Special Mission Aircraft Portfolio
On the cusp of 2017 Navy League Sea Air Space Expo, Leda Chong, Gulfstream’s Senior Vice President of Government Programs and Sales, highlighted important developments occurring in the company’s special missions portfolio and provided a glimpse of the company’s near-term business horizon. Monch correspondent Marty Kauchak provides this report.
While Savannah, Georgia-based Gulfstream is predominately a commercial business offering advanced business aircraft to customers around the globe, the company’s special missions portfolio for military and other government customers is quickly evolving. While the company supports an increasing list of end users in the special missions sector, it also bringing to bear new technologies and innovation in its aircraft offerings.
More than 2,500 Gulfstream aircraft are in service around the globe. Of this number, nearly 200 in more than 30 countries operate in support of government and military service special missions, including roles as head-of-state transports, airborne early-warning systems, ground surveillance, maritime patrol, search and rescue, aeromedical and in support of international atmospheric data. “When you count continents, operators of our aircraft are on virtually every continent,” Chong noted.
In the US alone, Gulfstream’s customers include the military services and several federal government agencies. Chong added: “In Europe, we have been working with our international partners providing a G550 platform for various CAEW applications, including Italy.” In this instance the Italian service operates the CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning & Control System) installed on the G550 Gulfstream aircraft. The system was developed by ELTA systems, an Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) subsidiary. The sector expert continued, “and last year we signed, and were honored to be awarded, a contract to support the Polish government and Air Force, and supporting their head-of-state mission requirements.”
Gulfstream offers products that range from the super mid-size aircraft (the G280 aircraft, seating eight-to-ten comfortably) up to its flagship, G650/G650ER. “If you are looking for long-haul missions, where typically our government end users end up focused – and that’s why they come to us to be a platform provider – that puts us in the large-cabin products, starting with the Gulfstream G550.”
Asked how the government customers’ special mission requirements are changing in 2017, she responded: “At the macro level, everyone’s budgets are shrinking, so everyone is looking to find ‘best value’ solution to support their mission.” As technology continues to evolve, electronic components are decreasing in footprint. Chong observed: “What used to take racks and racks of space and several people to operate is quickly changing. We’re also seeing requirements for smaller crew sizes. We as a platform provider are becoming very attractive to the end user as they look across the spectrum of candidates – and they are looking at the business jet platform, not just us, but others.”
Chong peered across Gulfstream’s special missions portfolio and emphasized her company’s business model is to design, develop, build and support purpose-built business jets. In that capacity, Gulfstream partners with best-of-breed leading integrators, which know their suppliers best when it comes to sensor providers and other functions. She added: “We can work with any integrator, that’s another aspect and attribute of our platform. We know this area of the space in terms of the platform, we provide the platform, we have the technical expertise and modify our platform to effectively house those sensors the integrators are most intimate and familiar with – we work with the integrators in terms of those modifications.”
Gazing out on Gulfstream’s special missions horizon, one huge opportunity is Northrop Grumman’s proposal that the Gulfstream G550 serve as the future platform for the US Air Force’s next Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint Stars). Northrop Grumman, along with its partners Gulfstream and L3 Technologies, is the first of three potential teams to bid for this new programme.
Chong continued: “About a year ago we were also under consideration and very honored to be chosen as a platform provider and to provide the modifications to support the US Navy’s training and support aircraft. We see that as an evolving space. This gets back to the end user whoever they might be. They are looking at this business jet space and see that you can adapt it to a business jet environment. And why the business jet? That goes back to the business case for a product like ours – the G550 for instance – reaches higher altitudes (51,000 ft (15,545 m)), they get higher speed (0.885 Mach) and longer range (6,750 nm (12,501 km)) – and that combination gives you longer dwell times – about 12-plus hours on station. You may not get that same performance on larger size aircraft.” And beyond these attributes, the operator is still considering fuel costs as part of the life cycle, total cost equation. As the G550 has better fuel consumption data compared to larger commercial jets, Gulfstream can truly offer its end user lower total operating costs.
Another notable trend in the current special missions aircraft sector is the customers’ increasing desire for a multi-role configuration platform. Whereas the primary purpose of an aircraft may be for VIP or personnel transport, that same airframe may need to be quickly (in hours) converted for medical transport. Chong emphasised that Gulfstream’s attributes, such as high altitude comfort, including fresh air rather than recirculated, and low cabin altitudes onboard the G550, make them ideal for patient transport. “This is an exciting area that I think we will see some expansion,” Chong said.
Chong concluded by noting the innovations and developments in the company’s commercial business sector benefit the special mission area. “Let me give you one example. Recently Gulfstream made broadband enhancements, through Ka-band, available to our customers. This is available now on our G650 and G650ER aircraft and later this year on our G550 aircraft. That is a great offering that we will see our government end users welcome.”