Defence Notes

Defence Insight: Future market forecast (Air)

18th December 2019 - 12:00 GMT | by Ilker Aktaşoğlu in London

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The military fixed-wing sector was dominated by aircraft in 2019 with F-35, next-generation fighter aircraft and AWACs awards hitting the headlines.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the world’s largest fighter aircraft programme and was the subject of the biggest story of the year as the US cancelled Turkish participation in the programme over its procurement of Russian weapon systems.

In July delivery of the first of two Russian S-400 Triumf air and missile defence systems to Ankara triggered a decision to remove Turkey, a NATO member state, from the F-35 production program, costing more than $500 million in the process to establish a new supply chain. This not only left Turkish F-35A multirole fighters stranded in the US, but will also result in Turkish defence industrial participation transferred to other countries by March 2020.

Russia took this opportunity to intensify its marketing efforts of both the Su-35 and Su-57 to Turkey, while offering Su-57E export variant to the international market for the first time at MAKS in August. 

Undeterred, Lockheed has made progress in a number of other opportunities. In March’s defence budget meeting, it was revealed that the Singapore military is looking to order an initial four F-35As for testing, with an additional option of eight. In April, Greece revealed its plan to acquire up to 30 F-35s to replace its aging fleet of F-16C/D Block 30s. Additionally, Poland’s formal request for up to 32 F-35s to replace 31 MiG-29s and 32 Su-22s was approved by the US State Department in September.

Legacy platforms also saw success with Taiwan finally receiving approval to move ahead with its procurement of F-16V.  The USAF showed renewed in replace the retiring F-15 fleet with F-15EX fighters based on Qatar’s F-15AQ configuration, customized to US requirements. The Air Force is expected to procure 80 F-15EX aircraft over the period 2020-24 at a cost of around $8 billion.

June’s Paris Air Show witnessed two next generation combat aircraft mock-ups, unveiled nearly at the same time at Le Bourget. A Dassault and Airbus collaboration, the sixth-generation Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme was introduced at the ceremony in the French capital, similar to the UK’s Tempest opening a year earlier at Farnborough.

The second mock-up was Turkish Aerospace’s fifth-generation TF-X fighter, reported to enter into service with the Turkish Air Force by 2028.

In 2019 significant acquisitions were seen in the AEW&C aircraft segment, which constitutes a major capability and force multiplier for air operations. These assets provide early warning and classification of approaching air threats, relay communications between different assets and provide command and control role in a complex joint operation theatre.

In March, the UK MoD chose to procure five new E-7 Wedgetail for $1.98 billion to replace six E-3D Sentrys which are retiring by 2025. The USAF and French Air Force exercised mid-life upgrade option to extend their 31 E-3B/C/Gs and four E-3Fs respectively into the 2030s.

With the delivery of last of three new Saab 2000 Erieye in April, Pakistan surpassed its original AEW capability that suffered losses during 2012 terrorist attacks at Minhas Airbase, when three Pakistani Air Force Erieye were put out of service, two temporarily and one permanently. 

At 2019 Dubai Air Show, the UAE announced its plan to buy two GlobalEye AEW aircraft from Saab, in addition to the three aircraft ordered in 2015 (two) and 2017 (one) for a total of $1.55 billion, including additional functionality work requested in 2018. The first aircraft will be delivered to United Arab Emirates Air Force in April 2020. Qatar also has plans for AEW&C aircraft, if they proceed it is expected to present a significant opportunity. 

The Japan Self-Defense Air Force took delivery of the first of four E-2D in June. The remaining aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by 2024. 

With North America’s established programs leaving not much room for new announcements, the 2019 global combat fighter and AEW&C aircraft markets were more focused on Europe and Asia-Pacific respectively. However, considering unawarded programmes and the significant number of platforms approaching their end of their service life, OEMs will see new fighter jet opportunities in Asia, especially in India, and in the Middle East for AEW&C.

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