Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18, news - UPDATE

F35 LRIP VII long lead orders: the new Low Rate Initial Production lot is starting to take shape, with a 490 million dollars order to Lochkeed Martin for components and parts for a total of 35 jets. Of these, 19 will be US air force F35As, 6 F35Bs for the USMC and 4 F35Cs for the US Navy.
International partners will add to the total as follows:

Italy - 3 F35A
Turkey - 2 F35A
United Kingdom - 1 F35B 

The final order for production will be issued, as always, next year, and delivery of the airplane will follow about 2 years later, so this new F35B will be handed to the UK probably during 2015. Up to 2009, the plan was for the UK to order 7 F35Bs in 2013, so the reduction in quantities and the slow down in the process is evident.
Problem is that the F35B is still affected by several grave problems, some of which still without a real solution. Airframe fatigue tests meants to validate an 8000 flying hours life failed at 2000 when a bulkhead cracked, and the tests on the airframes modified with the new bulkhead are yet to be done. A wing root part cracked at 750 hours (!) and will need urgent replacement on all F35Bs produced in the first 4 LRIPS.
And F35 full rate production is now planned for 2019, no earlier.

For the UK, the F35B Initial Operating Capability has officially slipped from 2018 to 2019 for Land Based Operations and from 2020 to 2021 for Marittime Based Operations. And there might well be further delays. These targets will be eventually met with pre-production airframes missing part of their intended capabilities and in need of mods and upgrades worth many million dollars soon afterwards.

Not the best of situations.

In order to fit into the official dates, the UK will probably order a few more F35Bs in 2014, as part of LRIP VIII, differently from what expected in the 2009 plan which saw the 2014 as a "zero orders" year for the UK.

LRIP VIII (2014) will include, barring changes, 19 F35A, 6 B and 4 C for the US. If the UK is to progress with the F35 work to get it in service in the expected dates, it'll need to have some Bs ordered this year, and of course over the following ones.
LRIP IX (2015) will include 32 F35A, 6 B and 6 C for the US.
In 2016 the US orders planned are for 48, 9 and 9.
In 2017 it will be 48 F35A, 14 F35B and 14 F35C.

Norway has obtained support for the final "go ahead" for the Joint Strike Missile, and approved in Parliament its first order, for 2 F35A (on a planned order of 52, of which 4 for training and 42 operational plus an option for 6 more). There might soon be an announcement for a modification in the contract with Lochkeed Martin to include components for these two planes.

Already part of the contract is funding for adding Drag Parachute to Norwey's F35s. Drag chutes can reduce landing distance, or, more importantly for Norwey, improve safety of landing by making up for the lack of traction that ice and cold climate can cause by affecting tires and runway surface.

US Navy's UCLASS project going strong: the X47B UCAV demonstrator is progressing with its trials and demonstrations. The first phase of trials demonstrated the airworthiness of the drone in the planned flight envelope. The airplane is on track to go to sea on a Nimitz class super-carrier next year, to demonstrate the whole range of deck operations, including bolters, launch and recovery.

In 2014 the drone is expected to trial its first automated aerial refueling.

The X47B is Northrop Grumman's offering for UCLASS, and is the one in the most advanced state of development. It is seen at the leading contender. However, Boeing is working on an alternative offer, and says that their drone will be revealed soon.
General Atomics is offering the latest, jet-powered and stealthy variant of the Predator family, the MQ-9C Sea Avenger.

The land-version of the Avenger is already flying and working on operations, with one deployed to Afghanistan, a second flown for the first time last february and at least 2 more already in production. General Atomics has offered its Avenger for the UK's SCAVENGER requirement.

A pity that it can't be a Sea Avenger, able to work also from the carriers. But as Harvey told us, the RAF is not planning to share its drones with the guys at sea and they did not think at all about drone-compatibility when deciding on the CVF conversion to catapults and wires.
That's joint, cooperative thinking and long-term strategic planning for you...!

Rolls Royce nuclear win. As widely expected and anticipated, Rolls Royce has signed a 1.1 billion pounds contract with the MOD for work relating to the next generation Successor Submarine, meant to replace the current Vanguard SSBNs. What the press incorrectly calls "Trident Replacement", in other words.
Incorrectly because only the submarine platform is being replaced, for now at least: the Vanguards are approaching their life's end, and their original OSD has already been extended considerably. It is important to build new vessels if the Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD) is to continue.
Trident itself (the US-made missile) is not going to be replaced before 2042 at the earliest under current plans, and the warheads are being life-extended.

The deal announced includes a 500 million pounds 11-year refurbishment project for Rolls Royce’s submarine propulsion reactor factory at Raynesway in Derby, which promises to secure 300 jobs.
The remaining 600 millions cover development work and production of (one or two?) new Pressurized Water Reactor cores, of the PWR3 type, which offer improved safety characteristcs compared to the PWR2 being used on the Astute class.

The announcement is about two new reactor cores being ordered, with one for the first Successor SSBN and one for the last SSN on order: the MOD says that the 7th and last Astute SSN will be powered by a reactor core delivered under this contract.

The exact words as reported in the MOD press release:

The MOD has secured a supplier to produce new reactor cores for the Royal Navy's nuclear submarines and to upgrade the plant where they will be built.

The nuclear reactor cores will be used to power the seventh and final Astute Class submarine and the first of the Royal Navy's next generation of nuclear deterrent submarines, known as the Successor Class.

A further £600m will be spent on producing new reactor cores for the Astute and Successor Class submarines.

I find this extremely confusing, as the Astute class is powered by the PWR2 Core H reactor, which has, by now, nothing new about it, while the Successor SSBN is to be powered by a newly adopted, latest generation PWR3 reactor.
So there is different ways to read the above, undetailed-and-unclear-as-always phrases.

Is Astute 7 getting a PWR3 reactor instead of the PWR2 used on its sister boats? 

Or does "new" mean wholly new for the SSBN and old-type-but-newly-built- reactor-which-we-sneaked-into-this-only-partially-related-contract for Astute 7? 

Probably imprudently, this afternoon i wrote that Astute 7 would get PWR3, because that is the impression i got when reading the reports. 
I'm correcting this, after a reader made me re-think about it and realize that i might have been wrong. At this stage, i have actually no firm data, only allusive reports and my impressions, and changing the reactor type on the last Astute does not sound like a smart thing to do [albeit far from impossible], so i was probably wrong. 
However, I've tried to look into Rolls Royce and MOD presse releases, and into press reports of all possible newspapers, and found no clear and definitive answer. 
I'm waiting for the House of Commons Hansard to make available a full transcription of what mr. Hammond exactly said, hoping that this will answer my doubts.

It would be very weird to fit a different reactor to the last vessel of the same class, so perhaps i overreacted and read too much in the "multi-purpose" use of the word 'new' in the reports.
However, i wish the MOD learned to be a little bit clearer in his announcements, if i can express this little wish of mine.

If it is actually an order for new cores, aka PWR3, that makes of HMS Ajax (planned name of the 7th Astute boat) an oddity in its class.
The second reactor included in the order is for the first new SSBN.

The MOD has been investing in long-term deals and orders for the Successor Submarine program, and by 2016 a total of 3 billion are planned to be expended on design (by Main Gate, in 2016, design of the submarine will be at least 70% complete) and long lead orders for the first 3 boats.
No financial committment is being made to Boat 4 at this stage, as the final consistence of the SSBN fleet is left for SDSR2015 to decide.
Technology advancements are said to make it possible to have a submarine constantly on patrol with just 3 boats in the fleet, but accidents at times happen, and 4 boats is seen as the only really safe option that ensures no interruption in CASD.

I will of course update when a definitive answer is obtained.

Update 1: DefenseNews says that the Astute core will be a PWR2. 

MOD despatches. The June 2012 summary of important MOD announcements includes an interesting (if very un-detailed) further breakdown of the "160 billions balanced budget", which reports:

Ships - £18 billion worth of projects, including:

• Completion of the two Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers;
• Completion of 6 state-of-the-art Type 45 Destroyers with the Samson RADAR and Aster missile combining to offer an unparalleled air defence capability;
• Design and development of the Type 26 frigate, which will replace the Type 23;
• Further work on the Maritime Afloat Reach and Sustainability programme, which will provide a fleet of new, modern vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. [NOTE: this, while unspecified, should be relative to the Solids Support Ships section of MARS, intended to deliver 3 stores replenisher vessels of new generation to replace the current Fort ships in the early 2020s]

[I hope to see, in the more detailed and complete summary to be released in the future, three more projects:

- Fast Landing Craft
- Force Protection Craft

hopefully they all survived the axe.]

Submarine and Deterrent - £37 billion
This covers all costs relating to the submarines themselves, nuclear propulsion costs and the costs of the strategic weapon system. This includes:

• The completion of the remaining 6 Astute Class attack submarines;
• Necessary costs arising from the requirement to replace the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines, subject to a decision to be taken in the next Parliament;
• The ongoing costs of the strategic weapon system;
• A small amount of money at the end of the decade allocated to the requirement to scope a potential future underwater capability to replace Astute

Land Equipment - £12 billion [of this, 5.5 billions for Armoured Vehicles, expected to include also money for the Challenger 2 Capability Sustainment Programme.]

• An upgrade to our fleet of Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles, to maintain that capability with enhanced lethality out until 2040; [roughly 1 billon pounds, IOC 2018, ISD 2020] 
• Continued development of the family of Future Rapid Effects System vehicles, including Scout and Utility variants, which will replace a wide range of legacy armoured and protected vehicles; [FRES UV again confirmed]

[The MOD had an "armour budget" and a separate "protected vehicles" budget at least until 2011. It would be great to know if this separation is still valid (it should be, but you never know...), and it would be nice to know the amount of money destined for the Protected vehicles needs, as this second budget would cover important programs such as Foxhound, the MultiRole Vehicle Protected (MRV-P) and perhaps good part of the costs for moving Afghanistan UORs into Core Budget.

This budget is crucial for properly equipping the Army. The MRV-P is moving onwards as we speak, literally. By 20 June, so in two days time, the MOD will start the contract award procedure for the pre-concept demonstration phase. The Ministry has invited suppliers of protected vehicles to showcase the products they think meet the basic requirements set so far. Pre-Feasibility trials have been ongoing in Millbrook, and one of the vehicles involved is the Supacat SPV400, which has demonstrated a stunning 96% reliability on a demanding 21.000 kms trial. I plan to take a look at the MRV-P situation in the coming days, so keep your eyes open for updates on the blog!]

Combat Air - £18 billion

This sector covers fast jets, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and military flying training, including procurement of training aircraft. This investment includes:

• continuing investment in Typhoon to bring Tranche 2 & 3 aircraft fully into service. Further investment to develop and further enhance the aircraft’s multi-role and ISTAR capabilities is a priority for the future; [DETAILS PLEASE, we are all waiting! ISTAR should be a "cover" for the AESA radar, while multirole capability mainly covers the integration of strike payloads]
• increasing investment in the F35 Joint Strike Fighter – a state-of-the-art fifth generation aircraft which will incorporate cutting edge stealth technology;
• a growing investment in unmanned aerial vehicles, including through co-operation with France.

Air Support - £14 billion

This sector covers all large aircraft, including transport, air-to-air refuelling and large ISTAR platforms. This investment includes:

• The A400M future generation of strategic/tactical air transport aircraft;
• Bolstering our strategic airlift capability with the purchase of an additional C17 to bring the fleet up to 8 aircraft
• The brand new Voyager transport and air-to-air refuelling aircraft, which will replace the aging VC10 and TriStar fleets;
• New Rivet Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft will provide us with a state of the art airborne SIGINT collection capability following the retirement from Service of the Nimrod R1 last year;

Helicopters - £13 billion

• The purchase of an additional 14 Chinook helicopters as confirmed by the Secretary of State in July 2011;
• Completion of the Life Extension Programme for Puma; [OSD 2025, 24 helicopters updated]
• An upgrade of our Apache attack helicopters, to maintain their capability until 2040;
• The completion of the Wildcat programme, which will replace our existing Lynx helicopters, with separate variants for the Navy and Army. [There is no detail, but it is likely that the plan will be confirmed in its 2011 variant, with the reduction of Army recce helos from 34 to 30, with 4 airframes "re-roled" to Light Assault for Special Forces, along with 4 additional builds, plust 28 Navy helos]

[Not mentioned is the Merlin HC3 transfer to the Navy and its navalization, but these were announced and confirmed elsewhere. The Merlin HC4 is officially expected in Navy service by January 2017. It is not however clear if the change of name means that, by then, it will have been navalized. So far, only the Assessment Phase of the Merlin navalization as been confirmed in statements on the core budget]

Weapons - £11 billion

• Investment of around £7bn in the complex weapons sector which will deliver a wide range of weapons, in the short term including the Future Local Area Air Defence System, which will be based on the Sea Ceptor missile, and the Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (heavy) which will equip the Royal Navy’s new Wildcat Helicopters.

[No mention of the Land iteration of Future Local Area Air Defence, but hopefully it will be confirmed. It is intended to replace the ancient Rapier in 2018]

Joint and other

We are spending over £4 billion on C4ISTAR capabilities over the next ten years, including significant investment in new Cyber capabilities. [From earlier announcements we know this includes CROWSNEST, for the vital provvision of Airborne Early Warning for the fleet and aircraft carriers]

In addition:
Information Systems over £15bn
Naval Bases £4.3bn  [what...?]
• Joint Supply Chain £1.1bn
• Logistics & Commodities £400m
• Safety & Engineering £300m

Elsewhere, the document also reports:

The UK Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) programme has now provided over 30,000 hours of high quality, persistent armed Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) support to UK and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
• The Hermes 450 unmanned air system has provided over 50,000 hours of support to UK Forces since it entered service in 2007.
• On 6 December 2010, the Prime Minister announced that funding will be made available to enable further increases in the UK Reaper RPAS capability. RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire has been selected as the preferred location for the basing of a key element of this additional capability, the Ground Control Stations. The decision to base the Ground Control Stations at RAF Waddington was informed by the fact that the Station is the RAF’s ISTAR Hub with the required flying supervisory chain of command. Work has already commenced at RAF Waddington in preparation for the stand up of XIII Squadron, the arrival of the UK Reaper Ground Control Stations and associated equipment in 2012.
• At this stage there are no plans to base or fly UK Reaper aircraft in the UK as the aircraft are specifically required to be based in Afghanistan to support UK and Coalition Forces under Urgent Operational Requirement. However, in the future, as the Ground Control Stations will be based within the UK, RAF crews will be able to fly the UK Reaper aircraft remotely from the UK.
The MOD intends to begin relocating 39 Squadron from Creech Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada to RAF Waddington once XIII Squadron is operational. The relocation of 39 Squadron will be phased to ensure there is no disruption to UK Reaper support to current operations. While there are a range of benefits of being collocated with the USAF at Creech AFB, the manpower requirements of 2 squadrons (39 and XIII Squadrons) will require qualified crews to be available for additional tours of duty on Reaper to reduce the training burden; in the long term, this requires both squadrons to be based in the UK.

This counters info that i had been given that was about 39 Squadron to be disbanded once XIII was up and running. I'm very glad to see the new, official version of the story.

It is widely expected that the Reaper will be brought into core budget at the end of Afghanistan operations, in a way or another, as stopgap on the way to Scavenger entry into service (not expected before 2020 at the earliest by now). There have been suggestions that the Reapers might stay in Afghanistan post-2014 as part of the UK's contribution to the long term security of the country, in addition to the "Sandhurst in the sand" accademy plan. Not clear how realistic this is.

Far less pleasant, the document contains this mention:

The Government has taken the difficult decision to take Sentinel out of service post Op HERRICK. Once Sentinel is withdrawn from Service, the loss of this platform will be mitigated through a range of other capabilities.

Now, we all know that this appeared in the SDSR and thus is indeed planned, but lately we have been getting good signals on the matter, with the decision to be left for SDSR15 and with the very real option of the UK offering its Sentinel R1 capability as contribution in the NATO AGS initiative, in place of cash.
I hope the above good signals are still valid. Sentinel R1 is a great and valuable system and capability to have, and should be preserved. 

Red Arrows to stay in RAF Scampton. Nick Harvey has announced that the previous Labour plan for relocation of the Red Arrows and of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS) which had also been due to leave the Scampton airbase (Lincolnshire) to RAF Waddington is no longer judged a cost-effective solution and will be abandoned.
The Red Arrows will stay in Scampton at least until 2020, and the base's runway will be resurfaced later this year.
Moving the ASACS, probably the most complex and expensive of the two transfers, is to be "examined as part of other projects", but effectively ASACS will stay until the end of the decade at the very least.

Go ahead for Bae 146-200QC UOR. The MoD has acquired two BAE 146-200 airplanes in a deal with TNT Airways SA of Belgium, with their acquisition being classed as an urgent operational requirement. Now they are to be militarized in a 15.5 million deal between MOD and BAE Systems Regional Aircraft at Prestwick, to make them ready for use in Afghanistan. They will be fitted with Defensive Aid Subsystems for flying into dangerous airspace.
The actual conversion is being carried out at the Hawker Beechcraft Services facility at Broughton, North Wales, under the terms of a sub-contract awarded by BAE.

These are Quick Change aircrafts, which can be fitted with up to 96 palletized seats for passangers or transport pallets and other loads thanks to their freight floor and large upwards-opening rear door. The payload is over 10 tons.

The 32 Squadron 'The Royals' of the RAF already has two BAE 146, but these are of another variant, and normally dedicated to VIP transport. They have nonetheless been active in operations related to Afghanistan.


  1. I'm afraid you may be slightly confused on the PWR3 issue.

    As I have read it in the UK press and defence websites, Ajax will receive PWR2 as the other Astute class boats have, but the money for it was lumped into the money for development of PWR3 and upgrade of manufacturing facilities. Only the Vanguard replacements will get PWR3.

    That is the information I have seen everywhere but here so far, unless you care to link me to a source for that claim.

    1. I have no real source, other that the MOD statement that the "new reactor cores" will power Astute 7 and SSBN 1.
      Presented like this, i've interpreted it being relative to PWR3 for both vessels. Might well be that the news is just presented in an horribly undetailed way, and i'm wrong. Trying to verify, if you have better info please share.


    I think you're interpreting "new reactors" as meaning new designs. They are building 2 new reactors with the money, one of which is PWR3. I haven't seen anything anywhere that directly says PWR3 will be in Astute or that both reactors are PWR3. The article i've posted explicitly says otherwise. I can try and reread other articles I've seen (BBC etc) to see if they clarify either way. Might watch Philip Hammond's statement again (on BBC) to see if he says it clearly either way.

    1. I have updated the article, thank you. I'll keep my eyes open for further confirmations.

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