Jerry Gunner rounds-up the big military news stories from the recent Dubai Air Show
HAVING STARTED in 1986 as a small civil aviation air show known as Arab Air and held at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Dubai Air Show is now the third largest tradecentred air show in the world, after Farnborough and Paris. The event is now held at the economic zone known as Dubai World Central (DWC) which is being built around Al Maktoum International Airport. The eighth iteration ran between Sunday November 12 and Thursday November 16, 2017. More than 60 companies exhibited, and trade visitor numbers were up 20% over 2015; some 79,380 individuals entered the purpose-built hall at DWC. Orders worth $113.8 billion were signed over the five days of the event. As well as a conventional trade static display, this year featuring more than 160 aircraft, each day included a flying display of military and civil machines. Firsttimers this year included China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s aerobatic display team ‘August the 1st’ with its Chengdu J-10 fighters.
UAE and QinetiQ announce target joint venture
On the first day of the Dubai Air Show 2017 UK defence company QinetiQ and UAE-based Middle East General Enterprises announced a joint venture to manufacture in the UAE aerial and maritime targets to be used for test and evaluation, acceptance and training purposes. The range of products produced will include the Banshee aerial target and the Hammerhead fast attack craft maritime target. Spokespeople for the venture said it presents an opportunity to export within the Middle East and international markets.
Pakistan continues to promote its defence industry
Pakistan continues to extoll the virtues of its semi-indigenous products at air shows. Two types were on display at Dubai, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) showcased its Super Mushshak and the JF-17 Thunder. With its Super Mushshak (Proficient) PAC seems to have exploited a gap in the market with significant success. The small machine is a state-of-the-art basic trainer in the old school with relatively simple, easy to maintain systems built upon a proven, rugged platform. Although the basic Swedish design is half a century old, the Super Mushshak, which first flew in 1995, is fitted with a glass cockpit. Air conditioning is also standard, essential for operation in hot climates, and it is countries with lots of sunshine that have bought the aircraft. Nigeria has now received all eight machines it ordered in 2016 and has requested four more. Qatar has also ordered eight. In a big order for the type, Turkey ordered 52 in May 2017, with Azerbaijan following up with an order for 10 just before the Dubai Air Show. The manufacturer sees scope for further development of the type with work ongoing into the integration of air-to-ground missiles and electro-optical/ infrared equipment. Because it is certified to meet Federal Aviation Regulation Part 23 standards in the normal, utility and aerobatics categories it has the potential to be used worldwide in the civilian pilot training role.
At the other end of the scale, PAC Kamra division, which also produces the Super Mushshak, displayed three of its JF-17 Thunder fighters. These jets were in the markings of 14 Squadron ‘Tail Choppers’, the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) newest Thunder unit. The Tail Choppers are the fifth operational Pakistani unit to fly the JF-17, which will form the backbone of the PAF in years to come. Unlike its smaller stablemate, the Thunder has not achieved the sales success it has sought for so long. However, the manufacturer hopes that as the airframe matures, particularly with the introduction of the Block 3 version with its active electronically scanned array radar and the integration of a targeting pod, the relatively inexpensive JF-17 will attract more customers. Myanmar has ordered 16 JF-17Ms, one of which has been photographed test flying at the Chinese base of Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, (CAC), manufacturer of the CAC FC-1 from which the JF-17 derives.
It is not clear why it was in China, because all JF-17s are finished in Kamra which makes 58% of the jet, and there are photos of Myanmar’s aircraft on the production line there. The JF-17M differs slightly from Pakistan’s jets, externally at least, in having a different UHF/VHF antenna beneath the nose and LED landing lights on the nose-gear. The only other acknowledged sale of the type is for three aircraft for Nigeria. It is reasonable to assume that those three are just the forerunners of a larger fleet. Although not present at the Dubai Air Show, a twin-seat version, the JF-17B, flew earlier this year and will make for easier integration of the type into air forces new to the jet.
Leonardo shows new M-346FA
Leonardo continues to expand its M-346-based product range with a third distinct subtype displayed for the first time at the Dubai Air Show. Following the example set by earlier trainers from the same stable, such as the MB339, the 346, which started as an advanced trainer, is evolving into a useful ground attack fighter. The jet on display, an Aeronautica Militare Italiana T-346A serial M.T.55217, carried the designation Aermacchi M-346FA Fighter Attack prominently on the fin. Another M-346 had a similar scheme at the 2017 Paris Air Show, but the manufacturer says that the Dubai M-346FA is fitted with Leonardo’s own Grifo multimode fire control radar and that its seven weapons pylons allow it to carry out air-to-ground, air-to-air and tactical reconnaissance missions. Weapons already proposed include the IRIS-T air-to-air missile to be used with a helmet-mounted sight and the example at Dubai was seen carrying AIM-9 Sidewinders and MBDA’s Brimstone advanced air-to-ground missile. The announcement of the new subtype at June’s Paris Air Show came a year after the earlier announcement at Farnborough of the company’s M-346FT Fighter Trainer version, but was the first time an allegedly converted jet had appeared in public. After the show, the jet was demonstrated to several Arab nations, including Qatar, visiting Al Udeid Air Base on November 17- 18. The Qatar Emiri Air Force is in the market to replace its small fleet of six Alpha Jets, but given the Emirate’s recent spate of buying that includes 24 Typhoons, 24 Rafales and 36 F-15 Eagles, any buy is likely to comprise a significantly large number of M-346s.
Falco EVO UAS delivered to Middle East customers
Leonardo announced it had delivered its Falco EVO tactical unmanned aerial system to unspecified Middle Eastern customers in September. The surveillance and intelligence-gathering platform has an endurance of more than 20 hours while carrying a payload of up to 100kg (220lb).
C295 ISR attack version
Airbus products, including the A400M Atlas and two C295s, featured prominently in the static display. The company announced a new C295 armed intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) version and one of the C295s was flanked by a variety of hightech weaponry selected to be integrated into the new version.
Airbus says it has signed a series of agreements with air-to-surface weapon suppliers, paving the way for flight trials to qualify their products to equip the C295. As well as a previously announced memorandum of understanding with Roketsan of Turkey signed at last year’s Farnborough Air Show, similar arrangements have now been reached with Expal, Escribano and Equipaer of Spain, as well as Rheinmetall of Germany and US suppliers Nobles Worldwide and US Ordnance.
A spokesman revealed two modified C295s fitted with a palletised mission console, multimode radar, two 12.7mm light machine guns and mounts supplied by Nobles Worldwide and US Ordnance mounted at the rear paratrooper doors, and an electro-optical/IR turret were recently delivered to an unidentified customer. Rheinmetall’s Bk27 autocannon provides a heavier door-mounted option, targeted by Escribano’s Door Gun System. The next weapon to undergo airborne carriage trials is expected to be Roketsan’s L-UMTAS anti-tank missile. The same manufacturer’s Cirit laser-guided missile and Teber-82 laser bomb-guidance kits for Mk82 bombs are also available options.
Ground testing of the armed ISR C295 is set to begin before summer 2018, with the first flight tests set to start that October.
Demonstrating the 295s continued sales success was the announcement during the show of the sale of five more of the type to the United Arab Emirates Air Force to replace smaller CN235s from the same manufacturer. The deal takes orders for the type up to 203.
UAE’s fighter fleet
The United Arab Emirates Air Force’s Major General Staff Pilot Ishaq Al Balushi said during the show his government intends to sign a deal with French firms Dassault Aviation and Thales to modernise the nation’s fleet of 42 surviving Mirage 2000-9s. The two companies confirmed the deal, but no details of the nature of the upgrades, the timescale or the value of any potential contracts were revealed. French website La Tribune suggested a price tag of $350 million.
For a long time, the UAE has wanted to upgrade its fleet of Lockheed Martin Block 60 F-16 Desert Falcons, already the most advanced F-16s in the world with other state-of-the-art equipment.
Back in early 2014, it announced proposals to upgrade its 79 single and two-seat aircraft to a so-called Block 61 standard, but no contracts were ever announced. The plans seem to have been revived, however, because at the Dubai Air Show a $1.65 billion deal was announced that would not only see the existing jets upgraded, but also the acquisition of further F-16s.
The UAE is known to be keen to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II; 24 seems to be the number of choice. It has requested a classified briefing on the type from the United States, but before a deal can be signed the Emirates will have to convince those already involved in the programme, including Israel and the White House, that it can be trusted with all the classified data such an acquisition would provide it access to. One of the USPs of the F-35 is its huge data banks of highly classified tactical, technical and other information gathered and provided by users for distribution to allies. The aircraft’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) hoovers up megabytes of data from every flight and returns it to the ALIS hub maintained by Lockheed Martin at its Fort Worth, Texas, facility. The pilot of each individual F-35 has all that information at his or her fingertips. Sceptics maintain that with each sale the risk of those data falling into the wrong hands increases exponentially.
A protocol has to be established with any potential purchaser that it understands the concerns of other operators about their sovereign data and the means and extent to which it is distributed. Individual nations must agree what they will share and with whom and those nations in turn have to decide what they are prepared to share with every other operator of the type.
Lockheed Martin and its shareholders would dearly love to sell the Lightning II to allcomers, but the security concerns make many sales problematical. The UAE can plead it is a special
Case, because it was heavily involved in and contributed a lot of money to the development of its own Desert Falcon F-16s. The information gained was beneficial to Lockheed Martin. The timing of the programme to update those relatively new jets and the Emirates’ professed interest in Sukhoi’s Su-35 are seen in some quarters as manifestations of the pressure being applied by the UAE to ensure it joins the F-35 club.
Kawasaki pitches C-2 transport
After decades of self-imposed exile from the international arms market, Japan has decided to offer to sell some of its indigenous military aircraft overseas. Chief among those on offer are the Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and C-2 cargo jet. The first production C-2, serial 68-1203, was at the Dubai Air Show. New Zealand has expressed an interest in purchasing both it and the P-1 and it is known that negotiations are ongoing with the UAE for the type. The C-2 can carry the same load as the A400M over a longer distance, but does not have a similar roughfield performance.
Scorpion for Saudi Arabia?
Textron has been trying unsuccessfully to secure a launch customer for its Scorpion light attack/ISR jet for several years. That might change after the aircraft exhibited at the Dubai Air Show visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the days before the show. Pilots from the Royal Saudi Air Force put the Scorpion through its paces in a series of flights from October 29 to November 9. Saudi pilots dropped inert munitions and learned for themselves how easy to fly and how capable the aircraft is. Interestingly, the $110 billion weapons deal with the Saudis announced by US President Donald Trump in June included $2 billion for light air support aircraft, a bill the Scorpion would seem to fit nicely.