Monthly Archives: March 2015

UK defence – repeated mistakes?

HMS Iron Duke in AntarcticaAs the UK general election draws nearer, the political parties are positioning themselves to complete a Strategic Defence and Security Review within a few months of a new government entering office.

The 2010 version of SDSR was criticised for being published too quickly and the speed with which the next document will be produced is expected to make the same mistake.

Sir Nick Harvey MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for defence, told a meeting of the Independent Defence Media Association (IDMA) that he expects a ‘quick and dirty’ SDSR in 2015 and that this has been forced by the schedule for the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) that will decide what government departments get to spend.

Unfortunately the timing of the CSR does not give time for a proper defence review to be completed, which should be in the mid-term of a Parliament. But it has to be completed so that the Ministry of Defence has something to take to the Treasury to argue for in terms of their budget demands.

The recent 2% GDP for defence that has been debated recently will not be achieved unless new money can be found. With this background, Harvey believes that there are some difficult decisions coming up that will be equally as significant as those in 2010 as the MoD cannot afford the Force 2020 programme under current projections. It might be affordable with the 2%.

The Labour party agrees, believing that the UK is at a crossroads and has to decide what it wants to do in the world and what its presence will be. A senior defence spokesperson told IDMA that the National Security Strategy that will be released prior to the SDSR this year will have to define Britain’s future role and it will need more than just the ‘refresh’ recommended by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Conservative defence representatives so far have been unwilling to speak to IDMA.

There is a consensus that both Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers will be deployed. How and when remains to be seen, but both Labour and the Lib Dems are committed to an interventionist posture centred on carrier strike and an amphibious capability, the latter of which Harvey said is ‘essential’.

However, there is divergence on the nuclear deterrent where the Liberal Democrats can see savings by ending the continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) posture. They would cancel the Successor SSBN programme on which about £1 billion has already been spent.

Instead he proposes five more Astute-class SSNs built one every 30 months over 25 years to stabilise the production run of one class of boat. Successor is expected to take up 35% of the defence budget from 2018-2029. However, Labour is committed to preserving CASD and will look at how that is provided most cost-effectively.

For the Reserves Labour and the Liberal Democrat will look again at the projections. It is unlikely to reach 30,000 and Harvey believes it might be better to lean back into increasing regular numbers. It all depends on what the reserve force is expected to do.

On industry, Harvey wants to focus on high-end technology and high value systems and accepts that warships and less high value work may be conducted overseas. Labour is opposed to any such notion and will preserve UK warship building in all forms, particularly on the Clyde where Scotstoun and Govan are expected to merge with the support of the unions.

Ultimately Labour believes that there will be additional funding available because the way they will run the economy with fewer cuts. Although it won’t be 2% it will be more than current projections and provide additional headroom and try to generate more mass in platforms.

Overall both Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree that de-politicising the defence debate is best to bring in other parties to discuss the issues during the review and maybe in some areas to involve close allies in the process.

LIMA welcomes China, bids adieu to Indonesia before show begins

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) chose LIMA 2015 as the venue for its ‘August 1st’ aerobatic team to debut in its first ever venture outside China into Asia. In the meantime, the Jupiter aerobatic team of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) departed Langkawi the day before the show officially opened following a mid-air collision.

LIMA Jupiter

During an aerobatic rehearsal involving six TNI-AU aircraft on 15 March, two Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KT-1B trainers were lost after they clipped wings and crashed into a house on the ground. However, ‘All four pilots ejected successfully,’ according to a statement issued by show organisers. Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) search and rescue assets attended to the pilots, who were kept in hospital overnight.

Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein said, ‘We’re just glad it wasn’t more serious than it was. All those on the ground are safe.’ This incident prompted the Jupiter team to withdraw its participation in the LIMA show, and the remaining KT-1B aircraft flew home the following day.

In a press conference aboard the frigate KD Jebat, Hishammuddin also revealed that numerous aerobatic teams had requested to attend LIMA 2015, but that not all were allowed to because of security and space constraints.

Although the Indonesian presence was cut short, the PLAAF brought seven Chengdu Aircraft Corporation J-10 fighters in their first foray to Southeast Asia. On their flight from China, they stopped over at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

The J-10s’ presence is all the more intriguing given the RMAF’s long-deferred quest to find a replacement multirole combat aircraft for its ageing MiG-29N fleet. Other contenders with a heavy presence at LIMA are the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen. China has attempted to sell military equipment to Malaysia in the past but has made negligible progress to date.

The PLAAF’s August 1st aerobatic team was supposed to participate in the Singapore Air Show in 2014 but this did not occur as Beijing appeared to develop cold feet at the last minute.

Regional air shows are not immune from such issues. At Airshow China in Zhuhai last November, the Black Eagles aerobatic team of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) was scheduled to appear. However, due to last minute politicking and complaints from the USA, the ROKAF’s T-50B aircraft, a by-product of KAI and Lockheed Martin collaboration, did not attend. The USA was unhappy about these military jets featuring sensitive technology being stationed on Chinese territory.

What next for UK’s military helo fleet?

You know the agenda is regarded as a good news story when the UK MoD holds a media day to trumpet the progress it’s made.

Far from being famous for its open and proactive engagement with the trade press, the ministry nevertheless held a useful event at RAF Benson to highlight the progress achieved in upgrading its helicopter fleet as we were passing the latest issue of Defence Helicopter magazine for press.

You can read the story from our intrepid Staff Reporter Grant Turnbull here, and there are undoubtedly some positive developments worth highlighting.

Following the MoD’s Rotary Wing Strategy in 2009, the government has invested some £6 billion ($8.8 billion) to sustain and improve helicopter capabilities, with significant upgrades implemented across the Chinook, Puma, Merlin and Wildcat fleets.

UK 2

Initial operating capability (IOC) has now been declared for the Puma Mk 2; the Chinook Mk 6; the Wildcat Mk 1/2 (army and navy versions); and the Merlin Mk 2.

‘As a result, UK forces now have new military capabilities that can be deployed around the world, with the Merlin Mk 2 currently delivering vital support in Sierra Leone to tackle the spread of Ebola; the Puma Mk 2 preparing to contribute to NATO’s training and assistance mission in Afghanistan; and the Royal Navy Wildcat deploying for global maritime operations,’ the MoD boasts in a statement.


All but one of the 24 Puma Mk 2s have been delivered following the major modifications undertaken in France and Romania, and the first aircraft has now arrived in Afghanistan, where they are taking over from the Chinooks based at Kabul International Airport.

While the upgrade and modernisation of legacy platforms should always be applauded, the MoD also appears to be playing a bit smarter with its money, with total savings of some £440 million made on the cost of supporting the Chinook, Merlin and Apache fleets over the next five years due to new contracting arrangements.

This includes £150 million in savings made on the recently announced £420 million contract with Boeing for the in-service support of the Chinook fleet.


The next big question for the MoD is how it replaces or upgrades the current Mk 1 Apache fleet – a story that has returned to the headlines in the UK of late because (shock, horror) AgustaWestland may have been doing some lobbying for things to go in its favour.

The MoD said it ‘is due to replace the Mk 1 Apache fleet with 50 latest-generation Apache helicopters with a decision on how to do this expected in spring 2016’.

With former secretary of state for defence Geoff Hoon, who was at the helm of the MoD during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, working as managing director of international business at AgustaWestland, it would be more surprising if discussions weren’t going on behind the scenes and the company meekly waited for the RfP to come out.

While AgustaWestland has been tight-lipped about how it will respond to the RfI for the Attack Helicopter Capability Sustainment Programme, one cost-effective option could well be the remanufacture of current airframes into a Block III-like configuration.

It would be a longer shot for the MoD to contract AgustaWestland to licence-build new AH-64E aircraft. While the enhancements provided by the current WAH-64D Block I fleet have been battle-proven during the Afghan and Libyan campaigns, this came at a significant premium – more than double the price of buying direct from Boeing, according to some estimates.

UK 3

This time around, the UK simply does not have the luxury to ‘gold-plate’ AgustaWestland’s involvement, despite the work it might provide for its Yeovil plant in southern England.

After Prime Minister David Cameron’s lecturing of his NATO counterparts to increase their defence spending to 2% of GDP at the most recent summit in September, it now appears likely the country will fall below the target by 2017.

Defence cuts have already caused current and former service chiefs to squeal that Britain was becoming increasingly incapable of any significant force projection too far from its borders given the number of soldiers, ships and aircraft now available.


If the British Army is set on fielding new AH-64E Apaches, the purchase should be made directly from Boeing to take advantage of the multi-year agreement the company has with the US Army, which includes scope for foreign sales.

The WAH-64D has undeniably performed admirably in Afghanistan, but the current fiscal realities facing the UK means that buying the most sophisticated platform should not be the sole starting point, especially if it is at the expense of the number of aircraft procured.

One more hit for the helicopter junkie

So you wait all year for the launch of a new helicopter and then three come along at once.

At the Heli-Expo exhibition in Orlando we were introduced to the Airbus Helicopters H160 and two new airframes from Composite Helicopters from New Zealand.

The unveiling of any new rotorcraft helicopter always adds a certain spark to Heli-Expo – the world’s biggest helicopter exhibition. While the annual launch of type upgrades may help the helicopter addict make it through the next 12 months, the real hit only comes when the covers come off a long-rumoured new aircraft never before shown to the public.

In 2012 it was the Bell 525 Relentless super medium helicopter that was unveiled at a ceremony straight out of Hollywood. Bell’s unveiling of the 505 Jet Ranger X in 2014 arguably had less impact, since the product had already been formally launched at the previous year’s Paris Air Show.

Like any good product, both aircraft came with a ready-made narrative, which provided insight into Bell’s intentions in the commercial sector and wider trends at play in the market itself.

This year Airbus Helicopters revealed the H160, which was the result of its X4 project to create a successor to the Dauphin/EC155.

3d front view landscape

The H160 launch created quite a stir but was by no means the only surprise of the event as New Zealand company Composite Helicopters International showed two new helicopters to the general public for the first time.

There were also a number of upgrades announced, including the Bell 407GXP, which has already been sold in a 200 aircraft order to Air Methods.

Perhaps most notably, however, was news that Bristow has teamed with AgustaWestland to help develop the AW609 civil tiltrotor, to prepare the aircraft for oil and gas, and SAR duties.

One of the AW609 prototypes even appeared at the show emblazoned in Bristow colours. The CEO described the tiltrotor as the future of point-to-point transportation in hostile environments.

The AW609 developmental programme has been a drawn out affair to say the least: Bell pulled out of the project in 2011 so the involvement of a savvy operator such as Bristow gives the project a boost of credibility.

But back to the H160, and how it fits into the company’s wider transformation into Airbus Helicopters.

You can read our story on the new aircraft here – detail that was provided to Shephard thanks to unprecedented access to a myriad of officials involved in the project in advance of Heli-Expo.

The H160 is intended from the start to contain ‘Airbus DNA’. While this is a vapid piece of marketing-speak, it does point to the development and industrialisation lessons the company has taken from its fixed-wing big brother.

Part of the transformation into Airbus Helicopters resulted in a change of direction for the X4 project – the emphasis was placed on technologies the market needs now, rather than revolutionising the way a helicopter is flown.

Former CEO Lutz Bertling had piled the weight of expectation onto the project stating that the X4 would change the way a helicopter is flown and would not include a traditional cockpit.

AR droite horizontale

Visions abounded of highway in the sky navigation, with all navigation information projected onto the canopy and fly-by-wire (FBW) flight controls making the pilot more of a systems manager than an old fashioned aviator.

Such comments have not made life easier for the management team as they launch a helicopter that still has a traditional cockpit and flight control systems. This is because new CEO Guillume Faury has taken a more pragmatic approach to the positioning of the H160.

He points out that the Helionix avionics suite was not available when the X4 project started and its use allows the company to move towards a common cockpit concept.

While FBW has distinct value for fixed wing operations, especially in relation to fuel efficiency, Faury argues that the benefits to the commercial market where less obvious. It seems the Bell 525 is going to remain the pathfinder for the technology in the civil sector.

Arguably just as ambitious, but more relevant to today’s operators, is the goal of the H160 reaching 95% availability ‘from day one’.

Questions remain about the positioning of the H160 if the weight increase has left a gap in the company’s portfolio. Airbus Helicopters is philosophical about this, arguing it is more about how the capability meets the mission than having an aircraft that sits in every weight class.

Something that cannot be easily measured but which must play a factor at some level when a buyer decides what they want is the look of an aircraft. Here, Airbus has clearly opted for style for style’s sake and the H160 is undeniably a good-looking aircraft.

Chief designer Guillaume Chielens, who has the fabulous title of Head of Design, Style & Loft, told Shephard that you simply ‘cannot measure’ the added value of style and the look of the aircraft.

With the aircraft now unveiled to the world at Heli-Expo, the helicopter industry can of course judge all this for itself. But the company seems to be on the right path with the H160 as a way to erode the AW139’s dominance of the sector.


For AgustaWestland, it used Heli-Expo to unveil a heavier, 7t version of the AW139 and French civil operator Heli-Union was announced as the launch customer. But whether this is enough to fend off the H160’s acceptance onto the market is doubtful.

The number of order announcements during the show appeared to be significantly down on previous years, but with next-generation designs such as the AW609 and H160 inching closers to service, there is going to be no shortage of excitement in the sector in coming years.


8×8 upset in UAE

enigma -The competition for the UAE’s 8×8 vehicle requirement has been shaken up by a new entrant – and it could be a sign of things to come.

Domestic company Emirates Defence Technology (EDT) displayed a new 8×8 design fitted with the BMP-3 turret at IDEX called Enigma that will challenge the international offerings that were also on display.

The UAE have a plan to diversify their industry away from oil and gas and defence is an important part of this. They want to reduce dependency on overseas defence equipment imports and develop their own domestic manufacturing capabilities.

This means that they are likely to select the Enigma design to meet a large portion of their 8×8 requirement. The Enigma vehicle was designed with the help of engineering firm Timoney and if selected will probably be constructed by Tawazun’s Nimr Automotive subsidiary. Nimr has 4×4 and 6×6 vehicles so this would be a first 8×8 for them.

amvHowever, for the international firms – apparently Otokar with the Arma, Patria with the AMV and Nexter with the VBCI are downselected – it will mean a smaller order than planned.

So unless they can come up with a way of meeting the UAE requirement at reduced cost with a large local build element the expected export contract could be almost halved.

Patria had their amphibious variant AMV on show at IDEX with a BMP-3 turret fitted to show what they can do. Furthermore their vehicle has been sold to Malaysia and South Africa, which are building some vehicles locally, and so Patria can expect to be competitive.

But if more countries want to develop this local capability like the UAE then it could reduce the export market for western firms. So what does the future hold and how will international industry react?