June 03, 2013
U.S. defense contractors have been inconsistent in their presence at the Paris air show, but 2013 may hit a low mark not seen for many years. Cost-cutting in response to U.S. budget sequestration means Northrop Grumman will be absent, new Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson will not attend, and Boeing's F-15, F/A-18E/F and C-17 will be among the no-shows, despite active sales campaigns against European rivals.
The dwindling defense turnout at this biennial show—at least in the flying displays—will be accentuated this year by the U.S. Defense Department's decision not to send any hardware as severe budget cuts at home leave what has been called the “DoD corral” to tumbleweeds. Even the head of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program office will miss the show, despite European customers playing a key role in the program's fortunes.
Instead, Paris 2013 will be a showcase for potential rivals to the U.S. The stars of this year's flying display are likely to be Russia's twin-engine, thrust-vectoring Sukhoi Su-35S fighter and Europe's four-turboprop Airbus Military A400M airlifter—if it manages to fly as planned this year after embarrassing failures to become airborne at Paris in 2011 and Farnborough in 2012. Dassault's Rafale should appear, for the first time, with an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar—the first European fighter to field the capability.
Looking back, Paris shows in 2007 and 2009 were at a time when fighter manufacturers started to note the mounting delays and cost overruns in development of next-generation aircraft. Consequently, they either started, reenergized or continued upgrade programs for fighters once expected to go out of production in 2015-20.
“In the real airplane world, we don't wait around 10 or 20 years for the latest generation to emerge,” Boeing Defense, Space & Security CEO Dennis Muilenburg said at a pre-Paris briefing. “We're buying new technology every year and we design platforms with the power, weight and cooling capacity they need to accommodate it. We can get the technology into the field, and we know exactly how much the products will cost.”
Saab unveiled the Gripen NG in early 2007, and this year received a contract to develop the new JAS 39E for Sweden and Switzerland. A Gripen will be on show at Paris—so far, the company has not said whether it will be Aircraft 39-7, formerly known as the Gripen Demo and now regarded as the first article in the JAS 39E test program.
The 2007 show marked the first public discussion of the Su-35S, intended as a bridge to Sukhoi's stealthy T-50—available sooner and a multirole complement to the more advanced fighter. Boeing's F-15SE Silent Eagle was unveiled in 2009. The upgraded aircraft was aimed firmly at South Korea, where an F-X Phase 3 decision could come this month, with the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 also in contention (see page 24).