Author Archives: Beth Maundrill

The eye-watering cost of modern military aircraft

Designing, developing and delivering a new state-of-the art aircraft is no mean feat. But the cost of some of the latest and greatest aerospace technology is enough to make your eyes water.

Luckily the US has a pretty huge defence budget and by all accounts President Trump is looking to increase defence spending, according to his budget published earlier this month.

So let’s look at some of the most costly US aircraft on the market at the moment. Here at Quill we have whittled it down to three, but if you have any others feel free to leave a comment below.

First off we have the MV-22 Osprey with a flyaway cost of $71.92 million per unit. Now this seems like a lot until you get to the next two we’ve lined up. Really this might just be a relatively expensive bit of kit to put things into perspective…

Second, another helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. Is estimated that per unit cost will be around $130 million per aircraft, including the R&D. Another hefty sum, especially considering the aircraft has been in development since 2003 and is a maturation of technology from the CH-53A, CH-53D/G, and CH-53E predecessors.

Potential foreign military sales, Germany is known to be interested, could bring the cost of the aircraft down somewhat.

The CH-53K recently entered low rate initial production.

Lastly, this comment would not be complete without mention of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Latest findings by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) breaks down the aircraft cost as follows.

R&D: $1.7 billion; Procurement: $209.7 billion; Total funding: $214 billion; all for a total procurement quantity of 2,158 aircraft.

The GAO puts the programme unit cost at $136.814 million. Now if you’ve been watching the news even President Trump thinks this is very costly, stating that costs are ‘out of control’.

However, it should be noted that Lockheed Martin is looking at ways to cut the cost and as more lots of the aircraft enter production this is likely. As well as foreign military sales helping drive down costs. The Navy’s aircraft is set to be reduced in cost by up to $100 million by 2020 according to reports.

Ultimately, the F-35 could become less expensive than the CH-53K helicopter. Now fancy that.

 

Why France’s special forces are badass

France’s special forces are up there with some of the best in the world, alongside the famous US Navy SEALs and the British SAS.

This week at the special forces exhibition SOFINS, being held in France, we saw some of the latest kit and technology used by the country’s special operations command.

We’ve seen everything from small arms to rivercraft to tactical vehicles.

Interestingly, the French National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (aka GIGN, an elite special ops unit) has ordered a new standard issue weapon in the form of the Bren 2 assault rifle from Czech company, CZ.

SOFINS: French GIGN gets new rifle

Meanwhile, the French Army dropped a web series highlighting its Gorgones annual training exercise for the brigade des forces spéciales terre (BFST – that’s the French army’s special forces command).

The videos highlight some pretty awesome operational training with members of the 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment (13th RDP) in full dive kit jumping out of an army Cougar helicopter.

The eight-part web series showed how over 15 days 400 soldiers worked together on the training exercise which included 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (1st RPIMa), 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment (4e RHFS) alongside the 13th RDP and BFST.

While the BFST might not quite be the GIGN, after having watched the web series we can officially say that France’s special forces are pretty badass.

Can conscription give European nations the edge over Russia?

Many states in Europe are carefully considering how best to enhance their military readiness in the face of a changing security environment in the region.

We have of course seen a splurge in defence spending and new equipment requirements as well as a move away from Russian platforms and now another topic is trending. Conscription.

The Armed Forces is planning for 4 000 recruits annually in basic military training in 2018 and 2019One state that has gone beyond the purchase of equipment and is looking at the manpower side of things is Sweden which earlier this month announced that it will be reintroducing military conscription.

This will mean as of 2018 around 4,000 young men and women could be called up into various roles. Sweden highlighted that in 2016 its forces lacked 1,000 active squad leaders, soldiers and sailors as well as 7,000 reservists. Conscription could help solve this problem it seems.

However, this is not the way forward for everyone. As Grant Turnbull found after speaking to State Secretary of the Latvian MoD Jānis Garisons, who said that it was unlikely the Baltic nation would consider conscription as it would prioritise the available budget to infrastructure rather than new weapon procurement.

Latvia says no to conscriptionWhile Latvia has said no to conscription for now the concept is reemerging in Europe after most states chose to abandon what were seen as out-dated policies of military national service.

Recently the front runner of the French presidential race, Emmanuel Marcon, said he wanted to restore military service to France considering recent attacks by Islamic extremists abroad, Russian aggression, US unpredictability and terror attacks on home soil.

Furthermore, Norway has long had a policy of national military service and has extended the policy to include all women.

In 2015 Lithuania reinstated the draft, reportedly for a five year period that will enhance and accelerate army recruitment having only suspended the policy in 2008.

Many nations in Europe phased out the draft after the end of the Cold War but we could see more considering it as jitters over Russian action in Crimea have not subsided.

Whatever your thoughts on national military service it is something that could be reintroduced to a country near you.

Let us know your thoughts on the topic in the comments below. Is it a worthwhile policy or outdated? Should nations be able to rely on volunteers alone?

Is this the end of the New Zealand helo dream?

As we approach one of the largest commercial helicopter exhibitions of the year, Heli-Expo, sad news has reached the desks of reporters at Shephard Media.

New Zealand-based company, Composite Helicopters, seems to have gone into liquidation with the appearance of assets at online auction.

The Shephard team first met the budding new company at Heli-Expo back in 2015. Speaking to the company’s CEO, Peter Maloney, Composite showcased two aircraft prototypes with its EvoStrength composite technology.

The company displayed a high powered version of its helicopter and an entry level aircraft, the KC630.

Composite has had its fair share of challenges, not least the crash of one of its aircraft in 2014. In a video test pilots Peter Maloney and Norbert Idelon share the experience.

In 2016 a US-based company, Innova Helicopters, acquired the intellectual property rights of the C630 from Composite Helicopters and is now working on the aircraft under the name Innova Helicopters as part of Innova Aerospace.

Innova is still displaying the C630 on its website, designating the aircraft as ‘in development’, and chatter in various aviation forums seems to suggest that the American side of the business, presumably referring to Innova, is going to push forward with the type certification of the aircraft.

ch630_2017_v01_01

We have tried to contact Innova for comment with no success. It also appears that the company will not be exhibiting at this year’s Heli-Expo as they do not show on the current exhibitors’ list.

While the New Zealand helicopter experience may be coming to an end, we could still see a new aircraft enter the market thanks to US-backing. Time will tell.

Who is protecting your coastal borders?

As highlighted by our maritime security editor in his last blog, attacks at sea are as real a threat as attacks on land.

Pressures posed by terrorism, island disputes and ongoing sovereignty issues have seen countries continue to enhance their shoreline and maritime border protection capabilities.

One of the complexities for nations attempting to protect their maritime borders is which organisation holds responsibility for this mission?

You might think that many of these roles would fall under the remit of a national coast guard, however, in practice it is more complex than that, given the range of operations such forces are expected to perform.

In some cases, the overlap between maritime security functions becomes apparent only as navies and smaller civil border forces compete for the same operating space.

The Cape Class patrol boat for the Australian Border Force, built by Austal.

The Cape Class patrol boat for the Australian Border Force, built by Austal.

Coast guards come in many guises. The Australian Border Force carries out most of the country’s coast guard-type duties, while in the Middle East, the UAE deploys its Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority for such activities.

The UK maintains a border force that carries out the traditional safety, policing and maritime security role, and a separate coast guard agency responsible for SAR operations.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard is akin to, if not larger, than some naval forces.

The USCG operates some of the largest cutters around and is one of the five armed forces of the US.

With this variety of duties and varied organisations supplying equipment and vessels it can be challenging. With a broad range of operations comes a broad range of requirements.

The USCG is currently embarking on a fleet renewal with new Offshore Patrol Cutters, Fast Response Cutters and National Security Cutters, the latter being some of the largest vessels in service.

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Meanwhile Japan is increasing its budget for its coast guard as well as helping out its neighbours as regional tensions in the South China Sea worsen.

Notably in November 2016, Tokyo announced it would donate two decommissioned Japanese Coast Guard vessels to the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency.

For more on coast guard procurement and the latest vessel technology, see the latest issue of International Maritime and Port Security.

New missile developments on target

Most people, when thinking about weapon systems on board military helicopters, will automatically recognise the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire as the system that is dominating the market.

But a number of the world’s militaries are seeking to adopt the latest missile technology and acquire more advanced capabilities.

The US Army is currently looking at a replacement for the AGM-114 with the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), also developed by Lockheed Martin.

Recently JAGM was fired from an Apache AH-64D for the first time targeting a small moving boat.

 

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This demonstrated one of the advantages that JAGM will have over Hellfire. The Hellfire’s laser targeting system limits its ability to see reflective energy from the target in challenging environments, such as maritime. But with JAGM the pilot can lock-on before and after launch in these conditions.

‘The biggest benefit that a JAGM will provide to the warfighter is the mission flexibility that it offers where you have a semi-active laser system in Hellfire and a millimetre-guided system in Longbow – this combines those capabilities into a single missile,’ said Colonel David Warnick, US Army Project Manager for Joint Attack Munition Systems within PEO Missiles and Space.

Warnick is confident that if the programme continues down the path it is currently on the US Army will be able to deliver this capability ‘as soon as possible.’ Though JAGM may provide more capability than Hellfire it is not the only offering out there for customers of the AH-64 Apache.

One alternative comes from MBDA which is testing a solution that could fit onto the UK’s fleet of Apache aircraft. The UK is exploring its options through the Future Attack Helicopter Weapon (FAHW) endeavour.

Apache launches MBDA Brimstone missile

Apache launches MBDA Brimstone missile

MBDA has completed a series of physical trials and firings of Brimestone from Apache with the assistance of aviation services company Amber Tiger.

‘Above all else, the missile firings from the AH-64E debunked the myth that integrating Brimstone onto the Apache wasn’t feasible,’ Andy Furness, CEO at Amber Tiger said.

Brimstone, manufactured by MBDA in the UK, could be an attractive option for the British.

‘The nation’s enemies for the next 20-plus years are not yet known, and so having a missile and manufacturer who can easily adapt to meet the requirements in an uncertain future holds a significant appeal,’ said Furness.

With Brimstone already selected for Typhoon and Protector, adapting the missile onto the AH-64E could be a sensible move for the UK.

As these projects continue development we will be covering them at www.shephardmedia.com.

For more on Brimstone vs Hellfire developments and an exclusive update on the JAGM programme see the Jan/Feb issue of Defence Helicopter.

Let us know your thoughts on those battling it out to dominate the missile market in the comments below.

Has the UK Helicopter industry seen better days?

In a quiet, rather unremarkable town in the southwest of England called Yeovil – there is a helicopter manufacturing site.

However, this could be under threat as this specialist industry might be slipping from the UK altogether.

Why the jitters though? Well, it seems like the Leonardo Helicopters site, formally AgustaWestland, in Yeovil is not what it once was despite its long history there.

Marcus Fysh, Conservative MP for Yeovil, held a UK parliamentary debate on the UK helicopter industry on 24 January highlighting its importance and also stressing concerns about its decline.

Over the years, the Yeovil site has manufactured the Westland Wessex, the Sea King, the Lynx, the Merlin and now the Wildcat.

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One of the biggest blows came in summer 2016 when Boeing was awarded a contract for 50 AH-64E Apaches for the British Army, to be manufactured in the US, rather than opting for the alternative of having Leonardo Helicopters retrofit UK Apaches.

Previously, the AH-64D Apache Longbow kits had been delivered to Leonardo Helicopters UK, known as AgustaWestland at the time, to be assembled. This has long been seen to be a costly exercise to the UK taxpayer.

With this Leonardo is hoping it will gain a support contract for the aircraft. It is currently supporting the AH-64Ds until their end of service in 2023/24.

Another issue, noted by Fysh, is that of the Wildcat airframes.

‘There is a live issue involving the Wildcat airframe jigs, as anyone who has been following it will know. It is a relatively small issue within the overall scheme of the industry, but it is an important signal that we want to be able to manufacture helicopters end-to-end in the Yeovil area,’ he said.

GKN, who manufactures the airframe, has said it will close its site as Leonardo is set to bring this component in- house.

The government currently owns the airframe jigs and tooling to support the job but Leonardo wishes to move this over to its site in Poland.

A decision on this is yet to be made.

Meanwhile, Leonardo is seeking to strengthen its UK-based operations as it now operates as Leonardo MW Ltd.

Leonardo MW Ltd apparently symbolises the Westland helicopters and the Marconi electronic element of the company.

Though the military side may be uncertain, Leonardo and its Yeovil plant play a key role in the production of rotor blades and tail rotor transmission system for the AW169.

Debates and UK parliamentary questioning about the future of this industry are likely to be ongoing but at the moment for those working in the UK-side of the industry there are uncertain times ahead.

What do you think of the state of the UK’s helicopter industry? How do you think it compares with other nations? Let us know in the comments below.

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