Training a key theme
Held in cool and blustery conditions, the 10th Avalon air show saw a number of industry teaming agreements aimed at fixed and rotary training requirements – projects AIR 5428 and AIR 9000 Phase 7, respectively. The downside to the event – apart from the disappointing weather – was what some companies saw as only limited opportunities to meet with personnel from Defence (see Editorial).
Shows like these have several purposes, including for companies to meet with each other and for the general public to see where their tax dollars are going – which they did in large numbers over the weekend. However, the overwhelmingly rationale for companies to spend significant amounts of money is so that they can showcase their technology to visiting Defence staff and hopefully engage in some dialog with them. If this element is removed or minimized then shows lose their purpose and companies will stop coming – meaning that ultimately everyone loses out.
The air show coincided with the RAAF’s 90th birthday, and at the related Air Chief’s Symposium one of the guests was the JSF Programmr Executive Officer, Admiral David Venlet. He joined the programme nine months ago and supervised a deep review into all aspects of JSF development and production, focusing particularly on matters of schedule and cost. Overall Admiral Venlet is comfortable with progress to date and sees 2011 as an opportunity to “build a record of performance.”
He reflected on the fact that the first production aircraft – the 11th in the series – has had its first flight and pointed out that so far around 830 hours of flight tests have been completed. He explained that an important part of the programme has been to de-couple the three variants so they can proceed at their own pace, with no one slowing down the others. This means that each service chief is receiving flight science information “at its best possible pace”. What is not decoupled is the mission systems testing – the radar, the elctro-optic sensors, infra red sensors, data links and so on.
He went on to explain that decisions about when the aircraft will enter service in the form of an initial operating capability (IOC) will be taken by the service chiefs and not by the programme office. The Admiral did not want to speak on their behalf, especially since there are current Congressional hearings into the JSF, but said they would be making statements later this year clarifying exactly when the aircraft will enter service. Speaking at the same even, Australia’s JSF Programme Manager, Air Marshal Kym Osley, expressed a view that progress in the United States was consistent with RAAF achieving IOC in 2018.
The largest single industry announcement of the Avalon exhibition was JSF-related: namely the signing of an agreement between Marand and BAE Systems for the supply of $790 million worth of tail fins for the aircraft. Marand – a privately owned Australian company – has been undertaking work on the JSF for almost a decade and this agreement is the icing on the cake. Both companies acknowledged the support of the Victorian State Government in making the agreement possible.
The most important announcement by the Government at the show came from Defence Minister Stephen Smith, who said that a letter of request has been sent to the US for the purchase of an additional C-17 Globemaster, increasing the number from four to five. The decision is almost certainly at the expense of another two C-130J Hercules being considered under AIR 8000. Minister Smith explained that the rationale is the Globemasters can carry four times as much cargo as a C-130, twice as far and much faster. They are, however, considerably more expensive to buy and operate.
Also on show and included in the flying display was an Italian airforce C-27J, the twin-engine mini-Hercules that will be a strong contender for AIR 8000, if it ever actually progresses to an RFT stage.
Air show patrons were disappointed that the RAAF was not in a position to show one of the new Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft being purchased from Airbus Military. These aircraft – based on an A-330 – are almost ready for delivery, which is only being delayed by the completion of many tonnes of regulatory paperwork. When in service the MRTTs will transform RAAF’s power projection capabilities and also provide additional transport capacity.
With AIR 9000 Phase 8 – the Seahawk replacement – entering its crucial final stage, both ‘Team Romeo’ and Eurocopter were keen to highlight their bids. ‘Team Romeo’ was able to drawn on the entirely coincidental visit of USS ‘Shoup’ that embarks two MH-60Rs – one of which could be viewed on the show flight line and the one on the ship available on a limited basis to the media. The USN has 300 MH-60Rs on order, of which approximately one third have been delivered. While keeping the same form-factor as older Seahawks, the Romeos have benefited from a large number of improvements, especially moving to a glass cockpit and adding data links.
Eurocopter did not bring the rival NFH to Australia, though its sister aircraft the MRH was on static display. Also Eurocopter were able to talk about their bid, within Defence-imposed guidelines, explaining that so far four NATO navies have ordered 111 NFHs. The early test models of the aircraft – Search and Rescue variants – have now clocked up around 500 flight hours and good progress is being made on the final version, especially its weaponry and mission systems. While not as mature as the Romeo, the NFH is a fully fly-by-wire helicopter with considerable growth potential and which has been designed for one helicopter per ship operations.
Both teams expect a decision mid-year, which might be optimistic given the size of the order and the complexity of the matters to be evaluated.
As the ADF update their pilot training projects, contracts worth around $2.5 billion will be let in the next few years, so it is hardly surprising that many companies marketed their capabilities.
AIR 5428 is the fixed-wing pilot training programme, which will cover everything from screening, undergraduate training through to conversion to the lead-in fighter, and will also select those to go on for rotary-wing training under AIR 9000, Phase 7. The project has received First Pass approval, with a decision expected in the fairly wide window of 2012/13 – 2014/15 and a value around the $1.5 billion figure.
One of the teaming announcements at the show for this contract was the powerful combination of Raytheon and BAE Systems. The bid will be around the Hawker Beechcraft T-6 ‘Texan’ trainer aircraft – a single prop, versatile platform.
APDR had the opportunity to experience a flight in the aircraft, which proved to be a solid and stable performer. While not experiencing its full flight envelope – due entirely to the abject cowardice of the passenger – the aircraft nevertheless demonstrated impressive handling with 5g turns (it can go up to 7g), recovery from stalls, rolls, dives, climbs and so on. Flown by the completely unflappable Russ ‘Rudder’ Smith, the aircraft is far more complex than a simple flight trainer. The trainee not only has access to all of the flight controls but also advanced displays on three screens that have the symbology found in aircraft such as the F-18. In addition, the on-board computers allow the instructor and trainee to practice bomb drops, rocket launches and undertake air-to-air combat against simulated targets. The latter was like Harry Potter on a flying broomstick trying to catch an invisible target.
Raytheon is targeting training on a very wide front and is also pursuing the rotary-wing contract.
AIR 9000 Phase 7 helicopter pilot training has also received First Pass approval and has a value approaching $1 billion. This project is officially more urgent than 5428 and is said to have a year of decision as early as next financial year, as improbable as that might seem. Show teamings for this contract included Lockheed Martin with Bristow Helicopters and Boeing with Thales.
Thales also announced that construction had finished of the Centre for Advanced Studies in ATM (CASIA), a new Air Traffic Management research and development centre in Melbourne. Thales is a world leader in this domain and is already winning export orders that last year exceeded $200 million. The centre has been built with the assistance of the Victorian Government.
And just to show that companies can co-operate for one contract and compete for another, BAE Systems announced that for Phase 7 they have teamed with Augusta Westland and CAE, where they will be up against Raytheon – amongst others.
With around 600 exhibitors a comprehensive show report is impossible. However, there was a significant presence from all major aerospace companies, including – but not limited to – Northrop Grumman, EADS, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Thales and BAE Systems. Special mention must be made of Elbit, with their usual high-tech presence, focusing very much on data fusion – illustrated with an audio visual and holographic presentation on how to defeat a powerful border incursion.
This Avalon air show will be the last in his official capacity for Lockheed Martin Australia’s Paul Johnson, who retires after 26 years with the company. Paul has been one of Australia’s most respected CEOs and he has distinguished himself by not only looking after the interests of his company but also being a tireless advocate for all local defence industry. Paul has always been open, accessible, knowledgeable and fair-minded – qualities which have earned him the lasting respect of Government, industry and the media.
The always-affable Andy Sloan, who has been Lockheed Martin’s interface with the media for many years, will join Paul in retirement. Andy is perhaps best known and loved for organizing and participating in annual media tours to the United States, which have often been an annual highlight for many years. Andy has already been appointed Worldwide Freelance Correspondent by APDR, so hopefully we will see him at air shows for many years to come.