Category Archives: Latest Quills

The world according to Shephard: Week 33

The glorious carrier?

This week UK defence news was dominated by the arrival of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier the Queen Elizabeth at Portsmouth. For many it was a day of celebration and festivities that included a speech from the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

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However for Richard Thomas, editor of IMPS, the arrival of the carrier was met with a more measured tone. In an analysis of the costs and benefits of the carrier he asks ‘is it a waste of space?’ and investigates the sacrifices that have been made elsewhere in the navy for the colossal vessel.

Meanwhile, Beth Maundrill discusses the potentially embarrassing event in which a hobbyist drone landed on the deck of the £3 billion platform. The landing of a small, commercial (potentially a DJI Phantom) on the carrier raised serious questions relating to the security of the carrier against small unmanned threats.

 

The battle for maritime dominance continues

In other maritime news, this week the US Navy commissioned a replacement to the ageing Afloat Forward Staging Base Interim USS Ponce in a ceremony held at Khalifa bin Salman Port, Bahrain. The new Expeditionary Sea Base has been designed to provide logistics movement from sea to shore to support a range of maritime operations.

Is America’s maritime dominance under threat? Wendell Minnick took a look at the implications of China’s first overseas military base and naval support facility in Djibouti which he believes represents a challenge to American dominance in the region. Read Wendell’s full analysis here.

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China’s new base comes at a time of increasing maritime insecurity, as new offshore oil and gas finds off Africa’s coastline are drawing closer attention to the state of maritime security in the region.

 

Up, up and away

There has been surprisingly little sign of financial instability in the rotary industry as the largest helicopter OEMs have defied pessimists with steady Q1 and H1 results. While the industry still faces significant challenges and hurdles, such as gas price volatility and currency fluctuations, the four largest OEMs remain positive.

Helen Haxell takes a look at why we should all be feeling better about the future of the rotary industry. In her blog, Helen analyses some of the latest models coming onto the market and predicts a buoyant second half of 2017, with ‘good rotary times ahead.’

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One case study is that of Erickson, which has emerged from bankruptcy with energy and currently have their S-64 Aircranes deployed around the world fighting wildfires in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

 

Acquisitions abound 

The Philippines have acquired six ScanEagles as part of a $7.4 million from the US Department of Defence.

While in the Middle East, Lebanon took delivery of the first batch of M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles at a ceremony addressed by the US Ambassador to the country. The delivery comes at a time when the Lebanese army is on the offensive in the North of the country to oust ISIS fighters currently occupying territory in the barrens of Arsal.

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Finally, it’s all about the C-130 

This week it was announced that Honeywell will partner with Taiwan on the C-130 upgrade with technology transfer options from Honeywell to Taiwan’s state-owned AIDC for the air force’s C-130H Avionics Modernisation Programme.

There is also growing international interest in Lockheed Martin’s proposed C-130J-SOF export variant, which will be tailored to different operator’s requirements. Read more about the C-130J-SOF here.

Yokota Airmen are ready to the mission going

The Royal Navy’s new carrier – is it a waste of space?

 

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Beyond the hyperbole and hysteria that will greet the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth, it’s worth bringing up its use as a platform and what has been sacrificed elsewhere in order to achieve this milestone.

Pushing around 70,000t at full load with a full complement of crew and aircraft, the carrier is without question the largest naval vessel ever to serve in the UK Royal Navy and a benchmark for the country’s return to maritime power.

Or not?

The two carriers, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, have topped the £6 billion mark to build and will soak up hundreds of naval service personnel from a hugely diminished pool. Capital ships being decommissioned are being cannibalised of their own crews to make up the numbers, while destroyers and frigates take it in turns to become alongside training ships on account of manpower shortages, equipment removals and engineering failures.

Capable as they are, only six T45 ADDs have entered service, down from 12 planned. These vessels have not been without their own controversies.

The 13 Type 23 frigates will be kept on beyond planned working lives because of delays to the Type 26 programme. Eight T26 will enter service, and be augmented by a yet-to-be designed and barely conceptual T31(e).

There has been no proper response from the UK MoD to Sir John Parker’s National Shipbuilding Strategy report.

Harpoon missiles fitted to the T23s and T45s will be retired next year leaving a national navy, that purports to be a blue water service, without ship-based ASuW capability. The scenes recently showing the Brazilian Navy dispatching the former HMS Brazen in a sinkex with a range of kinetic systems will be beyond replication by the RN from 2018.

The hard-used Ocean will leave. Albion and Bulwark take it in turns to sit mothballed. The SSN fleet will fall to six hulls as delays impact the planned one-out, one-in replacement of the Trafalgar’s with the Astute’s.

Embarked unmanned capabilities were removed this year from the frigate fleet amid cost crunches, a notion that the RN has done little to deny.

The new River Batch 2 OPVs will have to shoulder more of the maritime policing and low-end participatory duties the navy has to cover.

RFA Diligence, the only forward repair ship able to service RN ships, is unlikely to be replaced. One of the four Bay-class landing ship docks was sold after the 2010 ‘review’.

What has been missed after 2010 is an opportunity to mould the RN for the challenges of the 21st century. Can it create that onion-layer of security that a carrier strike group can work within? Will the carriers have the embarked capability necessary to fulfill their roles?

The navy has fewer hulls. Less amphibious capability. No ship-to-ship missiles. Fewer personnel. Less innovation. All for two big ships.

The carriers will slot into the US Navy’s demands, moving into the gaps created by its own CVN replacement programme and emerging challenges elsewhere. It’s an instrument of policy and bombast that could cause more harm to its service than good.

The service seems stripped of its core. Is it now an unbalanced bobblehead of an organisation standing on some pretty unsteady ground?

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Good rotary times ahead

We might not have the big helicopter deals of yesteryear but I for one feel positive about the winds of change that are sweeping through the civil and military rotorcraft markets respectively and you should too.

For one, and for fears of sounding like a political spin doctor, things can only get better after the ‘annus horribilis’ of last year and better they have.

As a couple of examples demonstrate within the civil and military market.

In relation to the civil sector, we see OEMs investing in the future with new technologies and next-generation rotorcraft.

Airbus Helicopters has revealed its high-speed demonstrator, dubbed Racer, as part of the European Clean Sky 2 programme. The company unveiled a model of Racer in its aerodynamic configuration at Paris Air Show in June.

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Racer, which stands for Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft, has an average speed in excess of 220kt.

This year has also seen concept become reality when Bell unveiled a new future helicopter concept featuring a range of next-generation technologies at Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas.

The FCX-001 is a five-bladed new medium twin-sized aircraft, positioned as slightly bigger than the Bell 412 in length and in width.

The project was given a deadline of March 2017 to showcase the concept through a full-scale mock-up, provided by Roush, of an augmented reality experience within the cockpit and a virtual reality experience in the cabin.

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The investment is focused on supporting technologies and not on a flight test vehicle. If times were as tough as last year perhaps industry would not have seen the concept born into fruition.

In addition, the emergence of Erickson and CHC from bankruptcy has been indicative that the tide of change within the industry was rising towards steady growth.

This market positivity has been further helped by companies like Kaman delivering the K-Max after the production of the model stopped for more than a decade.

The next half of the year is looking to be just as buoyant with promises of orders and LOIs across civil platforms with new models like the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, entering the market in earnest now it is FAA certified, and the H160 which is gearing up for its certification next year.

Furthermore, the Airbus Helicopters H225 and Bell Helicopter 525 Relentless, following crashes last year, returning to flight injects confidence into the market that business is starting to return to normal.

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(Photo: Gary Sissons) 

While progress has continued across US military helicopter programmes, upgrades and refurbishment of models have been prominent this half of 2017.

The US Army’s programme to upgrade its legacy UH-60L Black Hawks with a new digital cockpit is proceeding at a pace, following the first flight of the prototype model in January.

Some 760 legacy UH-60L Black Hawks will undergo a major cockpit upgrade to UH-60V standard that will allow them to remain on duty alongside UH-60Ms into the 2030s and beyond.

The Pakistan Navy is set to receive seven former UK MoD Sea Kings by the end of this year.

The first set of Boeing AH-6i armed scout helicopters were received by the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) in June. The 12 aircraft were delivered to the first operational brigade.

Notably, in June this year Sikorsky received the go-ahead from the US Army for a five year contract worth $3.8 billion, which included 40 UH-60M Black Hawks to Saudi Arabia.

Black Hawk Landscape

There is scope for another 103 aircraft meaning the contract would rise by a further $1.4 billion. It is anticipated that initial deliveries will take place three months from now and carry on into 2022.

A Sikorsky spokesperson stated that the base contract of 257 aircraft includes 182 UH-60M Black Hawks: 142 for the US Army and 40 for the SANG as well as 75 HH-60M Pave Hawk.

The rotary market at current is demonstrative that there is a strength in the whirlybird and it is soaring into the next half of the year with a solid footing.

For more on the civil and military helicopter markets in review this year, please see shephardmedia.com

Big floating runway attracts uninvited guests

As the UK awaits the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth at its new home in Portsmouth it was reported over the weekend that a hobbyist drone landed on the deck on the £3 billion vessel.

If it were not for the Royal Navy’s (RN) Merlin helicopters landing on its deck during sea trials this could have been an embarrassing first deck landing on the carrier.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it is investigating the incident which took place during sea trials.

But it raises the question about how secure the carrier is at present against small unmanned threats. Media reports contradicted themselves with some stating the system used was a DJI Phantom, while others said it was a Parrot Bebop.

The US military recently ordered personnel to cease using UAS from Chinese manufacturer DJI on account of possible security threats. In April the FAA restricted drone operations across 133 military facilities, addressing national security concerns regarding unauthorised used of UAVs.

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DJI’s Phantom 4 quadcopter, widely used by hobbyists.

Transferring this type of restriction to the maritime environment is likely to throw up issues but these examples highlight how the US is getting serious about commercial drones in the military environment and the threat they pose.

Also, as we recently discussed here on Quill, non-state actors are starting to seriously use unmanned vehicles with a range of payloads, predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions.

So is this a recipe for disaster for the RN’s newest and most expensive vessel?

Well of course the MoD will now be investigating the incident and is reviewing the security of the vessel.

Also it should be noted that the vessel is not fully operational yet and does not have its full crew on board. One would hope during operations the story would be somewhat different.

This is not the first incident of drones getting close to maritime assets. Earlier in August it was reported that an Iranian drone flew close to a USN F-18 as as it prepared to land on the nearby US carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Would it be out of the question for maritime adversaries to interfere with RN ships using small drones? All very hypothetical but not to be dismissed.