Category Archives: Heads Up

Richmond missing missiles?

Hard-working and part of a 13-strong Royal Navy frigate force HMS Richmond should ideally be one of the more capable and versatile platforms in the fleet.

And it usually is. Perhaps however, until now.

Social media images on Monday showed the frigate leaving Portsmouth on a tasking, something far from out of the ordinary for the hard-pressed Type 23s, only this time it appears that the quad-packed Harpoon missile launchers are missing.

With the Harpoon recently stated as due to be retired in 2018 the capability was coming to the end of its useful life anyway, but eyebrows might be raised at seeing the only ASuW missile fitted to the vessels removed ahead of its out-of-service date.

When contacted the UK’s Ministry of Defence said that ‘it would be inappropriate to comment on the details and specific weapons systems carried by each of our ships’.

Furthermore, the MoD said that all Royal Navy ships ‘carry a range of offensive and defensive weapons systems and sail with the appropriate capabilities for their tasking’.

Potentially this means HMS Richmond, commissioned into service 22 years ago, is left with more traditional projectile weapons for surface warfare. It is not known if the removal of the Harpoon from the vessel is temporary.

Responding to questions in the UK’s House of Lords in November last year Earl Howe, minister of state at the MoD, said that the current batch of Harpoon missiles had ‘reached the end of its natural life’.

‘To replace it would require significant investment in a new missile stockpile. It was the Royal Navy’s judgment that that would be a less than optimal use of its budget for future investment.

He continued: ‘Its judgment was that investing in the carriers, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the new submarines and the offshore patrol vessels, as well a range of missiles and capabilities, rather than reinvesting in a 1980s weapons system, represented the right order of priority for the Royal Navy’s overall capability. That firmly remains its judgment.’


Not something that HMS Richmond can do at the moment (Photo: US Navy)

US Army’s bionic arm needs improvement, this is how

Alleviating the weight burden on soldiers is a never-ending task. Armies are always on the look out for novel equipment and technology that lessen the burden – not always necessarily by reducing weight, but helping him or her carry a large load instead.

One of the latest technologies to come out of the US is a bionic ‘third arm’, created by the US Army Research Lab, which helps soldiers carry a weapon such as the issue M16/M4 rifle.

Now, I’m always keen to hear about weight-saving technologies and devices that can make tabbing and fighting with heavy kit are little more bearable (it can be a pretty horrible experience), but I’m sceptical about the arm:

The bionic arm weighs around 2kg and attaches to the soldier’s protective vest, which means reducing weight on a soldier’s upper body and potentially freeing up the arms for other tasks.

Now, this looks pretty interesting when it’s on an exhibition floor and makes a great story, but as ever with this type of technology it throws up a lot of questions about how this would be utilised ‘in the field’.

When soldiers and light infantry are attacking positions, they spend a lot of time in different positions, including standing, kneeling, lying flat (or prone) and everything in between.

There’s also generally a lot of running, crawling and climbing – depending on the terrain and fighting environment – which means your kit (and body) goes through some serious punishment.

For me, I think the arm would actually be a hindrance in those situations, rather than a help. The M4/M16 is not exactly a heavy weapon, in fact it’s one of the lightest assault rifles in the world, so having an extra bionic appendage to help carry it seems a little strange. But it could lead to some interesting technological developments, so I won’t write it off completely.

Now where this could find some purpose is carrying heavy weaponry, much like the soldiers in the film Alien 2 that use a similar articulated arm. The researchers have already said they are interested in attaching the M249 and M240 – but let’s think bigger!

My advise, swap out the lightweight M16/M4 for a beastly 7.62mm M134 Minigun capable of spewing out thousands of round per minute. Now this would be something that would significantly increase the lethality of the individual soldier and his squad.

Also it means that soldiers can recreate this epic scene from Terminator 2.

Or, better yet, that awesome scene from Predator:

Food for thought.

Staying peerless on the battlefield

Shephard Media has suddenly become a lot more acquainted with the world of military special forces following our acquisition of Special Operations Forces (SOF) magazine.

As if the critical role that SOF operators play in current campaigns was not obvious enough, opening the recent AFCEA West exhibition, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe was clear about the need for ‘peerless special forces’.

ADM James G. Stavridis, US Navy (retired), placed an unrivalled SOF capability alongside advances in cyber and unmanned systems as essential for US forces to meet current and emerging threats.

‘You are going to see some changes to that traditional force, which I would argue for the navy, for example, ought to be around 340 ships. But you are going to need better cyber capability; we are going to need bet­ter unmanned platforms, including those operating in the maritime space and the overhead; and we are going to need peerless Special Forces,’ ADM Stavridis told the gathered delegates.

He cited the example of US Navy SEAL Michael Murphy who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2005 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during Operation Red Wings.

‘Today he is memorialised in the destroyer USS Michael Murphy. We need peerless special forces like Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL, but also he represents in my mind all of the wonderful volunteers in the services who stand on the wall at night and protect us.’

One crucial element in the Pentagon’s security strategy is the role SOF units are playing in building partner nations SF capacity, which is a central theme to our second issue of 2017.

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In a comprehensive commentary, Lt Gen Ken Tovo and Lt Col Duane Mosier outline the ways in which members of US SOF continue to develop effective partner forces in countries around the world, helping them to win against determined enemies.

Providing examples from Afghanistan, Colombia and Iraq, the US Army Special Operations Com­mand (USASOC) leadership outlines how US SOF has ‘built, trained and developed effective partner forces through persistent and deliberate engagement’.

Elsewhere in the issue, we speak to the head of Special Operations Command in Spain about the new command’s success in coordinating the country’s Army, Air Force and Navy SOF.

Brig Gen Jaime Íñiguez Andrade explains that, in line with the creation of joint commands in other Western countries, the development of the new command and increased resources Madrid has allocated to SOF activities is a recognition of the importance of SF in light of current threats.

We also look at the development of SOF units across Latin America, frequently in partnership with the US, as well as the introduction of new technologies to make working within an interna­tional coalition easier and more effective.

Current operations are demanding more and more from the SOF community, forcing operators to seek new force-multiplying technologies across a widening spectrum of mission sets.

This is most prevalent across the Middle East – particularly the partnering missions with Iraqi and Kurdish forces against Daesh – and Eastern Europe, where coalitions of SOF units are central to ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaigns.

U.S. Army Soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group prepare to fast-rope out of a UH-60 Blackhawk during Fast Rope Insertion and Extraction training as part of Emerald Warrior at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 22, 2015. Emerald Warrior is the Department of Defense's only irregular warfare exercise, allowing joint and combined partners to train together and prepare for real world contingency operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Norman/Released)

US Army Soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group prepare to fast-rope out of a UH-60 Blackhawk.

From Russia’s electronic warfare capability to the (increasingly armed) airborne ISR assets developed by Daesh, emerging new threats will require SOF units to work ever harder to remain ‘peerless’ on the battlefield.

That’s not a Reaper, this is a Reaper

Those of us in the defence industry often get in a huff when the mainstream media fail to accurately identify military kit. Of course, we know the difference between an armoured personnel carrier, an infantry fighting vehicle and a main battle tank – though it appears to be a monumental challenge for those that don’t cover defence every day.

At best, it can lead to some embarrassing headlines and, at worst, just plain inaccurate reporting. That’s been covered here on the pages of Quill before not only by myself (see ‘Toothbrush-size gun’) and also by the boss, Mr Viper (see ‘That’s a load of tank’).

But it’s a never-ending quest to educate, especially when some news outlets get it so blatantly wrong. Take, for example, a widely-published story last week that stated that Daesh (Islamic State) had developed an armed drone capability similar to that of the US Air Force’s infamous MQ-9 Reaper. The Daily Mirror reported:

The weapon appears to be based on the deadly MQ-9 ‘predator’ aircraft which is used by the American military and manufactured by California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

Before I’ve read the story, or even seen any photos – I know this isn’t even remotely possible.

First off, when fully-loaded with its high-tech weapons and secretive sensors, a Reaper weighs around 5 tons, which means it needs a runway at a dedicated air base to take off and land from. Despite being ‘unmanned’ it also requires a significant manpower contribution to fly, maintain, load with weapons, fill with fuel, operate sensors, analyse intel data etc.

In other words, only really a first-tier air force – like the USAF or RAF – can operate an advanced armed platform like the MQ-9. Daesh is not a first-tier air force. In fact, it has no air force at all.


Indeed, once you look at the photos/video of the ‘ISIS Reaper’ it becomes clear that it certainly is no Reaper.

In fact, it’s a hand-launched flying-wing UAV (probably weighing around 10-15kg), equipped with what look like rudimentary bombs on either wing. Now I’m not saying that it cannot be a deadly weapon, but its simplicity means that its battlefield utility is likely minimal.

There are already examples of Daesh utilising commercial drones, mainly quadcopters, as delivery vehicles for improvised explosive devices. There have even been some small-scale successes where groups of soldiers have been caught off-guard by a hovering quadcopter dropping a grenade from above.

The guidance system for the quadcopters has simply been gravity. But guiding ‘dumb’ bombs becomes much more difficult when you use fast-moving, fixed-wing aircraft such as the one seen above.

Before the advent of smart bombs guided by GPS or laser, dropping bombs and achieving the desired effect on target was as much an art as a skill, and always required a specialist ‘bombardier’ in the aircraft. As aerial bombers advanced, the addition of more capable bombsights increased accuracy further.

Something tells me the Daesh Reaper will lack any sophisticated bomb-aiming equipment, guided missiles, or even skilled pilots for that matter. To be truly deadly, UAVs require smart weapons such as the Hellfire or GBU-12 Paveway, both of which are on the MQ-9 Reaper.

RPA maintainers support Red Flag 16-3

The complexities involved in arming drones has meant only a handful of other countries have invested in developing the technology. That’s slowly changing, but mainly because China is establishing its own armed drone capability with smart weapon integration, which it seems happy to export to other countries around the world.

Nevertheless, I would not underestimate the Daesh UAV just yet. It might not have the capability to match an MQ-9 Reaper or Chinese Wing Loong, though it could replicate a new capability emerging in the defence space; the loitering armed ‘kamikaze’ drone.

For me, the new Daesh UAV has more similarities with equipment such as Aerovironment’s Switchblade UAV, which can provide full-motion video to troops on the ground but with a high-explosive warhead can, once it has identified a suitable target, be guided into the vehicle/building/person like a guided missile.

Once Daesh realise that releasing bombs from a UAV is a futile endeavor,  we could potentially see them adopt this kamikaze UAV concept of operations. That’s why many militaries, particularly those in Iraq, are investing in counter-UAV technologies and will have to continue to do so for the forseeable future.

Maybe the mainstream media can focus on this in the future, rather than making far-fetched comparisons that are blatantly wrong.

If you wish to read more on armed UAVs and also China’s emerging combat UAV capabilities, see the Feb/Mar edition of Unmanned Vehicles.

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.

Model Masterplan

By Gerrard Cowan

The US Navy (USN) first deployed the MH-60R Seahawk in 2009, and will receive its final scheduled deliveries of the helicopter in the summer of 2018.

While the aircraft has been in service for some years now, it continually receives upgrades and modifications to allow it to adapt to an evolving operational environment.

The Romeo variant is primarily focused on ASW and ASuW, with secondary missions including SAR and medevac.

According to manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the platform – along with its sibling, the MH-60S – has flown more than 650,000 hours across a 500-plus fleet. It is deployed with both the USN and a number of export customers.


(All images: Lockheed Martin)

The most recent batch for the service was procured in FY2016, making a total of 280 platforms, said Capt Craig Grubb, manager of the navy’s H-60 programme. The final set of 29 MH-60Rs is known as Lot 14, and will be delivered in June 2018.

The acquisition is part of a rotorcraft masterplan, designed to take seven different types and replace them with the two MH-60 variants, and the programme is almost complete.

According to Grubb, the SH-60F retired in the spring of 2016 and the SH-60B retired in 2015.

There are still a few HH-60Hs remaining in the fleet, which he said will be in service through FY2019 and possibly longer. ‘They’re pretty valued by the fleet, so there’s a lot of consideration being given to keeping those aircraft in service longer,’ he told DH.

The MH-60R and MH-60S are enduring platforms that are likely to be around for decades, said Chris Stellwag, director of marketing communications at CAE Defence & Security, which provides the USN and international customers with simulators and other training devices for the aircraft.

‘One of the advantages for foreign militaries when they acquire a platform like that is they’re getting the benefit of the significant investment the USN is making in the continual upgrades and enhancements to a fleet of 500-plus helicopters,’ he commented.

This meant that international customers were able to leverage the investment the USN is making in enhancing the aircraft, through new sensor suites, weapon systems or countermeasures, for example.


Additionally, it boosted interoperability with their US ally. Stellwag said the helicopter was an attractive, low-risk and cost-effective platform. ‘We’re always conscious of maintaining strong positions in platforms that we think are enduring, and that’s what we’ve successfully been able to do so far with the Seahawk,’ he said.

‘We definitely see opportunities over the next decade with other countries, and continued improvements and enhancements to the suite of training systems that the USN uses.’

While the navy is in only the very early phases of exploring what a successor to the MH-60 might look like, there is an interest in being able to migrate the work done on the mid-life upgrade onto another platform at a later date.

For more on the USN’s MH-60R programme looking ahead to mid-life upgrades and an eventual successor, please see the January/February edition of Defence Helicopter for further details.

The Year Ahead

Global politics will dictate the forthcoming year for the defence industry. This is heightened by new leaders taking office, as well as presidential elections throughout the world including those in Rwanda, Singapore, Germany, France and Iran.

Furthermore, on-going conflicts in Syria and recent terrorist attacks are sure to dominate the headlines.

Will changes in leadership bring a new set of procurement objectives for Western militaries in particular? Will defence budgets be less constrained? Time will tell.

Regardless of your politics, the world watches with bated breath as Donald Trump takes the helm on 20 January as the 45th president of the US.

It will be interesting to see if the commander-in-chief’s candour continues through his Twitter explosions of honesty.

He most recently lambasted the pricing of the F-35 and not forgetting his comments on Boeing and the cost of Air Force One. There’s bound to be a lot of anxiety amongst aerospace and defence companies stateside as Trump uses his second amendment right to an extreme.


The show must go on and here at Shephard we have been looking at some of the key programmes across land, sea and air worldwide that we expect to hear about over the next 12 months.


Over in the US, BAE Systems is set to deliver its M88A2 recovery vehicles to the army this is expected from November this year.

The M1 and Bradley vehicles are scheduled to get the 3GEN FLIR night vision system. A preliminary design review was due at the end of 2016 and it is not clear if this has happened although a critical design review is scheduled for spring 2017.

Staying in North America, Canada is due to take delivery of all 500 TAPV vehicles from Textron by the end of the year with a schedule of 30 vehicles per month. Deliveries started in August last year.

Brazil is due to take delivery of 23 AAV7A1 amphibious vehicles from BAE Systems in February and this will continue until the end of the year.


China’s military strength is likely to remain a dominant media fixture this year. This was recently heightened by the People’s Liberation Army Navy aggressive taking of an unmanned underwater vessel of the US Navy just 50nm off the coast of the Philippines. It was returned five days later.

India is attempting to build an indigenous capability with the Rustom II MALE UAV that first flew last year. The platform is likely to carry out more flight testing in 2017, although the delayed programme has not inspired confidence in the navy, which has requested navalised MQ-9 Predators from the US.

The evolution of the combat RPA

Australia is worth keeping an eye on with its ambitious naval renewal programmes for new ships of the line and a fleet of new-build OPVs.

Another country motivated by China’s aggressive actions is Japan who recently enhanced its Self-Defence Force with a 1.4% funding boost for the FY to $43.66 billion. A budgetary increase also influenced by the nuclear testing undertaken by North Korea.


Contracts for the assessment phase of the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme to the two remaining contractors, BAE and Rheinmetall were awarded in December 2016 and this year they will submit options to the British Army and we will find out what budget it has and the number of tanks it can keep.


Across Europe countries are beginning to move to what could one day make up the core of a European naval defence force, as cash strapped navies share assets, training and personnel in a bid to maintain some of their capabilities. Plans to create a European Coast Guard service also received backing by MEPs in 2016.

As dozens of helicopters were subsequently reassigned, to both find work for idle machines and to fill the gaps created by the H225 grounding, several owners of the Super Puma launched legal action against Airbus.


The big helicopter story of 2017 is likely to be the future of the aircraft, and its return to widespread service and whether the company is able to restore confidence in the type.

Whoever is in power, in control of the purchasing and/or the product developer, Shephard  will be reporting on the deals and orders. We will see you on the show floor – starting with IDEX 2017.

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