Saturday, July 30, 2011

News of the Forces

Type 45 to replace the Type 22 COMINT capability

A reason why HMS Cumberland proved so precious outside Libya was the fact that Type 22 were fitted with extensive COMmunications INTelligence kit and had great Signal Intelligence capability. It is understood that there were strong calls for keeping at least two of the Type 22s in service longer due also and particularly to this fact. At one point, a further delay in HMS Cumberland’s decommissioning appeared likely. However, financial reasons won, as with the Nimrod R1, and after a period of service, both platforms were retired.

A replacement, luckily, appears to be on the way. Think Defence spotted a very interesting bit of news, which he timely reported: the UK is procuring SSEE increment F as a Cryptologic Electronic Warfare Support Measure (CESM) replacement program for the Cooperative Outboard Logistics Update (COBLU) fitted on Type 22 Frigates, to use it as the future maritime CESM system fitted on the Type 45 Destroyers. It is expected the UK will be able to fully absorb and utilize the Communications Intelligence (COMINT) system and capability. The systems are being acquired via Foreign Military Sale process from the US.

The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) has requested the sale of seven Ship’s Signal Exploitation Equipment (SSEE) Increment F, seven Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Modules (SAASM) GPS Receivers, and seven System Signal and Direction Finding Stimulator packages, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment up to 2018, support equipment, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, logistics, and technical support services, testing, publications and technical documentation, Fleet Information Operation Center upgrades, installation, life cycle support, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $90 million, and the seventh system is likely to be destined to training ashore. The prime contractor will be Argon ST in Fairfax, Virginia.

The system comes under a joint US/UK project called COBLU or Cooperative Outboard Logistics Update which was to replace the existing AN/SSQ-108 based OUTBOARD system. A welcome bit of cooperation that, as with the Rivet Joint that will replace Nimrod R1, will bring greater capability and obvious benefits to the forces.

FRES Scout prototype progress

Reading the news, I found the General Dynamics announcement that the first test version of the reconnaissance variant, Scout, has begun to take shape with the successful joining of the Experimental Demonstration Unit (EDU) turret to a “mule” base platform at the first attempt. The first successful combining of turret and base unit last week further proves the vehicle design, the systems integration between the two sections and the team work between prime contractor General Dynamics UK and turret design authority Lockheed Martin UK.

The FRES SV Scout prototype is taking shape
The “Mule” base unit, known as PT3, is based on a mature ASCOD vehicle already in service with the Austrian Army. (This means that we are talking of a Ulan chassis, with the Spanish variant of ASCOD being known as Pizarro) The 1.7 metre race ring, specifically designed by General Dynamics UK for FRES Scout and for the possible integration of different turrets in future FRES variants, was integrated onto the vehicle by General Dynamics European Land Systems at its Simmering facility in Austria. The vehicle was then transported to General Dynamics UK’s Pershore facility in Worcestershire, UK, to undergo a series of tests and prepare it to accept the EDU turret. It was then transferred to Lockheed Martin UK’s facility in Ampthill, Bedfordshire last week for the integration of the turret.

In parallel, the first EDU turret was being built at Rheinmetall Landsysteme in Gersthofen, Germany. Rheinmetall Landsysteme designs, develops and manufactures the Scout SV Turret Structure for turret design authority Lockheed Martin UK. Following a successful first build of the turret, the mandated CT40 Cased Telescoped Cannon System was integrated into it and fired for the first time in May, five months ahead of schedule. It was also subsequently transported to Ampthill where it has been undergoing extensive testing and preparation for integration with the PT3 mule base unit. The EDU is a 2-men manned Rheinmetall Lance turret. The Lance turret, in its unmanned variant, equips the Puma IFV of the German army. More than once I’ve expressed my doubts about ASCOD/FRES SV being “british to its bootstraps” as GD claims, so I won’t return on the question, by so far we have a Spanish/Austrian hull, german engine, german transmission, anglo-french gun, german turret and American turret drive system. Judge by yourself.

Anyway, this progress is still a good news that I welcome, and I look forwards to seeing further progress, to finally understand just what will the Scout be capable to do. The Scout does not appear to be any shorter than a normal ASCOD in IFV variant (notoriously, the BAE CV90 rival bidder had built a prototype with a CV90 IFV hull shortened and with one roadwheel less than the baseline vehicle), which begs the question of what will be done with the large space in the back of the vehicle. Will FRES Scout carry infantry for dismounted recce role?

I’ve also read suggestions that the hideously expensive (500 million pounds for 7 prototypes!) contract for FRES SV development might actually include funding for armor research and development. I have absolutely no evidence backing this claim up, but I can only say that I hope this is how things are. 500 millions for 7 prototypes REALLY is foolish otherwise.

HMS Queen Elizabeth starts to take serious shape

The enormous LB03 hull block has been revealed to the public yesterday. At 66ft (20m) high and 207ft (63m) long, the section was slowly moved out of a hall at the BAE Systems shipyard in Govan, Glasgow to be loaded onto one of the two biggest seagoing barges in the world on Sunday. The move, overseen by a team of 10, took just over one hour, as 64 remote controlled transporters carefully moved the 8000 tons carrier section 200 metres across the specially reinforced tarmac.  

The huge LB03 shows well the huge overture of the hangar lift in the flank, and it also gives a clear view of the width of the hangar, which will have a very high roof (one whole deck taller) once the top modules are fitted. A Galley deck will stand between the hangar and the flight deck. 
The next 16 August the block will start a 600 miles travel around the north of Scotland to reach Rosyth, where it will meet the LB01 block (the bow of the ship) which is already there. The carrier will be assembled in the No2 Dock at Rosyth. Marking the occasion, over 50 cyclists will leave the Govan yard on the same day to take on a gruelling 500 mile cycle around the north of Scotland in an attempt to ‘beat the block’ to its final destination and raise money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.

Approximately 350 Govan-based employees will follow the block to Rosyth where they will work in partnership with employees at Babcock to complete the assembly phase of this section of the ship. Meanwhile, at Govan, construction of Lower Block 04, the largest and most complex section of hull, is progressing and production on the second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, started last May. 

Video from BBC here

A long way has been walked since 2009 when the first steel cutting, but a lot of road remains to cover. 
A great article of The Sun includes photos of one of the crew cabins showing the furniture and also provides an interesting image of a weapon depot, with some of the rails of the semi-automated ammunition moving system visible on the floor. 

Are the Americans copying PECOC…?

The new Personal Clothing System and Pelvic Protection Kit developed as part of PECOC are just entering service (they will be fully operational for the next Herrick deployment next October, more detail in the Army page of this blog), but work progresses to improve the Load Carrying system that will replace the current one, and work also continues to improve the Osprey armor and the MK7 helmet. Some time ago now, the PECOC team released images of a new helmet prototype, which caused quite some debate online, and quite a lot of criticism. The image, which probably many of you will remember since it was just august last year, was this: 

Now, look at this Revision Eyewear prototype of helmet that the US Army has just financed: 

Revision has been contracted in a development work that will continue in the next 3 years with a 1.990.340 USD budget for drawing up the next-generation head protection system of the US Army. The new system is intended to provide impact protection improvements over current helmets, and come with integrated electronics and power. It will also be modular, allowing soldiers to tailor their protection level to the needs of the moment.

“The current situation is that head-borne protection and functional capabilities have not been designed as an integrated platform using Soldier-centric design principles. This has prevented the optimization of weight, balance and sub-component integration” noted Don Lee, Project Engineer, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. He went on to say, “This development contract supporting the Helmet Electronics and Display System – Upgradeable Army Technology Objective is expected to develop integrated headgear system technologies to include upgraded ballistic and impact protection, integrated CBRN mask, full face protection, and integrated heads-up display and sensor inputs for actionable information to Soldiers and Marines. We anticipate the final outcome will be tools and technologies that will allow the U.S. Army and USMC to field well-balanced, optimized headgear systems that will provide improved head protection, allow for increased situational awareness, and increased mission performance allowing our Soldiers and Marines to be the decisive edge on the battlefield.”

The new helmet design will integrate or be compatible with a trauma liner, communication system, heads-up display, CBRN mask and enhanced night vision goggles. The fully integrated and fully modular system will also feature a visor and mandible guard option designed to provide better blunt force, blast and ballistic protection than a helmet shell alone.

Less is known about the UK helmet, which is, as the images show, shockingly similar. For sure, it incorporated a mandible guard and an active ear-protection system capable to attenuate automatically loud noises such as explosions to protect hearing while enabling the passage of voice messages. It also had a mounted torch and a not better identified device for improving night vision (perhaps an IR torch…?).
The criticism had mostly been caused by the mouth guard, and I did not really know how to judge such a kit piece… but now, the Americans seem to be walking down the same route, and it reassures me. If it was so bad an idea, surely they wouldn’t even think about it, wouldn’t they…? To be fair, it is worth noting that, at least at the moment, it appears that the mouth guard would be one of the optional extras for top-cover sentries and for soldiers serving in other particularly exposed areas/roles.


  1. Hi Gabriele,

    I was very interested to read your article on the Itailian "FRES".
    I am a fan of wheeled armoured vehicles, I would much prefer one infantry battalion to be wheeled rather than tracked in the multi role brigade. The other 3 being motorized. The Wariors going to the cavalry, to form an armoured cavalry Regiment, of 3 warrior sqn's and 2 Challanger sqn's. I think making the Brigade much more mobile.
    As the UK seems to be going ahead with FRES, do you think it will just go to armoured recce regiments, or will the infantry get it to replace old AFV's?


  2. Glad you liked the article on the Freccia. I will soon post an article on the "Soldato Futuro" as well, the italian equivalent of FIST, to provide a view of what the Soldier Modernization process is like here in Italy. I think it can have an interest for making comparisons... and interestingly, BAE and Italian industry actually jointly offered several of the Soldato Futuro kitpieces for FIST in 2008, namely weapon sights. Thales beat them at that contract, but nonetheless it is interesting.

    I think that FRES SV will limit itself to quite specialized roles. It was never intended to go "to the infantry", and i highly doubt it is now.
    Priority one is replacing the Scimitar, and it makes sense to replace it with a tracked vehicle.
    Priority two is replacement of Spartan APCs, which are used in RECCE, Tank regiments and Engineer regiments and formations such as these. That's what FRES Protected Mobility is for.

    Sultan replacement should be by FRES Command Post, Samaritan might also bow out and be replaced by a FRES Ambulance.

    The bridgelayer variant could come on Warrior chassis, instead: to save money and make good use of some of the Warriors that do not get the upgrade, the Army has been trialing special variants of it, including bridgelayer, at least since last year.

    For the infantry, the idea was indeed to go wheeled by FRES UV.
    But FRES UV is currently thought likely victim of equipment procurement restructuring, as there's no money.

    Mastiff, Ridgback and Warthog might be used instead, post 2015, for the Mechanized infantry.
    A battalion of armored infantry on Warrior will remain, though, and it is correct. The italian army is retaining its Dardo tracked IFVs and the infantry with it as well.
    They complement each other.

  3. Thanks Gabriele,

    As always, you very informed.

    I understand they are already 5 Recce Regt's, 5 Challanger Regt's, 5 Artillery Regt's, Ready for the 5 Multi role brigades. I assume they are at least 5 Warrior Battalions? I also assume that each brigade will have an engineer Regt.
    {In fact, making it a mini division).
    Will the artillery have light guns and AS90?
    What will happen to the remaining warriors?
    Even if 6 battalions of infantry are cut, about 4000 soldiers, that still leaves 14,000 left to cut. As the artillery (I know 1 RA unit is to go),and armoured units seem safe, where are the remaining 14,000 cuts coming from?


  4. Yes, there are 5 AS90 regiments, which i expect will assume a 3-batteries of 6 guns structure, a Type 18 as seen in Germany, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

    The L118 is used by a PARA and Commando regiment and by 3 TA Regiments, but the AS90 crews are trained on the L118 as well and can deploy (indeed, they do) with the Light Gun.

    And yes, there will be the whole tail of engineers, Royal Logistics Corps and all the rest to each MRB, to make it self-contained and deployable.

    Warrior battalions are 9 at the moment, i think, and some will be most likely part of the 4/6 battalions that get the chop. On the other hand, there are currently only three Mechanized Infantry battalions, expected to rise to 5. They use the Bulldog vehicle, at least nominally.

    Some of the Warriors that aren't upgraded might be used for special roles conversions. The others probably will be cannibalized and scrapped, as it is unlikely there will be a buyer for them, and for what i understand there's no money/will to put them into Controlled Humidity Storage for a future possible rain-day.

    And well, cuts will come also from, between other sources:

    - 19 Light Brigade disbandment: it means HQ personnel potentially going, a Signal Sqn going, a Royal Engineers regiment also going.

    - Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is to be made static. It used to be a deployable divisional HQ, so lots of personnel, good numbers of which will go. There's also some 3 Signals regiment tied to ARRC, which will likely be downsized or even closed or amalgamated.

    -One of the current two Deployable Divisions is to become "deployable with augmentation", which really means that the HQ will be downsized massively and made static.

    And so along.
    Cuts are also expected in gurkhas numbers.

    I'm going to write soon an article in which i try giving a bit of an overview of the future structure, anyway.

  5. Gabriele, I'm currently working for Madeline Moon MP, a member of the UK Defence Select Committee, is there any chance that I could be given a private email address for yourself?

    Kind Regards

  6. Thanks again Gabriele.

    Wouldn't it make more sense to use the surplus warriors to replace those old Bulldogs?

    I look forward to your article on the the future structure.


  7. "Gabriele, I'm currently working for Madeline Moon MP, a member of the UK Defence Select Committee, is there any chance that I could be given a private email address for yourself?"

    Sure, you can mail me at

    "Wouldn't it make more sense to use the surplus warriors to replace those old Bulldogs?"

    That would make it Armored Infantry, and not cheaper, mechanized infantry, though! It would make sense in a way, but not in the other.

    I'll soon get into the Future Force Structure ramblings, and i hope it'll be interesting.

  8. Hi Gabriele,

    I have done some further thinking about the re structure, the multi role brigade, and the number of infantry battalions.

    As we have said.
    5 Multi role brigades, 4 battalions in each. 20 battalions.
    3 Cdo Brigade, 4 battalions.
    16 Air Assault Brigade, 4 battalions.
    2 Battalions on Public duties
    2 Battalions in Cyprus.
    Total 32 (Not counting the Gibraltar battalion, or the Ghurkha battalion in Brunei)

    A cut of 6 infantry battalions. However, there is no reason why the 2 battalions on public duties could not be part of the Multi role brigade structure. (As all 5 brigades would never be deployed). It’s also the policy of Dr Fox to bring back to the UK as many unit’s a possible. Post 2015, one or both of the battalions in Cyprus could go. So I think, 10 battalions are at risk!

    But, looking at things in a more positive way.
    Maybe the two remaining Parachute battalions could join 1 Para, and form a Joint service special operations Regiment. (an idea that as been floated before).Being replaced by two infantry battalions in 16 Air Assault Brigade? (Maybe becoming, 16 Air mobile brigade, a more realistic title in my opinion!)
    More unlikely, RM Commando battalion being moved from Scotland, could go to Cyprus. Maybe another regular infantry battalion will join 3 Cdo Brigade to replace it?
    I think the first is much more likely than the second, and maybe one battalion would remain in Cyprus.
    That would be a cut of 7 battalions.

    There’s going to be a lot of moving around over the next few years. It seems that Dr Fox want’s most of the Scottish units in Scotland. The two brigades from Germany returning to the UK. The forming of the 5 Multi role brigades. I can see the generals at there desks moving there map pins around already!


  9. I think the Battalion in Cyprus will remain.
    Its situation is a lot different compared to that of troops in Germany, and it has far more operational sense, especially as long as the Middle East and Africa remain the "most likely" crisis theater for the UK.

    But yeah, of course the two regiments that alternate in the Public Role could be, at the same time, part of operational brigades. However, we should not go overboard with cuts! 6 Battalions are likely to go, but i don't think - and never would want - to see more than 7 being cut, as that would really leave no space of maneuver.

    Cutting back parachute training and number of PARA posts was a proposal made, but rejected by the massive uproar that followed.
    A pity because, really, there's no way in hell that the UK will parachute all those soldiers anywhere.
    I see it already unlikely that 1 PARA (the only unit that i'll keep PARA trained due to the Special Forces support role) would ever parachute in numbers again, and certainly there wouldn't be battalions launching, also because the UK kind of has not enough planes for such a scenario to start with...!

    I would indeed scale down the PARA brigade, to 4 battalions, and change it a bit. I'll cover it in my famous, promised Force Structure post. Essentially, i'd have 2 Infantry Battalions, 2 PARA battalions (2° and 3°) with 1° PARA assigned permanently to Special Ops.
    I would have a "Warthog Group" providing air-mobile armor and recce for the brigade and of course retain the L118 gun regiment for support.

    And it also makes a lot of operational sense to concentrate the brigades together, so moving 45 Commando south to join the rest of 3rd Commando is a good thing.

  10. Hi Gabriele,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you on the parachute issue. As I understand, even special forces prefer to go in by helicopter now.
    Moving 2 and 3 PARA to join 1 PARA, to form a special operations regiment would save two regular infantry battalions. giving 16 Air Mobile brigade, 4 infantry battalions.
    Making the cut to the infantry 5 instead of 7 battalions. That would also solve the parachute problem. Plenty of parachutes, no planes, and no chance of them ever being dropped into action!
    I also agree on moving 45 Cdo south.
    Making 3 and 16 Brigades similar makes sense to me.
    But I am sure Dr Fox has a few more surprise's for us yet!
    I am very much looking forward to your force structure post.

    PS. I like you email address, if I went down that route my one would be Panther.VA.Mid!


  11. Hi Gabriele,

    I have just finished updating my furture force Army 2020.
    Would it be OK to email it to you?


  12. Sure, why not...? I will read it when i've time. Send it over. You already know my mail address, right...?

  13. The Cmdo surveillance role could also be used in more domestic issues too. The old foes are still around! So 'silent marking' skills to id the mischievous culprits would be of great service..


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