First AC-130J Gunship in production

The first Lockheed Martin AC-130J Gunship is being built.

July 30: The first Lockheed Martin MC-130J Commando II that will be converted to become an AC-130J Gunship is being built at the company’s C-130 production facility at Marietta in Georgia.

The AC-130J will be equipped with a Precision Strike Package creating the US Air Force Special Operations Command’s newest gunship. Sixteen AC-130Js are planned with an Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 2015.

Boeing delivers second production P-8A Poseidon

Boeing has delivered the second production P-8A Poseidon to the US Navy.

July 20: Boeing delivered the second production P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the US Navy on July 17. The P-8A is one of 13 low rate initial production (LRIP) maritime patrol aircraft that the company is building for the navy as part of two contracts awarded in 2011.

Navy pilots flew the P-8A from Seattle to Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida where the first LRIP P-8A is being used for aircrew training. Chuck Dabundo, Boeing vice president and P-8 programme manager, said “Navy crews have had a couple of months of training with the first plane, and their feedback has been positive.”

First F-35B for UK handed over

The first of the UK’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs has been handed over to the Ministry of Defence.

July 20: The first of the UK’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs was handed over to the Ministry of Defence yesterday.

At a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond formally accepted the first jet, ZM135. The UK is the first country outside the US to receive an F-35 and Hammond announced that the MoD intends to order a fourth next year to add to the three already on contract. In all 48 aircraft will be procured, it was revealed, some way short of the originally planned 135.

Lightning II will be operational from land-based airfields from 2018, when it will also commence flight trials off the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier, said Hammond. He also announced that the jets are likely to be based at RAF Marham, Norfolk, but that no decision has yet been made. Hammond said “Having taken decisions on the final designs of our new aircraft carriers and balanced the MoD’s budget we can now proceed confidently to regenerating our carrier strike capability with these cutting edge stealth combat aircraft.”

Fifteen per cent of Joint Strike Fighter work is carried out in the UK and over 130 British companies contribute to the supply chain. It is worth over £1 billion to UK industry each year and will support around 25,000 British jobs over the next 25 years.

Second Boeing P-8I for India flies

The second Boeing P-8I aircraft for the Indian Navy has completed its initial flight.

July 17: The second Boeing P-8I aircraft for the Indian Navy completed its initial flight on July 12, taking off from Boeing’s Renton Field at 1529hrs and landing two hours and 14 minutes later at Boeing Field in Seattle. The P-8I, a derivative of the Boeing Next-Generation 737-800 commercial airplane, is the second of eight long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft Boeing is building for India. “The programme is on plan and the Indian Navy is excited for the P-8I to join its fleet,” said Leland Wight, P-8I programme manager for Boeing.

During the flight, Boeing test pilots performed airborne systems checks and took the P-8I to a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet prior to landing. Boeing will begin mission systems installation and checkout work on the aircraft in the coming weeks.

For a full length feature on the Boeing P-8 see the August issue of AirForces Monthly, on sale now.

German Eurofighter Typhoons in ‘Red Flag – Alaska 2012’

Eight Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from the German Air Force recently took part in a two week ‘Red Flag’ exercise.

July 2: Eight Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from German Air Force (Luftwaffe) Jagdgeschwader 74 (JG 74) recently took part in a two week ‘Red Flag’ exercise in Alaska alongside American, Polish, Japanese and Australian air forces. Eurofighter Typhoons were deployed from their home base in Neuburg, Southern Germany, to Eielson Air Force Base to participate in the internationally renowned exercise.

Red Flag, which lasted from June 11 to 22, provided an opportunity for the participating nations to gain invaluable experience in tactical missions, collective defence and conflict management. Fighter Wing JG 74 took part in the exercise in readiness for its assignment to the NATO reaction force this year, assuring the unit has the right level of interoperability and capabilities for such a role.

Marc Grüne, Lt Col of Fighter Wing 74, said: “The German Air Force’s decision to take part in exercise Red Flag – Alaska offered a great opportunity for Fighter Wing 74 to train, test and improve personal skills and aircraft capabilities. We wanted to see if the Eurofighter is capable of everything we think it is. And the aircraft is definitely capable. The challenging tasks and tough working days have brought the best out of everyone because of the spirit and passion of the people.”

Red Flag participants are organised into “Red” aggressor forces and “Blue” coalition forces. The Red force included air-to-air fighters, ground-control intercept, and surface-to-air defence forces to simulate threats posed by potentially hostile nations. These forces employed defensive counter-air tactics directed by ground-control intercept sites. Range threat emitters – electronic devices which send out signals simulating anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile launches – provide valuable surface-to-air training. The Blue force – of which the JG 74 Eurofighter Typhoons were part – included the full spectrum of US and allied tactical and support units.

During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, the JG 74 Typhoons flew 98 of the planned 102 sorties. Aircrews were subjected to every conceivable combat threat. Scenarios were shaped to meet each exercise’s specific training objectives. Typically about 70-90 jets are flying at the same time in one of the two daily waves. The exercise has a building block approach, where mission difficulty will increase to a point where up to about eighteen threat aircraft will present a highly capable, modern opponent.

The commander of Fighter Wing 74, Col. Andreas Pfeiffer, said of the exercise: “If you put all of the factors together, this is probably the highest quality training you could possibly get in modern air combat.”

The deployment of the eight Neuburg based Eurofighter Typhoons to Eielson Air Force Base set a new milestone in the history of the German Air Force with the 8,000 kilometre, ten-hour Atlantic crossing to the Alaskan base, located 42 kilometres south east of Fairbanks. The Eurofighter Typhoons made the trip in groups over two days, supported by two German MRTT A310 tankers and demonstrated again the ease of deployability over long distances.

For more on Red Flag Alaska see the September issue of AirForces Monthly, out on August 2.