Monthly Archives: July 2017

Terror drones

Wilayat Nineveh 2.jpg

A still taken from a video published by the pro-ISIS Amaq news outlet purportedly showcasing insurgent drone operations

It makes sense that unmanned technologies have migrated across the traditional battlefield and into use by a variety of non-state actors and terrorist organisations.

The ease of acquisition and use of such systems has presented organisations such as ISIS capabilities that not too long ago would have been unthinkable, both in terms of intelligence and surveillance gathering, but also increasingly in rudimentary strike roles.

One only has to look at the simple economic value in converting a simple drone that costs no more than a few hundred dollars into relatively stealthy weapon, to see why they can be viewed as a force multiplier by the non-state actor organisations.

Add to that the notion that a successful strike can damage or destroy equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the physical and psychological threats for the soldiers and operators on the ground, and a potent combination is created.

Judging by what we can see from promotional material published by ISIS after operations, a range of payloads are also being developed. These are predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions in the sense that they are unguided, but when dropped from a height of just a couple of hundred metres can still effect significant damage.

Insurgent conversations in the deep web of chat rooms and internet lounges point as well towards the ambition (or perhaps hope, as it is difficult to quantify written words with intent and ability) to deploy chemical and biological payloads.

The notion of a small quadrotor, unheard above the din of ground activities, effectively carrying or becoming a dirty bomb is one forces have to be aware of.

For more on this topic read  ‘In the Wrong Hands’ in the upcoming edition of Unmanned Vehicles where we explore the methods and digital efforts terrorists go to in order to cover their planning efforts.

The week according to Shephard: Week 30

Ripples in the South China Sea

Vietnamese-Chinese relations have been brought to the fore again, as reported Wendell Minnick who also investigates US attempts to navigate political relations and military cooperation with Vietnam.

Wendell analyses the barriers preventing greater US-Vietnamese military cooperation and Vietnam’s complicated relations with China and Russia. Read the full story here.


The Vietnam People’s Navy operates Russian built Gepard-class frigates

The ups and downs of procurement

Furthermore, Gordon Arthur reported that that this week Vietnam announced it has ordered 64 T-90S/SK main battle tanks from Russia as part of the Vietnam People’s Army’s efforts to upgrade its tank fleet.

Moving across the South China Sea, Gordon also reported that the Philippine Air Force’s second quest to acquire a pair of maritime patrol aircraft met with failure after all contenders were disqualified for various reasons. Find out more here.

 In North America, the US Coast Guard has run into a budgetary dilemma as it continues to lack a clear fleet modernisation plan and it remains unclear if the service can afford all the new assets it requires.

Antarctic Icebreaking 2017

USCGC Polar Star

The trouble with modernisation

The US Army is looking to possible M113 upgrades as a recent announcement seems to indicate that the service is still struggling with the future of the M113 personnel carrier and its related family of vehicles.

The Canadian Army is expecting to take delivery of a new soldier electronics suite, reports Grant Turnbull, a sign that the service’s long-delayed soldier modernisation effort is now back on track.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy’s UH-3H Sea Kings have reached the end of the road as the aircraft are reported to be riddled with deficiencies after 55 years of operation. Read more about the problems facing the platform here.

India Sea Kings

Indian Navy Sea King helicopter

Electronic Warfare

The US Army’s increasing focus on electronic warfare continues as it prepares to conduct an EW ‘excursion’ reports Scott Gourley from Texas.

Meanwhile, industry is looking to the future of military-level protection for smartphones as Privoro released its Privacy Guard which has caught the attention of the US special forces community.

As militaries across the world increase their EW capabilities Grant Turnbull looks into some of the developments that are changing the character of war.  

Russian EW exercise - Russian MoD

Russian troops during a recent electronic warfare exercise (Photo: Russian MoD)

Unmanned systems fill the skies

Five Additional ScanEagle UAS will be heading to the Afghan National Security Forces following a $19.6 million award from the US DoD.

However, the proliferation of unmanned systems is not restricted to recognised military forces, as Andrew White writes. While UAVs in the wrong hands represents a significant threat, the defence and security sector continues to mature technology capable of detecting and countering them.

UAVs in the wrong hands

ISIS has adopted unmanned systems into its asymmetric operations (Photo: Screen grab)

Special forces

In an interview with Shephard, the commander of Poland’s Special Operations Component Command discusses the threats faced by Poland and the role its special forces can play in countering them.

On the blog this week read about the Special Operations Forces operators who will be let loose on powerful jet skis in the San Diego Bay.

Poland Special Forces

Polish Special Forces

Meet Megatron, the British Army’s tank transformer

The British Army’s Challenger main battle tank is a beast of a machine. It weighs around 62t (equivalent to 30 large family cars) and sports a huge 120mm gun, and can go up to 35mph on the roughest terrain.

The Challenger 1 saw combat in the first Gulf War and was then superseded by the Challenger 2 in the 1990s, which fought in the 2003 Iraq war and beyond. Its performance during these conflicts has earned the Challenger the title of one of the best tanks of its generation, up there with the US M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2.

But not content with this, the British Army is constantly looking at how it can boost the Challenger 2’s capabilities further.

Here’s where ‘Megatron’ comes in, it’s the army’s nickname for an experimental Challenger tank that is kitted out with a range of new technologies that could eventually be rolled out across the tank fleet.

Challenger 2-Megatron

While not quite being able to transform into a giant alien robot like its namesake, this version is very much a Challenger 2 on steroids. Operated by the Armoured Trials and Development Unit in Bovington, Megatron has been extensively modified compared to its regular Challenger 2 counterparts.

One of the key elements of Megatron is a significant increase in its armour protection, pushing its combat weight up to 75t, making it one of the heaviest, if not the heaviest, tanks in the world. This armour configuration is similar to the Dorchester Level 2 (DL2) package fitted to Challengers deploying to Iraq for Operation Telic.

To protect the crew, the tank is fitted with double-layered explosive reactive armour blocks on the hull, as well as additional armour blocks on the turret. Slat armour, is fitted to protect the rear of the vehicle against RPG attacks, and the underbody is uparmoured to protect against mines and buried IEDs.

One of its most notable external features is its mobile camouflage system, which is essentially an invisibility cloak for both the visible and thermal spectrum. Indeed, this is no ordinary camouflage netting, this MCS is able to mask the vehicle’s heat signature when viewed through thermal binoculars and can even make the tank look like a car or animal.

Challenger 2-Megatron

MCS is also capable of reducing a vehicle’s radar signature, just like the stealth coating on a fighter jet.

Fielding ‘smart’ camo is a growing trend for land forces around the world, particularly with the proliferation of thermal technologies beyond first-tier militaries. The British Army will field this system on their new Ajax vehicles, and it’s likely this fielding will extend to the Challenger.

The US Army has also trialled MCS on its Stryker 8×8 vehicles that are currently stationed in Europe.

Another external feature of Megatron is a comprehensive ECM suite, evidenced by the array of antennas on top of the turret. These effectively jam signals that could be used to trigger a roadside bomb, creating a safety bubble around the vehicle.

Although these new capabilities give the Challenger formidable capabilities, they also present several challenges. Adding so much armour, for instance, weighs the tank down and puts extra strain on vehicle parts, not least the engine and the suspension. Megatron has reportedly been fitted with a new suspension system and a new 1,500hp engine to retain its mobility.

Challenger Megatron 2

But at 75t, the tank becomes ungainly, particularly when it comes to air mobility and utilisation of infrastructure including bridges (military and civil) and roads.

Megatron is just one example of how the British Army is trying to maintain the combat relevance of its ageing tank, with some of the lessons learned likely informing the ongoing Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP).

The LEP, currently in its assessment phase, will see the tank get new sighting systems, gun control equipment and an enhanced electronic architecture and brought up to a ‘Mk2’ standard.

Its rifled 120mm main gun could also be replaced, although that is not a main requirement.

Challenger 2 upgrades are long overdue, with allies such as the US (M1), France (Leclerc) and Germany (Leopard 2) already forging ahead with their own upgrade programmes. Russia and China have also been busy developing their own latest-generation tanks, which have the potential to outmatch western tanks in the not-to-distant future.

Megatron, therefore, is the tank that the British Army needs, sooner rather than later.

Special forces get wet ‘n wild

If being a highly-trained Special Operations Forces (SOF) operator wasn’t cool enough, up to 20 personnel from Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command are to be let loose on powerful jet skis in the San Diego Bay.

On 7 July the NSW Command announced it was searching for a vendor to provide up to 20 of its Basic Training Command staff a five day jet ski course near its San Diego Bay base.

JET SKIS in the Service of Army Special Forces 2 - c

Photo: Hellenic Army General Staff

Incorporating jet ski capabilities into the SOF repertoire is understandable as their high speeds, acceleration and manoeuvrability make the jet ski a viable platform for amphibious operations or operations at sea.

According to the request, the NSW staff will undergo training tailored towards the capabilities of the powerful Kawasaki Ultra 300X Jet Ski, which boasts 1,498cc, 300 horsepower and speeds of up to 100kmh.


The five day programme includes initial training by day within the bay with later progression to open water ocean training at night.

Also covered will be various day and night rescue procedures and safety procedures regarding near shore hazards and ‘non organic seafaring traffic’.

There are significant limitations to the use of jet skis by SOF such as their inability to cope with high waves, wind and swell. A further issue that could hinder their regular deployment could be the noise level produced by powerful engines.

JET SKIS in the Service of Army Special Forces -c

Photo: Hellenic Army General Staff

Other forces known to utilise jet skis include the Greek Special Forces who have incorporated the platform into their SOF capabilities for the planning and execution of amphibious special operations since 2011. According to the Greek Army, teams on jet skis have the ability to rapidly disperse to different areas and later re-assemble using GPS.

So, as NSW trainees tear it up around San Diego Bay, they can be confident of the fact this is essential, operationally-relevant training.


The week according to Shephard: Week 29

British build-up

It was a busy week for UK defence – Michael Fallon, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, spoke to reporter Beth Maundrill at the steel cutting ceremony in Glasgow for the Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigates. According to Fallon, HMS Glasgow’s manufacturing in the UK is demonstrative of the country’s ‘global intent’. Watch the full interview here.


Moving south, fast jets and military helicopters gathered at the weekend for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford. The crowds were not disappointed as they enjoyed displays by the Airbus A400M Atlas, the RAF’s Chinook, the US Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress and U-2 ISR aircraft. To see the impressive displays, watch the full video here.

Meanwhile, MTSN editor Trevor Nash covered the UK’s Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) requirement, which has ratcheted up with Cobham Special Missions signing a teaming agreement with Draken International to pursue this high-profile UK MoD programme.

Draken has now left the Babcock-led team and remaining team members are now reassessing the situation.


Across the Channel, LWI editor Grant Turnbull reported on the new ‘fifth generation’ missile system making its way towards the French Army later this year.

Special forces

In Latin America forces initiated the annual Fuerzas Comando competition in Paraguay. The competition is aimed to improve doctrine, concepts of operation and tactics across the joint operating environment. Read more.

Staying with special forces, our correspondent Andrew White draws our attention to events in the Arctic Circle and high north as he reports on Russian activities in the region and NATO’s response. Read about how NATO is seeking to develop its cold weather capabilities after over a decade of operations in the Middle East here.



Exercising muscle

Meanwhile, after last week’s visit to Hong Kong by China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, the Chinese Navy is currently en route to the Baltic Sea where it will engage in military drills with the Russian Navy.

China has continued its naval expansion with the mass-production of new classes of fighting vessels, increased presence in the South China Sea and this week the opening of its first overseas military base in Djibouti, strategically located on the Gulf of Aden.


PLAN’s Jinan in Hong Kong

In Australia, the USMC’s 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) took part in  Exercise Talisman Saber 2017 where new technologies and equipment were trailed in a large-scale military exercise.

On the blog, a father-son team marked Canada’s 150 years by circumnavigating the world in a Bell 429. The trip is demonstrating the advances in SATCOM technology as the duo share images and videos of their journey in flight as technology companies overcome the disruption caused by rotor blades.


Father and son duo Bob and Steven Dengler in front of the Bell 429 helicopter they’ll be piloting during their journey as the world’s first Canadian helicopter flight team around the world.

Hot off the press: this week Defence Helicopter has gone to press. Editor Helen Haxell takes a look at the CH-53K and V-22 military programmes as well as training helicopters in this edition. Other features include HMDS and crew safety.



Around the world in 650kbps

By Alice Budge and Helen Haxell

Establishing and maintaining reliable satellite connectivity is a major challenge helicopter operators continue to encounter.

The disruption between the helicopter and satellite caused by the rotor blades has made developing SATCOM capabilities for rotorcraft significantly more challenging than for fixed-wing aircraft.

However, industry has made significant progress in responding to this challenge. Over the past few years a wide range of products have been released that use technological advancements in satellite connectivity to overcome the rotor blade disruption.


The C150 Global Odyssey’s Bell 429 helicopter, with connectivity powered by Honeywell’s Aspire 200 satellite communications system and GoDirect Cabin Connectivity.

One such company is Honeywell which has recently had its Aspire 200 satellite communication system certified for installation on the Bell 429 and AW139.

The advances made in SATCOM technology have been demonstrated by the use of the Aspire 200 satellite communications system by the C150 Global Odyssey team, a father-son duo who are circumnavigating the world in a Bell 429 to mark 150 years of Canadian independence. Their route has tested the system’s ability to maintain connectivity in rural areas and cold climates.


Father and son duo Bob and Steven Dengler in front of the Bell 429 helicopter they’ll be piloting during their journey as the world’s first Canadian helicopter flight team around the world.

Other recent advancements in SATCOM technology include Hughes’ demonstration earlier this year with its ability to use Beyond-Line-of-Sight SATCOM to transmit HD video through rotating blades on a NSA 407MRH.

Blue Sky Network is another company to unveil new satellite communication technology through its portable tracking device in tandem with the company’s HELink app to create a portable satellite tracking solution.

The company has  also developed the iOS SkyRouter app which incorporates smart device capability and enable users to connect to the HawkEye7200 using any Apple device. This will provide operators with the ability to send messages or data when Bluetooth is turned on.


Formation flying in Iceland. (Photo: Baldur Sveinsson)

Goodman explained that the Aspire 200 system uses interleaver waveforms to compensate for the interference caused by the rotors by spreading information, ‘the zeros and ones, over a longer space of time to deliver a low error connection’.

‘If a piece of information gets lost in the first transmission the odds are very low that it would get lost in a second transmission,’ he added.

The long burst interleaver technology also provides continued connectivity in extreme climates. This has been tested by the C150 team, which has have flown around Northern Canada, Greenland and will soon travel across Russia and Alaska.


Goodbye, Canada! Next stop: Sisimiut, Greenland. (Photo: C150 Global Odyssey)

This technology has a wide range of applications including for EMS as it will enable the crew to ‘capitalise on that golden hour when a patient is in the helicopter’ and transmit medical data from the helicopter to the hospital to ensure they are prepared upon the patient’s arrival, according to Tom Neumann, VP of operations at BendixKing – a Honeywell subsidiary.

The technology also facilitates VIP clients to utilise real-time video conferencing, Whatsapp and Facebook. This capability has been demonstrated by the C150 Global Odyssey in which the team flying the Bell 429 has been able to provide real-time updates, including images and videos, from the sky.

Ice 3

Narsarsuaq to Kulusuk in Greenland. (Photo: C150 Global Odyssey)

Goodman emphasised Aspire 200’s capabilities, stating that the C150 team has reported that ‘in some very remote northern towns they’ve been staying in, the connectivity on the helicopter is far superior to what they can get on the ground’.

Honeywell is currently pursuing certification for the Aspire 200 on nine additional platforms including AW139, AS350, UH 60, CH 53, S-92 and the Bell 412.

Procurement, production and progress

Heavy lift programmes such as Sikorsky’s CH-53K and Bell-Boeing’s multi-year V-22 project with the US DoD are ticking along, and the companies are optimistic that as progress continues, international interest in the platforms will grow.

As the CH-53K King Stallion enters production, company officials are confident that the USMC Heavy Lift Replacement Program is on track. With initial operating capability scheduled to be achieved by the end of 2019, the aircraft has now exceeded 450 test flight hours.


At the critical design review stage of the programme, the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation FY2016 annual report noted that high temperature issues within the number two engine bay had caused delays. In February, Sikorsky confirmed that measures had been put in place to overcome overheating.

‘[Regarding] the heat on the engine we have already taken two models that have shown that heat dissipating. We’ve got two other designs that are looking at improving it even more,’ Sikorsky’s president Dan Schultz told me, when asked if this issue had any further ramifications for testing points.

The CH-53K King Stallion

‘Right now, we’re back in flight and we are not seeing [the engines] as hot as they were in the beginning. All aircraft that have the third engine have a heat area back there and we’ve been working on that with NAVAIR. So, that is not one of our risk areas.’

Discussions with the German government are currently focused on pricing of a potential order for 41 CH-53K helicopters to replace the incumbent CH-53G variant. Schultz argued that when Germany makes its decision, the company will be ready, with the King Stallion expected to be in full production by that point.

Angel Thunder 2015: German Air Force participates in MASCAL Exercise

One of the key developments of the K-model is the size of the back end of the aircraft, which is 30cm wider than its predecessor, the Super Stallion, at the request of the USMC. ‘When you think of the back end of a 53K, forget about all the best flight avionics or best performance – all those kinds of things – the back end is 12in wider… that’s a big difference to the guys on the ground,’ Shultz said.

Pitching itself further as an international military supplier, Bell Helicopter has highlighted imminent deliveries of its offerings across Asia. The company will see the first V-22 deliveries to Japan in September/October this year, while the AH-1Z Viper will start to be delivered to Pakistan in earnest soon.

Up, Up, and away

Rich Harris, VP of international military sales at Bell, explained to journalists at the Paris Air Show that it was the first FMS of the AH-1 attack helicopter in 20 years. The Pakistan Army will take receipt of the first three aircraft this year. While little timeline detail was provided, Harris did confirm that these were currently being finished on the assembly line in Amarillo, Texas.

Placed in 2015, the order for 12 Vipers will see the remaining nine delivered in 2018. At this stage, while it has not been decided whether delivery will be in batches of three or more, the final units will be received by Pakistan 18 months from now, Harris confirmed at the show in June.

Any Time. Any Place.

The V-22 programme has so far seen 295 of 360 aircraft delivered to the USMC. In total, 347 V-22s have been delivered, including 52 in the USAF CV configuration. The aircraft has surpassed more than 350,000 flight hours.

In a plan announced in mid-2015 the USAF will deploy three CV-22 Ospreys to Japan in the second half of this year, with seven more scheduled to arrive by 2021.

With the company looking to accelerate efforts to promote its military portfolio outside of the US the prospect of a NATO sharing concept could stretch the reach of the OEM’s military aircraft. Harris explained that at this stage Bell is excited about this opportunity with a prospective joint asset such as the V-22.

For more on military helicopter procurement, platform production and progress with current programmes see the July-August edition of DH.

« Older Entries