Military R&D

Time to Face the Truth: F-35 = F-117B (Long read)

Nearly nine years ago I wrote about a suggestion from Boeing that the USAF buy F-18 E/F Super Hornets instead of the F-35. Their suggestion was so obviously a great idea that it almost felt tongue in cheek...but they weren't joking. Our coverage of this discussion must have struck a nerve because more people read it than any other post for a long time.

T-X: Finally a Fun USAF Competition to Watch?

The USAF is holding a competition to replace the Northrop T-38C. The USAF is referring to the new trainer simply as "T-X" for now. After a couple decades of USAF aircraft competitions that have felt unfulfilling or even disappointing, I think this competition has the potential to actually be fun to watch.

J-20: China Publicly Tests New Stealth Fighter

You should be pretty surprised by the aircraft in this slide show. It's China's newest fighter jet prototype, called the J-20 Black Eagle on Oshkosh365.org. The Chinese government parked it in plain sight at the Aviation Design Institute in Chengdu and started conducting testing in front of the public.

Iran Unveils First Squadrons of Ground Effect Vehicles

The EAA just posted an article containing this video. It's about a new type of amphibious aircraft that Iran has just introduced into service. The aircraft are designed to fly in ground effect though, as you can see in the video, they can climb to higher altitudes. It's definitely a unique aircraft and it'll be interesting to see how they employ it. The ground effect vehicle (GEV) is called the Bavar 2.

Enter Antonov: America's Tanker Competition Gets Weird

When the US Air Force awarded the contract for a KC-135 air refueling tanker replacement to European company EADS, American aircraft manufacturer Boeing went crazy. They brought out the lawyers and argued that although the EADS Airbus A330 tanker had out performed the Boeing's B767, the competition was unfair and should be re-accomplished. Boeing wants the criteria for the new tanker adjusted to favor their products. Although I'm not sure they ever said it directly, a large part of their argument seems to be that it's not fair to have a European company providing aircraft on a multi-billion dollar US military contract. EADS, of course, is arguing that they still have the better product and that the US military should select the product that will do the best job of taking care of our troops...no matter where it comes from. I think the argument is pretty stupid and that we're wasting literally years delaying the A330 tanker; however, Boeing got what it wanted and the competition is open again.

I bet they never expected a third company to throw them for a loop though. Ukrainian (formerly Soviet) aircraft manufacturer Antonov has entered the competition with the help of a US partner, US Aerospace. Antonov is submitting proposals for 3 different aircraft, and they may be able to out-perform both competitors. I wonder how Boeing is feeling now about the can of worms they've opened.

When Radar, NVGs, FLIR and Basic Synthetic Vision Just Aren't Enough

Modern fighter pilots get a lot of toys to help survive and beat their opponents. Radar, night vision goggles (NVGs,) Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) all help them see in the dark and through the weather. Even civilian aircraft are starting to get enhanced vision systems (take a look at the North West Husky website for some cool pictures and videos.)

I didn't know it, but it appears that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has picked up a brand-new toy that boasts capabilities so impressive I almost don't believe they're real. The system is called the Electro-optical Distributed Aperture System, or EO DAS for short.

New Twists as Tanker Drama Continues

I've been following the competition for the new USAF tanker for quite a while. I was excited when the Northrop/EADS A330 won. A friend of mine who has multiple combat tours in the KC-135 and got to provide input to the tanker decision said the A330 is a superior aircraft. I live right down the road from Mobile, AL, where residents were ecstatic about a new airplane factory and thousands of associated (American) jobs coming to town. I was quite pleased that the Air Force made an effort to be fair and open with the competition following a shady tanker lease deal that got some people in trouble in 2004.

Then, after the A330 was officially named the winner and ground was already broken on the new factory in Mobile, Boeing complained and got the decision overturned and the competition reopened. I was very disappointed. Reopening the competition guaranteed several more years of waiting for a new tanker while the ancient KC-135s continued to serve past their lifetime. It also showed severe prejudice against a foreign product, even if it meant a superior to our warfighters.

The Pentagon released their new request for proposals recently. Sadly, the new specifications so obviously favor Boeing's 767 that Northrop and EADS have decided not to even enter the competition.

Top Gun for a New Millennium - UAVs at Sea

One of my dad's friends was in the Navy and I was raised up to think that: "If it doesn't have a tailhook, it's not a real airplane." Although, I didn't end up choosing that path (and I abandoned that philosophy,) I have a great deal of respect for Naval aviators. They definitely do some tough flying and have a lot of fun at it.

For better or for worse, it appears that we may all be losing the opportunity to land fast jets on floating postage stamps sooner than we thought. A recent article at Navy.mil notes that the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) will be the carrier used to test a new Naval combat aircraft. For the first time in history, this aircraft will be a full-size combat jet...without a pilot. Specifically, it looks like Grumman's X-47B will be the first UCAV tested on an aircraft carrier.

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