The deadline for manufacturers to submit a proposal for the replacement of the Belgian F-16 MLU was at midnight on September 7. Leading up to the date there were rumours in the French press that Dassault would not submit a proposal to the Belgian Ministry of Defence.
According to several French newspapers, the Dassault team is convinced the call for tender is written in such a way that the only likely winner will be the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. Many saw this as a sign the French were going to throw in the towel on this 34 aircraft deal, but in a surprise move on the day of the deadline, the French proposed something else to the Belgians; an inter-governmental deal, much like the one we saw last year with India. Florence Parly, the French Minister of Defence wrote in a statement on September 7 that such an agreement would go further than the delivery of Rafale fighters but would also see the two Armed Forces working much closer together in the “training, maintenance and operational domains.” It is an interesting move from the French. With the F-35A being the favourite in everybody’s eyes, they opted for another approach. Whether it works however, is the question. The chance that the Belgian Air Component will tighten its ties with the Armée de l’Air regarding its fighter aircraft does not seem likely. The Belgians are currently preparing to move their fighter pilot training programme to the United States and will leave BA120 Cazaux in the very near future. Rumours are that the Belgians will leave their Alpha Jets behind and that they will be taken over by the Armée de l’Air. Even though France and Belgium are cooperating in a great many areas, it would seem that even this original proposal in the form of a government-togovernment contract in order to bypass the normal call for tender will not succeed.
Tankers and drones
There was also news regarding two Armée de l’Air modernisation programmes in the first week of September. During a visit to Toulon on September 5, Florence Parly announced the Armée de l’Air would arm its MQ-9 Reaper unmanned ari vehicles with guided weapons. The six Reapers on strength are assigned to Escadron de Drones 1/33 ‘Belfort’ based at BA709 Cognac. However, only one Reaper is currently in France and the other five are operating at Niamey, Niger in support of Opération Barkhane. According to Parly, arming the Reaper will increase the efficiency of French forces during operations. The minister said: “This new capability will allow for a more optimal use of our fighter aircraft, our helicopters and our aerial refuelling aircraft. These aircraft are quicker and more powerful but also demand much more resources when called upon.” Forces assigned to Barkhane are spread out over a vast territory including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger; an area of operations stretching approximately 1,100 by 3,200km. If an armed drone operating far from the fast jet assets in the region can engage a target by itself, it means that fighter aircraft can be used elsewhere and do not have to transit with the support of one of the tanker aircraft. Neither the Armée de l’Air nor the minister commented on the specific types of armament that will be used by the MQ-9, but it is likely to include laser-guided bombs such as the GBU-12 and the AGM- 114 Hellfire air-to-ground missile, of which the French recently acquired quite a few for the Tiger HAD attack helicopter. The goal is to have armed Reapers operational by 2019, which leads to believe the last six – to be delivered from 2019 – will already be outfitted by General Atomics to carry the armament selected by the Armée de l’Air.
On September 7, just two days after the Reaper announcement, Airbus carried out the first test fiight with the very first completed A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) destined for the Armée de l’Air. The aircraft was built alongside other commercial A330s at the Airbus plant in Toulouse before being flown to Getafe, Spain to undergo the MRTT conversion. This is the first of nine aircraft currently on order for the Armée de l’Air, and it is expected that the French will place a firm order for the remaining three aircraft in the near future, bringing the total fleet of MRTTs to 12. The type will be called Phénix by the Armée de l’Air.
Besides the batch of 63 (30 or so airworthy) Mirage F1s sold to American company ATAC last month, the French Ministry of Defence has also sold four airworthy Mirage F1Bs to Paramount Aerospace Systems, a South African company specialising in aircrew training. According to a French MoD official quoted by French newspaper l’Echo Républicain, the aircraft were the last remaining Mirage F1s in airworthy condition for sale at the Élément Air Rattaché 279 (EAR 279) Châteaudun. The contract for the four two-seat aircraft (serial numbers should be: 504, 507, 509 and 511) is said to be worth €2 million. There is speculation as to where the aircraft will end up. Will they stay in South Africa or is there another end user? Some sources are speculating that the aircraft might be destined for Gabon, which bought eight former South African Air Force single-seat Mirage F1s a few years ago. Time will tell who will operate these aircraft.
The Armée de l’Air activated its 62nd Transport Wing at BA123 Orléans-Bricy on September 5. The wing functions as the command structure for the Hercules squadrons ET 2/61 ‘Franche-Comté’ and ET 3/61 ‘Poitou’ at the base and includes the maintenance squadron Escadron de Soutien Technique Aéronautique 15.062.
A400M units fall under the 61st Transport Wing. It was announced during the ceremony on September 5 that the new C-130J and KC-130J aircraft will be assigned to ET 2/61. The first of the aircraft is due to arrive in France at the end of this year with the second scheduled for 2018. The KC-130Js will arrive in France in 2019.
The first week of September saw Hurricane Irma leave a trail of destruction across the Caribbean. French armed forces in the region had already placed several aircraft on alert by September 4. These included two Aéronavale Falcon 50s and two helicopters deployed to frigates, as well as two Armée de l’Air SA330b Puma helicopters and one CN235-200 from ET 0/68 ‘Antilles-Guyane’. Once it became clear just how devastating Irma had been, additional French troops were flown into the area in order to establish order on the island of Saint Martin and to help with relief efforts. Personnel, equipment and supplies were transported from the French mainland by an A310 and A340 assigned to ET 3/60 ‘Estérel’ and two A400Ms from ET 1/61 ‘Touraine’. One of the A400Ms transported a SA330b from the 3e Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat. A second CN235 from ET 0/68 arrived in the area on September 11. According to a press release that day, the command ship BPC Tonnerre would leave the harbour of Toulon the next day with an additional two SA330s and two NH90 Caiman helicopters.
Exercise Blue Kunene
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) staged its latest joint air exercise, Blue Kunene, in Namibia, which saw 1,200 personnel and 23 different aircraft participate. The nearly two-week-long exercise began on August 24 and concluded on September 4. It was designed to prepare airborne elements of member states’ air forces for rapid deployment in disaster situations and subsequent humanitarian relief operations, including medical and other aid. Some 250 tonnes (275 tons) of food was airlifted around Namibia, especially to drought-hit communities, during 350 hours of flying, and 1,500 people were provided with medical care. Participating nations were Angola (which brought Mi-24 and Mi-171Sh helicopters, an An-72 and Il-76), Botswana (C-130, CN235 and Bell 412), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa (C212s, King Air, three Oryx, and a C-130), Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe (C212) and Namibia (Cheetah and Chetak helicopters and Y-12 transports). South Africa hosted the SADC humanitarian air relief exercise Blue Cluster in 2011. It was followed by Blue Zambesi in Angola in 2013 and Blue Okavango in Botswana in 2015. Guy Martin
Mi-171A2 Type Certificate
The type certificate for the Mi-171A2 facelift of the Mi-8/Mi-17/Mi-171 family was issued by Rosaviatsia, Russia’s new certification authority on August 17. The Mi-171A2’s certification was conducted in accordance with the Russian AP-29 airworthiness rules, said to be broadly similar to US FAR-29 and Europe’s CS-29. Production of the first four examples at the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant was launched already during February, and the first delivery is scheduled for October-November timeframe. UTair, Russia’s biggest commercial helicopter operator, is set to become the Mi-171A2’s launch operator according to a contract with Russian Helicopters signed in mid-July. Experimental operation, to be undertaken by UTair, will involve two Mi-171A2s.
At the same time, Russian Helicopters and Gazprom, Russia’s gas exploration and distribution monopolist company are working together on the development of a specialised Mi-171A2 derivative for offshore transport. In addition, Gazprom has committed to order an undisclosed number of Mi-171A2s to be involved in servicing its future projects involving gas exploration by using offshore platforms in Russia’s extreme northern seas in the Arctic region. Alexander Mladenov
Brazil Curtails Latest F-5EM Upgrade Programme
Brazil is curtailing the Embraerled Northrop F-5EM and F-5FM modernisation programme as a result of budgetary cutbacks, amounting to 45% of defence spending since 2012. Two single-seat F-5EMs to be delivered before the end of the year and one twoseat F-5FM delivered in 2014 will be the only aircraft upgraded from an original plan covering eight F-5Es and three F-5Fs bought from Jordan in 2007. This programme, started in 2011, was to be a follow-up to Embraer’s previous upgrade of 43 F-5Es and three F-5Fs between 2006 and 2012.
In 2017, the Força Aerea Brasileira (Brazilian Air Force) has had its total flying hours reduced to 110,000 from 200,000 in 2016. Six of the air force’s nine Lockheed P-3BR Orion maritime patrol aircraft are currently grounded due to airframe fatigue issues. However, the major Brazilian aircraft procurement programmes remain in progress: 36 Saab JAS 39E Gripen fighters, 28 Embraer KC-390 transport aircraft and 51 Helibras H225M transport helicopters. David C Isby
Indonesia to Barter for Su-35 Fighters
Indonesian sources have reported that the long-discussed deal to acquire 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft for the Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU or Indonesian Air Force) will involve a barter deal with the Russian Government.
Reports on August 4 said the Indonesian state-owned trading company PT Perusahaan Perdagangan and Russia’s Rostec had signed a memorandum of understanding to barter Indonesian agricultural commodities for the aircraft. Sources said the deal was signed in Moscow between the two state-owned companies.
Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita was reported by the Jakarta Post as saying: “The barter deal, which is under the supervision of the two governments, will involve 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighters and several commodities, like coffee, palm oil, tea and others.”
In July, Indonesia’s Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was reported to have announced plans to acquire the 11 Su-35s from Russia, but an “imminent deal” has been widely reported for many months. Ryacudu had previously announced in February 2016 that he was going to travel to Russia to sign an agreement for 10 Su-35s. Nigel Pittaway
Red Bulls’ Special
Based at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas with the 47th Flying Training Wing, the T-38C Talon-equipped 87th Flying Training Squadron ‘Red Bulls’ celebrated its 100th anniversary on August 18. To commemorate the occasion the squadron as painted fullcolour tail markings on T-38C 67-14951.
The 87th Flying Training Squadron’s lineage goes back to the 87th Aero Squadron which was designated and organized on August 18, 1917 at Kelly Field, Texas. During World War Two, the P-40 Warhawk-equipped 87th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) transferred from North Carolina to North Africa; converted to the P-47 Thunderbolt in 1944 fighting the Axis forces up the Italian peninsula before its deactivation in Austria in 1947. Re-activated at Sioux City, Iowa on November 1, 1952 with the P-51 Mustang, the 87th transitioned to the F-86D Sabre in 1953 before moving to RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk in December 1954. The squadron was de-activated in 1955 and re-activated a year later as part of the Aerospace Defense Command at Lockborne Air Force Base, Ohio, still flying the F-86D. The squadron re-equipped with the F-102 Delta Dagger in 1958 and the F-101 Voodoo in 1960 until deactivation in June 1968. The following year, the 11th Fighter Interceptor Squadron based at Duluth, Minnesota, was redesignated the 87th FIS equipped with the F-106 Delta Dart and continued flying from K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan until deactivation on October 1, 1985. Its current training missions started on April 2, 1990 at Laughlin as the re-designated 87th Flying Training Squadron flying the T-38A Talon advanced supersonic trainer.
RSK MiG and Sukhoi to be Gathered into a Single Division
Russia’s United Aircraft Corp (UAC), the umbrella holding company that controls all fixed-wing aircraft design and production companies in Russia, has announced plans to put RSK MiG and Sukhoi in a newly established combat aircraft division. The plan was voiced for the first time in early August by Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov. He described the change as a step in the transformation of UAC’s corporate structure with new divisions set to be established for each aviation branch: combat, strategic bombers, special-mission, civil and transport. The combat division will see RSK MiG and Sukhoi sharing resources, testing, research and development activities, but retaining their brands. Alexander Mladenov
Aussie MH-60R Upgrade
The US Defense Security Co-operation Agency announced on August 31 that the US State Department has approved a $360 million upgrade programme for Australia’s Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH- 60R Seahawk fleet.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has 24 MH-60Rs in service, with two squadrons. They are shore based at HMAS Albatross, Nowra, south of Sydney and embark aboard the RAN’s surface combatants. The final helicopter was delivered under project Air 9000 Phase 8 (Naval Combat Helicopter) in July 2016.
The upgrade is a ten-year programme being carried out under Project Sea 5510 (MH-60R Capability Assurance Programme), designed to keep the RAN fleet in-step with the US Navy’s upgrade roadmap. Included in the contract are engineering change proposals, classified software upgrades and engineering and technical assistance. The statement said: “The proposed upgrades to the MH-60R helicopters will improve Australia’s anti-submarine and surface warfare capability, provide an improved search and rescue capability, enhance its anti-ship surveillance capability, and will help it carry out international commitments for transport, surveillance, and search and rescue with the United States and other allies.”
The Royal Australian Navy’s Director Aviation, Navy Strategic Command, Captain Grant O’Loughlan, said: “We’ll utilise the US Navy’s roadmap to stay aligned. It’s a spiral upgrade programme that will maintain the effectiveness of the aircraft and its potential and capability.” Nigel Pittaway