Category Archives: Around the Bazaar

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.

On the frontline with US Army tanks in Latvia

I recently travelled to Estonia and Latvia to see firsthand how NATO and the US is boosting its forces in the region in support of its Baltic allies. The region is currently going through an unprecedented build up of military forces, not seen since the Cold War.

The reason? A fear that an increasingly aggressive Russia could launch a conventional, or even hybrid, attack on the Baltics mirroring its actions in Ukraine.

We have a detailed analysis of the build up over at Shephard that can be read here.

While in Latvia, I visited the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), which is the first unit to be deployed to Europe as part of a continuous US armoured brigade presence in the region.

The US military likes to call this ‘heel-to-toe’ rotations, which means that once 3ABCT is done later this year, another unit will follow on straight after to maintain that deterrence role.

In Latvia, I got a chance to see one of the most potent units in 3ABCT, the 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment (1-68th ‘Silver Lions’), which operates armoured Humvees, Bradley IFVs, and the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank.

Weighing nearly 70t and bristling with advanced technology, including a 120mm main gun, the Abrams is the most deadly weapon in the US Army’s arsenal.

Its presence, along with other armoured vehicles, in the Baltics is to act as a deterrent against any outside threat.

I arrived in Adazi in the morning, it is just a short drive away from Latvia’s capital, Riga. I joined several local Latvian journalists and TV crews and we were transported out to a training area to view section-level live firing with Humvees, Bradley IFVs and, finally, Abrams tanks going through the range.

The Humvees, equipped with long-range sighting systems, and Bradleys would go through first to scout ahead for the Abrams.

As the country lacks an armoured capability, the exercise did not involve Latvian troops, though Colonel Gunars Kaulins (pictured above) of the Latvian Joint Forces Headquarters was there to observe the exercise – the area is, afterall, run and managed by the Latvian military.

The firing range is one of the only areas in Latvia where the army can fire high calibre and in-direct fire weaponry.

Once the Bradleys and Humvees had carried out their mission, it was time for the Abrams to roll forward. As this was a section-level exercise, two tanks would manoeuvre into firing positions and fire their main gun.

Lt Col Stephen Capehart, commander of the 1-68th, told me during the exercise that once his troops had qualified at squad-level, then the Battalion would move up to more complex exercises at platoon and then company level.

The brigade has been preparing for the European deployment throughout 2016, which included ‘home-station’ training at Fort Carson, Colorado, and a brigade-level exercise last July. The brigade then went through a deployment-validating rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

Much of the training focus has been on combating a so-called ‘near-peer’ adversary, which is military speak for an army that will likely be well-equipped and well-disciplined.

Training for a potential near-peer conflicts marks a significant shift for the US military, which for several years has been training its troops to fight against insurgencies with roadside bombs and other rudimentary weapons.

That shift is particularly important in Europe where the most significant threat is, right now at least, Russia. It has modernised its armed forces and according to both Estonian and Latvian officials I spoke to, represents a clear and present threat to Eastern Europe.

The deployment of US and NATO forces, including 3ABCT and the presence of Abrams tanks, has made a difference and will likely make Russia think twice before launching an attack in the future.

From fiction to action

I recently met with Bell Helicopter’s design and engineering team about the aesthetics of their concept aircraft the FCX-001.

When looking at the aircraft it is easy to see elements seemingly influenced by film and TV such as Star Wars and Flight of the Navigator, and this was deliberate. The team told me how at the drawing board stage they went with their imaginations before the final design.

While Bell might be prioritising the technologies on board the FCX-001 over the platform itself; the capacity to experiment and play with designs brings excitement to an industry which has seemed gloomy in relation to the oil and gas market.

Levi Bilbrey, senior brand strategist at Bell Helicopter, explained further. ‘We are using virtual reality as an experimental tool for market as a design tool[and] looking at augmented reality as a pilot and a passenger experience. We are thinking that the cockpit of the future is going to be a heads-up display.’

Here at Quill we’ve had a bit of fun looking at the wider aerospace market and how sometimes art (in the loosest sense of the word) imitates life.

On AvGeek forums we have been wrestling with fellow enthusiasts over whether Thunderbird 2 resembles the KC-390 or the An-124. What do you think?

Heli-Expo 2017: The power of X and U

You never forget your first. This was my first Heli-Expo and it had full on X appeal. Firstly, the week started with the great reveal of the FCX-001 by Bell Helicopter.

The concept helicopter was inspired by company CEO Mitch Snyder’s push for innovation since assuming his role 18 months ago.


The medium twin-sized helicopter has a strong emphasis on automated technologies on board to aid the pilot and passengers.

With a strong sci-fi influence on the design and lines of the aircraft, one of the main noticeable features is the anti-torque system embedded in the tail boom. Thus, there is no tail rotor but the capacity to open up the thrust vectoring through the capability.

MD Helicopters launched the next-generation of the MD500, the 6XX at last year’s Heli-Expo. This year was a confirmation that the aircraft was aiming to be ready by 2019 in either civil or military configuration.



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An interesting comparison between the two platforms is the influences from the automotive industry on the design.

Bell’s Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation, told Shephard how the team behind the FCX-001 was inspired by the capacity for the car industry to experiment with conceptual technologies and vehicles.

Likewise, several features on board the 6XX, including the sliding door capability, were drawn from MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton’s experience at Dura Automotive Systems.

An underlying, and perhaps understated, theme running through the show was unmanned vehicles. President and CEO of Helicopter Association International, Matt Zuccaro described the prominence of UAVs and how they will change how the industry does business – with a particular emphasis on the safety narrative.

Aircraft tracking company Spidertracks hatched upon a popular promotion during the show – giving away a trip to New Zealand to one lucky purchaser of its products.

Furthermore, Shephard witnessed the showcasing of Vertivue’s Skybox stabilised camera system.

The Skybox allows gimballed camera systems developed for small UAVs to be effectively integrated on the nose of a helicopter, at a drastically reduced cost to the installation of a more complex gimballed system developed specifically for larger aircraft.

While the footfall may not have been as impressive as previous years, with over 70 helicopters on display including six civil configured Black Hawks – what can be learnt from the show is there is optimism in whirlybirds after the oil and gas price woes. This year’s focus was about optimism and not orders.


For all the news and videos from the week take a look at our coverage on the Shephard website.

Heli-Expo 2017: Show highlights from Shephard Media on Vimeo.

Heli-Expo 2017: Shephard hits town

The Shephard team arrived in Dallas, Texas on Saturday night for a week of helicopter excitement at Heli-Expo 2017.

After some steaks, birthday cake and a good night sleep, the team went out and about to explore.

For the rest of the show we are hard at work bringing you all the latest helicopter news. Keep an eye on our show news site for updates through out the week.

For now enjoy the behind the scenes video:

Heli-Expo 2017: Here we go

This year Heli-Expo will be in Dallas, Texas. With more than 60 aircraft expected to be on display and over 700 international exhibitors – the show is looking to be as big and bold as ever.

The health of the oil and gas sector is sure to be part of the narrative of the show although there is a quiet optimism that is expected to resonate around the exhibition hall all along the supply chain.


A buzzword which is bound to be flying around is innovation. Although it’s obviously not a new term or a surprising one, it does indicate what the larger companies have been up to during the economic downturn in the commercial helicopter market.

The usual faces will be there, in the form of the major OEMs, with Bell promising a ‘new look’.


The company will be displaying its Bell 525 Relentless VVIP MAGnificent, Bell 429, Bell 407 GXP, along with the newly-certified Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.

Airbus Helicopters will have their H175, H145, H135, and H130 on display at HAI with H160 virtual experience. The H160 is anticipated to receive certification next year.


The show will again be a hub of innovation, new products and upgraded platforms. Announcements are expected from the lessors to supplies, and won’t just be exclusive to the larger manufacturers.

Leonardo, MD Helicopters, Heli-One, Universal Avionics, Honeywell, Waypoint Leasing are just some of the names that have confirmed their presence at the event.

The real mark of success for Heli-Expo 2017 will be dictated by the deals, orders and sales as the market climbs out of a low, the show will hopefully be indicative of the forthcoming rise.

Shephard will be at Heli-Expo 2017 see our show news site for all the latest news and videos direct from Dallas.

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.

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