Category Archives: Latest Quills

The world according to Shephard: Week 41

Shephard’s AUSA team has had a fantastic week in Washington DC, reporting on all the latest military technology, innovations, conferences and much more. Find all Shephard’s AUSA coverage here.

Uncertain times

It was a ballistic start to the week as the US announced it had approved a potential sale of THAAD systems and support services worth $15 billion to Saudi Arabia. The region is no stranger to instability and political uncertainty but with civil wars in Yemen and Syria raging on, a diplomatic rift between Gulf nations and an increasingly bellicose Iran, Saudi Arabia is taking no chances.

The sale would boost Saudi Arabia’s missile defence capabilities and emerges at the same time as the country seeks to close a deal with Russia for the delivery of the S-400 (SA-21 Growler) long range air and missile defence system as part of a wider $3 billion arms package.

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Meanwhile, the heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula are starting to stir concerns among members of UK Parliament, who this week questioned leading academics on what role the UK could play in the crisis. Speaking at the House of Commons Defence Committee, Nicholas Kitchen, LSE, offered some enlightening parallels with the Vietnam War.

Looking to the east, where European nations continue to formulate their response to Russia’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric and activities. Romania’s approach has been to significantly increase its defence budget establish a Special Operations Command, part of a wider effort to enable Romanian SOF to respond more rapidly to situations emerging from the ‘frozen conflict’ in eastern Europe.

Romanian forces, public 'Open Gates' to US Allies

The highs and lows of autonomous technology  

NAVSEA has had a change of heart regarding its Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic Systems (AEODRS) programme, cancelling solicitations for Increments 2 and 3 sighting changing requirements and budget restraints.

In a speech at the RAeS, president of Hélicoptères Guimbal, Bruno Guimbal made his opinion of the likes of Uber and Airbus’ unmanned helicopter taxi ventures very clear, describing them as ‘purely marketing and promotion’.

Instead, he believes the VSR700, derived from his company’s Cabri G2, could well be the first certified autonomous light helicopter.

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India’s Central Reserve Police Force has issued an expression of interest and RfPs for 150 mini-UAVs and 300 micro-UAVs on an urgent basis to be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and detection as Indian police forces tackle border incursions and a home-grown insurgency.

The peacekeepers’ new Guardian

Malaysian peacekeepers in Lebanon will see their fleet of 46 4×4 Condor APCs replaced with IAG Guardian APCs. Nine Guardian APCs will arrive in Lebanon in mid-December and be operational by the new year in the first step towards replacing the entire Condor APC fleet in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Army publicly displayed a prototype of the Kaplan medium tank for the first time at the 72nd anniversary parade of the armed forces. The medium tank is being developed under a joint venture between Turkey’s FNSS and Indonesia’s state-owned PT Pindad.

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OPVs, LSVs and LCS

Frigates and OPVs took centre stage at the Pacific International Maritime Exposition in Sydney last week, with Project Sea 5000 and Sea 1180 shortlisted to three contenders each. The three frigate contenders, BAE systems Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Fincantieri FREMM-A and Navantia F-5000, each presented their designs during a conference at the event.

Lockheed Martin and Austal USA have been awarded contract modifications to build additional littoral combat ships (LCS) for the US Navy. Both contracts are valued according to the congressional cost cap of $584 million per ship; however, the specific award amount has not yet been made public.

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And in Honduras the logistics support vessel (BAL-C) FNH-1611 Gracias a Dios built for the Honduran Naval Force was launched. The vessel is based on the Amphibious Landing Vessel designed and built for the Colombian Navy and was constructed in just ten months.

A fake news radar?

Reports of an apparent breakthrough in anti-stealth radar technology in Chinese-language media in Hong Kong and China turn out to be no more than a work of fiction. Wendell Minnick looked into the reports and found that the new ‘terahertz radar’ is probably not quite what it seems.

 

In search of a role: the UK in the North Korea crisis

UK politicians are scrambling to understand Trump’s North Korea strategy, if one exists, and the implications it poses for UK foreign policy in the region.

‘What if’ questions from MPs on the crisis with North Korea and the role the UK could play heavily dominated a meeting of the House of Commons Defence Committee on 10 October.

Dana Allin, senior fellow, IISS, and Nicholas Kitchen, associate professorial research fellow, LSE, attempted to make sense of the rather vague, theoretical questioning, with Dr Kitchen at one stage commenting of ‘a lot of undefined variables in this hypothetical’.

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A top concern for MPs appeared to be that should the US pursue military action against North Korea it would have a clear expectation that the UK would provide tangible military assistance to the effort.

The response from Dr Kitchen: ‘I’m not sure what the specific military contribution would be… the US has allies in the region and its own Pacific fleet in the region… there’s not much point in making a symbolic gesture.’

As the UK possesses no permanent military presence in the Asia Pacific region, and has not since the 1970s, it is unclear what exactly the tangible UK military capabilities the MPs had in mind to offer.

A further concern on the minds of some committee members was that if the UK commits to conflicting approach to the crisis than the US, i.e. support for diplomacy over military action, would this lead to a schism in the ‘special relationship’.

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This appeared to be far less of a concern for Kitchen, who stated: ‘The UK was happy to stay out of the Vietnam War, a closer analogy to what might take place on the Korean peninsula.’

While, Allin conceded that in the event of US military action there may be an expectation for the UK to provide support, he doubted the failure to do so would cause long term damage to the partnership.

‘There would be a national tendency in America to expect, or at least hope, the UK would participate. But we had a similar situation in regard to the Iraq war with other allies and those relationships were patched up rather quickly afterwards,’ he said.

As tensions mount and the unpredictable protagonists continue their war of words, UK politicians are searching for their role in the crisis, despite the reality that UK influence on the US’ North Korea policy appears to be marginal at best.

The world according to Shephard: Week 40

 

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The Shephard team has had a great week reporting from Helitech International 2017 on the ups and the downs of the commercial rotorcraft industry. Full coverage of the exhibition is available here

The team is now preparing to jet off to AUSA which will take place in Washington DC next week. Keep up with all the latest developments here

 

Chinese plots and Taiwanese arms 

‘How viable are the Chinese invasion plans laid out in a new study published earlier this week,’ asks Wendell Minnick.  The study, entitled ‘The Chinese Invasion Threat’, uses Chinese-language government papers, many written by members of the People’s Liberation Army, on how to unify the ‘renegade province’ of Taiwan into China.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has announced it will initiate a research process to upgrade its M60A3 TTS MBT fleet. The decision to pursue its secondary option of modernising its M60A3 comes after a long and fruitless period of seeking US-built M1 Abrams tanks.

Around the world in armoured vehicles 

Taiwan has also ordered a total of 285 30mm cannons from Orbital ATK to be installed on an IFV variant of the domestically manufactured Clouded Leopard 8×8 armoured vehicle. The $112million contract is for the MK44 Bushmaster II 30mm cannon.

In Thailand, the Royal Thai Navy has begun deploying its new HMV-150 4×4 armoured vehicle to the country’s southern province of Narathiwat for patrols and other security operations.

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While new Tiger 4×4 vehicles have been delivered to the Somali National Army from China as part of a sweetener deal from Beijing to increase their influence in the Horn of Africa. The initial instalment of 32 light armoured vehicles is part of a gift from China which is reported to also include a considerable cash donation, according to Tim Fish in Mogadishu.

Armoured vehicles are not just on the move in Asia, as Latvia received its first examples of second-hand M109 self-propelled howitzers from Austria and will take part in the country’s annual military parade on 18 November.

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Russia has launched a large-scale BMP-2 and BMD-2 upgrade programme. The Russian MoD and KBP signed a contract covering the upgrade and refurbishment of around 540 tracked IFVs and will include the integration of the new B05Ya01 Berezhok turret developed by KBP.

US military tests and invests

The US military has awarded a spate of contracts for unmanned systems in recent weeks, including a $100 million firm-fixed-price contract with Endeavor Robotics for the Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II. The programme will see the US Army provided with a medium-sized common robotic platform.

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At the Modern Day Marine exposition in Quantico, Virginia, companies such as BAE Systems and HDT Global have been discussing and displaying their latest military products. Read more news from the exposition here.

Headline products include a command and control variant of BAE Systems’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle, which is currently in engineering and manufacturing development, and a new Lightweight Expeditionary Bridge designed by HDT Global. The company has a few prototypes currently in testing with the US Marine Corps and has also shown the design to the US Army.

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Aviation ambitions

Staying in the US, the CAE Dothan Training Centre located at Dothan Regional Airport in Alabama is preparing to undergo the final phase of development after opening in March 2017. Today, 260 US Army and 70 US Air Force students have graduated from the seven courses provided by the company.

A senior Taiwan military delegation visited Washington to present a high-level briefing to the US government on Taiwan’s need for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning fighter. The briefing was requested by the US government to clarify past enquiries by Taiwan for its need of a stealth fighter.

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Patrolling the seas

Gravois Aluminium Boats, through its Metal Shark subsidiary has been awarded a near $30 million contract for the construction of up to 50 patrol boats for the US Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC). Gravois and Metal Shark competed against six other offers for the contract to produce the US Navy’s next generation patrol boat, the PB(X).

The Nigerian Navy is also expanding its maritime security capabilities after it commissioned into service two new FPB 72 Mk II patrol vessels built by French shipyard OCEA. The vessels underwent sea and acceptance trials in France before being handed over to the Nigerian Navy as part of an effort to crackdown on illegal activities at sea.

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Boeing buys another unmanned enterprise

Today’s big industry news sees Boeing expand its autonomous portfolio with the announcement that it is to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences.

Alongside Aurora, Boeing also added Liquid Robotics to its unmanned portfolio in December 2016. Liquid Robotics told me that it had been working more closely with Boeing’s other unmanned subsidiary, Insitu, on teaming unmanned sea and air assets together.

The acquisition of smaller outfits by large defence and aerospace companies has long been a trend in unmanned markets across the land, sea and air domains. Notably in 2016 General Dynamics Mission Systems acquired Bluefin Robotics and back in 2012 Lockheed Martin bought Procerus Technologies and now markets the Indago UAS.

With the unmanned marketplace containing many smaller companies, a visit to this year’s Xponential highlighted this, we are likely to see this type of consolidation continue.

The Boeing and Aurora teams have already worked together on various unmanned projects. Aurora has designed, produced and flown more than 30 unmanned air vehicles since the company was founded in 1989.

We spoke with Aurora earlier this year about one of its projects which it is developing with DARPA, the XV-24A UAS.

Watch this space because there is sure to be more to come.