2014: The year's biggest Air Force stories

The US and its allies launched air strikes against the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria, and the UK Royal Air Force departed Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan, while Israel and Hamas ended conflict in the Gaza Strip. Airforce-technology.com wraps-up the key headlines from 2014.


ISIS

US and Arab allies launch first airstrikes against IS militants in Syria

The US and its Arab allies launched their first air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also called Islamic State (IS) terrorists, in Syria.

Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Admiral John Kirby said the strikes were made under authorisation granted by the US President Barack Obama and are carried out through a mix of US fighter and bomber aircraft, as well as Tomahawk land attack missiles.

"Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time," Kirby said.

Airbus authorised to commence work on UAE's Falcon Eye contact

The UAE Government authorised Airbus Defence and Space to manufacture and deliver Falcon Eye Earth-observation satellites to the national armed forces.

Officially signed by the government in August this year, the Dh3.39bn (€700m) contract covers production of two Pleiades-type Falcon Eye satellites that offer high-resolution optical capabilities and a ground system for monitoring, receiving and processing images.

The package also included a training programme for 20 UAE engineers, who will control and operate the satellites once in orbit.

UK Royal Air Force personnel depart Kandahar Airbase

Uk personnel

UK Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel left Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan, ending British military operations in the region.

The departure of the RAF's 904 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) signalled the withdrawal of final British soldiers from southern Afghanistan.

Kandahar Airfield was used by RAF for combat operations since 2001.

Following a ceremony that saw the Union flag lowered for the last time, the EAW and their colleagues from the Joint Force Support Unit boarded a C17 aircraft bound for the UK.

UK and France award FCAS feasibility phase study contracts

The UK and French governments awarded a series of contracts for the feasibility phase of the Anglo-French future combat air system (FCAS) programme.

Valued at a combined £120m, the contracts were awarded to six firms, which were BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation, Thales France, Selex, Rolls-Royce and Safran.

Under the contract, the industry partners will explore concepts and options for the potential collaborative purchase of an unmanned combat air system (UCAS) over the next two years.

Israel and Hamas begin indefinite ceasefire in Gaza Strip

Israel and Hamas agreed to an indefinite ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, ending seven weeks of intense fighting in the region.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: "We have responded to the Egyptian proposal for a complete and comprehensive cease-fire, which starts at 19:00 Cairo time.

"There will be a complete stop in fighting."

Paramount conducts AHRLAC's maiden test flight

AHRLAC

Paramount Group conducted the maiden flight test of its first advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft (AHRLAC) prototype at Wonderboom airport in Pretoria, South Africa.

Piloted by test pilot Johannes Joubert, the experimental demonstrator (XDM) prototype flew for nearly 35 minutes at a speed of around 120k at an altitude of 9,000ft, as reported by Defence Web.

The flight test was conducted to evaluate the aircraft's performance and flight characteristics, and used a Cessna Caravan as a chase plane.

Brazilian Air Force finalises Gripen NG contract with Saab

Gripen NG

The Brazilian Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a SEK39.3bn ($5.4bn) contract with Saab for the supply of Gripen Next-Generation (NG) fighter aircraft to the Brazilian Air Force.

Signed through MoD's Aeronautics Command (COMAER), the contract covered development and production of 36 Gripen NG fighters, including 28 single-seat and eight two-seat jets, as well as related systems and equipment.

Saab president and chief executive officer Håkan Buskhe said: "The contract with Brazil validates Gripen as the most capable and modern fighter system on the market.

US lower house blocks A-10 and KC-10 retirement

The US House of Representatives blocked the retirement of the air force's A-10 Thunderbolt II close-combat support aircraft fleet and Boeing KC-10 Extender refuelling tanker.

The House voted against the retirement as part of the $570bn defence appropriations bill that was passed with a vote of 340-73.

The US Air Force had proposed to retire the A-10 fleet by 2019 to save an estimated $4bn; the proposal was approved by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee last week.

USAF awards $9.9bn B-2 modernisation and sustainment contract to Northrop

B-2 bomber

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems awarded a $9.9bn contract to support the modernisation and sustainment of the US Air Force's (USAF) B-2 Spirit stealth bomber aircraft.

The indefinite-delivery / indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) flexible acquisition sustainment team (FAST) II contract covers B-2 enhancements, sustainment logistics elements, including sustaining engineering, software maintenance and support equipment.

Programmed depot maintenance of the B-2 fleet and other interim contractor support were also included in the contract, which was awarded by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, B-2 Division Contracting, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WWZK in Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, US.

Swiss voters reject Gripen E fighters purchase from Saab

Swiss voters rejected the federal government's proposal to buy Gripen E multi-role combat aircraft from Saab, in a major setback to its plans to modernise the air force.

Approximately 53.4% of the voters reportedly opposed the purchase of jets, while 44% voted in favour of the transaction in the national referendum called up by the Swiss Greens and the Liberal Greens parties.

The Swiss Government had confirmed plans to acquire 22 single-seater Gripen E fighters at an estimated cost of CHF3.1bn ($3.4bn) for the replacement of the national air force's ageing F-5 Tiger aircraft fleet in August 2012.

Japan boosts surveillance against China with new E-2C Hawkeye squadron

Japan enhanced its military surveillance capabilities in Okinawa with the launch of a squadron of four E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft amid rising territorial tensions with China.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera was cited by Kyodo News as saying that the launch comes as Japan faces a 'dangerous situation' as China continues attempts to 'change the status quo by force and threaten the rule of law could trigger emergencies'.

In addition, Onodera told Jiji Press: "The squadron was newly established to firmly defend our country's territorial land, sea and air."

Indian MoD cancels VVIP helicopter contract with AgustaWestLand

AW101

The Indian Government cancelled the controversial VVIP helicopter contract with AgustaWestLand International (AWIL) on grounds of breach of the pre-contract integrity pact (PCIP) and the agreement, with immediate effect.

Covering supply of 12 AW101 medium-lift helicopters to the Indian Air Force (IAF), the €560m contract ran into controversy in early 2013 following allegations that the company paid INR3.6bn ($58.8m) in bribes to European and Indian middlemen to win the deal.

The IAF has so far taken delivery of three helicopters, having paid approximately 45% of the total contract value.