Thursday, July 12, 2012

Two projects worth thinking about

Two very interesting written answers were given in Parliament yesterday, 10 July 2012, regarding Apache and the Smart Defence initiative launched by NATO. Let’s seethem:

Alison Seabeck: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what multinational projects the UK will be leading under the Smart defence umbrella following the Chicago Summit. [114421]

Mr Gerald Howarth: The UK will be leading two projects under the Smart defence umbrella. These are the Immersive Training Environments project, which seeks to enhance NATO's training and education capability through the development of synthetic systems, and the Theatre Opening Capability project which seeks to develop a multinational capability for expeditionary operations to establish a port of debarkation and conduct cargo handling and movement operations.

Mr Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) when he plans that the Apache helicopter will be upgraded to utilise the Brimstone missile system; [116028]

(2) what plans he has to marinise the Apache helicopter; [116029]

(3) what the total number of Apaches in use is; and how many are earmarked for upgrade. [116030]

Peter Luff: The Army Air Corps currently operates a fleet of 67 Apache helicopters. The number of aircraft to be upgraded through the Capability Sustainment Programme will be decided at the main investment decision, which is currently planned for 2014.

While not originally designed as a maritime helicopter, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has modified and cleared the Apache to support operations from the maritime environment as demonstrated from HMS Ocean on Operation Ellamy. The modifications included wet-sealing the aircraft to resist corrosion and modifying the windscreen wipers to include a solution to disperse sea spray. We are also currently in an assessment phase to fit flotation equipment to increase safety when operating over water.

The Apache is currently armed with variants of the Hellfire missile which are due to go out of service in 2021-22. The MOD will look at various options as a replacement to this capability. The successor to Brimstone, the 50kg class Spear Capability 2 Block 3 missile, will be one of the options considered as a replacement.

The two Defence Initiatives that the UK will lead under the Smart Defence agreement are both very interesting. Synthetic training and simulators are something that the british armed forces have been adopting on a large and ever expanding scale. Simulators of various nature and ambition level have been introduced into service for training soldiers prior to deployment, to train Royal Marines how to escape from a sinking Viking vehicles, to train personnel in how to evacuate a vehicle overturned by a mine blast, to train in the use of parachutes and firearms, to prepare crews for the AS90 self-propelled howitzer and so along. The UK is particularly sensible to synthetic training systems, and it is a good choice to have it leading the multinational effort in this direction.

But people will pardon me for being particularly interested in the second Capability, that of Theatre Opening. The scope of this initiative is potentially very ample, depending on the level of ambition that will be set. We are looking, potentially, at a true re-edition, in modern key, of the Mulberry Harbour pre-fabricated port of D-Day memory, depending on the level of existing infrastructure envisaged as requisite for “establishing a port of debarkation”.

For the UK, this multinational capability investment might be a way to remedy to the pretty certain loss of the 3 Joint Sea Based Logistic ships which were once planned as part of the original, very ambitious Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project. These three vessels were intended as deployable floating support bases carrying supplies for land forces and the means to disembark and distribute said supplies in absence of port facilities to support the operations of 3rd Commando Brigade and/or of army forces deployed abroad. The JSBL was also meant to have rather extensive workshop and support facilities, where helicopters and vehicles could be maintained and serviced, close to the frontline, even in absence of suitable equipment and installations on land, limiting the number of vehicles and items of kit that have to be returned all the way back to the UK for being serviced.

It is now expected that the JSBL vessel will not be funded. Secured the 4 Fleet Tankers with the recent contract announced with South Korean shipyards, the Royal Navy’s new main target within MARS is the Fleet Stores Replenishment requirement: 3 vessels are envisaged, to transport and distribute solid stores to the ships of the fleet, including everything from food to gun shells to replacement F35 engines and aviation weaponry for the aircraft carrier’s wing.

The FSS vessels are meant to replace Fort Victoria, Fort Austin and Fort Rosalie in the early 2020s, and the 10-years budget contains allocation of money for initial activities connected to this requirement. The ships will almost certainly be fitted with the new Rolls Royce replenishment at sea (RAS) equipment, which can transfer pallets waiting 5 tons, against the current 2 tons, solving also an emerging problem of weight connected to the F35 (an F135 engine in its transport case is currently too heavy for the existing RAS rigs and is even creating problems to the US Navy for aerial transport, as it is incompatible with the Carrier On Board delivery plane, the Greyhound).

The Royal Navy is aware that there won’t be money for a further three ships in MARS, and they are also aware that, by the late 2020s, the new urgency will be delivering a replacement for RFA Diligence and RFA Argus, effectively killing pretty much any chance of financing the JSBL.
So they are hoping to incorporate some JSBL solutions for the delivery of stores to the shore within the FSS design. Among other capabilities that arguably FSS should try to deliver I’ll add the possibility of resupplying an SSN at sea with torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles, and the capability of replenishing at sea the missile cells of Type 45 and Type 26.
Currently, the RN has no capability to reload the missile cells at sea, and Tomahawk missiles can only be embarked on a submarine within a protected bay and with very calm sea. Expanding the capabilities in these two sectors would be a major improvement, no doubt.

The RFA Diligence’s replacement could take on some other characteristics of JSBL, if economically and technically feasible, by providing some workshop space and equipment compatible not just with the support to ships and submarine, but to land vehicles and helicopters as well. The Forward Repair Ship would be particularly useful if able to provide such comprehensive service. Of course, providing maintenance on helicopters would be relatively simple, while providing vehicle workshops and “fitter section” spaces would be more challenging, as vehicles would need suitable arrangements in the design of the ship for driving in and out, and in absence of a port, this means bringing the vehicle to be serviced to the Repair ship either via helicopter or, more feasible, via landing craft: a stern ramp allowing vehicles to board the landing crafts would be a possible solution, but this adds cost and complexity to the design, and the Royal Navy will be dealing with tight budgets and competing demands. A RFA Diligence replacement must come cheap, first of all.

Even assuming that workshops could be provided, and that the FSS vessels will have a decent capability for sending ashore supplies even in absence of a port, there would still not be that degree of independence from shore installations that is desirable.
In this optic, the outcome of the Theatre Opening Capability initiative will be very important, and potentially game-changing, if the ambition is that of enabling a large scale deployment in absence of suitable ports. The solution could be somewhat similar to the US Marines Mobile Landing Platform, but with a greater attention placed on the logistic aspect. The MLP itself is currently being built in a very basic configuration, but the design can be significantly enhanced by fitting ramps, already tested and validated, that allow vehicle transfer between ship and platform even in Sea State 4. Such Self-Deploying Ramps were tested in prototype form (produced by Cargotec this was named Test Article Vehicle Transfer System’ (TAVTS)) to the FLO-FLO ship MV Mighty Servant 3 in February 2010, and demonstrated at sea by the USMC with the successful transfer of personnel and vehicles from a Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) vessel to the Mighty Servant in high sea state 3 and low sea state 4 over multiple days of testing in the Gulf of Mexico. Vehicles transferred included HMWVVs, HMWVVs with trailers, MTVR medium trucks, LVS wreckers, amphibious assault vehicles, M88 tank recovery vehicles, and M1A1 main battle tanks.

The capability is thus at a very high readiness level. Ideally, though, the design should be further refined, so to be able to work with different and unmodified Ro-Ro ships, without having to fit the vessels with their own part of the TAVTS ramp system. 

The TAVTS being trialed in the Gulf of Mexico, with its launch tower assembly well visible on the huge open deck of the civilian FLO-FLO ship Mighty Servant 3. The Theatre Opening vessel could be a FLO-FLO vessel, or a large barge deployed from a FLO-FLO vessel, acting as a firm "port" for dembarkation. From the barge, vehicles and supplies could drive ashore on floating causeways, or be brought onto the beach via landing craft and/or mexeflote.

A container crane can also be added, making it possible to bring huge amounts of supplies forwards using civilian or military container vessels.
Cranes of various design and capacity can of course be added, and connection to the shore can be achieved via landing crafts or via floating causeways of various design, effectively creating a port of entry: Ro-Ro ships loaded with vehicles and troops can connect to the MLP and transfer vehicles and men onto it, and from the MLP the vehicles can be driven ashore down the causeways or shipped with landing crafts. Container ships can berth alongside the platform and be unloaded by the crane, which might put the container directly down on the back of a truck ready to drive towards the shore or onto a winched sled connecting the platform to the beach and specifically thought to move containers back and forth. 
Thanks to US Marines studies and trials, many of the most complex problems have alreadybeen overcome, leaving the money aspect as perhaps the worst of all issues to be tackled. A multinational, collaborative approach might be the solution to the problem. 

I put together a proposal for such a "Theatre Opening" capability already long time ago, as my personal take on the JSBL ship, and i'm gonna put it forwards again as an example of what can realistically be achieved with the right effort.  
I am wary of such multinational plans, since results could never arrive for lack of funding and committment from this or that nation, delays could be caused by countless reasons and we might not see results for years, but at the same time i welcome the news of this Smart Defense plan, and i keep some hopes alive: i've just read the Army's Agile Warrior 2012 report (i'll write about it in the coming weeks) and they are saying that they "won't be able to avoid being dragged in battle in two particular environments being the Urban Areas and the Littoral, where most of the world's population and wealth is and will be concentrated. 
When even the Army start to admit that operations in the Littoral and amphibiosity are going to be more frequently needed, it is time for your hopes to grow at least a little.

Theatre Entry from the sea: my take on the JSBL/Mobile Landing Platform at full capability, including extensive workshops for maintenance of helicopters and land vehicles.

Regarding the Apache, it is interesting to hear that an emergency flotation device is being assessed for possible fitting onto the helicopter. The Army Air Corps had evidenced a list of improvements that the Apache needed to operate effectively and safely at sea in the future, right after the somewhat pioneer operations in Libya concluded. A flotation device was among the requirements deemed more urgent, since the crew of a current Apache which was to crash at sea during operations from a ship would have very little chances to get out in time to survive. It is good to see that some proper reflection and action is going into completing the “navalization” of the mighty Apache. Personally, I’ve long been saying that the cost of the folding blades and other “naval” features included in the UK Apaches is little thing when compared to the flexibility it offers. Purchasing “naval” Apaches was as smart a decision as it was stupid to buy Merlin helicopters deprived of their naval traits for the utility role.

The unpleasant note is the unwillingness to promise that all Apaches will be upgraded and life-extended out to 2040, but we can hope that, when the Main Gate point is reached, the right decision is taken. For sure, after all, Apache is, at the moment, a "must-stay" capability, which has been ringfenced from any hypothesis of cut. This is at least promising.

It is interesting to hear that the MOD plans to retire Hellfire by 2022. Currently, the Hellfire missile is employed by the Army on the attack helicopter and by the RAF on the Reaper drones, despite the current Brimstone missile having the capability to be employed from drones and helicopters without any issue.
The Reaper, of course, was procured for an Urgent Operational Requirement, so integration and validation of new, national and sovereign weaponry was a no-no as it would have required more money and, critically, more time, delaying the fielding of the drone in theatre.
The Apache was purchased along with its typical weapon, the Hellfire, and Brimstone, anyway, was not yet mature back then, and only entered service on Tornado in 2005, meaning that Hellfire was, if not the only choice for the Apache, surely a sensible one, in the optic of achieving IOC in 2000, even if the Apache Full Operating Capability was only declared in 2007. 
Hellfire also has the advantage of having been acquired in tens of thousands of rounds by the US, and by many export customers, so that its cost is also remarkably competitive. The US backing has also meant the timely development of upgrades, alternative warheads and other improvements that have kept Hellfire up to date and made it suitable for new roles and employment methods as time and events moved onwards.
At the same time, Apache started deploying on operations with the British Army as soon as it entered service, and is still going full strength to this day, so the appetite for devoting money, time and airframes to the integration effort required by a passage to Brimstone never developed.

But with combat operations in Afghanistan to end in 2014, with a mid-life upgrade to Apache to follow and with a new MALE drone to come into service in 2020 in place of Reaper, times are more than mature for nationalization and standardization of this particular area. By the early 2020s, it make a lot of sense to envisage the gradual retirement of Hellfire and the passage to Brimstone 2, also known as SPEAR Capability 2 (block 3?). 
For some clarity, it should be noted that SPEAR is a multi-capability programme, and each capability is divided in blocks. It does not make it very easy to keep track from the outside of exactly what is going on. Anyway, the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) programme includes: 

SPEAR Capability 1 - Improvements to the Paveway IV bomb, new warhead options, potentially new seekers and guidance methods.  

Paveway IV is the british answer to the USAF’s JDAM, and it undoubtedly built on American experience with the Joint Direct Attack Munition: while the USAF first focused on a bomb guided on its targets by the GPS and then found out that a secondary laser-targeting mode was desirable, the Paveway IV was immediately conceived as a combined guidance weapon, using GPS and Laser, depending on the situation. The weapon is a guidance kit based on the existing Enhanced Paveway II Enhanced Computer Control Group (ECCG) added to a modified Mk 82 general-purpose bomb with increased penetration performance. The new ECCG contains a Height of Burst (HOB) sensor enabling air burst fusing options, and a SAASM (Selective Availability Anti Spoofing Module) compliant GPS receiver. It can be launched either IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) only, given sufficiently good Transfer Alignment, or using GPS guidance. Terminal laser guidance is available in either navigation mode. The bomb displayed amazing accuracy, and can be detonated at impact, with delay to exploit penetration against protected, buried targets, or it can detonate in the air for air-burst effect. The Paveway IV guidance kits can also be modified to fit other sized warheads, but for now it is being used only for 227 kg warheads. Its stand-off range is significantly greater than any other precision guided bomb. Paveway IV's unique manoeuvrability means that, if necessary, following launch it can turn and attack a target behind the delivery aircraft. The availability of dual-mode laser/GPS guidance within a single weapon also means that air forces do not have to incur the expense of maintaining two separate (laser and GPS) weapon stockpiles.

As part of SPEAR Capability 1, a series of enhancements to the Paveway IV are to be pursued:

-          Low Yeld Warhead for reduced collateral damage in urban environment
-          Enhanced Penetrating Warhead for engagement of deeply-buried reinforced targets
-          Extended Range with wing-kit
-          Improvements to the GPS signals security

In particular, point 4 is already being undertaken by Raytheon, while point 3 should be the easier of all to fulfill, because the Paveway IV system is already compatible with the addition of wing-kits, and many such systems are already available, with an obvious leading contender in the form of the MBDA’s Diamond Back wing-kit, which would allow the bomb to glide for tens of miles to strike targets while keeping the launcher aircraft as far away as possible for enemy air defence weaponry.

Point two, perhaps the most interesting, would fill in a gap of capability of the RAF, which is currently not well equipped for the destruction of deeply-buried targets, which can range from caves where talibans hide to modern bunkers and underground facilities which have never passed out of fashion and remain common throughout the world. Most likely aimed to an upgrade of the Paveway IV and AASM respectively, the joint UK-France development programme through MBDA of the bunker-buster Hardbut warhead is the most probable answer to this requirement.

The second test firing of the Hard and Deeply Buried Target (HARDBUT) Next Generation Multiple Warhead System (NGMWS) was carried out successfully at the Biscarrosse test range of DGA Essais de Missiles on 14th September 2010. The HARDBUT Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP) is a successful warhead research programme jointly funded by the UK MoD and French Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) with MBDA UK as the Prime Contractor. The NGMWS is designed to defeat a wide range of targets such as command and control facilities, infrastructure and underground facilities including caves, reflecting current and potential future operations.
The recent orders for new Paveway IV (one worth 60 million pounds, and another one for less than 20 millions announced even more recently) reportedly included money to continue development of incremental improvements for the bomb under SPEAR arrangements. 
Paveway IV is on Saudi Arabia's shopping list since 2010, but the UK has been unable so far to ink the deal due to US opposition under ITAR regulations. Quite a low blow of the USA, considering that they do sell everything and more to Saudi Arabia themselves.  

SPEAR Capability 2

Capability 2 is about developing improvements / new variants of weapons in the 50 Kg class, mainly Brimstone. In fact, the "Brimstone 2" was recently unveiled by MBDA, and should enter service next year with the RAF, replacing the earlier Brimstone and the Brimstone Dual Mode which was, effectively, a UOR upgrade to the original missile. Brimstone 2 includes several improvements, including Insensitive Munition compliance for improved safety of handling and storage. It will have a multi-mission warhead and multi-mode seeker and will be launched from the typical triple rail (for fast jets and UAVs), from a readily available twin rail (UAVs) and in future from the quadruple rack currently used for Hellfire. Launch of Brimstone from the ground was tested and validated already in the late 90s, and launch from boats as small as 15 meters long has been validated literally in the last few days.

SPEAR Capability 3  

Development of a new 100 kg-class weapon, specifically for use on the F35 first of all, and on other platforms later. This new weapon system has been presented in these days. It is a multi-mission stand-off missile with a range of over 100 km, network-enabled, subsonic in speed and fitted with multi-role warhead. Its multi-mode seeker makes it suitable for engagement of mobile targets, even if they are maneuvering at high speed. 
The missile is effective as anti-ship weapon as well, and will be carried on a quadruple rack that will fit into the F35's weapon bays, alongside with a Meteor air-air missile. 

SPEAR 3 as shown by MBDA: the Typhoon is carrying 16 such missiles, a formidable firepower. The F35 can carry 8 internally, and could carry at least as many externally if integration went ahead.

SPEAR Capability 4  

MBDA-Led, joint anglo-french upgrade and sustainment programme for the Storm Shadow missile. Italy, being the third major user of the missile, could likely participate to the upgrade programme, while Saudi Arabia is unlikely to collaborate, save probably having its missiles later updated by BAE.

Not much is really known and firm about these future upgrades, but a two-way datalink is almost certainly going to figure, to allow re-targeting and increasing the control over the missile post-launch, just as with the latest Tomahawk IV. Other improvements are likely to include an increase of the range of the missile, particularly since the upgrade will build upon experience matured with the SCALP Navale with its 1000+ km range.

It is to be noted that the 250 km range figure for Storm Shadow is the range for a low-flight profile engagement from launch to hit. If the missile could do at least part of the cruise at altitude, efficiency of the propulsion would be much higher, allowing for a much longer range. 
The Lancaster House agreements signed in 2010 for collaboration between France and UK include a committment to joint Storm Shadow upgrades for the 2020s. 
Indeed, joint work is ongoing from long time in this area: an upgrade considered for Storm Shadow was the DUMAS, for which development started in 2006 in a collaborative programme with France. 
DUMAS technology combines an active infrared scanning laser and a passive infrared detector which, used in conjunction with sophisticated algorithms, detects, images and identifies targets. 
DUMAS improves existing and new missile systems by increasing target search areas and by providing powerful automated target identification capabilities. It was meant to  demonstrate a new seeker capable to guide the missile on moving, difficult targets, while also providing before-strike enhanced imagery, valid also to conduct a first mission-effect estimate.
The DUMAS is believed to have informed subsequent developments and researches tied not just to the Storm Shadow but also other elements of SPEAR.  

SPEAR Capability Block 5

Rumours about this last touted development went as far as to suggest a 600+ km supersonic cruise missile, possibly a replacement for Storm Shadow in the long term.

Blocks internal to the various Capabilities probably denote the various stages of improvement. The Capability 2 Block 3 might be a further enhancement of the Brimstone 2 entering service next year, since anyway the answer is relative to the 2020s period. 
By then, with some determination and investment, the Brimstone might finally fully mature, and meet its intended mission: become the common, multi-platform weapon of choice of the british Armed Forces, used on drones, attack helicopters, fast jets and, perhaps one day, on ships and land platforms as well. 
Already years ago, Brimstone was envisaged as Swingfire AT missile replacement in the missile Overwatch vehicle variant of the Tracer reconnaissance vehicle, which was then cancelled as we know. 
The army would still like to have an overwatch capability back in the future as part of FRES, though... who knows what might happen. 



  1. The Mintcake MakerJuly 12, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Hi Gabs,

    I wonder with all this talk of fully navalizing the Apaches, this might mean that in the future 847NAS might get to operate 6~8 of them? It does make sense since the AAC 50 Lynx AH7's are now to be replaced with only 30 Wildcats, which doesn’t leave a lot of flexibility. Unless 847 are supposed to use RN wildcats (however I though these would not receive the software to operate weapons used in land support roles apart from the HMG or is it that AAC wildcats will not be able to use naval weapons such as sea skua? I cant remember.). It would also correlate with the army downsizing and it would mean with RN/RM using Apache’s at sea continuously, better doctrines can be established and therefore if the need arises numbers can be surged from the AAC and used more effectively than tying down AAC assets to train for months on end to develop tactics and operation procedures for ship use.

    Keep up the good work Gabs


    1. Gabriele

      Another first-rate, stimulating post. I don’t know much about these matters, being a landlubber but I would have thought, with operations in the Littoral becoming more frequent, that something like the MLP would be of immense value.

      I don’t know whether I am talking through my hat here but could such a capability have any civilian applications? The need to establish a port of debarkation must arise sometime during a civilian emergency or disaster, especially when normal port facilities suffer damage or when the local authorities prove uncooperative. Could some of the funding come from Ministries other than defence, e.g. The Department for International Development?

    2. 847 NAS was to be an Apache squadron under the original (larger) Apache plan. Now the chances of it getting the Apaches as aircraft of choice are absolutely none, regardless of whether or not the added "naval" features go ahead or not. Sad, but that's the situation.

      847 will get 6 of the 30/34 Army Wildcats.
      And the problem with weapons is not with the Navy variant (which will have LMM and FASGW(H) but with the Army variant, that at least initially will have only the M3M machine gun at the door as the AAC does not want to arm them.

      However the Wildcat Army and Navy are roughly the same under many aspects, as Jed correctly said, so it would be easy to put LMM on Army Wildcats at any point in time. Even Hellfire or Brimstone could be used.
      The FASGW(H) wouldn't be added, as that is "specific" for the naval work.

      @ Mike W

      Of course the MLP could have disaster relief roles. But the UK (unfortunately in this case) is not Italy, so i find it very unlikely that money from the Aid department makes it into the Theatre Opening Capability study...
      Here, it would happen for sure. In the UK, no, even though it would help.

  2. TMM

    Apache is not, and is not being fully "navalised", it can't go to sea for long periods, it can manage for short periods with an additional maintenance burden.

    Naval Wildcat are identical to Army - except Army are fitted for but not with the radar, and they don't have a common s/w load catering for all possible weapons for cost reasons. It would probably be easier to fit Naval Wildcat to carry DMB / SPEAR


  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Gabriele,

    Thought you might be interested to know that the Queen Elizabeth class carrier facebook page has been discussing a potential purchase of 12 V22 for the carrier group.

    4 AWACS, + 8 for COD and in flight re - fueling.

    1. Very impressive and suggestive, but is it a discussion based on any realistic hope or any indication at all of it ever happening?
      Because it does not sound like something we can actually hope for, to me.

    2. Well, my understanding is the Augusta Westland now have the V22 design. Under a terms of business contract they will need work once wildcat is finished. This would help bridge the gap.

      The carriers will need some sort of COD service to be effective and this system is (relatively) cheap and offers some significant advantages. (Ceiling height for AWACS, endurance, COD, and in flight re - fueling).

    3. You are confusing the V22 and the BA60, two very different things despite being machines working to same tilt-rotor principle.

      AGustaWestland now effectively owns 100% of the BA609, which born out of collaboration with Bell, originally.
      It is a born-civilian prototype, which could evolve into military variants, of course. At which cost, thoug...?

    4. Now, of course, being all AgustaWestland, it is AW609, no longer BA.

      In 2004 there was call of making a gunship variant of it to escort MV22s in mission.

      But effectively, so far the AW609 went nowhere, and isn't even fully certified, not even for civilian flight. There's everything to do about it...


Everybody can comment on this blog without needing a Blogger account. It is meant to keep the discussion free and open to everyone. Unfortunately, anonymous accounts keep the door open for spammers and trolls, so i'm forced to moderate comments and approve them before they appear. Apologies for the inconvenience.