Author Archives: sweeneygov

UK defence spending: Labour or Conservative?

As the UK endures another General Election today, for the defence sector the question revolves around which main party would be better for the military and industry?

Looking at the party manifestos and recent statements on defence and security, there are some interesting similarities and comparisons.

Firstly, both Labour and Conservative have committed to keeping the nuclear deterrent, spending 2% of GDP on defence and keeping the military covenant. But comparing the defence sections of the manifestos there are some wider differences.

Conservative: Firstly, it is difficult to see what the party wants as it is bereft of details. However, they state they will ‘maintain the overall size of the armed forces’, which sounds good but this is misleading.

‘Overall’ includes reserve forces, so therefore this will allow for further cuts to full time service men and women even when they are understaffed already.

Secondly, the manifesto states a commitment to 2% of GDP on defence – a target they have already missed due to some sly accounting practices.

The commitment to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation per year and the £178 billion for equipment over ten years sounds attractive but meeting the budget depends on the ability to make savings of £5.8 billion, according the National Audit Office.

Thirdly, there is an intention to employ service men and women on a ‘flexible basis’, which also sounds good, but this means job cuts in full time equivalents in order to make more savings.

Fourthly, the manifesto states that ‘for the first time in a generation the Royal Navy is growing’, which anyone with an ounce of cognisance knows is an out-and-out lie. Under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the number of frigates and destroyers has fallen to just 19 and the number of service personnel has fallen leaving a shortfall of somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000.

It does not even mention the Strategic Defence and Security Review held in 2015, which could mean an abandonment of commitments already made where they have tried to reverse the damage of the 2010 review.

Statements made by Theresa May on defence usually focus on reiterating support for the nuclear deterrent or Brexit, deflecting from the impact of cuts on conventional forces.

Labour: Labour’s manifesto has the defence section at the back as usual, but it actually says a bit more about what it aims to do in defence.

Aside from the commitments to Trident and 2% of GDP, Labour said it would ‘guarantee that our armed forces have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of obligations and ensure our conventional forces are versatile and able to deploy in a range of roles’.

It raises concerns that army has shrunk to ‘its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars’ as well as arguing that the scrapping of Nimrod, HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier ‘have weakened UK defence’.

In addition, Jeremy Corbyn has recently in his Question Time debate said that he would ‘invest properly’ in the armed forces, making a commitment for more ships for the Royal Navy and aircraft for the RAF.

The manifesto goes on to highlight support for the ‘world-leading’ defence industry promising to ‘continue to support development and innovation’ with more procurement from British industry to provide jobs.

Labour said it will also publish a Defence Industrial Strategy and a National Shipbuilding Plan to ‘secure a long-term future for the industry workers and UK defence’.

In addition, the manifesto states service personnel will ‘get the pay and living conditions that their service merits’ and ‘immediately re-examine recruitment and retention policies in order to stem the exodus seen under the Conservatives’ as well as improve service accommodation.

Therefore, overall Labour has provided more detail about what it wants to achieve, given commitments to spending and investment in people and equipment as well as support for industry.

This directly contrasts with the Conservatives record since 2010 which has been abysmal, cutting expenditure when it needed to be held firm or even increased.

But despite the positive outlook from Labour, Corbyn’s personal anti-nuclear stance still gives the party a negative perception on defence.

There seems to be a long-held assumption in the defence sector from service men and women, and industry that somehow the Conservatives are better for defence. But this is misleading.

A quick look at defence spending from a high during the Korean War shows that the Conservatives have always cut the most during the Cold War and after it. Figures from the IFS show that at worst Labour made minor cuts of 1.5% during the late-1960s from 5.8% to 4.3%, maintaining it at existing levels the rest of the time.

Whilst in office the Conservatives raised it from 4.3% to 5% after the Falklands War but then halved it to 2.4% after the end of the Cold War, which was too much. Since 2010 they have pushed it to well below the official figure of 2% putting UK defence and security at risk.

Looking at the manifesto commitments and the historical record it seems that it is time for defence to put their trust in Labour.

Is US SOCOM’s load too heavy?

Earlier this year President Trump gave his blessing for more ‘beautiful equipment’ for US Special Forces Command, but the organisation has serious issues with over-extension and ever-increasing commitments.

Since its creation 30 years ago it has grown in size and taken on more responsibilities but does that still make it ‘special’ or just another army within an army? At over 56,000 people strong and with a global reach it is the service that most SF units around the world look to for leadership and both technical and tactical developments.

But with a list of at least a dozen core commitments from special reconnaissance and unconventional warfare through to counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and foreign humanitarian assistance it is difficult for even a force of this size to maintain the required levels of expertise.

US Congress has warned about these issues in a report in January and it remains to be seen how the new Trump administration and in particular the new National Security Adviser, Lt Gen McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis foresee the role of USSOCOM.

A more robust approach to engaging in operations has already seen an increase in operational tempo and the death of a US Navy SEAL in Yemen in January, but this will impact the organisation.

It is possible that the promise to increase military spending will see USSOCOM grow even more and improve its capabilities or perhaps larger conventional forces will be able to take on some of the responsibilities allowing US Special Forces to stay focused on a smaller number of key tasks and roles (see the April-May edition of Land Warfare International for more).

Drifting apart? NATO and Turkey

Of the three main political dramas of 2016: The election of Donald Trump as US President, the UK voting to leave the European Union and the attempted coup in Turkey; it is the effects of the latter that could have the most far-reaching impact for NATO and the Middle East region.

The rise in Presidential authoritarianism and religious hardliners on the one hand and a renewed friendship with Russia on the other could lead to a significant schism with NATO and the West in general. As Turkey becomes more self-reliant for its military equipment and is continually rebuffed by the EU over future membership, matters could come to a head and Ankara may look for friends elsewhere.

The failure in the attempt by the Turkish Land Forces Command to develop a Turkish engine for its new Altay tanks through an industry partnership between domestic company Turmosan and Austrian company AVL List is indicative of what could happen in the future on a grander scale. Austria’s Parliament imposed an arms embargo on Turkey due to the human rights abuses following the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and this included the engine contract, which was cancelled.

Furthermore the West’s military assistance to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria mean they have the power to resist and fight back against ISIS, but they have also built their own state in all but name – something which Ankara is diametrically opposed to.

If trends continue on their current path then it will make it increasingly difficult for the West and Turkey to travel on the same path and things could get particularly uncomfortable if Turkish democracy is eroded further. But for the TLFC it is continuing to build up its capability with a range of new procurement programmes that are coming to fruition (see the April-May edition of Land Warfare International, page 10).

Turkish industry has an exciting and active design and development environment that is lacking in both Europe and the US and so far this has not seemed to have suffered over the past year.

The biennial IDEF exhibition is always one of the most interesting in the defence calendar and this year will be no different. For more on the Turkish defence sector, see the next issue of LWI magazine and follow our coverage of IDEF next month.

Geoint and activity-based intelligence combine

The desire and hunger for intelligence is unlikely to ever be sated. As new methods of collection and analysis arise so organisations demand ever more.

This also depends on where the threats are coming from and where the action is happening, as the requirement for information is likely to be much higher in those regions than others.novasar-portrait-copy

This is the case for the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Geo-intelligence is becoming the backbone of an intelligence product – the analysis – and with the rise of APAC countries as increasingly strong regional and global actors it is starting to really draw the attention of the US away from more traditional areas of focus like Europe and the Middle East.

It is not just gathering and processing of more intelligence from the more traditional sources like agents or satellite surveillance, it is also the collection of huge amounts of open source information – everything from local media reports to social media posts – that can give almost real-time data. This feeds into what is known as Activity Based Intelligence (ABI), the bringing together of all of these sources and geo-referencing it so that a user can get access to all the relevant information needed much faster. See the GEOINT feature in the March/April edition of Digital Battlespace for more details.

Because of the demand in APAC there is a need for more GEOINT capability. According to Dennis Bowerman, GEOINT mission manager for US Pacific Command with the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, it is also the best way to conquer the ‘tyranny of distance’ that the region has to deal with.


Speaking at the Defence Geospatial Intelligence conference in London on 25 January, he said that the potential threats and challenges in the region can be met with more GEOINT capability, but what is needed is more persistent coverage of an area of operations and better maritime domain awareness in particular.

This is where the ABI comes in. More unclassified information from open sources that can be shared with allies has to be utilised and enhanced. But across the board in intelligence agencies and other organisations there has to be a change in attitude – instead of thinking that unclassified information as supplementary, it needs to be considered a priority.

The theory is that because the military does not know from where and when the next threat will comes from by the time an event occurs it is too late to start gathering some types of intelligence. Therefore this has to be done in advance in a generic way that will support the classified intelligence when that is gathered.

Australia is one of the countries taking a lead in this area with a plan in place to improve its space-based data
collection tools
and is likely a sign of things to come. bba0fbe7

Reece Biddiscombe, director of collection capability at the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO), said that the MH370 and MH17 airline disasters brought Australia’s lack of capability into focus, given the difficulty it took to gather and exchange GEOINT data because of classification issues.

This has resulted in a programme for the Australian Defence Force to get improved satellite image collection called worlddem-airbus-dsDEF799, which will introduce a Direct Tasking and Receiving Facility (DTRF) that includes the development of three antenna sites.

The plan is to build DTRF as an unclassified system, which therefore makes it cheaper to develop, less sensitive, removes the need to conceal contractual arrangements to vendors and increases competition.

By combining the capabilities of map-based GEOINT with the influx of more open-source information under ABI, more relevant data can be analysed sooner and exchanged much easier for allies to employ when events take place and allow a more effective response to take place. In some cases it could mean an ability to predict some events taking place which would put commanders in a unique position to plan for action ahead of time.

What to expect at IDEX 2017

With full news coverage and analysis of the IDEX 2017 exhibition here you can keep track of all the latestfrigate_al_makkahcropped developments.

The Middle East is in a period of turmoil and there are a lot of security requirements that need to be met. This includes border and internal regime security, upgrading old equipment and introducing new capabilities with the acquisition of new platforms and systems. By doing this, countries with forces engaged in the conflicts from the north to the south can improve their operational effectiveness. The most recent fighting has taken to the sea and now navies are looking to improve maritime security.

The UAE has been taking an ever more central role in the defence sector in the Middle East with the development of its own industrial manufacturing base attracting companies worldwide to invest and by hosting the IDEX exhibition. It is here that companies can find business enigmapartners that can give access to the market, but they will have to search hard to find the quality firms among the dross – those that are actually interested in production.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s largest defence spenders and continues to buy the latest and most modern platforms from the West across the land, sea and air domains. It has become a real regional power and is heavily engaged in asserting its position and its religious doctrine in the Middle East and beyond as well as funding the SANG for internal regime security.

Read here for some more details about recent procurement activity:

saudi-land Analysis – Land

RSAF Typhoon Take-Off Analysis – Air

140528-N-XJ695-463 GULF OF ADEN (May 28, 2014) The Saudi Arabian frigate HMS Al-Dammam (816) maneuvers into position, with its embarked helicopter circling overhead, during Exercise Eager Lion 2014. Eager Lion is a recurring, multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jesse A. Hyatt/Released) Analysis – Sea


Some companies are already laying out their bids. Patria is launching another new AMV 8×8 vehicle variant – the AMV28A (because it weighs 28t) – but the interesting feature of this vehicle is the option for the extended hull that would probably stretch the vehicle between the second and third axles making it longer. The company has already sold some Rosomaks (the Polish version of AMV) to the UAE, so why would they do that? Read more about it here.

Then there is AM General, supplier of all those HMMWV vehicles across the region. The company reckons there is still a market and is pushing the new Hawkeye variant that will offer a 105mm hawkeyecroppedartillery capability. But the real area of interest is the launch of a new Modular Protected Truck. This is intended to get around strict export rules and make it easier to sell. The company will launch the MPT at the show so it will be interesting to find out what they are offering.

And lastly a whole bunch of companies are lining up to fight for M60 tank upgrade programmes. Although defence spending is going up, countries in the Middle East still cannot afford to buy all-new equipment, especially main battle tanks. Therefore an effective cost saving measure is to upgrade the old ones to a modern standard with more effective capabilities.

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Land technology forcing change

The pace of technology does not pause for a second, even in areas where we think that product development moves relatively slowly. Armoured vehicles do not seem to have advanced as rapidly as other areas such as unmanned vehicles, but that is always the case with new platforms and available technology that offers capabilities and ways of operating.

For good old manned ground vehicles, however, there is a change in the air. Tactics, techniques and procedures are being altered due to a shift in the strategic and operational doctrine, led mainly by the US.

Dancing to the technology tune

mcoe-ft-benningIn a change to military doctrine for land forces at the Manoeuvre Centre of Excellence in Fort Benning, planners have been working on a concept of rapid deployment with very light vehicles.

This has resulted in two major programmes that are coming up – the Ground Mobility Vehicle and the Light Reconnaissance Vehicle.

These have a strong commercial-off-the-shelf element to them, which represents a new opening for new vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers in the military market that are experts in this very light field. Traditional companies should beware (see feature, page 8, Land Warfare International Dec-Jan edition). The change is a response to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and represents a major shift in focus.

The new doctrine is calling for very light mobile vehicles for off-road operations. It seems that in Afghanistan the use of main roads and arteries became so restrictive due to IEDs and other roadside bombs it made operations slow and cumbersome to the point where forces where holed up inside bases and it was a major task just to get out and about.

The other result was travel required ever more heavier vehicles with more armour for
How to solve this puzzle? One option is to take the roads out of the equation by using air transport.

The idea seems to be to plan a mission and fly out to close to the area of operations then drive off-road where there are no IEDs or bombs, to your objective. It is fast, undetectable until the last minute and means that missions can be completed quickly without having to negotiate long hazardous roads where the enemy can focus its attention on columns of cumbersome vehicles winding their way along circuitous routes.

Therefore these vehicles need much less or no armour and presents a challenge for military vehicle manufacturers that are used to building armoured platforms. They have to meet a whole new set of requirements they have not seen before, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Alternative solutions

The other major technological innovation is also related to armour and weight – how to avoid the vicious circle or more armour and weight on vehicles as enemy weapons get more powerful?

Active protection system technologies are finally getting the boost they need. After some research and development worktrophy-on-mercava-2 led by Israeli companies that has been tested in the field on IDF operations the west is jumping on the bandwagon (see feature, page 14, Land Warfare International Dec-Jan edition).

If these systems can neutralise the threat of anti-armour munitions and other shoulder launched projectiles before they reach the vehicle then there is less need to support such extensive heavy armour payloads, which reduces mobility so much.

This could trigger a new revolution that will see a return to lighter tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armoured raytheon-aps-photopersonnel carriers that can use the extra payload to support other systems that improve their combat effective instead of the armour. This in turn will affect the tactics, techniques and procedures of land forces significantly.

Here, it seems the choice is between hard kill or soft kill protection systems and the extent to which these systems are automated not only to trigger the defensive response but if the sensors can be used to identify and target the attacker for vehicle weapons to engage.

So there is work to do developing army doctrine to see what is acceptable for use on their vehicles and how they will use them.

Is African Aerospace and Defence the hardest show to get into?

So AAD is over for another two years. It is always an interesting show where you get to meet a lot of industry and see img_2411
equipment that you do not see elsewhere, however it is a pain to get access to.

Hosted by the South African Air Force at its Waterkloof base near Pretoria (it used to be in Cape Town) first of all you have to negotiate the traffic, which can be at a standstill or at crawling pace especially during rush hour.

There is no mini-bus or public transport so you have to rely on taxi drivers who do not know where anything is. It is almost like they are the tourist that has never been there before so you have to try and tap into your phone to get a google maps image to show them.

‘This is Africa’

Never has a moniker like this been more relevant to an admissions process. This year introduced a new, more img_2403streamlined and modern method for getting a show pass. Not really. Average queue time two hours+.

This involved getting to the front gates only to be told that now you have to collect the pass from the Officer’s Mess, 3km up the road in a random building somewhere. On finding this building you find the queue…

So you have already applied online, been confirmed and printed out your letter with your photo and a barcode on it. Surely all you have to do is walk in, scan it, collect the badge and walk out.

‘This is Africa’

Oh no. Hold it there, it can’t be that easy. Well it is, but AAD staff managed to make it difficult. There were only two workstations printing badges, only one of which was manned. Each person had to show ID and if you got the badge it had to be laminated. If there were any issues it was all dealt with right there. Meanwhile the queue gets longer.

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(South African accent) ‘I am sick and tired of this kind of behaviour,’ one queue member said to an official purporting to be some kind of manager. ‘It is ridiculous. What are you going to do about it?’ The manager shrugs a response.

‘Excuse me, why have you only got one person printing badges?’ asks one man.

‘We have two,’ Comes the reply. Both of which are held up when inevitable issues arise. Meanwhile the queue gets longer.

img_2402 img_2401

‘This is Africa’

Some lose their temper, others sigh and shake their heads. Industry, media, trade visitors in a classic log jam with some waiting around four hours. So at least half of the first day of a three-day show is wasted. If you had paid to exhibit or visit – unlike getting a free media pass – this is valuable time lost.

After finally getting your pass the euphoria sets in, you look back the ever-lengthening queue with sympathy and a sense of victory that it is all done. Then there is the 3km walk back round the dusty track at the side of the road alongside the wall of the air base to get back to the show.

img_2404 img_2405 img_2406 img_2407 img_2408 img_2409

It feels like forever, at each corner is another stretch of desert, until Nirvana! Is that the entrance?


Fortunately security is easy and after that you just need to find food and Wifi. Until 2018!

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Are there any other exhibitions or trade shows that are worse?

Check our AAD coverage here!

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