Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Early April news, waiting for the Planning Round

Selective Precision Effect At Range (SPEAR) is making leaps this year, with MBDA announcing that the Brimstone 2 [SPEAR Capability Block 2] will enter service with the RAF next year and also saying that SPEAR Capability Block 3 is progressing with design and development and flight tests will start next year. At the Farnborough show in July, MBDA has promised that they will showcase more about this new weapon. The last we've heard talked about a 100 kg, 180 km range mini-storm shadow, so to speak, carried on a multiple rack (SDB style) carrying 4 weapons and fitting inside the weapon bay of the F35. SPEAR Capability Block 3 is meant to be a network-enabled weapon capable to hit with extreme accuracy moving and relocatable targets as well as fixed ones.

In addition, Raytheon UK has been awarded a 60 million pounds contract for the replenishment of Paveway IV stocks after many hundred of the bombs have been expended in these years between Afghanistan and Libya. It is possible that as part of this new order a few new variants of the Paveway IV bomb will come to light and be delivered to the RAF, since Raytheon has proudly specified that they are "focused on a technological growth path which, under the UK MOD's SPEAR (Selective Precision Effects at Range) CAP 1 program, will enhance the system's capability with low collateral and penetrator warhead options, enhanced moving target capability and enhanced range."
SPEAR Capability Block 1 is meant to introduce new warhead options and new improvements to the Paveway IV guidance kit. For increasing range, a very likely solution is the adoption of the MBDA Diamond Back wingkit, which would enable the Paveway IV to glide over a distance of many tens of kilometers, giving it a stand-off range. Enhanced moving target capability is notionally expected to be achieved with the addition of a Selex Galileo Imaging Infra Red seeker which could lock on on vehicles moving as fast as 100 kph. A reduced yeld, low frammentation warhead option for urban engagements is envisaged, and a bunker buster warhead is desired, possibly as a replacement for the current capability, represented by the 2000 lbs Enhanced Paveway III with BLU-109 warhead. A bunker-buster warhead could emerge from the HARDBUT (do not laugh, not joking!) joint studies with France.
Currently Paveway IV only comes with a US 500 lbs MK82E warhead, but like all Paveway guidance kits, it could and hopefully will be adapted for use on larger warheads. Currently the Typhoon only uses, for examble, the GBU/EGBU-16 Paveway II, a laser guided (with GPS addition in the Enhanced GBU) bomb using the MK83 1000 pounds warhead (for the RAF, actually, that is the UK-built equivalent mass warhead, the MK13 or MK18 originally, and the updated MK20 or MK22 these days), which will need replacement at some point, as will the 2000 pounds Paveway III which uses the MK84 warhead [the RAF might not use this variant, though] or the BLU-109 bunker buster one [the BLU-109 is now the RAF standard warhead on the Paveway III. A modified BROACH warhead derived from that of Storm Shadow was shown bolted to a Paveway III guidance kit as far back as 1994, but it does not seem to have had great diffusion. Vanished should also be the early-days hybrids which combined a 1000 pounds MK20 warhead, Paveway II wing-kit and Paveway III guidance kit]. Paveway IV will be released for Typhoon use this June, and will be in active RAF service with the Typhoon by September next year.  

Raytheon has sled-tested a bunker buster 500 lbs warhead with Qinetiq collaboration, aiming to SPEAR contracts. While 500 lbs limits the lethality and penetration that can be obtained, the warhead would be readily available as it does have the same mass and centre of gravity of the current MK82E, with no need for any additional integration work. Same approach goes for the reduced-yeld warhead for use in built-up areas. 

The Paveway IV is also being integrated on the F35, and a first pit-drop test of the weapon from an F-35 was already performed at Eglin AFB, Florida, in late March. The bomb will be integrated for internal and external carriage both. 

A glorious unit returns as the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines is re-christened 43 Commando Fp Gr RM. 790-strong, this unit reports to 3rd Commando Brigade and provides protection for the fleet, most importantly for the SSBN fleet and shore infrastructure connected to the nuclear deterrent. It also provides "Green" boarding teams, employed on british warships sent on maritime policing duties in dangerous areas where "warlike" activity is expected.
The RN crews of frigates and destroyers provide the "Blue" boarding teams, which are used on lower-danger searches.
43 Commando is immortal in the memory for its exploits in the battle of Comacchio in northern Italy, in which Cpl Thomas Peck Hunter, in a well-known act of bravery, seized a Bren gun and stormed German machine-gun positions, shooting from the hip and single-handedly capturing or driving the enemy away until he was cut down – but not before his troop reached safety.
The action saw Hunter posthumously given the nation’s highest military honour, the last (to date) of ten Victoria Crosses awarded to Royal Marines.

The Defence Reform progresses as the Joint Forces Command takes shape. 2 april 2012 saw the JFC standing up in its new headquarters in Northwood. 

The Joint Forces Command is expected to reach full operating capability next year, with a number of joint organizations having already been assigned to the Command:

• The Permanent Joint Headquarters (known as PJHQ)
• The Permanent Joint Operating Bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus, British Indian Ocean Territory and South Atlantic Islands
• The Joint Force Headquarters
• The Joint Force Logistics Component
• The Joint Counter-Terrorist Training and Advisory Team
• The Directorate of Special Forces
• The Defence Academy
• The Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre
• Defence Intelligence
• Surgeon General's Headquarters and the Joint Medical Command
• The Joint Arms Control Implementation Group
• The Defence Centre of Training Support
• The Defence Cyber Operations Group.

The Joint Forces Command has a central staff of around 150 between military and civilian personnel, but with the controlled organizations it will effectively direct over 30.000 men between military and civilians. First Joint Forces Commander is Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, RAF.

The Joint Forces Command will:

"ensure investment in joint capabilities is appropriate and coherent, and strengthen the link between experience in operational theatres and top-level decision-making."

"ensure that a range of vital military capabilities, functions and organisations – such as medical services, training and education, intelligence, and cyber – are organised and managed effectively and efficiently to support success on operations."

This centralized approach is similar to that adopted by the German armed forces, which have a Joint Support Service counting some 36.750 men as of 2011. Around 26.000 of these come from the army and the total includes 14.620 men of the Joint Medical Service.
Interestingly, the German armed forces's signals units are considered a joint asset and are part of this command. It would be interesting to consider the application of a similar move in the UK, taking the Royal Signals and the tactical communications unit of the RAF and Navy and put them together in a single, large organization centrally managed.
Again, in Germany the military police is also a joint asset under Joint Support Service, while in the UK there's the Royal Military Police, the sizeable RAF Police, the MOD Police [which is a civilian force currently counting over 3000 men and due to be cut back to 2400 by April 2016], the MOD Guard Service and a Royal Navy Police, which provides a Troop to 3rd Commando brigade.
There seems to be scope for centralization and efficiency in this area as well in the medium term, and i'd suggest planning for it in earnest, since i'd much prefer cutting back on duplication before cutting on frontline soldiers and formations.

Since we have formed the Joint Forces Command, let's give it a meaning and use at least.

FRES SV continues to progress. General Dynamics has been assigning contract after contract in the last few months, as the suppliers of the various components for the new vehicles are selected. The latest contract covers the software and operating system to be used on the vehicles. It follows other contracts, such as those assigned to BARCO for the supplying of the displays and to ViaSat for the onboard data encryption unit.
Over 36 explosive/destructive tests have been completed in the past months to validate the protection levels of the FRES SV hull, and things are progressing well. Expect more contracts to be signed in the months to come, since the list of requirements has been shortened considerably after the various agreements reached, but still has many voices open for tender.

Towards a busy Somali summer? The European mandate for the anti-piracy "Atalanta" operation has been recently broadened in scope to authorize military attack on pirate havens ashore, by helicopter and by naval gunfire (No missiles or ground troops due to German opposition, however).  
Now command of Atalanta has been passed on to France, and the promise is to seize the initiative from the pirates by patrolling close to shore, attacking their bases, and possibly expanding the security patrols in Somali waterways.

France has deployed to the area Maritime Patrol Aircrafts (Nimrod MRA4 was expected to go by this time as well, but we know how that ended...), the frigate Georges Leygues with two Lynx helicopters aboard and the LHD Dixmunde, Mistral-class, which can act as an helicopter carrier with 16 machines.
Despite Germany's opposition and hesitations, France, UK and Netherlands are pressing for a far more active answer to the growing piracy problem. China can be expected to also support such a move: they have long made clear that they regard the only solution to the problem being going ashore and smashing the pirate havens there, indeed.

It has been reported that this year's Royal Navy Response Task Force Group, which will set sail in the summer for exercise Corsican Lion with France's Charles De Gaulle carrier strike group, will then set sail for Somali waters to take part in such "active" reaction to piracy. For the second year in a row, the Task Force might set sail for training and end up shooting very real bullets, after Libya events last year.

This time, it won't be Albion and Ocean, but HMS Illustrious and HMS Bulwark, accompanied by escorts and RFAs vessels, including tankers, Bay class LSDs and probably a Fort stores vessel.
Illustrious is widely expected to carry Apaches, that will be tasked with attacks on pirate bases. Cameron has been said to be asking for this since last February.
Busy summer ahead for the Royal Navy.

In the meanwhile, HMS Daring shines in the Gulf and HMS Dauntless is to carry out the first Type 45 south atlantic patrol, and in May the assembly work for the carrier Queen Elizabeth will make giant leaps forwards. LB02 was powered up this March, 6 months ahead of schedule. In May both LB05 (1600 tons) and LB02 (over 6000) are to be moved by barge from Portsmouth to Rosyth, with the start of Assembly Cycle B.
LB04's two halves will be joined up in the next few days, and the Combat System of Queen Elizabeth is making progress and being tested at HMS Collingwood.
Around 25 May the giant LB02 section will start its travel, and it'll be a major milestone in the build programme. And of course, around the 17 of April we should finally have some clarity about the choice of the airplane to fly from the ships.
About time, to say the very, very least.

On 30 March, HMS Liverpool decommissioned, after being in the thick of the action until her very last moments, with Libya, escorting the russian aircraft carrier and then the exercises in Norway keeping her running at full pace. A most distinguished vessel of the Royal Navy bowing out with honor.
And with the Type 22s gone and the Type 42s to be entirely gone by 2013, the shore-based Tyne gas turbine training set has been shut down, closing a long era of Royal Navy engineering. The engine of the gas revolution soon will be no more. The Spey era will last until the 2030s, however, and the WR-21 and MT-30 eras are dawning thanks to Type 45 and CVF. 

F35 updates. The US accountants and DoD have re-priced the F35 program. It was widely anticipated that it would be 15 billion dollars more expensive, turned out being 17, but the US acquisition plan remains unchanged, and there's nothing new about the rumors of the B order of the USMC being cut back down to just 65.

By 2018 USN and USMC will be getting 50 F35s per year.

I also saw a new LM promotional image with upgraded quantities of jet fighters for nations: for example, Italy is down from 131 to 90 as announced in Parliament last month, and Norway is down to 48 from 56 as just confirmed (4 LRIP to be used for training, 42 fighters main order, 6 options to be confirmed later on). The figures for all countries are, in other words, very accurate and very up to date.

For the UK the figure is 3 B (those already ordered, even if the third, BK-3, is to be given to the USMC in exchange for one of their C, probably to be named CK-1) and 135 C.
Unfortunately, this figure is unlikely to mean anything serious, compared to the other numbers, as the UK still has to finalize its plan... But one can hope! 

The US DoD has announced that they expect to produce 50 Navy Department's F35s per year from 2018 onwards, with the order equally equally split, 25 B and 25C, at least in 2018.

2018 is planned to see US orders for:

60 A (to rise to 80 per year by 2021)
25 B
25 C

They have also released updated expected recurring flyaway cost of the full-rate production airframes (in 2012 dollars):

78.8 USD million x F35A
106 USD million x F35B
87 USD million x F35C

If these prices are anywhere near reliable and representative of the cost to be paid by the MOD, 50 F35C would cost some 2718 million pounds [of course, spare engines, spares and all the rest are not included], while an equal number of F35B would come at 3312.5 million pounds. Again, spares not included, and we know that the B-variant spare engines are expensive like hell, so the total difference is likely to be greater still.
That is a difference of 594.5 million pounds, anyway, to start with, and it is enough to buy an EMALS/AAG set and pay for part of the installation work. It does not cover all of the conversion's cost, (458 + 400 million pounds according to the US Navy-sponsorised estimates).

At best, when spares are factored in, the conversion of ONE carrier might be covered. 
But we need two, so the C must prove economically attractive enough to ensure conversion of Queen Elizabety during refit in the 2020s. It is likely to prove very challenging, though.
The choice remains difficult, and the future of the second CVF not at all safe.


  1. Still rather worrying that there is hardly a whisper about AEW aircraft for the carriers. One of the key lessons from the Falklands, and one of the key components to carrier strike and defending a task force in a conventional conflict, and yet it seems like a forgotten aspect (but not by yourself; loved the thinking regarding Brazil and the C-1 Traders).

    Keep up the good work, been reading your blog for some time now, finally commented

  2. Thank you for commenting, then!

    And well, Crowsnest is not forgotten. The Navy plans for it still, but we will have to see what makes it into the planning round funding.

    Navalization/Mildlife upgrades to the Merlin HC3 is probably more urgent as it takes more time and effort, but the AEW plan should arguably start moving a bit more visibly as well.

  3. The Paveway II used by the RAF will have a British 1000lb GP warhead not a Mk83, also I doubt you will find any Mk84s in the RAF's inventory, only BLU-109s.

    1. Are you sure there's not a general purpose 2000 lbs warhead as well? I think there used to be.

    2. I've only ever seen the PWIII with BLU-109 warheads in RAF service, but its possible some MK84s could be hidden away at DM Glen Douglas.

  4. Gabriel

    Do you think that the increasing number of contracts awarded for FRES augurs well for the project?

    I know that it the custom to keep on with the development of a project right up until the moment of cancellation but things do look encouraging. I certainly hope so.

    How many variants should there be now?

  5. FRES SV seems to be safe for the moment, with a minimum order of 400 expected for RECCE Block 1. Until they are eventually ordered to stop, General Dynamics will continue to carry on with the job.
    So far, they are doing well.

    As to variants, on contract for development and subsequent acquisition are:

    - Scout (4 crew + 2 dismounts)
    - APC (2 + 8 dismounts)
    - Recovery
    - Repair
    - Common Base Platform

    The Common Base Platform should later be developed into a forward command post; a larger "rear echelon" C2 command post for higher level; ambulance; medical treatment vehicle and possibly a Swingfire/Striker replacement, with missiles for long range attack.
    I see this last one being the easiest variant to chop, since the Army is effectively doing without a similar vehicle already.

    The Light Tank/Direct Fire variant is also... hard to see, as of now. I hope it'll come one day, but i won't hold my breath. As of now, the "Medium Armor" section of the FRES requirement is cancelled.

    Bridgelayer, i think it'll eventually be Warrior-based. Or perhaps Terrier based, depending on the cuts to the Royal Engineers and the number of Terriers needed after them, among other things.
    For now, the Maneuver Support element of FRES has been cancelled.

    1. Gabriel

      Thanks very much for all the info. Comprehensive as usual.

      I was hoping for a Striker-type vehicle mounting a Long Range ATGW but maybe that role will be filled by the Exactor system (Spike NLOS?)on the M113 chassis, if it goes into core. A lot has been said about that but it would seem that the MOD does not want to reveal too much about it.

      The loss of the Maneuver Support element is also a bit of a blow. I was, for instance, hoping for some kind of minelayer to replace Shielder. The Army is now down to just one type: the Bar Minelayer , which is about 35 years old.

      I suppose the REBS truck-mounted bridge system is also a candidate for the medium bridgelayer role. Give it an armoured cab perhaps?

    2. A Shielder replacement was envisaged... hopefully one day it will return somehow.

      The Exactor is a fashinating subject, but we know very little about it. Even if the missile system was brought into core budget (and it won't be easy), it would have to be put on an Army-standard platform of some kind. Introduce the M113 only for this niche role wouldn't be economically wise.

      If it is the SPIKE NLOS, there is also an Israeli-developed launcher/sensor system for it that fits on a vehicle as small as Jackal or Foxhound.
      Would be good enough for a weapon meant to attack from very long range, and would save a huge amount of money.

      The REBS might be a [non optimal] solution for the medium bridgelayer requirement, yes, but i still hope in a tracked vehicle, either warrior or Terrier, better able to keep up with the Scout and operate in "hot" areas.

  6. Hi Gabriele,

    Great info, thanks.

    I noticed that 43 CDO is now up an running, but has been put under 3 CDO Brigade.
    I checked on the RM website, and yes its listed under units within 3 CDO Brigade. However, I did also notice that 1 RIFLES is not? Not even under attached army units? Has is never been or has it been removed, or is it just a website error?


  7. I don't know if 1st Rifles was ever shown on the Navy Website. It should be, one would think.

    I hope it is nothing meaningful. 43 Commando is busy with a lot of roles as it is, and wouldn't be a genuine maneuver battalion for the brigade: if it is a cover up for the cutting of 1st Rifles it is one good only for politicians.

    But it might well be just a website error. I've heard absolutely nothing so far about 1st Rifles being touched in any way.

    1. Indeed, if we want to look into it, the Attached Army Units section does not seem to be up to date either: it lists 59 Independent Field Sqn Royal Engineers as having been transformed in 24 Field Sqn, but as far as the world is aware 3rd Commando brigade since April 2008 has an Engineer REGIMENT, 24 Commando RE in fact, which includes 54 HQ & Support Sqn, 59 Sqn, with a second field squadron planned (56 Sqn) and is affiliated to 131 (Volunteer) sqn.

      It can be so frigging confusing to keep track of the changes and know who's right, but during the 2011 tour of 3rd Commando Brigade in Afghanistan the brigade definitely had 24 Regiment Royal Engineers as part of it.
      Unless something's changed in the last few months without any announcement or news, the British Army website should still be right: and it lists 24 Commando RE and 1st Rifles in their intended places.

  8. Adopting Exactor on a unique platform could be economically wiser than you might think given the ubiquity of the M113 series worldwide. We've had it in service before for the Lance and Tracked Rapier systems. If you think about it there are already a lot of unique platforms in service. Re-mounting it on FRES or Warrior, or worse still Trojan wouldn't be cheap either, the way UK MoD do things. I just hope we do keep it as it fills an obvious gap in our arsenal.


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