Tag Archives: CH-47 Chinook

The world according to Shephard: Week 6

There’s been plenty to catch the eye this week not least from the Singapore Air Show 2018.

In typical roving reporter style, the Shephard team based in Singapore has been filing copy and producing video content by the bucket load. For those of you that might have missed the big stories, the flight-line video is a good starting point, especially if you’re a fast jets aficionado – as the USMC Lockheed Martin F-35B made its first appearance in Southeast Asia.

Watch the team’s overview of what went on here:


But, if, like this writer, you want to see the rotary offerings, Beth Maundrill, senior reporter at Shephard, takes you through the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet with some of its whirlybirds on display, see more details here.

Land-based news this week saw Shephard with a scoop brought to you by staff reporter, Alice Budge.

US support for Iraq’s fleet of M1 Abrams tanks is continuing despite acknowledgement from the US government that the vehicles have been deployed and used by an Iranian-backed militia.

Recent reports in Iraqi media outlets suggested that the US had suspended its maintainence support for the tanks at the end of last year after some were found in the hands of a militia known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Iraqi soldiers conduct training with M1 Abrams tank

According to a US state department official, speaking to Shephard, the US is still committed to supporting the country’s security forces fleet.

Two highly in-depth opinion pieces were live this week. Firstly, the political positioning of the proposed construction of a Silk Road Economic Belt.

The Geobukseon states: ‘Commonly referred to as the…One Belt, One Road (OBOR), its broad agenda ranges from economic development to security enhancements and military defence expansion.

Moving from Asia to Europe, the second opinon piece this week, part of Shephard’s The Clarence series is on a recent UK government report that outlines the future of the country’s Amphibious Forces.

While it is sombre in tone with a focus on the cuts to the Royal Marines and the scrapping of HMS Albion and Bulwark – it does provide a reality check to the detrimental damage further cuts to personnel and loss of ships will do to national security.


The US-based team has been attending shows and conferences in abundance, Scott Gourley has been attending West 2018 in San Diego, California.

He has been covering a wealth of news: from the upcoming deployment of the US Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS Milius highlighting the real world consequences of ongoing manning shortfalls to the development of an ‘autonomous data centre in a briefcase.’

From Washington, DC, Ashley Roque is at the Unmanned Systems conference and has drilled into details on the US military requiring industry’s help when it comes to more efficiently powering its unmanned systems.


Lastly, and because it’s Friday, this week’s free-to-view analysis piece comes from editor, Grant Turnbull and land reporter Alice Budge on the companies posturing their wares to the British Army for its 8×8 vehicle with the army’s decision expected very soon.

Shephard looks closely at what is being laid on the table to the woo service to pick them.


Dangerous skies

The past few months have once again highlighted the dangers of flying helicopters in a war zone. The Russian Air Force has suffered two catastrophic helicopter losses in Syria, one Mi-25 and a Mi-8AMTSh, along with several fatalities.

The fog of war, and inevitable Russian secrecy, means that the cause of both crashes remains unknown, although reports suggest both were shot down.

The shooting down of the Mi-8AMTSh, apparently on a humanitarian mission, is particularly noteworthy and provides some food for thought. Mainly, that despite it being fitted with a state-of-the-art self-protection suite – known as President-S – that can counter heat-seeking missiles, it still succumbed to ground fire, most likely from one or several heavy calibre machine guns fired by rebel forces.

Mi-8_amtsh crash

A still from a video showing the crashed Russian Mi-8AMTSh in Syria

The incident shows that no matter how sophisticated your EW technology, it often can’t protect against even the most basic of anti-aircraft weaponry.

Of course, this is not just a problem for Russian forces in Syria, but militaries across the world. The US experienced one of its worst losses in Afghanistan when an RPG hit a CH-47 Chinook in 2011, killing 38 personnel including a significant number of SF operators.

Is the answer to add more systems that can protect against unguided threats? Ideally, yes. Industry has already proposed several solutions including hostile fire indicators and even a hard-kill solution, like those being developed for armoured vehicles. Some of the technology is already being rolled out, along with advanced laser-based technologies that can protect against heat-seeking missiles.

Here lies the problem: many frontline helicopters are now at the limit of their performance capabilities thanks to years of bolting on equipment, without upgrading powerplants.

For some platforms, any additional equipment is likely to severely degrade the aircraft’s performance further, with many helicopters today already struggling in hot and high conditions. Regions of the world that are mountainous or in hotter climates are becoming inaccessible.

Every new piece of technology also takes up valuable payload capacity, often translating into fewer weapons or soldiers being carried or a reduction in range.

The US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, for example, is now over a ton heavier than when it first entered service because of the addition of various equipment, mainly during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

If trends continue, it would mean that by 2020 it would take between 15 to 20 helicopters to move a single platoon. That is an unrealistic prospect. The weight problem extends to other US Army platforms as well, including the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

Now, some militaries find themselves in a situation where even if they wanted to add equipment to increase survivability, they can’t. Those responsible for making equipment decisions have to make an unenviable choice between potentially degrading performance and payload, or increasing survivability.

Apache pilot's view

Platforms such as the AH-64 will eventually need an engine upgrade to cope with more equipment (Photo: US Army)

Manufacturers are responding by reducing size, weight and power of equipment, but not nearly at the pace that some militaries desire.

Many current generation helicopters will have to gain more engine power to incorporate additional equipment. Boosting power ensures platforms can integrate more systems when the operational environment demands it.

The Royal Air Force, for instance, has upgraded the engines on its Puma HC2 helicopter, allowing it to deploy to the hot and high environments such as Kabul, Afghanistan.

The US Army is planning to upgrade the engines in the Black Hawk and Apache, as part of the Improved Turbine Engine Program. The new 3,000hp engine will provide 50% more power at the same weight of the current engines, according to the service.

This will ultimately allow the integration of more protection systems and may be one way to avoid a similar incident to the Russian helicopter losses in Syria, particularly as western forces are still operating in conflict zones across the world.

What needs to be avoided is simply adding more equipment to protect the crew, without thinking about decreasing power margins or the effect on the helicopter’s performance in the long term.

We delve further into self-protection for combat helicopters in the upcoming September/October edition of Defence Helicopter.