All posts in “aviation”

Bulava Fails Latest Test – Lessons for US?

Ria Novosti)

“After its firing from the submarine Dmitry Donskoy, the Bulava missile self-liquidated and exploded into the air” – Russian MoD spokesman to Interfax 23 Dec 08

And thus was written the postscript on the latest test of the star-crossed Bulava SLBM.  Five failures in eight attempts would seem to call into question the fast-track to IOC/deployment of the missile – but given that there is no alternative to speak of (yes, there is the SS-N-23, but it won’t fit the launchers on the new SSBNs), it looks like the Russians are stuck with continuing to try and make the Bulava work.  And maybe not so fast on the IOC…

The Bulava scenario is pregnant with questions for our own procurement process – e.g., putting all your eggs in one basket and hoping it all works as advertised since you’ve pinned the future of a platform/capability on the success of that development (*cough*JSF*cough*).  So what happens if we find ourselves in a similar coffin corner with a major program?  Cancel it and hope that in the interim we can stretch out the legacy platform until the (next) new one comes on line?  Been there, done that.  Remember the A-12?  Look what that scenario did to the VA and VF communities and our long-range strike capability in particular and TACAIR in general (still feeling the aftereffects today).  There’s a lot of discussion out there right now about the F-35, some legit, some politically motivated, but enough that hope alone isn’t COA if it falls short in trials (and here I’m particularly concerned about the F-35B and it’s purported weight and cooling problems).  Twasn’t always so – look at the development of the Tomcat out of the ashes of the TFX, but that was a different time.  Or was it?  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday’s Roll-up of Defense News

Press the edge of the technological envelope and sometimes it snaps back and bites you.  Promise the moon and fail to even deliver a scintilla (and oh yes, demand more money in the process) and the customer naturally gets a little testy. These themes are at the core of a couple of today’s news items – the first, dealing with a serious problem budding on the F-35 followed by reaction from the Indian navy over Russia’s demand for an additional $1.2B to resurrect the Gorshkov.

F-35 Beset By Serious Flaws?

In an article in today’s Defense Industry Daily, detail is given to an incident earlier this year in flight test with the electrical flight controls that led to an aborted test flight and emergency recovery.  That in and of itself should come as no surprise as it should be expected as part of flight test – that’s why they call it ‘flight test.’  The problem apparently stems from concern re. the design of the electrical actuators that control the flight surfaces of the aircaft.  The F-35 flight control actuators (electro-hydrostatic actuators or EHAs), as described in the article, have an internal closed-loop hydraulic system, but unlike contemporary aircraft, are controlled and driven by electricity – not hydraulics (and apparently 270vAC).  During the flight in question, the electrical system failed at 38,000 ft while performing supersonic maneuvers, and resulted in a 220 knot emergency landing that damaged the wheels and gear.   The fault was traced to a 270v lead coming in contact with a junction box cover (generally not a good thing) and in the process, other issues are coming to light.  These include the design of the EHA’s, which Lockheed wants to redesign, the engine (the F-35C’s power generator was mistakenly designed to only 65% of the required electric output necessitating a re-design) and perhaps most importantly, the weapons software modules for air superiority, which will not be ready until around the 2015 timerame, meaning that when first deliveries are taken around 2012 it will primarily be able to employed only as a bomber.  Not so much of an issue for the US (perhaps) as it is for the European partners in the JSF program who may re-examine Eurofighter, Gripen and maybe even Super Hornet options outfitted with AESA as risk reduction options in light of the above.

Indian Navy Fires Shot Across Russia’s Bow

In an article appearing in today’s Calcutta Telegraph, the chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral Sureesh Mehta takes the Russians to task for their repeated failure to deliver on contracted promises – missing delivery dates and overshooting targeted costs by orders of magnitude.  Of course the poster child (ship) for this whole sordid affair is the ex-Admiral Gorshkov/INS Vikramaditya.  In a wide-ranging interview the admiral was pretty forthcoming in his crticism of the Russians and his recommendations for the Indian military to seek out Western suppliers in greater numbers.  Specifically addressing the issue of the Gorskov, Mehta noted:

"When we took the Gorshkov which the Russians said they were giving free of cost, for just $1 (and for the cost of its refit), it was a sort of partnership. Of course we wanted that ship. We did a very detailed contract. It is a very good contract. When we went over there (to the Sevmash shipyard in Russia where the vessel is being refitted), the shipyard was in a decrepit state. Over the years we have seen how the shipyard has improved with our money… the workforce on the Gorshkov is far less than what we would like it to be,"

As noted here earlier this week, India would be hard pressed to give up the Vikramaditya as over $500M has already been put into it and indeed, that was underscored in the course of the article.  But with Russia pressing for renegotiation of an order for 40 Su-30’s, rolling on promises for delivery of three frigates, and generally acting as if the rules of the game are the same now as they were forty years ago, one wonders how much longer before India pushes back.  Along with China, Iran, and Syria, India is one of Russia’s most important arms customers and given the importance of the arms industry to Russian trade (next to petroleum export), the loss of a major arms sale, like the current $10B multi-role combat aircraft competition currently underway, would be a severe blow.

Indian Air Force to Join Red Flag in 2008

An item in today’s Asian Times notes that India has gained approval to join in Red Flag training with the cycle beginning in August 2008.  The IAF has previously participated in more limited training venues in COPE THUNDER in Alaska with elements of the USAF and Alaskan ANG, but with Red Flag they will come into a much wider panoplay of nations and services.  This also follows on the heels of the extensive "Malabar" exercise earlier this year that saw the participation of a US carrier strike group led by the USS Nimitz (and included a first time port visit in India by Nimitz) along with other naval forces from Australia, Singapore and Japan.  Word on the street is Beijing is "displeased."

Plane Pr0N, Vapes…and such


UPDATE: Happy 60th Birthday to the USAF (18 Sep 1947 – 2007) 
(thanks for the reminder Mike)

Frequent readers of this site (all 3 of you…) know that we tend not to cut the Junior Service too much slack, especially since their idea of a tailhook has not much more heft than a bent coat hanger (if one is present at all).  However, there is the occasional photo op that is too good to pass on, especially if it can elicit a response from the strike-fighter contingent.  And so, we came across the photo below whilst working (in our official capacity too – sometimes it is fun doing what you are paid to do) on some research for a project (click on photo for higher-res shot):

We await the response with no little curiosity   There’s some more below the fold…

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Qualities of a Good Wingman


A little while back, lex spoke of the qualities of a good wingman.  Today, comes the story (courtesy of a cell-, er, cube-mate) of another wingman, albeit from the other Service with pilots who fly jets, but compelling nonetheless. -SJS

"Nearly all plumes of black smoke on dry lake beds are resulted from planned, normal exercises where nobody’s hurt. Of course test pilot crashes happen ; but typically the obscure test pilot’s name means nothing to the locals. And the accident report might be noted adjoining an anecdote of a local’s kid being surprised after opening an egg with a triple- yoke.

But here’s one of those test pilot crash stories.

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Form = Function = Beauty


Is it just YHS or does it seem since the intrusion of CAD and other automated design devices that aesthetics have taken a back seat in aircraft design?  There was a day when an aircraft both funcitoned well and looked, well, pleasing, was easy on the eyes and sprang from the worn pencil and fertile mind of the artist/designer. 

Take, for example, the Lockheed Constellation.  Designed in the early 1940’s to carry 40 passengers 3,500 nm in swift comfort, the Connie (designation L-049) had such notables as Kelly Johnson work on the design.  And what a design – from the gracefully curved fuselage (designed to provide lift) to the slim wings derived from the P-38 Lightning to the distinctive triple tail, this was a design for the ages. 

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