Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some assorted news

COBRA retired. Even with a declared focus on ISTAR and battlefield surveillance, the MOD has decided that the COBRA has to go, and without a replacement, at least in the short term. The Artillery Locating radar will be gone by December this year, leaving in service the sole MAMBA, a short range system actively used in Afghanistan. and composed by the ARTHUR B radar, mounted on BV206 vehicle base. 4 such systems are available.
The replacement for both systems is the Common Weapon Locating Radar program, which has identified its solution in the acquisition of 12 ARTHUR C radar systems plus training solution. Excellent choice, but with a problem: delays. The In-Service date will now be 2014 at the earliest.

ARTHUR Mod C has a larger antenna (60 cm taller than MAMBA’s), it can detect a mortar bomb at 55 km, shell at 31 km and MLRS-like rockets at 50 - 60 km depending on their size. It can locate targets at a rate of 100 per minute, with a storage capacity of 10.000 targets, with a CEP 0.2% of range for howitzers and rockets and 0.1% for mortars. It expands the field of view from 90° to 120°.

The radar uses closed-loop liquid cooling, that also delivers the cooling of the crew cabin, keeping the whole cycle closed to keep dust and dirt out of the circuitry. The liquid cooling is important for ensuring that the radar continues to operate at its best even in Middle East scenarios: earlier systems are simply air-cooled, but while this works very well in Europe, it causes troubles in the hot climates.

The ARTHUR Mod C can be fitted in a self-supported container weighting less than 4200 kg and portable by a DROPS/ELPS truck, or fitted to any vehicle with 2500 kg payload and suitable volume available. The UK system might find installation on the Viking or Warthog vehicle. It can be carried by a C-130 or slung under a heavy lift helicopter such as a Chinook. Its air mobility allows it for use by light and rapid reaction forces such as airborne and marine units.
For training, the ARTHUR radar has a built-in simulation mode, and a Classroom Trainer fitted at the main base can work to simulate a major operation involving 3 or more radars. 

Oto Melara 127/64 for the Royal Navy? Carlo Alberto Iardella, managing director of Oto Melara, has exposed himself considerably in a speech during an event in La Spezia, announcing that the company is close to selling its product, for the first time, to the last major navy that never used a Oto Melara gun: the Royal Navy.
He said that negotiations are "very advanced", although the american concorrence is still dangerous, as it has "huge political weight" even though the american offer is for a gun system considerably less advanced.

The Oto Melara gun in question is the 127/64 mm LightWeight, that Oto Melara, teamed with Babcock, is pushing for the Type 26 frigate and, almost certainly, for subsequent retrofit on the Type 45.
The american offer is the BAE/United Defense MK45 Mod 4 127/54 gun. The Mod 4 was developed specifically for using a long-range ammunition that was then cancelled. It has an automatic loader with capacity for 20 rounds and fires at a rate of around 20 shells for minute, which is less than the MK8 Mod 1 of the Royal Navy, which overs at 22/26. 

Oto Melara is justified in saying that its own gun is more advanced, as the 127/64 has a slightly longer barrel, better range, an advanced feed system with four rotating drums holding 56 rounds ready-to-fire of different, selectable type, and can fire 35 rounds per minute. The 127/64 is also attractive due to the Vulcano long-range ammunition, which is close to entry in service with the Italian Navy in its early variants and is being completed in the GPS/Semi Active Laser variant, which aims for 120 Km range and pin-point accuracy. 
The 127/64 has been already chosen by Germany for the F125 frigate program, with 5 systems (4 for ship use, one for land training installation) on order for 70 million euro. 
The 127/64 system weights 29 tons: this is more than the United Defense system (around 25) and MK8 Mod 1 (22.5), but is around the same weight of the previous MK8 Mod 0 which originally armed ships such as Type 42s and Type 23s, before the upgrade. The Type 45 was fitted with the Mod 1 at build, after the 127 mm from United Defense was considered, but not financed. 

If Iardella is not being over-enthusiastic, we can assume that the Royal Navy is deadly serious on going 127 mm this time around, and the long (very long) age of the MK8 might be heading towards its conclusion. 

227 Challenger II, as planned, but 89 AS90...? An up-to-date (in theory) list of the vehicle holdings of the British Army entirely misses the Jackal, still includes 160 Vectors (the hell...? That's supposed to be gone, and from quite a while!), lists 168 Ridgback (howdy, some more have been ordered without it being publicized, evidently: the original order was for just 157...) and 359 Mastiff. 
Another oddity is the voice "FV430 (MK2 and Bulldog) - 895".     

I'm quite surprised (horrified...) to know that the MK2 is still going on. The number is also very inconsistent, when we consider that in 2006/07 the MOD spent some serious money on upgrading 900 MK2 vehicles to MK3 standard, with a share receiving the full armor package for use in Iraq. These were known as Bulldogs, even if it seems that the name caught up and is now quite loosely used to indicate all of the MK3, creating considerable confusion. The MK3 upgrade involved replacing engine and transmission, while the 'Bulldog' package properly said adds gunshields (or RWS for some 30% of deployed vehicles), and reactive armor as well as IED jammer antennas, bringing protection in line to that offered by the Warrior. As far as i'm aware, around 124 vehicles received the full package and were sent in Iraq to form a Mechanized Battlegroup some 800-strong. The other MK3 vehicles have not the full package, but still got the new engine, gearbox and other big improvements. Initially, only the 432 (APC) and 434 (Recovery/Repair) variants were modified, it is not clear if other variants were then added to the program for upgrade as part of the second order for 400 vehicles. (the upgrade was contracted in 2 tranches, of 500 and 400)

It is possible that many of the FV430-series vehicles in special roles have been left to MK2 standard, with all the inefficiency and unreliability that this implies, while an ungodly amount of APCs were upgraded and then quicky removed from holding. This would explain the number (inconsistent, if all MK3 were still around) and the mention of the MK2. 
So we have lots of APCs which were upgraded and then dumped, and lots of much-needed specialist variants spread all over the Army still in the old standard and unreliable old mechanics. Well, beautiful.  

The FV432 MK3 is used by the Army's 3 Mechanized Infantry Battalions since 2006. The Army 2020 announcement perhaps will tell us what will happen to the vehicle and battalions in the future. 

In 2006, after all, the Bulldog was presented as a stopgap, with FRES UV arriving from 2018 onwards. Now FRES UV won't arrive before 2022 at the earliest. 
And the old FV soldiers on. 

The 227 Challenger 2 was no surprise, as i had learned of it long ago and already written of it on this blog. The new number is due to the SDSR cuts. 
The surprise is with the AS90 howitzers, since last year the Royal Artillery said there would be 95 of them, and instead there's been a further reduction, albeit small, thankfully.

MBDA refines the SPEAR Block 3 design. Looks like SDB II, mates... SPEAR is progressing well, but Capability 3 is looking more and more like the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II. We're heading for a twin-rail, four weapons pylon carrying missiles combining turbojet engine and gliding for achieving a range of minimum 100 km (earlier the figure was 180, and hopefully this is what we'll get: 100 km is severely uninpressive, particularly for a powered cruise missile). 

Firm decisions have yet to be made on the final Spear configuration, but MBDA says it will be about 2m (6.5ft) long, carry a multi-effect warhead and use a multimode seeker. The high subsonic-speed weapon will also feature INS/GPS guidance, and be able to receive mid-course updates via an onboard datalink.

The basis of the concept is now in an assessment phase study for the UK Ministry of Defence's Spear Capability 3 requirement. This activity is due to conclude in 2014 with an airframe and propulsion system demonstration using a representative weapon design.

Previously released information says that SPEAR 3 is intended to be a stand-off weapon capable to engage fixed, mobile, moving and relocatable targets. Thus the need for the multimode seeker, which almost certainly will include millimetric radar and laser, and possibly IR Imaging. 
Just like the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II, the american, unpowered bomb with the same general mission and architecture. 

Are we sure the UK needs to re-invent something that already exists and could arrive and be integrated on F35 by US money, making it a very good deal...? It looks like all what SPEAR adds is speed (high-subsonic): if that's it, it might not be a very cost-effective path to follow. 
Demonstration of airframe and propulsion are planned for 2014. 

The F35's two weapon bays will each be capable to take a quadruple SPEAR 3 pylon and a Meteor air to air missile, even if MBDA admits that working with the shorter bays of the F35B presents challenges.
MBDA is also already showing images of Typhoon loaded with multiple SPEAR 3 racks, for a total of 16 missiles, an impressive loadout, especially as it includes 3x 1000 liters fuel tanks, 4 Meteor and 2 ASRAAM. Picture-candy via Flightglobal: 

Boys, it really, really looks like SDB II...
The Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II

 CVF progress: tomorrow will see LB03 winched forwards down the No 1 dock in Rosyth to meet the "super-block" formed by joining up LB02 and LB01. The two massive sections will be finally joined together, waiting for LB04 to arrive later this year. 

LB03, to the right, is complete with top blocks and sponsons. LB02, bottom left corner, has now been fitted with the first top block. Tomorrow, LB03 will be winched forwards so the two blocks can be connected. 

LB02, completed with LB01, the bulbous bow. 
The first CB02 unit is put in position: it gives the idea of the hangar's size.

Cargo aircrafts: the 2 BAE-146 being converted in tactical military airlifters should be in service by March next year. 
The first A400 Atlas cargo aircraft for the RAF will arrive in 2014 and will be the 16th A400 produced. The airplane will be in SOC1.5 standard: this means that the airplane will be fully capable and cleared for the airdrop role, and will also be ready for use as air tanker. 
However, the A400 Atlas will be fully capable of low-level tactical flight and special forces missions in 2018, with SOC3, which will start with the airplane MSN133, first unit of the Belgian order. The other A400s will have to be retrofitted to be brought to complete mission capability, as is unfortunately the norm for modern airplanes. 

France will receive the first A400 already late this year (MSN7): this will be a preliminary release with a logistical transport IOC. SOC1 will be released in 2013 and will include initial airdrop capability. Part of the SOC1 block will be MSN9, the first airplane for Turkey. 
Germany deliveries will start in 2014, with MSN 18, with Spain getting MSN46 in 2015. 

A total of 174 airplanes are on order. The UK currently intends to acquire 22 airframes, out of a once-planned buy of 25. The 3 airframes "removed" from the order remain as option which could be exercised in future.


  1. Gabriele

    i) Would not the Saab Giraffe radar help to cover some of the gaps left by Cobra?

    ii) It would seem like good news on the Oto Melara 127/64 mm LightWeight Gun. Let's hope it goes ahead.

    iii) Minister Peter Luff said at DVD 2012 that the FRES UV would not come in until the mid-2020s and would then start replacing the FV432/Bulldogs. So whatever the state of the support vehicles, they will have to soldier on, I suppose.

  2. The Giraffe has some capability in tracking artillery fire in the air, but i don't think it makes for much of a Cobra substitute. Besides, the Army has only 5 of them, and they are assigned a very important role of their own in painting a picture of what's going on in the air as part of LEAPP.

    So long as the CWLR program progresses and is not delayed further...

  3. Gabriele

    Thanks for the answer on Giraffe. If you can bear one more question.

    You are going to think me absolutely bonkers for suggesting this but you mention Vector, saying about it "still includes 160 Vectors (the hell...? That's supposed to be gone, and from quite a while!"

    I know from enquiries on other sites that Vector is still in use for training. What is wrong with it being kept on, as long as it does not enter dangerous combat areas? It is really an armoured Pinzgauer (I think the New Zealand Army uses some of these). It would have the following advantages:

    It is a more modern vehicle than the standard Pinz and better protected. Some Pinzes are getting very old and worn. Surely using the Vector would be a solution to some problems. It could be used as a transport vehicle, communication vehicle and troop carrier further back and inside bases, just as Pinzgauer is.

    Yes. I know, bonkers. It had a bad reputation in Afghanistan but where is the adventage in using older,less well protected Pinzgauers instead?

    1. As long as it is used only for training/base roles, and it does not bring money away from what is actually needed...

  4. Gabriele regard the Oto Melara gun, the RN had the 76mm gun on its Peacock class Hong kong Patrol ships.



    1. True, there was that one odd and relatively brief exception... I hope we will see a wider Oto Melara adoption with the Type 26, and not because i'm italian, but because the 127/64 is an excellent bit of kit, and would add a lot to the Type 26 and 45.

  5. Back to the F-25, isn't there a strong possibility that the RAF would want to purchase the F-35A instead? The B version does not match the requirement for a proper long range replacement of the Tornado.

    1. Unlikely. They wanted the C as tornado replacement due to its longer range, but that has gone and a split buy is unthinkable at the moment: with money available only for a quite small number of airplanes, it is essential that each and every airframe is carrier compatible.
      Buying the A would be absurd.


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