Tag Archives: ajax

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

Meet Megatron, the British Army’s tank transformer

The British Army’s Challenger main battle tank is a beast of a machine. It weighs around 62t (equivalent to 30 large family cars) and sports a huge 120mm gun, and can go up to 35mph on the roughest terrain.

The Challenger 1 saw combat in the first Gulf War and was then superseded by the Challenger 2 in the 1990s, which fought in the 2003 Iraq war and beyond. Its performance during these conflicts has earned the Challenger the title of one of the best tanks of its generation, up there with the US M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2.

But not content with this, the British Army is constantly looking at how it can boost the Challenger 2’s capabilities further.

Here’s where ‘Megatron’ comes in, it’s the army’s nickname for an experimental Challenger tank that is kitted out with a range of new technologies that could eventually be rolled out across the tank fleet.

Challenger 2-Megatron

While not quite being able to transform into a giant alien robot like its namesake, this version is very much a Challenger 2 on steroids. Operated by the Armoured Trials and Development Unit in Bovington, Megatron has been extensively modified compared to its regular Challenger 2 counterparts.

One of the key elements of Megatron is a significant increase in its armour protection, pushing its combat weight up to 75t, making it one of the heaviest, if not the heaviest, tanks in the world. This armour configuration is similar to the Dorchester Level 2 (DL2) package fitted to Challengers deploying to Iraq for Operation Telic.

To protect the crew, the tank is fitted with double-layered explosive reactive armour blocks on the hull, as well as additional armour blocks on the turret. Slat armour, is fitted to protect the rear of the vehicle against RPG attacks, and the underbody is uparmoured to protect against mines and buried IEDs.

One of its most notable external features is its mobile camouflage system, which is essentially an invisibility cloak for both the visible and thermal spectrum. Indeed, this is no ordinary camouflage netting, this MCS is able to mask the vehicle’s heat signature when viewed through thermal binoculars and can even make the tank look like a car or animal.

Challenger 2-Megatron

MCS is also capable of reducing a vehicle’s radar signature, just like the stealth coating on a fighter jet.

Fielding ‘smart’ camo is a growing trend for land forces around the world, particularly with the proliferation of thermal technologies beyond first-tier militaries. The British Army will field this system on their new Ajax vehicles, and it’s likely this fielding will extend to the Challenger.

The US Army has also trialled MCS on its Stryker 8×8 vehicles that are currently stationed in Europe.

Another external feature of Megatron is a comprehensive ECM suite, evidenced by the array of antennas on top of the turret. These effectively jam signals that could be used to trigger a roadside bomb, creating a safety bubble around the vehicle.

Although these new capabilities give the Challenger formidable capabilities, they also present several challenges. Adding so much armour, for instance, weighs the tank down and puts extra strain on vehicle parts, not least the engine and the suspension. Megatron has reportedly been fitted with a new suspension system and a new 1,500hp engine to retain its mobility.

Challenger Megatron 2

But at 75t, the tank becomes ungainly, particularly when it comes to air mobility and utilisation of infrastructure including bridges (military and civil) and roads.

Megatron is just one example of how the British Army is trying to maintain the combat relevance of its ageing tank, with some of the lessons learned likely informing the ongoing Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP).

The LEP, currently in its assessment phase, will see the tank get new sighting systems, gun control equipment and an enhanced electronic architecture and brought up to a ‘Mk2’ standard.

Its rifled 120mm main gun could also be replaced, although that is not a main requirement.

Challenger 2 upgrades are long overdue, with allies such as the US (M1), France (Leclerc) and Germany (Leopard 2) already forging ahead with their own upgrade programmes. Russia and China have also been busy developing their own latest-generation tanks, which have the potential to outmatch western tanks in the not-to-distant future.

Megatron, therefore, is the tank that the British Army needs, sooner rather than later.

SDSR reforms British Army – more questions than answers

The British Army is getting a new medium weight deployable force under plans announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

But it means that a significant re-structure will need to take place and this will have implications for force generation.

Changes announced in SDSR hopefully have already been decided and approved within the Army command – but these have not been briefed to the Army. Usually the Army is briefed in detail on the same day the parliamentary/public announcement is made. This is yet to come.

The 2015 SDSR is basically an attempt to correct the mistakes of the 2010 SDSR, which damaged UK capabilities and was a waste of five years at a time when the security challenges in the world were getting much worse.

The creation of two new ‘strike’ brigades is basically two medium weight mechanical infantry brigades common to many other modern militaries comparable to the US Stryker Brigade Combat Teams and the French and Italian medium brigades.

It is not a very good name and was probably chosen for public appeal, but these will run alongside two Armoured Infantry Bdes, which are reduced from three (1, 12 and 20) to two.

These changes will take place within the existing Army of 82,000 and the maximum effort that the UK can deploy will remain a division of three brigades drawn from 3 Commando Bde, 16 Air Assault Bde, the two Armoured Infantry Bdes and the two strike brigades. The more brigades deployed the longer the mobilisation time.

The structure of two Armoured Infantry and two strike (medium) brigades poses an interesting readiness/force generation challenge. One brigade of each type will be at high readiness with one or two battle groups in each at high readiness. So, not all brigades require a full set of equipment.

The initial question is where the two strike brigades will come from? It looks like one of the seven Adaptable Force Infantry Brigades (4, 7, 11, 38, 42, 51 and 160) will be re-roled as one of the strike brigade but will one of the three Armoured Infantry Bdes be re-roled to form the second strike bde? If so then what will happen to the Challenger 2 (CR 2) armoured regiment with in the Armoured Infantry Bde?

After the SDSR 2010 the Army 2020 reforms stated that for the regular Royal Armoured Corps there will be three armoured regiments with CR 2 main battle tanks and three armoured cavalry regiments with Ajax – there would be one of each type in the three Armoured Infantry brigades.

But under the new structure does the British Army lose one of the three CR 2 regiments or are all three regiments maintained for the two remaining Armoured Infantry Bdes?

A brigade can have either one CR 2 regiment and two AI battalions; two CR regts and one AI bns (often referred to as triangular brigades); or be a square brigade with two of each.

If the third CR 2 regt is not but back into the remaining two Armoured Infantry Bdes it could be re-roled as an Armoured Cavalry Regt.

The reason this could be an option under the new structure is because when the new Ajax armoured reconnaissance  (formerly Scout) family of vehicles was bought it was to equip three Armoured Cavalry Regts and replace the Spartan variant of the CVR(T) in the existing recce regiments.  FV103_Spartan_IFOR

The vehicles are designed to be configured for either Major Combat Operations (MCO) or Peace Support Operations (PSO) but not enough kits have been bought to equip the whole fleet for both.

It is expected that one or two Ajax Armoured Cavalry Regts would deploy at any one time. To deploy the third would require stripping the training fleet and maintenance pool, which would be a significant challenge.

Under the new structure with two Armoured Infantry Bdes and two strike bdes the question is if there still be three Ajax Armoured Cavalry Regts or will they be split into four regts with one in each of the four brigades?

There are ways this can be done without buying more vehicles by changing the ORBAT: fewer squadrons in a regiment, fewer troops in a squadron, and fewer vehicles in a troop. But it may make more sense to re-role the third CR 2 regt as armoured cavalry instead as a fourth regiment to supplement the three existing Ajax Armoured Cavalry Regiments, which may fit better into the new structure. Ares_MCO_Right_A4

The Ajax family of reconnaissance vehicles are not Armoured Personnel Carriers. Although there is an APC variant, called Ares (which was originally called the Protected Mobility Recce Support – PMRS vehicle) but it only carries four personnel for recce tasks, not the maximum number of infantry.

The four troopers are specialist recce soldiers with specialist equipment (laser designators, radios, small radars, etc) used for surveillance, observation posts, security for recce support tasks. This specialist equipment takes up room inside the vehicle.  So it is a specialist APC designed specifically for recce not infantry use.

Therefore the strike brigades could also include a mixture of Armoured Infantry battalions equipped with Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles (which are lighter than the Ajax) and mechanised infantry battalions with the future wheeled Mechanised Infantry Vehicles (MIV) to replace the Mastiff. Warrior in Afghanistan

With 40mm cannons the Armoured Infantry battalions will provide firepower as the MIV is only meant to have an RWS with machine gun or grenade launchers. The end result is that these strike/medium brigades will give the UK the ability to mount an operation comparable to France’s Operation Serval in Mali.

The US and British armies are very impressed by what the French did and rather than either the very heavy or very light forces the British Army possesses now it will give the UK a proper pre-existing medium weight force ready to deploy – unfortunately not until 2025!