-9 Reapers to detect illegal immigrants and drug smugglers on the southwest border.
Meanwhile, Raytheon updated progress on its APG-79(V) multimode AESA radar technology, which is being used by Boeing in a four-year program supporting the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Raytheon is also supplying APG-73 radar to support US Navy EA-18G aircraft and Royal Australian F/A-18F Super Hornets and another 114 F/A-18E/F aircraft currently equipped with the APG-73 radar are also expected to be upgraded with the APG-79.
US-based airborne radars also hit the headlines with three or more SE Asian air forces looking to upgrade Lockheed Martin F-16s with AESA radars with the choice focused between the Northrop Grumman Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) and Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR).
Other highlights during the month of August included the MAKS show, which saw the first public demonstration of the T50 “Raptorski.” Also, the Su-30MK development aircraft was shown with an AESA radar and Irkut Corp. said that Russia and India have agreed on a technical specification for the Super 30 variant that has AESA making it the first exportable Russian fighter with this radar. Other AESA prospects in Russian aircraft include MiG-29s and MiG-35 variants and even helicopters.
While the US has led development of AESA technology, the emergence of capabilities in Russia leads to a potential redressing of a strategic advantage. It also threatens the potential opportunities that the likes of Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have been trying to exploit through the development of smaller-scale AESA platforms that can be incorporated as upgrades to existing platforms.
In electronic warfare, BAE Systems received contracts to manufacture JSF-CI-3 countermeasure equipment used for the Joint Strike Fighter Program. JSF-CI-3 is a component of AN/ASQ-239 Electronic Warfare System. The company is also working with Alliant Techsystems to jointly develop a next-generation missile and gunfire warning system to be installed on thousands of US military helicopters and other rotorcraft.
In weapon systems technology, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Munitions Directorate and Lockheed Martin have signed a five-year CRADA to assess the viability of its cooled tri-mode seeker for integration onto Air Force weapon platforms. The seekers are for future US Air Force weapon platforms engaging stationary and mobile targets in day, night and adverse weather conditions. Meanwhile, the Australian government has approved four major defence capability projects -- the upgrade of Navy’s current long-range Standard Missile-2 (SM2) air defence missiles for future use by the Air Warfare Destroyers (SEA 4000 Phase 3.2 combined first and second pass approval) and funding for a collaborative international study into the upgrade of the air defence Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile fitted to the ANZAC Class frigates and Air Warfare Destroyers.
Thales and Harris dominated communications contract activity. Thales is working with General Dynamics C4 Systems for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) of the AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio with quantities expected to exceed 6000 units. Thales also received a separate order from the US Army for radio system components. Harris received orders from the government of Canada for Falcon III AN/PRC-117G multiband manpack radios and RF-7800B Broadband Global Area Networking (BGAN) satellite terminals. The company also received a contract from Lockheed Martin to supply more than 100 Harris Highband Networking Radio systems for the US Army's Warfighter Information Network — Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 program.
The US leads, both as a user and manufacturer, in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). While the success of UAVs is leading to an expanding quotient of fielded platforms, there are a number of US platforms that dominate mindshare in the marketplace. Despite budgetary pressures, we are seeing continued growth in US defense expenditure for UAV platforms. From an electronics perspective, the expanding mission envelope will provide enhanced opportunities with weaponization of UAV platforms leading to the next stage of development for UAVs in the form of UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle).
Alongside the US, Israeli-based platforms are also leading the field as well as demonstrating considerable success in international markets. European-based platforms have struggled to capture the same mindshare enjoyed by US and Israeli platforms even on the domestic front. However, the Europeans are making attempts to bridge gaps with a particular emphasis on UCAVs and this will be another area in which the US-based manufacturers, such as Boeing/Insitu and General Atomics, will see more competition moving forward. Other nations are also getting involved with countries like China and India to develop indigenous capabilities that extend across the full range of platform categories and will no doubt be willing to take advantage of advanced technologies, such as AESA-based radar as they become more readily available.