April's top stories: US inks Israeli arms deal, UK commences drone ops

The US and Israel announced a multibillion-dollar arms deal to maintain Israel's air superiority, while the UK adopted control of its drone operations from a new control centre at RAF Waddington. Airforce-technology.com wraps up the key headlines from April 2013.


Air force

USAF's F-22 Raptor fleet returns to normal flight operations

F-22

The US Air Force's fleet of F-22 supersonic fighter jets was cleared to resume normal flight operations following the successful completion of eight near-term actions identified by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.

The actions, which included the installation of a modified combat edge upper pressure garment valve, eliminated the need to restrict all F-22 flights within a 30-minute flying distance in order to enable quick recovery and landing during an unfavourable event.

The aircraft was also cleared to conduct aerospace control alert operations, following the installation of an automatic back-up oxygen system (ABOS) in the aircraft based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, US.

Altitude restrictions for training flights on the ABOS-modified Raptors have incrementally been removed; while those on non-ABOS equipped F-22s remain in place.

Boeing completes testing of X-48C BWB demonstrator aircraft

Boeing

Boeing successfully completed an eight-month flight test programme of its remotely piloted X-48C hybrid-wing-body subscale aircraft at Nasa's Dryden Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base in California, US.

The programme, which involved 30 test flights, commenced in August 2012 to explore and evaluate the aerodynamic characteristics of the blended wing body design concept, which is hoped to reduce fuel burn, emissions and noise of future aircraft.

Most of the test flights saw the aircraft operate for approximately 30 minutes, reaching speeds of up to 140mph and climbing to attitudes of around 10,000ft.

Nasa ERA project director Fay Collier said: "With the completion of X-48C flight testing, we have accomplished our goal of establishing a ground-to-flight database, and proving the low-speed controllability of concept throughout the flight envelope."

Hagel confirms multibillion dollar weapons sale with Israel

US and Israel

The US signed a multibillion dollar deal with Israel to supply new defence capabilities to the country, enabling it to maintain air superiority in the country.

The deal, announced by US defense secretary Chuck Hagel and Israel defence minister Moshe Yaalon, includes anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for the Israeli Air Force's fighter jets, KC-135 tankers and V-22 Osprey aircraft.

Besides routinely collaborating with Israel in development of Iron Dome, Arrow and David's Sling defence systems, the US Department of Defense (DoD) also ensured the country received an all-time high of $3.1bn in foreign military financing this year, despite budgetary constraints.

The US is also planning to start work on a new multiyear memorandum of understanding (MoU) that will extend security funding for Israel beyond 2017.

RAF Waddington takes command of MQ-9 Reaper UAV operations in Afghanistan

MQ-9 Reaper UAV

The UK Ministry of Defence started command and control operations of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs in Afghanistan, using a newly constructed facility based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, UK.

The move marks the first time that UAVs have been operated from the UK five years after their procurement for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan.

The UK had been controlling the RAF's fleet of five Reaper drones from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, US, and the new centre was built in 2012 as part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Announced two days before a protest organised by Drone Campaign Network outside RAF Waddington, the move has also attracted sharp criticism from the Stop the War Coalition, which says the switching of control to the UK represents "an unwelcome expansion in the country's UAV programme".

Russia's T-50 fighter to undergo state flight trials in 2014

Russia's T-50 multirole fighter aircraft

Russia's T-50 multirole fighter aircraft will undergo state flight trials in 2014, United Aircraft Corporation president Mikhail Pogosyan revealed.

Pogosyan revealed that the company is expecting to complete both the aircraft's preliminary tests and commence operational trials this year, with the flight testing programme set to feature five flying prototypes.

Moscow plans to acquire around 60 production standard T-50 aircraft after 2015, while India is set to procure an advanced single or two-seat T-50-derived fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

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