Sunday, August 7, 2011

A big load of news

Targets for the Royal Navy – Training for asymmetric threat such as suicide boats attacks is more and more important these days, and the Royal Navy has taken a step in ensuring its ships are ready for all events. ASV Ltd. has recently been awarded a contract by the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) for the Provision of Remote Controlled Naval Surface Target Systems and Associated Capabilities. Under this contract the company will supply, operate, store and maintain a range of remotely operated craft from 3.5-13m in length.

A military-civilian flying role for Leuchars even as Army Base? – Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is to ask the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to examine the possibility of having Leuchars’s runways (expensively updated in the last few years) available for civilian use — which would provide a welcome boost to the local economy — in the wake of the decision to end the Fife town's century-old link with the RAF.

"It is crucial that the airfield is kept in use so that it can be used as an embarkation point for military personnel involved in future operations — and beyond — that there must be scope to investigate securing commercial flights from Leuchars to make the most of the facilities there.
"There is no reason why military and civilian flights could not both use Leuchars, which would be a huge boost to the economy of the area."

It is not the first time the possibility of commercial airline flights from Leuchars has been raised. In 2002 a feasibility study by the MoD indicated that potential exploitation of spare capacity at RAF Leuchars might include greater use of the base by civilian and commercial aircraft. Ryanair looked at flying in and out of Leuchars several years ago and even approached the MoD about the prospect.
However, Project Pioneer was put on hold the following year because RAF Strike Command wanted to keep its "options open" as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq escalated.

Asked about the possibility of commercial flights, the MOD said that the large number of troops — possibly as many as 1300 — scheduled to be based in Leuchars means there might not be "sufficient capacity."

"A large volume airline would have a very substantial impact on local infrastructure such as the road network. The funding of any improvements to the road network might be difficult to achieve."

The majority of military deployments in the UK take place from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, although Leuchars, Edinburgh and Prestwick airports have been used for Scottish troops in the past.

Mr Salmond believes using Leuchars for that purpose would allow aviation skills and jobs to be retained in Fife and make use of the base's runway, which has been the subject of millions of pounds of investment in recent years. The MOD is actively considering retaining the Leuchars runways and facilities as an Embarkation Point for troops, but at this stage it is unclear whether Leuchars could also welcome civilian flying. Apart from security problems which would have to be studied and mitigated, the base might not be suitable for the large passenger numbers that would be required for the arrival of a budget airline once the army base was functional.

We will see what eventually comes out of it.

F35 test fleet temporarily grounded following electrical failure - All 20 U.S. F-35 Lightning IIs have been grounded following a failure of the aircraft's integrated power package (IPP). the IPP - which combines the functions performed by an auxiliary power unit, emergency power system and environmental controls - the crew shut down the aircraft as per standard operating procedures, according to a press release by the JSF program office.

Government and contractor teams are reviewing the incident to find out what caused the IPP to fail. The program office suspended flight operations as "the prudent action to take at this time until the F-35 engineering, technical and system safety teams fully understand the cause of the incident," according to the statement.

This is the second time the F-35 has been grounded this year due to electrical problems. In March, the F-35 fleet was briefly grounded after the same aircraft experienced a dual generator failure that was traced to faulty maintenance procedures.

The Navy's F-35C was also grounded for six days in June due to a software problem with the wing-fold mechanism that might have caused the flight control surfaces to freeze in flight. The aircraft returned to flight June 23.

It is not uncommon during tests and development to incur in such problems, and the fleet should be back flying soon. Hopefully this will have no impact on the test programme schedule.

Libya war developments - On August 1, as planned, Norway withdrew its small but efficient contingent of F16s from the Libyan operation, after carrying out 583 missions, out of a total of 6,493 flown by NATO since March 31, but especially after dropping a very impressive 569 weapons, almost one for each sortie flown, and one of the very highest figures in the whole coalition.

On June 10, the center-left government, split over Norway's prolonged participation in the bombing, announced it would gradually withdraw its six F-16 fighter jets stationed at the Souda base on the Greek island of Crete. The government explained that its small air force could not sustain a large air contribution for a long period of time.

Only eight of NATO's 28 member states have flown bombing missions since the alliance took command of the operation on March 31: Norway, Britain, France, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and the United States.

Even more worrisome, the French navy will withdraw its aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle from Libyan seas on Aug. 10 for maintenance, though France will keep participating in airstrikes against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces using fighter jets that will take off from Sicily.

The Charles De Gaulle, which hosts six Rafale fighter jets and nine other aircraft, will head to her home harbor of Toulon on the French Mediterranean coast for regular maintenance, a French Defense Ministry official said Thursday. The maintenance will take place in the port over "several weeks," he added.

The French air force will take over the job using six other Rafale jets which have been moved forwards at the Sigonella air base in Sicily, meaning France's military contribution the North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign in Libya will continue. The French military carries out about 25% of the coalition's sorties in Libya and about 30% of the air strikes.

The Charles De Gaulle has been sailing off the Libyan coast since March 20, together with other French vessels and a helicopter carrier. Prior to her mission off the North African coast, the ship had patrolled the Indian Ocean off Eastern Africa as part of antipiracy surveillance and its Rafales had flown missions into Afghanistan. Between both missions, the ship moored in Toulon for about a month, a brief break in almost 18 months of constant operations.

What the newspapers do not tell is that the absence of Charles De Gaulle will mean a further decrease in responsiveness of the NATO force, and even longer gaps of time in which the rebels will be on the ground on their own, without air support available, and exposed to Gaddafi’s counterattacks.

The NATO coverage of the Libyan air space is, as I’ve said several times, an umbrella riddled with holes. NATO is flying an average of 100 sorties a day, of which only 60-65 are of attack planes. This is sufficient to ensure 4 “orbits” each lasting 3 to 4 hours (thanks to some 3 Air-to-Air refuellings per sortie!), which means that NATO has attack planes for a relative time of 16 hours out of 24. Gaddafi’s forces have been well known for launching counterattacks against the rebels during the “gaps”, only to hide in heavily urbanized areas when the NATO starts to arrive. With Charles de Gaulle out of the area and with the planes all being based further away from their targets, the rhythm of operations and the coverage will shrink even further. It also appears that the “9 other planes” carried by CdG, are not being replaced. This means also the loss of the Hawkeyes (probably 3) that the carrier has, further eroding the NATO’s already lacking ISTAR and RECCE capacity over Libya.

Indeed, the RAF AWACS and Sentinel (and the Nimrod R1 until it was there) are the diamond tip of the ISTAR/RECCE effort, with the rest essentially coming from the US, which despite their formal “absence from ops” are still flying 100% of the Electronic War missions and a very high share of RECCE and Air Refuelling sorties. They also have made drones available: details have not been disclosed, but Libya shot down a Fire Scout UAV of the US Navy. A number of Predators of the USAF fly out from Sigonella air base, Sicily, providing two constant RECCE orbits (each with a drone in the area at all times): one over Tripoli and one over Misrata. It appears that a Global Hawk is also present on Sigonella, but as I said, details have definitely not been disclosed. The RAF, partially to replace the lost capability of the Nimrod R1 now decommissioned, has sent 4 more Tornados to Gioia, along with one RAPTOR pod. As awesome as the RAPTOR is, an occasional RECCE trip will not mean a dramatic change in the rhythm and efficiency of ops.    

Meanwhile, an Italian warship, the ‘Bersagliere’ was missed by an unidentified missile launched by Libya towards her, and HMS Liverpool was (again) targeted unsuccessfully by shore-based artillery, which was then “silenced by Apaches taking off from HMS Ocean”.

It doesn’t appear to be going well, does it…?

Meanwhile again, the Parliamentary Defence Committee, announced on its SDSR report that “We support the decision to proceed with both the Queen Elizabeth class carriers and to develop the JSF carrier strike capability” and noted, with Charles de Gaulle no doubt in mind, among with other simple logical considerations, that even if the second CVF is to be eventually mothballed for real, it still must be fitted with catapults and arresting wires, so to be effectively “ready” to go into action rapidly when needed. Needless to say, I fully agree with this, and I’ve been banging about this for a looong time.  [Conclusions and Recommendations, point 24 and 27]

Point 28 of the report also calls for clarity on the management of the gap in Marittime Patrol left by Nimrod retirement, and urges the MOD to find solutions and outline a plan for regeneration of the lost capability.

Together, they make for a good couple of Torpedoes fired in the flank of the SDSR, which is once more exposed in its flaws.

Afghanistan tragedy - Thirty-one U.S. special forces and 7 Afghan commandos accompanying them died in Afghanistan when the Taliban shot down their Chinook helicopter on August 5, officials said Aug. 6, marking the deadliest incident for foreign troops in the decade-long war. The previous biggest death toll saw 16 American soldiers killed in 2005 when a Taliban rocket hit their Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar.

Twenty-five of the dead were U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. television network ABC News reported. The Pentagon declined to comment on the cause or number of deaths.

One man who said he witnessed the Aug. 5 crash, Mohammad Saber, told AFP that the helicopter plummeted during a late-night operation in his village.

"At around 10 p.m. last night, we heard helicopters flying over us," he said.
"We were at home. We saw one of the helicopters land on the roof of a house of a Taliban commander, then shooting started.
"The helicopter later took off but soon after taking off it went down and crashed. There were other helicopters flying as well."

Wardak provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the crash happened in Sayd Abad district during an operation against Taliban insurgents who have been waging war on pro-government forces since being toppled from power in 2001.

"The U.S. chopper that crashed last night was shot down by the Taliban as it was taking off," he said. "A rocket fired by the insurgents hit it and completely destroyed it."
He added that the helicopter had broken into several parts.

This tragedy follows the announcement, just days ago, that another Chinook of the US forces had been brought down by RPG fire, fortunately without serious consequences.

Bad luck? Taliban with GREAT aim?

Where the weapons REALLY RPGs? Hitting an helicopter with an RPG, even in landing and take off phase, is a complex business. The RPG is notoriously inaccurate, and despite having a range of over 900 meters, an hit at 500 is already considered a “Lucky Shot”.

It makes me suspect that the Taliban might have gotten their hands on a number of more sophisticated weapons to employ against NATO helicopters. I obviously hope to be wrong. My thoughts go to the families and friends of the fallen.

My greatest respects also go to the family of Marine James Robert Wright, from Juliet Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines, killed in Afghanistan on 5 August 2011. 

Returning fire swiftly and accurately - After examining emerging technologies to counter the small arms threat, the MOD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory conducted extensive trials with the Infantry Trials and Development Unit and in theatre, and identified Boomerang III as the preferred solution for meeting the requirement of a fire source-locating device. Scientists then made recommendations to industry on how to improve the system and develop it into a capability to save lives on the front line.

Hundreds of the Boomerang systems have been bought under a £20m contract with Essex-based company Maxord Ballistics Limited (MBL), which is the UK distributor for Raytheon BBN Technologies who make the system and they are now already in use in Afghanistan. 

Protection of bases

The Boomerang is a succesfull system already in widespread use with US Forces and other armies, and can be used at FOBs, checkpoints and other fixed locations or mounted on vehicles.

Warthog success: will it give it a long-term role in the Army? - The Warthog is doing its job very well in Afghanistan, with its combination of good protection and high mobility and Infantry Carrying load, which means that it can outmaneuver the Taliban and bring troops and heavy fire to bear on insurgents from unexpected directions.

Some 115 Bronco All Terrain Vehicles were acquired for 150 millions from Singapore's ST Kinetics, and turned into the Warthog vehicle with additional armor and british-mandated radios, electronics and other kit. The last one has been handed to the British Army very recently.

The success of the Warthog in Afghanistan will be enough to give the vehicle a future post-2015 inside the Core Budget and programme of the Army…? Perhaps the September Equipment Procurement report will give us some info about this and other kit pieces.  

1 comment:

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