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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.

Monday

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.

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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.

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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.

In the air – but not airborne

Border ProtectionWhile all the usual suspects gear up for Eurosatory, it is worth taking some time to consider what some of the less well-known guys will be displaying.

One that particularly stood out was the Sky Sapience HoverMast – 100. Described as a ‘tethered hovering machine’ by the company, the HoverMast is a quadcopter which can be tethered to the back of a vehicle and driven around for border surveillance and other such applications.

The company will be demonstrating the capability of the HoverMast at the show in Paris, outdoors – twice daily. It might be worth going along to the spectacle of it going up and down its tether as it is demonstrated from the back of a moving pick-up truck.

Sky Sapience explained that because the quadcopter is tethered it is not considered an airborne vehicle, so it is able to avoid standard air control regulation. Maybe this is the best way of getting your quadcopter in the air without the hassle of those pesky regulations…

Another company that will be present with their not-quite-a-UAV offering is the French company A-NSE, which will be displaying their T-C350 tethered balloon.

Carrying out the same kind of missions as the HoverMast – border surveillance, ocean surveillance and infrastructure surveillance – the T-C350 has less of a catchy name and is somewhat less mobile than its quadcopter counterpart.

However, aerostats are certainly not to be disregarded as both the US Army and Department of Homeland Security have made use of the air-filled constructions.

As far as the airborne but not airborne situation goes, perhaps these tethered options will prove increasingly useful for border surveillance roles?