Friday, July 30, 2021

B-21 Raider on fast track to IOC

BREAKING DEFENSE WASHINGTON: The novel requirements and acquisition processes being used to develop the B-21 bomber will slash the time it will take to get the Raider to initial operating capability (IOC), Air Force Global Strike Commander Gen. Timothy Ray says.

In a wide ranging interview with Mitchell Institute Dean David Deptula today, Ray also revealed that the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile being developed for the conventional bomber fleet will undertake another flight test next month, after failing the first flight test of its booster in April.

As one example of how the new approach is speeding B-21 development, Ray told the Mitchell Institute today he expects integrating the AGM-158/B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile — Extended Range (JASSM-ER) onto the B-21 will be a breeze compared to what it took to fit the B-2 with the ground attack cruise missile.

“I think it will take me about one tenth of the time to put the JASSM-ER on the B-21 than it did the B-2. A tenth of the time,” he said, with obvious pride. Ray noted that the program has been praised by Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is notorious for his sometimes scathing criticism of weapon systems suffering cost/schedule overruns, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

One key factor in this success is the fact that Air Force Global Strike Command has been in essence granted pre-approval to integrate new subsystems, so it doesn’t need to go back through the Pentagon’s complex requirements process each time, Ray explained.

“The Joint Requirements Oversight Council has agreed that we don’t need to come back to ask for a new radio, or new weapon or new sensor, or new defensive system — it’s part of the bomber,” Ray said.

The other enabler is the digital design and engineering approach being used by the service and prime contractor Northrop Grumman — an approach that as Ray noted also is being taken with development of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Cannon AFB receives its first AC-130J Ghostrider gunship

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – The 27th Special Operations Wing received its first AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, the successor to the AC-130W Stinger II, July 19, 2021.

The arrival of Cannon’s first AC-130J represents a significant expansion of AC-130 capacity as Air Force Special Operations Command structures for the great power competition through global operations. This delivery continues the Air Commando legacy of “Any place, Any Time, Anywhere” and will become part of the 17th Special Operations Squadron which reactivates in October.

The reemergence of great power competition, tightening fiscal constraints, and the accelerating rate of technological change demand significant adjustments to transform AFSOC to ensure Air Commandos are ready to successfully operate in this new environment.

“As we accelerate change in AFSOC to refocus on strategic partners, the 17 SOS is able to leverage the extended range and expanded capability of the AC-130J to be more effective in the Pacific and across great distances,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Drew Saylor, 27th Special Operations Group Detachment 2 commander.

As the premier Air Force Close Air Support platform, the AC-130J is perfectly suited for missions ranging from supporting troops-in-contact, to convoy escort all the way to long range armed interdiction. The AC-130J provides Special Operations Forces and conventional forces an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, suited for a wide variety of environments and capable of delivering precision low-yield munitions against ground targets.

“Flying this plane is awesome. It represents a significant increase in performance and capability that makes us more effective and lethal on the battlefield,” said Maj. Ryan Whitehead, the AC-130J aircraft commander.

Photos and videos of the event will be available at:

The AC-130J Ghostrider fact sheet is available at:

For more information on Cannon AFB visit:




Russia's new fighter "CHECKMATE" code named "Screamer" by US unveiled at MAKS.


On Jul. 20, 2021 at its annual MAKS, air show held in Moscow with an eye on export markets, Russia officially unveiled the new Sukhoi “Checkmate” fifth-generation fighter jet.

The head of the Aviaport analytical agency, Oleg Panteleyev, said that the new aircraft is likely to be touted as a rival to the US F-35 stealth fighter, hence its name Checkmate.

The head of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), Yury Slyusar, told reporters that the Checkmate will perform its maiden flight in 2023 with the first samples due to be delivered in 2026. As reported by Reuters, he added that Russia aims to build 300 of the aircraft over 15 years once serial production begins.

Rostec, Russia’s state aerospace and defense conglomerate, said the plane was hard to detect and would have low operating costs.

The RIA news agency reported that Rostec’s chief, Sergei Chemezov, said that it will cost between $25 million and $30 million. Russia expect to sell the aircraft to nations in the Middle East, Asia Pacific region and Latin America.

“Our aim is to make the cost per flight hour as low as possible, to make it economical not only to buy but also to operate,” explained Slyusar.

‘RUMINT has it that the US-Codename should be ‘Screamer’ – which in turn would indicate a SAM. So, don’t hold your breath,’ says world famous aviation author and The Aviation Geek Club Contributor Tom Cooper. ‘Anyway… aerodynamically, I would like to see the total wing surface. Think it’s very big for this ‘small’ design – and that because something is telling me it’s actually optimized to operate very high.’

The new Russian single-engine fighter in the F-35 class recalls designs dating back to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition of the 1990s; borrowing most from the two concepts that lost that contest, Air Force Magazine highlighted.

The aircraft features a large angular chin inlet reminiscent of Boeing’s X-32 contender in the JSF contest ultimately won by Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and also on China’s J-10B.

The Checkmate also inherited another feature of the X-32: a short, clipped delta wing, which does not extend to the tail. The Screamer also has two canted elevons rather than a standard empennage of stabilizers and elevators, harkening to both the X-32 and McDonnell Douglas’s JSF entrant, as well as to the YF-23 on which McDonnell Douglas was partnered with Northrop. The YF-23 lost out to the Lockheed Martin F-22 in the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition, and McDonnell Douglas’s loss in the must-win JSF contest was a major factor in the company’s 1996 merger with Boeing.

Moscow already fields heavy-class fifth generation fighter jet, the Su-57, besides the “legacy” heavy-class Sukhoi Su-27 and light-class Mikoyan MiG-29. However, the stealth Su-57 has no light-class equivalent, Panteleyev pointed out.

“Light-class fighter jets are more in demand in the world than heavy-class ones – they are cheaper and more suitable for states that don’t have large territories,” he told Reuters.

In 2011, Russia used the MAKS air show to unveil the Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter.

Russian aircraft maker Sukhoi developed the new fighter under the LTS program, a Russian acronym for the Light Tactical Aircraft.

Its makers said the prototype is set to make its maiden flight in 2023 and deliveries could start in 2026. They said the new design could be converted to an unpiloted version and a two-seat model.

The prospective warplane, marketed under the project name Checkmate, has one engine and is designed to be smaller and cheaper than Russia’s latest Su-57 two-engine stealth fighter, also built by Sukhoi. It can fly at a speed of 1.8-2 times the speed of sound, has a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) and a payload of 7,400 kilograms (16,300 pounds), the jet's makers said.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov voiced hope that the new fighter could be sold to India, Vietnam and African nations, adding that foreign customers are expected to order at least 300 such aircraft. Borisov noted that one foreign customer he didn't name has already expressed a strong interest in the new jet.

The sales of warplanes have accounted for the bulk of Russian weapons exports, but the two-engine Su-30 and Su-35 fighters have faced growing competition in global markets.

Industries and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said that the prospective fighter was being developed to compete with the U.S. F-35 Lightning II fighter that entered service in 2015, a new Chinese fighter, and other designs. “We must join other nations that sell such aircraft,” he said.

Sergei Chemezov, the head of Rostec state corporation that includes Sukhoi and other aircraft makers, said the new plane is expected to cost $25-30 million. He said that the Russian air force is also expected to place an order for the new fighter.

Russia's Sukhoi and MiG aircraft makers only have produced two-engine fighters since the 1980s. Some experts observed that it has placed Russia at disadvantage in some foreign markets where customers preferred cheaper one-engine aircraft.

Rostec said the new warplane belongs to the so-called fifth generation of fighter jets, a definition that assumes stealth characteristics and a capability to cruise at supersonic speed, among other advanced features.

The corporation noted that the new design includes artificial intelligence features to assist the pilot and other innovative technologies. It said the jet was designed to reduce service costs and to be easily adapted to varying customer needs.

Manturov noted that the new design would incorporate some components from the previous fighters to help reduce price.
Rostec ran an aggressive advertising campaign in the days before the air show, publishing a picture of the new fighter hidden under a black tarpaulin with “Wanna see me naked?” written under it. It also posted a video featuring adulatory customers from India, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Vietnam and other countries, reflecting export hopes.

Plane spotters flocked to Zhukovsky last week to take pictures of the new plane as it was being taxied to a parking spot across the giant airfield which has served as the country’s top military aircraft test facility since Cold War times.

The Kremlin has made modernization of the country’s arsenals a key priority amid tensions with the West that followed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

It also has strongly encouraged the development of new passenger jets to compete with planes built by American aircraft maker Boeing and Europe's Airbus that currently account for the bulk of Russian carriers' fleets.

Russia's airliner programs have encountered delays amid Western sanctions that hampered imports of Western engines and other key components. But the country managed to produce a new engine for the new MS-21 passenger plane, which also was displayed at the show in Zhukovsky.

“What we saw in Zhukovsky today demonstrates that the Russian aviation has a big potential for development and our aircraft making industries continue to create new competitive aircraft designs,” Putin said in a speech at the show's opening.

President Vladimir Putin inspected a prototype of a new Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter jet on Tuesday that Russia unveiled at its annual MAKS air show with an eye on export markets.

The warplane, given the project name "Checkmate", is likely to be touted as a rival to the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter, said Oleg Panteleyev, head of the Aviaport analytical agency.

The warplane is expected to take to the skies in 2023 with a first batch due to be produced in 2026, Yury Slyusar, head of the United Aircraft Corporation told reporters.

Russia plans to produce 300 of the aircraft over 15 years once serial production begins, he said.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Looking back at "Aurora" and a new clue that it may really have existed.

 Way back in the 1990s there was a lot of speculation about a possible high-speed aircraft built secretly to replace the SR-71 Blackbird. There was even some evidence to support this, a series of "skyquakes" (in actuality sonic booms) over the western U.S. along with even stranger sightings of "donuts-on-a-rope" contrails (some I actually photographed) and sightings (some from trained aircraft identification spotters such as Chris Gibson ) of a highly swept-winged hypersonic aircraft seen flying in formation with other military aircraft.

This unicorn was dubbed "Aurora" after a mysterious line item that inadvertently was included in the 1985 U.S. budget, as an allocation of $455 million for "black aircraft production" in FY 1987.
"Funding of the project allegedly reached $2.3 billion in fiscal 1987, according to a 1986 procurement document obtained by Aviation Week. In the 1994 book Skunk Works, Ben Rich, the former head of Lockheed's Skunk Works division, wrote that the Aurora was the budgetary code name for the stealth bomber fly-off that resulted in the B-2 Spirit."
But the name Aurora stuck and although no official successor to the SR-71 was ever acknowledged, in 2017 according to Lockheed Martin they were developing the SR-72, colloquially referred to as "Son of Blackbird" as a hypersonic UAV concept intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform as a successor to the retired Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. The company said the SR-72 test vehicle could fly by 2023. Coincidentally the "skyquakes" are back and the California coast is rattling again.
That said -was there ever an Aurora?
While doing my own research after my own sighting (and after a sighting of "Aurora" causes considerable stir in the media, a HF phone patch was intercepted by a military radio hobbyist that was particularly telling. See attached. This comes from my book "The Comprehensive Guide to Military Monitoring" published in 1994.
At the time (early 90s) no one really knew who (sic) "McMann" was mentioned in the radio intercept was but it was a short walk to surmise he is a person of note who was charged keeping the aviation press at bay when it came to the subject of "Aurora."
Decades later a friend pointed out they now know who "McMann" could very well be, His bio was found on the website of
Modern Technology Solutions.
It reads:
About Jesse T. (Tom) McMahan
Jesse T. (Tom) McMahan is Co-President and Founder of Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI) of Alexandria, Virginia. MTSI operates in several locations around the country with core capabilities in modeling and simulation of advanced aerospace systems, flight and ground test support, systems engineering, acquisition planning, operational concept development, and business and financial management.
He has been with MTSI since its founding in 1993 and has seen the company grow to over 200 employees. His specialty is in advanced technologies supporting aircraft survivability and weapons as well as in modeling and simulation of air defense systems.
Tom left UMR with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1966 and worked for the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in White Oak, Maryland until 1968 when he entered the Air Force. His 25 year Air Force career was devoted to science and technology programs and weapon systems acquisition. The Air Force sent him back to UMR in 1972 for a Masters Degree in Engineering Management. He was fortunate to become involved in the early days of the stealth and counter stealth technology programs and spent the last 15 years of his career in that area. His final Air Force job was as Director of Electronic and Special Programs in the Pentagon.
Tom is now working about half time with MTSI. He is a past member and current ad hoc advisor to the Air Force Scientific Advisory board and sits on Boards of Directors and Strategy Boards of several small companies involved in advanced aircraft survivability technologies.
So does this mean that Aurora existed? Well, maybe not under that name but this finding (although decades late) does shed some light in a very dark corner of 90s conceptual military technology.
Maybe the SR-72 is the great grandson of Blackbird?

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Air Force releases new B-21 Raider rendering


The Air Force released a new B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic with an accompanying fact sheet today. As with past renderings, this rendering is an artist’s interpretation of the B-21 design.

The new rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, California, as the backdrop. The 420th Flight Test Squadron based at Edwards AFB will plan, test, analyze and report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider.

The B-21 program continues to execute the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and is focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for low rate initial production. A critical design review conducted in 2018 concluded the aircraft has a mature and stable design.

Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.

"Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.”

The Air Force plans to incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit bombers to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. The B-21 program is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.


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