Saturday, June 25, 2011

Oxygen Issue Keeps U.S. F-22 Fleet Grounded

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-22 fighters after problems emerged with the plane's oxygen supply, officials said June 24.
The radar-evading F-22 Raptors have been barred from flying since May 3 and Air Force officials could not say when the planes would return to the air.
"The safety of our airmen is paramount and we will take the necessary time to ensure we perform a thorough investigation," spokeswoman Capt. Jennifer Ferrau told Agence France-Presse.
The Air Force was probing possible breakdowns in the oxygen supply system for the plane after several pilots reported problems, according to the journal Flight Global.
In one case, an F-22 scraped treetops before landing, and the pilot could not remember the incident, indicating a possible symptom of hypoxia from a lack of air, the magazine reported.
Ferrau said it was too soon to say for certain that the technical problem was related to an onboard oxygen generating system, known as OBOGS.
"We are still working to identify the exact nature of the problem," she said. "It is premature to definitively link the current issues to the OBOGS system."
Since January, F-22 pilots have been barred from flying above 25,000 feet, following the crash of a Raptor jet in Alaska during a training flight.
Grounding an entire fleet of aircraft is a rare step, officials said.
In November 2007, the Air Force grounded all F-15 fighters after one of the planes broke apart in flight and crashed.
The planes were not allowed back in the air until March 2008, said Maj. Chad Steffey.
The Air Force has more than 160 F-22 Raptors in its fleet and plans to build a total of 187.
The planes have not been used in the NATO-led air campaign in Libya or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. Navy JSFs Resume Flight Ops After Glitch

Flying operations for the U.S. Navy's Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) test program resumed June 23 after a six-day suspension to fix a software problem.
U.S. Navy F-35Cs resumed flight operations June 23 after a software problem temporarily halted flying tests. (Andy Wolfe, Lockheed Martin / U.S. Navy)
The aircraft were grounded June 17 when engineers at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., discovered a "logic fault" that could have prevented the proper action of aircraft control surfaces - the flaps, rudders and other movable elements that maneuver the plane through the air.
The Navy stressed that no actual fault took place on any aircraft in the air or on the ground.
The software problem affected the "safety mechanism that ensures the wings are folded properly," said Lt. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokesperson at the Pentagon. "It's the mechanism that prevents the flaps from moving in flight."
The safety monitoring function for the folding mechanism should be turned off during flight, Hillson said, but the software was not properly turning off the function.
The problem has yet to be fully corrected, but the aircraft have resumed flying with certain restrictions, according to a statement from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Pax River.
"A software fix is in progress, and the team has structured temporary maneuvering limitations to ensure it is not a safety hazard," NAVAIR said in the statement.
"Finding issues such as this is the purpose of aircraft test and evaluation," Hillson said. "By finding and correcting such issues, the test team is delivering a better product to the fleet."
The first of three F-35Cs in the Navy flight test program began operating from the Pax River test center in November. The C model differs from the A model for the Air Force and the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing B version for the Marine Corps in that it has folding wings for storage aboard an aircraft carrier.
The Navy JSF team "is still on track to commence initial carrier suitability testing next week with jet blast deflector testing in Lakehurst, N.J.," NAVAIR said June 24 in its statement.
The deflector tests at the Navy's carrier aviation test facility in Lakehurst will be followed in late July or early August by catapult launch and arrested recovery tests, Hillson said.

Sarkozy defends Libya Campaign

BRUSSELS - President Nicolas Sarkozy shrugged off criticism of the NATO-led campaign in Libya on June 24, saying the Western alliance should stay put until Moammar Gadhafi departs.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy addresses a press conference June 24 at a summit of the EU heads of state in Brussels. (Eric Feferberg / AFP via Getty Images)
As some alliance members pull out due to lack of assets, and NATO faces flak over the first civilian casualties in its three-month campaign, Sarkozy instead said at the close of a European Union summit that the campaign was making steady progress.
While skeptics had feared the campaign would get bogged down in the face of a counter-offensive by Gadhafi loyalists, "everyone can see Gadhafi's forces are retreating everywhere," he told a news conference.
"There is a general uprising of the population," he added. "There is progress."
"We will continue until Gadhafi's departure."
Meanwhile Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose foreign minister urged a halt in hostilities after NATO strikes last weekend claimed civilian lives, echoed that the campaign was squeezing Gadhafi's grip on power.
"Gadhafi is increasingly isolated," Berlusconi said. "He has been abandoned. No one can risk a forecast as to when he will leave power."
Amid mounting questions as to how the campaign will last and how much it might cost, Sarkozy said "the reason we're not moving faster is that we don't want mistakes."

Reports: China Warns N. Korea Against New Attacks

SEOUL - China has warned its ally North Korea against making any further attacks on South Korea following two deadly border incidents last year, the South's President Lee Myung-Bak was quoted as saying June 24.
Lee made the remarks during a lunch meeting June 23 with members of the parliamentary defense committee, Yonhap news agency and Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.
"China delivered its intentions (to South Korea) that it won't stand by the North if it makes an additional provocation," Lee said, according to an unidentified legislator quoted by Yonhap.
It was not clear when the Chinese message was delivered.
Beijing has also made its stance clear to Pyongyang, Lee was quoted by Chosun Ilbo as saying.
A presidential spokeswoman could not immediately confirm Lee's reported remarks.
China is the North's last remaining major ally and its key source of food and fuel. It came in for criticism for failing publicly to censure the North following the two incidents last year.
The South, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accused its neighbor of torpedoing a warship in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives.
The North denied involvement but last November shelled a South Korean border island, killing four people including civilians.
Tensions remain high and the North's military has recently threatened retaliation for what it sees as provocations by the South.
China has said it works behind the scenes to restrain the North.
"We are trying to persuade them not to take risks," media reports quoted its Defence Minister Liang Guanglie as telling a Singapore forum this month.
President Lee was also quoted as saying he still feels "outraged" at the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island, which killed two Marines and two civilians and damaged dozens of buildings.
The South's military was criticized for an allegedly feeble response to the barrage. It has vowed to hit back harder against any new attack, using air power.
Lee is pushing military reforms to improve coordination between the army, navy, air force and Marines and reportedly urged the parliamentary committee to support a series of reform bills this month.

U.S. Navy Resumes EMALS Tests

Flight tests of the U.S. Navy's new electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) resumed in late May after a five-month hiatus, and two more aircraft types have now passed their initial launch tests.
Sailors at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, watch as a T-45C Goshawk of VX-23 rolls down the rail during testing of the EMALS Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System in early June. The aircraft made a dozen launches over two days.
The program's maiden launches were accomplished in mid-December when an F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighter from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) made four takeoffs from the Navy's catapult test center at Lakehurst, N.J. But the tests revealed the need to fine-tune the software that controls the system's motors and better control the miniscule timing gaps between when the motors are energized and turned off.
"The linear motors fire sequentially as you go down the catapult track," said Capt. James Donnelly, the Navy's program manager for EMALS. "Only three are energized at a time. They turn on, turn off. As each one energizes, a force is exerted on the aircraft, and the timing needed to be fine-tuned."
Flight tests with the F/A-18E resumed May 25, and "the launches validated the software changes," Donnelly said.
The Super Hornet made 14 launches using the revamped software, followed by 12 launches on June 1 and 2 with a T-45C Goshawk training jet from VX-23.
A C-2A Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft from VX-20 made a further series of 12 launches on June 8 and 9.
The Super Hornet will return in July to Lakehurst for another series of launches using a variety of stores, or weapons, mounted under the wings and on the aircraft. Later in the summer, an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne command-and-control aircraft will begin launch tests, Donnelly said.
The multiple launches are used to test a variety of weights on the aircraft, he said, and to validate the EMALS system and improve reliability. The aircraft are also tested at various launch speeds.
Reliability of the EMALS system is "improving," Donnelly said.
"We have more and more launches without any [warning] lights that come on, anything we annotate in launch logs," he said during a June 23 interview.
"A lot of corrections" were made during the early stages of the program's flight testing, Donnelly said.
"We're doing much less of that. We had very few issues in the May and June launches."
The EMALS, under development by prime contractor General Atomics and the Navy, is intended for installation on board the new Gerald R. Ford CVN 78-class aircraft carriers, where they will replace traditional steam catapults. The launch tests are done at Lakehurst using a mixed Navy-General Atomics team.
Despite the five-month pause in the test schedule, production and delivery of EMALS components is proceeding for the Gerald R. Ford, under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News, Va., shipyard.
"No impact to the ship [construction] schedule," Donnelly said. "We're meeting our required in-yard dates. We started deliveries in May, and we're delivering a lot of equipment this month, including most of the motor generators - the components that many folks were most concerned about schedule-wise."
Asked about the program's budget performance, Donnelly noted that production elements are being procured under a fixed-price contract - "no ups and extras there," he said - but he declined to provide test budget figures.
"We're constantly looking at the testing budget, so that's under discussion," he said.
"The bottom line is, we'll continue testing," he said. "Our focus is to ensure the catapult is as reliable as possible as when we deliver and the ship gets underway with sailors aboard."

U.S. Says It Will Provide Hardware to Philippines

WASHINGTON - The United States on June 23 said it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of the Philippines, which vowed to "stand up to aggressive action" amid rising tension at sea with China.
Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, on a visit to Washington, said the Philippines hoped to lease equipment to upgrade its aged fleet and called for the allies to revamp their relationship in light of the friction with China.
"We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a joint news conference when asked about the hardware wish-list from the Philippines.
Clinton said the two nations were working "to determine what are the additional assets that the Philippines needs and how we can best provide those." She said del Rosario would meet Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials.
Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.
Several Southeast Asian nations have been seeking closer relationships with the United States, which since last year has called loudly for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
"We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability," Clinton told reporters, urging "all sides to exercise self-restraint."
Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said that the Philippines was a small country but is "prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard."
The Philippines has announced the deployment in disputed waters of its navy flagship, the Rajah Humabon. One of the world's oldest warships, Rajah Humabon is a former U.S. Navy frigate that served during World War II.
The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the navy.
Shortly ahead of his talks with Clinton, del Rosario said that the Philippines was asking the United States for "an operational lease so that we can look at fairly new equipment and be able to get our hands on that quickly."
"We need to have the resources to be able to stand and defend ourselves and, I think, to the extent that we can do that, we become a stronger ally for you," del Rosario said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The United States signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago's independence from U.S. colonial rule. Del Rosario said he believed the treaty - which calls for mutual defense in the event of an attack in "the Pacific area" - covers the South China Sea.
The United States has been providing military aid to the Philippines primarily to fight Islamic militants in the wake the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Del Rosario said that al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf has largely been defeated, estimating that only about 200 guerrillas remained.
"The Philippines' relative success in counter-insurgency coupled with pressures in the regional environment compel a reorientation of focus and resources," he said.
"A reset in our relations has therefore become an imperative to allow the alliance to continue to meet domestic goals while contributing to global stability."
China has said that it will not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea but has also warned the United States to stay out of territorial spats.
"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the U.S. won't be burned by this fire," China's vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said.