Category Archives: Around the Bazaar

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!

IMDEX Asia: Singaporean Navy dominates the headlines

Shephard Media is currently busy reporting at the 11th edition of IMDEX Asia 2017 at the Changi Exhibition centre in Singapore.

What is already evident from this year’s show is that maritime security remains a growing sector for the Asia-Pacific region and this is being demonstrated by the wide range of exhibitors.

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The Republic of Singapore Navy is currently dominating the news stories on their home patch as they scout for a joint multimission ship to replace some of its older Endurance-class LSTs.

The service is celebrating its 50 year anniversary and has a warship display at the show demonstrative of its naval might.

On 15 May, Changi Naval Base had its name formally changed to RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base. The Ministry of Defence said the name change, echoing the RSN’s first headquarters name, ‘will serve as a reminder to RSN personnel of the RSN’s heritage and vital role in defending Singapore’.

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This naval facility, located along a strategically important sea lane connecting the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, hosts more than 100 foreign warships each year.

Furthermore, another big headline at IMDEX Asia this week was the announcement that the navy will acquire an additional two Type 218SG diesel-electric submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).

This takes the total Type 218SG boats on order to four. The TKMS design was originally selected in November 2013, with an order for two and options for two more. The first pair of boats is already under construction at the company’s shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and will be delivered in 2020-21.

For more news from the show please see https://www.shephardmedia.com/show-news/imdex-asia-2017-show-news/

China apologises for poster gaffe

It is hard for any of us to say sorry, but even more so for a communist regime. However, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND) has done so, purportedly for the first time.

The MND admitted an embarrassing photoshop failure on an official poster celebrating the 68th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). It was an error that drew ridicule from home and abroad, and it occurred shortly before the fanfare surrounding the launch of China’s very first indigenously built aircraft carrier on 26 April.

The celebratory poster depicted a carrier alongside an eclectic and mistaken mix of American and Russian military platforms. Indeed, lifting off from China’s in-service Liaoning carrier was a Russian MiG-35 fighter (apparently not having had to use its landing gear either), an aircraft type not used by China.

Even more bizarre, ploughing through the calm ocean alongside the Liaoning were two San Antonio-class amphibious assault ships operated by the US Navy.

Overhead on the flashy poster a trio of J-10 fighters streaked across a blue sky emblazoned with the message ‘Happy birthday, People’s Liberation Army Navy!’

While the PLAN does operate some J-10s, one would have expected to see carrier-based J-15s operating so far out to sea.

All in all, the PR poster was a massive fail.

A Hong Kong newspaper quoted one critical Chinese netizen who said on the Weibo social media site, ‘This picture shows everyone at the propaganda department is mentally deficient.’

Such was the fuss that the topic came up at an MND press conference on 27 April. Spokesman Yang Yujun commented, ‘We also noticed this problem as you mentioned. We were not meticulous enough in illustrating the image and we suffered from criticism from the internet users.’

He continued, ‘The carelessness was with the editor but the responsibility is on the shoulders of the leadership.’

Indeed, one wonders just how many high-ranking officials will be sent to ‘re-education through labour’ camps to pay for their carelessness. Oh, wait, China supposedly abolished all these camps in 2013 so they might yet be okay.

A reporter asked why the poster had not been removed from circulation, and Yang replied, ‘Criticism of the friends on the internet is more of care and support to us. So we prefer to leave the picture and comments there so they can always remind us that only when we continuously improve and perfect ourselves can we better serve our fans and the military fans.’

The Global Times reported that this was the first time that China’s MND had ever issued a public apology for a work-related error.

Wow! Talk about cracks appearing in the façade!

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.

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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.

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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.

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