Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eye Opening

I suggest to anyone interested in the fate of Britain, of the Armed Forces, and keen on the country finally choosing what place it wants to have in the world, and how to obtain it, to read the reports from the Parliamentary Defence Committee hearings.

They are true eye-openers, particularly those involving ex Defence Chiefs and ex serving high officers, as being "ex" they can express what they think with sincerity. It truly is an eye-opener, and i see in these reports a continuity: current and past Defence Chiefs and Officers of all three services, and experts called in, all have been drawing the same picture, without hesitations.

A picture that Dave Cameron hopelessly tries to hide.

It truly is worth reading this and previous Hearings Reports

Today the last hearing took place, and it involved Nick Harvey being forced to admit that the 2015 funding increase is only an aspiration, not a commitment. And this is only what was picked up by the press: i'm sure that, once the report is published, there will be much more juice dripping from it.

These reports are a must-read.

News of the Day

Waiting for the DSEI show in September, which will see the land-segment launcher truck of the CAMM missile and undoubtedly many other interesting things, the current "big thing" on the schedule is Paris Air show going on in these days.
Several news have come out so far worth of mention:

Watchkeeper - The first Watchkeeper will go live in Afghanistan in December, with further ones starting service along 2012, with the lease for the current Hermes 450 drones finally ending as the definitive system comes online, even if at least 10 months later than planned.

Not for the first time, there's also news of a real interest in arming the Watchkeeper to give the Army not just a "spotter" but a sniper at the same time. The most likely weapon to be fitted is LMM: small, low collateral damage, not powerful enough to make the RAF bitch about the army getting its own fixed wing attack platfrom (because, with all respect, they would), no recoil, little weight. All good things, since the Watchkeeper isn't too much of an heavy lifter.

The article from Defense News contains a confusing: "The British Army recently became the launch customer for the missile in a land-based role."
As far as i'm aware, the contract for 1000 missiles is for the Navy Wildcat helicopters as solution for Future Attack Surface Guided Weapon (Light) and not for the Army Lynx, which are apparently expected (at least at the beginning) to use only door-mounted M3M machine guns, despite having excellent capability to carry and use rockets, gunpods and missiles.
The suggestion in this article is the first one about the Army using the missile as well. If it is true, it is more than welcome, to say the least: i've been arguing for armed Army Wildcats for a long time, and since the Stores Management System of the helicopter is the same in both variants, once the missile is integrated, both users can (and should) make the best possible use of the missile.  

Telemos UAV - The collaborative BAE/Dassault MALE UAV is "present" at the show in the form of a BAE Mantis mock-up, and while the structure of the drone will be indeed very similar, the mock-up is likely to give just an idea of the effective drone that will emerge from development.

France defence minister's has announced that the UK and France will now take from 12 to 18 months to define a list of requirements to pursue (and to avoid the hopeless mission of fitting new expenses in already stretched budgets...!). This will disappoint industry, which hoped for a quick order within year's end, in order to be ready to deliver the drone in 2015/16. It is highly unlikely that the collaborative UAV will be operative earlier than 2018, the date indicated by the UK in SDSR.
It is quite a long stretch of time, and the Telemos will have to incorporate some good technology and at least a bit of innovation to hope in a share of export orders by then.
One also has to hope that the UK and France, both having/planning CATOBAR aicraft carriers, will issue a requirement for carrier compatibility for Telemos: it will push the price up, but still be cheaper than design and acquire, once more, a dedicated "Land" and later a "Sea" fleet of assets.
Look at the success of the ship-compatible Apache AH1: that is the way to go.

The Reapers of the RAF are officially expected to retire in 2015, being still considered an Afghanistan UOR, but the RAF is already planning a "Reaper extension", which will probably bring them into the core budget at least until the new MALE UAV comes online as replacement. 

Scalp Navale - June 8 saw the first submarine test launch, and all went accord to plans.
The naval cruise missile, a derivate of the Scalp/Storm Shadow air-launched weapon from MBDA, will arm the FREMM multimission frigate from 2014 and Barracuda nuclear attack submarine from 2017.
The DGA signed a 2006 contract with MBDA in 2006 for 200 naval cruise missiles, 150 for the FREMM, 50 for the submarine. Initially, 250 had been planned for purchase. The contract value was 910 million euro, a shocking 810 million pounds, or 4 million pounds per missile.

Scalp Navale for Type 26? No thanks!!! TLAM all the way, thank you very much.

Brimstone Dual Mode is the hero of the day - its great performances are making it attractive to France, US, India and many others, and a 9 Squadron RAF Tornado crew at the show told the audience of their positive experience with the missile in recently flown missions in Libya.

They also provided some more clarity about the Libya missions: four Tornados from 9 squadron flew their first Libyan missions from Marham on March 19, each armed with two ASRAAMs and two Storm Shadows.
“All eight Storm Shadows were released, resulting in eight direct hits,” said Tornado pilot flight lieutenant James Cooke.
The flights were also the first RAF combat missions for the ASRAMMs, though none was fired.
Cooke said missions had run to 7.5 hours, using 30 tons of fuel from three refuelings, making them the longest strike missions flown by the UK since World War II.

Two days later, Tornados moved to Gioia Del Colle Air Base in southern Italy, 90 minutes’ flying time from the Libyan coast.
Export orders for Brimstone would be undoubtedly welcome.

F35 Joint Strike Fighter - The program of test flights proceeds well, but the Helmed Mounted Display is source of concerns (see JCA page on this site, Lockheed Martin is thinking of changing supplier and BAE is a bidder for such a scenario, with a development of the Striker HMD used on the Typhoon) and software development remains the biggest challenge.

The Block III software, needed for full operational capability, might only come out for testing in 2014, and be ready only in 2016. It means that a good proportion of the early deliveries of production F35s, included part of those for the UK if orders start as planned in 2013, will likely come online with Block II software, and need an upgrade soon after.
Then again, Typhoon made us all used to this...

In the meanwhile, Norway has committed to 4 F35A as part of the Test phase, and plans for a fleet of 56 to replace its F16 in future.

AW159 Wildcat - First flight of the Wildcat in an air show, and interesting updates and bits about the MOD plans:

The three trials aircraft which first flew in November 2009, October 2010 and November 2010 have now completed over 250 flying hours of a 600 hour integrated flight test programme. The three aircraft are set to undertake a number of proving trials in the coming months. Later this month aircraft #1 will start hot and high trials in the USA and aircraft #3 will undertake Shipborne Helicopter Operating Limit (SHOL) trials in October 2011. Aircraft #2s flight testing has been focusing on the successful integration of the avionics and mission sensors and recently completed chaff and flare firing trials.

The 76 million pounds training contract signed last March is seeing AgustaWestland preparing the bi-serving training facility on RNAS Yeovilton. The facility will provide training courses for Army aircrew and maintainers starting in January 2013, with training for Royal Navy aircrew and maintainers starting in January 2014. The Lynx Wildcat Training Centre will be equipped to provide air crew and maintainer training using a wide range of synthetic training technology including two Full Mission Simulators (FMS), Flight Training Device (FTD) and Cockpit Procedures Trainer (CPT). All devices will be capable of delivering Army or Royal Navy conversion and mission training. Each of the Full Mission Simulators has six degrees of freedom to provide the acceleration sensations associated with helicopter flying together with a visual system that complies with JAR-FSTD-H Level D, to give highly realistic and cost effective training. The maintenance training facility will be equipped with a suite of synthetic training devices covering the aircrafts mechanical, avionic and weapon systems. The training centre will also contain a suite of briefing rooms, integrated electronic classrooms and a learning management system.

AgustaWestland is also working with the UK MoD to develop an Integrated Operational Support (IOS) solution to provide cost effective through life support for the entire fleet of 62 aircraft. Programme is on time and budget.
The composition of the fleet is not yet clear, save for the fact that the Navy has reactivated the 700 NAS with the W letter for "Wildcat". This OCU/OEU will have 5 helicopters.
It has also been suggested that 847 NAS, the Recce/Attack squadron of the Commandos, will get 6 Army Wildcats.
My gut-feeling is that up to four more are likely to go into 2 AAC Regiment (Training) for Conversion To Role training, with the rest distributed to the current Lynx squadrons: the marked reduction in numbers from AH7 to Wildcat might cause the closure or some squadrons, or the reduction in strength of each from 8 to 6 helos.

The NATO AGS "Eye in the Sky" continues to struggle - It had to include an european answer to the american J-STARS radar plane, based on an Airbus321, but that soon got chopped. It had to provide 8 Global Hawk drones, now at most it will have six, to base on Sigonella Air Base, Sicily, Italy. The Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) is a long-endurance, coalition-owned, unmanned Sentinel R1 fleet, to say it in a very simple way. It has to provide surveillance, detection and tracking of targets, moving and stationary.

Because it normally requires four UAVs to keep a 24-hour watch on a given location, the reduction to six means that the fleet will only be able to keep full-time surveillance on one place. To add to the bad news,
Canada, which is a key partner on the program, is planning on leaving the NATO AWACS and AGS efforts as part of a cost-cutting plan. The loss of Canadian participation might effectively torpedo the entire AGS effort.
Other participating allies are trying to persuade the Canadians to stay. The UK is not directly involved in the AGS, and has its own proprietary fleet of E3D Sentry AWACS, which also contribute to NATO efforts. NATO has been talking to the MOD to try and stop the retirement of the Sentinel R1 touted in the SDSR for 2015/when Afghanistan ends.

Sentinel R1 is a capability unique in Europe, and second only to the US J-STARS fleet. The idea of sacrificing it can only be described as "idiotic". Perhaps NATO allies will have better political success in saving the system from the Treasury's axe.

MBDA Perseus - A concept presented by MBDA and shaped by feedback from RN and French Navy, the Perseus is touted as a multimission missile for future replacement of Harpoon/Exocet/Teseo and others, which offers supersonic performances, much increased range, and land attack capability.

The Perseus concept represents several ideas that MBDA believes will be necessary 20 years hence: a supersonic missile the size of today’s subsonic weapons, as well as facilities for quick planning and execution – nominally 1 minute for planning, 8 minutes for command approval, and 7 minutes for weapons delivery at 300 km range.
The weapon also reflects MBDA’s move toward modularity, making a given missile type configurable for sea or land attack. Modularity also allows a missile’s components — seeker package, propulsion system, etc. — to be upgraded separately, prolonging a system’s lifespan to 25 or 30 years and offering significant savings and efficiencies.

The missile is about five meters long, and weighs 800 kg, quite a lot less than the just-as-long Storm Shadow.

Various attack modes are planned. A high-altitude flight plan with the missile flying at greater than Mach 3; it would use a top-attack mode, with the missile maneuvering, to defeat ship defenses.
Another is a sea-skimming mode with missile flying greater than Mach 2.
The missile can deploy and target two 40 kg effectors with a small warhead. “Spreading the damage is the best solution to mission kill” when attacking ships, MBDA notes.

In addition to the inertially guided, unpowered effectors, which can be ejected seconds before impact, the missile also carries a larger warhead that remains within the missile. The overall lethal package weighs 200 kg. The effectors can also be retained within the missile in certain attack modes.

In future, Perseus could also serve also as a potential Storm Shadow/Scalp cruise missile replacement in the future.
The missile has a multi-mode radio frequency (RF) seeker with an active phased array seeker capable with synthetic aperture radar capability. It also features an augmented laser radar for high-resolution scanning, mainly for land-attack, as well as a semi-active laser seeker. The augmenter laser radar was tested by UK and France since 2006 which project DUMAS, with the aim of shaping the future sensor to use in upgrades to Storm Shadow (planned for around 2025) and for future weapons.
MBDA notes the missile is “super agile” to defeat future air defenses.
Different ramjet-powered motor technologies are still being considered, including a scaled up version of the motor used on the Meteor air-to-air missile.

The technology should be ready in about 10 years for a weapon in 15-20 years. Funding could accelerate the timeframe. The RN has a requirement that can be linked to the Perseus in more than one way: as part of the Novel Air Capability Vision of the MOD, the RN is reportedly pursuing a platform with a strike range of 600 miles, capable to return to the ship after delivering the attack and post-strike damage estimates, and reportedly MBDA has been chosen to work on this system, going under the name of Black Shadow. The missile is said to be derived from elements of the Storm Shadow, but is likely to have much in common with the new Perseus concept.

Indeed, the RN is dreaming a longer-range Perseus which delivers larger, more effective warheads, but does not crash onto the target itself, returning instead to the ship to be refuelled and re-armed. Someone suggested a VTOL is needed for this to be effective, i believe that a splash recovery is more plausible economically speaking.
Planes have landed on the waves for many years, after all. If the Black Shadow could land on the water and be pulled back aboard with a crane, it would be a lot more financially viable than trying to give a cruise missile/drone a VTOL capability.

Whatever happens, the Perseus is undoubtedly very interesting.

HMS Daring gets another piece - Not a Paris Air Show news, but one news that i was expecting from a long time. HMS Daring is to finally get its two Phalanx 1B CIWS turrets.

Babcock has a contract to upgrade 16 of the Phalanx systems of the Navy to 1B standard, which delivers many improvements, included the capacity to engage fast boats and suicide crafs, and adds IR seeking for improved engagement and accuracy. Two updated Phalanx 1B are found on RFA Fort Victoria and two on HMS York. Two more are going on Daring, and the rest are almost certainly going to the 5 remaining Type 45 destroyers.
It is to be hoped that, in future, ships such as CVF and HMS Ocean also get their systems updated. 3 Phalanx turrets have also been removed from Ark Royal as part of her decommissioning. A number of Phalanx turrets in the Navy pool are moved around to be fitted from time to time to ships deploying in dangerous areas: RFA Cardigan Bay normally does not carry Phalanx fit, but she is now sporting two Phalanx CIWSs since they were fitted to give her good protection prior to deployment in the Med as part of Exercise Cougar/operation Ellamy/Yemen rescue effort, the latest being her current whereabout.

The installation on Daring is a First of Class Fit, and as such it is projected to take 8 weeks: 2 for installing the system in Portsmouth and 6 weeks of trials at sea which will also include engagement of a towed aerial target.

A first-of-class fit always involves some challenges, including an unproven ship fit, and working with many installation contractors and ship’s services within extremely challenging completion schedules. This can involve sailing with the ship to complete the set to work process. Future fittings will be far simpler and faster.

Two Lynx on a Type 45. - It is also worth noticing a little known fact: the Type 45 can embark ONE Merlin, or up to TWO Lynx helicopters. HMS Dauntless, now heading for Norfolk, US, for the FRUKUS war games – annual exercises involving the navies of France, Russia, the UK and US (hence the acronym) with the respective nations taking it in turns to host; this year the honour falling to the US Navy - is the first Type 45 doing it, and it is expected that in the wargames this will prove useful and validate concepts. After the FRUKUS, HMS Dauntless is bound for her Hot Weather trials, one of the last steps in validating the Type 45, since soon HMS Daring will be bound for East of Suez deployment. 


Friday, June 17, 2011

Carrier Operations: why a 65.000 tons CVF does carry "just" 36 planes?

Carrier Ops: a look into the CVF capacities, and a comparison with US Navy practice

US Navy carrier ops: 1 - Readying for launch, navigation; 2 - Launch phase; 3 - Landing phase. Note that the movements of aircrafts parked on deck is continuous and very complex. This allows to park (and thus carry) more planes, but it requires more training, more complex procedures, and a much larger crew. The CVF design considers parking space on deck only the areas that can be filled with parked planes without hampering launch and recovery operations. The RN is also traditionally keen on carrying few airplanes exposed on deck, as it is used to the unfriendly Atlantic conditions, which make Hangar storage much safer. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Defence Reviews deliver cuts, wishes of different worlds and words. Combat delivers reality.

Robert Gates, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary, has been one of the harder and most direct Secretaries of all times. He's never had hesitations in delivering clear messages and he's tackled the need for cuts in the US Defence budget pragmatically and with firmness, going so far to put on two-years probation the F35B. He's also delivered some very strong messages, such as the well-known warning than anyone suggesting in the next years to engage in another long ground operation of stabilization and nation-building in the Middle East or Asia could only be judged as crazy.
Now that he's outgoing, he's being even more direct and severe, delivering some very hard messages, mainly targeted at NATO.

It was about time, to say the very least. Quiet and private messages, delivered via diplomatic means and direct meetings, and the warnings delivered in SDSR did not work. They now are being louder.

Gates first warned NATO members about finances in a June 10 speech to a Brussels-based think tank.
"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime [Libya] in a sparsely populated country - yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference."

He is not alone in delivering such warnings and calls. 

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that NATO participation in Libya and Afghanistan could lead certain NATO countries to rethink their strategy of cutting their military budgets in light of the "reality" of combat.

"Countries who recently did their own strategic review, they found themselves getting rid of capabilities that now that they're in a combat environment they're giving second thought to that," Mullen said. "Combat has a way of bringing that kind of reality to them."

Spot on. Who do you think he's thinking of...? 

In the UK, First Sea Lord Mark Stanhope has made it clear that the Libya operation cannot continue to infinity without a serious planning behind it. He's been very firm in warning that the Navy can squeeze ships out for Libya commitments for the next 90 days, but after that, the schedule will start to break apart. Some of the Navy standing tasks will not be met, and according to his declaration, it appears that the Fleet Ready Escort, the one vessel that is kept in UK waters at the ready to deploy at short notice wherever necessary (along with a Lynx Flight from 815 NAS, similarly kept available) will have to be sacrificed and used to plug the gap.

"Beyond that we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities," he said. "There are different ways of doing this. It's not simply about giving up standing commitments. We will have to rebalance."
He said a ship might have to be diverted from "around home waters".

Pull it even longer, and the government will have to decide what standing task they want to gap.
Caribbean is already covered by RFA tankers, so the frigate/destroyer for Libya would have to come from those allocated for the main tasks in the Gulf and off Somalia, or from North Atlantic, or even from South Atlantic.

Math is a cruel mistress. The Navy can't multiply men and ships: HMS Cumberland got a temporary reprieve on her scheduled decommissioning and was the first stopping by Libya, but now all the Type 22 are gone, and so is HMS Gloucester too. HMS Tireless was at sea for 307 days due to the need for her to station off Libya and fire Tomahawks, which stretched her already long deployment to over 10 months, until another SSN could replace her.

Mr. Cameron can call Stanhope to his office and deliver all the "dressing" he wants, but he's only making a fool out of himself. He has denied the defence chiefs' (both current and past, from Army, Navy and RAF alike) point about the UK being "no more a full-spectrum military" (the lack of carrier air and marittime patrol aircrafts being only the two most blatant evidences of that) and now he wants to deny math, logic, and facts too.
General Sir David Richards, chief of the Defence Staff, slapped down the First Sea Lord as well, saying that the UK "can sustain this operation as long as we choose to, absolutely clear on that."  
Which again is food for idiots. The operation can be sustained, but at which levels? The RN had to sail its amphibious task force two weeks earlier than planned, then sacrifice most of Cougar 11 exercise to bring the whole task force outside Libya. Now it has had to detach Cardigan Bay and Fort Victoria to Yemen, along with 80 Marines, 3 Merlin HM1 and (according to reports) 2 Apache soon to arrive to be based on the ships, in order to be ready to evacuate britons from the country, now on the brink of total civil war.

Most of the fleet is at sea, 5 Apaches are bound for Libya, 2 for Yemen, 8 are constantly in Afghanistan, training for the Typhoon fleet is nearly motionless, at least 3 Typhoons have been grounded and cannibalized to keep flying those needed over Libya. How long gracious Richards think it'll be possible to sustain this operational tempo?
When will people admit that Apache is beautiful and awesome, but that it is living a true "at sea" moment because there is no carrier air, and now that carrier air is desperately needed the chopper is used as a surrogate?

We can argue about the opportunity of sharing certain things with the press, throwing evidences like this to the general public, but we can't fool ourselves and think that the service personnel do not know it already. Similarly, the potential enemies of the UK do not need the press to know it either. They know it better than the press ever will, and the UK allies know it as much, as recent declarations from US and French officers have made evident. So this is not a good argument to try and silence defence chiefs.
Talking to the press is indispensable these days, as a mean to try and protect the armed forces from further slaughter. In the past, warnings came exclusively from ex-chiefs and high officers. It still happens, but since ex-chiefs are easily ignored, it is time for the armed forces chiefs in charge to be as blunt and direct as Robert Gates, and more.
Leaked letters such as Liam Fox's ones have been another attempt. But this is no time for such "politically correctness" and quiet tactics. Liam Fox himself must be very, very clear and direct about the real state of things, and call Cameron's bluff.
Liam has got the support of most Tories, and Cameron is not in the condition of going directly against him. I call for Fox to be as cunning and smart as the animal he happens to have the name of as surname, and i invite him to be ferociously clear in his declarations. Because the time to fight for the armed forces corner is now.

Time to stop fooling ourselves. Time to stop waiting and lying and fudging.

Monday, June 6, 2011

5 P8 Poseidons for the UK?

The Nimrod-replacement study was initiated very soon after the Nimrod MRA4 destruction, and not just in the fantasy of the press: in the hearings of last month of defence chiefs with the Parliamentary Defence Committee, there were direct confirmations, by both current and past chiefs of the services, that the MOD is indeed trying to squeeze-in a replacement capability.
According to the rumors and press releases, the ASW wing would be a collaborative effort RAF-FAA, but, for the first time in decades, with the Fleet Air Arm having the dominant position, so much so that the planes will be, reportedly, FAA-marked.
Overall, it makes perfect sense: it is the RN and FAA that go chasing submarines all the time, and it is easier to restart fixed-wing ASW training within the FAA (with experience coming in through RAF Nimrod pilots acting as trainers, probably) than in the RAF, where it would be kind of out of place in the service structure. Last February, reports by Defence Management put the funding for Nimrod replacement at an as-high figure as around 1 billion pounds.
The Nimrod has provided decades of sterling service, and has been one of the most precious NATO assets, in countless cases being the first to spot and picture new URSS ships and planes in its endless patrol missions. It has also delivered on-land intelligence, EEZ surveillance, SAR support, and the Nimrod MRA4 would have been the best hunter in the world, with its almost all-encompassing sensor suite and long range.

Recent reports seem to suggest that Ellamy and other experiences post-Nimrod retirement are keeping the pressure high for a timely replacement to be rolled in: for example, the Royal Navy ships off Libya, such as HMS Liverpool, are currently relaying on the support of P3 Orions from the US forces in Sicily to have early warning about potential Gaddafi attacks, the same has been happening at home in the UK, with the fleet units participating in training exercises having no air support other than allied-supplied one. And in these years of gap coverage, (from when the MR2 were grounded early to today) russian submarine activity has been on the rise (just like their playful "aggressions" with heavy bombers forcing scrambles from Leuchars) and in at least a couple of occasions (those who got out on the press at least) SSNs of the russian navy were detected up north as they came out of Murmansk, then lost in the North Sea, and found in Scottish waters, too dangerously close to home and to the Trident base in Faslane.
This is what the general public knows, and we have to assume that the armed forces are aware of other worrisome problems caused by the gap in capability.

And now it appears that the "study" has made steps forwards: according to reports by the Herald Scotland, the MOD is seriously considering buying five american-built P8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes. (something that i have suggested quite a long time ago, curiously, and that everyone who's read my Royal Navy Future page knows)
The hope (realistic, i believe) is that the P8 Poseidon could offer some sizeable interoperability advantages, and be "cheap" by building on the logistics of the 117-strong US fleet of the plane type. Upgrades and maintenance of the new plane could be done cheaply and timely by inserting the UK planes in the scheduled maintenance plan for the US ones, exactly as will be done with the 3 UK Rivet Joint to be put in service in 2014 as Nimrod R1 replacement under the "Airseeker" programme.

The 3 Rivet Joint will be based on RAF Waddington, and up to 4 RAF crews will be trained for them at the Rivet Joint’s American home in Offut AFB, NE, deploying alongside their USAF colleagues on combined operations worldwide already from summer 2011, maintaining and expanding expertise before the planes come.

It is the maintenance aspect that is the most innovative and interesting, though, as the 3 UK planes will top the 17 US ones, creating a single fleet of 20 planes to be maintained cooperatively under a Memorandum of Understanding lasting 20 years: every 4 years, the planes will also return to prime contractor L3 Communications in Greenville, TX for a complete strip down, refurbishment, and system upgrade. What’s even more ground-breaking is Britain’s joint participation in platform improvement, under a continuous capability improvement program that is contracted until 2025, with options to extend work beyond this period. It has been suggested that some of the Nimrod R1 equipment, which was so good to beat american kit, will now be rolled in onto the joint Rivet Joint fleet, as part of this platform improvement.

This is the approach that could and should be followed for the P8 Poseidon, as it has potential to deliver massive savings, and machines always up to top specs.
The 5 Poseidons are almost certainly going to be based in Waddington, (one of the SDSR hypothesis was to close Kinloss but move the Nimrod MRA4 to Waddington, after all). 5 is not a great number, but it is far better than 0, and sufficient to ensure a more than decent round-the-clock coverage.

India has already bought 8 P8 Poseidon for USD 2.1 billions and wants to exercise an option for four more for around another billion. The UK order of five planes could thus be somewhere in the order of 800 million pounds, at today's exchange rate of 0.61 USD for UK Pound.

It would sure close one of the most worrisome gaps left in the defences of the UK by the strategic defence review.
The only question is... was any real saving delivered by cancelling Nimrod MRA4 at the stage it had reached? Acquiring and operating 5 Poseidons will really be cheap and efficient enough not to make of this decision another dumb waste of money (and of that little expertise left in the UK for military fixed wing planes of the ambitious dimensions and performances of the MRA4)?

I have both doubts and hopes. For sure, i believe this is a gap that MUST be closed soon.

The P8 Poseidon and the Nimrod MRA4

The P-8 is a militarized version of the Boeing 737-800 with 737-900-based wings, which are better suited to the very particular job of patroling the sea. Along many modifications (from the wings to the absence of windows, to the anti-ice system on the wings etc) the aircraft also includes six additional body fuel tanks, three in the forward cargo compartment and three in the rear, for extended range. These are manufactured by Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge,UK.
A P8 Poseidon of the US Navy, showing the markings and other details. We might in future see five of these in FAA markings.
The weapons store includes two hard points under each wing (for Sidewinders, Harpoon, SLAM-ER and maybe in future for Storm Shadow, as proposed/expected for Nimrod MRA4), two centerline pylons under the fuselage and five stations in a heated weapons bay for Mk54 torpedoes and mines (Nimrod had 9 stations in the weapons bay). The UK variant will of course use the Stingray and not the Mk54. The aircraft also has at its aft end three pressurised, three rotary and one free-fall launcher for sonobuoys, expendable devices that are dropped into the ocean to radio acoustic information back to operator workstations. The P8 carries 120 of them, against 80 for the P3 and 150(!) for the Nimrod MRA4.

Mission systems include computing and display systems with dual 61cm (24in) screens at five operator stations - two acoustic stations, one non-acoustic station, one tactical co-ordination and one navigation and communications station. The P-8A stations will be completely interchangeable with respect to data. "With the P-8A, an operator can sit at any of the five stations and operate any system," says Sutorius. The P8 will have a nine-person crew (exactly like Nimrod): dual-pilot cockpit, five mission crew plus relief pilot and in-flight technician.
It is fitted with workstations with universal multi-function displays, ready accommodation for additional workstations and some rest space.
The Nimrod MRA4 had seven stations, since the MRA4 had also been fitted with a powerful  Israeli-built ELTA EL/L-8300UK Electronic Support Measure, which was part of the Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) capability that made the MRA4 so multimission and so special. The bi-role plane called for two tactican co-ordinators on board, an ESM station and a "spare" crewmember able to take on communications role, giving 7 consoles and 8 men. Perhaps the ELTA console can be moved on into the P8, using some of the "expansion space" available, and getting some of the capability (and investment) otherwise lost.

A cutaway good to get an idea of the internal look of the plane. There seems to be indeed space for at least two more consoles. Equipment salvaged from Nimrod MRA4 could make it into the british P8.

Sensors fit includes the AN-APY 10 radar (Nimrod MRA4 used the Searchwater 2000MR) and Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS), which is a radar follow-on to the US Navy's Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) operational on the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. Being developed by Raytheon, it is probably the best point of the plane as it is designed to provide targeting-grade tracking of moving targets on land and at sea, and is rumored to have performance standards that match or exceed the USA’s current E-8C JSTARS battlefield surveillance aircraft. Its long profile is probably why Boeing moved the P-8’s weapons bay to the back of the plane in 2003. If the E-8C JSTARS claim is any true, the P8 Poseidon will allow a painless retirement for the ASTOR Sentinel R1, since the new sensor will be even more powerful. The plane is also fitted, like Nimrod, with a magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) sensor from CAE, for the detection of submerged submarines.
Information streams on the P8 include Link 11 and Link 16 tactical datalinks, Inmarsat and the US defence department's SIPRnet as well as data from "organic" sensors including an L-3 Wescam’s MX-20HD long-range electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) surveillance turret on the belly forward of the wing. It is possible that UK planes will be fitted with the EO/IR turrets salvaged from the Nimrod MRA4 airframes, the Northrop Grumman Nighthunter turret, which had to be fitted in a retractable ball-turret under the nose. There might also be a number of L3 Wescam MX-15, since 12 were fitted to the MR2 when they were in service to enhance their SAR/RECCE capability. These turrets are likely to have already found other uses, though, included on Lynx AH9 helicopters used in Stan.
The UK patrol planes will undoubtedly get good part of the ex-Nimrod UK radios fit, which was a really impressive flying communications center, with 5 V/UHF radios with secure communications modes, 2 HF radios and SHF Satcom. Data Links are of course the same throughout NATO, so they are not a problem.

The P-8A is sized to be able to fly 2,220km (1,200nm) outbound, perform on-station for 4h and make the return trip to base. Once on station, the aircraft may have to take measures that would be considered extraordinary by airline standards, requiring changes to certain flight-control and alerting systems.
On the right forward instrument panel is an ASW tactics switch that allows the maximum commanded bank angle to increase to 45° from the usual 28°. It was also necessary to remove the normal alerts that would be issued on the civilian 737 when flying below 1,000ft (305m) with landing gear and flaps stowed! 

Hidden most of the time is an aerial refuelling port at the top of the fuselage just aft of the cockpit. Although not required for the mission profile and different from the US Navy AAR system (the USAF used the port-boom air refuelling, the US Navy uses the NATO system with hose and drogue) the navy decided to take advantage of the refuelling modifications that had been developed for the 737-based Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft programme for the Australian defence forces and kept the port.
For the UK it might be very, very interesting to fit the refueling probes removed from the Nimrod MRA4, if possible, also in consideration of the much shorter legs of the Poseidon compared to Nimrod's, which had a range of over 6000 miles and a 15 hours endurance.

A precious feature of the Poseidon is the training: the US Navy plans to prepare its crews using simulators purchased from Boeing as part of a plan to achieve a three-to-one ratio of simulator-to-live flying for training and mission simulations, meaning that the plane will fly an hour of training mission each 3 hours of simulator training, reversing the norm and significantly reducing costs. The US Navy is to have 11 full-motion cockpit simulators in Jacksonville, Florida, and nine weapons system trainers, each with five operator workstations, to simulate the on-board mission systems.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Delivering Air Power from the sea. Well before 10 years

And so, as expected, the Apaches are now in action over Libya, and their first-ever strike delivered from a "sea base", in this case HMS Ocean, is now a reality.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Apache AH1

The Attack Helicopter requirement

The requirement for a new attack helicopter was identified by the British government in the early 1990s. In 1993, invitations to bid were issued. Bids recieved included the Eurocopter Tiger, a modernised Bell AH-1 SuperCobra, the Boeing AH-64 Apache, the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, and the Agusta A129 Mangusta. Both the Tiger and Cobra variant were derided for requiring development, and thus risk, while the Apache was combat proven. The Apache was selected in July 1995, a contract for 67 helicopters was signed in 1996, with license production to be done by Westland. The first prototype WAH-64D Apache AH1 was produced by Westland, under licence from Boeing, in September 1998. The first 8 series helicopters were then built by Boeing, and the Initial Operational Capability was reached with nine Apache AH Mk1 helicopters on 16 January 2001. The remaining helicopters were all Westland-built, and the 67th and final Apache was handed over to the British Army in July 2004. The cost of the helicopter fleet was around £3.1 billion, with a total aquisition cost of £4.1 billion. Amounts of helicopters of course varied more than once during the story of the programme: from an ambition for 125, which would have seen even the 847 NAS (Commando Helicopter Force’s Scout and Attack squadron) armed with the new helo, to 91 then to 67. In May 2005, the first Apache regiment achieved operational status. In 2006 the Apache was deployed to Afghanistan, and a 8-choppers detachment remains there to this day.

The programme risked being cancelled in 1999 when the US grounded their whole Apache fleet as a precaution after a rear rotor failure, and again when the Longbow radar met development problems. The armored threat of the URSS block had also been becoming less and less probable a future enemy, leading to calls for the scrapping of the attack helicopter. But luckily, the 2001 Strategic Defence Review did confirm the requirement, and also called for Apaches to be able to undertake amphibious attack missions, operating from the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the Invincible class aircraft carriers and their successors, and possibly from the amphibious assault vessels HMS Bulwark and Albion. Each squadron equipped with the Apache was mandated a strength of eight operational aircraft. 

An Apache AH1 approaches HMS Ocean to land on her deck.

Apache AH1: design

The UK’s Apaches, WAH64D Apache AH Mk1 or simply AH1, did thus receive some very substantial changes from their American counterpart. One major difference for the WAH-64 is the folding blade mechanism to stow the helicopters in confined spaces and for operations at sea; the rotor blades also have anti-ice protection to allow operations in arctic environments. Interestingly, the US Army looked at this idea with interest: their focus was less on Ship-capability, and more on ease and rapidity of air transportation of Apache into theatre, but the end result has been the same, since their November 2002 requirement was met with folding blades. The folding blades allows the main rotor to be folded along the aircraft's length without being removed. The solution also provides for storage of the Apache Longbow's radar dome on the aircraft aft of the rotor hub for transport. 

Apache with rotor folded. This gives the Apache roughly the same Deck Footprint of a Folded Merlin helicopter or Sea King. The Apache is slightly longer (17.76 meters vs 16.9) and larger (5.5 against 5.2). The folding rotor speeds up and eases also air transportation within cargo planes such as the C17. 

Theblade fold system also saves space. A single C-5 aircraft can now carry six Apaches, their flight crews, reassembly technicians and their tools. In the past, a second aircraft was needed to haul in special reassembly equipment, and additional personnel, and only 5 Apaches were carried. The blades had to be removed and stored along with the radar apart from the aircraft, taking up space in the cargo airplane and requiring more time to reassemble at the Apaches' destination. Folding blades remove the need for a test flight, necessary after a disassembly/reassemply op, and significantly reduces the logistics load required to deploy.

A C17 can carry 3Apaches, while without folding blades that would be 2.

Another major change is the usage of a pair of Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 01/12 engines, replacing the original General Electric T700-GE-701C engines. The Rolls-Royce engine produces 1,565 kW (2,100 hp) vs 1,410 kW (1,890 hp) for the GE T700C engines, meaning that the UK’s Apache is significantly more powerful (a 19% boost), and better performs in hot and dry conditions. Even the GE T700-701D, planned for the upgrade Apache Block III of the US Army, only reaches 1,490 kW. It is known that US Apaches in Afghanistan have had to dismount their Longbow radars, while UK Apaches do not need this. Even with the RTM322 engines, however, rolling takeoffs are common in Afghanistan’s hot, high-altitude conditions for WAH-64Ds with full fuel and weapons. The Apaches proved invaluable in Afghanistan, and in 2007 it was undisclosed that they were regularly exceeding their planned flight hours by 20-30%. Indeed, this lead to serious availability problems, as insufficient spares and mainteinance started biting. To contrast this, AgustaWestland acquired rights from Boeing and progressively brought Apache mainteinance in-house in the UK. The process has quite recently been completed, and now the UK Apaches are maintained in the UK, while before they had to be sent in the US. Availability has been improving.

The Apache AH1 is fitted with the Longbow radar, very visible and characteristic thanks to its placement above the rotors, which also allows the Apache to hover behind cover scanning for targets, with only the radar unit exposed. The radar, truly ground-breaking at the time of its appearance, can track 256 targets and prioritize up to 16 for immediate engagement in just a few seconds. The Longbow radar over Stan has not been chasing tanks and armored vehicles as it is meant to do, but it still is used for a variety of roles. The Longbows can act as aerial coordinators, using their radars to keep track of other helicopters, jets, and UAVs in their airspace – especially at night. They also sweep large areas of desert terrain, and on at least one occasion the radar’s ability to penetrate dust and other obscurement helped the pilot talk a CH-47 Chinook onto a landing zone, after the Chinook pilot’s night vision goggles had become useless. It is a precious asset, and makes flying in congested air spaces a lot safer and easier. 

There were of course other changes made to the sensor and avionics outfitting the craft as well, among which obviously featured connectivity with the BOWMAN secure communications system to interact with other British military units. The SELEX (formerly BAE Systems Avionics) Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids System (HIDAS) was also fitted. The HIDAS system was retrofitted onto the aircraft in mid-2004 just prior to entering service, along with several redesigned composite bodywork components. An eye-safe training laser was also installed.

The UK Apache uses the same Hellfire missiles of the US ones, but instead of the American Hydra 70 rocket pods, the Westland Apache can carry up to 76 CRV7 rockets. The CVR7 comes with a variety of warheads, and the most controversial is the WDU-500X/B "General Purpose Flechette" for use against personnel, some light armour, think skin vehicles and helicopters which releasing 80 tungsten flechettes that can penetrate 1.5 inches of roll-hardened armor, which some consider a submunitions-weapon, to be banned. This though ignores the fact that the flechettes do not contain explosive, and deliver their effects by means of kinetic energy. The WDU-5002/B FAT warhead, Flechette Anti-Tank, contains five tungsten-reinforced steel flechettes that can penetrate a T-72's side and top armour at a distance of 10,000 feet (3,000 m). Bristol followed this with the 16 lb WDU-50001/B "Anti-Bunkerette" round, a semi-armor piercing high explosive incendiary (SAPHEI/HEISAP) warhead designed specifically for use against reinforced concrete buildings, specifically hardened aircraft shelters. Its heavy steel shell allows the round to penetrate the hangar wall before the 75 g incendiary warhead is ignited. The round can penetrate 13 ft of earth, 3 ft of concrete and 1 inch of steel, in series. An HE, a Smoke and a Flare warheads are also available, plus of course training rounds. In 2006 a laser-guided CVR7 rocket, CVR7-PG, was revealed. 

The fearsome Flechette CVR7 rocket is a deadly multipurpose weapon, blessed by being quite cheap and quite accurate, even without a guidance system. Its speed and kinetic energy tend to naturally keep the weapon on course and reduce dispersion.
The helicopter is armed with a chin-mounted Hughes M230 Chain Gun 30 mm, single-barrel automatic cannon developed by Hughes and now manufactured by Alliant Techsystems. It is an electrically operated chain gun, a weapon that uses external power instead of recoil to load its rounds. It uses a 2 hp electric motor to load 30 mm linkless ammunition at a rate of 625 ± 25 rounds per minute. The gun requires a spool-up time of 0.2 seconds to achieve this rate of fire. The practical rate of fire is about 300 rounds per minute with a ten minute cooling period as the gun is air cooled. The gun has a positive cook-off safety for open bolt clearing, and double ram prevention. Spent casings are ejected overboard through the bottom of the gun. The 30 x 113 mm M789 is typically used in the M230. Each round contains 21.5g of explosive charge sealed in a shaped-charge liner. The liner collapses into an armor-piercing jet of molten metal that is capable of penetrating more than 2 inches of RHA. Additionally, the shell is also designed to fragment upon impact. The lethal radius against unprotected, standing targets is about 10 feet under optimum conditions. The M789 requires about 2 seconds to travel 1,000 m. However, as the shell slows down, it takes over 12 seconds to cover 3,000 m. Effective range is 1500 meters, maximum is 4500. The Apache is capable of carrying up to 1,200 rounds for the gun.

AgustaWestland have since made several upgrades to Britain's Apache fleet. In May 2005, a $212 million contract was awarded to equip all 67 Mk1 helicopters with the Apache Arrowhead sensor system upgrade, to be completed by 2010. It uses second-generation long-wave Forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensors with three fields of view, a CCD TV camera, dual field of view pilotage FLIR, electronic zoom, target tracker and auto-boresight.
In 2009, it was announced that AgustaWestland was also integrating new external fuel tanks with ballistic protection. These are known as Reduced Capacity External Fuel System tanks, from Robertson. These fuel systems are the same size of the non-crashworthy, non-armored self-deployment fuel tanks (4 can be carried at the weapon pylons) but have a reduced capacity because of an internal self-sealing protection, making them suitable for use in war zone. Two are cleared for use on the inwards weapon pylons. With four external, uncrashworthy fuel tanks the Apache AH1 can fly for up to 1900 km in order to self-deploy.

The UK Apaches in Afghanistan also use a Combo Pack IAFS+, also from Robertson, which reduces the ammunition load for the gun from 1200 to 300 rounds, but gives 100 gallons more of fuel, allowing a 45 minutes increase in mission endurance. For self-deployment, the whole ammunition load can be eventually replaced with a larger IAFS+ tank, for 130 gallons.

On 17 May 2011, the Apache tested its Hellfire missiles against sea targets for the first time, in a training exercise off Gibraltar. 4 helicopters from 665 Squadron Army Air Corps, embarked on HMS Ocean, fired 9 missiles with a success rate of 100%, completing 665 Squadron’s qualification for full ship ops. Days later, HMS Ocean was committed to Operation Ellamy, the UN-authorized campaign of air strikes against Libya. 

A wonderful cutaway of the Apache Longbow. The Rolls Royce/Turbomeca engine is shown.

The Apache will stay in service at least until 2030, and probably much longer. One of the future targets of the British Army modernization is the Apache fleet, for which there is desire to join the US programme of upgrade to Block III standard. The Americans signed the contracts in 2006, and deliveries started in 2007: hundreds of Apaches are being upgraded, and the British Army likely wants to try and secure funding to insert its own helicopters as a tail to the US programme. The upgrades mainly involve the avionics, enhance network capability, allow the Apache to work with UAVs (and makes the Apache crew capable to control UAVs in flight, something the RAF experimented with a modified Tornado GR4), replaces the rotor blades with new ones in composites, and improves performances. It also lengthens the life of the fuselage and, for US helicopters, replaces the engines with more powerful ones. The UK would not take this on, though, as the current Rolls Royce turbine still has an advantage even on the latest GE one! Reduced  cost for flying hour and improved maintenance progress, with addition of diagnostic capability, is also planned. It is likely that the upgrade will move the retirement date of Apache AH1 all the way to 2040, if not further away.  

AgustaWestland/Boeing AH64D Apache AH MK1 

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 17.7 m (58 ft 4 in with rotors turning)
  • Rotor diameter: 14.6 m (48 ft)
  • Height: 3.87 m (12 ft 8 in)
  • Disc area: 168.11 m² (1,809.5 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 5,165 kg (11,387 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 8,006 kg (17,650 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 9,525 kg (21,000 lb)
  • Powerplant:Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 turboshaft, 1,566 kW (2,100 hp) each

  • Never exceed speed: 365 km/h (197 knots, 227 mph)
  • Maximum speed: 293 km/h (158 knots, 182 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 259 km/h (140 knots, 161 mph)
  • Range: 475 km (295 miles) – 476 Km indicated for US Apache Longbow. Evidently the RTM322 is not an insatiable drain of fuel despite its greater power.
  • Ferry range: 1,700 km (1,121 mi)
  • Service ceiling: 6,400 m (21,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 12.7 m/s (2,500 ft/min)
  • Guns: M230 Chain Gun, up to 1156 rounds
  • Missiles: Hellfire (and Stinger or Starstreak for AA) – Up to 16 in 4 launchers
  • Rockets: CRV7, with Flechette (Tungsten dart) or High-Explosive Incendiary Semi-Armour Piercing (HEISAP) warhead. Up to 76 in 4 pods
Typical Apache armament configuration (UK):
·         2 x 19 rockets pods CRV7
·         2 x 4 Hellfire missiles
·         300 x 30 mm gun rounds and 100 gallons extra fuel in Robertson Combo Tank.

For Self-Defence, the Apache can be armed with 4 Stinger AA missiles in two twin wingtips launchers, and ATASK (Air To Air Starstreak) has also been successfully tested. The ATASK, also known as Helstreak were tested as far back as 1997, since for some time the ATASK was considered with interest by the US Army for its own Apaches. The laser beam guidance system of Starstreak can beintegrated with the target acquisition sight (TADS) and fire control system of the Apache.

The performances of the Apache depend of course on the loads carried: the Apache Longbow has slighty lower performances than the original Apache AH-64A, because of the Radar, and other additional weight. The Apache AH1 has better performances thanks to its more powerful engines, and since fuel consume is almost perfectly the same, range remains equal. Indicatively, though, performance for weapons-load are comparable to those indicated in this useful US Army table: 

The words of  Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, who in 1996 said: "I have no doubt whatsoever that the Attack Helicopter will represent the biggest single enhancement to the Army's capability for many years. It will change the way we go to battle." have certainly proved true. The Apache is proving its worth on all fronts, and will continue to be a fundamental Army capability well into the future.