Tag Archives: SOF

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

The World according to Shephard: Week 46

Dizzying displays in Dubai

If you have struggled to keep pace with the news coming out of Dubai this week then check out Shephard’s full coverage of the air show here.

A commercial kick for UAS

The Zephyr UAS is to enter the commercial market at the end of 2018 as part of Airbus Ariel’s commercial services offering. The platform can be used for large area image gathering as well as a communications relay for companies looking for satellite capabilities but are unable to afford launch costs.

Another long range UAS originally developed for military applications, Insitu’s ScanEagle, has burst into the commercial market after securing a seven figure contract with Shell’s QGC business in Australia. The contract requires Insitu to collect, exploit and deliver data gathered by its ScanEagle during inspections of infrastructure and hardware.

Scan Eagle/Insitsu Frontiers shoot

However for a market experiencing exponential growth the question of how UAVs should be regulated and who is ultimately responsible for the enforcement of laws remains unresolved. At the Commercial UAV Show representatives from small and large companies voiced concerns about the extent of illegal and unregulated activity in the commercial drone industry.

The chiefs speak their minds

Concerns of a very different nature have been voiced by former defence chiefs in the UK as the government begins its latest national security capabilities review. Air Marshal Barry North warned the UK Defence Committee that assumptions made in the 2010 and 2015 SDSRs could leave the country exposed to significant military capability gaps. The ex-chiefs also argued that UK forces are twenty years out of date and are unprepared for modern warfare.


Chinese influence abounds

The Ghana Navy has commissioned into service four Chinese made fast patrol boats that were donated by the Chinese government as part of a $7.5 million grant to equip the Ghana Armed Forces.

Meanwhile Chinese hardware has appeared in Rwanda with new photos revealing that the Army is operating Chinese-made Norinco SH3 122mm self-propelled howitzer. This makes Rwanda the first known foreign users of the SH3 which until now was not known to have been exported.


Norinco will also be delivering the first batch of 34 VN1 IFVs to the Royal Thai Army next year. The VN1 will be Thailand’s second Chinese-sourced APC after the commissioning the Type 85 in1987.

China shows no signs of slowing its search for export markets for its military systems as Chinese companies have pursued extensive research and development to hone their radar and identification, friend and foe systems.


US SOF hungry for new tech

The US Air Force is in search of technology to support future personnel recovery activities against a background of increasingly sophisticated operational environments. The requirements are focused on three major areas: locate/authenticate; support for isolated personnel and execute recovery.

Meanwhile the US DoD Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office is to hold an Advance Planning Briefing for Industry. The expected 500 attendees from government, industry and academia will be provided with a look at anticipated requirements that may be funded in FY19.

U.S. Special Forces Fast Rope On Target


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.


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.


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.


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.


Special Forces honour JFK’s early vision

Representatives of the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), led by Maj Gen Francis Beaudette, 1st SFC (A) commanding general, held the commemorative President John F. Kennedy Wreath Laying Ceremony at the JFK grave site at Arlington National Cemetery on 25 October.

In doing so, they continued a Special Forces tradition of paying tribute to JFK’s vision of building a dedicated counter insurgency force, a vision that helped build the Green Berets into the elite force they have become over the last five decades.

John F. Kennedy Wreath Laying Ceremony

According to records at the JFK Presidential Library, then-President Kennedy visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina and the US Army Special Warfare Center, home of Army Special Forces on 12 October 1961.

During the course of their meeting, the president asked Brig Gen William P. Yarborough, ‘Those are nice. How do you like the Green Beret?’ Yarborough replied, ‘They’re fine, Sir. We’ve wanted them a long time.’

Following a Special Forces capability demonstration, Kennedy sent a message to the general which read, in part, ‘The challenge of this old but new form of operations is a real one and I know that you and the members of your Command will carry on for us and the free world in a manner which is both worthy and inspiring. I am sure that the Green Beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead.’


Soon after, Kennedy authorised the Green Beret as the official headgear for all US Army Special Forces and further showed his support for Special Forces in publishing an official White House Memorandum to the US Army dated 11 April 1962.

This stated in part that ‘the Green Beret is again becoming a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom’.

The wreath laying ceremony continues a Special Forces tradition that honours Kennedy’s prescient vision.

Written by Scott Gourley, North American Group Editor for Shephard Media.

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.


Special forces get wet ‘n wild

If being a highly-trained Special Operations Forces (SOF) operator wasn’t cool enough, up to 20 personnel from Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command are to be let loose on powerful jet skis in the San Diego Bay.

On 7 July the NSW Command announced it was searching for a vendor to provide up to 20 of its Basic Training Command staff a five day jet ski course near its San Diego Bay base.

JET SKIS in the Service of Army Special Forces 2 - c

Photo: Hellenic Army General Staff

Incorporating jet ski capabilities into the SOF repertoire is understandable as their high speeds, acceleration and manoeuvrability make the jet ski a viable platform for amphibious operations or operations at sea.

According to the request, the NSW staff will undergo training tailored towards the capabilities of the powerful Kawasaki Ultra 300X Jet Ski, which boasts 1,498cc, 300 horsepower and speeds of up to 100kmh.


The five day programme includes initial training by day within the bay with later progression to open water ocean training at night.

Also covered will be various day and night rescue procedures and safety procedures regarding near shore hazards and ‘non organic seafaring traffic’.

There are significant limitations to the use of jet skis by SOF such as their inability to cope with high waves, wind and swell. A further issue that could hinder their regular deployment could be the noise level produced by powerful engines.

JET SKIS in the Service of Army Special Forces -c

Photo: Hellenic Army General Staff

Other forces known to utilise jet skis include the Greek Special Forces who have incorporated the platform into their SOF capabilities for the planning and execution of amphibious special operations since 2011. According to the Greek Army, teams on jet skis have the ability to rapidly disperse to different areas and later re-assemble using GPS.

So, as NSW trainees tear it up around San Diego Bay, they can be confident of the fact this is essential, operationally-relevant training.


SOCOM seeks new technologies

Few events on the defence exhibition calendar provide as much direct engagement with the user community than the SOF Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa every May.

As well as giving industry the invaluable opportunity of getting their kit directly into the hands of SOF operators, SOFIC provides a unique insight into those capabilities currently required by USSOCOM.

While yours truly was unable to attend the event due to the small matter of my wife giving birth (baby boy, chunky 9.5lbs, parents thrilled), Shephard Media was there in force interviewing key members of the command and representatives from industry.

As SOCOM Commander Gen Raymond A. Thomas III explains in our focus piece in the latest issue of Special Operations Forum magazine, the command at 30 remains an ‘unmatched capability to conduct counter-terrorism operations with our partners and execute a select set of niche missions in support of the joint force’.

Nevertheless, Thomas has cautioned that the command’s current expertise and equipment set is not necessarily tailored to compete with near-peer competitors.

Indeed, he argued that peer competitors were exploring ‘leap-ahead approaches’ that threatened to exceed the pace of the Pentagon’s own capability development, while less-capable foes were exploiting commercial technologies and new TTPs to gain an advantage.

Recently, Daesh insurgents in Iraq were able to literally fly under the radar of the Coalition’s air superiority with swarms of $2000 quadcopters, including at least one that had a ‘40mm weapons device’ attached to it.

While the problem was quickly overcome on that occasion, SOF operators will need access to effective counter-UAS technologies beyond simply small arms fire.

Elsewhere, SOCOM is investigating a range of new technologies to be able to operate in the potential denied battlefields of the future. Focus areas include submersibles, terrain following/avoidance and all-weather radar, advanced electronic attack capabilities, countermeasures and precision munitions.

Western SOF forces can no longer rely on the current generation of night vision technologies to provide a tactical advantage, given the advances and availability of Chinese and Russian equipment.

A recent solicitation revealed the command is considering upgrades in the area of optics, lasers, sensors and radar technology capable of enhancing ground-to-ground and air-to-ground targeting.

Consideration is being given to man-portable equipment as well as long-range enemy identification based on laser vibrometry technology.

SOCOM is seeking a next-generation capability in regards to fragmentation weapons as well as future technologies in the area of personal protective equipment, including ballistic body armour, combat helmets and eye protection.

Specifically, SOCOM is looking for lighter weight solutions with improved protection levels – the command is seeking protection against small arms ammunition up to 7.62x51mm in calibre with a ballistic insert plate measuring no more than a single inch in thickness.

As well as continuing to refine both tactics and technological developments to enhance its manhunting and network defeat capabilities, SOCOM is investigating ‘machine learning‘ to shift through vast amounts of ISR data.

The command has also published requirements for next-generation human performance technology, designed to improve physiological, physical, psychological and intellectual performance.

As our online coverage of SOFIC demonstrated, SOCOM’s leadership and industry are largely in unison about the areas needing investment in order to maintain technological superiority – but equally aware on the challenges ahead.

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