Tag Archives: Royal Navy

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.

HELICOPTERS JOIN HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH AS SHE SAILS ON FIRST AIRCRAFT TRIALS

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.

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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.

 

Naval gazing into 2018

With the Surface Navy Association symposium underway, the start of 2018 has kicked off with a naval flare, both in the US and abroad, and many nations are now firmly fixed on enhancing their fleets.

Last year saw two incidents involving the US Navy’s USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald, the navy has gone on the record to say that these incidents were in fact preventable. The USN is now looking to learn from these harsh lessons and will start 2018 by trying to address some of the demands that come with a reduced fleet coupled with personnel working long hours.

Meanwhile, the plan for the USN going forward is looking to grow into to a 355-ship fleet from around 275 today. The Pentagon is set to release its FY19 budget request in February, it remains to be seen as to whether the navy will get what it wants.

Across the pond in the UK, the second Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, touched water for the first time as its dry dock was flooded. The state of the UK’s Royal Navy remains a contentious issue and a recent criticism has come about as the MoD plans to sell HMS Ocean to Brazil not long after a recent, costly, refit of ‘Britain’s biggest warship’.

As the UK continues to work towards strengthening its fleet this week saw industry make another move on the UK Type 31 with Babcock and BMT announcing the Team 31 which now includes Thales, Ferguson Marine and Harland & Wolff shipyard. The team will bid for the UK’s Type 31e frigate project.

The MoD is hoping that the light frigate will eventually have export potential and it is continuing to work with BAE Systems on the export of the Type 26 global combat ship to potential customers including Canada and Australia. To date the UK has had little success in its naval export endeavours.

Finally, it has been noted that Chinese naval ambitions can no longer be ignored and the USN must face up to them

A recent report makes the case that the USN must address its weaknesses in the face of a China capable of destroying US ships and aircraft with its anti-access/area denial strategy.

In addition, it appears that China could be using foreign-held US debt to enhance its own capabilities. China will certainly be one to watch during 2018 as it continues to rapidly develop its defence capabilities.

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Marvel of the Merlin retold with wizardry

Book review – The Merlin EH (AW) 101: From Design to Front Line by Rich Pittman

Helicopter enthusiasts are likely to be spellbound by Rich Pittman’s book on the 30 year journey of the Merlin EH101 through to its latter Leonardo AW101 designation and beyond.

FullSizeRenderThe opportunity to design a new helicopter is a rare one. In the Merlin’s case, it’s obvious the task was set about by manufacturers with gusto. Pittman sets the scene in the 1980s with the MoD intent on rebuffing the Soviet Union’s submarine missile threat. During the same period, the Italian Navy sought a replacement for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings and so began an Anglo-Italian partnership under Augusta and Westland to design a multi-role helicopter of distinction.

In less than 100 pages it seems that every possible detail concerning pre-production events, flight tests, water tests, airframe, rotor, engine and avionics changes are covered in depth. That’s not to mention how the aircraft fulfilled international defence requirements for the UK, Italy and Denmark to name a few.

The account is such that readers have every right to assume this is the most illuminating and comprehensive portrait of the Merlin to date, and it will endure for years to come.

There’s even time to write about the more trivial aspects of the project’s original beginnings, when it emerges that a clerical error in re-typing hand written notes led to the new helicopter accidentally being inked as EH101 instead of EHI-01 (EHI being an abbreviation of the European Helicopter Industries Limited company which had been created to market the aircraft to prospective customers).

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The trials and tribulations of nine pre-production aircraft are particularly interesting, beginning with PP1’s maiden flight in October 1987, which saw the failure of its tail-rotor ground instrumentation, ‘preventing the ground crew from recording the stress-load on the tail rotor, thereby curtailing first flight as a precaution.’

Pittman pays attention to larger events such as the EH101’s first transatlantic flight in 1999, which he recounts started in Aberdeen, taking in Iceland and Greenland in the process.

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Undoubtedly however, the showstopper of the piece — so to speak — is the 814 NAS Merlin being deployed for service during the 2012 London Olympics. In all its majesty, the picture and accompanying story of the type stand out, having been called into service to conduct maritime security operations during the sporting extravaganza.

By virtue of the Royal Navy consistently relying on its Merlin HM1 and highly capable upgraded HM2, it’s little wonder that the service entry chapter is dominated by developments concerning both aircraft. The message from Pittman is clear – the Merlin’s impact on British maritime security operations is indelible and it’s no surprise when he writes that it will ‘continue to provide the Royal Navy with a truly world-class platform for the next 20 years, up to and beyond it’s notional out of service date of 2029.’

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Beyond a British focus, there’s a lively exploration of the Merlin’s exemplary SAR record in Portugal, beginning with a nod to the vast areas of water which the country’s air force are tasked with covering. This context, and an admission that the Portugal Air Force push the Merlin to the very limit of its range capability, is central to the Portuguese story as a whole – but that’s only part of it. The other part tells of the lives saved by the helicopter.

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In all, the Merlin has most certainly left its mark on the aviation industry and equally this book is sure to leave a fond impression on its readers.

  • The Merlin EH (AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available from Amberley Books

 

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 42

Partnerships made and lost 

The Royal Navy’s Type 31 light frigate competition has moved to the next round as key players in the UK’s shipbuilding and design sector have begun picking partners for the maritime dance-off. Cammell Laird has partnered with BAE Systems to build its modified Omani Khareef-corvette design while other competitors for the Type 31 include Babcock and BMT.

However it’s not all plain sailing for the UK Ministry of Defence with a number of high level resignations and retirements in the last few months as the search for wide reaching cost savings takes its toll.

In particular, the battle against excessive profit margins and unnecessary charging by companies awarded with non-competitive defence contracts suffered a significant setback with the resignation of Marcine Waterman from the SSRO.

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How to solve a problem like UAVs

Following the collision between a UAV and a commercial aircraft, battle lines for a future conflict between the Canadian government and drone manufacturer DJI appear to have been drawn. So far the incident has led to the introduction of interim safety measures on drone flights while the debate surrounding the regulation of drones intensifies.

Meanwhile the Royal Aeronautical Society’s UAS conference in London was dominated by similar discussions on the need for effective regulation of the civil unmanned industry and the role legislators and industry should be playing.

Neil Thompson also waded into the debate as he asked if the UK has done enough to prevent the use of drones by terrorist and criminal organisations in surveillance and IED attacks. In particular he highlighted the increasing incidents of UAVs being used to convey contraband into prisons.

Drone

‘The line between disorder and order lies in logistics’

Sun Tzu knew the value of logistics but it seems that the Canadian Navy has been late arriving at the same conclusion after being left without an at-sea supply ship following the retirement of the HMCS Protector in 2015 and HMCS Preserver in 2016. To fill this gap the newly launched Resolve-class naval support ship built by Davie Shipbuilding will be leased by the navy for at least the next five years.

Meanwhile in South Korea the largest US overseas base is nearing completion. Camp Humphreys is now 85% complete and represents the largest re-stationing project in US military history. The camp, expected to be completed in 2020, is located 65km south of Seoul, a safe distance from North Korean artillery.

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In Central America, Panama has ordered its second Twin Otter 400 twin engine light transport aircraft from Viking Air. The new aircraft, expected to be delivered to the Panamanian Naval Air Service (SENAN) in December this year, will be used to support SENAN’s humanitarian aid missions.

Finally, Patria has invested in life-cycle support services in Estonia through the acquisition of a majority share in Milrem, the country’s largest maintenance contractor. The move is part of Patria’s efforts to expand both its life cycle support services and its presence in northern European defence sectors.

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Civil helicopters take the lead in deliveries

Tim Martin, Shephard’s new rotary reporter has hit the ground running, covering a plethora of civil helicopter deliveries this week. Starting it off is Milestone Aviation Group’s delivery of an AW139, the fifth model leased by the company to Heligo this year.

Leonardo announced the sale of a pair of AW139s to Starspeed, a UK-based charter operator, while MD Helicopters delivered a new MD 600N to private aviation specialist Sapura Aero. The MD 600N had been configured with an upgraded FAA certified glass cockpit and supports three configurations for personnel transport, EMS and air ambulance.

In the defence helicopter world the Brazilian Navy is ready to arm its S-70B Sea Hawk aircraft following new weapons capability tests with the Mk46 Mod 5 torpedo. The use of the weapons on the Sea Hawk is one of the final steps in the navy’s programme to enhance its avionics systems from its predecessor the SH-3 Sea King.

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And this week Wendell Minnick and Gordon Arthur are in Seoul for ADEX 2017. You can find all the latest news from the show online

 

UK MoD orders 20 more carriers

It so transpires that the UK MoD has awarded a contract for 20 additional flattops ahead of a 31 January delivery next year.

While this might get the navgeeks running for their phones this time around the vessels supplied won’t be 280m, 70,000t behemoths. The decision instead is for smaller scale models destined for apparent distribution among key Foreign Office sites.

A contract award statement confirmed the purchase of 20 Queen Elizabeth carrier models ‘for presentation to British embassies’. The start of the build programme began on 10 August, which leaves a little more than five months to construct the fleet.

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A model of a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street (Photo: Creative Commons)

Questions as yet unanswered include how the embassies might receive one of these prestigious models and what criteria any bid process is based on. Is it a raffle, a global game of rock-paper-scissors, or something more grown up?

The winner of the £30,000 programme of work, Wales-based David Fawcett, will see its workshop running to the maritime industrial drumbeat for the next few months in a bid to meet its deadline.

Information available on the company website state that it is ‘committed to providing the very best service’ and work with the latest technologies, including ‘3D CAD software and CNC machines, 3D printing machines and computer-generated photo etching’.

Quill has reached out to the model-maker for comment, although at the time of publishing none had been forthcoming.

A clause in the contract award did state that ‘the contractor shall not and shall ensure that any employee or subcontractor shall not communicate with representatives of the press, television, radio or other media on any matter concerning the contract’.

We might be waiting a while then.

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The new carriers will be strategically placed for maximum global impact (Photo: IMPS image library)

The Royal Navy’s new carrier – is it a waste of space?

 

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Beyond the hyperbole and hysteria that will greet the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth, it’s worth bringing up its use as a platform and what has been sacrificed elsewhere in order to achieve this milestone.

Pushing around 70,000t at full load with a full complement of crew and aircraft, the carrier is without question the largest naval vessel ever to serve in the UK Royal Navy and a benchmark for the country’s return to maritime power.

Or not?

The two carriers, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, have topped the £6 billion mark to build and will soak up hundreds of naval service personnel from a hugely diminished pool. Capital ships being decommissioned are being cannibalised of their own crews to make up the numbers, while destroyers and frigates take it in turns to become alongside training ships on account of manpower shortages, equipment removals and engineering failures.

Capable as they are, only six T45 ADDs have entered service, down from 12 planned. These vessels have not been without their own controversies.

The 13 Type 23 frigates will be kept on beyond planned working lives because of delays to the Type 26 programme. Eight T26 will enter service, and be augmented by a yet-to-be designed and barely conceptual T31(e).

There has been no proper response from the UK MoD to Sir John Parker’s National Shipbuilding Strategy report.

Harpoon missiles fitted to the T23s and T45s will be retired next year leaving a national navy, that purports to be a blue water service, without ship-based ASuW capability. The scenes recently showing the Brazilian Navy dispatching the former HMS Brazen in a sinkex with a range of kinetic systems will be beyond replication by the RN from 2018.

The hard-used Ocean will leave. Albion and Bulwark take it in turns to sit mothballed. The SSN fleet will fall to six hulls as delays impact the planned one-out, one-in replacement of the Trafalgar’s with the Astute’s.

Embarked unmanned capabilities were removed this year from the frigate fleet amid cost crunches, a notion that the RN has done little to deny.

The new River Batch 2 OPVs will have to shoulder more of the maritime policing and low-end participatory duties the navy has to cover.

RFA Diligence, the only forward repair ship able to service RN ships, is unlikely to be replaced. One of the four Bay-class landing ship docks was sold after the 2010 ‘review’.

What has been missed after 2010 is an opportunity to mould the RN for the challenges of the 21st century. Can it create that onion-layer of security that a carrier strike group can work within? Will the carriers have the embarked capability necessary to fulfill their roles?

The navy has fewer hulls. Less amphibious capability. No ship-to-ship missiles. Fewer personnel. Less innovation. All for two big ships.

The carriers will slot into the US Navy’s demands, moving into the gaps created by its own CVN replacement programme and emerging challenges elsewhere. It’s an instrument of policy and bombast that could cause more harm to its service than good.

The service seems stripped of its core. Is it now an unbalanced bobblehead of an organisation standing on some pretty unsteady ground?

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