Category Archives: Heads Up

HMMWV, the ultimate driverless car

HMMWV, Humvee or the Hummer, whatever you want to call it most people will recognise the famous four wheel drive vehicle.

First entering service in the mid-1980s there are now at least 230,000 HMMWVs in service both in and around 60 nations. It is not surprising that some users have sought to modify the vehicle which will turn it into an autonomous UGV.

That’s right, an unmanned HMMWV.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) recently publicised its efforts to develop the unmanned capability, releasing a video of the unmanned HMMWV in July.

The IDF has been working with IAI on the technology and recently I spoke with the company about their roboticist technology which has been incorporated into the vehicle. You can read the full story here. 

But what’s the point?

Well, although it has not been confirmed by either the IDF or IAI, it seems likely that if you kept the remote weapon station on the vehicle with the aid of cameras and sensors the unmanned HMMWV could become the ultimate border patrol vehicle.

The video appears to show the IDF’s unmanned HMMWV with the Rafael Mini Typhoon weapon station.

However, Israel is not the only nation developing this technology. The US military is set to have a live demonstration of such a vehicle later on this month as the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning looks to develop this technology.

Watch this space as there is certainly more developments to come regarding the unmanned HMMWV.

The world according to Shephard: Week 31

Ruling the waves

It’s been a busy week for naval and maritime news across the world with international deals signed, modernisation programmes announced and capabilities questioned.

Beginning in North America where US Navy CNO Adm John Richardson asked how the US Navy could restore its ‘agility and competitive edge to maintain superiority?’  He also emphasised the importance of producing more capable ships and the creation of a networked fleet to enhance naval power.


In Europe, Germany will upgrade its eight-strong P-3C fleet in a five-year, $158.5 million, programme that will maintain the aircraft as the backbone of the country’s maritime patrol capability.

Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri has had a week of ups and downs, after a thwarted attempt to purchase STX France was followed by the successful conclusion of a €5 billion deal for the construction of naval ships for Qatar.

Type 45 Dragon

Over in the UK Beth Maundrill reported from Portsmouth on BAE System’s progress to provide the Royal Navy with 60 Pacific 24 Mk 4 RIBs. Watch Beth’s video here.

After some delays in production, the 30th hull is currently on the production line. On the blog, Beth also discussed Portsmouth’s preparations for the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, Ian Keddie questioned the capability of China’s new domestically produced ocean gliders, describing China’s claims as ‘overhyped’.  Read the full story here.

Helicopter highlights

This week has also seen a flurry of activity in the rotorcraft industry, as Boeing was awarded a contract for three CH-47F Chinook Block II for the US Army.

As the Brazilian Air Force’s Black Hawk fleet reached 30,000 flight hours, Shephard noted that the Brazilian Army is expected to begin the process of replacing its incumbent fleet of Cougars and Black Hawks.


In more Black Hawk news, Sikorsky Australia secured a A$63 million contract to refurbish ten ex-US Army UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters for firefighting and disaster relief operations in Australia.

However, a Tiger attack helicopter crashed south of Tabankort, Mali. The helicopter belonged to the German Helicopter Detachment based in Gao, Mali.

The stimulus of instability

In the wake of another North Korean ICBM test, a new report in the US urges aggressive sanctions against the country and recommended warning China that the US is willing to use military force.

DPRK sanctions

As geopolitics continues to be unpredictable the level of global military spending is on the rise again. This week has seen a plethora of investments and contracts that demonstrate the importance of force modernisation and expansion for militaries across the world.

Romania has passed an endowment plan that allocates the necessary funds to reach NATO’s 2% of GDP target for defence spending. The plan provides €9.8 billion for force modernisation and procurement over the next nine years to bolster the country’s defence against a resurgent Russia.


In Ankara Cengizhan Çatal analyses Turkey’s growing defence industry, which has reported an annual turnover of $6 billion in 2016. The industry’s growth has been driven by increasing demand from customers across the Middle East and Asia.

On the blog this week, Gordon Arthur expresses his frustration with the organisation of this year’s Talisman Saber exercises forcing him to concede that it may be his last.

Royal Navy: Maintaining the fleet

The UK’s Royal Navy is patiently awaiting the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) carrier at its new home in Portsmouth in the coming weeks.

On Monday I visited Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Portsmouth to find out more about some of the other class of ships based there, the Type 23 and 45, but I also got a glimpse at some of the impressive infrastructure at the base which will support QEC.

Navigation aids have been installed to guide the 280m vessel into the port. There is also an onshore power generation source which will keep the vessel running while it is docked and an airport-style arrivals hall to support the 500-plus contractors which will be coming and going from the carrier each day when in Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, on 1 August, it was announced that £3 million was to be saved on the QEC as part of a new deal to supply the RN with more than 10,000 different types of consumable items – covering everything from fittings and fixtures to pistons and pumps.

It ought to be noted that maintenance of such a vessel is no mean feat, Babcock currently has a contract to do so.

While I was at HMNB I spoke with BAE Systems about some of its experiences maintaining the RN’s Type 45 and Type 23 fleets.

The Type 45 has notably been making headlines with various issues with its propulsion systems and at one time all six were seen to be alongside or in dock at one time.

BAE Systems has said that one of the lessons learned from its support of the Type 45 programme is the need to have spares readily available.

Additionally, there was supposed to be one serious mid-life upgrade but a continuous engineering philosophy was adopted with a lot of the maintenance to be done during fleet time under the original BAE Systems contract. That was the concept as it evolved over a decade ago, according to BAE Systems.

The reality has been that the ships staff have been required to do much more than operate and maintain only – something the enterprise should have thought about beforehand, BAE admitted.

A single mid-life upgrade just did not work and capability insertion has been a continuous feature for the Type 45s.

An ongoing effort, Project Napier, is also being carried out to enhance the vessel’s power and propulsion systems

The Type 45s are now moving to a common support model which will see DE&S take over more of the maintenance, supported by BAE Systems. Design, maintenance and equipment management will return to DE&S and the QEC will follow this model from the outset.

The company is already working with teams to implement this support model on the future Type 26s and it has been implemented on the Type 23s.

With new vessels coming into service it is imperative that the RN looks closely at both the successes and failings of previous projects.

More on this, lessons learned and future plans for maintenance can be found on the Shephard Media website.



The last Talisman Saber ever…?

Exercise Talisman Saber 2017  took place at multiple locations across Australia last month. I couldn’t even tell you what its official dates were, as it’s a kind of nebulous affair that requires a lot of build-up in intensity before it picks up momentum.

There was a lot to say about this year’s event. It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the series of seven eponymous exercises. It involved more than 33,000 troops, primarily from Australia and the US, along with a sizeable (relative to its strength) contingent from New Zealand, and smatterings of Japanese and Canadians.

Talisman Saber 2017 also witnessed the largest Australian Defence Force (ADF) amphibious assault since World War Two. I mean to say, it featured no fewer than four landing craft disgorging troops onto the beach at the same time. Obviously Australia has not conducted many amphibious landings in the past 70 years!

Nevertheless, HMAS Canberra did not break down, and the ADF managed to get a battalion ashore by landing craft and helicopter. It’s still problematic that the Canberra class cannot land an Abrams tank ashore because they’re too heavy for its landing craft, but let’s not diminish the accomplishments of the Australian Army’s maturing amphibious capability.

As Greg Colton remarked in the Lowy Institute’s blog The Interpreter, ‘This year’s exercise has shown that the ADF can now project a combined-arms battlegroup over the shore and sustain it during mid-intensity warfighting. A significant role of any defence force is to act as a deterrent and to do so it must be capable against a range of high-end threats. The ADF has demonstrated that it is now able to conduct major amphibious operations throughout the region, either unilaterally or as part of a coalition with the US or New Zealand. As such, for the first time in three decades, Australia now has the military capability to back up its stated defence strategy.’

The US Army had a much larger presence than usual, with an Alaska-based Stryker battalion and Hawaii-based combat aviation unit from the 25th Infantry Division participating as part of the Pacific Pathways series of exercises. This saw US Army Apaches and Black Hawks appearing for the first time, as well as Gray Eagle UAVs.

The USMC performed a typical ‘kick down the door’ amphibious assault too, landing ashore near the end of the free-play exercise to act as the anvil to destroy the last resistance of the opposing force. Also on the American side, the USN and USMC flew media by MV-22B Osprey and hosted them aboard USS Bonhomme Richard for a ship tour and interview with navy commanders.

I’m not sure why Australia didn’t do the same with HMAS Canberra. Perhaps they were afraid it might break?

The exercise was so interesting that China sent one of its Type 815 spy ships to hang out on Australia’s periphery too. Oddly enough, Australia and the US didn’t throw a tantrum or stamp on the floor as China does when it sees foreign naval vessels pass through the South China Sea. It seems China has not seen the irony in the situation yet.

With so many accomplishments to trumpet, why then the headline of this piece asking if this is the last Talisman Saber ever?

Well, it just may be my final Talisman Saber ever. After covering the past five exercises, the frustrations have built up to the point where I must question the expense and time necessary to attend, especially when flying from overseas.

You see, the ADF really dropped the ball in terms of media relations this year. Before the exercise began, media support was almost non-existent. Even after an application was lodged, there was no acknowledgement, no contact person available to answer queries. A simple question such as, ‘What date is the exercise?’ went unanswered, making it impossible to book air tickets until the last, and most expensive, minute.

Then, all information about what activities media wished to cover disappeared into a black hole, never to be seen again. It was only after US public affairs officers (PAO) hit the ground running at the start of the exercise that any kind of information started flowing.

Even then, there were frustrations. Without explanation I was bumped off the list of media attending the said amphibious assault – the largest since WWII, did you know? – because it was preferable to give seats to VIPs and senators. It seems the parachute drop on the same day was a bust too, as media only saw it from a kilometre away behind the treeline.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some fantastic PAOs on both the Australian and US sides – and I met many of them this year, and I had a great time with Battle Group Cannan, the Kiwis, the Japanese, the USMC and USN – but the overall coordination this year was poor. Embeds seemed to be organised ad hoc at the last minute, even though they had been requested weeks, nay months, in advance.

There were so many good stories that Shephard would have loved to tell: Australia’s biggest amphibious assault since WWII (hadn’t you heard?), UAVs, helicopters, the ASLAV surveillance vehicle, urban operations, development of 2 RAR’s amphibious capability, upgrades of M1A1 Abrams tanks, organisation of armoured cavalry regiments, etc. Sadly, they just weren’t possible.

Yes, I understand that the tactical exercise is a complex jigsaw of working pieces and that not all media requests can be accommodated. I wasn’t even angry that my RAAF escort and I got abandoned on the side of the road for seven hours at one stage! However, careful planning and organisation could have made things a lot smoother for all media. And incidentally, this is not just sour grapes from me, because every media counterpart that I spoke to had a similar tale of woe.

And then, alas, Virgin Australia hit me with an A$70 excess baggage charge for being 2kg over the limit when departing from Rockhampton Airport. That was perhaps the straw that broke this long-suffering camel’s back.

So, yes, it might well be my final Talisman Saber…Even if the ADF could entice me back in 2019, I certainly won’t be flying Virgin Australia.

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Terror drones

Wilayat Nineveh 2.jpg

A still taken from a video published by the pro-ISIS Amaq news outlet purportedly showcasing insurgent drone operations

It makes sense that unmanned technologies have migrated across the traditional battlefield and into use by a variety of non-state actors and terrorist organisations.

The ease of acquisition and use of such systems has presented organisations such as ISIS capabilities that not too long ago would have been unthinkable, both in terms of intelligence and surveillance gathering, but also increasingly in rudimentary strike roles.

One only has to look at the simple economic value in converting a simple drone that costs no more than a few hundred dollars into relatively stealthy weapon, to see why they can be viewed as a force multiplier by the non-state actor organisations.

Add to that the notion that a successful strike can damage or destroy equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the physical and psychological threats for the soldiers and operators on the ground, and a potent combination is created.

Judging by what we can see from promotional material published by ISIS after operations, a range of payloads are also being developed. These are predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions in the sense that they are unguided, but when dropped from a height of just a couple of hundred metres can still effect significant damage.

Insurgent conversations in the deep web of chat rooms and internet lounges point as well towards the ambition (or perhaps hope, as it is difficult to quantify written words with intent and ability) to deploy chemical and biological payloads.

The notion of a small quadrotor, unheard above the din of ground activities, effectively carrying or becoming a dirty bomb is one forces have to be aware of.

For more on this topic read  ‘In the Wrong Hands’ in the upcoming edition of Unmanned Vehicles where we explore the methods and digital efforts terrorists go to in order to cover their planning efforts.

Special forces get wet ‘n wild

If being a highly-trained Special Operations Forces (SOF) operator wasn’t cool enough, up to 20 personnel from Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command are to be let loose on powerful jet skis in the San Diego Bay.

On 7 July the NSW Command announced it was searching for a vendor to provide up to 20 of its Basic Training Command staff a five day jet ski course near its San Diego Bay base.

JET SKIS in the Service of Army Special Forces 2 - c

Photo: Hellenic Army General Staff

Incorporating jet ski capabilities into the SOF repertoire is understandable as their high speeds, acceleration and manoeuvrability make the jet ski a viable platform for amphibious operations or operations at sea.

According to the request, the NSW staff will undergo training tailored towards the capabilities of the powerful Kawasaki Ultra 300X Jet Ski, which boasts 1,498cc, 300 horsepower and speeds of up to 100kmh.


The five day programme includes initial training by day within the bay with later progression to open water ocean training at night.

Also covered will be various day and night rescue procedures and safety procedures regarding near shore hazards and ‘non organic seafaring traffic’.

There are significant limitations to the use of jet skis by SOF such as their inability to cope with high waves, wind and swell. A further issue that could hinder their regular deployment could be the noise level produced by powerful engines.

JET SKIS in the Service of Army Special Forces -c

Photo: Hellenic Army General Staff

Other forces known to utilise jet skis include the Greek Special Forces who have incorporated the platform into their SOF capabilities for the planning and execution of amphibious special operations since 2011. According to the Greek Army, teams on jet skis have the ability to rapidly disperse to different areas and later re-assemble using GPS.

So, as NSW trainees tear it up around San Diego Bay, they can be confident of the fact this is essential, operationally-relevant training.


Around the world in 650kbps

By Alice Budge and Helen Haxell

Establishing and maintaining reliable satellite connectivity is a major challenge helicopter operators continue to encounter.

The disruption between the helicopter and satellite caused by the rotor blades has made developing SATCOM capabilities for rotorcraft significantly more challenging than for fixed-wing aircraft.

However, industry has made significant progress in responding to this challenge. Over the past few years a wide range of products have been released that use technological advancements in satellite connectivity to overcome the rotor blade disruption.


The C150 Global Odyssey’s Bell 429 helicopter, with connectivity powered by Honeywell’s Aspire 200 satellite communications system and GoDirect Cabin Connectivity.

One such company is Honeywell which has recently had its Aspire 200 satellite communication system certified for installation on the Bell 429 and AW139.

The advances made in SATCOM technology have been demonstrated by the use of the Aspire 200 satellite communications system by the C150 Global Odyssey team, a father-son duo who are circumnavigating the world in a Bell 429 to mark 150 years of Canadian independence. Their route has tested the system’s ability to maintain connectivity in rural areas and cold climates.


Father and son duo Bob and Steven Dengler in front of the Bell 429 helicopter they’ll be piloting during their journey as the world’s first Canadian helicopter flight team around the world.

Other recent advancements in SATCOM technology include Hughes’ demonstration earlier this year with its ability to use Beyond-Line-of-Sight SATCOM to transmit HD video through rotating blades on a NSA 407MRH.

Blue Sky Network is another company to unveil new satellite communication technology through its portable tracking device in tandem with the company’s HELink app to create a portable satellite tracking solution.

The company has  also developed the iOS SkyRouter app which incorporates smart device capability and enable users to connect to the HawkEye7200 using any Apple device. This will provide operators with the ability to send messages or data when Bluetooth is turned on.


Formation flying in Iceland. (Photo: Baldur Sveinsson)

Goodman explained that the Aspire 200 system uses interleaver waveforms to compensate for the interference caused by the rotors by spreading information, ‘the zeros and ones, over a longer space of time to deliver a low error connection’.

‘If a piece of information gets lost in the first transmission the odds are very low that it would get lost in a second transmission,’ he added.

The long burst interleaver technology also provides continued connectivity in extreme climates. This has been tested by the C150 team, which has have flown around Northern Canada, Greenland and will soon travel across Russia and Alaska.


Goodbye, Canada! Next stop: Sisimiut, Greenland. (Photo: C150 Global Odyssey)

This technology has a wide range of applications including for EMS as it will enable the crew to ‘capitalise on that golden hour when a patient is in the helicopter’ and transmit medical data from the helicopter to the hospital to ensure they are prepared upon the patient’s arrival, according to Tom Neumann, VP of operations at BendixKing – a Honeywell subsidiary.

The technology also facilitates VIP clients to utilise real-time video conferencing, Whatsapp and Facebook. This capability has been demonstrated by the C150 Global Odyssey in which the team flying the Bell 429 has been able to provide real-time updates, including images and videos, from the sky.

Ice 3

Narsarsuaq to Kulusuk in Greenland. (Photo: C150 Global Odyssey)

Goodman emphasised Aspire 200’s capabilities, stating that the C150 team has reported that ‘in some very remote northern towns they’ve been staying in, the connectivity on the helicopter is far superior to what they can get on the ground’.

Honeywell is currently pursuing certification for the Aspire 200 on nine additional platforms including AW139, AS350, UH 60, CH 53, S-92 and the Bell 412.

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