FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 9th through 11th 2018

Saying of the Day



Navy To Receive More Super Hornets

The new DoD budget passed on 09 February 2018 includes a request for additional Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.  Navy Times is reporting a request in President Donald Trump’s new defense budget proposal could add 24 Super Hornets to the Navy’s air fleet and keep a Boeing plant in St. Louis alive, according to a report Thursday by Bloomberg News.  The defense budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is expected to be formally released on Feb. 12. If confirmed, the request for more Super Hornets would be the largest addition since 2012 and would reverse the Obama administration’s decision to stop buying the aircraft.  The Trump administration has requested 14 Super Hornets, and House and Senate appropriators have proposed adding 10 more, according to Bloomberg. That total of 24 jets happens to be the key number needed to keep Boeing’s plant in St. Louis running.  The plant’s future was believed to be at risk after the Navy committed to adopting the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter to replace the F/A-18E/F Hornets.  The Hornets were originally set to retire by 2035, but the Navy was forced to reevaluate that date in 2015 due to persistent delays in the F-35’s development.  The F-35Cs are expected to reach initial operational capacity this year, but the Navy needs additional Hornets to fill its inventory shortage until more of the new jets are purchased.  The Navy has struggled recently with aviation readiness. As of last October, only one-third of the Navy’s Super Hornets were fully mission-capable and ready to flyThe Super Hornet fleet is scheduled to begin service life extension maintenance this year, and the Navy may take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade the Hornets to the more advanced Block III configuration. Fireball note: the upgraded to Block III is certainly warranted as this is the configuration we need moving forward to ensure fleet interoperability across varied carrier strike groups.)  The upgrades would give the Hornets conformal fuel tanks and add to stealth capabilities.

Navy Asks To Delay Shock Testing of USS Gerald R. Ford

The US Navy’s $13 billion dollar next-generation USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier has slipped behind schedule and over budget while the other 10 aircraft carriers are overworked — so they may skip an important step to get her deployed faster.  Each new type of US Navy ship undergoes shock trials, where it detonates large explosives near the ship to make sure it can take the strain, though the first ship in every class doesn’t always undergo such testing. During shock testing, the ship endures a series of detonated underwater charges to check the resilience of key systems. Photo left shows shock testing with USS Theodore Roosevelt.  The results are used to judge vulnerabilities and design changes that may be needed.  The Navy has asked United States Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to delay shock testing on the super carrier Gerald R. Ford.  In the case of the Ford, the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee has initially approved the Navy to delay shock testing the Fordaccording to Defense News. There is the possibility shock testing could be performed on the USS John F. Kennedy the second ship in the new Ford class.  The result is that the Navy could deploy the Ford as early as 2020, about when it had originally hoped for. It would also give the Navy more time to work out kinks in the new aircraft launching and recovering systems that have dogged engineers and caused massive cost overrunsOnce the Ford comes online you can have the East Coast carriers essentially cover the Middle East with short gaps and have the West Coast carriers fill the gaps in the Pacific while the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is in its spring maintenance availability.



Hondajet Gets Big Order

Not much in the way of commercial aircraft news coming out of the Singapore Airshow that concluded last week.  While all the major manufacturers were on hand, most of the commercial aircraft sales have previously been released.  In the world of VLJs (Very Light Jets) however, Honda Aircraft Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honda Motors announced its largest sale to date when Honda inked a deal with the European air taxi company Wijet for 16 HA-420s valued at US$80 billion.  Significant was they are going to replace their 15 Cessna aircraft as they take delivery of their HA-420s over the next 18 months. Honda Aircraft has some very deep pockets when it came to developing their first venture into the aircraft market, but they also brought to the table a vast knowledge of engineering and product development gleaned over many years.  Designer Michimasa Fujino sketched the HondaJet in 1997, and the concept was locked in 1999. Testing in the Boeing windtunnel indicated a valid concept in 1999.  A proof-of-concept (but not production-ready) version of the HondaJet first flew on 3 December 2003 at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, United States.  Honda approved commercial development of the HondaJet in 2004.  The HondaJet made its world debut on 28 July 2005, at the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow.  Honda announced on 25 July 2006 at that year’s Airventure that it would commercialize the HondaJet.  The first FAA-conforming (built to Federal Aviation Administration rules) HondaJet achieved its first flight on 20 December 2010. The first flight of the first production HondaJet occurred on 27 June 2014, and it was displayed at that year’s AirVenture on 28 July. Four HondaJets had test-flown 2,500 hours as of 2015.  The HA-420 aircraft program itself was plagued by delays. The initial planned certification date was “Late 2010”, but in Spring 2009 was delayed by a year.  In May 2010, the projected certification date was late 2012.  The program was incrementally delayed several more times.  The HondaJet was awarded “Provisional FAA Certification” in March 2015, enabling continued production and demonstration flights, but not customer delivery. The aircraft received its FAA type certificate in December 2015.  A HondaJet toured Japan and Europe in 2015, and the type received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification in May 2016.



China Sends SU-35s and J-20s In Response To FON Ops In South China Sea

I mentioned in an earlier edition of FOD the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) is expected to make a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam in the next month or so and in the mean time is Vinson and her strike force are conducting FON

(Freedom of Navigation) operations in the South China Sea.  China’s response has been to deploy and operate an increased number of SU-35s (below right) and J-20s (below left) in the South China Sea over the roughly 3 million square miles of airspace.  Asia Times reports incidents involving US and Chinese forces appear inevitable after the China News Service revealed that the US guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper came within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island) last month, and was intercepted by the Chinese missile destroyer Huangshan. CNS said the US warship steered away from the area after a brief standoff.  Similar encounters in the air are set to become frequent as well, as the People’s Liberation Army has dispatched an unconfirmed number of Su-35 multirole fighters to the sea for joint combat cruise missions.  This is “a pragmatic action for the air force to fulfill its mission in the new era and conduct combat training exercises” above the South China Sea, said a statement by the PLA Air Force on its Weibo social media account.  It is also rumored that several J-20s already in service with the PLAAF will fly south to join Russian-made counterparts to test the 4.5th generation fighter’s operational reliability.  The deployment showed that pilot training for new jets was surprisingly fast, said a Chinese military commentator.  “We just received a group of jets from Russia and inaugurated the J-20 last year, and now we can put them into a real combat mission in the South China Sea,” Xu Guangyu, senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, was quoted as saying by the Global Times.  (Fireball note: I’m guessing Xu didn’t really mean “real combat mission” but it shows the mindset of the Chinese government with regard to the South China Sea.)  China reportedly bought 24 Su-35 fighter jets for US$2 billion from Russia in 2015, and Russia completed delivery of the planes by the end of last year.  “The appearance of advanced PLA fighter jets capable of attacking surface combat vessels in this region is sort of a reaction to the provocation by the US,” Xu said.  These aircraft can easily be stationed or serviced on several airstrips and bases created via dredging sand and shoals in the vast sea, after Beijing’s frenzied island-building has created a host of “unsinkable aircraft carriers” in the sea.  Yet some observers have suggested that J-20s are not likely to have a very formidable presence above the South China Sea. Besides the current production bottlenecks, the high temperatures, humidity and brine corrosion there will render the J-20’s stealth coating ineffective after prolonged exposure to such an environment.  They argue that the J-20 is not designed for sea patrols but for air superiority above land held by an enemy.


Article 32 Hearings For Commanding Officers of USS Fitzgerald and USS John C McCain To Be Held In March

Navy Times is reporting the Navy will present its argument early next month for why the captains of two warships involved in fatal collisions last summer should be held liable for the deaths of 17 sailors who were crushed and drowned in the disasters.  That case against the skippers of the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain will be made at public hearings that will for the first time reveal the service’s rationale behind the unprecedented charges.  (Fireball note: An Article 32 Hearing is similar to an arraignment in a civilian court).  It will also offer new insight into what happened in the disasters, which took place about two months apart in the West Pacific waters of 7th Fleet.  The collisions and sailor deaths have shaken the Navy’s surface fleet to its core, prompting congressional scrutiny and questions about the community’s training and readiness.  The Fitzgerald’s skipper at the time, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, (above left) and McCain’s then-commanding officer, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez, (above right) also face dereliction of duty and hazarding a vessel charges, according to the Navy.  Three other unidentified Fitz officers face the same trio of charges, and the Navy plans to pursue dereliction of duty charges against a McCain chief petty officer.  The Article 32 hearings are scheduled for early March — Sanchez’s on March 6 and Benson’s on March 7 — at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.  The three unidentified officers will be the subject of a joint hearing on March 8. The Navy has not yet specified when proceedings against the McCain chief will commence, as the decision on the forum remains pending.  The Fitz was steaming off the coast of Japan on June 17 when it was struck on its starboard side by the hulking Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal merchant ship, flooding a section of the ship’s living quarters below the surface and drowning seven sailors.  On Aug. 21, the McCain was entering busy sea traffic in the Straits of Malacca near Singapore when it collided with the Alnic MC tanker. Ten sailors were drowned and crushed in their racks.  Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson released a comprehensive review in November that laid out what went wrong in each incident.  Later, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer released a strategic review that pointed out cultural problems and the normalization of shortcuts over a span of decades in the surface community.  A review board led by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran recently held the first meeting of a Readiness Reform and Oversight Council that is tasked with assessing the recommendations for change in both reviews and charting a future path.  Moran said last week that some of the recommendations are relatively quick fixes, while others that involve changing the Navy’s culture could take years.


China Displays Two New Drones At Singapore Airshow

Chinese companies have set their sights on the Asia-Pacific region as a potential market for their burgeoning line of armed unmanned aircraft, with the appearance of two such platforms at the Singapore Airshow for the first time.  Both the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s Wing Loong and the larger Wing Loong II were on static display at the air show, which runs Feb. 6-11, along with a suite of mock-up weapons for potential customers to view according to a report in Defense News(Fireball note:  General Atomics might want to do a security check on their computers as the Wing Loong II has an uncanny resemblance to the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator pictured below right.) Representatives at the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation booth were cagey about potential markets in the Asia-Pacific for the Wing Loong II, with one saying that the company is looking at “traditional markets in the region” when asked by Defense News.  China has had recent success in arms sales to the region, with regional countries like Myanmar and Thailand having recently acquired weapons from China. However it would not be beyond the realm of imagination to see countries like Indonesia turning to China to supply armed UAVs if there is a need for such capabilities.  According to marketing literature, the Wing Loong II is a “multi-purpose reconnaissance-strike integrated UAV system” that operates at medium altitude, and it can be used in reconnaissance, surveillance and damage assessment along with real-time attack on time-sensitive targets.  Standard payloads include an electro-optical turret that has infrared, laser rangefinder and designator capabilities as well as a separate synthetic aperture radar. Electronic intelligence, communications intelligence and electronic warfare payloads are also available.  The Wing Loong II was first observed in 2015, with the first flight reportedly occurring in February 2017.  The manufacturer says the type has a maximum takeoff weight of 9,260 pounds, a maximum speed of 230 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 29,500 feet and an endurance of 20 hours.  Six hardpoints on the Wing Loong II carry a total of 1,060 pounds of external stores, which can include various guided bombs and missiles. The type is also fitted with a satellite communications suite for beyond line-of-sight operations around the globe, along with a data link for line-of-sight control.  A company video played at the Singapore Airshow shows the Wing Loong II operating in both desert and littoral environments, with the latter showing it attacking small surface craft using 220-pound YJ-9E anti-ship missiles. The video also boasts that the Wing Loong II can be fully fueled and armed within 30 minutes of landing (Fireball note: at for instance a newly opened base in the South China Sea.  This shouldn’t be lost on the countries in the region.)  It was reported in January 2017 that the United Arab Emirates was the launch customer of the Wing Loong II, with three UAVs matching the dimensions of the type sighted on satellite imagery of the Qusahwira air base taken in October 2017.  Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also said to have ordered, or are operating, the Wing Loong II, although this has not been confirmed.


Anti-China Bill Being Softened After Complaints From US Firms

Proposed legislation in Congress aimed at preventing China from acquiring sensitive technology is being softened after protests by big U.S. companies that fear a loss in sales, four people with knowledge of the matter said this week. Two bills in the House of Representatives and Senate would broaden the powers of the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in hopes of stopping Chinese efforts to acquire sophisticated U.S. technology. The bipartisan legislation has the support of President Donald Trump’s administration.  “We are concerned that it vastly expands the scope and jurisdiction (of CFIUS),” said Nancy McLernon, chief executive of the Organization for International Investment, a group that represents global companies with U.S. operations.  Given the alarm that the legislation has caused, Senator John Cornyn’s staff is drafting changes to address industry concerns, according to three sources. Cornyn’s office did not respond to a request for comment.  Representative Robert Pittenger, who is shepherding the House version of the bill, said some “clarifications” are being considered to prevent businesses from being inadvertently affected. But he added the bill would still meet its goal of protecting U.S. national security.  “Are we listening to input? Yes. Will we make appropriate tweaks and adjustments to not inadvertently clamp down on legitimate investment? Yes,” he said. “Will we soften this bill so that China or other countries with malicious intent can continue to exploit our companies to threaten America’s national security? Never.”  CFIUS currently looks at foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies or stock transactions that may hurt national security. The bill would broaden its power, some critics say, to the point where it would scrutinize some commercial sales.  CFIUS has become increasingly skeptical of high-tech deals involving China in particular and has blocked transactions that would have given it access to sophisticated semiconductors or data of American citizens.  “Certain American companies need to decide whose national security they really care about: America’s or China‘s?” Pittenger said.  CFIUS has become more cautious since Trump was inaugurated a year ago amid growing political and economic tensions between the United States and China.  “This is a very high priority. We’re spending a lot of time on it,” said Josh Kallmer, senior vice president of global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents some of the companies asking for changes to the bill. ITIC members include Google parent Alphabet Facebook, IBM, Intel, Qualcomm and a long list of other hardware and software companies.  Concerns focus on two one-paragraph provisions in the nearly 80-page bills.  One is that foreign investment can be scrutinized by CFIUS if it relates to “critical technology” or a “critical infrastructure” company, terms industry representatives said create uncertainty and give regulators too much leeway on which deals they choose to scrutinize.  “We need some guardrails around the definitions to make sure we don’t thwart foreign direct investments,” said McLernon of OFII.  Other industry groups want the industries under scrutiny by CFIUS spelled out, for example, robotics or artificial intelligence.  The other concern is CFIUS’ expanded powers would include reviewing sales of high-tech equipment or software licenses, duplicating the current export control regulations and adding uncertainty to the sales process.

The two changes would require an already overburdened panel to add untold numbers of transactions to its workload and create delays that would make it hard for U.S. companies to compete with non-U.S. rivals, critics said.  Bottom line: we need to reduce technology transfer to China and I support every effort to do that. These corporations just got a huge tax cut and they’re complaining about not making more money at the expense of America security.  To steal a phrase from someone out there, it’s about making America great again.


P-3 Orion Sets Records

During the period January 22 through February 8, 1971, Lockheed P-3 Orion, antisubmarine warfare patrol bomber under the command of Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy, set a bunch of aviation records.  The crew (CDR Donald H. Lilienthal, Aircraft Commander; CAPT R.H. Ross, Pilot; LCDR F. Howard Stoodley, Pilot; LT R.T. Myers, Navigator; CDR J.E. Koehr, Meteorologist; ADJC K.D. Frantz, Flight Engineer; AEC H.A. Statti, Flight Engineer), took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, and flew 11,036.47 kilometers (6,857.745 miles) non-stop to NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. The duration of the flight was 15 hours, 21 minutes.  This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for turboprop airplanes. (FAI Record File Number 8070) The Orion’s course deviated around foreign airspace so the actual distance flown was 7,010 miles (11,218.5 kilometers).  The Orion was a standard production P-3C with no engine or fuel system modifications.  P-3C-110-LO Orion, Bu. No. 156512, was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River. On 27 January, the same airplane set both FAI and National Aeronautic Association records for Speed Over a Straight Course of 15/25 Kilometers of 806.10 kilometers per hour (500.89 miles per hour) at NAS Patuxent River. (FAI Record File Number 8582).  That U.S. National Record still stands.   And on 08 February 1971, CDR Lilienthal and 156512 set five more world records for heavy turboprop airplanes. The P-3C climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 2 minutes, 52 seconds; to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 5 minutes, 46 seconds; to 9,000 meters (29, 528 feet) in 10 minutes, 26 seconds; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 19 minutes, 42 seconds. (FAI Record File Number 3400–3403) The Orion continued climbing until it reached a world record altitude of 14,086.1 meters (46,214.2 feet). (FAI Record File Number 8055) You P-8 guys need to check your logbooks and see if you have flown this piece of history.  OK sub recce – What’s that sub?  Soviet Victor-III.


End Of An Era For NASA 911

And this date in 2012 marked the end of an era as well.   NASA 911, the Boeing 747-100SR that has been used as a shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA), made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. The SCAs were used to ferry Space Shuttles from landing sites back to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, and to and from other locations too distant for the orbiters to be delivered by ground transport. The orbiters were placed on top of the SCAs by Mate-Demate Devices, large gantry-like structures that hoisted the orbiters off the ground for post-flight servicing then mated them with the SCAs for ferry flights. NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds each. While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet and its range was only 1,150 miles. It was first used in 1991 to ferry the new shuttle Endeavour from the manufacturers in Palmdale, California to Kennedy Space Center. NASA 911, was used as a source of parts for NASA’s  Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).  It is loaned out for display to the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale, California.


Guadalcanal Campaign Ends

Various aspects and some specific battles of the Guadalcanal Campaign has been mentioned in recent editions of FOD.  On February 8, 1943, Japanese troops evacuated the island and the Guadalcanal Campaign came to an end.  There are many accounts of this protracted battle.  In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese drove the Americans out of the Philippines, the British out of British Malaya, and the Dutch out of the East Indies. The Japanese then began to expand into the Western Pacific, occupying many islands in an attempt to build a defensive ring around their conquests and threaten the lines of communication from the United States to Australia and New Zealand. This was much the same thinking that had prevailed in Japan dating back to the Russo – Japanese War in 1904 – 1905.   A most interesting read on this period is Japan and the Decline of the West in Asia, 1894–1943 by Richard Storry.  The Japanese reached Guadalcanal in May 1942.  When an American reconnaissance mission spotted construction of a Japanese airfield at Lunga Point on the north coast of Guadalcanal, the situation became critical.  This new Japanese airfield represented a threat to Australia itself, and so the United States as a matter of urgency, despite not being adequately prepared, conducted the first amphibious landing of the war. The initial landings of US Marines on 7 August 1942 secured the airfield and renamed it Henderson Field after a Marine aviator killed in combat during the Battle of Midway.  Holding the airfield for the next six months was one of the most hotly contested campaigns in the entire war for the control of ground, sea and skies. Aircraft operating from Henderson Field during the campaign were a hodgepodge of Marine, Army, Navy and allied aircraft that became known as the Cactus Air ForceGuadalcanal became a major turning point in the war as it stopped Japanese expansion. The US forces were really learning to wage war.  They were learning to prioritize logistics while dealing with limited assets as ‘Europe First’ was the order of the day.  Many paradigms were radically altered as a result of dealing with an experienced and ruthless foe.  After six months of fighting, the Japanese ceased contesting the control of the island. They finally evacuated the island at Cape Esperance on the north west coast in February 1943.  The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November marked the turning point in which Allied Naval forces took on the extremely experienced Japanese surface forces at night and forced them to withdraw after sharp action.  I recommend, Neptune’s Inferno: The US Navy at Guadalcanal, also on the Fireball Book List.


Satchel Paige Nominated For Baseball Hall of Fame

On 09 February in 1971, pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige becomes the first Negro League veteran to be nominated for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In August of that year, Paige, a pitching legend known for his fastball, showmanship and the longevity of his playing career, which spanned five decades, was inducted. Joe DiMaggio once called Paige “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”  Paige was a right-handed pitcher, and at age 42 in 1948, he was the oldest major league rookie while playing for the Cleveland Indians. He played with the St. Louis Browns until age 47, and represented them in the All-Star Game in 1952 and 1953. He was the first player who had played in the Negro leagues to pitch in the World Series, in 1948, and was the first electee of the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1971.  While his outstanding control as a pitcher first got him noticed, it was his infectious, cocky, enthusiastic personality and his love for the game that made him a star.  On town tours across the United States, Paige would sometimes have his infielders sit down behind him and then routinely strike out the side.  He played his last professional game on June 21, 1966, for the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League.


Some Other Events From February 9:

1960 Joanne Woodward earns first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

1942 Daylight saving time instituted


And From February 10:

1996 Kasparov loses chess game to computer


And Let’s Not Forget February 11:

1945 Yalta Conference ends