The Doklam Plateau and Indian Air Superiority

by Matthew Beres, Airborne Retrofit & Modernization Analyst, Forecast International.

Historical Map of Sikkim. Source: Wikimedia

The standoff between China and India on the Doklam plateau hasn’t quite exploded onto the international headlines, but the situation nevertheless has great implications.  These are the largest nations in Asia, and the two countries have growing – and competing – economies. Aside from Russia, India is the last remaining Asian deterrent against Chinese territorial expansion in Asia. Continue reading

The Ongoing A-10 Replacement Saga

by Ray Jaworowski, Senior Aerospace Analyst, Forecast International.

U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog (Source: U.S. Air Force)

In early 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to retire the U.S. Air Force A-10 fleet over a period of five years.  However, the proposal sparked considerable congressional opposition and, in FY15 and FY16 budgetary legislation, Congress blocked the Pentagon from retiring the attack aircraft. Continue reading

Resource Pressures Bear Down on Indian Armed Forces

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

Indian Flag

As the center-right National Democratic Alliance government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaches its two-year anniversary in power, the financial strain on India’s armed forces is limiting the military’s capacity and hindering its short- and medium-term capability. The pressures converging on the armed forces – some self-inflicted – are forcing respective service branches to re-examine elements such as personnel ratios and budget management as the country’s national security approach continues to include the possibility of a two-front war with neighboring China and Pakistan.   Continue reading

Is a New Dedicated Close Air Support Aircraft a Possibility for the U.S. Air Force?

By Shaun McDougall, Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

A-10 Warthog (Small)

A-10 Warthog

The U.S. Air Force has recently appeared more open to the idea of developing a future close air support aircraft to replace the legacy A-10, despite ongoing efforts to retire that very aircraft to save money. Air Combat Command’s 2015 strategy document, unveiled this month, recommends keeping the door open for a new dedicated CAS aircraft. “We must also continue to develop a balanced close air support (CAS) capability across all [Global Precision Attack] platforms, explore opportunities for a future CAS platform, and enact specific initiatives to ensure we maintain a CAS culture throughout the [Combat Air Force],” the strategy document reads. Furthermore, when asked earlier this year about the possibility of eventually fielding a new dedicated CAS aircraft, ACC Commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle told reporters at the Air Force Association Air Warfare symposium, “We’re thinking about it.” Continue reading

U.S. Navy the Clear Winner in Senate Armed Services Committee Markup

by Shaun McDougall, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

CVN 73 Carrier Strike Group (Source: US Navy)

CVN 73 Carrier Strike Group (Source: US Navy)

The U.S. Navy came out as the clear winner in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the FY16 defense authorization bill, receiving funding for additional aircraft, ships, and weapons. The results were more mixed for the Air Force and Army. The legislation, approved by the SASC on May 14 by a vote of 22 to four, supports the president’s budget request level of $612 billion for the Department of Defense and security programs in the Department of Energy. That level exceeds current defense budget caps, so the committee provides an additional $38 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which is not subject to spending limits. This move mirrors the GOP budget resolution, as well as the House’s version of the FY16 defense policy bill.

Continue reading

Ilyushin May Benefit From Ukraine Conflict

by Richard Pettibone, Forecast International

Ilyushin is part of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp (UAC) conglomerate, which was formed through the absorption of firms such as MiG, Irkut, Ilyushin, Sukhoi, and Tupolev.

The formation of a single entity in this sector was targeted toward eliminating domestic competition, lowering manufacturing expenses, and reducing excess manufacturing capacity. So far, though, the results have been mixed. Though UAC’s military aircraft have benefitted from its historic alliances, the outlook for commercial aircraft remains daunting – especially in light of increased competition from China. Further, the company must deal with a depressed economic market, as well as facing off against the titans, Airbus and Boeing.

So far, Ilyushin’s commercial performance – the company’s forte – has been bleak. Production of Ilyushin’s models has been anemic for years. The TAPO facility that produces the Il-114 was placed under bankruptcy administration in 2010, and by 2012, part of that plant had been converted for the production of automobiles. The operation emerged from bankruptcy in 2013, and was renamed Tashkent Mechanical Plant on January 1, 2014. The facility maintains a focus on aircraft assembly and MRO services.

Il-112 military transport aircraft

Il-112 military transport aircraft

However, the conflict in the Ukraine is leading Russia to turn inwards for production and this could be a boon to several Ilyushin programs. The worsening relations have prompted the Russian government to pull out of it plan to acquire Ukraine’s Antonov An-140 aircraft. Instead, Russia will revive the Il-112 military transport aircraft and develop the Il-114 turboprop.

Plans are under way for a pair of Il-112s to be produced for testing. Ilyushin is believed to be refreshing the designs to incorporate as much current technology as possible. The Il-112 and the new version of the Il-114 would share onboard systems and powerplants, making both projects, to some extent, more economically viable.

As part of Russia’s modernization effort, Ilyushin is also benefitting. Most recently, in late 2014, Russia’s Ministry of Defense unveiled plans to acquire more than 150 new aircraft and helicopters in 2015 as part of plans to bolster and modernize the country’s Air Force. Under this effort, the Russian MoD pushed ahead with a revived Il-76 variant, having ordered 39 new Il-76MD-90A2s (credit waqas). According to reports, UAC officials feel there is a market for 150-200 of the new aircraft over the next 17 years.

With other commercial programs running out of backlog, Ilyushin may end up a niche manufacturer, as resources are directed to high-profile programs such as the Sukhoi Superjet 100 and the MC-21.

Bulgaria Announces $680 Million Army Modernization Program, but Will It Ever Come to Pass?

By Dan Darling, Forecast International

Bulgaria plans to implement a BGN1 billion ($680 million) military modernization program aimed at decreasing the army’s dependence on Russian-legacy hardware. The program, announced by Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov, will run through 2020. The modernization will feature the long-anticipated acquisition of new multirole combat aircraft that will allow Bulgaria to begin phasing out its MiG-21 and MiG-29 fleets. It will also involve the procurement of a new submarine and new naval vessels.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry is currently drafting a plan that would see defense budgets rise to 2 percent of annual GDP. Under this plan, defense investment would rise rapidly on a year-by-year basis, as current military expenditures reside at 1.3 percent of GDP.

Throughout much of the 2000s, Bulgaria remained one of a handful of NATO members to meet the minimum standard of 2 percent of GDP allocated toward defense, despite being the poorest member of the Alliance. In 2001, the country devoted just under 3 percent of GDP to defense (2.96 percent), but by 2005, that figure had dropped to 2.45 percent. By 2009, with the Bulgarian economy stumbling under the weight of a Europe-wide recession, defense allocations had dropped to 1.86 percent of GDP and then fell nominally by 23 percent in 2010 as the government pursued austerity measures to keep Sofia in the good graces of the European Commission.

As a result of the decline in defense investment, Bulgaria’s longstanding military modernization effort, titled Plan 2015, was pushed out to 2020 under the most recent Defense White Paper (released in 2011). Plan 2015 involved the purchase of ground transportation vehicles, multirole fighters, naval fighting ships, communications equipment, and a reconnaissance command-and-control system.

The latest modernization plan announcement appears, on the surface at least, to be old wine in a new bottle. The requirements of the Bulgarian armed forces have not changed, only the face heading the Defense Ministry has. The latter itself makes this latest announcement appear tenuous, as Shalamanov is part of the caretaker government of Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki. With parliamentary elections approaching on October 5, his time atop the Defense Ministry may prove short.

More to the point, requests by Bulgarian Defense Ministers are often given short shrift by sitting governments. An example of this came in 2012, shortly after the release of the most recent defense white paper. Then-Defense Minister Anyu Angelov requested that Parliament keep defense spending at a minimum of 1.5 percent of GDP through 2014 – the result was that expenditure fell to 1.2 percent in 2012.

With a poor economy that is struggling to make headway, readily available funding is simply not there to be doled out. An incoming government sympathetic to defense and perhaps alarmed by events in Ukraine may place a higher premium on military investment, but doing so would require not only increasing annual defense budgets but also bringing greater balance to the way the consolidated defense allocation is then spent. Currently, Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry allocates just 5 percent of the defense budget toward capital investment (i.e., procuring new military hardware and upgrading and maintaining existing materiel). Some 74 percent of the budget is devoted to personnel expenses, rather than the desired 60 percent called for in the Defense White Paper. With limited funding thus allocated so disproportionately, the Bulgarian armed forces remain stuck with their Soviet-/Russian-legacy hardware, despite having entered the NATO Alliance a decade ago.

Unless funding both increases and is doled out more equitably than the status quo – an army forced to rely upon using the equipment of their allies for training purposes when joint exercises are conducted on Bulgarian soil – will remain. But if the next government is less sympathetic toward upgrading the armed forces than it is tackling the country’s myriad problems – which include rooting out corruption, strengthening the judicial system, improving public infrastructure, and adhering to EU budgeting and transparency rules – then the matter becomes moot.

Pratt F135 Woes

By William Alibrandi, Forecast International

Pratt & Whitney’s F135 program has been under great scrutiny after several high-profile incidents, the latest involving an engine fire. While these have been a dark cloud hanging over the program, any new engine could have issues like this in development testing; it’s actually par for the course. The bigger problem may be with the F-35 Lightning program. The Pentagon decided to design, build, test and fly the F-35 all at the same time rather than in consecutive order as in past aircraft programs. Now, any problems with the F135 are exacerbated because the test schedule is so compressed, and any problems or flaws in the engine mean expensive rework – setting back the entire program. Arguably, if the normal development process had been followed, we might not be seeing as many engine-related issues with the Joint Strike Fighter.

The issue that resulted in the July 3rd grounding of the F-35 fleet has turned out to be an interference problem in the third-stage fan of the integrally bladed rotor (IBR) in the engine’s low-pressure compressor section. Normally an abradable strip maintains the tight clearances necessary to reduce pressure loss in this area, but the teardown has determined the rubbing to have generated excessive heat, causing micro fissures in the blades. The resultant failure caused the blades to come apart, resulting in the fire. The official word from the Pentagon is that the problem appears isolated, and all 98 F135 engines in service have been inspected. Pratt & Whitney’s president, Paul Adams, said the issue is not related to any previous incident. Pratt was already redesigning the first stage fan of the IBR and is switching from a hollow blade design to a solid blade. Plans for the redesign have been submitted to the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office for approval.

F135

No F-35B? No Big Deal

By Ray Peterson, Forecast International

Okay, everyone wants to see the F-35B at the Farnborough Airshow. The U.S DoD has already deployed the aircraft and it doesn’t look good if it can’t deploy to this major aeronautical event. Lockheed Martin is staking its reputation on the fighter that can do it all and it’s not doing the company any good if the planes are sitting on a tarmac in America. And Britain, home to legends of reggie spotters, would like the bragging rights that come with having such a notable aircraft appearing for the first time at the home of British aviation.

f-35b-03

The F-35B is a no-show for Monday’s opening day, probably Tuesday, too. In fact, it’s likely the fighter may not make it to the show during the five trade days or the two public days on Saturday and Sunday.

However, the F-35B’s absence from the show won’t result in a flood of cancellations, nor is it likely that any country considering procuring the aircraft will be negatively influenced if its military officials can’t see it fly at Farnborough. It’s quite common for new aircraft programs to experience issues of one kind or another at some point during their development or early operations. Just ask Airbus (A380 and A400M), Boeing (787), and Bombardier (CSeries).

Coincidentally, the U.S. Navy last week awarded Boeing a $1.9 billion contract for 11 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, 21 EA-18G Growler EW aircraft, and 12 EA-12Gs for Australia. As Forecast International’s defense analyst Shaun McDougall notes, the Navy has increased Super Hornet procurement in recent years to offset potential fighter shortfalls stemming from F-35 delays.

By the way, the Super Hornet will be flying during the show. For the F-35, there will always be Paris next year.