Tag Archives: NATO

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.

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 World According to Shephard: Week 44

NATO SOF prepare for battle

NATO special operations forces have taken part in an exercise across eastern Europe  involving scenarios loosely based on recent Russian incursions into Ukraine. The exercise was designed to enable NATO and non-NATO entity special forces to counter an invasion by an enemy force as well as ‘diversionary’ forces.

The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) hosted its ThunderDrone Prototype Rodeo, the culmination of the first in a series of rapid prototyping events that began in September. The results are expected to go beyond the physical drone with its mechanical features, autonomy, swarming and machine learning all being explored.

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Swarms of unmanned requirements

The Australian Army is also enhancing its aerial unmanned capabilities with the procurement of FLIR Systems’ PD-100 Black Hornet 2 nano-UAVs. The deal will increase the Army’s Black Hornet fleet to over 150 providing enough to equip every army combat team at the platoon and troop level with an organic reconnaissance capability.

The US Navy’s requirement for an unmanned Carrier-Based Aerial-Refuelling System has hit a bump in the road after Northrop Grumman withdrew from the MQ-25 Stingray programme following changes to the programme requirements. There is a risk that further changes could see other competitors to follow suit.

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Meanwhile in Israel the country’s first commercialised AUV, the HydroCamel II has completed over 250 hours of sea trials in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. According to the system’s developers at Ben-Gurion University, the AUV’s autonomy and manoeuvrability capabilities set it apart from its competitors.

Watching the ships roll in

Above sea the Ukrainian coast guard is bolstering its fleet by purchasing up to 25 new high-speed patrol boats. The acquisition is part of Ukraine’s strategy for maritime security at each seaport to be ensured by a squadron of boats including unmanned patrol boats, a patrol attack boat, a high-speed interceptor, a coast guard boat and a new trimaran.

However in the UK the Royal Navy found itself in hot water this week after the National Audit Office published its investigation into equipment cannibalisation in the navy. The report found that between April 2012 and March 2017 there was a 49% increase in the practice with 60% of instances occurring between 2016 and 2017.

Picture are, on the left RFA GOLD ROVER, and on her right HMS LANCASTER sailing together on Atlantic Patrol Task (South) duties.

In Poland it has emerged that the Polish Navy may be forced to decommission its only Kilo-class submarine, ORP Orzel after a fire broke out on the boat. The fire is believed to have begun while crew members were discharging the submarine’s batteries while moored in the north of the country.

The digital battlespace

Moving into the digital world where the defence industry may be on the brink of a revolution as blockchain service providers  report increasing levels of interest from the industry. While the exact nature and extent of the impact blockchain will have remains uncertain, it is clear that this technology is here to stay.

Meanwhile Thales is in the process of analysing logged data from the recent Formidable Shield ballistic missile defence exercise to see if modifications made to its SMART-L Multi Mission radar can further enhance the technology. During the exercise the radar was able to detect the missile from a distance of 1,500km.

Thales

In the race to advance electronic warfare capabilities the US is expediting efforts to field technology into theatre that enables critical vehicle systems to remain functional in GPS-denied environments. GPS signals are increasingly vulnerable to jamming or spoofing by adversaries such as Russia who are actively deploying advanced EW capabilities.

 

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.

Project_21980

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.

Piranha_GDELS_Romania

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.

 

 

 

Volatile conditions – tensions rise in Asia

As the Sep/Oct issue of Shephard’s Digital Battlespace went to press, it was reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on the brink of firing missiles towards the US territory of Guam. That has not happened, yet, but it is another sign that the unhinged leader of North Korea continues to be a threat to the region and, as his missile and nuclear technologies advance, to countries outside the region.

This year has seen North Korea’s ballistic missile capability go from strength to strength and by July the country had carried out at least 14 firings of various domestic-built missiles. The 14th was possibly the most significant, with the firing of a intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could have hit the US west coast (which was instead was fired 2,300 miles into space).

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Add to that already dangerous situation the development of a possible nuclear warhead for an ICBM and the situation becomes almost apocalyptic. If it’s any comfort, it is believed that North Korea still does not possess the capability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead or even the technology for the warhead to survive re-entry. Yet despite these limitations, and an international community grouping together to impose harsh sanctions, Pyongyang still manages to achieve successes.

Another volatile leader to add to this combustible mix is Donald Trump. In his short time as president, he has shown himself to be unstable and irrational – two character traits that do not bode well for international diplomacy and dealing with despotic regimes. His response to North Korean missile tests was to promise ‘fire and fury’ if the country made any more threats to the US.

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Addressing missile threats

Ultimately, it will be patient diplomacy that brings the two countries back from the brink of all-out war. But what lessons can we learn from this? First and foremost, it should act as a wake-up call – if it hasn’t already – that governments have to invest in ballistic missile defence (BMD) technologies for the protection of not just soldiers in theatre, but also citizens going about their daily lives.

Admittedly, that is easier said than done.

BMD is a huge and costly endeavour that requires significant investment, often in the billions. It necessitates a host of early-warning sensors (on land and sea, and in air and space) and for those sensors to be networked so that data can be fed into complex C2 systems. Highly capable, highly manoeuvrable interceptors must be acquired to shoot down the missiles, a feat that has often been compared to shooting down a bullet with a bullet.

GMD-FTG-15-04

The US is the only country in the world that can field multiple BMD systems, including the homeland Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which in May achieved its first-ever intercept – probably not by coincidence considering recent events – of an ICBM fired towards the US from deep in the Pacific.

However, the GMD programme has been notorious for its significant cost – its yearly budget is around $1.5 billion – and the fact that before May, it failed eight of 17 tests.

GGW DE PEEL SCHIET OP KRETA

To reduce costs, NATO has pooled resources to offer a territorial BMD capability, which achieved initial operating capability last year. It includes ship-based radars as well as ground-based systems, such as Aegis Ashore, based in Romania and soon in Poland. The US also works closely with its Asian allies to provide BMD systems, including THAAD in South Korea and possibly Aegis Ashore in Japan in the future.

Effective defence

Another way BMD will become more cost-effective in the future will be the increasing effectiveness and reliability of sensors, particularly next-generation radars that can detect, track and provide fire control data for interceptors. Industry is particularly focused on how it can ensure lifecycle costs remain low, by increasing a sensor’s reliability and keeping repairs to a minimum, which is especially important at sea.

THAAD2

In this edition of DB, we look in more detail at naval radars, with several of the systems outlined now featuring some kind of BMD function or growth potential. With industry utilising the advances in commercial electronics, these systems are rapidly evolving in terms of capability – particularly with the onset of active electronically scanned array systems and Gallium Nitride technologies – allowing for longer detection ranges and greater kill rates for interceptors.

Of course, challenges remain, not least when it comes to funding, but the alternative of having no effective defence against ballistic missile threats does not bear thinking about.

Pasted image at 2017_08_31 08_41 AM

 

The latest edition of Digital Battlespace (Sep/Oct 2017) is now available to download FREE on IoS and Andriod. 

Going the distance in Afghanistan

Despite his rhetoric on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump has reaffirmed the US commitment to Afghanistan, promising military commanders they will have the resources and support they need “to fight and to win”.

With few attractive strategic options on the table, there is little surprise that the man who loves winning so much has chosen to stay the course, rather than withdraw US troops and be the president that ceded Afghanistan to the Taliban.

As Gen John W. Nicholson, the Commander of US Forces – Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in February, neither the Taliban nor the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) is currently capable of “fundamentally altering the operational environment”.

This leaves a situation where the government in Kabul currently claims control over roughly two thirds of the population, the Taliban is in control of some ten percent of the country, and the rest remains contested.

As with all previous stages of the Afghan conflict since 2001, SOF remain a critical element of any successful strategy, particularly given that of the 98 US-designated terrorist organizations globally, 20 are located in the Afghanistan/ Pakistan region.

As part of its counter-terrorism (CT) mission, US SOF operators have become extremely efficient over the past decade at “kicking in doors” in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leaders, facilitators and key associates.

Trump’s comments suggest this effort will only widen under the new administration. The trap the Pentagon must now avoid is any renewed emphasis on the CT effort to the detriment of ANDSF capability development under the training, advising, and assistance (TAA) mission.

In his evidence to the SASC, Nicholson noted that the “professionalism and competence” of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command was one of the best examples of success of the TAA effort in 2016.

The 17,000 special operators conducted 70% of ANA offensive operations last year, and their proficiency is “directly attributable” to their long-standing partnerships with US and coalition advisors.

Capability gap

However, given Western reliance on close air support and aerial mobility, these areas remain a critical indigenous capability gap that needs attention.

The Afghan Special Mission Wing is fully night vision goggle-qualified, allowing it to conduct night-time operations anywhere in the country. But the larger Afghan Air Force (AAF) remains in “dire condition” due to an extremely high operational tempo and lack of aircraft.

In 2016, the AAF added 18 MD 530 attack/scout helicopters and eight A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft, with the first A-29 strike mission flown on April 14, 2016. Some 120 Afghan tactical air controllers had also been added to help improve the combat capability of the ANDSF.

However, the decision to purchase UH-60s to replace Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters was ill-advised and the Black Hawks will not be available until the 2019 campaign.

The poor quality of ANDSF leadership and the persistence of corruption within the ranks have shown the need for reforms to the appointment systems and effective leader development programs. Here, Afghan Special Forces have also led the way, demonstrating it is possible to shape effective leaders from the country’s sizable youth population.

Trump’s speech did hit the right notes in many areas, including highlighting the destabilizing role played by Pakistan and the fact that military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan, as well as heralding a shift from a time-based approach to one reflecting conditions on the ground.

But funding must now be properly allocated to reflect one truism of Trump’s address – the stronger the Afghan security forces become, the less the US will have to do there.

 

Dynamic Mongoose: The state of NATO’s ASW

This summer saw NATO embark on its second anti-submarine warfare (ASW) event named Exercise Dynamic Mongoose.

Dynamic Mongoose? Nope, me neither. After reading the Wikipedia page on the mongoose (mongeese?) I’m not sure how it relates to ASW. If you have any ideas, comment below.

Anyway, NATO recently released this video in which the participants can be seen showcasing their capabilities off the coast of Iceland.

Naval forces from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States participated.

The use of submarines by NATO’s adversaries has been hitting the headlines and many nations looking at enhancing, adding to or upgrading their ASW capabilities. Really the exercise as much as pracitising interoperability between nations as a show of force.

Earlier this year I went to the Underwater Defence Technology event held in Bremen, Germany, where ASW was mentioned as a key focus for allied nations going forward.

The capability has been somewhat on the back-burner following ‘negligence after the cost-cutting post-cold war’, according to one German Navy commander.

Outdated MPAs, submarines and helicopter equipment are all in the firing line for replacement or significant upgrade.

Obviously a prime example of the neglect ASW capabilities has seen comes in the UK where the nation is still without a sovereign MPA asset until the P-8 Poseidon enters service.

The US equipment used during Dynamic Mongoose included a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, a P-8A Poseidon and two P-3C Orions.

In total five submarines, 11 surface ships and eight MPAs participated in the exercises including Norwegian submarine HNoMS UTSIRA (S301), Spanish frigate ESPS Mendez Nunez and German frigate FGS Schleswig Holstein (F216).

Overall the exercise is set to increase NATO’s readiness and effectiveness but individual nations must continue to update their individual ASW capabilities in order to be an effective partner in an increasingly hostile environment.

Drifting apart? NATO and Turkey

Of the three main political dramas of 2016: The election of Donald Trump as US President, the UK voting to leave the European Union and the attempted coup in Turkey; it is the effects of the latter that could have the most far-reaching impact for NATO and the Middle East region.

The rise in Presidential authoritarianism and religious hardliners on the one hand and a renewed friendship with Russia on the other could lead to a significant schism with NATO and the West in general. As Turkey becomes more self-reliant for its military equipment and is continually rebuffed by the EU over future membership, matters could come to a head and Ankara may look for friends elsewhere.

The failure in the attempt by the Turkish Land Forces Command to develop a Turkish engine for its new Altay tanks through an industry partnership between domestic company Turmosan and Austrian company AVL List is indicative of what could happen in the future on a grander scale. Austria’s Parliament imposed an arms embargo on Turkey due to the human rights abuses following the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and this included the engine contract, which was cancelled.

Furthermore the West’s military assistance to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria mean they have the power to resist and fight back against ISIS, but they have also built their own state in all but name – something which Ankara is diametrically opposed to.

If trends continue on their current path then it will make it increasingly difficult for the West and Turkey to travel on the same path and things could get particularly uncomfortable if Turkish democracy is eroded further. But for the TLFC it is continuing to build up its capability with a range of new procurement programmes that are coming to fruition (see the April-May edition of Land Warfare International, page 10).

Turkish industry has an exciting and active design and development environment that is lacking in both Europe and the US and so far this has not seemed to have suffered over the past year.

The biennial IDEF exhibition is always one of the most interesting in the defence calendar and this year will be no different. For more on the Turkish defence sector, see the next issue of LWI magazine and follow our coverage of IDEF next month.

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