USMC Unmanned Rotary Contract Divided
The U.S. Navy announced on Thursday that a large contract for unmanned rotary airlift services would be split between the two main competitors. Kaman will receive nearly $46 million to provide unmanned airlift to the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, while Boeing gets roughly $29 million. Kaman will provide an unmanned version of the venerable K-Max, an aging design originally designed for piloted heavy lifting. Boeing will send their new A160 Hummingbird, a new multipurpose design. Both manufacturers will send two aircraft and three ground stations to Afghanistan, where they will be tested operationally. The challenge of deployment is intended to verify the unmanned concept as much as the systems themselves; the U.S. military, which has long operated unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance and airstrikes, is slowly exploring new capabilities for unmanned aircraft. The U.S. Navy has previously used the manned K-Max for ship-to-ship transfers, whereas the A160 has been quietly in development for use by Special Forces, but this represents the first public deployment of either aircraft to a war zone. The success or failure of these new systems is virtually certain to be a prelude to more extensive roles for unmanned aircraft.
Boeing Wins Another Intelligence Contract
Boeing announced yet another contract for intelligence aircraft, King Airs configured to intercept signals for the U.S. Army. These aircraft augment the RC- and MC-12 aircraft, based on the same airframe, already used for such purposes. The King Air, in widespread civilian and military use worldwide, has recently carved out a niche as an intelligence platform. Bagram Air Base, the pattern major military airfield in eastern Afghanistan, is constantly filled with the the aircraft’s variants. The 30 new aircraft under the contract will likely be very similar to the MC-12s, with sensitive tactical signals interception equipment and a bulbous camera underneath.
U.S. Actively Selling F-18s
In diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, diplomats fret about the potential loss of a major fighter aircraft contract in Brazil. Though the cables claim the F-18, manufactured by Boeing in St. Louis, is recognized in Brazil as a superior aircraft, political and military analysts speculate that the Dassault Rafale, built in France, is most likely to win for political reasons. In the cables, American diplomats recognize the situation but urge greater backing by the U.S. government. The U.S. government commonly supports high-grade military sales efforts to other nations. Wikileaks also released documents suggesting that Norway’s choice of fighter aircraft would impact U.S.-Norway relations; the Norwegians chose the U.S. aircraft (H/T Ares)
British Harriers Launch for Final Time
The GR9 Harrier, the iconic VTOL attack aircraft, has taken off from it’s intended platform for the final time. HMS Ark Royal launched Harriers for the last time on November 24th. The Harrier is leaving British service, but variants will continue on in shipboard roles in the U.S., Italy and India.
Russian Rocket Fails
A Proton rocket carrying three Glasnoss navigation satellites failed to reach orbit, likely burning up in the atmosphere near Hawaii after either a second-stage motor malfunction or initial trajectory malfunction upon takeoff, depending on the news source. The Glasnoss system is Russia’s answer to the American GPS and European Galileo navigation systems, intended for worldwide satellite navigation coverage. The Proton was launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.