Fighter salesmen from east and west have long considered Asia to be a fast- growing market, but there are also significant upgrade opportunities to be had in the region.
Countries across Asia are looking to increase the capabilities of some of their old (and not so old) platforms and therefore either deferring or avoiding altogether, expensive fleet recapitalisation programmes.
In the past few weeks, capability upgrade programmes in India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand have either been announced, or have reached significant milestones in their development, involving Jaguars, Tigers and F-16s.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) flew the first Jaguar attack aircraft to be upgraded with an Israeli Elta EL/M- 2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar on August 10, as part of India’s long-running Jaguar Display Attack Ranging Inertial Navigation III (DARIN III) programme. \
The aircraft was flown by HAL test pilots from the company facility at Bengaluru, marking a major milestone for the Indian Air Force’s Darin III programme. The radar had previously completed ground trials in February.
According to HAL sources, the Darin III upgrade replaces the Jaguar’s existing avionics suite and mission systems with the EL/M-2052 radar, an open system architecture mission computer (OSAMC), digital EFIS (engine and flight instrument system), a new inertial navigation system, with GPS and geodetic height correction, solid-state digital video recording (SSDVRS) and flight data recorder (SSFDR) systems and multi-function displays. Local sources have suggested that an Elta jamming pod will also be included in the upgrade.
The Darin III programme aims to upgrade an unspecified number of Indian Air Force Jaguars and extend their operational viability for at least another decade. The Indian Air Force currently operates around 120 Jaguars, including a small number of maritime strike variants and in August, it was reported that the French Government is considering donating 31 former Armée de l’Air Jaguars to India for use as spares.
Thailand’s ‘new’ Tigers
On August 29, Israel’s Elbit Systems Ltd announced it had won a $93 million contract from an unnamed Asia-Pacific country, to upgrade a number of Northrop F-5 Tiger II aircraft over a three-year period.
The company said: “Under the upgrade contract, Elbit Systems will supply the F-5 with cutting edge systems, including head up displays (HUDs), an advanced cockpit, radars, weapon delivery and navigation systems, as well as DASH IV helmet mounted systems.
“Elbit Systems has performed various F-5 upgrades in the past and has supplied mission computers, advanced glass cockpits featuring three-colour displays and operational capabilities, as well as the DASH IV, weapon delivery and navigation systems, electronic warfare suites, radars, flight simulators, spares and ground support equipment.”
Earlier in August, the Royal Thai Air Force announced it was seeking funding to upgrade an additional four of its fleet of F-5E and F-5F aircraft, in addition to ten aircraft covered by an earlier contract. The upgraded aircraft will be known as the F-5T Super Tigris after completion.
According to Thai sources, the Super Tigris upgrade includes an undisclosed type of multi-mode radar, Link T tactical data link, new cockpit displays and the Elbit display and sight helmet (DASH) system. Other equipment will include Rafael’s Python-4 short range air-to-air and I-Derby beyond visual range (BVR) missiles, Rafael’s SkyShield advanced jamming pod and Litening III targeting pod.
The Royal Thai Air Force currently operates a fleet of 27 surviving F-5 aircraft, operating with 211 ‘Eagle’ Squadron part of 21 Wing, based at Ubon Ratchathani Air Base.
Indonesia F-16 upgrade
The Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU or Indonesian Air Force) announced in early September it plans to switch its two squadrons of F-16 fighters around and upgrade the earlier Block 15 OCU F-16A and F-16B aircraft at Iswahjudi Air Force Base in East Java.
Under the plan, the Block 52ID F-16C and F-16D aircraft currently based at Iswahjudi with SkU3 will relocate to Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base, Pekanbaru and the F-16A and F-16B fighters with SkU16 will make the journey in the opposite direction.
“The [F-16] aircraft’s avionics systems will be improved or upgraded at Iswahjudi,” Air Marshal Jemy Trisonjaya told Indonesia’s Antara news agency on September 8. The swap will be undertaken in stages, beginning with two aircraft moving in each direction, until complete in April 2018.
Air Marshal Trisonjaya said the unit swap is designed to enhance the TNI-AU air defence capabilities at Roesmin Nurjadin while the older aircraft are upgraded.
The Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara acquired 12 Block 15 OCU F-16A and F-16B fighters under Project Peace Bima Sena I from 1989 and nine remain in service. The 24 Block 52ID F-16C and F-16D jets are former US Air Force Block 25 aircraft upgraded to Block 52ID configuration prior to deliveries beginning in 2014.
Taiwan’s F-16 ECM upgrade
F-16A and F-16B Fighting Falcons of the Republic of China Air Force are to receive an increased electronic countermeasures (ECM) capability with the introduction of a number of Northrop Grumman ALQ- 131A(V) ECM pods under a Foreign Military Sales agreement with the US Government.
Taiwan eventually wants to replace 80 Raytheon ALQ-184(V) pods in its inventory and had initially earmarked funding for 42 ALQ-131 pods, but has since reduced this number to just 12, due to what it says are increased US development costs.
Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) is undertaking a long-planned and broader upgrade of the F-16 aircraft for the Air Force, with the first four being inducted to the company’s facility at Taichung earlier this year. The upgrade of the entire fleet is expected to be completed in six years.
Back in 2011, the US Defense Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA) announced a $5.3 billion upgrade request from Taipei, which included the upgrade of 145 aircraft with an AESA radar; Link 16 tactical data link; embedded GPS INS systems; ALQ- 213 EW management system; advanced targeting pod; AIM-9X Sidewinder airto- air missiles and APX-113 advanced identification friend or foe combined interrogator transponders.
At the time the proposed work also included for either the upgrade of 82 ALQ-184 pods to incorporate Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) technology or the purchase of new ECM pods, such as the ALQ-131, with DFRM.
G600 Test Fleet Complete
Another Gulfstream G600 has joined the flight test programme of the new business jet. The aircraft, N600G (c/n 73001), is fitted-out with a complete interior for cabin testing, which will involve repeated operations of all cabin systems to evaluate comfort, layout, noise, ergonomics, functionality, passenger interaction and appliance reliability.
N600G is the fifth and final flight test aircraft to join the G600’s flight test programme since the first example flew on December 17, 2016. Since then, the fleet has accumulated more than 180 flights and 790 flight hours. Gulfstream is also operating five flight test aircraft for the concurrent G500 test programme. The company anticipates receiving Federal Aviation Administration type certification for the G600 in 2018, with customer deliveries scheduled for later next year. Mark Broadbent
Sunset for the PC-6
Pilatus will produce the last Porter PC-6 utility aircraft in 2019, ending 60 unbroken years of production of the distinctive short take-off and landing type. Pilatus said the PC-6 “no longer fits our product portfolio” as the company gears up to begin series production of its first bizjet, the PC-24.
A statement said: “The Pilatus name stands for high tech and latest generation aircraft. In line with this philosophy, our products benefit from ongoing development to ensure they match the most recent standards. Due to the age of the PC-6 and other certification parameters, it is no longer possible to provide this ongoing development in the scope we would wish.” Porter production has been uninterrupted since 1959, making it one of the longestrunning aircraft production lines. Around 500 PC-6s have been built at Pilatus’s Stans factory and another 100 were produced by Fairchild Hiller in the United States under licence. However, only ten PC-6s at the most are now produced at Stans each year. Pilatus will accept orders for the Porter until mid-2018 to fill remaining production slots, but it will provide support to existing PC-6 customers “for the next 20 years at least” to ensure reliable ongoing operations by the type. Mark Broadbent
Loganair is flying as an independent airline again for the first time in more than two decades. The Glasgow-based carrier began services under its own colours on September 1 after its franchise agreement with Flybe ended on August 31. The first service was operated by Saab 340 G-LGNG (c/n 327) Spirit of Harris between Islay and Glasgow, where the aircraft was welcomed by a water cannon salute.
Loganair spent 24 years as a franchise partner for other airlines, firstly for British Airways from 1993 and then from 2008 for Flybe, with its aircraft wearing the liveries of those partners. As one of the few major Scotland-based regional airlines, it is natural Loganair is emphasising its roots. The carrier’s fleet of Saab 340s, Saab 2000s and DHC Twin Otters are receiving a colourful new tartan livery and the slogan ‘Scotland’s Airline’. Mark Broadbent
Helionix on HEMS H135
Norwegian air ambulance operator NOLAS has become the first civil operator of an Airbus Helicopters H135 equipped with the Helionix avionics system. Approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency for the H135 last year, Helionix is designed to improve safety and situational awareness by providing a four-axis autopilot, night vision goggles compatibility and a first limit indicator. Helionix being put into operation on the H135 increases commonality between Airbus Helicopters’ civil helicopter types, as the system is already in operation on the H145 and H175. NOLAS Chief Executive Officer Rune Midtgaard said the system reduces pilot workload and increases safety and the ability to reach patients. NOLAS won the tender to supply Norway with civil helicopter emergency services (HEMS) coverage in 2016. Twelve bases and 17 Helionixequipped H135s are to be provided by the service, which will start operating on June 1, 2018. The H135s also feature Aerolite interiors and the latest medical equipment. With an anaesthesiologist, a pilot and a HEMS crew member, the H135s will be capable of advanced intensive care transportation as well as on-scene rescues. Mark Broadbent
SIA Parks Initial A380
The first Airbus A380 to enter service in October 2007 has been parked by its operator, Singapore Airlines (SIA). The 544- seat aircraft, 9V-SKA (msn 3), flew its last revenue service to London in June and will return to its owners, the Dr Peters Group, in October at the end of its ten-year lease. This A380 is one of nine owned by the Germanybased lessor and is the first of their four A380s operated by SIA to return from lease. The remaining three will be returned by June 2018. The future of the returned A380s has not been announced. Other Asian operators are also retiring four-engine airliners. Taiwan’s Evergreen withdrew its last Boeing 747-400 on August 25. The aircraft will be scrapped. The airline is replacing it with Boeing 777- 300ERs and 787s. Evergreen will continue to use 747s on cargo services until 2019. China Airlines has announced plans to retire two 747-400s in November. David C. Isby
MRJ’s Smoke Tests
CRJ900s with LOT
Etihad Retires A340s
CATHAY DRAGON A321NEOS
Airbus has secured another major contract win for its big-selling A321 after the Cathay Pacific Group signed up for 32 A321neos to replace the 15 A320s and eight A321s operated from Hong Kong by its Cathay Dragon regional arm. More than 3,200 A321s in both classic and new engine options have now been sold. Mark Broadbent
LESS SAA FLIGHTS A MONTH
Embattled South African Airways (SAA) is considering cutting as many as 700 flights a month and slimming down its fleet as it attempts to get a grip on its financial situation. Most cuts will reportedly be on African routes and start around October. There has also been talk of reducing the fleet by up to ten aircraft. SAA owes R6.8 billion to banks, some of which are demanding SAA settles its debt by end-September and are refusing to extend payment terms. The South African government is seeking to recapitalise SAA as it attempts to turn around the state-owned airline. Guy Martin
SPECIAL CONFIGURATION E175s
Fifteen of the 25 E175s ordered by the United States regional airline SkyWest will have a special configuration seat layout, meaning their 70-seat layout is retrofittable to a denser 76-seat layout in the future. This is further proof of regional airlines wanting denser seat layouts in their aircraft to maximise load factors and reduce seat-mile costs. Mark Broadbent
AIRCRAFT FOR PHILIPPINE AIRLINES
Philippine Airlines plans to expand to a 96-aircraft fleet by 2021, up from 87 aircraft today. By then 18 aircraft will have been phased out and 27 new aircraft (12 Q400s, two 777-300ERs, six A350-900s and seven A321neos) introduced. Industry analysts CAPA say the airline is expected to put the 777s and A350s on news trans-Pacific routes as part of its growth plans. Mark Broadbent Airbus
The Russian Irkut MC-21 airliner, which made its first fiight in May 2017, is scheduled to make its first public appearance at the Dubai Air Show in November. Currently flying with Pratt & Whitney PW 1400G engines, the MC-21 prototype’s fiight test programme was to include 20 fiights in September, with one objective being to achieve an altitude of 36,000ft (10,972m). In October, the first prototype will start test fiights from Zhukovsky. The indigenous Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine is currently undergoing wind tunnel testing at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute at Zhukovsky. Air testing of the PD-14 has been carried out on a modified Ilyushin Il-76. David C. Isby
Route Proving to St Helena
South African Airlink has carried out a successful proving fiight to St Helena ahead of scheduled commercial fiights to the island in October. One of three newly-delivered Embraer E190s flew from Johannesburg, demonstrating South African Civil Aviation Authority extended range twin engine operations requirements and evaluating the airport’s infrastructure and landing approaches. Scheduled air services will begin on October 14. Guy Martin
Air Mauritius-Ghana JV?
Air Mauritius may help Ghana establish a national airline. Ghana’s Minister for Aviation Cecilia Dapaah said the talks focused on the possibility of a joint venture between Air Mauritius and Ghana, however Ghana is still talking to other interested parties about the matter and nothing concrete has been finalised. National carrier Ghana International Airlines ceased operations in 2010. Guy Martin