Tag Archives: MoD

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.

Costing

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.

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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.

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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

POLL: Does the UK need to start spending more on defence?

As the old saying goes a week is a long time in politics. All eyes are now firmly on the newly-appointed UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and he might want to take note of the Shephard News Twitter poll we undertook last week as he decides priorities.

We asked:

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We had more than 1,200 respondents and 782 of these voted “yes” to the UK needing to spend more than 2% of its GDP on the defence sector.

While it is not as black and white as a yes or no response, we have included some of the responses and engagement to our ‘unscientific’ poll.

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What are the main defence areas governments should be turning their attention to? Do you have ideas for our next poll? Add your ideas in the comments section below.

The world according to Shephard: Week 43

Pick of the week

While all eyes have been fixed upon North Korea, Uldduz Larki looks into NATO’s decision to host its most recent ballistic missile defence exercise in the Atlantic theatre, a sign that Russian deterrence remains a strategic priority. Read more of Uldduz’s report on the alliance’s inaugural Formidable Shield exercise here.

The bumpy road to agreement

After a series of lengthy pauses in the development of Germany and Israel’s submarine programme, the two nations moved a step closer to agreeing the purchase of three new submarines.

The vessels, which will be supplied by TKMS will replace Israel’s three Dolphin-class diesel electric submarines. Germany’s TKMS is also hopeful of future sales within Europe as the country has agreed to partner with Norway and has received similar interest from Italy.

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Meanwhile details are emerging about the Franco-British collaboration on a Future Combat Air System as the programme readies for the transition from planning to development.

Alongside work on the Anglo-French unmanned combat demonstrator is an investigation of open-system mission architecture. The latest announcement means that high-level concepts are now in the process of being turned into detailed requirement sets.

Elsewhere, Scott Gourley and Richard Thomas were at the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vagas this week. Find all of the latest news from the show floor online

Finally, Boeing has reaffirmed its commitment to the UK despite souring relations with the government following the US Department of Commerce’s decision to place a preliminary 219% trade tariff on Bombardier. In a conversation with Shephard a Boeing spokesperson was keen to downplay any tension between the two parties following a number of attacks on the company from UK politicians.

Maritime insecurity

The future of the UK’s amphibious capabilities looks increasingly uncertain as the defence minister suggested it may no longer be a strategic priority.

Speaking at a meeting of the UK’s defence committee, Michael Fallon denied that the MoD had entered into conversations with Brazil and Chile over a potential sale of the HMS Albion and Bulwark which would put UK amphibious capabilities in jeopardy. MPs voiced their concerns that the MoD’s budget cuts are placing the UK’s security at risk.

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Saab’s Q3 results indicate the Swedish company expects to gain from increasing submarine activity in Europe and Asia. Reporting a 10% growth in sales over the first six months of 2017, the company is reaping the rewards of rising European and international defence spending.

Russia continues to bolster its muscle on the sea’s surface, ordering four Project 21980 Granchanok patrol boats. The main use of the boats will be to provide security to the Kerch Strait Bridge, currently under construction, which will eventually connect Crimea with mainland Russia.

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New-generation land warfare has arrived

Russia’s military investment are not just ocean bound as it appears Russian Land Forces units will be trialling the new-generation assault rifles of Kalashnikov dubbed AK-12 and AK-15. The new assault rifles have undergone testing within the frame of the Ratnik future soldier programme which will deliver new-generation high performance personal equipment to a range of Russian forces.

Following a significant boost to its defence budget, Romania continues to invest in modernising its land forces and has signed a MoI for the licenced manufacture of the Piranha IFV, a de facto act of selection of the new-generation wheeled IFV. Talks will take place on the firm delivery contract for an order of 227 Piranha Vs with an 8×8 wheel drive formula.

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Helicopters bought and sold

Remaining in Eastern Europe, the Czech Air Force is expected to receive 12 Bell Helicopter UH-1Y Venoms from the US DoD as part of a $575 million FMS deal. The aircraft are to be reserved for domestic service missions. The announcement suggests the current stock of Mi-8/17s and Mi-24/35s will most likely be retired.

This week Gordon Arthur reported that US Army Apaches stationed in South Korea will hook up with the General Atomics Grey Eagle MALE UAVs over the coming years, as well as boost their cooperation with the new Apaches of the Republic of Korea Army. Read more about Gordon’s visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek here.

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While attention turns to Future Vertical Lift as the US Army’s next-generation of aircraft, the AH-64 Apache remains a key platform to the service’s fleet and remains integral to Boeing’s future international sales. With a prospective sale of six Apaches to the Indian Army in the works, the AH-64E is projected to remain in service until at least 2016.

 

 

 

The world according to Shephard: Week 34

Taiwan shows off defence systems

This week Charles Au and Wendell Minnick have been exploring the wide range of defence systems on display at TADTE 2017 in Taipei. Charles’ eye was caught by NCSIST’s Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) designed to be used for airport and border security.

According to our report, the system is able to block or jam UAV control frequencies so as to disrupt threats in the air at ranges of up to 2km and interfere with GPS signals out to 10km.

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NCSIST doesn’t only have UAVs in its sights, as they were also exhibiting a point air defence system. The hard-kill weapon system was inspired by the Skyguard area defence system and is designed to eliminate fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, cruise missiles and anti-radiation missiles.

Charles also discusses the latest developments of Taiwan’s Sea Oryx missile system as the R&D phase of the project is about to be finalised while Wendell reveals details of Taiwan’s interest in the F-35.

2nd LAAD Conducts Stinger Live Fire Training Exercises

However, air defence systems are not a hot topic in Taiwan alone, as Latvia has sealed a deal to acquire a number of Stinger air defence systems from the Danish Armed Forces. Latvia expects to receive the missiles and launcher systems in the first half of 2018 when the deal is to be completed.

Unmanned market growth is costly for some 

As the demand for unmanned vehicles continues to expand, the number of platform demonstrations has risen with it. However, demonstrations come at a cost, as Beth Maundrill found out this week when she spoke with a senior campaign leader for autonomy at Qinetiq about ‘unusual and sometimes disruptive’ technologies.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force has indicated that its Hermes 900 UAV, known as Kochav, is now operational following crew and flight integration tests. The test series have seen the aircraft fly over 20 sorties and resulted in the simultaneous qualification of the platform’s squadron.

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Bringing things back to earth, it has emerged that the MoD has moved to secure the terrain for its forces in future areas of operations after awarding Harris with a contract for EOD robots. The £55.3 million ($70.6 million) contract will see a number of T7 multi-mission robotic systems produced for the armed forces in the coming years.

Helicopter fleets expand

But it’s not all about unmanned systems this week as it emerged that Boeing has been awarded a contract to deliver eight CH-47F Chinooks as part of a wider multiyear deal with Saudi Arabia. The heavy lift helicopters, which have proved popular with a variety of armed forces around the world, will be delivered to the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command.

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Turkey is also expanding its attack helicopter fleet and has now taken delivery of 23 of TAI’s T129 ATAK helicopters out of a total of 59. With 36 aircraft still to be received by Turkey’s armed forces, orders are anticipated to be delivered into 2020 at a rate of one aircraft per month.

A TAI spokesperson also informed Shephard that international interest in the aircraft is expected to transform into orders with prospects stretching into the Middle East and Asia.

US Navy makes the headlines again

It was a bruising week for the US Navy which in the wake of a collision involving the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker off the coast of Malaysia has resulted in the Commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet being relieved of his duties and an operational pause called across the Navy.

I look into the wider, geopolitical implications of the incident as it comes at a time of heightened tensions and competition between naval forces across the Pacific.

USS John S. McCain arrives at Changi Naval Base

Across the Atlantic, the UK MoD has awarded a contract for 20 additional flattops to be delivered by 31 January next year. The vessel will be smaller scale models of the 280m behemoths which are currently under construction and will be distributed among key Foreign Office sites.

The UK Border Force is also expanding its fleet with two additional coastal patrol vessels (CPV) expected to be operational by 2018. Once in service the six CPVs will join the Border Force’s four larger cutters and the Protector-class patrol vessel.

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Finally, across the Channel in Europe, the green light has been given for Germany and Norway to cooperate on future naval defence equipment, including the procurement of new submarines.

The trade and its secrets

The wider public has all sorts of perceptions of those who choose to work in the media industry.

It was still a surprise though when attending a conference earlier this month one speaker, who I’ll not name here, listed ‘investigative journalist’ as among several ‘non-traditional threats to information security’.

In the same bracket we had terrorism, hackers, organised crime, and others from the lexicon of criminality.  For those of us in our industry who want to do our jobs properly, it is heartening to know we are thought of as no better than some of the worst among us.

Perhaps most telling from the presentation concerned the ‘sharing of information’, has not been made available to the attendees post event. Perhaps the speaker was trying to tell us something.

In any event, I digress.

Far more important are the daily, indeed, hourly updates concerning the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, with some 100,000 travelling to Europe this year.

DSC_0095.prop_1200x720.c99afedf8dMuch was made by the UK MoD recently (and rightly so) as HMS Bulwark plucked 1000 migrants from the rolling summer swells in a single day.

This approach to saving lives first and dealing with ‘who should do what’ later can be seen in other countries, both southern and northern European, who have sent their navies to do what they can, however they can do it.

That said, not everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.

‘Ships masters have starting calling and asking (us) about the migrant situation in the East Med but it has to be dealt with by search and rescue organisations,’ said an official from a multinational organisation.

Aside from the humanitarian mess, there is the underlying possibility that such an influx of people could pose a threat to coastal security. At this same conference, another speaker said that ‘there was proof’ that ‘some people’ were using the opportunity to smuggle themselves into the continent, without elaborating any further.

This highlights the mixed messages that people all apparently working towards the same goal have, as information on information sharing is not shared, as proof of terrorists using the refugee and migrant crisis as a covert entry method is kept tightly under wraps, as multinational organisations call for a solution to the crisis but state they cannot actively assist.

I could say more, but I don’t feel like sharing.

What next for UK’s military helo fleet?

You know the agenda is regarded as a good news story when the UK MoD holds a media day to trumpet the progress it’s made.

Far from being famous for its open and proactive engagement with the trade press, the ministry nevertheless held a useful event at RAF Benson to highlight the progress achieved in upgrading its helicopter fleet as we were passing the latest issue of Defence Helicopter magazine for press.

You can read the story from our intrepid Staff Reporter Grant Turnbull here, and there are undoubtedly some positive developments worth highlighting.

Following the MoD’s Rotary Wing Strategy in 2009, the government has invested some £6 billion ($8.8 billion) to sustain and improve helicopter capabilities, with significant upgrades implemented across the Chinook, Puma, Merlin and Wildcat fleets.

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Initial operating capability (IOC) has now been declared for the Puma Mk 2; the Chinook Mk 6; the Wildcat Mk 1/2 (army and navy versions); and the Merlin Mk 2.

‘As a result, UK forces now have new military capabilities that can be deployed around the world, with the Merlin Mk 2 currently delivering vital support in Sierra Leone to tackle the spread of Ebola; the Puma Mk 2 preparing to contribute to NATO’s training and assistance mission in Afghanistan; and the Royal Navy Wildcat deploying for global maritime operations,’ the MoD boasts in a statement.

THEATRE ARRIVAL

All but one of the 24 Puma Mk 2s have been delivered following the major modifications undertaken in France and Romania, and the first aircraft has now arrived in Afghanistan, where they are taking over from the Chinooks based at Kabul International Airport.

While the upgrade and modernisation of legacy platforms should always be applauded, the MoD also appears to be playing a bit smarter with its money, with total savings of some £440 million made on the cost of supporting the Chinook, Merlin and Apache fleets over the next five years due to new contracting arrangements.

This includes £150 million in savings made on the recently announced £420 million contract with Boeing for the in-service support of the Chinook fleet.

SHOCK, HORROR

The next big question for the MoD is how it replaces or upgrades the current Mk 1 Apache fleet – a story that has returned to the headlines in the UK of late because (shock, horror) AgustaWestland may have been doing some lobbying for things to go in its favour.

The MoD said it ‘is due to replace the Mk 1 Apache fleet with 50 latest-generation Apache helicopters with a decision on how to do this expected in spring 2016’.

With former secretary of state for defence Geoff Hoon, who was at the helm of the MoD during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, working as managing director of international business at AgustaWestland, it would be more surprising if discussions weren’t going on behind the scenes and the company meekly waited for the RfP to come out.

While AgustaWestland has been tight-lipped about how it will respond to the RfI for the Attack Helicopter Capability Sustainment Programme, one cost-effective option could well be the remanufacture of current airframes into a Block III-like configuration.

It would be a longer shot for the MoD to contract AgustaWestland to licence-build new AH-64E aircraft. While the enhancements provided by the current WAH-64D Block I fleet have been battle-proven during the Afghan and Libyan campaigns, this came at a significant premium – more than double the price of buying direct from Boeing, according to some estimates.

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This time around, the UK simply does not have the luxury to ‘gold-plate’ AgustaWestland’s involvement, despite the work it might provide for its Yeovil plant in southern England.

After Prime Minister David Cameron’s lecturing of his NATO counterparts to increase their defence spending to 2% of GDP at the most recent summit in September, it now appears likely the country will fall below the target by 2017.

Defence cuts have already caused current and former service chiefs to squeal that Britain was becoming increasingly incapable of any significant force projection too far from its borders given the number of soldiers, ships and aircraft now available.

TAKING ADVANTAGE

If the British Army is set on fielding new AH-64E Apaches, the purchase should be made directly from Boeing to take advantage of the multi-year agreement the company has with the US Army, which includes scope for foreign sales.

The WAH-64D has undeniably performed admirably in Afghanistan, but the current fiscal realities facing the UK means that buying the most sophisticated platform should not be the sole starting point, especially if it is at the expense of the number of aircraft procured.

An afternoon of politician speak with Michael Fallon

The UK is less than a year away from a new defence review that will shape the purpose, capabilities and structure of the country’s armed forces for decades to come.

It’s not a simple task and requires hundreds of people across Whitehall to create. The only problem is that the most influential department in its formulation will be the Treasury and not, as you’d expect, the Ministry of Defence.

It’s for this reason that the MoD will require strong leadership in the next 12 months, someone who can battle it out with a Treasury that wants to squeeze the defence budget further. That leadership is not likely to come from the service chiefs, who are largely impotent when it comes to wrangling over budgets. So it’s down to the Secretary of State Michael Fallon, who only assumed the role in July.

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Can Fallon provide some clear direction and forego the politician’s need to speak in generalities? On the face of his appearance at the Defence Select Committee on 17 December, the answer is no.

Speaking at the Select Defence Committee hearing on Future Force 2020, Fallon made it clear that budgetary considerations and capabilities will have ‘to be looked at together’, just like the previous SDSR in 2010. That could be an ominous sign that the 2015 review will, once again, be largely budget-driven rather than being defined by national strategic goals.

Asked by one MP whether the defence budget should be ‘ring-fenced’ – like the NHS budget, which is immune from cuts – Fallon said the MOD had enjoyed ‘relative protection’ from cuts.

‘Of course defence should have the priority that you accord to it,’ he told MPs, with the caveat: ‘But our constituents want to see public money spent on other things as well.’

So not a resounding show of force from the defence secretary for an increased, or protected, defence budget. On the UK’s commitment to spend 2% of its GDP on defence, Fallon could only guarantee it would remain in place for this financial year and the next (2015/16). A study by the Royal United Services Institute in September said the defence budget could fall to an estimated 1.88% of GDP in financial year 2015/16.

Fallon had a lacklustre afternoon alongside the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff Air Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.

Fallon had to awkwardly flip through his notes to find information on planning assumptions for future deployments. As he stumbled through his answer, Labour’s Derek Twigg couldn’t help but take a dig: ‘You’re not sure?’

Committee member Dr Julian Lewis also grilled Fallon on the senior service, the Royal Navy, asking whether the number of frigates and destroyers would fall below 19 after the 2015 SDSR – let’s not forget the Royal Navy had 32 just over a decade ago.

Fallon, once again, didn’t make any commitments apart from saying he was ‘actively considering’ the Global Combat Ship (Type 26). A deal with BAE Systems was expected at the end of this year but affordability issues have postponed a contract – surprisingly that wasn’t brought up by any committee member.

And so it went on. Other issues Fallon wouldn’t make a commitment on included army redundancies while there was even an embarrassing point where the deputy chief of the defence staff didn’t know the number of jets per frontline Typhoon and Tornado squadron, which was made light of by one tabloid newspaper.

Not surprisingly it was an afternoon of dodging questions and frustrating politician speak.

Perhaps that’s understandable – many of the big decisions are still being negotiated and there is a lack of certainty around many areas. But when it comes to defence of the realm, maybe we should have greater clarity on these matters from the head honcho.

That lack of clarity also has a negative impact on the UK armed force’s morale, particularly when it comes to redundancies. Soldiers, sailors and airmen have the right to know what the future holds for them, while the British public have to understand the importance of the decisions being made in the next few months in terms of national security.

From witnessing just one appearance at the defence committee, I strongly have the impression that Fallon and the MoD are not providing those assurances and are obfuscating on several key areas like manpower, capabilities and future strategy.

The 2010 SDSR was seen as necessary to deal with the country’s ballooning deficit and the MoD’s equally expanding funding gap, that part most people agreed on.

But most analysts now also agree that its execution was flawed and did not properly address the capability gaps that were being created by cuts to personnel numbers, cancellation of projects and early retirement of platforms.

Has the MoD learned their lessons? I’m not so sure.