Category Archives: Rearview Mirror

US Army finally ‘going green’ in Europe

When it comes to operating in the field, one of the most important considerations for any soldier is camouflage. From painting exposed skin with cam cream, to covering vehicles with nets and various bits of foliage, the purpose is the same; blend into your surroundings.

It probably goes without saying that your camouflage varies depending on your environment. Tan colours for desert environments, white for snow conditions and green for woodland. Simple, right?

Unfortunately for the US forces currently stationed in Europe, it’s actually not so simple. Over a decade of fighting in the hot and sandy environments of the Middle East and Central Asia has meant that many of its vehicles are still painted in desert tan – despite being deployed in the woodland environments of Eastern European as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The result? Vehicles are very visible, even with attempts at covering them with camouflage nets and tree branches. Quill saw this first hand during a recent visit to Latvia to see the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team and the 1st Battalion 68th Armor Regiment. Some examples of the desert-coloured vehicles can be seen below:

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Can you spot the tank?

Of course you can.

Now the US Army is finally ‘going green’, not by improving its recycling habits, but painting its armoured vehicles in standard woodland colours. On 10 April, the service released photos of one of the first M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks to go through the painting process, with apparently another 400 vehicles to receive a fresh lick of paint.

This equipment belongs to Battle Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, based currently in Germany. Both 66th and 68th Armor Regiments make up the two heavy armour elements of 3ABCT, with M1A2 Abrams at their disposal.

‘The tan tanks were there because we’ve operated in a desert environment for so long,’ said Capt James England, Battle Company commander, in a US Army press release. ‘Now that the terrain has changed, we are painting them green to blend in.’

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The green scheme will be applied to all fighting vehicles in 3ABCT, including M1A2 Abrams, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M109A6 Paladin self-propelled artillery vehicles. According to the US Army, support vehicles will still retain their tan colours – likely owing to their non-fighting roles behind the front line.

Painting takes around three days, a process that includes washing the vehicles down, drying, applying the paint and then letting the paint dry.

Interestingly, the paint is temporary and, once the tanks and other vehicles return to 3ABCT’s home station at Fort Carson, Colorado, can be stripped off using a pressure washer.

 

Drifting apart? NATO and Turkey

Of the three main political dramas of 2016: The election of Donald Trump as US President, the UK voting to leave the European Union and the attempted coup in Turkey; it is the effects of the latter that could have the most far-reaching impact for NATO and the Middle East region.

The rise in Presidential authoritarianism and religious hardliners on the one hand and a renewed friendship with Russia on the other could lead to a significant schism with NATO and the West in general. As Turkey becomes more self-reliant for its military equipment and is continually rebuffed by the EU over future membership, matters could come to a head and Ankara may look for friends elsewhere.

The failure in the attempt by the Turkish Land Forces Command to develop a Turkish engine for its new Altay tanks through an industry partnership between domestic company Turmosan and Austrian company AVL List is indicative of what could happen in the future on a grander scale. Austria’s Parliament imposed an arms embargo on Turkey due to the human rights abuses following the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and this included the engine contract, which was cancelled.

Furthermore the West’s military assistance to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria mean they have the power to resist and fight back against ISIS, but they have also built their own state in all but name – something which Ankara is diametrically opposed to.

If trends continue on their current path then it will make it increasingly difficult for the West and Turkey to travel on the same path and things could get particularly uncomfortable if Turkish democracy is eroded further. But for the TLFC it is continuing to build up its capability with a range of new procurement programmes that are coming to fruition (see the April-May edition of Land Warfare International, page 10).

Turkish industry has an exciting and active design and development environment that is lacking in both Europe and the US and so far this has not seemed to have suffered over the past year.

The biennial IDEF exhibition is always one of the most interesting in the defence calendar and this year will be no different. For more on the Turkish defence sector, see the next issue of LWI magazine and follow our coverage of IDEF next month.

The curious case of Iran’s new helo

This week Iran unveiled a new helicopter purported to have been designed and manufactured domestically. According to one Iranian press agency, the new Saba-248 helicopter demonstrates the country’s ‘great headways in manufacturing a broad range of indigenous equipment’.

But as with many Iranian equipment projects, all is not what it seems.

Saba 248 Iran 2

Looking at photographs of the Saba-248, there are clear indications that the basis of helicopter is actually the Italian-made Agusta 109. In fact, dig a little deeper, as our full story shows, and you’ll discover that the Iranian Helicopter Support and Renewal Company (IHSRC) actually used a crashed A109E for the ‘prototype’ Saba.

It’s unclear how much of the A109E has been reverse-engineered and whether Iran can transition the helicopter into full-rate production. Other attempts at indigenous military helicopters – including the Shahed 278 and 285 – don’t appear to have come to much, particularly as many have relied on recycled parts from older helicopters.

Saba 248 Iran 3

It might not be the sexiest part of manufacturing, but supply chain is hugely important.

Years of sanctions means the Iranians don’t have access to OEM spares and its own attempts at parts manufacturing will be limited. As a result, they have become particularly adept at ‘making do’ and somehow keeping aircraft flying that should probably have been retired and scrapped decades ago.

There are numerous examples of US-built aircraft, including the F-14 Tomcat, supplied to the Shah of Iran before the 1979 revolution, that somehow still manage to get airborne. The aviation wing of the army, for example, operates a geriatric fleet of CH-47Cs and AH-1Js.

Of course, this is not the first time that Iran has publicly ‘reverse-engineered’ a crashed western design. Last year, the authorities unveiled a new unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) that appeared to be based on the US RQ-170 ‘Sentinel’ stealth drone that crashed in the country in 2011. Whether it’s a real capability, or just another cheap knock-off, is anyone’s guess.

The lesson to all this? Take any announcement of a ‘new’ Iranian aircraft with a pinch of salt.

 

 

Who is protecting your coastal borders?

As highlighted by our maritime security editor in his last blog, attacks at sea are as real a threat as attacks on land.

Pressures posed by terrorism, island disputes and ongoing sovereignty issues have seen countries continue to enhance their shoreline and maritime border protection capabilities.

One of the complexities for nations attempting to protect their maritime borders is which organisation holds responsibility for this mission?

You might think that many of these roles would fall under the remit of a national coast guard, however, in practice it is more complex than that, given the range of operations such forces are expected to perform.

In some cases, the overlap between maritime security functions becomes apparent only as navies and smaller civil border forces compete for the same operating space.

The Cape Class patrol boat for the Australian Border Force, built by Austal.

The Cape Class patrol boat for the Australian Border Force, built by Austal.

Coast guards come in many guises. The Australian Border Force carries out most of the country’s coast guard-type duties, while in the Middle East, the UAE deploys its Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority for such activities.

The UK maintains a border force that carries out the traditional safety, policing and maritime security role, and a separate coast guard agency responsible for SAR operations.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard is akin to, if not larger, than some naval forces.

The USCG operates some of the largest cutters around and is one of the five armed forces of the US.

With this variety of duties and varied organisations supplying equipment and vessels it can be challenging. With a broad range of operations comes a broad range of requirements.

The USCG is currently embarking on a fleet renewal with new Offshore Patrol Cutters, Fast Response Cutters and National Security Cutters, the latter being some of the largest vessels in service.

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Meanwhile Japan is increasing its budget for its coast guard as well as helping out its neighbours as regional tensions in the South China Sea worsen.

Notably in November 2016, Tokyo announced it would donate two decommissioned Japanese Coast Guard vessels to the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency.

For more on coast guard procurement and the latest vessel technology, see the latest issue of International Maritime and Port Security.

New missile developments on target

Most people, when thinking about weapon systems on board military helicopters, will automatically recognise the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire as the system that is dominating the market.

But a number of the world’s militaries are seeking to adopt the latest missile technology and acquire more advanced capabilities.

The US Army is currently looking at a replacement for the AGM-114 with the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), also developed by Lockheed Martin.

Recently JAGM was fired from an Apache AH-64D for the first time targeting a small moving boat.

 

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This demonstrated one of the advantages that JAGM will have over Hellfire. The Hellfire’s laser targeting system limits its ability to see reflective energy from the target in challenging environments, such as maritime. But with JAGM the pilot can lock-on before and after launch in these conditions.

‘The biggest benefit that a JAGM will provide to the warfighter is the mission flexibility that it offers where you have a semi-active laser system in Hellfire and a millimetre-guided system in Longbow – this combines those capabilities into a single missile,’ said Colonel David Warnick, US Army Project Manager for Joint Attack Munition Systems within PEO Missiles and Space.

Warnick is confident that if the programme continues down the path it is currently on the US Army will be able to deliver this capability ‘as soon as possible.’ Though JAGM may provide more capability than Hellfire it is not the only offering out there for customers of the AH-64 Apache.

One alternative comes from MBDA which is testing a solution that could fit onto the UK’s fleet of Apache aircraft. The UK is exploring its options through the Future Attack Helicopter Weapon (FAHW) endeavour.

Apache launches MBDA Brimstone missile

Apache launches MBDA Brimstone missile

MBDA has completed a series of physical trials and firings of Brimestone from Apache with the assistance of aviation services company Amber Tiger.

‘Above all else, the missile firings from the AH-64E debunked the myth that integrating Brimstone onto the Apache wasn’t feasible,’ Andy Furness, CEO at Amber Tiger said.

Brimstone, manufactured by MBDA in the UK, could be an attractive option for the British.

‘The nation’s enemies for the next 20-plus years are not yet known, and so having a missile and manufacturer who can easily adapt to meet the requirements in an uncertain future holds a significant appeal,’ said Furness.

With Brimstone already selected for Typhoon and Protector, adapting the missile onto the AH-64E could be a sensible move for the UK.

As these projects continue development we will be covering them at www.shephardmedia.com.

For more on Brimstone vs Hellfire developments and an exclusive update on the JAGM programme see the Jan/Feb issue of Defence Helicopter.

Let us know your thoughts on those battling it out to dominate the missile market in the comments below.

Trump, the defence story so far

Inauguration day is upon us. Whether you think this is the beginning of the end or are willing to give President Donald Trump a chance this going to be the way of the world for the next four years.

The Donald has already ruffled a few feathers on his way to January 20th and not least in the defence and aerospace sector.

So here is the story so far, well at least part of it. Everybody knows the man has tweeted A LOT.

First of all there is F-35.

Incidentally following this tweet it was reported that Lockheed shares fell 2% and Boeing’s rose 0.7%.

We all know the cost of the F-35 programme has spiralled and is proving to be one of the most expensive programmes the US military has embarked on despite Lockheed Martin suggesting that the cost of each aircraft is beginning to drop.

With this Boeing perked up as it has reportedly had plans to make an Advanced F-18 Super Hornet for some time now having demonstrated the capability back in 2013. Though it is worth noting they are two very different aircraft.

Since the F-35 tweets, which sent the defence industry into a spin, the CEO of Lockheed Martin has been to speak with Trump.

So the game is on. As Hewson attempts to keep the F-35 programme going with the promise of more jobs, which Trump has made a top priority, and the idea that new contracts, from foreign sales, that could keep the programme active.

At this point some commentators have said F-35 is too big to fail anyway but with a President Trump at the helm anything is possible.

Relations with China are not off to a good start either.

First the then President-elect broke decades of protocol by receiving a call from Taiwanese president after winning the election.

It is worth noting that China’s security White Paper totally ignores Taiwan – more details of which can be read here.

Then following a US Navy UUV that had been seize in the South China Sea he tweeted the following:

The US Navy insisted that the UUV was collecting oceanographic data though it has been suggested that it was there to monitor and track the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) submarines operating in regional waters.

With turbulent times ongoing in the South China Sea this is a situation that will likely present itself again to the Trump administration. Trump seems to not look upon China favourably at this time.

More details can be found in this story. 

NATO has also been in Trump’s firing line.

He has been less than positive about the organisation claiming it to be ‘obsolete’ and criticising other members for not pulling their weight.

Meanwhile US troops have been arriving in Poland under a NATO umbrella as a show of force against Polish adversaries.

NATO was founded in 1949 as a reaction to two devastating world wars that consumed most of the world and devastated Europe.

With transatlantic cooperation being at the core of NATO’s existence these blasé comments about the organisation could make some European members, especially those in the East, feel skittish.

Though it is correct that the US is the largest contributor to the alliance and some are arguing it is fair enough that Trump is asking others to pull their weight.

At the moment few of the member states are meeting NATO guidelines that require member states to spend a total of 2% of GDP on NATO defence expenditure.

Defence spending could be on the up for the US anyway. 

All the while during his campaign Trump alluded to increased defence spending and the end of sequestration.

It was no secret that the day after the election share prices of some of the defence equipment went up significantly.

So for all of use in the defence and aerospace industry, fasten your seat belts because I have a feeling the next four years are going to be a bumpy ride.

Juicing the gen in Zhuhai

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The world – including North Korean technicians dressed in mufti, uniformed African delegations by the busload and Iranian officials flown in by executive jet – flocked to the 11th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai from 1-6 November.

Nowadays the biennial Zhuhai Air Show is undisputedly Asia’s largest military exhibition and, unfortunately, that means the price of hotel accommodation doubles or triples and the event is overrun by people who have no business being there. Just what is the point of allowing housewives, the elderly and infirm, and thousands of souvenir hunters and selfie-takers to run roughshod over the show?

However, as one elbowed their way through the heaving masses, there were numerous exciting revelations to discover. The highlight was the J-20 stealth fighter’s cameo appearance on opening day. However, if you blinked, you would have missed this brief apparition as the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) enigmatically played hard to get.

Other PLAAF aircraft debuted in Zhuhai, however, to sooth the disappointment of those who blinked. Among them were the J-10B fighter, H-6K bomber, KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft, Y-20 transport aircraft and Z-10K attack helicopter.

All photos by the author.

Nearby were towering air surveillance radars, a number purportedly able to detect F-22 and F-35 stealth aircraft. Fact or fiction? Certainly China is happy with either as it handcrafts an aura of technological advancement. On display was the JY-27A 3D long-range surveillance/guidance radar, the PLA’s first active phased array system. The debuting SLC-7 radar integrates mechanical scanning with phased-array technology, and yet another anti-stealth fighter radar was the JY-50 2D passive system.

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What about the halls crammed with lethal weaponry, which give the outside world vague hints as to what the PLA might be fielding? Was the two-stage TYD-1 missile target a tantalising hint that China is robustly pursuing a ballistic missile defence programme?

There were explosive missiles revelations too. Very potent was the supersonic 290km-range CM-302 anti-ship cruise missile, an export version of the YJ-12 in PLA service. Chinese media called it ‘the world’s best anti-ship missile’ thanks to supersonic speed sustained throughout flight, before it accelerates to Mach 3 in its terminal phase.

There were startling revelations about China’s space programme too. Perennially touted as being for wholly peaceful purposes, it was shown for what it is in one fell swoop. On show were scale models of two transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) able to launch Long March rockets, both clad in a military camouflage schemes. Why does China need military TELs for Long March rockets? Obviously, their function is to rapidly launch satellite payloads to replace satellites lost in a space war. Such satellites could also deploy microsatellites possessing warheads to destroy US satellites.

And no description would be complete without mentioning the bewildering array of UAVs. Leading the charge were unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), which China is hawking worldwide and are being used for manifold purposes by somewhat dubious regimes.

The well-known Wing Loong 1 and 2 appeared, while models and brochures indicated the existence of a Wing Loong 1-D and Wing Loong 3, the latter powered by two propeller engines.

Two new jet-powered UCAVs also had maiden appearances in Zhuhai. One was the high-altitude, long-endurance Cloud Shadow with 14,000m cruising altitude and 620km/h maximum speed. Also, the competing CH-5 UCAV can carry a 1,000kg payload to a ceiling of 10km.

Although it was an air show, there was a massive amount of heavy armour on display too. Norinco unveiled its VT5 light main battle tank, this sharing heritage from the PLA’s own light tank that entered service in 2014.

To summarise, if you’re looking for new fighters, helicopters, UAVs, radars, missiles or armoured vehicles, China’s giant military-industrial complex is churning out equipment that will suit you. And even better, anyone can apply, despots from North Korea, Africa and Iran included.

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