Russian Rotorcraft

Kazan Helicopters has started production of the first military Mi-38, dubbed Mi-38T, for the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD). An order for two was placed in July and delivery of the first is slated for 2018, with the second following in 2019.

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These two Mi-38Ts will be subjected to exhaustive testing over at least two years to prove the type’s compliance with Russian military airworthiness requirements. If everything goes as planned, the MoD is expected to place orders within the frame of the next State Armaments Programme running from 2018 to 2025.

The military-standard Mi-38T differs from the civil-certified version mainly in its modified fight/navigation suite and the addition of some military-specific systems. Russian military regulations require that no foreign-origin components are used in the helicopters.

Among the new military-specific equipment installed on the Mi-38T is a fuel system protected from explosion in the fuel tanks together with auxiliary fuel tanks for extended range, a military-specification communications system and life-support equipment for crew members wearing immersion suits for cold water survival. The MoD plans to order Mi-38Ts modified for operation in Arctic conditions: extremely cold and low visibility.

To date, the Russian MoD is the only customer for the 15-tonne Mi-38; there has been no interest from Russian commercial operators, despite the civil certification granted in December 2015.

Mi-28 delivery plans

The Mi-28NM, advertised as the definitive Night Hunter version, is planned to enter service with the Russian Air and Space Force (RuASF) in 2019. According to Russian Helicopters, a contract for an undisclosed number of Mi-28NMs was near signature in late August. This could mean the first deliveries of production-standard enhanced aircraft to the RuASF during the second half of 2018.

Launched in 2009, Mi-28NM development has been protracted. Its main aim was to fix problems with the baseline Mi-28N Night Hunter, which began to be taken on strength by the RuASF in 2009. The updated Mi-28NM, which is officially reported to have made its maiden fiight on October 12, 2016, is set to become the most capable Night Hunter version yet. It features a mast-mounted radar, as well as a Vitebsk-28NM fully integrated self-protection suite for countering heatseeking surface-to-air missiles and an all-new GOES-451M multi-sensor day/night optronic targeting payload, combined with a much-improved fiight/navigation avionics suite and new longer-range anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). The Mi-28NM also boasts a newly added datalink system that enables an expanded range of netcentric operations.

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The dual-control Mi-28UB, seen here in prototype form, was used as a baseline for the Mi-28NE

export version delivered to Iraq and Algeria, and the definitive production-standard Mi-28UB

due to be delivered to Russian Army Aviation later this year.cr@Alexander Mladenov

The improved performance results from the use of a new lighter airframe combined with new and much more effective main and tail rotor systems, a new main gearbox and the integration of uprated Klimov VK- 2500P turboshafts with full-authority digital engine control, rated at 2,800shp in the one engine inoperative mode (limited to 2.5 minutes) and 2,500shp for take-off.

According to Valery Kashin, designer general of the NPK KBM ordnance design company, the Mi-28NM comes armed with two new guided missiles from the company. The first of these is a derivative of the 9M120 Ataka-V (Attack-V – NATO reporting name AT-9 Spiral-2), using laser beam-riding guidance and featuring a range of up to 8km (4.3nm), 2km (1.1nm) more than the baseline version used by the Mi-28N. The second is an upgraded 9M123 Krizantema (Chrysanthemum) with semi-active radar guidance, which has also been given greater range. While its original version had a maximum range of 6km (3.2nm), the new extended-range derivative can hit targets at up to 8km (4.3nm).

Kashin says carriage of the two weapons enables the Mi-28NM to engage a wide selection of targets, from tanks to helicopters, in all weathers, day and night. Ataka is optimised for visual detection and tracking of targets, but with Krizantema the helicopter’s crew can engage a target without seeing it using the millimetrewavelength radar suspended on one of the Mi-28NM’s underwing pylons.

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The first Ka-52s in export configuration were flown in early 2017 and were then used for training of Egyptian aircrews at the AAC Progress plant in Russia’s Far East.
AAC Progress via Alexander Mladenov

In late August, Russian Helicopters revealed that the Rostvertol helicopter plant in Rostov-on-Don has built eight production-standard Mi-28UBs, which are set for delivery to the RuASF by year-end. According to Colonel Oleg Chesnokov the first of these machines will be delivered to the 344th Combat Training and Aircrew Conversion Centre at Torzhik north of Moscow.

The dual control Mi-28UB features a number of cockpit ergonomic improvements while retaining the mission avionics and armament of its Mi-28N predecessor. It is fully combat capable, intended to be used for both conversion (type rating) and operational training of new aircrews. Both cockpits have been made wider by 140mm (5.5in) for improved aircrew comfort, especially when flying with night vision goggles; modified crashresistant shock-absorbing seats are fitted in both cockpits.

The Mi-28UB prototype made its maiden fiight in July 2013 and the original contract for 24 machines was placed by the Russian MoD in April 2016. According to Russian Helicopters’ Director General, Andrey Boginsky, the new Mi-28 derivative will be tested in real-world combat conditions in Syria before the end of the year.

Rolling improvements

A new variant of the Ka-52 is under development for the RuASF, featuring a new, more-effective, self-protection suite. The new version of the Vitebsk-52 integrated self-protection suite is expected to field more effective infrared jammers to disrupt heat-seeking surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. The Russian MoD is considering the integration of new air-toground missiles (ATGMs), but no further details have been released. As announced in May, the range of the Ka-52’s Vikhr-1 (Whirlwind – NATO reporting name AT-16 Scallion) ATGM is to be increased. This extension, that will require modifications to both the missile and the Ka-52’s targeting suite, is expected to increase the system’s engagement range to 10km (5.4nm), compared to today’s 8km (4.2nm). The obsolete GOES-451 will be replaced because its thermal-imaging sensor gives poor detection and identification at distance at night.

Delivery of the first batch of Ka-52s for Egypt was expected to begin by the end of September with as many as 15 examples being delivered by the end of the year, including three currently being used for training Egyptian aircrews. The first batch was rolled out at the AAC Progress plant in the far east of Russia in early 2017 while fiight training of Egyptian aircrews began in June.

Delivery of the 46 Ka-52s ordered by Egypt in 2015 is expected to be complete in 2019.

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The Mi-38 is a 15-tonne helicopter and its militarised derivative will be used for passenger transport, SAR and MEDEVAC.
Alexander Mladenov

F-35 Software

Vice Admiral Mat Winters, the Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (JPO), told a symposium organised by the Defense One website in Washington on September 6 that with the increasing rate of F-35 procurement warfighters are getting what they asked for. He said: “While problems remain, we understand where the deficiencies are and how we go forward.”

The F-35 JPO is aiming to close a deal for 74 F-35s in Lot 11 before the end of the year, reducing the unit price for the F-35A to less than the $94.6 million achieved in Lot 10, which required extensive negotiation before it was agreed to last February, more than a year after the time the JPO originally projected. Winter aims to have the Lot 12 agreement in place next year. He would like to secure congressional approval for two-year bulk buys, allowing economies of scale in ordering long-lead-time components. This would make it possible for the JPO to reach its objective of achieving a unit cost of $80 million per F-35A by the end of Lot 14. After Lot 14, the JPO may seek authorisation for multi-year contracting.

Winter identified areas where the JPO is aiming to put fixes in place before the production ramp-up begins to deliver the next production lots. This includes resolving problems with the onboard oxygen generator system.

Winter said: “The effort is finishing up with our aeromedical people. We looked at technical and operational causal areas, such as contamination of air supply, reduction of air pressure and physiological resiliency.”

The F-35’s operational test and evaluation – to be conducted by the Department of Defense’s Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation – remains on schedule for February 2018. Winter said: “The JPO would be working with the operational testers for seamless engagement to understand where the warts are.”

Operational test and evaluation (OT&E) will use the subset of Block 3F software currently in use, which will be updated after OT&E. Winter said: “Block 3F software is integrated on airframes coming off the line at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, but [Block 3F] is not verified yet.”

Winter emphasised the point that Block 3F software is not deficient, but one that meets all the requirements of the F-35’s operational requirements document (ORD). After Block 3F software has undergone testing and the anomalies are fixed, which is planned to take place by June 2018, the JPO is planning a strategic pause in software upgrades until work starts on Block 4, which meets a new set of requirements, not necessary under the current ORD and schedule. David C Isby

Brilliant Arrow

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Wittmund Air Base was the venue for Exercise Brilliant Arrow, a multinational event staged to certify Germany’s Luftwaffe as capable to assume the NATO Response Force tasking. Two air arms deployed aircraft to Wittmund: the Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force) sent four F-16s and 42 personnel, including 12 pilots; and the Siły Powietrzne RP (Air Force of the Republic of Poland), sent five F-16s and 72 personnel including 10 pilots. Squadrons involved, each operating Block 52 F-16C fighters, were 6 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (6.elt) from Poznan Air Base and 340 Mira from Souda Bay. Missions involved various scenarios flown with Luftwaffe Eurofighters over the North Sea ranges. The exercise concluded on September 22, but its start was delayed by three days because of heavy rain and strong winds. Rene Köhler

Light Attack Experiment Wraps Up

Four different light attack aircraft types participated in the US Air Force’s OA-X (observation attack experimental) experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, in August. The L3 Communications Air Tractor AT-802L Longsword turboprop, the Textron Scorpion jet and AT-6 Wolverine turboprop and the Embraer/Sierra Nevada A-29 Super Tucano all flew a range of missions, including close air support, air interdiction, combat search and rescue, and strike coordination and reconnaissance under simulated combat conditions, including delivering live ordnance on target ranges, and carried out ground servicing and handling tasks on unimproved forward airstrips. After orientation flights with company pilots, the experiment’s flying phase was carried out by US Air Force test pilots.

Run by the Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the OA-X experiment is intended to help revive the Air Force’s culture of experimentation. It attracted high-level attention, including visits by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who said: “Experiments like these help drive innovation and play a key role in enhancing the lethality of our force.” US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein and observers from Canada, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Paraguay and other countries also attended.

The Air Force has said the next step for the OA-X will be evaluation of the results of the Holloman experiment in a programme designated Combat Dragon III. A report is expected before the end of 2017. Any further OA-X flying has not been announced. A deployment of aircraft to take part in combat operations in Iraq or Syria – which took place with Boeing OV-10 Bronco light attack turboprops in 2013, as part of the Combat Dragon II programme – has been reported to be under consideration. David C Isby

Nigerian A-29s

Nigeria has requested US precisionguided munitions to arm the 12 Embraer/Sierra Nevada A-29 Super Tucano turboprop light attack aircraft it is planning to buy from the US as part of a $593 million deal. The package includes laser-guided bomb kits for GBU-12s and GBU-58s, and guidance kits for 70mm folding fin aircraft rockets, all using semi-active laser guidance. In addition, the package will include 2,000 Mk81 250lb bombs, 5,000 Hydra 70mm rockets, 1,000 practice rockets, 0.50 calibre machine gun ammunition, seven FLIR systems AAQ-22F Brite Star electro-optical/ infrared targeting pods with an integral laser target designator and pilot and technician training. David C Isby

Indian Apaches Approved

India’s Defence Acquisition Council has approved a proposal for the acquisition of six additional Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters, for use by the Indian Army.

The Indian Air Force is acquiring 22 Apaches and has long been engaged in a tussle with the Army over which service would operate them. The Army had initially wanted 11 Apaches, to be acquired as part of an option clause within the original Air Force purchase agreement, but the Indian Government subsequently reduced the number to six. The original batch of 22 helicopters was approved in September 2015, beating the Russian Mi-28 Havoc. In other news, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) announced on September 4 it had signed a further production contract for the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). The new contract covers 40 helicopters for the Indian Air Force and a single machine for the Indian Navy, to be built over the next five years. HAL’s Chairman and Managing Director, Suvarna Raju, said: “The latest order reflects the trust on HAL’s capabilities and gives an impetus to [the] ‘Make in India’ campaign. It reposes [the] faith of [the] Indian Defence Forces in [the] indigenous ALH, which has been serving with distinction for a long time.” Nigel Pittaway

Peruvian MiG-29 Upgrade

Russian aircraft manufacturer RSK MiG announced it signed a contract for upgrade of the Fuerza Aérea del Perú’s (Peruvian Air Force) fleet of MiG-29 fighters. This is a follow-on programme, as the original upgrade effort undertaken by RSK MiG between 2008 and 2014 involved eight Peruvian MiG-29s. The new contract covers an additional batch, but no figures have been disclosed. The upgrade, combined with life extension work, should ensure at least 15 more years of service of Peru’s MiG-29s. Alexander Mladenov

Global Hawk – Freedom 550 Integration

Linking fourth-generation combat aircraft, such as the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, with the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, as well as linking these latter two aircraft, with their different communications systems intended to maintain their stealth capabilities, is a major priority for the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command. Multiple approaches, each associated with a major industry partner, have been demonstrated in US exercises this year, using appliqué relay systems.

Northrop Grumman has proposed to build its approach to the requirement by using the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle to mount the company’s Freedom 550 communications pod, enabling it to serve as a high-altitude communications relay, which has software-defined radio software connectivity. The Air Force has extensive experience in operating the Global Hawk in this role, equipped with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node system. Northrop Grumman’s Freedom 550 pod was previously used in this role during a test dubbed Bold Quest 16-2 and in Exercise High Rider that included the Babel Fish III tests that linked UK F-35B Lightning IIs and Tornado GR4s such that the Tornado’s Link 16 could receive the F-35B’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link. The Freedom 550 pod has not yet been reported to have participated in a test or exercise while integrated with a Global Hawk. Other systems tested in this mission set this year included: the Lockheed Martin Enhanced Mission Computer, mounted on a U-2S high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft using low probability of intercept datalink developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works; and the Boeing Talon HATE pod, mounted on a F-15C Eagle, which brings together Link 16 datalink and Common Data Link through the use of Wideband Global Satellite communication satellites. David C Isby

Phénix’s Maiden Flight

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Future Armée de l’Air A330 MRTT ECT0041 (msn 1735) on final approach to Getafe, Spain after its September 7 first flight.
Roberto Yanez

The first of nine A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transports (msn 1735) ordered by the French Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA or Defence Procurement Agency) for the French Armée de l’Air made its maiden flight from Airbus Defence and Space’s Getafé, Spain facility on September 7. The aircraft, which will be known in French service as Phénix is the second newstandard A330 MRTT to fly. Changes over the earlier version include structural modifications, aerodynamic improvements giving a fuel-burn reduction of up to 1%, upgraded avionics computers and enhanced military systems. The aircraft was converted at Getafé from a standard A330 assembled in Toulouse. The crew reported that the aircraft performed in line with expectations during the 3-hour 25-minute flight. The Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered Phénix fleet will be equipped with a combination of the Airbus Aerial Refuelling Boom System and underwing Cobham hose-and-drogue refuelling pods. While operating as a tanker, the aircraft can carry freight, 272 passengers or be configured for medical evacuation. Delivery of the first aircraft to BA125 Istres-Le Tubé is due in October 2018, the second in 2019 with the remainder being delivered at the rate of one or two a year. The type will replace the Armée de l’Air’s fleet of 11 C-135FRs and three KC- 135RGs flown by GRV 2/91 ‘Bretagne’ as well as the three A310-304s and two A340-212s of ET 3/60 ‘Esterel’. Worldwide, 51 A330 MRTTs have been ordered by eight nations and 28 have been delivered. France expects to buy three more in addition to the nine aircraft already on order. Jerry Gunner