Category Archives: Uncategorized

The World According to Shephard: Week 5

Costing Britain’s defence

The UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson recently confirmed the MoD’s intention to split off the defence part of the National Security review into a separate review. The Clarence offers some suggestions on where the cuts might fall while protecting the capabilities necessary to meet the goals of the 2015 National Security Review.

Meanwhile the MoD came under increasing pressure this week after it was forced to defend itself in light of suggestions by the National Audit Office (NAO) that it did not include the costings of the Type 31e light frigate project in its equipment plan. The NAO’s report found that there could be an affordability gap potential of over £20 billion.


Up-gunning Europe

Final testing of the German Armed Force’s anti-tank missile system on its fleet of Puma IFVs is expected to be completed by Q3 2018, with initial fielding scheduled for 2020. The MELLS missile system is armed with Spike LR missiles and will provide the German forces with significant additional operational scope and capabilities.

In Bulgaria the MoD has indicated it will acquire new wheeled IFVs as part of its modernisation agenda, in addition to upgrading existing soviet-era armour. The tender is expected to be launched in mid-2018 for 150 8×8 vehicles to equip three battalions. Alex Mladenov and Krassimir Grozev look into some of the contenders for the programme.

Europe tanks

The British Army’s training units are preparing for the imminent delivery of the first Ajax variant after the completion of government acceptance testing (GAT). The Ares specialist troop carrier configuration will be received by the Armour Centre at Bovington, while GAT for Ajax is expected to commence in early 2018 following successful manned live firing trials.


Patrolling the seas from above and below

Russia’s Beriev Be-12 fleet of maritime patrol aircraft is set for an upgrade of its vintage 1970s mission suite according to the Russian Naval Aviation Chief. The aircraft will receive three new components, a hydroacoustic sub-system, new radar and new magnetic anomaly detector to keep the aircraft in service until the mid-2020s.

Going beneath the waves in Taiwan, where the navy performed a successful demonstration of its minehunting capabilities. Despite the success of the demonstration, the main message was that the Republic of China Navy’s minehunting capabilities have reached the end of their lifecycle and must be replaced soon. The service is at risk of losing its ability to counter China’s sea mine blockade threat.

Minehunting edit

Special Forces march into future threats

NATO special operations forces are actively seeking next-generation technologies to support a future operating environment dominated by missions in confined, congested and contested megacities. This includes exploiting technology in order to support subterranean operations in dense urban environments with large populations.

Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service is also considering future training and material requirements of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) following the eradication of Isis from the country. ISOF has recently performed more conventional light infantry operations to retake huge swathes of land from Isis including the City of Mosul and now needs to re-focus on elite counter-terrorism skills required to ensure the stability of Iraq.

Iraq SOF

The perils of open source data

Military agencies are in an on-going battle to maximise the benefits of commercial open source data while avoiding the potentially devastating intelligence pitfalls.

The security risks associated with open source data were starkly highlighted by the release of Strava’s Global Heatmap.

The map, which shows the routes travelled by users of its exercise tracking product, inadvertently exposed sensitive information about American and allied military bases and troop movements in conflict zones across the world.



The map highlights a number of well-known military bases across Iraq and Syria, where Western soldiers have been stationed as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

However, it is the movements of troops outside their bases, their patrol and supply routes and smaller camps not previously known about which could offer valuable information to enemy forces.


At the recent Defence Geospatial Intelligence conference in London, military and industry leaders discussed how security challenges can be overcome to enable better exploitation of the vast reams of commercial data available to military and intelligence agencies.

However, as Maj Gen James Hockenhull, director of cyber intelligence and information integration at the UK MoD noted, the relationship between the military and industry requires improvement.

With incidents such as the Strava heat map, military users of commercial geospatial systems remain sceptical about the security and reliability of the data being collected and disseminated.


However, the proliferation of commercial satellites offers a huge potential for militaries to access near real-time, high-resolution imagery within government spending constraints.

Further developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning algorithms have led to a significant leap in the efficiency, and outsourcing, of geospatial intelligence analysis to companies willing to invest heavily in the technologies.

These include companies such as Esri and DigitalGlobe who are developing deep learning algorithms to enable automated identification of a wide range of objects.

This could provide intelligence agencies with rapid and accurate strategic information, such as the movements of enemy military equipment, troops, or weapons testing locations, such as the site of the North Korean missile test pictured above.




The World According to Shephard: Week 3

A game of charades?

This week the Geobukseon dives into the possible repercussions of constitutional change in Japan, suggesting that the country has never really been a pacifist nation. Tensions in the region have reignited debate regarding the nature of Japan’s self-defence forces, with many claiming it is a military force by another name.

Meanwhile, Gordon Arthur reports on the strengthening cooperation between Japanese paratroopers and US Army Green Berets who have conducted a mass airdrop exercise.


Qatar’s searches for new friends

Qatar’s Defence Minister has detailed plans to increase the country’s order of Hawk training aircraft from six to nine units. The announcement comes amid a rapid build-up of the Gulf-nation’s defence capabilities, in particular relating to its air force.

The minister also stressed that Doha is seeking to enhance and diversify its defence relationships with a wide range of ‘friendly’ nations. This was clearly demonstrated by the recent displays of Chinese and Turkish military equipment at Qatar’s National Day Parade.


Helicopter orders fly in

The US Army has wasted little time in moving its purchase of 35 new UH-72 Lakota aircraft forward, it is even prepared to proceed without a competitive process. The announcement came one day after the army’s deadline for industry to respond to how they could meet the service’s requirement to purchase the H145M.

The Indian Army is facing the peculiar dilemma of having to stall deliveries of HAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) due to the unavailability of spares for the fleet already in service. There are more ALH aircraft on the production line than the army is willing to take as maintenance of the existing fleet remains a key concern.

India HAL heli

Indonesia’s military has also been receiving new aircraft, recently accepting two Airbus Helicopters AS565 MBe Panthers, three armed H125M Fennecs and a CN-235-220 aircraft. The Panthers, part of a November 2014 contract for 11 aircraft for the Indonesian Navy, are configured for anti-submarine warfare. Further deliveries of AS565s are expected in early 2018.

Finally, the Russian Air and Space Force (RuASF) has added 14 newly-built Ka-52 attack helicopters to its fleet. The RuASF now has a fleet of over 100 Ka-52s operated by its army aviation branch. The Russian MoD also expects to receive two enhanced Mi-28NM attack helicopters by the end of this year.


Nightwarden sale looms

Textron is confident that the first sale of its Nightwarden UAV is on the horizon. Beth Maundrill reports that the first deal is likely to be an international sale and it is understood this would be a completely new customer for the company. It is also possible that Sweden may select the Nightwarden as part of a UAS upgrade.


The future is here: quantum computing, AI and robotics

US Army leaders are seeking ways to capitalise on advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The army’s top four-star general has warned that the military must address the ‘fundamental change in the character of war’. To this end, the service is working to develop new weapons systems to meet challenges posed by near-peer and peer threats such as Russia and China.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency and its industrial partners are planning to launch two quantum key distribution satellites at the beginning of next decade to deliver commercial services to private and governmental entities. Quantum cryptography, which relies on encrypting data into the quantum states of particles is believed to be inherently unbreakable.






Advanced defence technologies take centre stage

Among the highlights of Raytheon UK’s technology and innovation conference held last week was a demonstration of its Overseer platform and discussion of its tactical penetrator warhead – a key component of the company’s advanced technology programme.


Funded by internal seed funding, the Overseer has been in development for the last five years and continues to be spoken of as a potential upgrade platform for the Royal Air Force’s Sentinel R1 aircraft.

The ISR mission system is sensor agnostic and compatible with maritime, ground vehicle and airbourne platforms. Raytheon say it has been designed specifically with ISR training and ISR customers in mind, with users able to analyse multiple data sets within one program.

Overseer 2

Outlining the development of the tactical penetrator warhead, chief engineer for weapons systems, T.J. Marsden, explained that the product had been developed to replace any potential capability loss from the Tornado fighter-bomber being taken out of service by the MoD. Marsden also confirmed that the warhead had been through its demonstration phase and is now into its qualification stage.

Beyond a focus on ISR and weapons technology, the event included a set of panel discussions centering on how to create a culture of innovation in the UK and what role collaboration could play in addressing aerospace and defence challenges.

Industry experts were particularly agreeable on the need for innovation to stimulate growth and acknowledged research and design environments should provide a ‘safe space for people to fail’.

Ray panel 2

As the subject of Brexit was raised, OEM representatives made their bottom-line clear: Maintain membership of EASA and hold firm on the unrestricted movement of UK citizens to and from Europe. One panel member went so far as to say that without access to existing resources, funding and R&D capital ‘we don’t function properly’.

Taking a slightly different approach, one source further down the supply chain opined that the UK should concentrate on sourcing a greater array of products and services domestically and export to the international defence market.

Paul Everitt

It’s all go at the show

In the week that was, we saw the UK’s then prime minister open proceedings at the Farnborough International Airshow (FIA 2016) only to then be replaced two days later by Theresa May. Also, Pokémon Go happened (!).

Monday got off to a flying start with an array of airborne announcements. In total 59 aircraft are to be delivered by Boeing to the UK.

The company confirmed that it was now on contract for 50 AH-64E Apaches for the British Army. In addition, the UK MoD is also to receive nine P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) from Boeing.

Rain stopped play on Monday afternoon. Panic only really set in at the media centre when the wi-fi went down and then the journalists got up and ran for the station navigating through the British summer time monsoon that descended. Here at Shephard we were highly amused by all the weather-related puns.


Leonardo added two more international customers to its Falco Evo Shephard learnt at FIA 2016. The new customers currently operate the legacy Falco UAS.

In other UAS news, the Fury guided munition, jointly developed by Textron Systems and Thales UK, will undergo final moving target testing later this year. The Fury is designed to be utilised by small and medium sized UAS and special missions aircraft.

In training news, a second team announced that they would be putting their hat into the ring for the UK MoD’s Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) programme. ASDOT considers the UK’s live air training activities and airborne threat training.

For the #avgeek  the F-35 Lightning tearing up the airshow sky was an exciting and LOUD affair throughout the week. Raytheon was vocal about its involvement with the aircraft as suppliers of weapons systems to the platform.

Raytheon were also host to one of the most engaging and firey presentations at FAI 2016. Air Cdre Dean Andrew, ISTAR force commander on the Sentinel R1, talked passionately to journalists at FIA 2016 in an effort to lobby ‘anyone that would listen’ regarding cuts to his force announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015. Journalists could not believe their luck with Andrew’s candor and repeatedly asked ‘you know you’re on record right?’.

It was a great show for rotorcraft as Sikorsky’s armed Black Hawk made its debut at the show. The company revealed that it was working closely with a customer but would not divulge their name, more the pity. The weapon system is anticipated to be qualified by the end of this year. Leonardo Helicopters also debuted their armed version of the AW149.

Bell Helicopter paid tribute to their crew members who lost their lives on 6 July during a test flight of the 525 Relentless.

Company officials were seen wearing ‘R’ badges in memory of the 525 Relentless crew. The V-280 mockup made its international debut at FIA 2016 and also the company appointed RUAG Aviation in Switzerland as its newest customer service facility for the Bell 429.

v-280 cropped

FIA 2016 proved to be an eventful show with contracts signed, aircraft debuting and tropical weather storms adding to the mix. Shephard covered a whole host of topics so be sure to check out our dedicated news page.



Sitting at the big boys’ table

Being a dyed in the wool trade journalist it is not often that you get to feel like you’re at the centre of world events – unless you do happen to come across one of those technologies that you realise possibly could end world hunger/halt climate change/make you incredibly rich.ea26fc8e

Nonetheless, very occasionally you do get the chance to at least have a glimpse of what’s going on at the big boys table. That was the case with the Shangri-La Dialogue this year.

I’ve been attending the dialogue for the last couple of years (it helps that the event is held over a weekend in Singapore so I don’t miss too much real work) and there is an unmistakeable whiff of power about the event that makes it fairly addictive.

I’ve often been sitting in the hotel lobby having one of their expensive coffees when a high-powered delegation sweeps past and this year it happened to be Chuck Hagel on his way in to deliver his remarks.

The keynote speech by Japan’s prime minster the night before had already prepared the way for a somewhat more forthright discussion than previous years. Although Abe had fallen short of calling names, it was clear that he had China squarely in his sights.

That morning as Hagel rushed passed I didn’t realise he was on his way to pour petrol on the fire by clearly blaming the Chinese for much of the current territorial tensions in the South and East China seas.

During the course of that Saturday the Chinese delegation became the target for a clearly coordinated strategy by some of the major regional and global powers to apply pressure and try and staunch Beijing’s current spate of adventurism.

That was why as a Brit I was filled with some trepidation when it came time for UK defence minister Phillip Hammond to take the stage and add the weight of one of the former global empires, not to mention one of the permanent members of the UN security council, to the debate.

As usual he didn’t fail to exceed my poor expectations, which was not a good thing. In a pretty wishy-washy speech, Hammond talked about using the British armed forces as an extension of soft power – not exactly combative. He also said that he thought 2015 might be the first year in close to a century when British forces would not be deployed on any counter-insurgency or combat operations – famous last words anyone?

However, I think the nadir of the speech came when he said that the UK government needed to find ways to get value for money from the armed forces when they weren’t deployed on those types of operations. One can only groan at that particular statement and what it says about the present government’s understanding of what the armed forces are there to do.

I’m sure there was a message in there for the British public about austerity and the need to control budgets, but delivering that speech at a forum in Asia at a time of such fraught tensions, I think, only showed a lack of seriousness and sincerity when it comes to being actively involved in the region.

As Asia continues its economic rise, the question is whether the UK can afford to stay so detached from a region where many of its vital interests may come in to play.

As I was sitting in the lobby again the next day watching the various delegations rush to and from bilateral meetings, it was clear that most of them seemed more serious than the UK delegation. But maybe Hammond is just like me and likes to at least get a glimpse of what’s going on at the big boys table, even if he isn’t willing to put on the long trousers.

Why can’t we duplicate a pigeon?

prime-air_high-resolution01I have been to my fair share of UAV conferences over the last few years, and although operational tempos and the roles of the systems have tendencies to evolve and change, the themes and issues surrounding the use of them remain consistent.

‘Drone wars’, privacy, secrecy, UAVs crashing on your doorstep or shooting your children – that sort of thing. These are still issues that those who have worked with these systems for years, even decades, have to deal with in all discussions relating to their pride and joy.

‘Sadly progress has been much slower than expected,’ Paul Cremin, from the DfT said at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s RPAS conference in London on 10 June, adding that discussions surrounding UAVs were the same a decade ago. ‘Why are we going round in circles?’

One of the most recent marketing campaigns that added more fuel to the fire was the semi-spoof declaration that Amazon would soon be using UAVs to deliver the public’s parcels – to your doorstep, where your children live. Cue cries of outrage and confusion.

Whether or not Amazon actually foresees this as being a reality any time soon is unclear, but industry have had their say on it, claiming that it is distracting and confusing the real issues and implementation of the technology.

During the conference the Amazon idea was described as ‘nonsense’, because practically it just wouldn’t work due to airspace regulations.

One speaker noted that ‘drone wars make ministers nervous’. This reflects public opinion, though it was noted that Google’s recent launch of its driverless car was welcomed and ‘nobody batted an eyelid’.

The driverless car is the land equivalent of the Amazon UAV, one speaker observed, in that it would be a slow and steady transport option, but the public perception of the two systems varied greatly.

‘Why can’t we duplicate a pigeon?’ Adrian de Graaf, MD of AD Cuenta, asked. He was very open to a whole variety of potential applications for UAVs, including urban delivery and long haul cargo, both of which could be much cheaper activities with the use of UAVs. The potential for pizza delivery by UAVs was also mentioned.

From the UK side, there was an element of frustration surrounding the publicity that the US – which has solicited six test sites for the testing of UAVs in national airspace – is getting, when there is airspace like that already available in the UK, for example at Parc Aberporth in Wales.

Chris Day, director of capability engineering at Schiebel, put the UK’s position on UAV use into perspective, adding that the Segway – which the UK doesn’t allow use of on public pavements or roads – is ‘far more reliable and robust’, so UAVs have a long way to go before they are commonplace over British households.

‘If the UK hasn’t accepted this [Segways] yet, I think my pizza will continue to be delivered on the back of a motorbike for the time being,’ Day added.

« Older Entries