Monthly Archives: June 2015

State hopping across the US with Boeing

With the Paris Air show looming, I recently embarked on the annual Boeing Pre-Paris press tour – or the Boeing hotel/airport lounge tour of the US, depending on which way you look at it.

Travelling 11,000 miles in less than a week is no mean feat but the Boeing team really do know how to do a press trip.

Space is cool

The first stop on the tour for myself was Los Angeles to visit the company’s satellite factory. It’s a shame that we were unable to take photos on the site tour, but trust me when I say that satellites are cool. (Queue obligatory group photo wearing protective gear and silly hair nets.) VIP Tour

On average Boeing churns out around 12 satellites per year, although this can fluctuate depending on customer requirements. The company also emphasised a strong cooperation between the government and commercial side of the business, which provides advantages across both sectors with governments such as Australia hitching a ride on commercial 702sp satellites with their UHF hosted payload. As with everything defence, it is all about cost saving.

Avgeek in the making

Next stop was San Antonio, Texas, to visit the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) site, jam packed with C-17s.

I never thought that my idea of a good time would be wandering around one of the largest aircraft hangars in the world, looking at the US Air Force fleet of C-17s currently going through MRO.C-17 GISP Story Photo 1 ROI Cleared

But I am now starting to accept that I’m becoming a bit of an avgeek and I had a brilliant time. I guess the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

Walking around the hangar gave us all a good sense of how hard these aircraft are worked. The pictures go some way to showing how much work is actually done on the aircraft.

We were also briefed on off-Boeing projects, such as the QF-16 which Boeing sees potential usage as an unmanned test bed for technology developments. The ability of the aircraft to have a pilot on board gives trainees a pretty safe way to demonstrate and learn. The QF-16 is currently used as an aerial target.

Next up was the current goings-on with all things AWACS. With the UK stalling on the upgrade of its aircraft while the French Air Force are going full steam ahead, it was a good indicator to where the budget constraints are still hitting hard.

Boeing executives also revealed they see the aircraft coming to the end of their useful lives by 2035. So we still have around 20 years of E-3 aircraft upgrades to report on.

Helicopters

The final stop of the tour took us to Philadelphia for an update on vertical lift.

The future of vertical lift for Boeing lies in the SB>1 Defiant capability which the company is looking to flight test in the third quarter of 2017, earlier if possible.

The US government has given Boeing and Sikorsky quite the list of requirements for the aircraft with little room for it to cost more than a conventional helicopter.

We were also privy to a pretty funky new SB>1 Defiant video.

The company also revealed that the AH-6i Little Bird production line will become operational at the end of 2015.

The aircraft currently only has one customer, Saudi Arabia, but is hopeful that the capability Chinook_Factory_2of the light attack helicopter will entice investment from other nations – especially those who quite fancy the Apache but don’t have the budget to stretch that far.

A guided tour around the production plants for the Chinook and V-22 Osprey provided a fitting end to the week’s antics. Fun fact: Boeing can knock up around 60 Chinooks per year. After wandering around the factory it’s easy to see how that is capable with the military-style operation for the manufacturing of the military aircraft.

Should military do more humanitarian relief?

Military assets performing essential humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) work became front page news again this month.

Aircraft both fixed wing and rotary were used to great effect in Nepal to help alleviate the horrific conditions following the earthquake and subsequent aftershock. The only barrier was approval from Kathmandu to allow them entry.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, naval and coastguard ships have been picking up an ever growing number of refugees and economic migrants abandoned in the sea by human traffickers.

In particular the British use of the amphibious warfare ship HMS Bulwark to rescue 300 refugees in late-May stands out.

LMNT_5775

It might seem odd that a ship designed to land troops ashore during a conflict would be tasked with this role, it is certainly more costly to run a ship for this work compared to an offshore patrol vessel.

But this is a tactic by the Royal Navy to prove that its platforms can be used for multiple tasks. A defence review is expected in the UK by the end of the year and the fear is that amphibious ships will be first on the chopping board.

This tactic was less successful prior to the last review in 2010 when the Royal Navy sent an aircraft carrier to ‘rescue’ stranded British tourists from Spain following the eruption of a volcano in Iceland that grounded passenger aircraft in Europe for a few days. The carrier fleet was axed all the same.

But whatever happens, companies that can provide platforms that have a HADR role are going to be in demand and could be a deciding factor in any equipment procurement competition.

With defence cuts abound in Europe and the US, it means fewer platform numbers therefore the more tasks they can do the better.

At the World Humanitarian Summit on humanitarian civil-military coordination in Singapore in April it was highlighted by the Singaporean defence minister that militaries are becoming more engaged in HADR.

It was noted that militaries are not specifically set up or organized to respond to disasters and are expensive to deploy in this role. What is missing here is a clearly defined military doctrine for HADR that outlines the scope of the mission and the operations in the immediate aftermath of an event and then how this will transition to civilian organisations as they enter the fray.

Without standard operating procedures for military HADR efforts the defence minister said that they can become ‘unsustainable, ineffective and inefficient’.

In May 2016 the UN will host the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey where all parties from NGOs to the military will thrash out just where and how HADR should proceed.