Author Archives: grantturnbull

The movers and shakers of DSEI 2017

With thousands of exhibitors and two enormous exhibition halls chock full of technology, DSEI never disappoints when it comes to seeing new and interesting defence kit. The show, held at the London ExCel centre every two years, is a key date in the calendar for the industry and is used as an opportunity to bring out the big guns – literally.

The show is billed as a tri-service event, showcasing equipment from the land, sea and air domains, although like its Parisian equivalent – Eurosatory – there is a skew towards land capabilities.

Nevertheless, the event utilises the ExCel’s location next to the Thames to bring in several warships and have them berthed up during the week. The highlight this year being the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll as well as LÉ Samuel Beckett from the Irish Naval Service.

Samuel Beckett

LÉ Samuel Beckett berthed next to the ExCel centre for DSEI 2017. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

Mirroring an increase in focus by the UK government on naval capabilities, the DSEI event also had a strong maritime flavour to it this year. This was likely influenced by several key events before the show including the naming of the second Queen Elizabeth-class carrier HMS Prince of Wales, the release of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSbS) and contracts placed for the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

Ahead of the show, our roving reporter Beth Maundrill looked at how the NSbS was was aiming to overcome past mistakes in naval programmes that saw costs balloon and fleet sizes dwindle. Speaking at the event itself, Adm Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff said he wanted to see the Royal Navy be ‘even faster and more agile’ in how it exploits technology advancements.

Industry is also positioning itself for a future Type 31 contract, with several companies unveiling potential designs at DSEI. Babcock showcased its Arrowhead 120 design, which is likely to compete against BMT Group for the Type 31e contract. Both companies will also be eyeing the export market, something that is being pushed in the new NSbS.

Another new naval technology unveiled at the show was the MBDA Dragonfire, part of a research programme with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) that aims to explore the use of directed-energy weapons, better known as lasers, onboard vessels.

Dragon_laser.jpg

A scale model example of the new Dragonfire, developed for the UK MoD by a team from MBDA and Leonardo. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

Back on terra firma, it was British Army vehicle programmes that were taking up a lot of the focus. The service is currently recapitalising its fleet with both new build vehicles and upgrades. We got a little more clarity on the long-running Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme, with an acquisition strategy now planned for later this year that will determine whether it is competed or sole-sourced.

Many companies brought along their 8×8 offerings to tempt the British Army. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a defence show, German company Rheinmetall rocked up with a Boxer 8×8 painted in the colours of the Union Jack. Gimmick or serious marketing strategy?

Boxer British by birth (10).jpg

Bit of a gimmick or a serious effort to make moves in the UK? (Photo: Rheinmetall)

Officials also gave a little more information on the Warrior upgrade programme, with a full production contract expected next year that will give the army a fleet of modernised ‘Warrior 2’ platforms. A Warrior on display at the show was also sporting a new camouflage, known as the Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System, which Shephard discovered had been ordered in small units by the British Army, with a potentially larger order expected.

It was also announced that the British Army’s flagship acquisition, the Ajax, has now begun manned live-firing trials, which should wrap up in around five months in time for delivery to the army.

AJW_1875.JPG

An upgraded Warrior vehicle on display at Lockheed Martin’s stand at DSEI, sporting a new camouflage system. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

The UK defence secretary Michael Fallon also announced several contracts that aim to improve the capability of the British Army when it comes to protecting troops. These included a new EOD ground robot from Harris as well as a new £10 million initiative to study vehicle active protection systems, which is being led by Leonardo. The former programme, known as Icarus, could help the army develop technologies that effectively form a ‘shield’ around a vehicle to protect it against RPGs and anti-tank missiles.

Active protection systems are a significant topic of discussion at the moment, with several countries including China, Israel and Russia fielding some kind of capability. There is a worry among experts that the West will be left behind when it comes to utilising this kind of technology, with foreign APS-equipped vehicles potentially neutralising our current generation anti-tank capabilities.

Adding to this discourse, a BAE Systems CV90 was on display at the show that incorporated the IMI Systems Iron Fist APS technology – which will likely be fielded to the Dutch Army CV90 in the future.

AJW_1788

The IMI Systems Iron Fist active protection system on the turret of a CV9030 IFV at DSEI 2017. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

Unsurprisingly, the UK-based BAE Systems took centre stage at DSEI, showing a huge array of its technologies across all domains. These technologies included the latest generation of its Broadsword soldier technologies currently undergoing evaluation with several foreign armies, as well as a new ‘Tactical Hotspot’ concept that provides voice and data communications in the most austere environments.

The company has also turned its hand to unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) with its Ironclad concept, which could be used for medical evacuation missions on the battlefield.

Indeed, the growing importance of unmanned systems was once again evident at DSEI this year with several innovations being displayed. BAE Systems also demonstrated its P950 RIB in an unmanned configuration.

Elsewhere, Qinetiq demonstrated a new configuration for its Titan UGV (developed in cooperation with Milrem and its THeMIS). Rheinmetall Canada, fresh from unveiling its new UGV concept earlier this year, came to DSEI to show an armed configuration for its multi-mission ground vehicle. Several other armed UGVs were on display this year, including Milrem’s THeMIS, which integrated a new FN Herstal .50 cal machine gun.

Qinetiq Titan

Qinetiq’s Titan, which uses the THeMIS UGV from Estonian company Milrem, features several new integrations at this year’s DSEI. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

That’s just a very tiny selection of what was making the headlines during the show, we have plenty more over at Shephard  for your reading and viewing pleasure.

The show was notable in that it had no real stand-out announcements or surprises, with a sense that many programmes and initiatives are continuing to tick over for the time being.

Many visitors will be optimistic about the market going forward, but the industry as a whole is still conscious of the uncertainty created by Brexit and the wider geostrategic environment.

Volatile conditions – tensions rise in Asia

As the Sep/Oct issue of Shephard’s Digital Battlespace went to press, it was reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on the brink of firing missiles towards the US territory of Guam. That has not happened, yet, but it is another sign that the unhinged leader of North Korea continues to be a threat to the region and, as his missile and nuclear technologies advance, to countries outside the region.

This year has seen North Korea’s ballistic missile capability go from strength to strength and by July the country had carried out at least 14 firings of various domestic-built missiles. The 14th was possibly the most significant, with the firing of a intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could have hit the US west coast (which was instead was fired 2,300 miles into space).

dprk-missile-small

Add to that already dangerous situation the development of a possible nuclear warhead for an ICBM and the situation becomes almost apocalyptic. If it’s any comfort, it is believed that North Korea still does not possess the capability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead or even the technology for the warhead to survive re-entry. Yet despite these limitations, and an international community grouping together to impose harsh sanctions, Pyongyang still manages to achieve successes.

Another volatile leader to add to this combustible mix is Donald Trump. In his short time as president, he has shown himself to be unstable and irrational – two character traits that do not bode well for international diplomacy and dealing with despotic regimes. His response to North Korean missile tests was to promise ‘fire and fury’ if the country made any more threats to the US.

7launch

Addressing missile threats

Ultimately, it will be patient diplomacy that brings the two countries back from the brink of all-out war. But what lessons can we learn from this? First and foremost, it should act as a wake-up call – if it hasn’t already – that governments have to invest in ballistic missile defence (BMD) technologies for the protection of not just soldiers in theatre, but also citizens going about their daily lives.

Admittedly, that is easier said than done.

BMD is a huge and costly endeavour that requires significant investment, often in the billions. It necessitates a host of early-warning sensors (on land and sea, and in air and space) and for those sensors to be networked so that data can be fed into complex C2 systems. Highly capable, highly manoeuvrable interceptors must be acquired to shoot down the missiles, a feat that has often been compared to shooting down a bullet with a bullet.

GMD-FTG-15-04

The US is the only country in the world that can field multiple BMD systems, including the homeland Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which in May achieved its first-ever intercept – probably not by coincidence considering recent events – of an ICBM fired towards the US from deep in the Pacific.

However, the GMD programme has been notorious for its significant cost – its yearly budget is around $1.5 billion – and the fact that before May, it failed eight of 17 tests.

GGW DE PEEL SCHIET OP KRETA

To reduce costs, NATO has pooled resources to offer a territorial BMD capability, which achieved initial operating capability last year. It includes ship-based radars as well as ground-based systems, such as Aegis Ashore, based in Romania and soon in Poland. The US also works closely with its Asian allies to provide BMD systems, including THAAD in South Korea and possibly Aegis Ashore in Japan in the future.

Effective defence

Another way BMD will become more cost-effective in the future will be the increasing effectiveness and reliability of sensors, particularly next-generation radars that can detect, track and provide fire control data for interceptors. Industry is particularly focused on how it can ensure lifecycle costs remain low, by increasing a sensor’s reliability and keeping repairs to a minimum, which is especially important at sea.

THAAD2

In this edition of DB, we look in more detail at naval radars, with several of the systems outlined now featuring some kind of BMD function or growth potential. With industry utilising the advances in commercial electronics, these systems are rapidly evolving in terms of capability – particularly with the onset of active electronically scanned array systems and Gallium Nitride technologies – allowing for longer detection ranges and greater kill rates for interceptors.

Of course, challenges remain, not least when it comes to funding, but the alternative of having no effective defence against ballistic missile threats does not bear thinking about.

Pasted image at 2017_08_31 08_41 AM

 

The latest edition of Digital Battlespace (Sep/Oct 2017) is now available to download FREE on IoS and Andriod. 

Sacré bleu! Should we be more like the French?

In the lead-up to this year’s Bastille Day, I had the opportunity to visit Satory in France, an area that has a rich history both for the defence industry and armed forces. While there, I spoke to local defence companies, DGA procurement officials and the armed forces about the Scorpion programme, an ambitious effort to revamp the army’s vehicle fleet and C2 systems for the 21st century.

The French Army and domestic industry is clearly proud of its modernisation agenda and the programme achievements so far, inviting leading media outlets to Satory to see it all first hand. This involved an exclusive look at the first prototype of the Griffon 6×6 vehicle, which is currently going through testing, as well as demonstrations of the army’s new sensors and communication systems, including an updated FELIN soldier suite.

 

Indeed, one of the French Army’s biggest achievements is the fact that despite being so ambitious, it has not become so massive that it has collapsed in on itself like other modernisation initiatives undertaken by the UK and US. Studies for Scorpion were initiated as far back as 1999, with work ramping up in the mid-2000s.

‘We have been preparing this programme for a very long time,’ the project manager told me in Satory.

Many might consider this to be a drawn-out procurement process, but as Scorpion begins to provide tangible results, it actually shows that France’s slow and maturing approach has delivered results (much like a vintage Bordeaux wine).

This is in stark contrast to the US Army’s disastrous Future Combat Systems modernisation programme, which ran through the 2000s and was eventually cancelled, wasting billions of dollars in the process.

Similarly, the British Army’s strategy to recapitalise its armoured vehicle fleet in the 2000s, known as the Future Rapid Effects System also ended with little to show except wasted taxpayer’s money and capability gaps. Indeed, the UK is still attempting to pick up the pieces of that failed procurement process and has once again kickstarted acquisition for the 8×8 Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, which will likely be a focus of this year’s DSEI.

Even the British Army’s less ambitious attempts to upgrade its existing inventory of armoured vehicles and replace obsolete subsystems appears to be moving at a snail’s pace. Countries such as France and Germany have already started programmes that will see comprehensive upgrades of their MBT fleets, yet the British have only formally contracted an assessment phase for its ageing Challenger 2, which will determine what needs to be upgraded.

The UK’s attempts to upgrade its Warrior fighting vehicles under the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme has also been dogged by uncertainty, with a production contract yet to be signed despite the upgrade effort now being in its sixth contracted year. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin UK is understandably anxious to be awarded a production contract to provide some certainty in an increasingly uncertain economic environment.

 

Of course, decisions to delay or cancel modernisation initiatives can be put down to budgetary concerns and pressures. The French, however, spend roughly the same on defence as the UK (and considerably less than the US) yet in terms of ‘effect’ (to use a military term) it appears to have much greater impact and spends its money much more wisely.

French defence industrial capability is also strong, with the country still able to produce high-end equipment for its armed forces unlike the steady erosion seen in the UK and elsewhere.

It will pain some in the defence industry to hear this, but should we be more like the French?

Land Warfare International Aug-Sep 2017

 

The latest edition of Land Warfare International (Aug/Sep 2017) is now available to download FREE on IoS and Andriod. 

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.

Revolutionary Road: the path to greater autonomy

During a recent trip to Edinburgh, I had the pleasure of exploring several sights in that beautiful city, including the National Museum of Scotland. There, among the displays – which highlight the country’s contribution to advances in areas such as science, medicine and engineering – was a robot called Freddy.

Its simple name belies its revolutionary nature, since much of the technology written about in the current, and pretty much all issues of Shephard Media’s Unmanned Vehicles magazine can likely be traced back to Freddy.

This particular robot was developed in the 1970s by a talented team from Edinburgh University’s then Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception. It was given the task of assembling wooden toy components presented to it in a ‘jumbled heap’.

Freddy the robot

Using a robotic arm with grippers, a camera and a basic computer, Freddy was able to take the pieces and assemble a wooden toy car. Limited computing power at the time meant this process took around 16 hours to complete.

Nevertheless, this was an incredibly complex endeavour and some even believed it was impossible. But those pioneering developers proved the doubters wrong and led the way in artificial perception and its translation into intelligent, human-like responses through computer processing and complex algorithms.

Indeed, read through the current edition of UV UV Front Cover(Volume 22 Issue 2) and you will see a common theme: the pursuit of increased autonomy for unmanned platforms.

The basic concept remains the same as it did for Freddy over 40 years ago – a UV senses its surroundings and makes intelligent decisions about the task for which it has been designated (and even those for which it has not). Advances in sensors, computer processing and artificial intelligence means that, yes, the main idea is similar, but what is achievable is vastly different.

In the edition, writer Rory Jackson examines how UGV OEMs are continuing to insert autonomous functions into their vehicles, mirroring efforts within the commercial automotive world when it comes to the driverless car revolution.

Companies such as Oshkosh, Lockheed Martin and start-up Milrem have pursued a roadmap of greater autonomy to ease soldier burden and increase safety, while at the same time attempting to lower costs. I visited Milrem in Estonia recently to see first-hand how the company is expanding its workforce as it looks to advance autonomous capabilities for its THeMIS UGV.

Milrem THeMIS

In the air domain, UAVs are integrating more intelligent features, including technologies like sense and avoid, not only to ease integration into airspace occupied by manned aircraft and enable beyond-line-of-light operations – as Beth Stevenson details in her analysis of the current state of UAS regulation in the US – but also when it comes to controlling systems, or multiple systems (ie swarms), through a ground control station (GCS).

In this edition, Angus Batey runs through GCS and C2 technologies for UAVs and how there will be extra considerations for air forces as they bring capabilities such as stealth UAVs into service in the future.

RS20416_UK - Secrets Taking Flight

Much will depend on how an advanced stealth platform makes decisions by itself, rather than today’s UAV concept of operations that sees a reliance on external human commands sent via SATCOM. These signals would likely give away a stealth aircraft’s position to enemy air defences.

Another area where platform autonomy will be crucial is underwater. Much like contested airspace in a warzone, communication links to and from a deep-sea robot are inherently difficult. This means that the more decisions an AUV can make by itself, the better.

Heidi Vella explores this in more detail for UV with her take on the growing use of AUVs in the commercial world, and importantly, the challenges still present.

NASA demonstration.jpg

The key to the adoption of autonomous vehicles will be quantitative evidence that investing in the technology, however expensive, will eventually bring down cost of operations, while also increasing safety and productivity.

So, as you read through our current issue of UV, remember that Freddy, the pioneering Scottish robot, and his legacy, lives on. For those of us who are following the developments in this exciting sector, it will be interesting to see which one of the technologies within this issue, and future editions of UV, will have such a revolutionary effect that we will also be talking about it in 40 years’ time.

The April/May edition of Unmanned Vehicles is out now, download a FREE copy through Shephard Media’s Android and Apple apps.

US Army finally ‘going green’ in Europe

When it comes to operating in the field, one of the most important considerations for any soldier is camouflage. From painting exposed skin with cam cream, to covering vehicles with nets and various bits of foliage, the purpose is the same; blend into your surroundings.

It probably goes without saying that your camouflage varies depending on your environment. Tan colours for desert environments, white for snow conditions and green for woodland. Simple, right?

Unfortunately for the US forces currently stationed in Europe, it’s actually not so simple. Over a decade of fighting in the hot and sandy environments of the Middle East and Central Asia has meant that many of its vehicles are still painted in desert tan – despite being deployed in the woodland environments of Eastern European as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The result? Vehicles are very visible, even with attempts at covering them with camouflage nets and tree branches. Quill saw this first hand during a recent visit to Latvia to see the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team and the 1st Battalion 68th Armor Regiment. Some examples of the desert-coloured vehicles can be seen below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Can you spot the tank?

Of course you can.

Now the US Army is finally ‘going green’, not by improving its recycling habits, but painting its armoured vehicles in standard woodland colours. On 10 April, the service released photos of one of the first M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks to go through the painting process, with apparently another 400 vehicles to receive a fresh lick of paint.

This equipment belongs to Battle Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, based currently in Germany. Both 66th and 68th Armor Regiments make up the two heavy armour elements of 3ABCT, with M1A2 Abrams at their disposal.

‘The tan tanks were there because we’ve operated in a desert environment for so long,’ said Capt James England, Battle Company commander, in a US Army press release. ‘Now that the terrain has changed, we are painting them green to blend in.’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The green scheme will be applied to all fighting vehicles in 3ABCT, including M1A2 Abrams, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M109A6 Paladin self-propelled artillery vehicles. According to the US Army, support vehicles will still retain their tan colours – likely owing to their non-fighting roles behind the front line.

Painting takes around three days, a process that includes washing the vehicles down, drying, applying the paint and then letting the paint dry.

Interestingly, the paint is temporary and, once the tanks and other vehicles return to 3ABCT’s home station at Fort Carson, Colorado, can be stripped off using a pressure washer.

 

US Army’s bionic arm needs improvement, this is how

Alleviating the weight burden on soldiers is a never-ending task. Armies are always on the look out for novel equipment and technology that lessen the burden – not always necessarily by reducing weight, but helping him or her carry a large load instead.

One of the latest technologies to come out of the US is a bionic ‘third arm’, created by the US Army Research Lab, which helps soldiers carry a weapon such as the issue M16/M4 rifle.

Now, I’m always keen to hear about weight-saving technologies and devices that can make tabbing and fighting with heavy kit are little more bearable (it can be a pretty horrible experience), but I’m sceptical about the arm:

The bionic arm weighs around 2kg and attaches to the soldier’s protective vest, which means reducing weight on a soldier’s upper body and potentially freeing up the arms for other tasks.

Now, this looks pretty interesting when it’s on an exhibition floor and makes a great story, but as ever with this type of technology it throws up a lot of questions about how this would be utilised ‘in the field’.

When soldiers and light infantry are attacking positions, they spend a lot of time in different positions, including standing, kneeling, lying flat (or prone) and everything in between.

There’s also generally a lot of running, crawling and climbing – depending on the terrain and fighting environment – which means your kit (and body) goes through some serious punishment.

For me, I think the arm would actually be a hindrance in those situations, rather than a help. The M4/M16 is not exactly a heavy weapon, in fact it’s one of the lightest assault rifles in the world, so having an extra bionic appendage to help carry it seems a little strange. But it could lead to some interesting technological developments, so I won’t write it off completely.

Now where this could find some purpose is carrying heavy weaponry, much like the soldiers in the film Alien 2 that use a similar articulated arm. The researchers have already said they are interested in attaching the M249 and M240 – but let’s think bigger!

My advise, swap out the lightweight M16/M4 for a beastly 7.62mm M134 Minigun capable of spewing out thousands of round per minute. Now this would be something that would significantly increase the lethality of the individual soldier and his squad.

Also it means that soldiers can recreate this epic scene from Terminator 2.

Or, better yet, that awesome scene from Predator:

Food for thought.

« Older Entries