Category Archives: Rearview Mirror

The world according to Shephard: Week 32

Despite August’s title as the ‘silly season’ it has been anything but that for Shephard Media as the world of aerospace and defence shows no signs of slowing down.

Out with the old, in with the new

The New Zealand Defence Force is seeking replacement explosive ordnance disposal robots. The new UGVs and neutralisation systems will be used for civil, military and counter-terrorism scenarios by the New Zealand Army’s EOD detachment, or ‘Bomb Squad’.

NZ bomb squad

Meanwhile the Brazilian army has received its first VBTP-MR Guarani 6×6 amphibious armoured vehicle equipped with a 30mm remote-controlled weapon station. The army’s 15th Mechanised Infantry Brigade became the first active unit to receive the vehicle and is part of a new tranche of 1,580 Guarani vehicles now being delivered.

New unmanned technology is currently being developed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and IAI. The new unmanned MMMWV was publicised in a video released by the IDF. Beth Maundrill spoke with IAI about the new technology. Read Beth’s blog here.

Finally, this week the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) said a farewell to its Heron, as it flew its last mission ahead of its withdrawal from service. The RAAF’s No. 5 Flight which was responsible for the Heron mission in Afghanistan will be disbanded at the end of the year. The RAAF is acquiring a replacement capability through Project AIR 7003 which is scheduled to be delivered after 2020.

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Up in the air

This week Helen Haxell looked into the ups and downs of the military and civil helicopter markets for the first half of 2017.

Helen reported that the last six months in the civil helicopter sector have witnessed significant recovery with flight returns, concept aircraft and new platforms dominating the commercial market. She commented that ‘if last year was the ‘annus horribilis’ for the civil helicopter sector that notion has definitely not crept into 2017.’

As for the military helicopter sector it has been a frantic year so far. As progress has continued across US military helicopter programmes, the Black Hawk has garnered the majority of headlines with developments in the Middle East and across Asia-Pacific.

Black Hawk Landscape

Plain sailing?  

In the UK, preparations for the arrival of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth ramp up as vessels and personnel from the navy and Royal Marines take part in the NATO Exercise Saxon Warrior off the coast of Scotland.

Across the Atlantic in South America, the Mexican Navy has continued its patrol vessel fleet expansion as it strives to tackle a wide range of challenges from cartels and narcotics activities to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Richard Thomas looks into the navy’s latest Tenochtitlan-class patrol vessel, the ARM Bonampak which is well suited to operations in the littorals and EEZs.

While in the Arabian Gulf, US Navy patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron One have carried out proficiency fire testing of their MK 60 Griffin Missile Systems. Five vessels launched surface-to-surface Griffin missiles at moving target sleds to demonstrate their ability to hit surface targets such as small boats.

Coastal Patrol Ships Conduct Test Fire of Griffin Missile System in Arabian Gulf

The week according to Shephard: Week 29

British build-up

It was a busy week for UK defence – Michael Fallon, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, spoke to reporter Beth Maundrill at the steel cutting ceremony in Glasgow for the Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigates. According to Fallon, HMS Glasgow’s manufacturing in the UK is demonstrative of the country’s ‘global intent’. Watch the full interview here.

Fallon

Moving south, fast jets and military helicopters gathered at the weekend for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford. The crowds were not disappointed as they enjoyed displays by the Airbus A400M Atlas, the RAF’s Chinook, the US Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress and U-2 ISR aircraft. To see the impressive displays, watch the full video here.

Meanwhile, MTSN editor Trevor Nash covered the UK’s Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) requirement, which has ratcheted up with Cobham Special Missions signing a teaming agreement with Draken International to pursue this high-profile UK MoD programme.

Draken has now left the Babcock-led team and remaining team members are now reassessing the situation.

cobham-draken

Across the Channel, LWI editor Grant Turnbull reported on the new ‘fifth generation’ missile system making its way towards the French Army later this year.

Special forces

In Latin America forces initiated the annual Fuerzas Comando competition in Paraguay. The competition is aimed to improve doctrine, concepts of operation and tactics across the joint operating environment. Read more.

Staying with special forces, our correspondent Andrew White draws our attention to events in the Arctic Circle and high north as he reports on Russian activities in the region and NATO’s response. Read about how NATO is seeking to develop its cold weather capabilities after over a decade of operations in the Middle East here.

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Exercising muscle

Meanwhile, after last week’s visit to Hong Kong by China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, the Chinese Navy is currently en route to the Baltic Sea where it will engage in military drills with the Russian Navy.

China has continued its naval expansion with the mass-production of new classes of fighting vessels, increased presence in the South China Sea and this week the opening of its first overseas military base in Djibouti, strategically located on the Gulf of Aden.

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PLAN’s Jinan in Hong Kong

In Australia, the USMC’s 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) took part in  Exercise Talisman Saber 2017 where new technologies and equipment were trailed in a large-scale military exercise.

On the blog, a father-son team marked Canada’s 150 years by circumnavigating the world in a Bell 429. The trip is demonstrating the advances in SATCOM technology as the duo share images and videos of their journey in flight as technology companies overcome the disruption caused by rotor blades.

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Father and son duo Bob and Steven Dengler in front of the Bell 429 helicopter they’ll be piloting during their journey as the world’s first Canadian helicopter flight team around the world.

Hot off the press: this week Defence Helicopter has gone to press. Editor Helen Haxell takes a look at the CH-53K and V-22 military programmes as well as training helicopters in this edition. Other features include HMDS and crew safety.

 

 

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 eye-watering cost of modern military aircraft

Designing, developing and delivering a new state-of-the art aircraft is no mean feat. But the cost of some of the latest and greatest aerospace technology is enough to make your eyes water.

Luckily the US has a pretty huge defence budget and by all accounts President Trump is looking to increase defence spending, according to his budget published earlier this month.

So let’s look at some of the most costly US aircraft on the market at the moment. Here at Quill we have whittled it down to three, but if you have any others feel free to leave a comment below.

First off we have the MV-22 Osprey with a flyaway cost of $71.92 million per unit. Now this seems like a lot until you get to the next two we’ve lined up. Really this might just be a relatively expensive bit of kit to put things into perspective…

Second, another helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. Is estimated that per unit cost will be around $130 million per aircraft, including the R&D. Another hefty sum, especially considering the aircraft has been in development since 2003 and is a maturation of technology from the CH-53A, CH-53D/G, and CH-53E predecessors.

Potential foreign military sales, Germany is known to be interested, could bring the cost of the aircraft down somewhat.

The CH-53K recently entered low rate initial production.

Lastly, this comment would not be complete without mention of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Latest findings by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) breaks down the aircraft cost as follows.

R&D: $1.7 billion; Procurement: $209.7 billion; Total funding: $214 billion; all for a total procurement quantity of 2,158 aircraft.

The GAO puts the programme unit cost at $136.814 million. Now if you’ve been watching the news even President Trump thinks this is very costly, stating that costs are ‘out of control’.

However, it should be noted that Lockheed Martin is looking at ways to cut the cost and as more lots of the aircraft enter production this is likely. As well as foreign military sales helping drive down costs. The Navy’s aircraft is set to be reduced in cost by up to $100 million by 2020 according to reports.

Ultimately, the F-35 could become less expensive than the CH-53K helicopter. Now fancy that.

 

Can conscription give European nations the edge over Russia?

Many states in Europe are carefully considering how best to enhance their military readiness in the face of a changing security environment in the region.

We have of course seen a splurge in defence spending and new equipment requirements as well as a move away from Russian platforms and now another topic is trending. Conscription.

The Armed Forces is planning for 4 000 recruits annually in basic military training in 2018 and 2019One state that has gone beyond the purchase of equipment and is looking at the manpower side of things is Sweden which earlier this month announced that it will be reintroducing military conscription.

This will mean as of 2018 around 4,000 young men and women could be called up into various roles. Sweden highlighted that in 2016 its forces lacked 1,000 active squad leaders, soldiers and sailors as well as 7,000 reservists. Conscription could help solve this problem it seems.

However, this is not the way forward for everyone. As Grant Turnbull found after speaking to State Secretary of the Latvian MoD Jānis Garisons, who said that it was unlikely the Baltic nation would consider conscription as it would prioritise the available budget to infrastructure rather than new weapon procurement.

Latvia says no to conscriptionWhile Latvia has said no to conscription for now the concept is reemerging in Europe after most states chose to abandon what were seen as out-dated policies of military national service.

Recently the front runner of the French presidential race, Emmanuel Marcon, said he wanted to restore military service to France considering recent attacks by Islamic extremists abroad, Russian aggression, US unpredictability and terror attacks on home soil.

Furthermore, Norway has long had a policy of national military service and has extended the policy to include all women.

In 2015 Lithuania reinstated the draft, reportedly for a five year period that will enhance and accelerate army recruitment having only suspended the policy in 2008.

Many nations in Europe phased out the draft after the end of the Cold War but we could see more considering it as jitters over Russian action in Crimea have not subsided.

Whatever your thoughts on national military service it is something that could be reintroduced to a country near you.

Let us know your thoughts on the topic in the comments below. Is it a worthwhile policy or outdated? Should nations be able to rely on volunteers alone?

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.

 

 

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