Category Archives: Heads Up

The world according to Shephard: Week 6

There’s been plenty to catch the eye this week not least from the Singapore Air Show 2018.

In typical roving reporter style, the Shephard team based in Singapore has been filing copy and producing video content by the bucket load. For those of you that might have missed the big stories, the flight-line video is a good starting point, especially if you’re a fast jets aficionado – as the USMC Lockheed Martin F-35B made its first appearance in Southeast Asia.

Watch the team’s overview of what went on here:


But, if, like this writer, you want to see the rotary offerings, Beth Maundrill, senior reporter at Shephard, takes you through the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet with some of its whirlybirds on display, see more details here.

Land-based news this week saw Shephard with a scoop brought to you by staff reporter, Alice Budge.

US support for Iraq’s fleet of M1 Abrams tanks is continuing despite acknowledgement from the US government that the vehicles have been deployed and used by an Iranian-backed militia.

Recent reports in Iraqi media outlets suggested that the US had suspended its maintainence support for the tanks at the end of last year after some were found in the hands of a militia known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Iraqi soldiers conduct training with M1 Abrams tank

According to a US state department official, speaking to Shephard, the US is still committed to supporting the country’s security forces fleet.

Two highly in-depth opinion pieces were live this week. Firstly, the political positioning of the proposed construction of a Silk Road Economic Belt.

The Geobukseon states: ‘Commonly referred to as the…One Belt, One Road (OBOR), its broad agenda ranges from economic development to security enhancements and military defence expansion.

Moving from Asia to Europe, the second opinon piece this week, part of Shephard’s The Clarence series is on a recent UK government report that outlines the future of the country’s Amphibious Forces.

While it is sombre in tone with a focus on the cuts to the Royal Marines and the scrapping of HMS Albion and Bulwark – it does provide a reality check to the detrimental damage further cuts to personnel and loss of ships will do to national security.


The US-based team has been attending shows and conferences in abundance, Scott Gourley has been attending West 2018 in San Diego, California.

He has been covering a wealth of news: from the upcoming deployment of the US Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS Milius highlighting the real world consequences of ongoing manning shortfalls to the development of an ‘autonomous data centre in a briefcase.’

From Washington, DC, Ashley Roque is at the Unmanned Systems conference and has drilled into details on the US military requiring industry’s help when it comes to more efficiently powering its unmanned systems.


Lastly, and because it’s Friday, this week’s free-to-view analysis piece comes from editor, Grant Turnbull and land reporter Alice Budge on the companies posturing their wares to the British Army for its 8×8 vehicle with the army’s decision expected very soon.

Shephard looks closely at what is being laid on the table to the woo service to pick them.


New year, new you


The start of a new year is a good chance for us to put the previous year behind us and start afresh with resolutions that aim to break old, often bad, habits and the inevitable poor life choices we sometimes make and, instead, capitalise on the good things we’ve done.

Reducing the amount of alcohol we drink, stopping smoking and losing weight are usually the top of the list for a revitalised self.

It’s no different for the C4I community as industry and the armed forces look to start new initiatives in 2018 or build on successes already achieved. As ever, a new year means a renewed purpose to achieve goals set out. It also means taking a step back and learning from the past, avoiding the mistakes that sometimes plague major projects. Indeed, many individuals and organisations will be hoping that 2018 will be the year that their endeavours bear fruit.

Nowhere is that more so than in major networking projects, which are often fraught with technical difficulties and so ambitious in scope that they implode due to cost overruns and delays. Indeed, 2017 was challenging for the US Army in terms of networking initiatives as it decided to effectively cancel its major networking modernisation programme known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical – or WIN-T.

WIN-T was supposed to be one of the service’s flagship projects, but last September the army’s Deputy Chief of Staff (G-6) Lt Gen Bruce Crawford announced its premature end, describing it as ‘not the network that we need to fight and win against a peer threat in a congested or contested environment’. It was criticised for not being simple or intuitive, and also for being heavily dependent on industry-provided field service representatives.

Instead, the US Army wants to leverage the ‘innovation explosion’ that is currently under way in the communications sector and transform its acquisition process to keep up with these seismic changes. As part of its transformation, the US Army will step up a new command aimed at modernisation, known as the Army Futures Command, with networking being one of six key priority areas that it will look at when it is stood up this summer.

This new command for 2018 could revitalise and reinvigorate army acquisition. Less-established industry players will also be hoping that this reinvigorated buying process could mean their innovative solutions win out over the same old multi-billion-dollar contractors.

Either way, the US Army has to find a solution to its networking challenges and 2018 will be the year in which we get more of an idea about the direction in which they’re heading. In some good news at least, it appears that the army’s attempts to fuse its air defence enterprise through a single network as part of its Integrated Air and Missile Defense programme is progressing well, despite early software hiccups. With its underlying IAMD Battle Command System, the army will be able to take advantage of open architecture standards and a significantly improved air defence picture.

And it’s not just the US embarking on major C4I programmes. Several countries, including Germany, France and the UK, are looking at moving forward with new communications and networking projects in 2018. The UK, for instance, will continue to leverage work already done on the next-generation Morpheus programme, in particular a £330 million contract placed with General Dynamics UK last April for the development of a new architectural approach known as Evolve to Open. The British Army is expected to contract other elements of Morpheus this year, including the Battlefield Management Application.

The German Army is also undertaking a significant communications and overall battle management modernisation, with two programmes known as Mobile Tactical Communications and Mobile Tactical Information Network. Several companies used 2017 to position themselves for a soon-to-be-released RfI. Both programmes could be highly lucrative for industry, with estimates suggesting the German Army will allocate around €4-6 billion ($4.8-7.2 billion) to the modernisation effort.

Front Cover.pngChallenges still remain, and as projects increase in scope and become more ambitious (and unwieldy), the chances of failure inevitably increase. If that’s not daunting enough, the increasingly contested and congested nature of communication networks, including the growing cyber threat, is also adding to the issues facing both industry and the armed forces. Nevertheless, as 2018 goes on, industry will be hoping its new year’s ambitions can achieve results, unlike trying to cut down on those evening tipples.

The Jan-Feb 23018 edition of Digital Battlespace magazine is now available FREE on Google Play and the Apple Store.

The world according to Shephard: Week 4

What happens in Vegas

This week news was dominated by SHOT Show with over 1600 exhibitors turning out at the four-day Las Vegas firearms event.

Covering the story of Hensoldt unveiling a new fire control system, which has been primed for shoulder-launched weapons, Grant Turnbull also reports that the company expect the 4×30 600 FCS to be available to customers by the third quarter of 2019.


On the subject of pricking customer interest, Israel Weapon Industries also confirmed at SHOT that it expects to offer its new 7.62mm bullpup-configured Tavor 7 by the end of Q1 this year. The company is eyeing up both the military and law enforcement markets for its latest addition to the Tavor bullpup family rifle range.

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News from Singapore 

Show enthusiasts don’t have long to catch their breath before another big gig rolls into town – with industry focus shifting to Singapore for ADECS 2018 beginning next week. For those that can’t wait until then – never fear – we have a dedicated microsite which features pre-show news and a video preview of the event.

From Singapore Chen Chuanren reports that the Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) is busy exploring unmanned technologies to counter threats at sea. A series of trials have to date been key to such exploration with two variants of the Venus USV from ST Electronics being used, namely a Venus 9 and a larger Venus 16.

Singapore Coast Guard

While the Venus USVs are unarmed, they are fitted with an automatic fire extinguishing system and loudhailers for standard constabulary duties.

Training down under 

Continuing news in the Asia Pacific region, the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) has started military simulation training on it’s upgraded BAE Systems Hawk Mk 127 fleet at its Williamtown, New South Wales, base. The Project Air 5438 LIFCAP has led to the aircraft undergoing a major avionics upgrade alongside the deployment of three Full Mission Simulators (FMS) two at Williamtown and another to RAAF Base Pearce, Western Australia.


Naval gazing 

Taking a look at the modernisation of the Indian Navy (IN) underwater fleet, Neelam Mathews outlines some of the difficulties that have challenged Project 75 – the IN’s framework for implementing indigenous submarine production. Signs of renewed hope are however emerging not least because of an $11 billion Project 75(I) programme which will build six advanced stealth submarines.


Chopper news 

On the helicopter front, the US Coast Guard (USCG) is sizing up ways to extend the life of its ageing Sikorsky H-60 Jayhawk fleet. 2025 had been planned for retiring the twin engine, medium range aircraft based on a 20,000 flight hour estimation. The USCG has opted to undertake market research with industry to determine if alternative solutions can deliver a breakthrough.


Among the possibilities which could be investigated are the replacement of the upper fuselage which should fully integrate with the current H-60T Jayhawk configuration or the replacement of the upper fuselage modified with various parts installed.

The USMC has no such plans to extend the life of its Bell Helicopter AH-1W Super Cobras with the fleet being retired by 2020. In a move that will have likely caught the attention of the international market, the service is set to offload a surplus of the aircraft to FMS customers. Industry is being requested to outline it’s suitability to manufacture Super Cobra glass cockpits as part of a sources sought notice issued by the Naval Air Systems Command.


Digital dominance 

Switching to the digital battlespace, defence leaders have been keen to publicise the need to better collect, process and exploit geospatial intelligence data. Alice Budge reports that Maj Gen James Hockenhull, director of cyber intelligence and information integration at the UK MoD, spoke of the pivotal role data plays in current and future conflicts.



Regulations likely to drone on and on

During a US Army Black Hawk and DJI Phantom 4 UAV collision in September last year, the helicopter sustained damage to its main rotor blade, window frame and transmission deck while parts of the UAV were discovered lodged in its engine oil cooler.



At the time an FAA temporary flight restriction was in place, in keeping with good practice which stipulates, ‘travel is limited because of a temporary hazardous condition, such as a wildfire or chemical spill; a security-related event…’

In this case a UN General Assembly meeting, with US President Trump in attendance, was being held in New York City.

Under other FAA restrictions all UAV flight is prohibited ‘from the ground up to 400ft’ and within five miles of an airport or helipad.

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So far, so good. Ostensibly laws are water tight. That is until state level compliance is considered.

New York is a particularly interesting test case as there is no state level regulations prohibiting UAV flight, despite the fact that several civil suits involving drone operators have been brought before the courts. ‘Reckless endangerment’ is often the charge sought by the prosecution when these cases are being debated.

New York City’s government website takes an unequivocal position, which reads, ‘If you see a drone being flown in the city, call 911.’

In contrast, the city’s department of parks and recreation website features the various locations where UAVs can be flown freely.

Allowances, it seems, cannot be made for those who wish to plead ignorance with respect to UAV ownership and responsible flying. The NTSB’s investigative report into the original September incident detailed several errors admitted to by the DJI Phantom 4 owner.

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A summary of the report states, ‘The drone operator was unaware of the collision until an NTSB investigator contacted him. The operator was also not aware of temporary flight restrictions that were in place at the time because of presidential travel and a UN general assembly session. He was flying recreationally and did not hold an FAA remote pilot certificate.’

Without more stringent regulations questions remain, even from this one incident where there were thankfully no injuries sustained by the Black Hawk aircrew or members of the public.

Who will pay for the damages caused to the helicopter? Will the US Army have to rethink how they organise and execute security centered missions when in close proximity to the civil population? Do thresholds of 400ft and upwards and five miles outside of an airport/helipad have to be similarly reassessed?

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Marvel of the Merlin retold with wizardry

Book review – The Merlin EH (AW) 101: From Design to Front Line by Rich Pittman

Helicopter enthusiasts are likely to be spellbound by Rich Pittman’s book on the 30 year journey of the Merlin EH101 through to its latter Leonardo AW101 designation and beyond.

FullSizeRenderThe opportunity to design a new helicopter is a rare one. In the Merlin’s case, it’s obvious the task was set about by manufacturers with gusto. Pittman sets the scene in the 1980s with the MoD intent on rebuffing the Soviet Union’s submarine missile threat. During the same period, the Italian Navy sought a replacement for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings and so began an Anglo-Italian partnership under Augusta and Westland to design a multi-role helicopter of distinction.

In less than 100 pages it seems that every possible detail concerning pre-production events, flight tests, water tests, airframe, rotor, engine and avionics changes are covered in depth. That’s not to mention how the aircraft fulfilled international defence requirements for the UK, Italy and Denmark to name a few.

The account is such that readers have every right to assume this is the most illuminating and comprehensive portrait of the Merlin to date, and it will endure for years to come.

There’s even time to write about the more trivial aspects of the project’s original beginnings, when it emerges that a clerical error in re-typing hand written notes led to the new helicopter accidentally being inked as EH101 instead of EHI-01 (EHI being an abbreviation of the European Helicopter Industries Limited company which had been created to market the aircraft to prospective customers).

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The trials and tribulations of nine pre-production aircraft are particularly interesting, beginning with PP1’s maiden flight in October 1987, which saw the failure of its tail-rotor ground instrumentation, ‘preventing the ground crew from recording the stress-load on the tail rotor, thereby curtailing first flight as a precaution.’

Pittman pays attention to larger events such as the EH101’s first transatlantic flight in 1999, which he recounts started in Aberdeen, taking in Iceland and Greenland in the process.

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Undoubtedly however, the showstopper of the piece — so to speak — is the 814 NAS Merlin being deployed for service during the 2012 London Olympics. In all its majesty, the picture and accompanying story of the type stand out, having been called into service to conduct maritime security operations during the sporting extravaganza.

By virtue of the Royal Navy consistently relying on its Merlin HM1 and highly capable upgraded HM2, it’s little wonder that the service entry chapter is dominated by developments concerning both aircraft. The message from Pittman is clear – the Merlin’s impact on British maritime security operations is indelible and it’s no surprise when he writes that it will ‘continue to provide the Royal Navy with a truly world-class platform for the next 20 years, up to and beyond it’s notional out of service date of 2029.’

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Beyond a British focus, there’s a lively exploration of the Merlin’s exemplary SAR record in Portugal, beginning with a nod to the vast areas of water which the country’s air force are tasked with covering. This context, and an admission that the Portugal Air Force push the Merlin to the very limit of its range capability, is central to the Portuguese story as a whole – but that’s only part of it. The other part tells of the lives saved by the helicopter.

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In all, the Merlin has most certainly left its mark on the aviation industry and equally this book is sure to leave a fond impression on its readers.

  • The Merlin EH (AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available from Amberley Books


The world according to Shephard: Week 1

As the wheels of industry turn once more – entering a new year in the process – the first week of 2018 has been typically full of aerospace and defence developments. As ever, Shephard has been at the coalface to bring you the best stories over the last week.

Taiwan tested by UAV delay

Technical development issues are playing havoc with Taiwan’s series production of its Teng Yun (Cloud Rider) MALE UAV. The type is expected to be introduced to the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) but according to a Ministry of National Defense source that objective remains several years away.


Charles Au reports that the ROCAF has been ‘somewhat surprised’ by the news, as President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration had previously kept details about the launch of production quiet ‘until the last minute.’

China eye African expansion

Taiwan’s westerly neighbour China is to step up its maritime African expansion plans. Key to such plans reaching fruition are through a series of proposed new ports and railways in East Africa which are expected to enhance the country’s Indian Ocean maritime security arrangements.


The so called maritime ‘road’  is planned to link Chinese coastal cities in the country’s more prosperous East to several ports and railways in East Africa and eventually the Mediterranean. One such proposal, estimated to cost $480 million is earmarked for the construction of a deep-sea port at Lamu, Kenya, and at a sister site in Mombasa.

From Russia with love

On the heli front, Russian Helicopters has delivered a Mi-28N Night Hunter to the Russian armed forces. The Russian MoD said that the attack helicopter was delivered to the Russian Western Military District’s helicopter regiment based in St Petersburg. The aircraft was originally produced for the country’s air force; with the service taking receipt of its first Night Hunter in 2005.


Air to the throne

Babcock Scandinavian Air Ambulance (SAA) has been awarded a £34 million contract to operate a patient transfer service in Gothenburg, Sweden. The contract has been agreed for an initial four years, with options for two year extensions. Under the terms of the contract, Babcock SAA will operate a specially-configured Leonardo AW169 light intermediate helicopter from a new base in Gothenburg. The flight service is scheduled to begin in 2018.


Indian Air Force looks to scale new heights

The Indian Air Force is set to overhaul its legacy L/70 40mm and ZU-23-2B 23mm air defence guns by virtue of a limited tender for new-generation short-range air defence systems, reports Gordon Arthur. The MoD will provide funding of $1.5 billion following a decision by the Defence Acquisition Council to clear the purchase last year. The air force’s full requirement consists of 244 guns (equating to 61 systems), alongside fire control and search radars and 204,000 rounds of ammunition.


USMC unlikely to be caught cold

The USMC and industry players will begin to co-ordinate a series of meetings, the focus of which will be to discuss upcoming service clothing requirements. Combat and cold weather fabrics, uniforms, accessories, boots and equipment are to be placed on the agenda, according to a RfI released on 2 January.

Cold Weather Training with U.S. Marines

The document explains that the USMC office of Program Manager Infantry Combat Equipment will carry out ‘specific market research to identify improved mountain cold weather clothing and equipment  next to skin fabrics and insulation layers…’

The meetings will take place on 25-27 January 2018 in conjunction with the Outdoor Retail Show in Denver, Colorado.

Inside ‘The home of the Apache’


As a new journalist to the aviation industry I had been told by colleagues that trade shows and events are one of the perks of the job – if a little frantic at times. Nonetheless it was a great surprise to be given the chance to visit Boeing’s Mesa site.

This young grasshopper has much to learn about helicopters but if earning my stripes means shooting off to Arizona in December then sign me up. The brief in a nutshell was to spend four days at ‘The home of the Apache’.


Production rates of the type are set to spike as Boeing look to capitalise on customer interest. The manufacturer even suggested, during the trip, that production figures of up to 100 Apache AH-64E per year by 2021 are a realistic target. The UK – the AH-64E’s second largest operator – will also receive their first delivery of the aircraft in June 2020, with service entry expected to occur two years later.

Beyond the formal newsworthy discussions held with senior executives, it was amazing to see the Apache flight line and production facility up close. When you get a chance to see the number of people involved in designing and producing the aircraft it’s an incredible sight to behold.

It’s almost akin to watching the end credits of a film roll by in the sense that you can appreciate how many different departments and variety of skill sets are required in order for the final product to be assembled.

The production warehouse consists of a 12 point assembly with eight spots reserved for individual Apache components to be added as required. Engineers are provided with their tools each morning, which are set out for them by their respective support teams.

The idea is that this quickens up the production process and means the job at hand can happen without delay. Short of the Apache’s fuselage which is produced in Asia and its composite blades which are assembled in a neighbouring building, the entire interior and exterior of the aircraft is assembled on site.


Of course, being given privileged access to the facility itself, awakens an inner nerd and more than anything the AVgeek hashtag for which the aviation Twittersphere prides itself on, resonated immediately.

The opportunity to try an Apache E simulator first-hand was one that proved word associations between helicopters and cool are legitimate and should always be encouraged.

Having been airborne for a mere minute at most, I crashed, spinning hopelessly into a computer generated wood. Safe to assume I won’t be giving up the day job anytime soon.

That said, the technology involved in the simulator is much more interesting than my faulty flight. The simulator itself is encased in a futuristic white pod and as you steer the flight deck moves simultaneously meaning those on the side-lines also feel like they are moving, depending on the ‘pilot’s’ movements.


Aside from everything that happened at the Mesa site, the highlight of the trip was most definitely listening to pilot Rich Lee talk in great detail about picking up Diana Ross (of The Supremes fame) from the Arizona, Sun Devil Stadium, during the 1996 Super Bowl halftime show.

Lee is a highly respected figure within the aviation industry having completed countless test and classified flights but even for a man of his experience the Super Bowl stunt ended up being a remarkable event and one that so nearly didn’t happen.

To begin with Lee recalled that the very idea of flying a helicopter into a stadium full of people is, to say the least, not a brilliant idea from a health and safety point of view. Planning and preparation was exhaustive with every stakeholder involved having to be satisfied that their interests were being protected.

Those parties included the operator, the NFL, their events management company, local emergency services, federal aviation authorities and of course, Diana Ross.

Every possible eventuality had to be covered too, including the possibility of engine failure, security threats relating to what to do in the event of a sniper or bomb attack and how to avoid items being thrown from the crowd, as well as ensuring smoke from flares during halftime wouldn’t effect visibility.

Running alongside all of this air traffic control would have to inform all operators that no flights could pass through the surrounding area of the stadium during Lee’s flight. All of this was eventually co-ordinated successfully.

At one point during proceedings cushions were thrown from stadium seats to test if objects thrown from the crowd would inhibit the flight! Lee would also go on to entrust his teenage son to manage ground operations on the basis that he was used to travelling with his father to air shows and was well versed in planning for trade shows and marquee aviation events.


When the moment finally arrived to fly into the stadium, two key incidents occurred that almost led to the mission being aborted. In the first instance, flight tests had been conducted with only an empty stadium, now as Lee entered, at the point of descending, his collective pitch or pressure usually exerted to let the helicopter descend smoothly made no impact because of the heat created by a stadium full of 70,000 people.

Additionally, thousands of camera flashes went off as soon as the helicopter got to the stadium. ‘It felt like I was inside a giant diamond,’ Lee explained.

To his great relief, as he continued on his set course, the middle of the stadium produced a corridor of cold air which eventually allowed Lee to land as planned. In the end, without being able to see his landing spot, Lee had touched down four inches from where he was expected to.

Just to add to the script and in a perfect moment of synchronicity between pilot and star attraction, Diana Ross sang ‘I will survive’ before receiving her escort from the stadium.

On that note, I’ll depart the stage too.

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