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The world according to Shephard: Week 41

Shephard’s AUSA team has had a fantastic week in Washington DC, reporting on all the latest military technology, innovations, conferences and much more. Find all Shephard’s AUSA coverage here.

Uncertain times

It was a ballistic start to the week as the US announced it had approved a potential sale of THAAD systems and support services worth $15 billion to Saudi Arabia. The region is no stranger to instability and political uncertainty but with civil wars in Yemen and Syria raging on, a diplomatic rift between Gulf nations and an increasingly bellicose Iran, Saudi Arabia is taking no chances.

The sale would boost Saudi Arabia’s missile defence capabilities and emerges at the same time as the country seeks to close a deal with Russia for the delivery of the S-400 (SA-21 Growler) long range air and missile defence system as part of a wider $3 billion arms package.

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Meanwhile, the heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula are starting to stir concerns among members of UK Parliament, who this week questioned leading academics on what role the UK could play in the crisis. Speaking at the House of Commons Defence Committee, Nicholas Kitchen, LSE, offered some enlightening parallels with the Vietnam War.

Looking to the east, where European nations continue to formulate their response to Russia’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric and activities. Romania’s approach has been to significantly increase its defence budget establish a Special Operations Command, part of a wider effort to enable Romanian SOF to respond more rapidly to situations emerging from the ‘frozen conflict’ in eastern Europe.

Romanian forces, public 'Open Gates' to US Allies

The highs and lows of autonomous technology  

NAVSEA has had a change of heart regarding its Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic Systems (AEODRS) programme, cancelling solicitations for Increments 2 and 3 sighting changing requirements and budget restraints.

In a speech at the RAeS, president of Hélicoptères Guimbal, Bruno Guimbal made his opinion of the likes of Uber and Airbus’ unmanned helicopter taxi ventures very clear, describing them as ‘purely marketing and promotion’.

Instead, he believes the VSR700, derived from his company’s Cabri G2, could well be the first certified autonomous light helicopter.

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India’s Central Reserve Police Force has issued an expression of interest and RfPs for 150 mini-UAVs and 300 micro-UAVs on an urgent basis to be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and detection as Indian police forces tackle border incursions and a home-grown insurgency.

The peacekeepers’ new Guardian

Malaysian peacekeepers in Lebanon will see their fleet of 46 4×4 Condor APCs replaced with IAG Guardian APCs. Nine Guardian APCs will arrive in Lebanon in mid-December and be operational by the new year in the first step towards replacing the entire Condor APC fleet in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Army publicly displayed a prototype of the Kaplan medium tank for the first time at the 72nd anniversary parade of the armed forces. The medium tank is being developed under a joint venture between Turkey’s FNSS and Indonesia’s state-owned PT Pindad.

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OPVs, LSVs and LCS

Frigates and OPVs took centre stage at the Pacific International Maritime Exposition in Sydney last week, with Project Sea 5000 and Sea 1180 shortlisted to three contenders each. The three frigate contenders, BAE systems Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Fincantieri FREMM-A and Navantia F-5000, each presented their designs during a conference at the event.

Lockheed Martin and Austal USA have been awarded contract modifications to build additional littoral combat ships (LCS) for the US Navy. Both contracts are valued according to the congressional cost cap of $584 million per ship; however, the specific award amount has not yet been made public.

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And in Honduras the logistics support vessel (BAL-C) FNH-1611 Gracias a Dios built for the Honduran Naval Force was launched. The vessel is based on the Amphibious Landing Vessel designed and built for the Colombian Navy and was constructed in just ten months.

A fake news radar?

Reports of an apparent breakthrough in anti-stealth radar technology in Chinese-language media in Hong Kong and China turn out to be no more than a work of fiction. Wendell Minnick looked into the reports and found that the new ‘terahertz radar’ is probably not quite what it seems.

 

In search of a role: the UK in the North Korea crisis

UK politicians are scrambling to understand Trump’s North Korea strategy, if one exists, and the implications it poses for UK foreign policy in the region.

‘What if’ questions from MPs on the crisis with North Korea and the role the UK could play heavily dominated a meeting of the House of Commons Defence Committee on 10 October.

Dana Allin, senior fellow, IISS, and Nicholas Kitchen, associate professorial research fellow, LSE, attempted to make sense of the rather vague, theoretical questioning, with Dr Kitchen at one stage commenting of ‘a lot of undefined variables in this hypothetical’.

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A top concern for MPs appeared to be that should the US pursue military action against North Korea it would have a clear expectation that the UK would provide tangible military assistance to the effort.

The response from Dr Kitchen: ‘I’m not sure what the specific military contribution would be… the US has allies in the region and its own Pacific fleet in the region… there’s not much point in making a symbolic gesture.’

As the UK possesses no permanent military presence in the Asia Pacific region, and has not since the 1970s, it is unclear what exactly the tangible UK military capabilities the MPs had in mind to offer.

A further concern on the minds of some committee members was that if the UK commits to conflicting approach to the crisis than the US, i.e. support for diplomacy over military action, would this lead to a schism in the ‘special relationship’.

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This appeared to be far less of a concern for Kitchen, who stated: ‘The UK was happy to stay out of the Vietnam War, a closer analogy to what might take place on the Korean peninsula.’

While, Allin conceded that in the event of US military action there may be an expectation for the UK to provide support, he doubted the failure to do so would cause long term damage to the partnership.

‘There would be a national tendency in America to expect, or at least hope, the UK would participate. But we had a similar situation in regard to the Iraq war with other allies and those relationships were patched up rather quickly afterwards,’ he said.

As tensions mount and the unpredictable protagonists continue their war of words, UK politicians are searching for their role in the crisis, despite the reality that UK influence on the US’ North Korea policy appears to be marginal at best.

The world according to Shephard: Week 40

 

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The Shephard team has had a great week reporting from Helitech International 2017 on the ups and the downs of the commercial rotorcraft industry. Full coverage of the exhibition is available here

The team is now preparing to jet off to AUSA which will take place in Washington DC next week. Keep up with all the latest developments here

 

Chinese plots and Taiwanese arms 

‘How viable are the Chinese invasion plans laid out in a new study published earlier this week,’ asks Wendell Minnick.  The study, entitled ‘The Chinese Invasion Threat’, uses Chinese-language government papers, many written by members of the People’s Liberation Army, on how to unify the ‘renegade province’ of Taiwan into China.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has announced it will initiate a research process to upgrade its M60A3 TTS MBT fleet. The decision to pursue its secondary option of modernising its M60A3 comes after a long and fruitless period of seeking US-built M1 Abrams tanks.

Around the world in armoured vehicles 

Taiwan has also ordered a total of 285 30mm cannons from Orbital ATK to be installed on an IFV variant of the domestically manufactured Clouded Leopard 8×8 armoured vehicle. The $112million contract is for the MK44 Bushmaster II 30mm cannon.

In Thailand, the Royal Thai Navy has begun deploying its new HMV-150 4×4 armoured vehicle to the country’s southern province of Narathiwat for patrols and other security operations.

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While new Tiger 4×4 vehicles have been delivered to the Somali National Army from China as part of a sweetener deal from Beijing to increase their influence in the Horn of Africa. The initial instalment of 32 light armoured vehicles is part of a gift from China which is reported to also include a considerable cash donation, according to Tim Fish in Mogadishu.

Armoured vehicles are not just on the move in Asia, as Latvia received its first examples of second-hand M109 self-propelled howitzers from Austria and will take part in the country’s annual military parade on 18 November.

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Russia has launched a large-scale BMP-2 and BMD-2 upgrade programme. The Russian MoD and KBP signed a contract covering the upgrade and refurbishment of around 540 tracked IFVs and will include the integration of the new B05Ya01 Berezhok turret developed by KBP.

US military tests and invests

The US military has awarded a spate of contracts for unmanned systems in recent weeks, including a $100 million firm-fixed-price contract with Endeavor Robotics for the Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II. The programme will see the US Army provided with a medium-sized common robotic platform.

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At the Modern Day Marine exposition in Quantico, Virginia, companies such as BAE Systems and HDT Global have been discussing and displaying their latest military products. Read more news from the exposition here.

Headline products include a command and control variant of BAE Systems’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle, which is currently in engineering and manufacturing development, and a new Lightweight Expeditionary Bridge designed by HDT Global. The company has a few prototypes currently in testing with the US Marine Corps and has also shown the design to the US Army.

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Aviation ambitions

Staying in the US, the CAE Dothan Training Centre located at Dothan Regional Airport in Alabama is preparing to undergo the final phase of development after opening in March 2017. Today, 260 US Army and 70 US Air Force students have graduated from the seven courses provided by the company.

A senior Taiwan military delegation visited Washington to present a high-level briefing to the US government on Taiwan’s need for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning fighter. The briefing was requested by the US government to clarify past enquiries by Taiwan for its need of a stealth fighter.

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Patrolling the seas

Gravois Aluminium Boats, through its Metal Shark subsidiary has been awarded a near $30 million contract for the construction of up to 50 patrol boats for the US Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC). Gravois and Metal Shark competed against six other offers for the contract to produce the US Navy’s next generation patrol boat, the PB(X).

The Nigerian Navy is also expanding its maritime security capabilities after it commissioned into service two new FPB 72 Mk II patrol vessels built by French shipyard OCEA. The vessels underwent sea and acceptance trials in France before being handed over to the Nigerian Navy as part of an effort to crackdown on illegal activities at sea.

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The world according to Shephard: Week 39

Firepower of all shapes and sizes

As tensions continue to run high on the Korean peninsula, Japan has begun to rethink its ballistic missile defence (BMD) approach as it now eyes Aegis Ashore. Read more here about the challenges facing Japan as it seeks to defend itself against escalating regional tensions.

Recent images have revealed that the Czech Republic is a major supplier of heavy weapons to Azerbaijan. Images released by the Azerbaijan MoD show the Czech-made Dana-M1CZ 152mm SPH and RM-70 Vampir 122mm MLRS during large-scale exercises held by the Azerbaijani military in late September.

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines has issued a contract to Glock Asia Pacific to supply it with 74,861 Glock 7 Gen4 9mm pistols and an identical number of holsters. The contract, valued at $24.3 million, will see the first batch of 35,000 weapons delivered with 180 days with the second batch delivered within a further 90 days.

UAV popularity persists

Staying in the Philippines, the army has requested several tiers of new UAVs to boost its ISR capabilities, while the US has contracted a further batch of six ScanEagle tactical UAV systems for Manila. The Philippines armed forces are also acquiring trailer-mounted pneumatic launchers and SkyHook recovery devices.

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Meanwhile the German Army’s Special Forces Command is also expanding its ISR assets following the procurement of nano UAS personal reconnaissance systems. The Calw-based command will receive up to a dozen PD-100 Black Hornet nano UAS and will fulfil an operational requirement for an organic ‘over-the-hill’ ISR-gathering micro UAS capability.

However, demand for UAVs is not driven only by defence acquisitions as Beth Maundrill discusses in her blog on the strength of the commercial unmanned market. She reports that defence companies are expected to make a bigger splash in the civil market. Read more here.

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Better late than never

The Indian Navy has finally received its first Scorpene, five years behind schedule. The first of six Scorpene diesel-electric submarines being licence-built for the Indian Navy has been delivered. The Project 75 programme to build six Scorpene submarines has been fraught with difficulties and delays, Gordon Arthur reports.

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The future of warfare

In Afghanistan the future of warfare may be increasingly dominated by private military corporations, as one controversial proposal for the next phase of the American-led war would see 5,500 private contractors put in charge of advising the Afghan military.

The idea is the brainchild of former Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who claims his proposal would save both American troops’ lives and the government $30 billion dollars a year.

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One trend in the future nature of warfare is clear – marines are increasingly deploying in small groups in remote and primitive areas, complicating operational logistics.

As a result the Expeditionary Energy Office is currently searching for a solution to the problem by reducing fuel and water demands through the use of hybrid power solutions and improved distribution.

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Finally, the warfighters will increasingly utilise technology developed in the commercial sector. One such example is Gotenna, who is releasing a military variant of its mesh networking tactical radio.

The Gotenna family of products integrate with smart phones to allow direct communication and have already been used by organisations including US Army Special Forces Groups.

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Following a great week at DSEI, which saw thousands of exhibitors come together across two enormous exhibition halls, Grant Turnbull gives his verdict on ‘the movers and shakers’ of the show.

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The world according to Shephard: Week 36

This week Grant Turnbull and Richard Thomas have been in Poland for MSPO. You can read all the latest news from the event here

Helicopter orders fly in

MD Helicopters was awarded a huge $1.38 billion contract for 150 MD 530F Cayuse Warrior helicopters. The initial 30 are bound for Afghanistan to boost the air force’s current fleet of 27 Cayuse Warriors. This comes as the Afghan Air Force, under guidance and funding from the US DoD, is undergoing a transition from Russian-built helicopters to US-manufactured aircraft.

Another significant helicopter deal this week was received by HAL for 41 Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), primarily destined for the Indian Army. The deal is worth $951 million and includes 18 Dhruv-WSI armed variants. However, the Dhruv has suffered a number of crashes in recent months, the latest occurring on the 5 September.

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On the blog, Helen Haxell provides some insight into the recent return to strength of the civil helicopter sector. She takes a look at the impressive recovery of platforms such as the H225 and the Bell 525 Relentless, as well as discussing the new technology OEMs have been experimenting with.

The tanks roll in

Russia is continuing to invest in land modernisation as the Russian MoD inked several high value contracts for new or upgraded equipment in late August, report Alex Mladenov and Krassimir Grozev in Sofia. Twenty-three contracts were signed with as many as 17 Russian defence companies receiving new orders worth an estimated $2.9 billion. The biggest share of new orders was given to main battle tank (MBT) manufacturer Uralvagonzavod, for the delivery of newly-built T-90M MBTs.

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Meanwhile, the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGDF) has been showing off its land capabilities at the Fuji Firepower demonstration. The JGDF performed a mobility demonstration of one of its new BAE Systems AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles for the first time.

Also on show was a prototype of the new Type 16 Manoeuvre Combat Vehicle (16MCV). The Ministry of Defence is procuring 99 vehicles by March 2019 with the aim of deploying the vehicle in rapid deployment regiments by March 2018.

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US Special Forces out and about

The Science and Technology Directorate at US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has identified future SOF C4 needs. It’s vision is ‘to discover, enable and transition technologies to provide asymmetric advantage for Special Operations Forces (SOF).’ Specific technology areas of interest have been identified in an effort to accelerate the delivery of innovative capabilities to the SOF warfighter. Read more about SOF’s ambitions here.

In the Philippines, US SOF forces have been assisting the Philippine military in their battle against Islamist insurgents in Marawi. Gordon Arthur reports that the US closure of Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines in 2015 appears to have been premature in light of the vicious months-long fighting against the Maute separatists who are linked with ISIS.

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China acts, ASEAN talks

Staying in the region, an agreement was reached in August for a ‘framework’ Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea  during the 7th East Asian Summit Foreign Minsters’ Meeting. Described by Wendell Minnick as lacking fortitude, the COC is a code for state behaviour pending the settlement of disputes over sovereignty of land features and the delimitation of maritime zones. He added commented that, ‘all ASEAN and China did was reiterate general principles that they had already agreed to 15 years ago.’

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In the meantime China’s naval expansion continues as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned its largest naval supply ship to date. The Type 901 fast supply ship has a displacement of approximately 45,000t. Gordon said that ‘as the PLAN ventures further afield, the navy will require more capable and larger numbers of such auxiliary vessels.’

Greater clarity has also begun to emerge about the radical restructuring of China’s airborne air force. The airborne formation is a rapid reaction unit held in readiness for expeditionary or mobile tasks within China and increasingly for overseas contingencies. The restructuring is part of an effort to improve manoeuvring capability and extend their reach to ‘destinations in every theatre.’

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Pre-DSEI highlights

Let the DSEI madness commence – take a look at what to look forward to at DSEI next week.

Shephard’s full show coverage throughout the week is available here.

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Let the DSEI madness commence

DSEI is almost upon us and everyone from exhibitors to journalists (and protesters) begin their preparations for the week-long show.

As global defence spending is on track to continue on its upward path, this years’ exhibition is expected to be the biggest yet.

Over 1,600 exhibitors and 34,000 visitors from 120 countries are expected to descend on the Excel Centre and the Shephard journalists’ schedules are packed full.

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The scope of exhibitors continues to expand and this year the importance of innovative technologies, from UAS swarm systems to 3D printing, will be reflected with a new innovation hub forming part of the inaugural Joint Zone, which will be nestled between the colossus land, air and naval zones.

The land zone alone has expanded by 52% and is offering a packed agenda of speakers throughout the event on a wide variety of topics. This includes a keynote address from General Sir Nicholas Carter, chief of the general staff.

Some of the focus in the land zone will be on the continuing threat from Russia and the impact it is having on European defence spending. Many nations are upgrading and bolstering their armoured vehicle capabilities, such as Germany, France and the UK who are all upgrading vehicles or embarking on modernisation programmes, such as the UK’s MBT fleet upgrade.

 

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Over in the naval zone, announcements on new frigate designs are hotly anticipated by Beth Maundrill who expects the industry to be a buzz following Wednesday’s release of the national shipbuilding strategy which could see BMT and Babcock go head-to-head on the design contract.

Seven warships will be on display at the exhibition, including HMS Argyll, the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Duke class frigate; HMS Puncher, a Royal navy Archer class patrol vessel; and BNS Pollux, a Belgian Navy ops vessel.

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The air zone will host a static display of over ten aircraft, demonstrating some the latest advances in avionics. In news celebrated by Shephard’s rotary editor, Helen Haxell, the display will be dominated by defence helicopters, including Chinook, Apache, Wildcat and Merlin.

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In reflection of the current instability that is gripping world politics and the evolving nature of warfare and security threats, the security zone has been expanded to include an exciting cocktail of exhibitions on a wide range of topics.

These include the challenges of mass migration, next generation cyber warriors, cyber intelligence and capabilities, urban warfare and emerging security trends from the IoT to wearable devices.

Preview

We’ve got our comfortable shoes on, notebooks and cameras all set; we’re ready, are you?

You can find Shephard’s full show news coverage online throughout the week.

Helicopters defy Harvey havoc to rescue thousands

When hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on 25 August thousands of residents sought refuge on higher ground as rescue services from the coast guard, military and volunteer organisations streamed in to help with the evacuation.

Helicopter crews were among the first responders, with the first sortie deployed by the US Coast Guard Air Station Houston on 26 August, in a mid-storm assessment operation.

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Although Harvey was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm it loitered over Texas, dropping 51 inches of rain in one area.  At this point the evacuation and SAR effort intensified, becoming increasingly urgent as strong winds were replaced by rapidly rising flood waters in residential areas of Houston.

It is in these adverse conditions that helicopters demonstrate their unique capabilities, flying, hovering and landing in conditions that other aircraft would struggle or find impossible.

Large scale SAR operations rely on the long range endurance of aircraft like the AW139 to operate around the clock to pluck people (and often animals) stranded in the water or sheltering on rooftops for safety.

Harvey rescue

US Northern Command deployed 73 helicopters for the SAR and evacuation effort, alongside the US Coast Guard’s fleet of MH-65D and AW139 helicopters and HH-60s deployed by the Air National Guard.

Singaporean CH-47 Chinooks also participated. The four Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircraft were deployed from the Peace Prairie detachment in Texas, arriving on 31 August to assist with disaster relief operations.

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The Chinooks transported evacuees and delivered vital equipment and supplies, working alongside three Chinooks from 2nd Battalion 501st Aviation Regiment which, among other things, was responsible for providing emergency hay bales to stranded herds of cattle.

As the SAR and evacuation operations are wound down and the flood waters begin to recede the helicopter teams returned to their bases. However, they are unlikely to rest for long as preparations are under way for hurricane Irma which is expected to make landfall in Florida at the end of the week.

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