Author Archives: guestquillorcapture

Going underground – tactical comms

By Andrew White

Since the main assault to retake the City of Mosul from Daesh launched on 17 October 2016, the progress of Iraqi and coalition security forces appears to have been halted as defending forces take the fight into the subterranean environment.

According to US DoD estimates, anywhere between four and ten thousand Daesh fighters remain in Mosul with gains made by the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) already being curbed.


USAF Colonel John Dorrian, the DoD spokesperson in Iraq, explained to the media in October, IS or Daesh had started to build tunnels throughout Mosul ahead of the openly planned offensive well before offensive actions were triggered.

Such a tactic, Dorrian conceded, would present ‘unique tactical and operational’ concerns for advancing forces conducting missions to clear miles and miles of subterranean tunnel networks that they use for tactical movement and to hide weapons.


According to Obsidian Technologies’ Charles Cavanagh, communications in subterranean environments present significant challenges for armed forces including different refraction and reflection of signals off wet, dry, tiled and irregular walls; interference from nearby high-power systems; as well as assault teams remaining in close enough contact to maintain relay linkages.

‘This is a multi-faceted problem space. In the cave and tunnel environment, Line of Sight communication is pretty
much absolute and there are added challenges such as multi-path communications; radio discipline; and command and control,’ he explained to Digital Battlespace.

Critical to any military operation is communication and the ability to successfully transmit and receive calls to, from and within the subterranean environment. This is an issue which continues to hound defence forces today, particularly prevalent for Special Operations Forces (SOF) conducting complex counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in urban environments.

Defence sources associated with ISOF explained to Digital Battlespace how Iraqi CT Forces lacked such capability on a grand scale, now required to achieve mature tactical communications connectivity across subterranean environments.

More mature SOF organisations globally have previously relied upon the use of tactical repeater systems which could be cached in sequence throughout underground areas of operation in order to relay communications via Line of Sight to the surface.

However, the market is now witnessing the emergence of specialist standalone technology as well as the development of tailored waveforms capable of being integrated on board Software Defined Radios.

Standalone options revolved around the utility of Through-The-Earth (TTE) communications, capable of penetrating ultra low radio frequency waves (300-3000 Hz) through rock and dirt. Such technology derives from the mining industry where higher frequency signals have traditionally been rebroadcast or relayed through antenna and repeater stations as well as mesh solutions such as the popular Mobile Ad Hoc Networking systems proliferating the defence and security market today.

rf-7850m-hh-multiband-networking-handheld-radio-2Additionally, significant attention must be paid to communication headsets with the US DoD selecting Atlantic Signal’s Subterranean Voice Communication System on 19th September 2016.

‘You need a headset and microphone system which can allow you to listen around corners in a very quiet environment. Radio communication needs to be separate to ear canal so some operators can prefer a microphone instead of bone conductor through the ear.

‘On top of that, operations in underground or enclosed spaces can go from very quiet to very noisy so operators need communications headsets with the capability to enhance listening but also actively protect the ears.

Atlantic Signal designed the Dominator II headset which was initially developed in tandem with the US Naval Special Warfare Command.

For more see the feature on Middle East tactical communications developments in the January/February 2017 edition of Digital Battlespace, out now!

Model Masterplan

By Gerrard Cowan

The US Navy (USN) first deployed the MH-60R Seahawk in 2009, and will receive its final scheduled deliveries of the helicopter in the summer of 2018.

While the aircraft has been in service for some years now, it continually receives upgrades and modifications to allow it to adapt to an evolving operational environment.

The Romeo variant is primarily focused on ASW and ASuW, with secondary missions including SAR and medevac.

According to manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the platform – along with its sibling, the MH-60S – has flown more than 650,000 hours across a 500-plus fleet. It is deployed with both the USN and a number of export customers.


(All images: Lockheed Martin)

The most recent batch for the service was procured in FY2016, making a total of 280 platforms, said Capt Craig Grubb, manager of the navy’s H-60 programme. The final set of 29 MH-60Rs is known as Lot 14, and will be delivered in June 2018.

The acquisition is part of a rotorcraft masterplan, designed to take seven different types and replace them with the two MH-60 variants, and the programme is almost complete.

According to Grubb, the SH-60F retired in the spring of 2016 and the SH-60B retired in 2015.

There are still a few HH-60Hs remaining in the fleet, which he said will be in service through FY2019 and possibly longer. ‘They’re pretty valued by the fleet, so there’s a lot of consideration being given to keeping those aircraft in service longer,’ he told DH.

The MH-60R and MH-60S are enduring platforms that are likely to be around for decades, said Chris Stellwag, director of marketing communications at CAE Defence & Security, which provides the USN and international customers with simulators and other training devices for the aircraft.

‘One of the advantages for foreign militaries when they acquire a platform like that is they’re getting the benefit of the significant investment the USN is making in the continual upgrades and enhancements to a fleet of 500-plus helicopters,’ he commented.

This meant that international customers were able to leverage the investment the USN is making in enhancing the aircraft, through new sensor suites, weapon systems or countermeasures, for example.


Additionally, it boosted interoperability with their US ally. Stellwag said the helicopter was an attractive, low-risk and cost-effective platform. ‘We’re always conscious of maintaining strong positions in platforms that we think are enduring, and that’s what we’ve successfully been able to do so far with the Seahawk,’ he said.

‘We definitely see opportunities over the next decade with other countries, and continued improvements and enhancements to the suite of training systems that the USN uses.’

While the navy is in only the very early phases of exploring what a successor to the MH-60 might look like, there is an interest in being able to migrate the work done on the mid-life upgrade onto another platform at a later date.

For more on the USN’s MH-60R programme looking ahead to mid-life upgrades and an eventual successor, please see the January/February edition of Defence Helicopter for further details.

Operator challenges to be put under the spotlight at Helitech International 2016

Guest blog from: John Hyde, Exhibition Director at Helitech International

This year Helitech International will return to the RAI Amsterdam for the second time following a successful debut in the venue for the 2014 event. With a new seminar and workshop programme in place and plenty of new content.

We’re excited to present visitors with a unique opportunity to source the latest equipment, while learning about the current trends shaping the future of our sector.

Around 200 exhibitors from 20 countries will be exhibiting at Helitech International 2016 and it’s shaping up to be a truly global stage to bring the rotorcraft industry together and deliver new business opportunities.

We’re also delighted to welcome over 35 companies who are making their Helitech International debut, adding to the depth and diversity of platforms, systems, equipment, components and services on display.

Airbus Helicopters, Bell Helicopter, Leonardo, Waypoint Leasing, Marenco Swiss Helicopter, Dart Aerospace, and Aerolite, are just some of the names that have confirmed their support for the event.


Exhibitors will be hosting a range of events on their stands. Leonardo will feature a virtual reality hoist to enable visitors to experience its use in a variety of weather conditions, while Dart Aerospace Ltd will hold a press event to officially announce its new European partners.

Techniques such as simulation and digital presentations continue to play an increasingly important part of many exhibitor’s display as they explain what can be complex technologies.

Alongside the exhibition and static displays, the new programme of seminars and workshops will be packed with insights from leading global experts.

Together with the returning Business Leaders Forum and Safety Workshops, operators will form a key focus for our 2016 programme with the launch of the Operators Forum.

A new initiative where operators from across the globe can network with like-minded individuals and discuss the evolving rotorcraft industry and ways of addressing the issues most relevant to their businesses.

For the first time this year we have also been working with manufacturers to launch Technical Workshops that will offer interactive briefings on different types of technology, fit outs and missions.

Delivered by leading businesses including Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo and Bell Helicopter, the sessions will enable operators to garner actionable insights before making purchasing decisions.

With visitor registrations from people in over 70 countries, pre-registration has been very positive.

Over 180 operators from companies such as Babcock International, Bristow, Heli Holland and CHC are confirmed to attend, highlighting the growing confidence and innovation opportunities within the rotorcraft market. The stage has been set to offer a one-stop-shop for visitors to meet their purchasing, education and training needs.


Helitech International is all about bringing together the rotorcraft industry, allowing operators, key decision-makers, exhibitors and like-minded individuals the chance to network and make new connections.

This will be celebrated with an industry reception taking place at the end of the day on Tuesday, 11 October.  Co-hosted with RAI Amsterdam, attendees of the show are all invited for drinks and canapes to continue conversations from the exhibition floor in a less formal environment.

Shephard Media will be providing Helitech International Show News Daily, see the site for all the latest news and updates.

If you haven’t registered, there’s still time. Click this link to register and join us in Amsterdam next week!

Is my car bugged?

This isn’t a question that someone in most Western countries finds themselves asking, however on returning home from a visit to a military base in Hong Kong my wife thought I should make sure.

I’ll explain why…

On Wednesday the Hong Kong Garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held open days at two of its bases – Stonecutters Island Naval Base and Shek Kong Air Base. The PLA usually hosts such events once a year, so nothing odd about that.

You always have to credit the PLA for being organised and security conscious. After all, I have had ‘plain clothes soldiers’ follow me around on previous occasions to make sure the foreigner isn’t getting up to any mischief, and phone calls to confirm that I have indeed left the premises before the event closed.

However, this year seemed a bit disorganised. My car got waved through security and so I coasted to a sedate stop in the carpark. I was then told there was a mistake and that I should drive out the front gate and go back in again.

And, oh yes, a female PLA officer would sit in the back seat of my car to make sure everything was okay.

After returning home, my wife immediately saw the ‘real’ reason for this. ‘You’re so silly. Now your car’s bugged!’ she exclaimed.

Is such paranoia over the top? Living in China, and in recent times in Hong Kong, perhaps not.

Of course, the PLA already has a top secret electronic listening post atop Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain. The PLA refuses to say what the installation does.

On the very same day that I chauffeured the PLA officer in my car, China introduced its controversial national security law. This legislation covers far more than one would expect of traditional internal security, as it encompasses ideology, religion, finance, cybersecurity, politics and the military.9N5A3914

National security is defined as ensuring the political regime, sovereignty, national unification, territorial integrity, people’s welfare and the ‘sustainable and healthy development’ of the economy and society. Some might call this neo-totalitarian.

Xinhua explained earlier: ‘The draft law called for reinforced education and dissemination of socialist core values, to prevent the infiltration of harmful moral standards.’

Am I paranoid?

Let me know. In the meantime, I’m just going out to give my car a careful clean…on the inside.

Still a Squirrel?


Guest blogger, Jim Winchester, reflects on the aircraft naming convention history of Airbus Helicopters, formerly Eurocopter (and formerly a number of other different companies…), and the impact the ‘H’ designation will have on the brand.

Alongside the H160 launch at Heli-Expo in March, Airbus Helicopters announced more or less en passant that it will be adopting a new naming convention for its helicopter range.

Although this change doesn’t officially take place until the beginning of 2016, some of us journalists were only just getting used to Eurocopter (Est 1992) and can remember MBB and Aérospatiale, if not Messerschmitt, Bölkow, Sud-Est and Sud-Ouest or any of the other companies today’s European rotorcraft giant can trace its lineage back to.

The alpha-numerical system, or systems, in use until now were inherited from Airbus Helicopters’ predecessor companies. Broadly speaking, AS prefixes were used for products of pre-Eurocopter French origin, and EC for German ones and those developed since the merger.

Under the new system the EC120 B has become the H120, the EC175 the H175 and the EC635 T2e/P2e the H135M (the suffix signifying Military).

The new system eliminates questionable dots or dashes, confusing typographical spaces (or the lack of them) and applies to all current models, except where it doesn’t.


There are a number of exceptions testing the rule.

The new convention sees the disappearance of the EC designator that came in circa 1993 with the EC120, again, except where it doesn’t.

For example, under the revised system the EC145 becomes the H145, but the EC145e will be simply the EC145. The AS365 N3+ becomes the AS365 N3+.

At the press conference unveiling the new structure, Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury explained the rationale: ‘It’s extremely simple – in Airbus the A is for airliners and H is for helicopters.’ So that’s that cleared up, then.

As the first new machine to receive the new brand, the experimental X4 will enter production as the H160. Those with a grasp of how it used to be done might have expected it to be the H165 – 1 indicating civilian; 6, a 6t class machine and 5, twin engines.

However, the H125 (formerly the AS350 B3e, but only that version) holds true to Aérospatiale’s old naming tradition.

Airbus Helicopters’ nomenclature has become bit like the Pentagon’s system, which held together relatively well until new types became few and far between, the old hands who understood the system retired and the sequence collapsed, leading to the F-35 fighter being next to appear after the YF-23 and such oddities as the AL-1 laser-firing 747, which fell out of the designation system altogether, before being cancelled.


In contrast, Airbus’s airliner range is a paragon of clarity, although the diverse military aircraft portfolio from A400M to PZL-130 Orlik will probably continue to defy easy rationalisation, to the annoyance perhaps only of the marketing department.

Airbus assures us that existing popular names like Super Puma (which will be either the H225, the AS332 C1e or AS332 L1e depending on variant) and Colibri (was the EC120, now the H120) will still be used, although I’m not sure the latter ever really caught on in the popular imagination.

It has to be admitted the product line-up had become a bit confusing. At the Paris Air Show a few years back when discussing light utility helicopters with (then) Eurocopter’s marketing chief, we agreed to use ‘Squirrel’ when talking about the AS350/550 and variants, as the existing designations were just clouding matters.

That and I can’t pronounce Ecureuil.


In future, it will presumably make identifying company products at Le Bourget simpler, as long as the H130 et al get to wear the appropriate show numbers, but I am beginning to wonder if the thinking at Marignane and Donauwörth is that joined-up.

On one hand, I can’t help feeling some nostalgia for the old designations, which contained some vestiges of the company’s origins and product development history and even a clue to the number and type of engines.

On the other hand, I can’t see why the new regime hasn’t been applied consistently across the whole product line. Eurocopter never managed to quite unify the system it inherited and Airbus seems to have missed the boat once more. Let’s hope they give us time to get used to these before changing them again.

In practical terms, however, all this tinkering with names and numbers means fairly little to the owners and operators who put their helicopters to work every day.

All of this matters mainly to those who like to bring order from chaos, who write about aerospace and compile directories, who keep logs and maintain databases.

An H125 is still a Squirrel at heart, and until data plates and manuals change, the main effect many RotorHub readers may notice in the near future is a shuffling around of the entries in the next issue of Shephard’s Civil and Parapublic Helicopter Handbook.

But don’t forget that somewhere inside every Airbus Helicopters H145 is an MBB/Kawasaki BK 117 trying to get out.


Jim Winchester is a freelance aerospace journalist based in the UK.

The drift between UK political focus and defence demands

British Troops Remembering the Fallen in AfghanistanThis is a guest blog from HMForcesReview.

The 2015 UK General Election is in full swing and shots have been fired by each party over a variety of issues.

One critical issue that has been widely debated even before announcement of the election is that of UK defence funding and the British armed forces. This came into prominence with the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which was more of a policy to reduce the size and equipment of the armed forces than a defence paper.

The two major political parties, Labour and Conservative, have not pledged to meet the NATO minimum target of 2% of GDP, and it has been indicated that the defence budget would once again be reduced.

Naturally, military commentators have voiced their anger against any or further cuts, citing the security threats the UK faces and that defence should be the first duty of government.

The two political parties in reply seem to be more focused on the bigger aspect of improving the UK’s economy. With possibly only a few defence experts aligned with policy of economic improvement, there seems to be a growing disparity between military demands and economic demands.

Defence commentators and some military officials have proposed solutions such as cuts to ring-fenced departments such as health and international development. This, however, is unlikely to transpire.

Main political leaders on the other hand, have been producing the same soundbites saying they have improved defence infrastructure and have allocated money to various defence progammes.

What then for the next SDSR and UK policy beyond that? Should British politicians with a focus on the economy continue to aim for a balanced budget and cuts to defence? Should UK defence commentators continue to call for more and more money for the MoD?

One possible way for the two to meet is to realise that the economy and defence spending and policy are intertwined with each other. A stable and well funded defence budget requires a stable and growing economy. This is the set policy in some other countries, most notably Singapore’s Total Defence policy.

Another is to convince politicians to step out of the deep (monetarist) ideology and convince them that a certain degree of deficit and debt is plausible. This may provide more funding for defence resources. Such a move may be improbable, since these are politicians with deep-rooted ideologies and such a move may trigger demands for more funding for other departments.

A third way to draw the two together may be by ending the concept of ring-fencing other departmental budgets and focusing strictly on priorities and needs. This however may create a tussle between various departments and not exactly ensure a stable defence budget or force.

Whatever the solution, there seems to be an evident growing divide between political attention on the UK budget and the demands for a stable or larger defence budget or military. The divide between both sides would certainly not produce a stable defence and security policy after May 2015 or beyond.

Destroying the Islamic State?

U.S. Soldier's transfer authority in Mosul

Guest post by Richard Irons, consultant at SCS.

The Islamic State (IS) continues to grow in strength and threatens moderate governments and societies in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as western interests in the region. In Syria and Iraq, where IS is strongest, the International Coalition has developed a strategy to destroy IS largely based on military force. This strategy – or at least how it is being implemented – is unlikely to succeed in the near future.

IS’s campaign that culminated in the battle for Mosul between the 6th and 10th of June had been in progress since at least January. Since then, the Iraqi garrison in Mosul had become increasingly isolated and under siege, subject to continuous assassination and bomb attacks. The army and police no longer patrolled some areas of the city because of the threat posed by insurgents.

So when the attack came on 6th June, the army and police were already demoralised. The insurgents steadily increased the military pressure and on the 9th, the situation started to collapse: three very senior army officers fled Mosul by air. As news of their departure spread, soldiers and policemen began to desert and the defence collapsed.

In the course of four days a city of two million people, with some 20 to 30,000 defending police and soldiers, was captured by about a thousand insurgents.

This illustrates two basic military facts that need to be understood. First, IS is a well-led military organisation operating to a coherent strategy. Second, the Iraqi Security Forces, like many other armies, can fold dramatically when confidence is shaken.

President Obama laid out his objectives and strategy for combatting IS on 11 September, saying ‘we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism campaign.’

He then laid out four elements of his strategy to achieve this objective. The first is a campaign of airstrikes against IS in both Iraq and Syria. The second is to support Iraqi armed forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga: providing training, intelligence and equipment.

The third element is to use indirect methods to strangle IS and limit its capacity to fight. And the fourth element is the provision of humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by IS’s expansion.

Several things are worth noting about this strategy. The first is what is not there: getting the politics right. In Iraq, it was the sectarian policies of previous Prime Minister Maliki that so estranged the Sunni population that allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq and, subsequently, IS to grow. A more inclusive government led by Haider al-Abadi may be an important step to winning the Sunnis towards the State of Iraq and away from the Islamic State. If the majority of Sunnis can be persuaded to end support for insurgency, we can be relatively confident that the current front line between Caliphate and Government forces will stabilise and few other Sunni areas will fall to Islamic State fighters.

Political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia is an absolutely fundamental condition for success but, by itself, it is also quite insufficient to militarily defeat the IS.

The other thing to note in this strategy is the recognition that air power alone will not destroy IS. We can expect, over time, to be able to identify and destroy most of their heavier weapons – its tanks and artillery pieces. Without such weapons, they find it harder to mount successful offensives. But it only works to degrade, not destroy.

So it falls to the second element of the President’s strategy to bear the brunt of destroying IS. It will require a major ground force attack to recapture all the lost ground; not just in Iraq but also in Syria.

In Iraq, only the Iraqi Army can mount a sustained attack on IS to defeat its military forces and roll back its gains. The Kurds will not fight to recapture Sunni Arab lands for Baghdad. The Shia militias will have quite the wrong effect on the Sunni population if they attempt to ‘liberate’ them from the Caliphate. But the Iraqi Army today is a shadow of what it was even two years ago. It is a defeated and demoralised force.

So we really need the Iraqi Army to re-build itself to the level that it can mount a sustained attack to recapture and then hold lost territory. It needs to recover its self-confidence. As a result, I believe that if our strategic objective is really the destruction of the Islamic State then we have to do more than train and equip them. We will also need to embed advisors and fire control teams, to give them the confidence that was so badly shattered this summer.

But this option, it seems, has already been precluded by both President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron, who have separately promised not to involve American and British troops in combat roles.

The US plan to build a non-radical Syrian opposition, strong enough to prevail against both Assad and IS, is bound to fail. The Free Syrian Army now no longer exists in any meaningful way. It has been destroyed by IS. There are only three effective forces left in Syria: the Syrian Army and its Hezbollah allies, supporting Assad; the Syrian Kurds fighting for survival in the north; and the IS and its allies. There is no non-radical opposition in Syria left for the US to support.

So the only way we could actually achieve the destruction of the Caliphate would be by both significantly increasing our military commitment in Iraq while, simultaneously, changing our political position vis-à-vis the Assad regime in Syria. Both of these conditions seem a long way from the thinking of our political leadership right now.

If we are relying on the military being a major part of our strategy to destroy (as opposed to degrade) IS, then we had better get used to the reality of the IS being around for quite a long time.