Always faster, sometimes safer: multi-national operations, whether of disaster relief or peacekeeping nature, in distant underdeveloped regions are driving demands for strategic airlifters and tankers, and for fixed-, rotary- and tilt-wing intra-theatre transports. Sea and land aspects of mobility are reviewed in following sections of this report.
Whether or not the future brings more far-flung occupation-type defence scenarios or force-on-force combat between major powers, the need for airlift will remain, and the current generation of strategic and tactical airlifters will eventually be replaced.
Future Strategic Transports
In February 2008 the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) invited proposals for an 'Efficient Affordable Global-Lift Flight Demonstrator' that will provide the aerodynamic and structural technology for a replacement for the 380-tonne Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy.
Advanced airframe concepts applicable to a future strategic airlifter include a welded-tip tandem-wing configuration, studied some years ago by Lockheed Martin, and a tailless blended wing-body (BWB), as tested with the Boeing-designed X-48B.
There is some American interest in the idea of a high-capacity, low-speed strategic airlifter in the form of a cambered airship with vectorable turboprops. Supporting around one-third of its weight in forward flight by means of aerodynamic lift, one such project aimed to carry a 500-tonne payload for 10,000 km at a cruise speed of 165 km/hr.
Reaching anywhere in the world in less than a week, these massive aircraft could excel in disaster relief operations. However, in military use they would require even greater air dominance than AEW aircraft and tankers.
It may be noted that some form of airship might eventually supersede the US Air Force's Lockheed Martin AC-130 gunship series, since directed-energy weapons able to defend against Sam attack may transform the viability of large, slow aircraft in operations against less-advanced opponents.
Future Tactical Transports
The US Air Force work toward a C-5 replacement has paralleled an effort aimed at replacing the service's 70-tonne Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. This project was originally designated AMC-X, then Ajacs (Advanced Joint Air Combat System).
Ajacs in turn paralleled a US Army study of a new tactical rotary-wing transport, designated JHL (Joint Heavy Lift). This was to have the same payload as the US Air Force concept (almost 30 tonnes), representing a Future Combat Systems (FCS) vehicle. However, JHL differed significantly in demanding vtol capability, to operate from a ship and deliver to a hilltop, if necessary. The US Air Force wanted only "Super-Stol' (Sstol), to deliver to a 600-metre hot, high airstrip.
In April 2008, with the US Army's JHL heading toward an unaffordable far-off solution, the two services agreed to try to combine their needs in a Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL) programme, which the US Air Force was to lead. If this results in a single aircraft type, it is understood that the US Air Force will operate it on behalf of both services. Despite JTFL, work on Ajacs and the JHL continues.
Among US Air Force building blocks, in October 2007 Lockheed Martin was authorised by AFRL to build and fly the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft (ACCA), basically a Dornier 328J twinjet regional transport fitted with a composite mid/rear fuselage and tail.
Another building block is AFRL's 34-month Speed Agile Concept Demonstration programme, covering preliminary design and wind tunnel validation. The RFI (request for information), issued in August 2007, specified 'capabilities that are of interest'. These included a loadable cabin width of at least 3.76 metres, with four metres (as for the 141-tonne Airbus Military A400M) desired, and sufficient length for seven standard 463L pallets.
In a basic Speed Agile 'radius mission' the aim is to deliver a 29.5-tonne load over a distance of at least 925 km.The aircraft is to cruise at over 740 km/hr, land at an airstrip at a 4000-ft elevation on a 35[degrees] C day, unload and load, and land back at base with 45-min loiter fuel reserve. Takeoff and landing distances must be less than 600 metres, with 460 metres as the objective. In a one-way 'range mission', the delivery of the same payload at a distance of at least 2800 km is specified. Self-deployment range is over 6000 km with a payload of at least 2270 kg.
In a subsequent phase, a technology demonstrator for the new US Air Force tactical transport (presumably based on Speed Agile) was originally scheduled to fly in 2015. The Ajacs was expected to have a soft field undercarriage, a stall speed below 167 km/hr and a cruise speed of over 850 km/hr. This wide speed range implied the use of jet lift for stol, as explored with the Boeing YC-14 (using upper surface blowing) and McDonnell Douglas YC-15 (with externally blown flaps) in the US Air Force's Advanced Medium Stol Transport (Amst) programme of the mid-1970s. Some degree of stealth was also expected of Ajacs.
Still largely equipped for a conventional war, the US Army is looking for greater operational flexibility and some transformational defeat-mechanism that is comparable to US Air Force stealth aircraft.
In the early 1960s in Vietnam the US Army successfully developed air assault operations employing dismounted units (foot soldiers) with limited firepower and survivability. The Army now seeks the ability to airlift medium-weight networked combat vehicles in 'mounted vertical manoeuvre' (MVM) operations.
The MVM concept is a further development of Soviet airborne operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s, deploying 7.5-tonne BMD-1 tracked airborne infantry fighting vehicles by means of 41.7-tonne Mil Mi-6 helicopters. The same concept was employed to defeat Somali forces in the Ogaden war in Ethiopia in 1987.
The US Army's JHL thinking envisages carrying an FCS-class vehicle over a radius of 925 km from a rolling vto, and 460 km from true vto. For comparison, the largest US helicopter planned, the Marine Corps' 38.4-tonne Sikorsky CH-53K, will carry 13.5 tonnes for 200 km from vto, and the 23.5-tonne Bell-Boeing MV-22B might be estimated to carry 2.5 tonnes for 425 km. The only existing helicopter that comes anywhere near the US Army's target is the Rostvertol-built 56-tonne Mi-26T, which can carry 20 tonnes or 82 armed troops more than 500 km.
In September 2005 the US Army awarded 15-month, $ 3.4 million CDA (concept design and analysis) contracts to Bell-Boeing for the Quad-Tilt-Rotor (QTR), to Boeing for the Advanced Tandem Rotor Helicopter (ATRH), to Sikorsky for the X2 Technology Crane (X2C) and X2 High-Speed Lifter (X2HSL) and to Karem Aircraft for its Optimum Speed Tilt-Rotor (OSTR).
However, war gaming indicated that even the fastest pure helicopter would be too slow to function effectively over the radius required. It would cruise at little over 300 km/h, compared to the 450 to 550 km/h desired. It was also decided that the JHL must be able to refuel a fixed-wing aircraft at over 400 km/h. This ruled out the X2C and ATRH.
In May 2007 the US Army concluded from its CDA studies that some form of High Efficiency Tilt Rotor (HETR) was the solution, the 'HE' implying reduced rotor speed in cruise. Lockheed Martin is now supporting the Karem Aircraft TR75 OSTR, which would have a maximum payload of 36 tonnes and a cruise speed of 640 km/h.
Two-year follow-up contracts are also being awarded to Sikorsky on the X2HSL and a Variable-Diameter Tilt-Rotor (VDTR) project, and to Bell-Boeing to continue development of the QTR. The Model B2A-26-6 version of the QTR has a larger (A400M-section) fuselage, and is aimed at carrying a 26-tonne payload over a radius of 460 km. Maximum payload is 42.2 tonnes.
Darpa is working on a Heliplane, with a three-blade rotor driven by tip-jets, like Britain's high-decibel Fairey Rotodyne of the 1950s. The Heliplane would also have a fixed wing and two turbofans, to cruise at over 740 km/h. In November 2005 Darpa selected Groen Brothers Aviation to design a proof-of-concept Heliplane sized for the combat search-and-rescue (Csar) mission, but this could provide the technology for a much larger Gyrolifter transport.
The other company working on 'gyroplane' concepts and helicopters with tip-jet rotors is Carter Aviation Technologies, which has proposed 150-tonne projects, designed to carry a 63.5-tonne payload (such as two Strykers) for a distance of 1850 km. The CGT/CHT-150 would be powered by two Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofans.
Nasa has meanwhile been working on a Heavy Lift Rotorcraft (HLR), a 120-seat tilt-rotor airliner that would be similar in size and configuration to the Army's HETR concept.
One major problem with these large tilt-rotor projects is that they require extremely powerful new engines. For a project to carry 30 tonnes over 925 km from vto, the two engines would each have to produce around 24,000 kW. To put this in perspective, the most powerful turboprops ever built were the 11,300 kW Kuznetsov NK-12MP for the Tuploev Tu-95 and the 10,440 kW Progress D-27s for the Antonov An-70.The A400M will have four 8200-kW Europrop International TP400-D6s, the Mi-26T has two 8500-kW Progress D-136s and the CH-53K will have three 5600-kW General Electric GE38-1Bs.
This stumbling-block has led the US Army to scale down its JHL requirements to 20 tonnes and around 500 km, leading to a new engine of 'only' around 12,000 kW. The reduced requirement is (in any event) probably necessary in view of the aircraft weight limit imposed by naval deck strength. Consideration is also being given to the use of four engines.
It is still early days for the JFTL, but Boeing Advanced Systems has already revealed its modular Joint Common Air Lift System project. In this, a common fuselage and tail surfaces are combined with either a straight wing carrying Osprey-style tilt-rotors, or a swept wing with two under-slung turbofans, presumably using externally-blown flaps for stol.
What's Hot and What's Not?
Having outlined some of the more important possibilities for long-term development, the remainder of this report reviews current activity in the transport aircraft market.
At the lightweight end of the scale, Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) has launched licence-production of the 8.1-tonne Eads-Casa C-212-400, initially in civil forro for Merpati Nusantara Airlines. The company also produces the 16.5-tonne CN-235 as required, most recently in maritime patrol form with Thales Ocean Master radar for the Indonesian Air Force. South Korea and Indonesia are believed to be negotiating a barter deal in which Indonesia would receive two pre-used German-built HDW-209 diesel submarines, while the South Korean Air Force would receive eight new IAe-built CN-235-220s. The latter service already has twelve Casa-built CN-235-100s and eight IAe-built CN-235-220s.
Higher up the scale, Eads-Casa is building four 23.2-tonne C-295Ms for Colombia, with last delivery in 2009. Brazil has recently received eight C-295Ms (designated C-105A Amazonas) to replace DHC Buffaloes (C-115Bs).
In June 2007 the 30.5-tonne Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan was selected as the US Army/US Air Force JCA (Joint Cargo Aircraft), with L-3 Communications as prime contractor. In June 2007 L-3 was awarded a $ 2.04 billion contract for 78 aircraft: 54 for the US Army and 24 for the US Air Force. Most will be assembled at a new Alenia facility to be constructed in Jacksonville, Florida.
The US Army funded two JCAs in FY07 and four in FY08 and has requested seven for FY09. The first JCA had its maiden flight in Italy on 16 June 2008. It will later be transferred to L-3's Waco, Texas plant for mission equipment integration. It is planned that by 2018 the US Army will have 75 JCAs and the US Air Force at least 70. However, the US Air Force so far has no JCA under contract, raising suspicions that the service would rather buy more C-130Js.
The JCA domestic total is expected to exceed 200, since Afsoc (US Air Force Special Operations Command) sees it as a light gunship, and both services are interested in equipping National Guard units with the JCA. The US Air Force is pressing for the JCA to be redesignated C-27B, following its earlier ten C-27As (G.222s).
The C-27J has already been purchased by Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Lithuania and Romania. Following its selection of the JCA, interest has been expressed by over 25 countries, including Australia.
The Russian Air Force's An-24 and -26 are to be replaced by the 20-tonne Ilyushin II-112VT, which will be built by the Voronezh aircraft plant (Vaso) and powered by two Klimov TV7-117ST turboprops. The I1-112 is due to fly in 2009 and the Russian Air Force is expected to buy 100 to 120.
The well-established 28.5-tonne Antonov An-32 was designed specifically for short-field performance from hot/high airfields. Recently, an Indian Air Force An-32 reactivated the Dualatbeg Oldi airstrip near Chinese-controlled Kashmir, at a record height of 16,200 ft.
At the upper end of the twin-turboprop range, the 49.2-tonne Transport Allianz C160 Transall (of which 214 were built) still serves the air forces of France, Germany and Turkey. The German Air Force provides the largest transport contribution to Nato's Isaf (International Security Assistance Force), with eight C160s based at Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan, together with German Army Sikorsky CH-53Gs (upgraded by Eurocopter Deutschland).
Twin-jet tactical transport projects are suddenly in favour, using high-bypass turbofans developed for regional airliners. In the 60-tonne class, the long-awaited Indo-Russian Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA) is moving ahead, with Ilyushin Aviation (still promoting its 55-tonne I1214) replacing NPK-Irkut as Hindustan Aeronautics' partner. Each side will now contribute $ 300 million to create a joint venture to develop the MTA, which is scheduled to fly in 2013 and enter service in 2015. India is expected to buy 45 MTAs, and Russia at least 100. The MTA is designed for a maximum payload of 18.5 tonnes, a range of 2500 km and a maximum speed of 870 km/h.
The Antonov An-148T-100 will have similar payload-to-range and speed figures to the MTA, bur a smaller cabin. It will also be less expensive to develop, since the civil An-148 (without the rear loading ramp) is already in production. For improved takeoff performance, the present 65 kN Ivchenko-Progress D-436M engines may be replaced by PowerJet (Snecma/Saturn) SaM146s from the Sukhoi Superjet, each providing up to 78 kN.
Embraer's recent military C-390 proposal is, as strange as it may appear at first sight, based on the 52-tonne E-190 regional airline. It is designed to carry a 19-tonne load for 2400 km. Maximum cruise speed is 850 km/h. The C-390 would accommodate 84 troops and also act as a tanker (KC-390). Notwithstanding talk of a Brazilian Air Force launch order being placed before the end of 2008, its future evidently depends on the willingness of other countries, notably Argentina, Chile and South Africa, to share in development. The C-390 could fly within three years of go-ahead, with first deliveries two years later.
The 110-tonne Tupolev Tu-330 is a proposed derivative of the Tu-204 airliner, retaining its wings, cockpit and 160-kN Aviadvigatel PS-90AT turbofans. The prospects for the Tu-330 could be transformed as rising oil prices expand Russian government revenues.
The 141-tonne Kawasaki C-X, powered by 270-kN General Electric CF680C2 engines, was originally to fly in August 2007, but is reported to have failed static structural testing. The prototype was expected to fly with a beefed-up fuselage in the summer of 2008.
The 70.3-tonne Lockheed Martin C-130J, powered by four 3460-kW Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprops, is in service with the US Air Force, US Marine Corps, US Coast Guard and the air forces of Australia, Denmark, Italy and the United Kingdom. Aside from KC-130J tankers for the US Marine Corps, this new-generation Hercules is also in production for Canada and Norway. The FY09 US budget includes advance funding for US Air Force aircraft to be purchased in FY10.
Over 160 of the 213 C-130Js so far ordered have now been delivered. Contracts are to be signed shortly with India and Israel. Australia, Britain and France (among others) are expected to experience near-term logistics shortfalls, probably benefiting the C-130J.
The Pentagon has approved in principle a sole-source deal for 68 special operations Hercules (of an eventual 115) to replace Afsoc HC-130P/Ns and MC-130Ps, -130Ns and older -130Es. In June 2008 the US Air Force used FY08 advance procurement funding to launch ah FY09 order for six Lockheed Martin HC/MC-130Js, costing $ 470 million. The company hopes to fly a prototype in 2010. This variant will be discussed in the Special Operations supplement to Armada's issue 6/2008.
In 2001 Boeing was awarded the development contract for the Avionics Modernisation Program (AMP) for legacy Hercules. The first of three trials installation C-130s with digital avionics and an NVG-compatible 'glass' cockpit flew in September 2006. Low-rate initial production (Lrip) is expected to be approved in November 2008. The planned number of upgrade kits has been reduced from 519 to 222 (since the Hercules cannot accommodate Future Combat Vehicles) and Afsoc will receive new-build C-130Js. The US Air Force expects to award two contracts for the application of these Boeing-produced kits in FY12. The company sees a potential overseas market for partial AMPs for around 700 aircraft, including 47 Saudi C-130E/Hs.
The Airbus Military A400M has missed the present round of Afsoc Hercules replacements, but Eads is arguing that the US Air Force may later need aircraft in this class. The US prospects for the A400M might be enhanced by a switch to a proposed Pratt & Whitney Canada turboprop based on the PW810 turbofan, the development of which was launched in February 2008 for the Cessna Citation Columbus bizjet. However, with nine air forces having ordered 192 A400Ms with TP400 engines, certificating another powerplant appears unlikely.
The Marshall Aerospace C-130K test-bed began ground runs with the TP400 in June 2008, possibly allowing first flight by the A400M (which was rolled out on June 26 see box herewith) before the end of the year. Initial deliveries to the French Air Force (the lead operator) are scheduled for 2010.
The Antonov An-70 is in a similar weight category as the A400M. In early 2008 the prototype resumed flight tests, and Ukraine's defence minister stated that Russia (which had withdrawn in May 2006) intended to rejoin the An-70 programme. The minister added that completing development would take around $ 300 million and 18 months. Antonov has subsequently informed Armada that the company is negotiating with the Russian Ministry of Defence over further trials, and that Russian companies are continuing to co-operate under existing agreements. The first two An-70s are due for delivery to the Ukrainian Air Force sometime in 2010.
On the back of commercial developmental funding, the Russian Air Force is having some Ilyushin II-76MDs brought by Vaso to 195-tonne I1-76MD-90 standard with Perro PS-90A-76 turbofans. Some may later be stretched to produce 210-tonne Il-76MFs. Only the first 15 of China's 2005 order for 34 Il-76s and four Il-78 tankers will now be manufactured by Tapo under Ilyushin contract, then the rest will be built by Aviastar. A fourth-generation Il-476 is to be built by Aviastar, with a 'glass' cockpit and further reduction in fuel burn.
The 265-tonne Boeing C-17A is approaching the end of production, but Pentagon logistic studies are yet to be updated, and a stol version known as the C-17B (see the cover of this supplement) might meet part of the JFTL requirement. At time of writing, 190 C-17As were under contract for the US Air Force, with the last due to fly in August 2009. However, Congress was widely expected to add up to 15 in the FY08 Gwot Supplemental Spending Bill, and a batch of 15 has sixth highest priority in the US Air Force's unfunded list for FY09.
Exports of the C-17 stand at six for Britain (which is interested in two more), and four each for Australia and Canada. Three C-17s (including one US Air Force-funded aircraft) are to form a Heavy Airlift Wing (Haw) for the Strategic Airlift Capability consortium of 13 Nato nations plus Finland and Sweden. The Haw will have a US Air Force commanding officer and be based at Papa AB in Hungary. Since Nato previously identified a need for eight 'C-17 equivalents', this small purchase may imply the lease or purchase of less expensive commercial freighters. Qatar evidently plans to order two C-17s with an option on two more. Those potential orders are important for Boeing because, as things stand now, the production line will close in 2009 making a seamless transition to a reasonably priced C-17B impossible. Should the line remain operational, and bearing in mind that 34 months are necessary to build a C-17, a 'B' maiden flight could take place in 2013.
Aimed at operations in austere areas and from 2000-foot unprepared surfaces, the stol C-17B proposed by Boeing would have improved flaps and undercarriage (adding a central set of bogies), a tyre inflation/deflation system (that would operate in conjunction with an 'opportune landing site' system and 17% more powerful Pratt & Whitney F117 turbofans. The aforementioned opportune landing site system would operate on the basis of inputs provided by a combination of sensors such as ladar, millimetric radar and infrared detectors. The aircraft would also be able to carry two Future Combat Vehicles and still have capacity for more gear. It is claimed that its $ 2.5 billion development cost represents only one-fifth of that for an all-new JFTL aircraft. On the other hand, the C-17B would probably be twice as heavy as a JFTL designed from scratch. Asked whether those improvements would be retroffit-table to the C-17 (which would retroactively be renamed C-17A), Boeing's Advanced Systems told Armada, "some, like the flaps could be, although others like the [central] landing gear would be more difficult".
Future prospects for the C-17 should theoretically benefit from a Pentagon decision in February 2008 not to reengine its 62 Lockheed Martin C-5As. Subject to the successful completion of flight trials by the three aircraft already brought to C-5M standard with General Electric CF6-80C2 engines and an avionics modernisation programme, the service's 47 C-5Bs and two C-5Cs will be similarly upgraded. The C-5As will receive only the avionics modernisation. Congress has directed that the US Air Force must maintain its current 299-aircraft strategic airlift fleet, hence C-5As could only be retired by purchasing additional C-17s.
Russia's Oak (United Aircraft) is considering series production of the upgraded 402-tonne Antonov An-124-100M-150, using its Aviastar facility at Ulyanovsk. Existing An-124-100s continue to transport much of the world's outsized loads. In March 2005 the Salis (Strategic Airlft Interim Solution) programme began, under which 18 (mainly Euro-Nato) nations will for five years be served by two Volga-Dnepr/Antonov ASTC An-124s permanently based at Leipzig, with four more available as required.
One of the main conclusions that might be drawn from Isaf operations is that West European armies are still equipped primarily to defend their own low-lying, road-rich territories. Afghanistan was made for high-powered helicopters.
The star-performer in Afghanistan has been the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, which was designed from the outset for hot/high operations. The latest version is the 25.4-tonne CH-47F with two 3630-kW Honeywell T55 engines. The CH-47F entered service in 2007. A total of 452 are to be delivered to the US Army, consisting of 74 new-build aircraft and 378 remanufactured CH-47Ds. In addition, 61 F-based MH-47Gs are to be built for US Army special operations.
Europe has developed several new medium-weight helicopters, such as the 10.6-tonne NHIndustries NH90, of which 507 are currently on firm order for 14 countries, and the 15.6-tonne AgustaWestland AW101, of which 165 are on order.
The 15.6-tonne Mil Mi-38 is basically a replacement for the 13-tonne Mi-8/17 series. The prototype Mi-38 began flight trials in 2003, and two more are now under construction by Kazan. In May 2008 Pratt & Whitney Canada signed an agreement with Russia's Umpo (Central Institute for Aero Engines) on the development and production of the PW127T/S for the Mi38. Civil certification and first deliveries of the Mi-38 are scheduled for 2012.
The first deployment by the US Marine Corps' 23.5-tonne Bell-Boeing MV-22B tilt-rotor assault transport to Iraq has now been completed successfully. In April 2008 VMM-263 handed over its twelve Ospreys at Al Asad AB to VMM-162. In the same month a five-year contract for 167 more Ospreys (141 MV22Bs and 26 CV-22Bs for Afsoc) was awarded, bringing the total to 299 of the 410 planned (360 MV-22Bs and 50 Afsoc CV-22Bs).
The MV-22s will be complemented by 156 examples of the Marines' Heavy Lift Replacement, the 38.4-tonne Sikorsky CH53K, which is due to fly around the end of 2011 and enter service in 2015. Sikorsky was recently awarded the $ 3.04-billion SDD contract for the HLR, which includes one ground test and four air vehicles.
In its studies aimed at developing the Heavy Transport Helicopter (HTH) for the French and German armies, Eurocopter's options include collaboration with Boeing on a tandem-rotor arrangement, or with Sikorsky on a single main rotor design. First deliveries are envisaged for 2017.
The rollout of the Airbus A400M--seen here through the camera of Armada Thomas Withington--was a proud moment for Eads and the company's employees, who took centre stage, along with the airlifter, at the Eads-Casa factory in Seville on 26 June. The design of the A400M shows influences from many quarters, although the aircraft's nose section unmistakably betrays its Airbus routes. The A400M's flight deck seems to have more in common with today's airliners than the traditional dials and switches seen on older airlifters. This is not accidental. The aircraft's cockpit borrows much of the technology developed for the Airbus airliners. However, the A400M features a host of new technologies specifically developed for the aircraft, as evidenced by the Europrop TP400 engines and their characteristic scimitar-shaped propellers.
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|Title Annotation:||Complete Guide|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2008|
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