Monthly Archives: August 2016

Taiwan repels Chinese invasion

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Han Kuang is a field training exercise that occurs annually in Taiwan, and it sees the majority of the country’s 210,000 military personnel mobilised.

This exercise has one purpose – to practise repelling an invasion by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). While the militaries of many countries consider numerous threats and scenarios, Taiwan need consider only one – its nemesis across the Taiwan Strait.

There is no political correctness needed here. Taiwan knows who its adversary is, and all its capabilities are designed to repel China. After all, Beijing has not renounced the use of force to reunite the ‘renegade province’ of Taiwan with the mainland, and it has hundreds of missiles aimed at the island.

9N5A0898This year’s Han Kuang exercise, the 32nd in the series, was conducted from 22-26 August, during which some 1,072 tests were completed. This figure included 31 relating to countering cyber attacks, a favoured tactic of the PLA.

Taichung always features highly in Han Kuang exercises, as the port city halfway down the west coast of Taiwan has an extremely high strategic value. If the PLA were to capture it after crossing the rough seas of the Taiwan Strait, a rapid build-up of forces could soon see the island could be split in half.

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Chinese troops could move north to capture the political and military nerve centre of Taipei, or south to the port city of Kaohsiung.

After the accidental firing of a Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missile on 1 July, and a CM11 tank rollover that killed four crewmen a week before the exercise kicked off, Taiwan’s military tried hard to create a good impression with this large-scale joint exercise.

For example, the 564th Armoured Brigade hosted an air-land joint exercise in Pingtung in the far south. It featured 1,297 personnel in total, and nearly 8,000 rounds of ammunition of 24 different types were expended.

A key highlight of this year’s exercise was the first-time integration of Boeing AH-64E Apache and Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters side by side. Taiwan acquired 30 of the former (one later crashed) and is in the process of receiving 60 of the latter.

Domestically built equipment featured strongly in Han Kuang too. A Chung Shyang II UAV fed data to participants, while the truck-mounted Point Defence Array Radar System (PODARS) also participated, as did numerous CM33 8×8 APCs.

President Tsai Ing-wen attended the live-fire event, her first time in the capacity as national leader. Donning a helmet and ballistic vest, she stated to assembled military leaders, ‘I hope we can all make use of innovative thinking to build an upgraded military.’

She directed commanders to map out a new military strategy by January 2017 for the armed forces. The military faces severe challenges, including a declining birth rate that means there are not enough volunteers to join the armed forces. This has forced postponement of the cancellation of national conscription.

9N5A1284Another challenge is a defence budget that cannot hope to compete with China. Thus, the capability gap between the PLA and the Republic of China Armed Forces is widening alarmingly.

‘The challenges Taiwan’s defence forces face stem from structural restrictions both outside and inside the military,’ Tsai said. ‘The military will improve if it faces its problems head on. Reform will be achieved if everyone works together, despite the challenges,’ she promised.

It will thus be interesting to see what changes occur in national defence strategy as they begin emerging next year.

In the meantime, Han Kuang seemed to have a successful outcome this year… Taiwan remains under the control of Taipei rather than Beijing!

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The art of flying: Or how to lose friends and alienate people

This week BALPA released seven reasons not to be scared of flying as Brits go on their holidays this August Bank Holiday weekend.

BALPA sought to address the anxiety of nervous flyers, reassuring them about turbulence and stating that it was highly unlikely for a modern aircraft to be brought down by it – although to always wear a seat belt when seated.

‘More than 3.5 billion people flew safely on 37.6 million flights last year and there were only four fatal accidents,’ the BALPA release noted.

Here at Shephard we are adept at flying as we attend shows across the globe from Eurosatory 2016 in Paris, DIMDEX in Doha to FIDAE in Santiago, Chile [we have more shows coming up, including AUSA in Washington DC, Helitech International 2016 in Amsterdam and MSPO in Poland: see www.shephardmedia.com for further details – ed].

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Therefore, things like turbulence over the Atlantic or storms as you travel across the Pacific are small fly to us.

However, during a group therapy session at Shephard Towers, we have shared our top five bugbears (in no particular order) when flying. If you would like to contribute to the list, please do make your suggestions in the comment box below.

1.The toilet – The reasons for why are endless – like the queue when there’s 30 minutes till landing. Like the time one of our journos went to the toilet forgetting they had taken their shoes off only to stand in an ominous puddle. On one long haul flight to the States, Shephard had to come to the rescue when people struggled to understand the mechanics of the toilet door once inside the cubicle.

‘They kept pushing the door, thinking they were stuck. Sitting by the toilet, I had to save each one, telling them to step back from the door so it opens. They thought I was some kind of engineering genius.’

2. People – Hell is other people on a ten-hour flight – whether they are reclining and making you spill your Stella Artois onto your lap or they have a child that either looks at you through the seats or howls the whole journey.

Passengers on aircraft are challenging beings: taking off socks as well as shoes, loud eaters, the utilisation of a Ped-egg on one’s feet is something that cannot be unseen, and the shoving in of overhead luggage.

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Overhead luggage is like a game of chess. Bet her fellow passengers aren’t smiling.

3. Food – Nothing is more satisfying at 30,000ft than a dried roll, limp-looking lettuce and a plastic ham sandwich. Man on the moon? Simple. Aerodynamic aluminium carrying up to a few hundred people? Done. Non-dry, unpalatable, plastic food made tasty and appetising – it’s an evolution not a revolution.

4. Cabin crew – With the utmost respect to those that service us in the sky in a challenging environment that smells of stale eggs an hour in. Sometimes a surly cabin crew can bring a damper on our excitement of travelling to faraway lands reporting on military logistics or recent procurements and acquisitions. Service with a smile is always welcome.

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5. Ourselves – There’s nothing worse than having a soirée the night before to let loose after a physically and ‘journalistically’ challenging show to then get on board a plane feeling ruff [#national dog day], watching the same films on repeat like Toy Story 3 and general restlessness as the journey edges into its nine hours across time zones enforcing the loss of a day in the process before returning to work the next day.

Gallery: Taiwan’s shiny new Black Hawks

Our Asia-Pacific editor (and all round nice bloke) Gordon Arthur has been in Taiwan this week to watch the country’s annual Han Kuang war games. While there, he’s managed to get some fantastic shots of the Republic of China Army’s (ROCA) newest aviation asset, the UH-60M Black Hawk.

For indepth coverage of Taiwan’s Han Kuang exercise, see Gordon’s full story here.

From a total of 60 UH-60M ordered, the army will eventually receive 45 and the rest will go to the National Airborne Service Corps (NASC), which performs non-military missions. The NASC Black Hawks are currently sporting a very trendy red paint scheme but in wartime it would be repainted black and additional military kit fitted.

Here’s a selection of photos, all copyright to Gordon Arthur and Shephard Media.

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One service to rule them all

 

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Middle Earth is set to become the site of the first pizza drone delivery service, in a move widely expected to be welcomed in towns from Hamilton to Hobbiton, Auckland to Andúnië.

Announced on 25 August the disappointingly normal-sounding Simon Bridges, transport minister across the seven kingdoms, said that the area known as New Zealand will host the world-first trial of the new service.

Subject to obtaining the appropriate approvals, the trial is expected to get underway later this year.

The prospect of stone baked, oven fresh pizza being delivered from the skies follows the joining of forces of Domino’s and UAS provider Flirtey.

Indeed, given that Quill likes to talk about UAV legislation (almost as you like reading about it) it’s worth mentioning that the announcement of pizza delivery comes a few weeks after new aviation rules came into force to regulate and enable a greater use of UAS for ‘recreational and commercial purposes in New Zealand’.

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‘The trial is also a valuable opportunity for the Civil Aviation Authority, who are making sure that appropriate safety precautions are taken,’ Bridges says.

Quill can well imagine.

One wonders how far this trial will be extended, how many systems used in unison and the amount of orders placed at any one time? How will the pizza look after the drone swerves to avoid a flock of giant eagles, cheese and tomato smeared into one slowly cooling nightmarish mass?

The prospect of a swarm of drones taking to the skies with hundreds of Napolitanos, Hawaiians and Veggie Delights in some bizarre 21st century re-enactment of the Berlin air lift by hungry college kids is clearly one we have to Riverndwell on.

Not satisfied with that, the New Zealand Government also stated that they had reviewed laws for driverless vehicles that could also present the possibility of Domino’s land delivery going unmanned as well.

But then, how will the pizza get to the front door? UGV? Technology knows no bounds.

Strong is the force in unmanned pizza delivery.

What’s what? Wrong analogy?

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First for Forth

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As the first of the new Batch 2 River-class OPVs leaves the BAE construction hall at Govan, the vessel’s operational picture is coming increasingly into focus.

We’ve discussed the class extensively here at Quill and elsewhere, so rather than get into the ‘Do we, don’t we?’ narrative, it might be perhaps better to detail what we know so far.

It is clear now for example that HMS Forth and her sister ship, either in construction or planned, will replace the older Batch 1 when they come into service. Five of the new vessels will be built and put into service, three likely as primarily fisheries patrol around the UK (and possibly playing a bit more with the UK Border Force), while another one has been earmarked for the Falkland Islands.

This leaves one going spare, that is to say, available for overseas deployment.

What about the options then? Well sure, you can start throwing darts at a map probably hit a patch of blue that could probably do with an OPV bearing a white ensign. However, these are not warships, but rather capable security cutters.

Adding a patrol boat to the deployment east of Suez won’t make a bit of difference to the strategic makeup of coalition/allied forces there. Indeed the near-twin but vastly more capable Khareef’s or other GCC capabilities, were they able to be brought into the CMF structure, are better options.

It’s unlikely that such small vessels would be able to be deployed farther east either and again would only represent a diplomatic token, although as we earlier stated, this is no bad thing in itself.

Leaving two possible locations: Gibraltar or the north Atlantic patrol.

Basing a River (B2) in the Mediterranean does connect most of the dots but not for the tub thumping reasons one might think. The Rock’s sovereignty aside, this souped-up coast guard cutter would play its part in monitoring and countering illegal migration from Libya, but then again with the impending consequences of Brexit does this matter to the UK Government?

As a non-EU state, it might be difficult to integrate Her Majesty’s Ships into EUNAVFORMED unless it operated on an associate level. How much intelligence and operational planning it would be party to would be up in the air.

The north Atlantic patrol is a standing task for the RN but one that has been a variety of vessels used to fulfil it, from frigates, to OPVs, destroyers to RFA’s.

Bermuda anyone?

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Buy an ex-Royal Navy Lynx on eBay

Everyone knows eBay can be a great place to pick up a bargain. Usually it’s things like an old bike or an electric guitar but someone – going by the name of ‘vwinme‘ – has decided its a good place to flog their ex-Royal Navy Westland Lynx HAS.3S.

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The price for XZ727 is currently at £32,999 with 28 days left to go. It apparently includes a full interior, logs and documentation but unfortunately no engines, although they are available ‘by negotiation’.

It could apparently make a good ‘gate guardian’, according to the seller. I, for one, would love to put this out on the lawn, though I’m not sure the neighbours would share my enthusiasm for a piece of Royal Navy rotorcraft history.

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According to information provided by the seller, XZ727 was built in 1980 (C/No 199) and was subsequently upgraded to the HAS.3S standard. During its service life it served on both 815 and 702 Naval Air Squadrons, with the former it deployed on HMS Liverpool. The airframe was also the Royal Navy Display Lynx during some of its service.

The helicopter does not contain any sensitive technology but cannot be taken outside of the UK because of export laws.

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So what are you waiting for? If you want to bid, the link to the eBay listing is here.

 

Dangerous skies

The past few months have once again highlighted the dangers of flying helicopters in a war zone. The Russian Air Force has suffered two catastrophic helicopter losses in Syria, one Mi-25 and a Mi-8AMTSh, along with several fatalities.

The fog of war, and inevitable Russian secrecy, means that the cause of both crashes remains unknown, although reports suggest both were shot down.

The shooting down of the Mi-8AMTSh, apparently on a humanitarian mission, is particularly noteworthy and provides some food for thought. Mainly, that despite it being fitted with a state-of-the-art self-protection suite – known as President-S – that can counter heat-seeking missiles, it still succumbed to ground fire, most likely from one or several heavy calibre machine guns fired by rebel forces.

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A still from a video showing the crashed Russian Mi-8AMTSh in Syria

The incident shows that no matter how sophisticated your EW technology, it often can’t protect against even the most basic of anti-aircraft weaponry.

Of course, this is not just a problem for Russian forces in Syria, but militaries across the world. The US experienced one of its worst losses in Afghanistan when an RPG hit a CH-47 Chinook in 2011, killing 38 personnel including a significant number of SF operators.

Is the answer to add more systems that can protect against unguided threats? Ideally, yes. Industry has already proposed several solutions including hostile fire indicators and even a hard-kill solution, like those being developed for armoured vehicles. Some of the technology is already being rolled out, along with advanced laser-based technologies that can protect against heat-seeking missiles.

Here lies the problem: many frontline helicopters are now at the limit of their performance capabilities thanks to years of bolting on equipment, without upgrading powerplants.

For some platforms, any additional equipment is likely to severely degrade the aircraft’s performance further, with many helicopters today already struggling in hot and high conditions. Regions of the world that are mountainous or in hotter climates are becoming inaccessible.

Every new piece of technology also takes up valuable payload capacity, often translating into fewer weapons or soldiers being carried or a reduction in range.

The US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, for example, is now over a ton heavier than when it first entered service because of the addition of various equipment, mainly during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

If trends continue, it would mean that by 2020 it would take between 15 to 20 helicopters to move a single platoon. That is an unrealistic prospect. The weight problem extends to other US Army platforms as well, including the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

Now, some militaries find themselves in a situation where even if they wanted to add equipment to increase survivability, they can’t. Those responsible for making equipment decisions have to make an unenviable choice between potentially degrading performance and payload, or increasing survivability.

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Platforms such as the AH-64 will eventually need an engine upgrade to cope with more equipment (Photo: US Army)

Manufacturers are responding by reducing size, weight and power of equipment, but not nearly at the pace that some militaries desire.

Many current generation helicopters will have to gain more engine power to incorporate additional equipment. Boosting power ensures platforms can integrate more systems when the operational environment demands it.

The Royal Air Force, for instance, has upgraded the engines on its Puma HC2 helicopter, allowing it to deploy to the hot and high environments such as Kabul, Afghanistan.

The US Army is planning to upgrade the engines in the Black Hawk and Apache, as part of the Improved Turbine Engine Program. The new 3,000hp engine will provide 50% more power at the same weight of the current engines, according to the service.

This will ultimately allow the integration of more protection systems and may be one way to avoid a similar incident to the Russian helicopter losses in Syria, particularly as western forces are still operating in conflict zones across the world.

What needs to be avoided is simply adding more equipment to protect the crew, without thinking about decreasing power margins or the effect on the helicopter’s performance in the long term.

We delve further into self-protection for combat helicopters in the upcoming September/October edition of Defence Helicopter.

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