The aftermath of sequestration and military budget cuts still echoed through the halls of the Navy and Marine Corps aviation establishment in 2014. With increasing weapon-system costs and decreasing funds available to purchase new systems and provide upgrades for those already existing, the balancing act of dividing up the available money continued into 2015 with no real help in sight.
F-35 Lightning II: Testing continued on the Sea Services’ two variants of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) version and the F-35C carrier-capable aircraft. With most hardware problems either fixed or nearing resolution, the emphasis swung to getting the aircraft’s software problems under control and the program moving forward.
F-35B: The F-35B did not perform any sea trials in 2014, but spent most of the year in preparing the aircraft for initial operating capability (IOC) certification for the Marine Corps STOVL fighter in mid- to late 2015. Fielding a version of flight software that enables the aircraft to employ a select set of weapons, plus safe flight in various flight regimes was at the forefront in the test program. A key milestone was reached in August 2014 when two F-35B Lightnings flew in formation and performed a set of scripted maneuvers while in the vertical-landing mode.
The F-35B also completed weapon release-separation requirements with successful flights employing AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. Another milestone on the way to IOC certification was met when an F-35B completed several strong crosswind and wet-track landings at Edwards Air Force Base.
F-35C: In addition to testing designed to expand the flight envelope, weapons employment, and software updates, the F-35C participated in its first at-sea development testing off the West Coast in early November 2014 on board the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). A pair of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 Lightning IIs from Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, participated in the sea trials, making a total of 124 catapults, 222 touch-and-go landings, 124 arrestments, and 2 intentional bolters. For the first time in history, both day and night operations were conducted during an aircraft’s initial at-sea tests, and the evolution went so well that VX-23 wrapped up the operation three days earlier than originally scheduled.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: First deployed to the fleet in 1999, the Super Hornet is a mature weapon system that is replacing the legacy F/A-18A and C models in U.S. Navy service. With the production of the Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler scheduled to end in 2014, the Navy requested Congress purchase more of the airframes to keep the Boeing production line open through 2017. The Omnibus Spending Bill of 2014 included $1.46 billion for 15 additional Growlers and funds for a production-line slowdown, extending F/A-18 deliveries. The Navy has requested 22 additional Growlers as part of its unfunded-priorities list, preserving the ability to complete a study of their electronic-attack requirements and request additional aircraft in Fiscal Year 2016.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet infrared search-and-track (IRST) system, developed and integrated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, received approval from the Navy to enter low-rate initial production in 2014. The sensor, mounted in the forward section of the aircraft’s centerline fuel tank, is the next generation of Lockheed Martin’s legacy IRST, which has more than 300,000 flight hours on the F-14 Tomcat and international F-15 Eagle. The sensor’s IRST technology enables the Super Hornet to detect, track, and engage enemy aircraft with air-to-air weapons. The Super Hornet IRST is expected to make its first operational deployment in 2017.
EA-18G Growler: The Growler entered the Fleet in 2009 as a replacement for the EA-6B Prowler in Navy service. In 2014 the replacement plan became a reality as the last U.S. Navy EA-6B squadron returned from deployment and began transitioning to the Growler. The Marine Corps then became the only operator of the Prowler and will continue to fly it into the 2020s.
The EA-18G is based on the two-seat F/A-18F and shares the same offensive radar and missile-launch system as the Super Hornet. The Growler currently uses the ALQ-99 electronic-attack suite of external pods originally designed for the EA-6B in the late 1960s. Incremental upgrades to the system have kept it updated for modern threats, but the external-ram air-turbine propellers for power generation, as well as general obsolescence of the electronics, have resulted in the development of the Next Generation Jammer (originally scheduled for IOC in 2020, but the latest round of budget cuts may move it into 2021).
E-2D Advanced Hawkeye: A replacement for the E-2C, the E-2D introduces a strengthened fuselage to support increased aircraft weight plus significant upgrades of the radar system, the communications suite, and the mission computer. The aircraft also incorporates an all-glass cockpit that permits the copilot to act as a tactical operator in support of the three dedicated system operators in the rear fuselage. The radar upgrade replaces the E-2C mechanically scanned radar with a phased-array radar that has combined mechanical and electronic scan capabilities.
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125, based at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, became the Navy’s first operational E-2D Advanced Hawkeye squadron when it was declared safe for flight in January 2014 and then received its IOC certification in October 2014. The squadron departed on the inaugural E-2D deployment with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in March 2015.
A total of 75 E-2D aircraft are on order with the last being delivered in 2027, supplanting the last of the older E-2C models at that time.
With the E-2D’s current fuel capacity for only a five-hour mission, the Navy completed the preliminary design review in August for an airframe upgrade to mount an inflight refueling probe. The ability to take on additional fuel while airborne will give the E-2D increased on-station time.
The Advanced Hawkeye also adds new capabilities for the strike group with the addition of naval integrated fire control–counter air (NIFC-CA) capability. Units with NIFC-CA equipment can share detailed targeting information, giving each linked ship and aircraft a much clearer picture of the enemy order of battle. While some updated E-2Cs have the same datalink as the E-2D, the Advanced Hawkeye has a more powerful and precise radar that provides better targeting data to the network.
P-8A Poseidon: Designed as a replacement for the P-3C Orion, Boeing delivered the first production P-8A Poseidon antisubmarine aircraft to the U.S. Navy in March 2012. Based on the commercial 737-800ERX airliner, the P-8A is primarily a submarine hunter but also has intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors installed. It can be armed with bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, and air-to-surface missiles.
In July 2012, the VP-16 War Eagles began their transition from the P-3C to the P-8A and became the first to deploy with the Poseidon in late 2013. The VP-5 Mad Foxes became the second operational P-8 squadron in August 2013, VP-45 Pelicans the third, VP-8 Fighting Tigers the fourth, and VP-10 Red Lancers the fifth, beginning transition in March 2015. During VP-16’s 2014 Western Pacific deployment, its P-8A aircraft made international news as two Poseidons operated out of Canberra International Airport, Australia, to aid in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. VP-45 deployed to the Western Pacific in early 2015 for the Navy’s third Poseidon deployment.
Seen during testing at Boeing Field in Seattle was a P-8 with a large pod mounted under the forward centerline area of the aircraft. Speculation is that it is an improved littoral-surveillance radar system, known as the Advanced Airborne Sensor. The original radar was flown on Navy P-3 Orions to provide moving-target detection and tracking, as well as standoff high-resolution mapping, and was originally designated the AN/APS-149.
MV-22B Osprey: The MV-22B has now replaced the Marine Corps CH-46 in squadron service except for one Reserve squadron, HMM-774, still flying the Sea Knight but scheduled for transition in 2015.
To provide a means of self-protection and offensive capability, the Marines are experimenting with various guided and unguided munitions. During the trials, a V-22 launched conventional 70-mm (2.75-inch) rockets (unguided), along with Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and Raytheon’s Griffin B lightweight missiles receiving guidance from an L-3 WESCAM MX-15D stabilized turret.
In early 2015 a memo signed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, and Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford Jr. was released announcing the Navy will procure V-22s to replace the C-2A Greyhound in the carrier on-board delivery mission. If approved, the Navy will receive a total of 44 V-22s starting in 2020 at the rate of 8 per year.
CH-53K King Stallion: The Marine Corps’ newest heavy-lift helicopter was introduced to the press in a 5 May 2014 rollout ceremony at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Florida, facility. At the ceremony, then–Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos revealed that the helicopter would carry the name “King Stallion.” Though designed to occupy the same footprint as the legacy CH-53E, the CH-53K King Stallion will triple the external load-carrying capacity to enable the new helicopter to lift more than 27,000 pounds and travel 110 nautical miles, loiter 30 minutes, and return under “high-hot” conditions. New and improved systems for the increased lift capacity include 7,500-shaft-horsepower GE38-1B engines and a split-torque transmission design that more efficiently distributes power to the main rotors and composite rotor blades, in addition to a lighter and stronger composite airframe structure.
Sikorsky delivered the first prototype CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter Ground Test Vehicle (GTV) to the West Palm Beach test site in December 2012. The GTV has been used to perform checks of the CH-53K’s engines, rotor blades, transmission, and auxiliary systems while the aircraft is anchored to the ground. Sikorsky and NavAir test pilots worked to confirm whether these dynamic systems, as well as hydraulic, electrical, and avionics systems, complied with contract requirements. Initial light-off tests were performed without rotor blades in December 2013 and were followed in 2014 by ground tests with the blades attached. Technical problems highlighted by ground tests have delayed the first flight of the helicopter from 2014 to sometime in 2015. The CH-53K is scheduled to become operational with the Marine Corps in 2019 with a total buy of approximately 200 helos.
Presidential Helicopter: The Navy announced in May 2014 the contract award to Sikorsky Aircraft to build at least 23 helicopters to replace the aging VH-3Ds currently used to transport the President. The initial contract is for six S-92s and two simulators. The new helicopter should be fully fielded by 2022. The first attempt to replace the Marine One fleet was a competition in 2002 between Sikorsky and a partnership of Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland. Lockheed won the contract and actually delivered nine VH-71 Kestrels, but the program’s cost escalation resulted in its cancellation in 2009.
Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) Vehicles
MZ-3A: The U.S. Navy’s only manned airship, designated MZ-3A, is a modified American Blimp Corporation A-170 Series commercial blimp stationed at NAS Patuxent River and operated by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Scientific Development Squadron (VXS) 1. Operational since 2006, the airship has been used to test mapping and surveillance systems as well as to assist in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil-spill recovery operation in the Gulf of Mexico. Funding cuts in December 2014 resulted in the airship being placed in storage and the support crew receiving furloughs. As of early 2015, further programs employing the MZ-3A are in doubt.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
MQ-8B Fire Scout: The MQ-8B is an unmanned Navy helicopter built by Northrop Grumman and based on the Hughes/Schweizer/Sikorsky 333 light utility helicopter. The program began in 2000 as the RQ-8A and used the Schweizer 330 airframe. It became the MQ-8B in 2005 with the heavier Sikorsky 333 and additional weapon capability. The Fire Scout became operational in 2008.
With a turret-mounted electro-optical/infrared sensor with a laser rangefinder/illuminator and an internal radar, the Fire Scout has flown operational missions to provide ISR support to special-operations forces, U.S. Navy antipiracy actions, and for the Army’s 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in southwest Asia.
MQ-8C Fire Scout: The follow-on aircraft to the MQ-8B is an unmanned version of the commercial Bell 407 helicopter, designated the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade. Combining the basic MQ-8B systems, including the existing ship-installed ground-control station, datalinks, and automatic recovery system of the Fire Scout, the MQ-8C provides the Navy with twice the range and endurance and three times the payload capacity over the MQ-8B. In addition to a surveillance and missile capability, a Multi Capability Pod is being developed by Northrop Grumman for electronic-warfare operations in the littorals. The Navy is working to have the larger MQ-8C meet an IOC date of late 2016.
X-47B: The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System is the flight-test demonstration project by Northrop Grumman for an unmanned fixed-wing aircraft designed to operate from an aircraft carrier.
August 2014 sea trials on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt tested the X-47B’s ability to catapult-launch from an aircraft carrier, position itself in a holding pattern in company with manned aircraft, and recover back aboard. The X-47B was operated using the ship’s jet-blast deflector on deck for the first time allowing it to conduct takeoffs without disrupting operations taking place behind it. During the at-sea period, the X-47B was operated around the flight deck in night operations to evaluate the human/aircraft interface on board the ship and provide data for subsequent night aircraft-handling evolutions.
Demonstration of autonomous aerial refueling by the X-47B was planned for 2014 but wasn’t performed due to budget cuts.
MQ-4C/RQ-4 BAMS Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): With the Navy’s ocean and overland electronic-surveillance aircraft, the EP-3E, retiring in the 2020s, and a follow-on aircraft-procurement program dead in the water, the Navy opted to go with a combination of the P-8A Poseidon and an unmanned aircraft, the MQ-4C Triton. The P-8 will assume the antisubmarine and maritime-surveillance missions of the P-3, but will not be deployed in the same numbers as the older aircraft. The MQ-4 will work in conjunction with the Poseidon to enhance data-collection missions that will include ocean surveillance, intelligence gathering, battle-damage assessment, communications relay, and support for other traditional Navy missions in the maritime and overland environments. The Triton will fly 24-hour missions at altitudes greater than 50,000 feet and will be able to monitor more than a 2,000-nautical-mile area.
To gain experience in unmanned aircraft operations, the Navy obtained five former U.S. Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawks in 2008 and pressed them into test and operational service as the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D) program. Some of the BAMS-D aircraft were operated in tests from NAS Patuxent River, and some were forward-deployed to the Middle East providing ISR in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), where they have exceeded 10,000 flight hours of surveillance time. BAMS-D provides more than 50 percent of the maritime ISR in the 5th Fleet AOR, freeing manned maritime-patrol ships and aircraft to perform other missions.
The Navy unveiled the first MQ-4C in ceremonies at Northrop Grumman facilities in Palmdale, California, on 14 June 2012. Due to a series of system-integration and software problems, the MQ-4C’s first flight was delayed until 22 May 2013.
Although the 130-foot wingspan Triton is based on the Air Force’s RQ-4B Global Hawk, its sensors will be composed of some already fielded in the DOD inventory, including the ZPY-3 multifunction active-sensor radar system that can identify and detect surface targets with a 360-degree field of view. The Triton will also carry an electro-optical/infrared sensor to provide full-motion video and still imagery of surface targets, an electronic support-measures system to detect, identify, and geo-locate radar threat signals, and an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver to permit the detection, identification, geo-location, and tracking of vessels equipped with AIS transponders.
The Navy’s first MQ-4C Triton completed an 11-hour flight from Palmdale, California, to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, on 18 September 2014, to start its next phase of testing, moving the program closer toward operational assessment. After delivery, the MQ-4C was fitted with its sensor suite and began a series of sensor-integration flights. Over the next few weeks, two other Tritons, one of which was a demonstration aircraft owned by Northrop Grumman, were also flown to Patuxent River for system development and demonstration tests. The MQ-4C is on track for the unmanned aircraft to enter service in 2017 with an early operational capability of two aircraft.
Cargo Resupply UAS: The K-MAX unmanned helicopter was the result of a partnership between Kaman Corporation and Lockheed Martin, combining Kaman’s heavy-lift K-1200 airframe with Lockheed Martin’s mission-management and -control systems. In a test of the system, NavAir shipped two Lockheed Kaman K-MAX helicopters to southern Afghanistan in December 2011 along with the Marines’ Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 1 and a team of Lockheed contractors to fly and maintain the unmanned helicopter from December 2011 to May 2012. The K-MAX remained in Afghanistan after VMU-1 left, and VMU-2 took over its operation with Lockheed Martin’s help.
While it can be configured for manned operation, the unmanned K-MAX can fly by itself day or night and at higher altitudes with a larger payload than any other rotary-wing unmanned craft. One of the two K-MAX helicopters crashed in June 2013 and was shipped back to the United States for repairs.
The Marine Corps originally extended the first deployment from May 2012 until September, then it was given another extension until March 2013, and then a third extension was granted. In mid-2014, the remaining K-MAX airframes were returned to the United States after nearly three years of overseas operations.
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78): Construction continued on the new class of nuclear aircraft carrier at the Newport News Shipbuilding (a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries) facility in Newport News, Virginia. Improvements over the ten Nimitz-class carriers currently in service include a redesigned flight deck and island structure, increased electrical-generation capability, electromagnetic aircraft launch-and-recovery equipment, a decreased manpower requirement, and state-of-the-art sensors and electronic systems. The Ford’s keel was laid on 14 November 2009, the last portion of structure installed on 8 May 2013, and the ship was christened in ceremonies held on 9 November 2013.
In 2014 problems with the advanced arresting gear became apparent when the mechanism that absorbs the energy of an aircraft’s arrested landing, called a water twister, was found to be failing at an unacceptable rate during ground-based testing. A redesign of the system resulted in a more resilient water twister, but to meet schedules the new hardware will be installed on board the Ford at the same time the system is undergoing further land-based tests.
CVN-78 is scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 2016.
The USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79): The second Ford-class aircraft carrier is the second ship named after the 35th President of the United States; the first, CVA/CV-67, served from 1967 to 2007. Fabrication on the new Kennedy was begun in 2011 and delivery to the Navy is tentatively scheduled for as early as 2020 or as late as 2022.
One of the new systems to be installed in Ford-class carriers is the dual-band radar (DBR) mounted in the ship’s island. DBR was originally designed for the Zumwalt-class destroyers, so the carriers are afforded a new system at a bargain price due to the economy of scale. With the reduction of the number of Zumwalts being procured, the Navy decided to cut the number of DBR installations to one (CVN-78) and proceed with an off-the-shelf technology called the Common Affordable Radar, which will be shared with the new Makin Island–class ships. The new radar might also be considered for retrofit into a number of Nimitz-class ships in the future.
The USS Enterprise (CVN-80): During the 1 December 2012 inactivation ceremony of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that CVN-80 also would be named the Enterprise, making her the ninth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name. CVN-80 will be built by Newport News Shipbuilding starting in 2018 for delivery in 2025. However, in an effort to cut down on Navy expenditures as a result of budget cuts, construction may be delayed and stretched out by as much as two years for both the John F. Kennedy and the Enterprise.
Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS): JPALS is an all-weather landing system that uses the Global Positioning System and navigation systems to guide aircraft to both land- and sea-based landings. JPALS completed a round of testing on board the USS George H. W. Bush in May 2013. In 2014 the JPALS program was found to be over budget, and the Navy responded by restructuring the procurement schedule and eliminating shore-based training systems.
Multistatic Active Coherent (MAC) Source Sonobouys: The MAC system is an active sonar system composed of source and receiver buoys and an acoustic-processing software suite. It is slated to be employed by the Navy’s P-3C and P-8A maritime-patrol aircraft to search for and locate threat submarines in a variety of ocean conditions. The Navy awarded a subcontract in February 2013 to ERAPSCO, a joint venture between Sparton and Ultra Electronics–UnderSea Sensor Systems Incorporated (USSI), for AN/SSQ-125 MAC source sonobuoys. Initial operational testing of the MAC system on a P-3C aircraft was held in October 2013. Featuring digital signal-processing and compass capabilities, the A-size, expendable AN/SSQ-125 allows antisubmarine-warfare aircraft crews to perform bearing verification, target localization, and tracking. The underwater-signaling and -receiving device allows accurate detection of quiet diesel submarines or subsurface vessels in attack mode in adverse conditions. Testing to understand the effects that different threat types and environments have on performance will continue through FY 19 in conjunction with the P-8 program.
Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ): The Navy is moving ahead with development of the Next-Generation Jammer to replace the current ALQ-99 pod-mounted active electronic-countermeasures jammer currently in use on EA-6B Prowlers and EA-18G Growlers. Studies began in 2008 with four companies competing. NavAir released a Request for Proposals in July 2012 for the Next-Generation Jammer Technology Development (TD) contract. This is a follow-on to the technology-maturation efforts that began in 2009 with contracts awarded to BAE Systems, ITT Exelis, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. The TD contract winner was to demonstrate technology maturity through a series of laboratory demonstrations and flight tests on board contractor test aircraft on a government electronic-warfare range.
In July 2013, Raytheon was awarded an initial $279 million contract for the NGJ engineering, manufacturing, and development phase that will address integration of the NGJ with the EA-18G and the fabrication of developmental test pods. Soon thereafter, BAE filed an official protest with the Government Accountability Office raising concerns with the Navy’s evaluation process. The Navy re-evaluated the proposals and reaffirmed its decision to keep the NGJ contract with Raytheon.
NGJ development began in earnest in early 2014. Improvements over the legacy ALQ-99 pod, which the NGJ replaces, includes electronically steered antennas instead of the older mechanically steered arrays, an internal-ram air-powered generator instead of the current external propeller and gallium-nitride technology allowing for a wide-band jamming capability with more power focused on the threat.
In October 2014, an early test version of the pod was mounted to the bottom of a company Gulfstream business jet and flown against simulated threat radars on the China Lake electronic-countermeasures range in California. Preliminary test results were reported to be very positive. Even though hardware development is proceeding at a fast pace, funding problems may cause the jammer’s IOC to be pushed back from 2020 to 2021 according to a report from the Chief of Naval Operations.
Advanced Precision-Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II): The APKWS II incorporates a WGU-59/B precision-guidance laser-guided seeker on existing Hydra 70, 70-mm (2.75-inch) rocket motors and warheads in the Navy inventory. The APKWS is an “unpack and shoot” system using existing rocket launchers and requiring no platform integration or aircraft modifications. As it is loaded and fired as a standard 2.75-inch rocket, minimal aircrew or ordnance-loading crew training is required. This makes for a low-cost, mid-range weapon with either high-explosive or flechette warheads that lends itself to urban warfare launched from fixed-wing, rotary-wing, or unmanned aircraft. The rocket is currently certified for use on AH-1W, UH-1Y, MQ-8B, and Bell 407GT helicopters and is in testing to certify it for other rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft. The APKWS reached early operational capability in July 2014 with one MH-60S helicopter squadron. The MH-60R community is scheduled to follow in 12 to 18 months.
Long-Range Antiship Missile (LRASM): Viewed as an AGM-84 Harpoon replacement, the LRASM is an antiship missile being developed for the Navy by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Lockheed Martin. LRASM is an autonomous, precision-guided antiship standoff missile based on the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile–Extended Range and is designed to be fielded by both the Navy and Air Force. Armed with a penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, LRASM can be launched from either an aircraft or ship and then cruise autonomously in all weather conditions. The missile employs a multi-modal sensor suite, datalink, and digital jamming–resistant GPS to detect and destroy selected targets within a group of seaborne surface contacts. LRASM technology is designed to reduce dependence on ISR platforms, network links, and GPS navigation that could be denied in some electronic-warfare environments. LRASM transitioned from a DARPA technology demonstration program to a formal U.S. Navy program of record in February 2014, with fielding set for 2018.
Spike Missile: Spike is a small forward-firing miniature missile for use against unarmored or lightly armored targets. Work began on the design in 1999 by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake. It is an example of a successful government weapon program using modular design and commercial-off-the-shelf components at a much lower cost than traditional military weapons.
The reusable launcher weighs 5 pounds and the missile less than 5 pounds, making it possible to carry a launcher and three missiles in a backpack. Spike uses a solid-fueled rocket motor with no visible flame or smoke, making it hard to detect the launcher’s position. The missile has a TV seeker that is locked on a target before firing. Spike is being developed as a shoulder-fired weapon, but several missiles can also be loaded on a single mount to engage multiple targets. This capability allows it to be used as a fire-and-forget weapon against stationary or moving ground targets and low-flying helicopters. For night operations, a laser spot-seeker is available. Spike has a maximum range of about two miles and a warhead of two pounds detonated by a contact fuse.