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Arms Trade

Boeing isn’t the only company with some seriously futuristic airplane designs on display with minimal explanation at this year’s Air Force Association conference in National Harbor, Md. I snapped the photo above in Northrop Grumman’s booth last night. I’m told it might be a concept for a long range strike aircraft. It was on a mural featiuring a host of other futuristic designs including what many think is the Next Gen Bomber, something that looks like a stealthy recon UAV, and the design for a tail-less sixth-gen fighter for the Navy. Check them out after the jump.

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Check out these two panorama’s showing the interior of AgustaWestland’s AW139M chopper the company is proposing to replace the Air Force’s fleet of UH-1N Hueys that do everything from shuttle VIPs around Washington, DC, to patrolling the Air Force’s Minuteman III ICBM fields. The AW139M features ballistic flooring, twin machine guns, a FLIR sensor ball and seating for 11 to 15 passengers.

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This isn’t the best week to be an F-5 driver…anywhere. Earlier in the week we showed you this video

of the wreckage of an Iranian F-5 that crashed during military exercises. Now, Taiwan has grounded its entire fleet of F-5s after losing two of them during what sounds like a low-level nighttime training flight gone awry.

From the BBC:

The jets disappeared off radar shortly after taking off from an air base in Hualien, eastern Taiwan.

The remains of three pilots have been recovered from the mountain crash site.

The military said it was investigating the accident but one official said it underlined Taiwan’s need to purchase a more modern air fleet.

The aircraft — one RF-5 surveillance plane and a two-seater F-5F trainer — took off at 19:39 (11:39 GMT) and disappeared from radar 13 minutes later, the defence ministry said.

“We were fishing at the seaside when suddenly airplanes flew over our heads, and a moment later we heard a loud bang and the whole mountain was set on fire,” one witness told the Taipei Times. “The explosion was very loud.”

Wreckage from the planes was later found in the mountains and on a highway.

Taiwanese defense officials are already trying to spin the accident (that, at first blush, sounds like it was caused by pilot error not a mechanical failure) to highlight the need for new F-16C/Ds — planes that the White House has decided not to sell the island nation.

As Chinese companies creep ever further into the fabric of the African continent, making handshake deals for oil and other resources, the overall U.S. commander for the region is blase about the encroaching dragon’s guns.

During a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington today, Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Africa Command, said he doesn’t have a problem with China’s arms sales to the Dark Continent’s buyers.

It’s very clear that the Chinese, like us and like many others, are involved with supporting African militaries with equipment. I don’t see that as a military competition between us and China.

Ham cited the recent purchase of Chinese riverine craft by the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of where he thought an African nation had made a good buy.

I actually think that was really helpful. That’s a capability they need. That’s not a capability that we posses. There are a number of African countries that fly Chinese aircraft, that use Chinese maritime patrol vessels. I don’t see that as military competition, but rather as African nations making decisions on where they can best find a supply of the material and equipment they need to accomplish their objectives.

Carter admitted he’d like African nations to buy USA — since it would be easier to do mil-to-mil training and operations with like gear, but he recognizes that that might not be in the best interest of African countries.

He seemed to be saying: “Hey, it doesn’t matter where they buy their guns. As long as it’s us who are training them how to use them…”

– Christian


As Congress moves to flat-line F-35 Joint Strike Fighter purchases over the next two years, the Navy is buying more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to offset any fighter gaps caused by the delay of the fifth-gen fighter, top DoD officials told lawmakers this month.

While this is something that been tacitly understood for a long time, this is the first I’ve heard the Pentagon’s very top officials come out and say it.

From Bloomberg:

“The department’s commitment to the F-35 is solid and we are committed to production rates that minimize cost,” the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, Ashton Carter, wrote Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn on Sept. 1.

The Pentagon last year requested $1.9 billion for 22 additional non-stealthy F-18E/Fs and $2.6 billion more for 28 in fiscal 2012 from Chicago-based Boeing. Some of this money came from a pool of $12 billion in F-35 funds that the Pentagon last year cut or transferred, citing the need for additional testing of its top weapons program.

Buying additional F-18E/Fs “was an acknowledgment” that a delay in buying the Navy F-35 version “would slow down the rate at which” it would reach the fleet, Carter said.

The Navy estimates it will start in 2015 seeing a shortfall in the required number of fighters for its 11 aircraft carriers, Carter wrote.

Still, “the F-35 is a very high priority and the production rate will not be reduced solely to pay other bills in the budget,” Carter wrote.

The piece goes on to quote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the buys of “highly-capable” Super Hornets “will help mitigate that shortfall while we continue to ramp up F-35 procurement. The F-35 is intended to complement the F/A-18E/F, not replace it. The Navy needs the capabilities that both aircraft provide.”

He ominously went on to say that while “support for the F-35 is strong” the JSF and other fighters are “not exempt from an “exhaustive review” of roles and missions.

“We are committed to making responsible” F-35 investment decisions that reflect program status, force structure requirements and Department priorities,’’ he wrote.

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