Category Archives: Latest Quills

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.

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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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A year of military simulation highlights

I/ITSEC 2017 in Orlando was remarkable for a number of reasons, not least of which was the advancement of certain key technologies that help to shape the delivery of training to the warfighter.

Operation Blended Warrior (OBW) was notable for the involvement of a number of non-US industry members, but in many ways the real I-LVC event was that conducted by CAE and Rockwell Collins.

This demonstration showed how industry can work together to deliver a robust and workable training solution for the military. Of course, OBW has done that in the past, but previous LVC demonstrations seem to have been more about proving conceptual theories than showcasing a practical way of training.

High-profile developments The CAE/Rockwell Collins effort clearly showed the practical benefits of I-LVC and in doing so, became an important milestone in the evolution of its enabling technologies. Using different databases and computer-generated forces within a four-level cyber-secure environment to depict a coherent and believable scenario, this demonstration showed the military the real benefits of I-LVC.

When combined with the work being undertaken by Cubic Global Defense and the Air Force Research Laboratory on Project SLATE (Secure LVC Advanced Training Environment), and the continuing profile given to I-LVC by OBW, I/ITSEC 2017 may be considered as the launch pad for the meaningful acceleration of capabilities in this area.

The high profile of I-LVC over recent years has led many companies to claim such a capability, but, to quote one middle-ranking USMC officer: ‘Just because we can, should we?’ This highlights the need to weed out the ‘geewhiz’ technologies unless they clearly support the overall training objective.

As well as the technical aspect of I-LVC, the CAE/Rockwell Collins demonstration also highlighted another increasing trend within the industry: collaboration.

Gene Colabatistto, CAE’s group president of defence and security, told MTSN: ‘That collaboration is key to success in our industry, and we continue to look for partnerships where they might benefit both parties.’

Like I-LVC, augmented reality (AR) is being touted as the answer to all our training delivery prayers. Again, this technology is still in its relative infancy, but one demonstration at I/ITSEC showed a practical and, more importantly perhaps, productionised benefit.

Saab Training had been looking at AR for a number of years to enhance its laser-based tactical engagement simulation offering. Initially opting for a HoloLens but finding issues with the robustness of the device in the field, the company has now adopted a tablet or mobile telephone solution.

The We:Are device allows exercise umpires, so-called observer controllers (OCs), to view such things as the effects of artillery fire missions as a virtual overlay on the real-world scene. With We:Are, the OCs can also see virtual map markings and computer-generated assets to assist them in making the correct decision to enhance the reality of the exercise.

In theory then, We:Are is not only an AR tool but also carries out an I-LVC function as well.

For more information on the latest edition of MTSN see here.

The world according to Shephard: Week 2

Army means business 

The US Army has been conducting helicopter business swiftly this week beginning with its decision to push forward with the purchase of 35 new Airbus UH-7A Lakota’s and subsequently followed by a ‘sources sought’ call to industry for 120 Boeing AH-6is.

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In the first case the service has acknowledged that as a result of Airbus owning the H145 technical data package, industry respondents will be expected to address how the UH-7A Lakota platform will be produced ‘without having this data available and without incurring significant additional costs’.

AH-6i developments are slightly less advanced than the Lakota programme, with the army’s 9 January RfI explicitly indicating that information received from industry would be for planning purposes only. As is convention, the army is yet to publicly disclose any customer(s) details at this juncture but Jordan did express interest in the type eight years ago, while the Saudi Arabian National Guard are the first export customers of the light attack helicopter.

AH6X First Flight

Sound of S-64E Aircrane echo to ripple through forest

Stealing the headlines on the civil helicopter front was Erickson who secured an order for two new S-64E Aircranes by the Korea Forest Service. The pair of aircraft are in addition to a separate S-64E Aircrane order which is currently under construction and due to be delivered in Q3 2018.

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Raytheon dealt radar contract blow

The dismissal of three protest bids from Raytheon by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has left Northrop Grumman in pole position to become the radar subcontractor for the US Air Force’s JSTARS Recap programme, reports Alice Budge.  Despite technical detail about the radar design submitted by Northrop Grumman being  limited, the company has claimed its subsystem performed well during pre-EMD programme testing, particularly with respect to demonstrating mission system interoperability at maximum data rates.

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Surface Navy 2018 focuses on Tomahawk talk 

If Raytheon is still reeling from the radar contract decision it will be comforted by the Trump administration’s exploration of loosening the reins on foreign military sales (FMS). The industry heavyweight remains eager to convince Washington that selling Tomahawk cruise missiles to American allies is key to maintaining production line productivity.

The Royal Navy is the only current Tomahawk FMS customer but Shephard’s newly appointed American Editor, Ashley Roque, reports that Raytheon indicated to journalists during the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium that various nations are requesting the weapon, with the new Block IV configuration enabling them to ‘sell on an FMS capacity’. 

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Staying with Surface Navy 2018 stories, US based Orbital ATK has outlined its intention to develop an attack capability to down small UAS within 10km. The company has been quick to promote its anti-UAS Defence System, with ground forces being the company’s target market. Discussions have also taken place between Orbital and the US Air Force and Marine Corps on the matter of fielding the AUDS on mounted platforms.

USMC ACV 1.1 programme heats up

Stepping ashore – so to speak – and moving to land warfare news, the USMC’s ACV 1.1 programme is making progress with bids now submitted by industry for initial low-rate production. After SAIC and BAE Systems delivered 16 prototypes for the development and testing phase both companies are now competing for their 8×8 vehicle designs to be down-selected in June for initial production.

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New details of ASI’s CFTD programme uncovered 

Rounding off this week’s news is military training and simulation affairs. Trevor Nash has taken up the story of further details emerging from the CH-53E Sea Stallion Containerised Flight Training Device (CFTD) programme won by Tampa-based Aero Simulation Inc (ASI). On the subject of the new information that has been uncovered he writes, ‘As far as the visual system is concerned, the new device and upgraded CFTD will be fitted with the Aechelon PC-Nova image generator and Christie Matrix StIM projectors.’

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Naval gazing into 2018

With the Surface Navy Association symposium underway, the start of 2018 has kicked off with a naval flare, both in the US and abroad, and many nations are now firmly fixed on enhancing their fleets.

Last year saw two incidents involving the US Navy’s USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald, the navy has gone on the record to say that these incidents were in fact preventable. The USN is now looking to learn from these harsh lessons and will start 2018 by trying to address some of the demands that come with a reduced fleet coupled with personnel working long hours.

Meanwhile, the plan for the USN going forward is looking to grow into to a 355-ship fleet from around 275 today. The Pentagon is set to release its FY19 budget request in February, it remains to be seen as to whether the navy will get what it wants.

Across the pond in the UK, the second Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, touched water for the first time as its dry dock was flooded. The state of the UK’s Royal Navy remains a contentious issue and a recent criticism has come about as the MoD plans to sell HMS Ocean to Brazil not long after a recent, costly, refit of ‘Britain’s biggest warship’.

As the UK continues to work towards strengthening its fleet this week saw industry make another move on the UK Type 31 with Babcock and BMT announcing the Team 31 which now includes Thales, Ferguson Marine and Harland & Wolff shipyard. The team will bid for the UK’s Type 31e frigate project.

The MoD is hoping that the light frigate will eventually have export potential and it is continuing to work with BAE Systems on the export of the Type 26 global combat ship to potential customers including Canada and Australia. To date the UK has had little success in its naval export endeavours.

Finally, it has been noted that Chinese naval ambitions can no longer be ignored and the USN must face up to them

A recent report makes the case that the USN must address its weaknesses in the face of a China capable of destroying US ships and aircraft with its anti-access/area denial strategy.

In addition, it appears that China could be using foreign-held US debt to enhance its own capabilities. China will certainly be one to watch during 2018 as it continues to rapidly develop its defence capabilities.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

US Navy reduction in San Juan recovery reminder of submarine rescue challenges

The news in late December that the US Navy will begin to draw down its operations to assist in the search for the ARA San Juan serves as a salutary reminder that simply having a capability does not equate to a guarantee of success.

At the height of its support in search for the stricken Argentinian submarine, the US Navy stated that its contributions included three specialised aircraft, over 200 SAR personnel, four submersibles, one underwater rescue unit, one surface vessel and the deployment of more than 400 sonobuoys.

International support was also provided from a range of sources, including the UK’s ice patrol vessel, HMS Protector. Still, despite the vast range of scanning, support and rescue assets available, there has been (at the time of writing) little indication that the search will result in success.

The dangers of submarine operations have been chronicled by services and historians for as long as such platforms have been used, and despite the best effort to ensure the safety of crew, when things go wrong under the ocean waves the results are often terrible.

The sheer difficulty in simply operating at often significant depths in such an environment brings a unique set of challenges that would not exist on where there is breathable air. One could say that it is incumbent on services to have some sort of rescue capability, with many navies looking to add this to their repertoires.

In example, the Swedish Navy considers it an obligation to operate a submarine rescue vessel and recently concluded an extensive upgrade of its capability. However, with the service mainly operating in the littorals, it recognises the limitations that any rescue capability has when the depths run into the hundreds of metres.

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Which brings us back to the start of this missive and the loss of the San Juan and crew. Mounting a recovery effort in deeper oceans has to be tempered with the knowledge that it is one matter to find the submarine and another equally difficult to enable a rescue if and when it is found.

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