Category Archives: Heads Up

The World According to Shephard: Week 45

This week the Shephard team were on the scene in Bangkok, reporting from Defence & Security 2017. Full coverage of the stories that made the headlines can be found here.

Thailand trucking along nicely

Among the highlights of D&S 2017 was the Thai Ministry of Defence (MoD) exhibiting its latest artillery project in the form of a 120mm truck-mounted mortar.  The model is the work of a joint collaboration between the MoD’s production centre and Elbit Systems of Israel.

Capabilities include a listed elevation range of 800-1,511 mils with a traverse of 800 mils in either direction. The mortar itself has a 6.5km range and ten rounds-per-minute rate of fire.

Thai artillery

Dubai for now 

As the curtain on D&S closes, the Dubai Air Show 2017 takes centre stage this week with Shephard again in attendance to provide on-the-ground reports. For breaking news, video content and regular updates take a look here.

Talk of BMD capabilities hard to miss

Beginning with the supposed missile attack on the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Richard Thomas sheds light on the growing need for countries across the Middle East to address the development of viable ballistic missile defence (BMD) capabilities. 

Further detailing recent land warfare contractual arrangements in the region, his report also references the US approved $15 billion potential sale of THAAD BMD systems.

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TAI attack the day

On the defence front, one highly anticipated presentation due to take place in Dubai will be Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) showcasing their T129 Atak helicopter. Live demonstrations of the type will be available as well as the company’s Anka-S UAV, Hürkuş turboprop and T625 helicopter being displayed.

TAI have cemented their influence domestically, most notably with 24 of 59 T129s  delivered to Turkish Land Forces Aviation Command, completing over 11,000 flight hours to boot.

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Connected helicopter cyber threats in focus

Casting a critical eye over cyber threats posed to connected helicopters, Gerrard Cowan hears from the experts as they outline how their ingenuity is winning the battle against hackers.

With examples such as Lockheed Martin’s ‘Cyber Inside’ initiative and Bell’s robust five step strategy, it’s clear OEMs are alert to the hacking issue and are prioritising preventive measures to safeguard their fleet – regardless of type.

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POLL: Does the UK need to start spending more on defence?

As the old saying goes a week is a long time in politics. All eyes are now firmly on the newly-appointed UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and he might want to take note of the Shephard News Twitter poll we undertook last week as he decides priorities.

We asked:

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We had more than 1,200 respondents and 782 of these voted “yes” to the UK needing to spend more than 2% of its GDP on the defence sector.

While it is not as black and white as a yes or no response, we have included some of the responses and engagement to our ‘unscientific’ poll.

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What are the main defence areas governments should be turning their attention to? Do you have ideas for our next poll? Add your ideas in the comments section below.

Adapt or die: US Army looks to modernise

In the words of US Army chief of staff, Gen Mark Milley, the army he is responsible for is at an inflection point; it must adapt, or it dies.

With this in mind, the service used this year’s Association of the US Army (AUSA) annual conference in Washington DC to outline how it will adapt in an uncertain world, especially as the West’s political, economic and technological advantage slowly declines.

For several decades the US Army has enjoyed technological superiority against its adversaries, which was especially the case during both Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Yet however brutal and bloody those conflicts were, the army was not challenged by an enemy with high-end capabilities.

The worry now is that the US has taken its eye off the ball and lost its ability to effectively counter a so-called ‘near-peer adversary’ – army speak for Russia and China.

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At AUSA, Milley and the acting secretary of the army Ryan McCarthy outlined how it would attempt to regain what is known as ‘overmatch’, or the capability to defeat a near-peer enemy by overwhelming force.

This will start at home, with the acquisition process, which army leaders want sped up and be made less risk-averse, including reducing the amount of bureaucratic layers with the formation of a new command that brings ‘modernisation under one roof’.

‘It has more to do with streamlining processes,’ said Milley. ‘It’s a significant restructure, probably the biggest in the last 40 years or so. Remember, Army Materiel Command, Forces Command and TRADOC were all formed in the 1970 in the wake of Vietnam.’

In addition to the restructure, the army service chiefs outlined six key areas that modernisation would focus on including; long-range fires, mobility, networking, protection, sustainment and soldier lethality.

As you read this blog, and a more detailed report available on Shephard’s website, it’s important to understand this new thinking of the US Army and how it is influencing existing programmes, new acquisitions and relationships with industry.

Programmes that are considered too burdensome, and not adaptive to current technology trends are being tossed aside in favour of new initiatives. Just before AUSA, the army announced that acquisition of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) would finish early in 2018 due to a myriad of shortcomings.

That’s significant as WIN-T was considered to be one of the army’s top modernisation initiatives but instead has joined the long list of billion dollar boondoggles, along with the army’s Future Combat System in the 2000s as well as the search for a replacement scout helicopter.

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Ultimately, the US Army wants capability, and it wants it quick to address the growing gaps mentioned above.

One area that was clearly a priority at AUSA was short-range air defence, or SHORAD – which falls under ‘protection’ of the six key priorities. As visitors explored the exhibition hall, it was not difficult to see that industry was preparing potential options for an upcoming army requirement, with several companies using AUSA to show off its SHORAD technologies.

Those companies included BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) and Oshkosh, which all demonstrated some kind vehicle-borne SHORAD integration using existing systems that would likely require little developmental efforts.

As well as SHORAD, the US Army is also looking at how it can beef up its lower-tier air defences. Raytheon – partnering with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems – displayed a full Iron Dome system on the exhibition floor at this year’s AUSA.

The system, which is marketed in the US by Raytheon as ‘Skyhunter’, was tested by the US Army earlier this year where it achieved a successful intercept. The company is now pursuing potential options that could see Skyhunter used to protect forward-deployed forces.

Another big push for the US Army, and an initiative that is likely to be held up as an example of how acquisition could be carried out in the future, is active protection systems (APS).

This technology is still in its relative infancy, but is seen as an opportunity to add additional protection for vehicle crews when it comes to the threat from new-generation anti-tank munitions.

According to Maj Gen David Bassett, program executive officer for ground combat systems, this could be the new way that the US Army does acquisition for much-needed technologies on the battlefield.

The US Army’s approach to fielding an APS capability has been significantly different from its usual strategy of setting out a detailed requirements document and trialling industry submissions against an extensive set of test points. This was testing an established capability first and foremost.

The last few years has seen the army take a less ambitious approach to vehicle modernisation, especially after the cancellation of FCS and GCV.

Priority has instead been given to the modernisation of legacy vehicles such as the Abrams and the Bradley, as well as relatively low risk vehicles such as the armoured multi-purpose vehicle (AMPV) – which is essentially a Bradley without a turret, and the Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, which will effectively be a COTS purchase.

For the moment at least, the army can boast a vehicle programme that is on schedule and meeting its cost projections, which is a unique position considering past projects.

The question is how long this will last and whether the incremental upgrades of 80s-era platforms is giving the army the overmatch capabilities it so desperately needs to keep hold of.

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Looking to the future, beyond manned vehicles, the army is also looking to replicate the success it has had with aerial unmanned vehicles but this time on the ground. One of its biggest initiatives is the squad multipurpose equipment transport programme, which aims to acquire small robots that can carry equipment for soldiers.

Overall, AUSA was an opportunity for US Army leaders to set out their strategic aims and priorities for the future, especially when it comes to retaining its technological superiority and battle winning capabilities.

It remains to be seen whether the service can overcome challenges – including budgetary – and achieve its goals of modernisation. Industry will also have to respond with innovative solutions that do not end in cost overturns, delays and eventual cancellations.

 Training transition

In 2015, the US Army selected the Airbus Helicopters UH-72 Lakota to replace the Bell Helicopter TH-67 Creek training aircraft under the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI). It was a controversial move for many reasons.

There was scepticism surrounding pilots learning on heavier, dual-engine aircraft as opposed to the lighter, single-engine platforms that the service was used to.

There are currently 150 UH-72As at Fort Rucker, the base for primary flight training. A further 212 Lakotas are in service with the Air National Guard.

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The UH-72A Lakota on display at AUSA 2017 in Washington DC

When the army announced details of the ARI, many analysts argued that the Lakota was too complex an aircraft for novice pilots, due to its twin engines and glass cockpit. Significantly larger in size than the average training helicopter, the type could prove troublesome should new aviators progress to older, analogue models.

However, Airbus noted that the army’s active fleet is made up of twin-engine platforms with glass cockpits. Extra time and costs previously spent training pilots to transition from the original single-engine training platform to an aircraft in service are eliminated by using the Lakota. With the US Army prospectively ordering additional aircraft, the scepticism seems to be no longer part of the procurement dialogue.

Airbus Helicopters was awarded the original UH-72 contract in 2006, and the first aircraft,was delivered in the same year. The 400th Lakota was received by the US Army in August this year, and the type is now entering the final stages of fully replacing the TH-67 Creek as the service’s principal helicopter trainer, as detailed in the ARI.

‘The 400 deliveries have all been on time and on cost which is a pretty significant accomplishment in the defence world,’ said Scott Tumpak, senior director of the Lakota programme at Airbus Helicopters. This year, the company is hoping to continue this success as it aims to complete delivery of 27 aircraft.

‘[We provide] contractor logistics support as well. Right now, we are fielding those aircraft to Fort Rucker for the training mission,’ he added. With regards to the transition from the TH-67 to the Lakota, Tumpak said that the army is ‘flipping’ towards 75% usage of the latter as the ramp-up continues.

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Shephard in the cockpit of the Lakota

He believes that a twin-engine aircraft is a key training platform. ‘If we think about the US Army’s training missions with the current Lakota, it’s optimal for their training mission.’

The breakdown of UH-72s being delivered has been based on the army’s demands, and in one instance, Tumpak said a batch of 55 aircraft were delivered.

More than 460,000 flight hours have been achieved across the Lakota fleet since 2006. Six aircraft are also operated by the Royal Thai Army, and the USN has five examples at its test pilot school in Patuxent River.

Lakotas over Grayling

Tumpak confirmed that there is a possibility that Thailand will take on more aircraft, but could not confirm further details at this stage. In addition, there are other militaries interested in the platform through the FMS route.

However, staying stateside, Tumpak commented that the army ‘has increased its own requirement, and there’s appropriate funding through Congress. We are looking forward to a contract for a further 44 aircraft.’ The army requirement is now at 462 helicopters.

For a full version of this article please see the Nov-Dec edition of DH and for more on our magazines see here.

Drone regulation debacle drags on

‘Hurry up and get on with it’ was the message from one member of the European Parliament (MEP) to the European Commission as she spoke about drone regulation at a Royal Aeronautical Society conference last week.

In 2016 we reported on some of the squabbles over drone regulation in the EU Parliament. Since then some progress has been made but things just are not moving fast enough for some MEPs.

November 2016 saw MEPs back draft EU rules on drones and emerging risks, which would bring drones within the EU civil aviation framework for the first time among other directives.

Part of new EU rules to ensure safety and privacy

The draft rules would also empower the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to issue directives and recommendations to address risks that might arise from unlawful acts or from flight paths that cross regions that are the scene of armed conflict.

But since then progress has been slow.

The European parliamentarian said her message to the European Commission is ‘you need to get a move on…we do need a bit of action I would suggest’.

She also suggested that some regulation should be looked at on a case by case basis. ‘Rather than strict rules that would regulate the industry out of existence.’

One thing that is not helpful to the pursuit of drone regulation are negative press stories including the recent collision between an unmanned platform and small passenger plane over Québec City.

‘Those headlines are not helpful…we do not need the bad publicity,’ the MEP said.

As Europe tries to push forward on rules and regulation some nations are already forward looking. For instance the UK already has rules that are being implemented and is exploring measures to curtail the misuse of drones, including penalty fines.

The current rules and regulations from the European Union can be found here and we will continue to cover developments, if and when they happen.

Overmatch under threat?

As militaries continue to field increasingly sophisticated equipment, and digitisation across the battlespace becomes the norm, it’s easy to overlook the innovations still taking place in the fundamental – and sometimes basic – technologies of warfare, which do not venture into the realm of zeros and ones.

This is particularly the case for small arms ammunition, which despite being around for centuries and a core requirement for troops – along with food and water – is still subject to continual engineering developments that aim to increase lethality, while also decreasing the burden for the soldier in terms of weight and load.

The 5.56mm cartridge has been the standard option for small arms calibres for several decades since its introduction by the US with the M16 rifle in the 1960s and its consequent standardisation across NATO. However, recent conflicts have exposed shortfalls with the round.

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Fit for purpose?

While the ammunition does provide several advantages, including a high muzzle velocity and low weight – allowing troops to carry significantly more rounds than if equipped with heavier 7.62mm cartridges – many have questioned whether 5.56mm is really the optimum choice for NATO armies today especially as near-peer armies field newer-generation body-worn armour, which includes ceramic strike plates, and as engagement ranges increase beyond the effective range of 5.56mm. Together, that means that the round no longer has the stopping power desired to effectively neutralise enemy combatants.

Of course, this worry is not new and has been the subject of many debates and scientific studies, not least when the ammunition was moving towards NATO standardisation. However, with the reasons mentioned above, many now consider the 5.56mm as potentially obsolete, meaning that squads have ultimately lost an all-important overmatch capability.

The US Army is leading the way when it comes to finding alternative solutions, including new calibres and lighter weight technologies, which is explored in more depth in the Oct/Nov issue of Land Warfare International.

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The service has expressed an interest in a new Interim Combat Service Rifle, with solicitations stating that it will be chambered in 7.62mm, rather than 5.56mm. Nevertheless, there are still questions concerning weight and the efficacy of this more powerful ammunition against modern ceramic armour.

If there is an eventual switchover to 7.62mm, or even an intermediate calibre such as 6.5mm, by the US Army, it would conclude an almost 50-year relationship with the 5.56mm round that began with the fielding of the M16.

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Getting active

Active protection systems are another hot topic in the land warfare domain. In the future, this could supplement existing armour technologies – both active and passive – and provide an extra layer of protection to vehicles in order to increase survivability.

APS technologies can sense incoming threats and automatically dispense a countermeasure, which in a ‘hard-kill’ configuration comprises an explosive projectile fired from the host vehicle, destroying a missile before impact. The equipment has already been fielded by the Israelis and is likely to be in service with the Russian and Chinese armies in the very near future.

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Much like the ammunition debate, there’s a worry in some circles that near-peer adversaries (Russia and China) could steal a march on the US in this domain, meaning that the US Army loses another aspect of its overmatch capabilities. APS could reduce the effectiveness of anti-tank weapons including shoulder-fired weapons, as well as new-generation tank munitions being fielded.

In an attempt to catch up, the US Army has tested several APS technologies this year, including the now-famous Trophy system from Israel, and there’s a possibility that the service could announce the purchase of APS equipment for fielding very soon. Shephard understands that fielding APS remains a key priority for service chiefs and recent testing has only served to strengthen that stance.

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Yet even if the US Army decide to invest in APS, there will still be challenges when it comes to full integration with vehicle mission systems, which is a concern for all armies today as platforms become more digitised.

Ammunition and APS occupy two ends of the technology spectrum, one decades-old technology and the other a new and highly advanced system. However, both flag up areas where Western technological and tactical advantage is slowly eroding, and this doesn’t stop at APS and ammunition. There are a whole host of technologies where this is the case, demonstrating that Western overmatch can no longer be taken for granted.

To read the latest Oct/Nov edition of Land Warfare International, download our app from Google Play Store or Apple iTunes. You can also read the latest online land warfare news here

Never a dull moment

While progress has continued across US military helicopter programmes, one platform that has garnered its share of headlines is the Black Hawk, with developments in the Middle East and across Asia-Pacific.

As more refurbished UH-60s take on an array of roles in the civil market, the aircraft remains a popular choice for military forces.

Notably, in June this year, Sikorsky received the go-ahead from the US Army for a five-year contract worth $3.8 billion, which includes 40 UH-60M Black Hawks to Saudi Arabia. There is scope for another 103 aircraft, meaning the contract could rise by a further $1.4 billion. It is anticipated that first deliveries will take place three months from now and carry on into 2022.

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A Sikorsky spokesperson stated that the base contract of 257 aircraft includes 182 UH-60M Black Hawks – 142 for the US Army and the 40 for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) – as well as 75 HH-60M medevac aircraft.

In July, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) ordered four more UH-60M Black Hawks from Sikorsky after receiving US Congressional approval. This acquisition will enable the RTA to field a complete squadron of 16 aircraft.

In addition, the Republic of China Air Force will replace its Sikorsky S-70C Bluehawk fleet with UH-60M Black Hawks beginning in December, it announced in April, while in August, the Brazilian Air Force announced that its UH-60L Black Hawk had reached 30,000 flight hours.

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Meanwhile, the US Army’s programme to upgrade its legacy UH-60L Black Hawks with a new digital cockpit is proceeding apace following the first flight of the prototype model in January. Some 760 legacy UH-60L models will undergo a major cockpit upgrade to UH-60V standard that will allow them to remain on duty alongside UH-60Ms into the 2030s and beyond.

However, it is not just the Black Hawk spreading its wings across the globe. Boeing’s military helicopter offerings in the form of the AH-64E and AH-6i have also been gathering momentum, with the first set of the latter received by the SANG in June. The 12 aircraft were delivered to the first operational brigade.

The company has also been awarded a $223 million FMS contract for eight CH-47F Chinooks, as part of a wider multiyear deal with Saudi Arabia, the US DoD announced on 23 August, while in June the UK MoD announced a six-year £48 million Apache helicopter training contract.

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Boeing is not the only company for whom there have been developments, with a number of news items – both positive and negative – emerging for other OEMs.

MD Helicopters revealed in March at Heli-Expo 2017 that its new 6XX will be marketed to military as well as civil customers. It was originally designed for a foreign military customer, but it is unlikely a contract will materialise.

At another helicopter show, MAKS 2017 in Moscow, Russian Helicopters showcased its latest military derivative of the Mi-8/17 portfolio, the Mi-171Sh-VN attack helicopter.

While Pakistan’s navy is set to receive seven former UK MoD Sea Kings by the end of this year, Leonardo will supply an undisclosed number of AW139 intermediate twin-engine helicopters to the government of the country early next year.

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However, an Indian Navy deal valued at over $1 billion for 16 multirole helicopters was given a quiet burial after being scrapped by the MoD. Price negotiations with Sikorsky for the S-70B Seahawk collapsed in June, ending a deal that held much promise for the navy, which is wrestling with issues in relation to its current Sea King fleet.

Bell Helicopter highlighted imminent deliveries of its tiltrotor and attack helicopter offerings across Asia at the Paris Air Show. The company will see the first V-22 handed over to Japan in September/ October this year while the AH-1Z Viper will start to be delivered to Pakistan soon.

Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion is entering production and company officials are confident that the USMC Heavy Lift Replacement Program is on track.

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Find the latest edition of Defence Helicopter here and more news online.

 

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