The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 12/6/2019
On November 28, the Australian Department of Defence selected the MQ-9B Sky Guardian for its medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) armed unmanned aerial system (UAS) under Project AIR 7003. MQ-9B is a variant of the MQ-9 Reaper that has been modified to fly in airspace that will contain civilian air traffic. General Atomics’ proposal will be developed further for government consideration in 2021-22. Earlier statements planned for initial deliveries in the 2020-21 timeframe, with entry into service in 2022-23. The eventual acquisition is currently expected to cost about $880 million. The 2016 Defence White Paper and 2016 Integrated Investment Plan call for the acquisition of 12-16 systems. Since 2017, General Atomics has built up “Team Reaper,” a network of Australian partners that would support the MQ-9. Team Reaper consists of General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems Inc., Cobham, CAE Australia, Raytheon Australia, Flight Data Systems, TAE Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Ultra Electronics Australia, Airspeed, and Quickstep Holdings. These partners will supply key subsystems, supply sovereign payloads, support training, and perform MRO and logistics services.
At the end of the Dubai Airshow, the UAE announced the acquisition of 24 B-250 light attack aircraft from Calidus, an Emirati company, for $620 million. The procurement of these locally built aircraft emphasizes the UAE willingness to pursue the development of its aerospace and defense industrial base, or what is being currently branded as the “Emiratization” trend. Development of the B-250 started in 2015 after the acquisition of the Brazilian Novaer company by Calidus. The aircraft is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68 engine with a four-blade Hartzell propeller, and the aircraft is said to be ITAR-free, which could bring further interest from other Middle Eastern countries. If this deal sends positive signals on the Emirati industrial maturity, it makes competition more challenging at the global scale in an already hotly contested market.
On November 28, the Romanian government announced its intention to purchase five surplus F-16s from Portugal, though the draft law still needs to be ratified by Romania’s parliament. Romania currently has a fleet of 12 F-16s purchased from Portugal in 2013 for $817 million. The 12 fighters in possession are configured to the M.5.2R standard, but should Romania move forward with the acquisition of five more F-16s, the 17 fighters will then be upgraded to the M.6.X configuration. The first four F-16s would be delivered in 2020, with the final fighter delivered in 2021. Romania may seek additional F-16s in the near term to replace its aging MiG-21s, with the intent to have a total of 36 F-16s in service.
Spain announced that it will acquire 24 PC-21 trainers to upgrade its aging training fleet and that these aircraft will be named the “E-27.” The deal is valued at $226.9 million and will be paid in installments between 2020 and 2022. The first six of the trainers will be delivered to Spain in March 2020 and will be used to replace Spain’s fleet of T-35 basic trainer aircraft for elementary flight training for the 2021-2022 academic year. Then, as Spain’s fleet of Aviojet C-101 jet trainers are retired between September 2021-2027, the PC-21 will initially supplement the aircraft before eventually replacing them in Spanish service.
The Swiss trainer was facing intense competition from the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II, the Super Tucano EMB-314 from Embraer, the M-345 from Leonardo, the PZL-130 Orlik, and the L-39 NG from Aero-Vodochody. Spain became the third country in Europe to operate the PC-21 after Switzerland and France. The Swiss OEMs were said to have issued the best offer – 10 percent below the authorized budget. Price sensitivity was an important factor during this tender, as Spain has a limited budget to renew its C-101 fleet and some of its old T-35 Tamiz. The selection of the Pilatus PC-21 puts an end to speculations about a potential swap that would have included the roughly 40 KAI KT-1 trainers for four to six A400Ms.