Defense Highlights From The Farnborough Airshow

 - July 18, 2014, 8:09 AM
There was plenty of defense news at the Farnborough International airshow. This is a view of the Finmeccanica display area, where the company announced new orders for various AgustaWestland helicopters. (Photo: Mark Wagner)

The 2014 Farnborough International airshow will be remembered for the airplane that didn’t show. The much-anticipated international debut of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter was stymied by the engine fire that later led to a three-week grounding. The jets also missed the chance to fly over the naming ceremony for the UK’s new aircraft carrier, and to perform at the Royal International Air Tattoo, also in the UK. Incidentally, stealth aircraft can be detected at least occasionally, as we described earlier this year, and in Farnborough Airshow News.

Despite the F-35’s absence, there was much to interest defense-watchers at the show. One American jet did make it across the Atlantic—Textron’s new Scorpion. After years of slow progress toward full capability, the Eurofighter Typhoon program showed the first aircraft equipped with an e-scan (AESA) radar, although a production contract is still awaited. The company also received a contract to go ahead with integration of the Storm Shadow cruise missile. Saab announced a significant cooperation with Embraer on the Gripen E/F fighter, building on the Brazilian order.

Anglo-French defense cooperation was to the fore. Defense ministers from the two countries confirmed their agreement to proceed with the feasibility study for a stealthy UCAV. The work will be informed by the two current European UCAV demonstrators: the pan-European Neuron and the all-British Taranis. More details of the latter’s flight-test campaign were revealed. Another signing confirmed integration of the MBDA Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) on the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat helicopter.

British Prime Minister David Cameron attended on opening day to announce a stay of execution for Royal Air Force (RAF) ISR aircraft that were scheduled to be withdrawn next year: the Raytheon Sentinel and Shadow, and the GA-ASI Reaper UAV (although the latter was not specifically mentioned).

Airbus Defence & Space flew the A400M airlifter in agile fashion, ahead of its accelerated entry into RAF service, and EPI reported progress on the aircraft’s TP400 turboprop engines. Turkish Aerospace Industries flew its T129 attack helicopter and showed its Anka UAV. Thales launched a new-generation targeting pod named Talios, and a small unpowered glide weapon designated FF LMM for carriage by UAVs and light aircraft. MBDA reported progress on Brimstone 2 missile production.

There were four maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) on display, and much talk of how the British might proceed to fill their controversial “capability gap.” The Boeing P-8A Poseidon, performing daily in the flying display, may have the inside track over the Airbus D+S C-295 MSA, a new variant of the Saab 2000 that was revealed here, and Boeing’s own, smaller MSA. Based on the Challenger jet, that was making its airshow debut.

Helmet-mounted display systems (HMDS) from rival manufacturers were on display. Rockwell-Collins showed the third-generation HMDS for the F-35, which solves problems with its predecessor, the company said. BAE Systems revealed a new version of the Striker helmet that was, for a time, tapped as an alternative to the troubled F-35 HMDS.

Selex ES signed an agreement with UTA Aerospace Systems to develop a pod-mounted version of its Seaspray radar that would complement the American company’s DB-110 EO/IR sensor. The most surprising radar development at the show was hidden in a radome beneath one of four Diamond DA42 MPP Guardian propeller twin: Diamond’s own maritime surveillance sensor, developed in just one year from off-the-shelf components.