March's top stories: F-35 flights cleared as Iraq weapons due
Flight tests aboard Lockheed Martin's F-35 aircraft were cleared to restart, having been grounded, while Iraq confirmed an eagerly anticipated arms deal with Russia was not cancelled after all. Airforce-technology.com wraps up key headlines from March 2013.
The US Department of Defence cleared its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters to resume flight operations having completed a comprehensive evaluation and root cause analysis.
The grounding followed the discovering of a 0.6-inch crack on a third stage Pratt & Whitney F135 engine blade during a routine inspection of a test F-35A conventional take-off and landing fighter.
F-35 Joint Program Office official Kyra Hawn stated that the faulty blade underwent testing at the manufacturer's facility in Middletown, Connecticut, and the crack is assumed to be a result of overuse in test operations.
The powerplant will not require any redesigning, as no other cracks have been discovered so far by engineers during inspections of other engines.
Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari revealed the country is likely to receive air-defence systems and attack helicopters from Russia in June 2013, dismissing concerns that the deal was cancelled over alleged corruption.
Zebari was quoted by RIA Novosti as stating that deliveries were expected to commence as soon as financial matters were resolved, adding: "I believe the first arms deliveries from Russia to Iraq still start before the beginning of the summer at the latest."
Hailed as Moscow's largest arms deal since 2006, the $4.2bn contract was originally signed in early 2012, and confirmed by Moscow during Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's visit in October the same year.
However, an Iraqi Government spokesman was later quoted by Agence France Presse as saying that the deal was on put hold due to corruption allegations.
Lockheed Martin conducted the first fit check of Kongsberg's joint strike missile onboard an F-35 Lightning II fighter at its facility in Fort Worth, Texas, US.
The fit check was performed as part of phase two of the missile's development programme, and involved the integration of a JSM on the aircraft's external pylon, confirming its ability to be installed for external carriage of the aircraft.
Similar fit checks are now scheduled to be conducted on all three F-35 variants, while the missile's ability to fit into the internal weapons bay will also be tested.
Norwegian F-35 programme director Anders Melheim said the fit check confirms that the JSM development programme is moving forward, even though its operational use is still far away.
Boeing completed the first test flight of the Royal Saudi Air Force's new F-15 Saudi Advanced (SA) fighter aircraft.
Air Force Life Cycle Management Center commander lieutenant general CD Moore II said the successful first flight represents a significant milestone for the programme.
"The F-15SA will add critical capability to the RSAF and enhance the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Moore II added.
Boeing has been tasked to upgrade the RSAF's existing 68 F-15C/D Eagle fleet to the SA configuration, along with supply of four base stand-up kits to support the aircraft's operating capability, as part of a $4bn contract received in November 2012.
The Russian Air Force conducted a large-scale air-defence exercise near the Republic of Buryatia, Russia, in order to evaluate the nation's combat readiness.
Conducted under the Eastern Military District operational command, the exercise involved participation from approximately 2,000 personnel, more than 500 weapon systems and 50 front-line aircraft, as reported by RIA Novosti.
The drill involved the deployment of S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, Osa, Buk, Strela and Shilka anti-aircraft missiles, Igla man-portable SAM missiles and the recently delivered Pantsyr-S gun-missile systems, Gordeyev added. The exercise is scheduled to conclude in the middle of April.
Approximately 1,000 soldiers participated along with more than 70 aircraft, which includes a mixture of fighters, bombers, as well as army aviation platforms, such as MiG-31 Foxhound and Su-27 Flanker fighters.
North Korea continued to defy the world's wishes and conducted a further nuclear test, while the USAF sanctioned upgrades to its troubled F-22 fighters.
Bidding troubles will not hold back the US Air Force's combat rescue helicopter programme, while Israel validated enhancements to its Iron Dome missile defence system.