Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20; News

US Congress approves the 2012 budget for Defense

The budget includes authorization and funding for the F35 LRIP Batch 6, which will buy 18 F35A, 7 F35C and 6 F35B. The bill removed a single F35A from the planned figure (- 151 USD million) and allocated 100 millions to additional development and test activity to troubleshoot the problems with the plane.
The bill is important for the UK as it includes authorization for the US Marines to swap an F35C for the BK3, the third of the 3 test F35B being built for the UK. It is so confirmed that the UK will get a first F35C as part of the test fleet.

Despite fears of massive cuts, the Budget is full of good news, overall, including the restoring of the 30 years shipbuilidng plan, funding for the JLTV (Hummer replacement), a 255 million order for 42 additional Abrams M1A2 tanks (the factory risked being closed if orders were not placed). Of course, there were adjustements, included halving (from over 800 to around 400 millions) the budget for in-year activities on the Ground Combat Vehicle.

Of course, the real battle is Budget 2013, but the fight is already on, and the Pentagon enjoys far greater support in Congress than the MOD in the UK's parliament.

End of the Japan dream

As i've been saying all along, Europe could not hope to beat the US in a tender for the Japanese armed forces. Japan announded that they will procure 42 F35As to replace their old F4s, as they regard the stealthness and long fighting range of the type essential for their needs of self-defence in the asian theatre. The Typhoon was considered the most likely alternative, with the Boeing F18 Super Hornet international as third runner. The first F35 for Japan will be delivered in 2016, LM promised. This is before the expected IOC of the type, and in the middle of development for the F35: Japan is taking a real risk here, and in fact the decision to go JSF was reportedly controversial and far from accepted by everyone.
They also wanted two engines, but they sacrificed that requirement when it became clear that the F22 was a real no-no.
The last F22 has been recently delivered to the USAF, and production is over. In service, the type continues to struggle with low availability, unresolved problems of connectivity and electronics obsolescence that will require massive investment and, even worse, serious and not yet clear issues with the onboard oxygen system, that has caused the loss of one plane and one pilot, grounded the whole fleet for a while, and caused a limitation in the flying envelope and altitude that the fighter is allowed to reach. The cause of the problem is still unclear.

End of the Oman dream too?

Oman announced a 600 million dollarsorder for 12 F16, 10 single-seat and 2 twin-seat trainers. Literally weeks before, BAE had announced to stakeholders that an order from Oman for the Typhoon is (was?) expected in early 2012. It is the same order that the MOD has been expecting like a blessing from the sky ever since 2008, when it was booked in as a 500 million pounds revenue, well before the contract was actually signed.
Oman negotiated the acquisition of 24 Typhoons, but ever since August there's been suggestions that Oman would buy both F16s and Typhoons.
A Typhoon deal should still come in the first quarter of 2012, but it will likely be for just 12 fighters.

Despite export win, still lots of problems to solve for the F35

There are pretty serious issues with the whole family, reported in a damning report come out recently. The most worrisome developments are the worse than expected latency troubles with the advanced Helmet Mounted Display, which is currently incapable to show full night vision, has symbology problems, and a much longer latency time than expected. Night flying at the moment is done with NVG googles, and development will continue using an alternative HMD, from BAE system, which has been contracted to supply a modified Striker system. The Striker is well known in the RAF, being the HMD used on the Typhoon.
The F35 HMD is however far more important, and expected to give 360° view and targeting capability to the pilot, day and night, even across the fuselage. Its succesful development is fundamental, but at the moment problems remain.

There are issues with the coating of the rear control surfaces, which will have to be modified, since after the F35 reached its max speed of Mach 1.6 with afterburner, its rear surfaces's paint bubbled, cooked, and fell off. The planes have since been limited to Mach 1, with afterburner to be used for no more than 2 minutes in a row.

Again, the under-fuselage fuel dumping valve is a nightmare as the fuel, once released, does not flow away clear of the moving control surfaces, with a risk of it catching fire over the surfaces heated by attrite. The problem is said to be particularly bad on the B variant, which is full of doors, panels and additional moving parts.

There are issues also with the stability of the plane in maneuvers, already with attack angles of just 20°, and these will have to be solved as well. The report also highlights worries about the fact that the current LRIPs planes are being acquired without the tests on airframe life having been completed, with the C variant practically untested at all in this sense.
The F35A, and especially the F35B, have revealed during testing that some components have developed cracks much, much earlier than planned, with some of them already replaced in LRIP5 and other improvements coming along in LRIP6.

The F35C has a problem of its own: it does fine with catapults, having launched many times from steam C13 cats and now from the EMALS as well, but it has issues catching the arresting wire due to an unhappy design of the arresting hook. Of all the embarked planes of the US Navy, besides, including even the X47B drone, the F35C is the plane that has, by far, the shortest distance between the undercarriage wheels and the arresting hook, at just over 7 feet. This makes it hard to land properly on the deck and catch the wires, and is of course a major issue that needs a solution. The report notes that, in the case that modyfing the arresting hook proves not enough, a quite major redesign will be necessary, to move back as far as possible the hook.

The report goes so far to suggest that production of the F35 should be suspended and be subject to demonstration that all problems are solved. In a way, this makes perfect sense, but in another, it would be disasterous, further slowing down development and troubleshooting, and pushing up the aircraft cost.

The Pentagon, in fact, seems to have no intention at all to follow the suggestion: LRIP6 has been contracted, and the Budget 2012 contains authorization to proceed with definition of all the next planned lots of production.

Updates on the ACA website, progresses on Queen Elizabeth

The Aircraft Carrier Alliance website has been updated, removing (finally!) all STOVL-related images and adding with new photos and videos, showing the sponsons being added with the help of the Goliath crane onto the already massive LB03 superblock. Of particular relevance is however a new video showing the next steps in the building of HMS Queen Elizabeth, complete with expected dates of the various phases.


    - 10 February 2012: the last sponson on LB03 should go in place 
    - 22 June 2012 LB03 is undocked to move in the LB02 and LB01 blocks that will compose the bow 
    - 09 November 2012 the first gas turbine is installed 
    - 05 March 2013 first island installed
    Assembly will be complete by 30 October 2013, and probably soon after that the ship will exit the dock, and parts of HMS Prince of Wales will start coming in. QE will probably face a further 2 years of fitting out, prior to contractor sea trials in 2015 and delivery to the Navy for service trials in 2016. 
    The Build Updates of November is also good to get an idea of all the latest progress. 
    The 8000 tons of LB03 enter the assembly dock, No1, in Rosyth, in September
    SP04 is lifted up to be added onto LB03. The super block already has been fitted with the four units composing CB03: the roof of the hangar and the galley deck. CB03a to CB03d were built at A&P Tyne and delivered 5 weeks ahead of schedule. 
    The 2 recent images above show, from different points of view, the evident progress made since LB03 arrived. Now the hangar is enclosed and covered, and the sponsons are going in place, giving the carrier its full flight-deck width of 74 meters.
Next to reach Rosyth will be the LB05 block (aft area of the vessel) and LB02 super block, a 6000 tonnes monster making up the front of the vessel. The bulbous bow (LB01) is already stored in Rosyth. 
LB02 and LB01 will be put into dock and assembled together from June or July 2012, after LB03, completed, will be temporarily pulled out of dock to allow them to enter. 
The video quoted above will explain the complex process better than any word, and the map of the many "LBs" involved is available here. An indispensable map if you want to know exactly what is going on! 

Future Fast Landing Craft and Force Protection Craft

The Royal Marines are hard at work to trial the prototypes of what should become, sometime in the future, the LCU MK11 and Force Protection Craft, MK6. The testing of the PACSCAT is complete, with the craft handling all its task magnificently, including delivery on the beach of the huge, heavy Hippo BARV and Challenger II MBT. With a Chally on board, the PACSCAT registered a speed of 19 knots, more than twice the maximum speed of the LCU MK10. Empty, the PACSCAT went close to 40 knots. It also delivered with no problems a load of 5 Viking vehicles. Alternatively, it can carry 4 HX60 4x4 trucks.

For the Force Protection Craft, which will also partially replace the LCVP MK5, the requirement is for some 12 units, with deliveries from 2016. Currently, the RM are testing borrowed CB90 combat boats from Sweden, which have already been deployed from current LCVP MK5 davits, proving the concept valid. The CB90s were given to the RM by their swedish counterparts, which have received a few Offshore Raiding Crafts from the UK in exchange.

Cross order possible? It would make everyone happy, i suspect. Navy News announced a reportage into the CB90 testing for their January's edition, so keep your eyes open, it should make for very interesting reading!

Trident II Life Extension Programme

2011 has been an important year for Trident, with many contracts placed by the US. The UK collaborates to the expense and work. The Trident LEP aims to keep the missile in service until at least 2042, and involves, mainly, a 1.2 billion dollars contract of the Pentagon with Lochkeed Martin. The programme will replace a number of components on the missiles, from rocket motors to the MK6 guidance system, which is being replaced by the MK6 LE. 108 new missiles are to be produced to replace the oldest ones and keep up the level of the stock.
Northrop Grumman is also involved in contracts for maintenance and future proofing, and BAE has received a 58.3 million dollars contract for integration work for the Trident Strategic Weapon System into the Advanced Missile Launcher, part of the Common Missile Compartment being jointly developed for the US and UK replacement SSBNs. The contract also includes mention of integration work of the Ohio SSGN combat system, which seems to confirm that the CMC will come with the possibility of fitting the new launch tubes with large, multiple-rounds Tomahawk canisters. The US will probably be able to afford using part of its SSBNs as SSGN while keeping up a constant at sea deterrence. The UK, with 3 or maximum 4 boats, is reportedly considering using the future SSBNs as a dual-role “SSGBN”, so to speak, maintaining CASD while covering conventional roles as well, mainly as SSN(T), by carrying large numbers of TLAM missiles. 
Renouncing to CASD policy is also a possibility being studied in the Trident value for money review, along with adoption of a cruise missile-based system.  

France efforts into satellites continues, ESA and EDA collaborate

Faithful to White Paper 2008, France continues to invest in satellites. The latest programme, ELISA, aims to deploy a constellation of 4 SIGINT/ESM satellites for signals intelligence. 

In the meanwhile, the European State Agency and the European Defence Agency have announced a collaborative project for the testing of Unmanned Air Systems flying under satellite control in nonsegregate airspace.  

Still waiting for announcements

700 top-brass, officers of high rank, could be part of the next round ofredundancies, it has been announced. But it has also been suggested, in a far more painful report, that the MOD Police could be literally halved, with up to 1500 jobs to be lost.
In the meanwhile, the Territorial Army could change name for the first time since its creation in 1908, reflecting the expansion in roles expected for the reserves.

Effectively, however, it appears that Halmond will keep us waiting for 2012 before any announcement comes out. To the Parliamentary Defence Committee, he said that he expects to make the announcemens before the clock is pushed forwards. That should mean before 25 march 2012 then, or at least within the 1st quarter. 

40 million pounds for Future Combat Air System research

The MOD is investing 40 million pounds in a four years research and development activity targeted at shaping the future UAVs and UCAVs. It is to inform the MOD's unmanned air system strategy over the coming decades to ensure that the best use is made of these new technologies, and keep the aerospace industry of the UK in motion. 
It is not clear what the research will try to demonstrate, but the Taranis stealth UCAV, a demonstrative, Hawk-sized drone unveiled last year will probably be part of the programme, and finally make its first flight, which was expected this year, originally. 

The programme will be important to help shape the requirements and doctrine for the incoming Telemos drone, to be developed jointly with France, and for a first UCAV, which the two countries hope to put in service by 2030.

A 3 million bill for putting women on submarines  

The expense will cover modifications to the boats (first of all, the SSBNs of the Vanguard class) to have separate accommodation for female personnel, plus an emergency air supply system for any female crewmember found to be pregnant on the submarines, whose voyages last for months.
Answering questions in the Commons, Mr Hammond said the first female officers will begin serving on Vanguard class SSBNs from late 2013 and then joined by women ratings in 2015. From around 2016, female personnel will serve on the SSNs of the Astute class as well.

Blackmailing the UK on the Falklands

After Brazil denied its ports to HMS Clyde and to RN ships bound for the Falklands, now Uruguay also adds its voice, closing its ports to all ships flagged in the Falklands islands. The UK has immediately asked for explanations, and Spain is also concerned, since most ships beating the Falklands's flag are actually owned by iberian companies.
The position of Uruguay is that the “Malvinas are the last example of colonization in South America”, so they decided to follow the suggestion, agreed on at the UNASUR conference, to close the ports to ships flagged in the Falklands. 

It is of course bad news for the Falkland Islands fishing companies, but they note, not without reason, that the move could hurt Uruguay more than it hurts the Falklands. It also appears that the vessels of the Falklands could still sail in if sporting the british merchant navy red insign.

In the meanwhile, Rockhopper has determined that the Sea Lion oil field is bigger than expected (and it is already the second time that the amount of recoverable oil proves greater than expected) and found oil at another two drilling sites. Gas was also found. 
Sea Lion is now prospected at 430 million barrels. 
There are still concerns about the cost of drilling oil and gas out of the area, but if the finds continue, the Falklands reserves will prove more and more attractive.  


  1. You say, Gabriele, that the PACSCAT handled “all its tasks magnificently, including delivery on the beach of the huge, heavy Hippo BARV and Challenger II MBT.”

    The January 2012 issue of “Navy News” says that it did put heavy kit ashore successfully (in a vessel three times faster than existing boats) but that, and this seems very important, the trials demonstrated the limitations of the concept and it will need further design work before being considered as an operational landing craft. Just teething problems or something more?

    Moreover, the CB90, although impressing everyone in so many respects, did not prove particularly effective in tests armed with a heavy machine gun. Apparently the results were inconclusive and further live firing trials will take place. This is perhaps not so impressive, as one of the requirements for “A Force Protection Craft” is that it should be “capable of interdicting and neutralising threats.”

  2. I don't know what problems might have emerged with the PACSCAT concept: since it met its range and payload requirements, at least for what is understood, it might be that it did not meet its other promise, of enabling beaching with a gradient of even 1:120, which is perhaps the most important promise, as that would open many, many more beaches to assault. Anyway, PACSCAT is a prototype and not necessarily the final configuration of the Fast Landing Craft, nor is the only design offered, even if it is the only one solid prototype for now. I guess problems are not so much of a surprise, but they should also not be insurmontable.

    As to CB90, for what i've read most of the firing trials have yet to happen, including with an RWS, and it'll be until the end of next year before the testing campaign is over, so it's early to worry.
    Again, CB90 is being used to test the concept of the new craft and write the requirements for the new boat, so i wouldn't worry for now.

    My worry is more about budget disappearing in Planning ROunds already overstretched. That is the only real risk i fear.

  3. Many thanks for the reply, Gabriele.

    Yes, I think you make the important point about PACSCAT: i.e. that it is "a prototype and not necessarily the final configuration of the Fast Landing Craft, nor is the only design offered, even if it is the only one solid prototype for now." So maybe it is early days to start beocoming anxious. Your point about the forthcoming planning round(s) is disturbing, though.

    Your points about CB90 are also re-assuring.



  4. Well, it is not a secret: each and every programme is at risk and has to be squeezed literally with blows of hammer into each Planning ROund.
    The Fast Landing Craft and Force Protection Boat are relatively small investments (combined, it's a few tens of millions at most), but still.

    They also probably come low on the list with the Navy having to secure funding for fundamental, even if unglamorous, stuff such as the new, long delayed Fleet Tankers.

    For now, both FLC and FPC are relatively healthy programmes, as most RM's procurement, which is normally quick, modest and pays.

    Remember the Viking?
    Considering what happened in Afghanistan afterwards, those 60 or so million pounds for 108 Vikings for Commando 21 restructuring were probably one of the best investments ever.


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