Category Archives: Latest Quills

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 5

Costing Britain’s defence

The UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson recently confirmed the MoD’s intention to split off the defence part of the National Security review into a separate review. The Clarence offers some suggestions on where the cuts might fall while protecting the capabilities necessary to meet the goals of the 2015 National Security Review.

Meanwhile the MoD came under increasing pressure this week after it was forced to defend itself in light of suggestions by the National Audit Office (NAO) that it did not include the costings of the Type 31e light frigate project in its equipment plan. The NAO’s report found that there could be an affordability gap potential of over £20 billion.


Up-gunning Europe

Final testing of the German Armed Force’s anti-tank missile system on its fleet of Puma IFVs is expected to be completed by Q3 2018, with initial fielding scheduled for 2020. The MELLS missile system is armed with Spike LR missiles and will provide the German forces with significant additional operational scope and capabilities.

In Bulgaria the MoD has indicated it will acquire new wheeled IFVs as part of its modernisation agenda, in addition to upgrading existing soviet-era armour. The tender is expected to be launched in mid-2018 for 150 8×8 vehicles to equip three battalions. Alex Mladenov and Krassimir Grozev look into some of the contenders for the programme.

Europe tanks

The British Army’s training units are preparing for the imminent delivery of the first Ajax variant after the completion of government acceptance testing (GAT). The Ares specialist troop carrier configuration will be received by the Armour Centre at Bovington, while GAT for Ajax is expected to commence in early 2018 following successful manned live firing trials.


Patrolling the seas from above and below

Russia’s Beriev Be-12 fleet of maritime patrol aircraft is set for an upgrade of its vintage 1970s mission suite according to the Russian Naval Aviation Chief. The aircraft will receive three new components, a hydroacoustic sub-system, new radar and new magnetic anomaly detector to keep the aircraft in service until the mid-2020s.

Going beneath the waves in Taiwan, where the navy performed a successful demonstration of its minehunting capabilities. Despite the success of the demonstration, the main message was that the Republic of China Navy’s minehunting capabilities have reached the end of their lifecycle and must be replaced soon. The service is at risk of losing its ability to counter China’s sea mine blockade threat.

Minehunting edit

Special Forces march into future threats

NATO special operations forces are actively seeking next-generation technologies to support a future operating environment dominated by missions in confined, congested and contested megacities. This includes exploiting technology in order to support subterranean operations in dense urban environments with large populations.

Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service is also considering future training and material requirements of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) following the eradication of Isis from the country. ISOF has recently performed more conventional light infantry operations to retake huge swathes of land from Isis including the City of Mosul and now needs to re-focus on elite counter-terrorism skills required to ensure the stability of Iraq.

Iraq SOF

The perils of open source data

Military agencies are in an on-going battle to maximise the benefits of commercial open source data while avoiding the potentially devastating intelligence pitfalls.

The security risks associated with open source data were starkly highlighted by the release of Strava’s Global Heatmap.

The map, which shows the routes travelled by users of its exercise tracking product, inadvertently exposed sensitive information about American and allied military bases and troop movements in conflict zones across the world.



The map highlights a number of well-known military bases across Iraq and Syria, where Western soldiers have been stationed as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

However, it is the movements of troops outside their bases, their patrol and supply routes and smaller camps not previously known about which could offer valuable information to enemy forces.


At the recent Defence Geospatial Intelligence conference in London, military and industry leaders discussed how security challenges can be overcome to enable better exploitation of the vast reams of commercial data available to military and intelligence agencies.

However, as Maj Gen James Hockenhull, director of cyber intelligence and information integration at the UK MoD noted, the relationship between the military and industry requires improvement.

With incidents such as the Strava heat map, military users of commercial geospatial systems remain sceptical about the security and reliability of the data being collected and disseminated.


However, the proliferation of commercial satellites offers a huge potential for militaries to access near real-time, high-resolution imagery within government spending constraints.

Further developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning algorithms have led to a significant leap in the efficiency, and outsourcing, of geospatial intelligence analysis to companies willing to invest heavily in the technologies.

These include companies such as Esri and DigitalGlobe who are developing deep learning algorithms to enable automated identification of a wide range of objects.

This could provide intelligence agencies with rapid and accurate strategic information, such as the movements of enemy military equipment, troops, or weapons testing locations, such as the site of the North Korean missile test pictured above.




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.

800 x 533

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.



Port of Rotterdam makes a splash

Last week I took a trip over to Rotterdam for the inauguration of a new patrol boat into the fleet of vessels for the Port of Rotterdam, the RPA8.

Rotterdam is one of the largest ports in Europe as well as being a fantastic Dutch city.

However, I did not bet on my trip coinciding with one of the deadliest storms to hit Northern Europe. Gusts of up to 140km/h (90mph) saw Schiphol airport close its doors for most of the day and the Dutch rail network ground to a halt.

Driving through the port the damage and disruption was clear to see with water taxis forced onto their moorings, cargo containers tumbling from their stacks and Dutch cyclists batting against the high winds.

Despite this, the show must go on and I was able to take a look on board the RPA8 Patrol Boat which entered service with the Port of Rotterdam Harbour Master on 18 January following its official christening ceremony.

The boat is one of the most advanced designs of vessel the port authority has in its fleet now.

The RPA8 was constructed by Dutch Shipyard Kooiman, representing the first time the shipbuilder has constructed a patrol boat, and designed by Dutch Naval Architects Van Oossanen.

The integration of Hull Vane technology from Van Oossanen, essentially an underwater spoiler, has allowed energy saving on the boat, reduces wave making and assists in noise reduction

One feature that could be applicable to the future use of Hull Vane is that can enable pitch and yaw damping, stabilising the boat, allowing for weapon systems to be more accurate and assist in helicopter landings on larger vessels through the improvement of the core stability.

While to-date the Hull Vane has a modest portfolio of ships it has been integrated on the possibilities appear significant both for retrofit and new builds.

Typically navies and fleet operators tend to trust proven designs, with new vessels using the Hull Vane this presents an opportunity for the maritime community to see the technology in action.

The company is now testing the Hull Vane on the Holland Class OPV to see what advantages it can bring to large naval vessels. The market for the Hull Vane is typically large vessels with high speed requirements of around 25kt.

If the Dutch navy is seen to adopt this technology it could open the floodgates for Hull Vane. Pardon the pun.

The World According to Shephard: Week 3

A game of charades?

This week the Geobukseon dives into the possible repercussions of constitutional change in Japan, suggesting that the country has never really been a pacifist nation. Tensions in the region have reignited debate regarding the nature of Japan’s self-defence forces, with many claiming it is a military force by another name.

Meanwhile, Gordon Arthur reports on the strengthening cooperation between Japanese paratroopers and US Army Green Berets who have conducted a mass airdrop exercise.


Qatar’s searches for new friends

Qatar’s Defence Minister has detailed plans to increase the country’s order of Hawk training aircraft from six to nine units. The announcement comes amid a rapid build-up of the Gulf-nation’s defence capabilities, in particular relating to its air force.

The minister also stressed that Doha is seeking to enhance and diversify its defence relationships with a wide range of ‘friendly’ nations. This was clearly demonstrated by the recent displays of Chinese and Turkish military equipment at Qatar’s National Day Parade.


Helicopter orders fly in

The US Army has wasted little time in moving its purchase of 35 new UH-72 Lakota aircraft forward, it is even prepared to proceed without a competitive process. The announcement came one day after the army’s deadline for industry to respond to how they could meet the service’s requirement to purchase the H145M.

The Indian Army is facing the peculiar dilemma of having to stall deliveries of HAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) due to the unavailability of spares for the fleet already in service. There are more ALH aircraft on the production line than the army is willing to take as maintenance of the existing fleet remains a key concern.

India HAL heli

Indonesia’s military has also been receiving new aircraft, recently accepting two Airbus Helicopters AS565 MBe Panthers, three armed H125M Fennecs and a CN-235-220 aircraft. The Panthers, part of a November 2014 contract for 11 aircraft for the Indonesian Navy, are configured for anti-submarine warfare. Further deliveries of AS565s are expected in early 2018.

Finally, the Russian Air and Space Force (RuASF) has added 14 newly-built Ka-52 attack helicopters to its fleet. The RuASF now has a fleet of over 100 Ka-52s operated by its army aviation branch. The Russian MoD also expects to receive two enhanced Mi-28NM attack helicopters by the end of this year.


Nightwarden sale looms

Textron is confident that the first sale of its Nightwarden UAV is on the horizon. Beth Maundrill reports that the first deal is likely to be an international sale and it is understood this would be a completely new customer for the company. It is also possible that Sweden may select the Nightwarden as part of a UAS upgrade.


The future is here: quantum computing, AI and robotics

US Army leaders are seeking ways to capitalise on advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The army’s top four-star general has warned that the military must address the ‘fundamental change in the character of war’. To this end, the service is working to develop new weapons systems to meet challenges posed by near-peer and peer threats such as Russia and China.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency and its industrial partners are planning to launch two quantum key distribution satellites at the beginning of next decade to deliver commercial services to private and governmental entities. Quantum cryptography, which relies on encrypting data into the quantum states of particles is believed to be inherently unbreakable.






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