Today was one of those rare days in which good news pop up. In detail:
39 RAF Squadron will be home next year
So far, RAF MQ-9 Reaper drones have been operated by RAF personnel deployed on Creech US Air Base, Nevada. The drones are fully RAF-owned, but the operations have been done from the main american Predator/Reaper base from 2007, when the squadron was reformed.
Next year, UK drone operations will be re-based on RAF Waddington, the base of the other ISTAR assets such as Sentinel R1, Nimrod R1, Shadow R1 and Sentry.
The MQ-9 Reaper (R1, unsurprisingly, in RAF name) fleet currently numbers 4 drones, and five more are on order, along with 4 ground control stations, with delivery to soon begin and stretch into next year. And here we get to the second good news:
XIII RAF Squadron will reform next year on RAF Waddington as second Reaper R1 formation.
The XIII Squadron has a proud, long heritage. It currently flies Tornado GR4 from RAF Marham, but it is one of the two squadrons (the other being 14° Sqn from RAF Lossiemouth) that, following the SDSR cuts, will be disbanded this June.
At least it won't be long before XIII is reborn!
Meanwhile, Apache AH1 Attack helicopters have completed their qualification for work on HMS Ocean.
Currently deployed onboard HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's largest warship, 656 Squadron from 4 Regiment AAC have spent the past few weeks conducting intensive training that will allow them to operate effectively by day and by night. It is not the first time that Army Apaches go to sea: 656 Squadron embarked on HMS Ark Royal previously, with up to 3 Apaches, 5 crews and 120 groundcrew to train and adapt to the life at sea.
Today, from HMS Ocean, off Gibraltar, the Apaches have reached a major milestone by accomplishing with full success the first ever live-fire exercise at sea.
In total, 550 30mm rounds and nine radar-guided Hellfire missiles were fired, achieving a 100 per cent strike rate. This was the first time that Hellfire has been launched in the maritime environment.Major Mike Neville, who commands 656 Squadron onboard HMS Ocean, said:
"Today we proved that Apache can operate effectively from a Royal Navy ship, transporting munitions from the ship's magazine, aircraft upload, launch, firing and then recovering to HMS Ocean.Commander Jol Woodard, the Commanding Officer of HMS Ocean's Air Group, said:
"Today's achievement is a landmark in the integration of the Apache into the maritime domain and is also a very important step in the development of the UK's amphibious capability.656 Squadron and HMS Ocean are part of the Response Force Task Group deployed on Cougar 11, which is a long-planned series of exercises in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The exercise was notoriously anticipated by a good two weeks in answer to Libya crisis, and the 40 Commando battlegroup on HMS Albion and the other ships of the Task Group will now be ready to intervene if the needs arise, during the next six months of deployment.
"I have been delighted with the way in which 656 Squadron and their support elements have integrated into the Air Group as a whole and the success of this whole-ship evolution demonstrates just how potent a truly joint Air Group can be."
Another good news is that the Meteor BVRAAM missile is now close to production start, and has already been met with great interest on the markets.
Following the completion of remaining air and ground trials activity, DE&S expects the Meteor to receive its certificate of design next year, clearing the way for production activities to deliver "a single missile design that will be applicable to every platform and environment".
Integration on the F35 also seems closer and closer, which is a great news. Even more so because MBDA might finance a speedy integration herself aiming to export orders, relieving the RAF from the pressure of finding money to fund a requirement for it. MBDA continues to lobby to also have the design integrated as a core weapon for the Lockheed Martin F-35. Which would be fantastic news for RN and RAF.
Late last year MBDA showed a revised weapon configuration that would allow four Meteors to be carried internally by the US stealth fighter: the modification was a slight redesign to the fins to make them smaller. Jane's Missiles & Rockets earlier this year quoted MBDA UK managing director Steve Wadey as saying that the company was in discussions linked to the Meteor with six potential F-35 customers. One is practically certainly the UK. One might even be the US Navy aviation: interest reportedly exists for the Meteor as a "Phoenix replacement". The powerful, long range Phoenix missile was in fact lost along with its launcher aircraft, the Tomcat, and the navy would like something longer-legged and more performant than the AMRAAM.
In service date for the missile in the RAF is 2015.
And again: a genial submersible "bubble" has been developed to allow mainteinance work on submarines such as Astute without the need to dry-dock them, potentially saving millions of pounds in the submarine's service life.
The piece of kit, known as a cofferdam, that will allow some vital parts of Astute-class submarines to be repaired or refitted below the waterline without having to dry dock the boat.
A cofferdam is an enclosure built to allow water to be pumped out to create a dry work environment.
The ingenious kit was designed by the yard team, co-operating with the Ministry of Defence and contracted to be built in Barrow.
In future they will be supplied as ancillary equipment for the maintenance of the subs in their surface lives.
BAE said: “The four cofferdams have been designed and manufactured by Submarine Solutions to allow access to a variety of external and areas of the submarine that would traditionally have demanded that the submarine be dry docked.”
They were proven in Barrow and Scotland with first of class HMS Astute and are already providing vital support at HM Naval Base, Faslane, the home of the Astute class boats.
They have been designed so that they can also be transported round the world by land, sea and air. They could for example be used by RFA Diligence to support submarines directly out at sea, far away from the UK.
BAE said: “This will enable the MOD to undertake major underwater repairs and maintenance when the submarine is deployed, without incurring the hundreds of thousands of pounds it now costs to dry dock a nuclear submarine.”
In recognition, the Astute support team won an award from BAE bosses for getting the government, and ultimately the taxpayer, a better deal.
Last, but not least... well. It is not properly a "good news", perhaps... but i just can't avoid to put it up:
"Let's play it the old way! 4-5, Fire!"
Whilst engaged on surveillance operations off the Libyan coast, the Type 42 destroyer was tasked, along with two other NATO warships, to intercept small, high-speed inflatable craft spotted approaching the port of Misurata; similar boats have previously been used by the regime to attempt to mine the harbour.
A Libyan artillery battery on the coast fired an inaccurate salvo of rockets at HMS Liverpool whereupon she immediately returned fire with her 4.5-inch (11.5cm) gun, silencing the shore-based aggressors. As a result of the prompt action by HMS Liverpool and her fellow NATO vessels, Colonel Gaddafi's boats were forced to abandon their operation.
Naval gunfire is always an awesome show. Even if it does not come from a big battleship.
That would be an ENDLESS amount of awesome.