Aircraft modernization in the defense and international arena


Special Topics - Aerospace Industry

Harvey S. Fromer, Loral Electronic Systems, Yonkers, New York


One of the key issues in developing successful aerospace program managers in the 1990s will be the ability of the system to develop leaders who are capable of “managing through turbulence.” In today's world, everything is changing dramatically and on a short time scale. Factors that usually lend stability to a program plan have become daily variables. These include:

  • A clear definition of the threat
  • An established political support base
  • A clearly definitized budget plan

All nations, East and West, have gone back to the drawing boards to assess what their real concerns should be and what they can afford in these very difficult economic times. Inevitably this will result in the elimination of requirements to deal with potential super power conflicts and will bring about a focus on regional conflicts based on long-standing local distrusts. Faced with mounting traditional regional concerns, which had been suppressed by superpower controls, and the withdrawal of the superpowers as a stabilizing military force, smaller countries will now become much more concerned with their stand-alone defense posture. Each nation knows that achieving a satisfactory level of “defensive capability against their neighbors” must be accomplished at an economically affordable cost; therefore, alternatives must include modernization and upgrade programs to leverage the advantages of the high technology into a military that is reducing in force levels and looking for “force multipliers.” Understanding the political, economic and technological factors is a key starting point for program managers involved in aircraft modernization programs. With the sharply decreasing defense budget in the U.S., the international marketplace will become a much larger percentage of the future business potential for aircraft modernization. Successful update schemes must fit the combined test of meeting the local needs, being interoperable with the forces of the U.S. and other potential allies and will have the preferred procurement approach (FMS or commercial sale).

Trappings of Power

Figure 1. Trappings of Power

Table 1. Typical Modernization Candidates

Survivability Radar warning receivers/jammers
Reduced signatures
Missile warning
Laser warning
Surveillance Aircraft early warning radars
Electronic surveillance monitoring
Infrared search and track
Communications Joint tactical information data system
Navigation Global positioning system
Defense Suppressions Decoys
Standoff jammers
Command and Control Color display
High-speed processors
Sensor fusion algorithms


Everyone who travels and deals in the international aerospace marketplace knows that, no matter where you go in the world, the threat is being reconsidered. This is true whether you operate in the U. S., Europe or Asia. The dissolution of the U.S./USSR superpower confrontation has changed things forever and we must understand the impact of these changes because they greatly effect the defense preparedness of all nations. The biggest impact will be the limiting of concerns about “many-on-many” conflicts and the focus will be on scenarios with limited numbers of combatants having highly capable weapons systems. The Gulf War clearly showed that big, unsophisticated forces can no longer defeat small, well-trained, fully-prepared, technologically-superior forces on the ground or in the air.

The real issue for all of us will be that the nature of the threat for each area of the world and each country within that area will be very different and will be dependant on past history and local politics and culture—things that we may need a great deal of local help to understand. Conflicts in the 1990s will be third world, regional, religious and ethnic in nature and may make the world a much less safer place than it was during the super-power stand-off. Proliferation of both Eastern and Western weapons can be expected since everyone is looking to develop a means of obtaining export-related capital. Unfortunately, we can expect to see highly capable aircraft (e.g., MIG-29, SU-27, Mirage, etc.), tactical balk= tic missiles systems (e.g., SCUDS and CSS-2s, etc.), cruise missiles (e.g., Exocets, AS-4s, etc.), and Surface to air missiles (e.g., SA-10s, SA-5s, etc.) showing up in third world countries. Figure 1 shows that economic conditions have the intelligence community predicting that the movement of high technology to the third world is escalating and this will present a serious threat to countries in their own local areas.



Companies that can focus on the perceived local threat and that have a proposed solution that is relatively inexpensive and easy to assimilate within a nation's armed forces will have the winning formula. In today's world, this Usually means upgrades to existing platforms and equipment Trying to sell new aircraft with new systems in the current political/economic environment is definitely in the category of “tilting at windmills.” Success in selling international update programs is usually defined by closely paralleling a U.S. upgrade to an existing platform to a non-development nature (NDI — non-development item), and providing the capability, with properly employed tactics, to deal with the foreign country threat. Some examples of these kinds of programs are:

  • Survivability/self-protection improvements
  • Force multipliers
  • Increased surveillance/early warning
  • Tactical jamming
  • Improved command and control
  • Accurate navigation
  • Extended communications
  • Increased capability to suppress enemy air defenses (see Table 1 for examples).

In all cases, the program manager must not only address the operational significance of the upgrade, but also the logistics infrastructure required to achieve the required operational readiness once the new system achieves an initial operating capability.

To ensure that the proposed program plan is viable, the program manager must also be fully prepared to address the long-term viability of the proposed modernization. This must include a thorough analysis of where the threat is likely to grow, what the airframe life can be expected to be after the upgrade, especially if it results in an increase in the critical platform design factors such as weight, cooling air or input power. Having a relatively conservative projection of the impact on the reliability and maintainability of the weapon system also is a must. In essence, a pre-planned product improvement program is needed from the outset.

Hierarchy of Modernization Testing Alternatives

Figure 2. Hierarchy of Modernization Testing Alternatives

Hierarchy of Modernization Integrated Logistics Support Re-planning Alternatives

Figure 3. Hierarchy of Modernization Integrated Logistics Support Re-planning Alternatives

Managing the Modernization

Once the program is initiated, the industry program manager will have to guide it through three phases to be successful: the design/development/test phase, the initial production/installation phase and the deployment and support phase. The initial phase will include the engineering design, drawing release and installation data package generation and the laboratory and field testing required to certify the design. The outputs might include a few prototype kits and prototype installations, a set of production kit drawings and installation drawings, and a qualification test report. The key is to stay within cost and schedule, get all risks addressed and produce the documentation needed to move ahead from a production and logistics standpoint. An approach to selecting the proper testing program based on complexity is shown in Figure 2. The low complexity side of the pyramid increases risk but reduces up-front costs. A proper choice is a balance of the customer's budget and need for risk reduction.

In the second phase, it is necessary to find low-cost suppliers and a low-cost mod center to install the kits. In the case of non-U.S. programs, it would make a great deal of sense to do the installation somewhere in the procuring country. Developing indigenous industrial capability to be a part of the manufacturing and support process is a must for a successful program. Programs that call for the prime contractor to install the first few kits, with local support, followed by the local contractor doing the rest are economically and politically correct and also lead to the lowest cost of ownership and self-sufficiency. In addition, they address the usual requite ment for off-sets and technology transfer.

In the third phase, we should be concentrating on a game plan that leads to self-sufficiency. This includes the procurement of sufficient spares, training, publications, maintenance equipment and other logistics commodities. Furthermore, the major issue of software development and maintenance must be addressed and a local capability established. In many instances, software upgrades will be as operationally significant as the hardware upgrades. The potential alternatives for a properly selected logistics program is shown in Figure 3. Once again, the low complexity side of the pyramid is riskier but less costly. Customers that would not mind putting a “first cut” support system in place and adjusting it through experience would not mind the low complexity approach.


All nations, including the U.S., will adjust to the “New World Order” and the economic times by favoring technology insertion over procurement of new aircraft platforms. This will provide substantial opportunities for existing programs and platforms to incorporate the new technology provided that the existing platform is an acceptable conveyance industry. Program managers with the technical and business savvy to get their arms around all the cultural, economic, political and operational performance factors will thrive in the 1990s world aerospace marketplace.


Harvey S. Fromer is executive vice president for Loral Electronic System and is currently responsible for all aspects of Loral's Radar Warning Receiver and Self-Protection Jammer product lines. Prior to joining Loral, Mr. Fromer was the E-2C/C-2A program vice president at Grumman's Aircraft Systems Division.

Mr. Fromer graduated from New York University with a bachelors degree in electrical engineering and is a graduate of Harvard Business School Program for Management Development.

He is a member of the National Contracts Management Association and served as a participant in the 1981 Defense Science Board Summer Study on “Operational Readiness of High Performance Weapons Systems” and in the Naval Research Advisory Committee studies on “Operational, Test and Evaluation,” “Aircraft Modernization,” “Laser Eye Protection,” “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses” and “Defense Against Tactical Ballistic Missiles.”

AUGUST 1992 pm network



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