AgustaWestland delivered to the British Army the updated, re-engined Lynx AH9A in record-time, but in two different subvariants: the first 12 helicopters were completed to "Batch 1" specifications, while the last 10 helicopters, ordered later, have been fitted with additional radios, FH Herstal M3M heavy machine gun, fast-rope equipment, 4 seats for soldiers and a cockpit compatible with the use of Night Vision Googles (Batch 2).
The Lynx AH9A has been doing very well in Afghanistan, and the MOD has decided to bring the first 12 Lynx up to the same standard of the second batch. The first updated helicopter has been handed back to the MOD by AgustaWestland in Janurary. These helicopters are now known as "Batch 3".
Is it just about Afghanistan, or will the Lynx AH9A be around for a longer time than planned? It was expected that the Lynx 9 would bow out in 2019, but after the upgrades the helicopter seems to have found a new youth. The engines are the same as used on the Wildcat, so there's some degree of commonality in the case the Lynx is kept around for longer time.
With just 38 helicopters on the way (30 in Recce variant, 8 in Light Assault variant) and with 6 of these going to 847 Naval Air Squadron, Commando Helicopter Force, the Army is going to be seriously short of helicopters compared to the current holding of Lynx AH7s (50 still in holding according to a Parliamentary written answer). In addition, the Army will soon enough finish retiring the Gazelle (35 still around, but probably many no longer in use).
It is quite a jump, from 50 to 32, and even more so if we factor that the Gazelle is not getting a dedicate replacement, and some of its missions will have to be covered with other helos, easily the Wildcat.
Retaining the 22 AH9A could be a relatively cheap solution.
The Lynx 9As have been mainly concentrated in the squadrons 657 and 667, but the airframes are assigned to all squadrons deploying to Afghanistan since the AH7 Lynx is underpowered and not adequate to use in theatre. Among the squadrons who have worked with the Lynx 9A in Afghanistan is 847 NAS itself.
Hopefully, keeping the 9A going on for longer will be an option taken over in the coming planning rounds.
8 Flight Army Air Corps has added a 5th Dauphin helicopter, procured second-hand via Eurocopter UK, to its fleet. This flight provides civilian-colored helicopters for the mobility of SAS counterterrorism teams in urban scenarions.
The 5th Dauphin was procured to strenghten the unit before the start of the Olympic games.
AIRSEEKER, SEASEEKER, LANDSEEKER
The full triad of EW and SIGINT/ELINT capability of the armed forces is to be modernized under the variaous "-SEEKER" programmes.
AIRSEEKER is notoriously the replacement for the Nimrod R1, and it is by far the most expensive of the three programmes at nearly 1 billion (?) in initial procurement cost and with a further 1-billion support deal running to 2025, as it is procuring a fleet of 3 Rivet Joint airplanes from the US. These will be conversions of KC-135 airframes that the USAF mothballed long ago, and they will add to the US's own fleet of 17 Rivet Joints.
Mainteinance and regular technology-insertions are going to be made cooperatively, in a single, bi-national program arrangement which includes a complete strip down, refurbishment, and system upgrade every 4 years. The RAF will also participate in platform improvement, and will have a say in the evolution of the Rivet Joint system: adoption of some of the sensors used on the Nimord R1 and those that had been planned for Nimrod MRA4 is a possibility. This would be a welcome expansion of the Rivet Joint capabilities, as it currently is mostly only a SIGINT aircraft, while the ESM employed on Nimrod would greatly increase its ELINT capabilities.
RAF crews are already operating on USAF's Rivet Joints to preserve capability (the Nimrod R1 was retired in June 2011 after participating in the early Libyan operations) and familiarize with the new platform before the airplanes are delivered to RAF Waddington in 2014, where they will fly under 51 Squadron.
LANDSEEKER is the successor to the ill-fated Soothsayer programme, and it is meant to replace the whole range of Electronic Warfare and SIGINT/ELINT assets of the Royal Signals and Royal Marines. Soothsayer was meant to cost between 140 and 202 million pounds (it experienced a cost increase of over 52 millions prior to cancellation) and it had to deliver a man-portable and a vehicle mounted solution for eavesdropping, location of signal sources and EW.
The "Light" vehicle-mounted Soothsayer was meant to equip the Army Rapid Reaction Force and 3rd Commando Brigade (The current Y Squadron (EW), 30 Commando Information EXploitation Group). It was to be a palletized system carried on a Supacat 6x6 high mobility truck.
A later phase was planned to provide enough systems to equip a further two brigades, and these would be "Heavy" formations, with Soothsayer modules installed in FRES vehicles.
Soothsayer was to replace a variety of systems including INCE (Interim Non-Communications ESM), Odette (a vehicle mounted SIGINT system that detects and locates radio transmissions) and the SCARUS man-portable ESM system.
Its cancellation meant that the Army is still using ODETTE, which can detect HF/VHF and UHF radio signals and is mounted on land rovers, armored vehicles and BV-206 (the latter is used by the Royal Marines) and INCE, while SCARUS has been supplemented, if not replaced, by Project SEER, a UOR launched to respond to the needs of the troops for ESM/EW in Afghanistan.
SEER is a man-portable system that fits in a backpack and can be operated on the move. It is the ROKE Resolve system made by ROKE in the UK. There seem to have been another UOR, Project WROTE, but not much is known. EW is one of the few areas that is still quite severely classified. At least most of the time.
LANDSEEKER is meant to introduce a new family of systems that replace the current ones. Effectively, a Soothsayer 2: let's hope it ends in a better way.
SEASEEKER is about the renewal of the Royal Navy's shipborne Communication Electronic Support Measures.
This program includes the adoption of RESM (the US system AN/SSQ-137(V) procured off the shelf) on the Type 45 destroyers (Project SHAMAN) and a series of other unspecified solutions at fleet-wide level.
An earlier plan was to have RESM fitted to 8 Type 45s (nice try...) and on 4 selected Type 23 frigates, but this changed during restructuring of both SEASEEKER and of the Type 45 program itself.
There are now 7 sets of RESM on order, in a 90 millions contract, with one system being for shore-based training. The systems arrive from the US, and BAE Systems should take care of all the platform integration work on the Type 45.
This works as a replacement for the sorely missed SIGINT capability that the Type 22 Batch 3 had.
SEASEEKER should include other systems for other ships as well, but no details have been revealed. However, we have received this month the reassuring announcement in a parliamentary written answer that SEASEEKER is part of the Core Committed Budget and it should be given the go ahead next year for entry in service by 2017.
General Dynamics UK to install Health and Usage Monitoring systems on Army vehicles. A 4 millions deal will see GDUK install Systems Information Exploitation / Health and Usage Monitoring equipment in 578 vehicles of the British Army. The types of vehicle involved are Mastiff, Ridgback, Husky, Jackal, Coyote and Wolfhound.
The system is meant to inform the maintenance process on the vehicles and help the Army make sure that all machines are used overall equally to maximize availability.
Is this contract an indirect indication of the vehicles that the Army wants to keep post-Afghanistan, i wonder...? Warthog, as always, is not included: the suspect that the Army has no long-term role for the Singaporean vehicle is growing stronger in me with each news that comes out.
The Royal Marines might be interested in it, though, as a fleet of around 100 Warthog (depends on how many survive the Afghan trial) and the higher number of Vikings available (they had originally procured 108, but thanks to Afghanistan we have well overcome the 160 mark) might enable the Commandos to retire more of the old, non armored BV-206.
Significantly, a BV-206 replacement requirement from the Royal Marines was sacrificed in July 2008 for "internal reasons" prior to the announcement of the order for the Warthog in December. The selection of a Viking-like, amphibious vehicle for the UOR might have not been just about providing an high-mobility platform for Helmand ops, but a "replacement by stealth" for the BV206.
The All-Terrain Vehicle (Support) was a requirement for "between 47 and 212 vehicles" (sorry...? There's quite a big difference there) armoured, amphibious and armed or fitted for weapon systems, meant to be employed in support of Viking, replacing BV206.
With 100/115 (sources do not agree on the exact number) vehicles ordered, the Warthog in theory meets the main list of requirements. The difference is that, being Warthog bigger, with greater payload and better armor, if, as i imagine, the Royal Marines pick it up, it will probably be the Viking that ends up supporting the Warthog!
The future should be bright for the Viking, regardless of what happens to Warthog: a regeneration program for resetting the heavily used (and abused) vehicles coming back from Afghanistan is already on the cards and being studied, and they continue to be part of the future of the Royal Marines. 21 Viking vehicles are also to be used for providing mobility to Watchkeeper TAC Parties able to receive imagery and data from the Army's drone.
Thanks to Afghanistan needs, the Viking family has also gained a new version, the Ambulance, which had not been part of the initial order for 108 vehicles.
BAE systems has also completed designs for a Viking Mortar Carrier and a Viking Fire Support vehicle, both of which could do much to improve the capabilities of the Commando brigade if acquired.
|RWS stabilized for fire on the move, ROTAS mast-mounted sensor, Boomerang III shooter detection system and a manned, shielded gun mount on the rear car. Still fully amphibious. What's not to love about this...?|
|Fully amphibious 81 mm mortar carrier: i bet 3rd Commando Brigade has its eyes on this one.|
What about a future in which the Warthog is used as APC and amphibious assault vehicle of first choice, due to its greater protection and payload, while the many Vikings cover the support roles, including Mortar and Fire Support...?
Sounds like a good plan to me, we'll see if i'm on target in the coming years. Money will dictate what actually happens in the end.
BAE Systems get 500 million pounds order for CV90.
The Norwegian army, fully satisfied with its CV90, has contracted BAE to deliver 43 new vehicles while upgrading the 103 existing ones. Among the improvements will be the adoption of the Kongsberg PROTECTOR RWS on all vehicle variants.
The Norwegian army by 2018 will so field 74 CV90 IFV, 21 in RECCE configuration, 15 in Command Post configuration, 16 Multirole, 16 Engineer vehicles and 2 Driver Training Vehicles.
And with Denmark and others (Denmark, Canada...) potentially soon ordering hundreds more vehicles, this is a good time for CV90.
Let's hope that chosing ASCOD as base for FRES SV doesn't end up being a losing solution: the CV90 is enjoying continuing, welcome export success, while ASCOD SV has reportedly awakened interest in several countries, but bagged no orders yet...
MALE and UCAV contracts to be signed at Farnborough?
France and UK could sign contracts worth 40 million euro with the BAE/Dassault joint venture for the risk-reduction phase of the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Telemos drone and for the demonstration preparation phase of the planned Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).
Telemos, which will be based on the BAE Mantis demonstrator, should be ready for entry in service around 2020 (the RAF had hoped for 2018, but it does not seem achievable), while the UCAV is indicatively expected in 2030.
The two activities would both last 18 months, and the contracts might be signed, according to industry sources, during the Farnborough air show (9-13 July)
BAE is restarting work on the Mantis, while it is abandoning the Herti effort, as the drone failed to find a customer. Some of the solutions it demonstrated, however, will inform the Telemos work. Mantis should be back in the air next year, flying to inform the design choices for the new MALE, which seems set to keep the twin-engine architecture, also as a main to improve reliability.
The BAE Taranis UCAV demonstrator has however had its first flight delayed once more: BAE says that the UK MOD is prioritizing ground testing of its stealth design instead, to validate low-observability solutions.
Wireless is prone to disturbs, cables suck, weight is a no-no.
The challenge of modernizing the soldier's kit and electronic equipment is a challenge of connectivity, power, and weight. Future Integrated Soldier Technology trials made clear that the weight that soldiers carry has to go down. As soon as possible.
More electronics are awesome, but they need power, that must be generated or stored (and batteries add weight and cost and complexity) and delivered to the device of the moment: a chest-cable connected to the rifle during the trials was met with a resolute no. Cables were also an unwelcome part of the Land Warrior US soldier kit. We need power, delivered without cables, with minimal bulk and weight. Not easy.
The MOD is investing in finding the appropriate solutions, however: solar panels embedded in the uniform or backpack, devices that generate electricity just by walking, and use of the fabric that lines the soldier’s protective vest to push electrical energy and data from the battery to the devices, and back.
To reduce the bulk of batteries, BAE has developed wearable ones, and for communications they are working on body-worn antennas.
This is one field where some good research has to go!