Author Archives: Beth Maundrill

Big floating runway attracts uninvited guests

As the UK awaits the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth at its new home in Portsmouth it was reported over the weekend that a hobbyist drone landed on the deck on the £3 billion vessel.

If it were not for the Royal Navy’s (RN) Merlin helicopters landing on its deck during sea trials this could have been an embarrassing first deck landing on the carrier.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it is investigating the incident which took place during sea trials.

But it raises the question about how secure the carrier is at present against small unmanned threats. Media reports contradicted themselves with some stating the system used was a DJI Phantom, while others said it was a Parrot Bebop.

The US military recently ordered personnel to cease using UAS from Chinese manufacturer DJI on account of possible security threats. In April the FAA restricted drone operations across 133 military facilities, addressing national security concerns regarding unauthorised used of UAVs.

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DJI’s Phantom 4 quadcopter, widely used by hobbyists.

Transferring this type of restriction to the maritime environment is likely to throw up issues but these examples highlight how the US is getting serious about commercial drones in the military environment and the threat they pose.

Also, as we recently discussed here on Quill, non-state actors are starting to seriously use unmanned vehicles with a range of payloads, predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions.

So is this a recipe for disaster for the RN’s newest and most expensive vessel?

Well of course the MoD will now be investigating the incident and is reviewing the security of the vessel.

Also it should be noted that the vessel is not fully operational yet and does not have its full crew on board. One would hope during operations the story would be somewhat different.

This is not the first incident of drones getting close to maritime assets. Earlier in August it was reported that an Iranian drone flew close to a USN F-18 as as it prepared to land on the nearby US carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Would it be out of the question for maritime adversaries to interfere with RN ships using small drones? All very hypothetical but not to be dismissed.

 

HMMWV, the ultimate driverless car

HMMWV, Humvee or the Hummer, whatever you want to call it most people will recognise the famous four wheel drive vehicle.

First entering service in the mid-1980s there are now at least 230,000 HMMWVs in service both in and around 60 nations. It is not surprising that some users have sought to modify the vehicle which will turn it into an autonomous UGV.

That’s right, an unmanned HMMWV.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) recently publicised its efforts to develop the unmanned capability, releasing a video of the unmanned HMMWV in July.

The IDF has been working with IAI on the technology and recently I spoke with the company about their roboticist technology which has been incorporated into the vehicle. You can read the full story here. 

But what’s the point?

Well, although it has not been confirmed by either the IDF or IAI, it seems likely that if you kept the remote weapon station on the vehicle with the aid of cameras and sensors the unmanned HMMWV could become the ultimate border patrol vehicle.

The video appears to show the IDF’s unmanned HMMWV with the Rafael Mini Typhoon weapon station.

However, Israel is not the only nation developing this technology. The US military is set to have a live demonstration of such a vehicle later on this month as the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning looks to develop this technology.

Watch this space as there is certainly more developments to come regarding the unmanned HMMWV.

Royal Navy: Maintaining the fleet

The UK’s Royal Navy is patiently awaiting the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) carrier at its new home in Portsmouth in the coming weeks.

On Monday I visited Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Portsmouth to find out more about some of the other class of ships based there, the Type 23 and 45, but I also got a glimpse at some of the impressive infrastructure at the base which will support QEC.

Navigation aids have been installed to guide the 280m vessel into the port. There is also an onshore power generation source which will keep the vessel running while it is docked and an airport-style arrivals hall to support the 500-plus contractors which will be coming and going from the carrier each day when in Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, on 1 August, it was announced that £3 million was to be saved on the QEC as part of a new deal to supply the RN with more than 10,000 different types of consumable items – covering everything from fittings and fixtures to pistons and pumps.

It ought to be noted that maintenance of such a vessel is no mean feat, Babcock currently has a contract to do so.

While I was at HMNB I spoke with BAE Systems about some of its experiences maintaining the RN’s Type 45 and Type 23 fleets.

The Type 45 has notably been making headlines with various issues with its propulsion systems and at one time all six were seen to be alongside or in dock at one time.

BAE Systems has said that one of the lessons learned from its support of the Type 45 programme is the need to have spares readily available.

Additionally, there was supposed to be one serious mid-life upgrade but a continuous engineering philosophy was adopted with a lot of the maintenance to be done during fleet time under the original BAE Systems contract. That was the concept as it evolved over a decade ago, according to BAE Systems.

The reality has been that the ships staff have been required to do much more than operate and maintain only – something the enterprise should have thought about beforehand, BAE admitted.

A single mid-life upgrade just did not work and capability insertion has been a continuous feature for the Type 45s.

An ongoing effort, Project Napier, is also being carried out to enhance the vessel’s power and propulsion systems

The Type 45s are now moving to a common support model which will see DE&S take over more of the maintenance, supported by BAE Systems. Design, maintenance and equipment management will return to DE&S and the QEC will follow this model from the outset.

The company is already working with teams to implement this support model on the future Type 26s and it has been implemented on the Type 23s.

With new vessels coming into service it is imperative that the RN looks closely at both the successes and failings of previous projects.

More on this, lessons learned and future plans for maintenance can be found on the Shephard Media website.

 

 

Dynamic Mongoose: The state of NATO’s ASW

This summer saw NATO embark on its second anti-submarine warfare (ASW) event named Exercise Dynamic Mongoose.

Dynamic Mongoose? Nope, me neither. After reading the Wikipedia page on the mongoose (mongeese?) I’m not sure how it relates to ASW. If you have any ideas, comment below.

Anyway, NATO recently released this video in which the participants can be seen showcasing their capabilities off the coast of Iceland.

Naval forces from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States participated.

The use of submarines by NATO’s adversaries has been hitting the headlines and many nations looking at enhancing, adding to or upgrading their ASW capabilities. Really the exercise as much as pracitising interoperability between nations as a show of force.

Earlier this year I went to the Underwater Defence Technology event held in Bremen, Germany, where ASW was mentioned as a key focus for allied nations going forward.

The capability has been somewhat on the back-burner following ‘negligence after the cost-cutting post-cold war’, according to one German Navy commander.

Outdated MPAs, submarines and helicopter equipment are all in the firing line for replacement or significant upgrade.

Obviously a prime example of the neglect ASW capabilities has seen comes in the UK where the nation is still without a sovereign MPA asset until the P-8 Poseidon enters service.

The US equipment used during Dynamic Mongoose included a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, a P-8A Poseidon and two P-3C Orions.

In total five submarines, 11 surface ships and eight MPAs participated in the exercises including Norwegian submarine HNoMS UTSIRA (S301), Spanish frigate ESPS Mendez Nunez and German frigate FGS Schleswig Holstein (F216).

Overall the exercise is set to increase NATO’s readiness and effectiveness but individual nations must continue to update their individual ASW capabilities in order to be an effective partner in an increasingly hostile environment.

Air Power: RAF regaining its edge

While the Royal Air Force (RAF) may have admittedly ‘lost its competitive edge’ in recent years, it is making a big effort to bring itself up to date and is on the path to becoming a fifth generation air force.

The Air Power Conference held in London highlighted some of the ways in which the service is looking to regain its edge and AVM Pete Rochelle, Chief of Staff Capability, highlighted the importance of networking and cloud computing.

There was also criticism of the procurement process for not being well suited to networking the service, usually because the emphasis is put on the platform first, while data and information is an afterthought. This is not a new idea though and I wonder how long it will be, if ever, until procurement processes are modified to deal with the ‘big data’ age.

 

ACM Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, highlighted partnerships with industry and other services as key for the RAF’s future.

With the Typhoon having an in-service life until 2040, the air force is working with BAE Systems on a ten year partnership known as the Typhoon Total Availability Enterprise Service (TyTAN). This was agreed exactly 12 months ago and has since been hailed a success by the force.

Sir Michael Fallon kicked off day two of the Air Power conference announcing that the new P-8 Squadrons will be based in RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire and their names will be 120 Squadron and 201 Squadron.

Nine P-8s in total will be joining the RAF after a deal was announced in 2016 by the UK Government, finally filling a capability gap created by the withdrawal of Nimrod in 2010.

He also announced a £40 million push over the next year to enhance the defensive aid subsystems of the RAF’s Typhoon multirole fighter.

Aside from the programmes, the service is looking to the future of technology, with Microsoft invited to the conference to showcase its HoloLens technology to the military audience.

The company suggests that artificial intelligence services could see opportunities in creating a paperless maintenance procedure.

The Royal Australian Air Force is already exploring the technology under its Jericho initiative having conducted a Augmented Reality Visualisation demo in 2016 with HoloLens, Saab and Defence Science and Technology Group.

The US Marine Corps has already tested out the HoloLens a training exercise geared towards the development and strengthening of small unit-decision making.

As the RAF looks to its centenary in 2018, a year promised to be full of celebration, the service is at a pivotal point where decisions made now could either result in a leading, cutting-edge force, or one that is stuck in its ways and not pursuing a bigger, networked, cloud-capable future.

The conference was full of blue-sky thinking from various speakers from the air force, industry and various experts. But it is all well and good to talk but when is the action coming I wonder?

Paris Air Show: the hottest show on earth

Like troops returning from the battlefield the news team has arrived at Shephard Towers victorious after a successful Paris Air Show.

Think I’m exaggerating? You don’t know man, you weren’t there!

With temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius (over 100 Fahrenheit) walking around the tarmac at Le Bourget was testing to even the most dedicated aviation journalist. One thing I will comment on though was the great sense of comradery that came out of the event. With everyone suffering in the heat, the best of the aviation industry came to surface.

As for the news there was a great display of aircraft, some exciting unveilings and many firsts from outside of the traditional western nations.

The KC-390 from Brazilian company Embraer made its debut at the Paris Air Show and while it spent the week in the static display it gained attention as an alternative transport and tanker aircraft.

The aircraft is on track for initial operating capability in 2018. Shephard was also able to speak with the chief test pilot from Embraer about the capabilities of the aircraft.

Another first, garnering much attention, was the mock up of the Chinese Wing Loong II MALE UAV which, surrounded by a multitude of weapon systems, is seen as a cheaper alternative to nations unable to buy from the US or with more modest budgets. Its shape is unmistakably similar to that of the General Atomics MALE UAVs. Our UV editor, Richard Thomas, takes a closer look at the UAV.

We also saw the unveiling of the Nightwarden. The new platform is a tactical UAV which has followed the development of the company’s developmental Shadow M2.

While there were no big unveilings on the rotary side of things Airbus Helicopters did reveal its Racer demonstrator which is part of its Clean Sky 2 project. Racer stands for Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft and the company hopes to fly its first aircraft in the next couple of years.

Other aircraft of interest included the Air Tractor AT802L ‘Longsword’ light-attack aircraft from L-3 which will be on its way to Kenya later this year. Leonardo showcased its fighter attack version of its M-346, the M-346 FA, as well as its T-100 training aircraft which it is putting forward for the US T-X programme.

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) showcased its T129 Atak and T625 multirole helicopter, with VIP configuration, as the company looks to expand further into the international market.

Now this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the team covered during the show and all the news and video coverage can be found online at www.shephardmedia.com. This includes a chat with the F-35 chief test pilot, updates on the Safran Patroller for France and an overview of the French Tiger attack helicopter from the crew commander.

In the meantime I will leave you with some of the awesome tweets that came out of the week and 52nd Paris Air Show:

 

Paris Air Show 2017: Ready to fly

It’s that time of year, the air show season has arrived and we will soon all be heading off to Paris for the biennial jaunt to Le Bourget.

While we will be expecting the usual big orders from the commercial sector the Shephard team will be focusing on what is going on across the defence market.

Of course for all the avgeeks out there the F-35 will be making its debut appearance, alongside the AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook.

In 2015 there were 48 countries present with 150 aircraft on display, similar numbers are expected this year.

We are expecting to see more comradery from the European defence sector as the US criticises some NATO members for their lack of spending.

The outlook for defence spending appears to be more promising than that of recent years due to European economies stabilising since the 2008 financial crash and the impact of Russian action both within and outside of Europe adding to a general sense of insecurity in the region.

Alongside this the EU is proposing a new defence fund of around £870 million for new military technologies. This could focus on UAS.

Safran will be showcasing its Patroller which has been selected as the replacement for the Sperwer UAS currently deployed with the French Army’s 61st Artillery Regiment from 2018.

The French army will be showcasing its Tigre, Caracal and NH90 helicopters alongside the notoriously noisy Dassault Rafale Air.

The US DoD will also maintain a large presence with the P-8 Poseidon, V-22 Osprey and C-130H on display.

US company Boeing already highlighted some of its ongoing programmes at the annual Boeing Media Tour, all stories from the event can be read on our dedicated show news site.

With our schedules set and our bags packed we are now heading across the channel for the air show. We look forward to seeing you at Le Bourget!

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