UK industry officials raise eyebrows over Royal Air Force F-35, E-7 and A400M programs & More Trending News


617 Sqn Lightnings leave for Air Maritime Integration exercise

A F-35B Lightning jet from 617 Squadron takes off from RAF Marham to participate in an air maritime integration train (UK MoD)

BELFAST — In a uncommon joint look earlier than lawmakers, high United Kingdom protection industry officials this week disclosed some troubling points affecting among the Royal Air Force’s costliest plane programs.

At the Defence Committee listening to Tuesday, a high Lockheed Martin government, as an illustration, steered the British authorities was purposefully delaying supply of 47 F-35B plane, although it wasn’t instantly clear why. Separately, provider points have pressured Boeing to delay E-7 Wedgetail Mk1 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) plane deliveries from 2023 to 2024. That means the RAF faces a three-year fastened wing airborne early warning functionality hole.

The Airbus A400M Atlas transport plane additionally suffered from quite a lot of technical issues in 2022, which Airbus UK director of army affairs Sir Kevin Leeson known as a “regrettable collection of discoveries.” Those issues have been overcome, the corporate mentioned, however on the identical day a authorities watchdog revealed the MoD had ditched a plan to buy additional A400Ms as a result of it couldn’t afford them.

Taken collectively, the issues of the three plane acquisitions present how the RAF continues to wrestle with producing new frontline capabilities in a well timed method and in opposition to a backdrop of menacing Russian and Chinese threats. Should points with the E-7 specifically fester, the general public will develop to surprise how nicely the British air drive would be capable of see an assault coming.

An F-35 Delivery Change, And A ‘Handshake’ On More

On fight air issues, the choice to sluggish the tempo of F-35 deliveries was revealed by Paul Livingston, chief government of Lockheed Martin UK.

“Just to be clear it’s not our deliveries that are slipping, it’s when the MoD are choosing to take their options in those [current] production lots,” he mentioned. “That has been a change.”

Livingston provided no rationalization about why the MoD made the choice, but it surely could possibly be one other signal that the army continues to wrestle with monetary pressures. The MoD had not responded to a request for touch upon the supply schedule change on the time of publication.

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Those monetary pressures have for a while led to analysts questioning if an unique dedication to obtain 138 of the fifth era fighters can be honored. In his testimony, Livingston referred to the primary batch of 48 fighters to be delivered.

“At the moment the UK has taken the decision to take its near-term purchases and spread them out further. That is part of the 48 already on contract, so those delivery dates have gone. We were expecting eight, eight and nine [UK aircraft] in the next three [production] lots, but it is nowhere near that,” he mentioned.

A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin confirmed in a Dec. 1 assertion to Breaking Defense {that a} whole of 30 F-35B plane have thus far been delivered to the UK with an additional seven due for supply in 2023. The remaining 11 will comply with in 2024 and 2025, in line with the spokesperson. The spokesperson didn’t share a particular supply schedule for 2024 and 2025, however a breakdown of six and 5 plane per 12 months would match with Livingston’s assertion that the speed of supply is being slowed down.

“As those lots get negotiated with less fees per lot, that may alter the price of the [F-35]B,” Livingston mentioned of a second tranche UK order, which is anticipated to see a further 24 to 27 plane bought. “I can’t say to what extent it will alter the price because it will depend on volume and [orders from] other [F-35]B customers.”

Livingston additionally revealed that the MoD and Lockheed Martin UK have already made a “handshake agreement” on the comply with on F-35 order, with the 2 events particularly discussing manufacturing tons 15, 16 and 17 thus far.

Despite the truth that London has confronted extreme monetary issues with its F-35 procurement due to will increase in US international change charges and rising prices for weapons integration, Livingston mentioned that the recurring flyaway unit price for the B variant had gone down by 51 % for the reason that begin of this system and now stands at 39 % lower than the primary UK supply in 2012.

“The program cost is reducing not spiraling” he mentioned.

Supply Chain Woes Push Wedgetail To 2024

Elsewhere, a mean provider lead time enhance of 244 days for E-7 components has led Boeing to delay a primary plane supply to RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, till 2024. The new schedule change comes after the RAF admitted in October 2022 that an unique goal of preliminary working functionality for the brand new early warning plane of 2023 had been delayed till 2024, with out additional elaboration.

“Supply chain is one of the largest challenges [we face], I think it’s very important to note that when we first contracted the E-7 in 2019, together with the Ministry of Defense, we made the best assessment [regarding] schedule that we could, and no one could have predicted a global pandemic,” mentioned Anna Keeling, managing director of Boeing UK. “That has been the biggest driver [on delivery schedule changes].”

The UK at the moment faces a big airborne early warning functionality hole after retiring the Boeing E-3D Sentry in 2021. The determination to chop the E-7 procurement from 5 to a few plane on cost-saving grounds has additionally been a serious supply of competition politically.

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All three of the plane are based mostly in Birmingham, England, as they bear conversion from 737 Next Generation business airframes to the E-7 commonplace.

Boeing introduced on Nov. 4 that the primary Northrop Grumman Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar, had been put in after testing on the latter’s radar vary in Linthicum, Md. The radar can detect targets “at increasing longer ranges,” in line with Boeing.

As for the monetary burden, within the listening to Keeling mentioned that she was “not able to discuss” prices for the E-7 program because the MoD has nonetheless to log out on the total enterprise case, a key doc that covers gadgets like prices and schedule, anticipated to be authorised in 2023.

“We were certainly set some cost savings to keep the program and that is what we are committed to delivering,” she defined.

Under the unique order for 5 plane in 2019, Boeing and the UK agreed to a $1.98 billion deal, however there stays disquiet over E-7 undertaking administration points.  “It has sort of come to light that the budget for three aircraft is going to be not that dissimilar to the budget for five because of the gross underestimate of costs made by the MoD,” mentioned Francis Tusa, a UK protection analyst.

Technical Issue ‘Discoveries’ Hit A400M

Turning to A400M developments, Leeson mentioned that the “discoveries” or newer technical points had been “things that quite simply should not have gone wrong.”

“We had a little bit of difficulty in the summer with that but I’m now pleased to say we’re completely through it and borne the burden to ensure the customer is not prejudiced,” he mentioned.

Leeson didn’t go into particulars of the technical issues however did admit that different excellent points for this system embrace lack of clearance for static line parachute leaping and quite a lot of Special Forces “capabilities” nonetheless not delivered, “some” of that are the duty of the MoD, he defined.

As for the “difficulties,” an Airbus spokesperson instructed Breaking Defense this week, “Earlier in the year some corrosion was found in the landing gear bay on some aircraft of the UK fleet. We worked together with our customer and fixed the issue across the fleet.”

Airbus A400M

The UK has ordered 22 A400M Atlas transport plane however a “regrettable collection of discoveries” troubled this system this 12 months (Airbus UK)

Still, that difficulty was the newest instance of Airbus fighting A400 technical and operational challenges which have ranged previously from gearbox issues, public criticism by operators of poor availability charges and doubts persevering with to persist over whether or not the plane can meet all functionality necessities requested of it. The A400M is a unique plane sort to the Lockheed Martin C130J tactical airlifter it would change in 2023, and it provides twice the payload, however it’s understood to be disliked amongst UK Special Forces operators on grounds that it’s much less agile for touchdown.

Regardless, each the Airbus spokesperson and Leeson painted a extra optimistic image, with Leeson noting Airbus UK has managed to “deliver” over the agreed availability goal for the A400M. Airbus introduced on Oct. 11 that it had delivered 21 of twenty-two A400M on order for the RAF.

The program took one other blow, nonetheless, on the identical day as Leeson’s testimony when the National Audit Office’s (NAO) “Defence Equipment Plan 2022 to 2032” report mentioned that the MoD won’t buy further A400M plane after it judged an choice to take action “unaffordable.” Instead, funding can be put towards “developing an affordable choice” to enhance availability of the plane. The annual NAO report assess the MoD’s long run monetary plans, addressing procurement program price projections and different gadgets like infrastructure and operations.

Beyond the A400, E-7 and F-35 program issues, Livingston additionally mentioned the Crowsnest carrier-based airborne early warning rardar program and acknowledged that Lockheed “clearly” didn’t “understand the depths of problems” confronted by subcontractor Thales. But that, too, had turned a nook, he mentioned.

“I’m pleased to say that as of today and [based] on Carrier Strike Group 22 [feedback], the latest version 12.2 of the [Crowsnest] software is performing well,” he mentioned. “It’s much more stable. The capability is coming along. It has taken too long. We regret that immensely.”

Lockheed Martin and different Crowsnest suppliers are additionally now in dialogue with the Royal Navy to agree on further “specifications” for the system, in line with Livingston. He mentioned, nonetheless, that an entry to service date for the radar couldn’t be supplied till these discussions shut and the specs authorised.

UK industry officials raise eyebrows over Royal Air Force F-35, E-7 and A400M programs

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UK industry officials raise eyebrows over Royal Air Force F-35, E-7 and A400M programs

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UK industry officials raise eyebrows over Royal Air Force F-35, E-7 and A400M programs

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