Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Australian Army Reform and the British Army

One army in the world that is adopting the british model of Multi Role Brigades and organic, deployable reserve forces if the Australian army. The analogies in the plan are (for what we know, considering that the new British Army structure is not expected to be announced before June 11 at the earliest) very relevant, and since the Australian "Beersheba" plan has been explained in good detail, it is very interesting to give it a look and try to reason on what aspects also could apply to the british army.

Plan Beersheba reorganizes the Regular and Reserve components of the australian army. The regular brigades are being reorganized as follows:

1st Brigade, Darwin - Currently Mechanized, to become Multi Role Brigade
3rd Brigade, Townsville - Currently Light Role, to become Multi Role Brigade
7th Brigade, Brisbane - Currently Motorized, to become Multi Role Brigade

Other than the fact that the australians call them Multi-role Maneuver Brigades (MMBs) and regardless of the fact that they are much smaller than the planned british formations, the concept behind the restructuring is the same.
Each MMB is to have two infantry battalions and one Armoured Cavalry regiment, for the Recce role and with an embedded Tank Squadron of 14 vehicles. Australia has just 59 tanks, M1A1 refurbished and sold by the US in 2006 for 500 millions, and all of them support a single tank regiment, which is however set to lose a further 14/15 vehicles which are going into mothball in the latest announced cuts, and there are doubts on the effective chances of the Army of keeping the 3 squadrons needed for the MMBs viable and effective. 

The MMB of the Australian army will number 3685 men, an increase of 178 men compared to current formations. 56 men will be part of the Brigade HQ, 292 of its Signals element, 631 in the Armored Cavalry Regiment, 665 in each Infantry Battalion, 337 men in the Artillery regiment, 398 men in the Combat Engineer regiment and 641 men will be part of the Combat Service Support Battalion. The Cavalry Regiment includes a Tank Sqn and 3 Companies on Bushmaster protected vehicles. The Artillery Regiment was to have 3 batteries, 2 with towed M777 howitzers and 1 battery on Self Propelled Howitzers. However, this latest element is at risk due to budget cuts that might well mean no self propelled howitzers to work with. There will also be two Observation Posts / STA batteries, plus a third on armored vehicles.

Here we already have an interesting consideration to make: is the british army possibly going down this very same path as part of the cuts? With the rumors of substantial reductions to the Royal Armoured Corps and the words of the SDSR in mind ("The multi-role brigades will include: reconnaissance forces to gain information even in high-threat situations; tanks, which continue to provide a unique combination of protection, mobility and firepower; and infantry operating from a range of protected vehicles. The brigades will be self-supporting, having their own artillery, engineer, communications, intelligence, logistics and medical support.") the only observation possible is that each brigade should have either a Recce Regiment and a Tank Regiment (now considered unlikely) or a single armour regiment combining the two roles.
Add to this the rumor that many of the remaining tanks are to be given to the Reserves, and a possible explanation is the rationalization of the RAC with the reduction to five or six Regular regiments and N Reserve regiments, with the regular regiments having 2 FRES SV Squadrons, 1 squadron on a 4x4, wheeled vehicle (Jackal?) and one tank squadron.
At least one tank regiment and one Formation Recce regiments have been mentioned by the press as at risk, so the above hypothesis might well be correct, with the two trades losing a number of regiments each, with the other ones merging together in the new hybrid. However, at the moment this is, it is worth reminding it, speculation based on the incomplete information so far available.
The sixth regiment would cover the training and demonstration roles and would act as a "regular reserve" of manpower for enduring operations: exactly what 1st Royal Tank Regiment is doing already, after losing the CBRN role, given wholly to the RAF Regiment following the demise of the Fuchs vehicles.

The rationale for the move to MMBs is explained in very clear way by this statement of Major General Caligari:

"...we have been struggling for almost 10 years to rotate forces overseas. We have taken Mechanised units out of Darwin and turned them into Motorised units and we send them to Afghanistan, we have brought them back after eight months and said (to them) you haven’t done any thing (operations) mechanised for a year and you are no longer qualified in Mech and you have got to re-train. We put them back into their mechanised vehicles and we start to retrain them and them we start to re-assign them to another operation. You have got to be able to rotate like forces behind everyone else. It makes logistics easier, it makes the force preparation for mission specific training, makes a whole raft of other things far simpler. And from my perspective it makes what the Army does (to Navy and Air Force) far easier to describe, rather than trying to describe what the difference is between a Mechanised Brigade and a Motorized Brigade and a Light Brigade because they are all fundamentally different. Now we will have the same structures across the three."

"When I was a Brigade commander I trained soldiers for deployment to Afghanistan but I was drawing soldiers from all over Australia. I was calling on 7 BDE in Darwin and putting them in Townsville. They were spending 3 months in addition to their 6 or 8 month deployment just training to get there. That is not family friendly. And then we moved into let's do it by Brigades. Let's make sure that the whole Brigade, the whole effort that goes overseas comes from a single Brigade. At the same time we have got 2 DIV dealing with its own operations. Well let's put those two (elements) together.
I have got a Multi-Role Manoeuvre Brigade that will now be on reset, (that we will be the one that has just come home from operations on contingency), I have got one that is readying to go and I have got a third one that is ready to got or is actually deployed."

It is an explanation of the main reason behind the MRB concept that works perfectly well for the UK as well: the British Army has long been facing the same issues, and already in 2008 the solution had been identified in the MRB structure.

In terms of support and strategic enablers, the Australian Army fields the brigades 6, 17 and 16, with the first being responsible for Command Support and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare (CSISTAREW). 17th Brigade is a Combat Service Support Brigade, while the 16th Brigade is the Army Aviation formation, with a regiment on the Tiger attack helicopter and two regiments on on MRH90, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters.

The enablers have seen changes inspired by operational experience and by the need for savings: on the plus side there are plans for 5 new Chinook helicopters, a third EOD troop to be raised, a third Shadow UAV system to be rolled into service, and the restructuring of air defence onto 6 troops in 2 batteries; on the bad side the Army is losing its water transport capability, which probably will go out to a civilian contractor, perhaps something on the lines of the British Army arrangement for Heavy Equipment Transporter trucks, and it is also seeing a heavy restructuring in Bulk supplies logistics capability.
Combat Engineer regiments are to be expanded, as are Special Forces and Intelligence Battalion.

Note that the Australian army has determined that a "1 in 4" rule for deployment would be the most desirable, but they have had to accept the impossibility of the proposition: to sustain a 1 in 4 rule would take a fourth regular brigade that the Army just won't get.
The aspiration is to have a 1 in 4 rule at least in the Enablers, by using the reserves to stand up, in the next future, a fourth unit for each crucial capability. Much will depend on funding, though, especially considering that the defence budget in Australia has just been quite dramatically cut.
The combat elements, 3 regular brigades and 6 reserve ones, are to work on a 36 months Force Generation cycle with three stages: Readying, Ready/Deployed, Reset. A brigade will be "ready" for a period of 12 months, but it is not clear if a deployment in war zone would also last so long. In the US Army, it does.

Notoriously, the British Army works to a 1 in 5 rule, also on 36 months FORGEN, with 6 months in readyness/deployment. The notional phases of the british FORGEN are:

Mission Specific Training
Unit and Battlegroup-level hybrid training
High Readyness / pre-deployment training

The British Army has been expanding some of its enablers in order to meet the Rule of the 5 and make enduring deployments possible (5 Regiment RA, 39 Regiment RA, UAV batteries of the combined 32 and 47 Regiments RA) but it is to be seen if the additional batteries can be retained despite the budget and manpower cuts. 
If they cannot be maintained, it is crucial that the Territorial Army is built up and organized to provide the Army with the missing battery. While this is apparently already the case (the example being 101 Regiment (V) Royal Artillery, which has 2 batteries on GMLRS and 2 STA batteries, which should enable 39 and 5 Regiments to meet the 1 in 5 rule), the reality is that only the creation of additional regular batteries solved the problem for Herrick ops.   

The most interesting element in Beersheba is the improved use of Reserves under "Whole Force" concept. Since this is what the British Army is trying to do as well, it is helpful to look at what the Australians are doing.
Their 6 reserve brigades, under 2nd Division HQ, are being restructured and assigned in number of 2 to each regular brigade. Their role is pretty well specified, and their contribution is to provide a battlegroup-sized reinforcement to their supported regular brigade.
In practice, a regular australian brigade with 2 infantry battalions will be able to deploy as a 3-battlegroup formation, with the third being from the Reserve, with training focused on Stabilization Operations. 

A graphic of the expected shape of the 6 Reserve brigades of the australian army. They have roughly the same combined strenght, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 infantry battalions. The british Territorial Army has 14 Infantry Battalions in 10 brigades. Once regrouped, and once 2 TA brigades have been assigned to each Regular MRB, assuming that the TA gains at least one additional infantry battalion, there will be 3 TA battalions supporting each regular MRB. 

The combined force of the Army (regular and reserve) will total 50.000 men.
In order to use reserves in the most efficient way, a number of measures have been adopted: the reserve artillery regiments are being made into Mortar batteries and given to the infantry battalions, while the names and colours of the historical regiments remain. Units affected are 7 Field Regiment, 23 Field Regiment and 2/10 Field Regiment. Changes also involve 21and 22 Construction Regiments, which are being broken down into Squadrons and incorporated into Combat Engineer Regiments.
The M777 guns are going into the Regular artillery batteries instead, along with the Self Propelled Howitzers (which might actually not arrive due to cuts to the budget) are into the regular artillery formations.
Similarly, all Reserve elements of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps are being re-roled to operate as squadrons of Protected Mobility Vehicles, receiving Bushmaster vehicles.

Rumors from the UK instead seem to suggest that the Reserves will be assigned the AS90 self propelled howitzers and, possibly, most of the tanks. It is hard not to have doubts and hesitations in front of such a proposition. It is not normal to give the most complex and training-intensive equipment to the reserve: it is illogical.
It would almost certainly be better to have the reserves providing mortar batteries to the infantry, L118 batteries, and other capabilities.

On Soldier, the magazine of the british army, the Chief Land Forces announced that the plan is to have two Territorial Army brigades assigned to each regular MRB, and in fact the cut of "at least 2" regional brigade HQs, announced in the SDSR, has been abandoned and all 10 brigades are staying. It is also expected that a number of formations cut from the regular force will become TA units.
The most logical, and most likely to succeed, use of this sizeable force would be something on the lines of what Australia is doing: a deployable battlegroup centered on at least one infantry battalion, perhaps including a L118 gun battery and other elements, of logistic support, of engineers, perhaps even of armor. The Australian model, of having reserves providing crews of protected mobility vehicles, that in the British Army could well be Mastiff 3s for the Mechanized Infantry, appears the most sensible.    

The australian model is interesting, and probably the British Army has looked at it with great attention. We will see how many points of contact are confirmed when the long awaited announcement from Philip Hammond finally arrives. The utilization of reserves, the destiny of Challenger II, AS90 and Combat Engineering capabilities are all dark corners in need of a ray of light and clarity. 
In general, the utilization of the Territorial Army will be crucial to the future of the British Army, so we have to hope that the right decisions are made. 
And, to me, this implies proving the press speculation largely wrong, because what they reported so far, i'm afraid, is a solution that most likely would not work.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bring back Force H...?

If Argentina's behavior on the Falklands wasn't enough of a nuissance already, Spain, despite its very serious economical and internal issues (or perhaps exactly because of them...?) is stepping up its provocations and pressure about the Gibraltar non-issue. Apart from illegal fishing escorted by the Guardia Civil (a real and cheeky challenge), Spain's Royal Family even deserted the celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee. 
Immaturity on state-level which would be amusing if it wasn't dangerous and uselessly expensive. Confrontations at sea between police boats do not come for free, nor do they come without risks.

The UK government's correct (and inevitable) answer is that there won't be any sovereignty negotiations over Gibraltar so long as Gibraltar itself does not asks for them. And it is extremely unlikely that Gibraltar will ever want them. The constant harassing coming from Spain is likely to only further reinforce the Rock's hostility to their annoying neighboor, especially considering that in 2002, when offered the chance to vote on the issue, the people of Gibraltar voted 99% in favor of British sovereignty and put a clause in the Constitution that says the british government should never accept negotiating on sovereignty unless asked by Gibraltar itself. This clause was accepted by the UK's government in 2006.
In 2004, Spain itself officially agreed that the Gibraltarians should have a say in the matter, even if their actions do not really seem to go in the same direction as their promises. The "say in the matter" does not quite go as far as implying recognition of the right to self-determination, in any case. 

Gibraltar has been british ever since it was given to Britain with the Utrecht Treaty in 1713.

In 1964 the UN adopted a resolution, connected to the "termination of colonialism" initiatives, that said that Gibraltar should be returned to Spain.
A first referendum held in 1967 however saw Gibraltarians vote 12,138 in favor and 44 against staying British, a clearly one-sided result, even though Spain's position is that the population's wishes are worthless of consideration.
In 1969 Gibraltar adopted a new constitution inclusive of greater self-government, but with emphasis confirmed on UK allegiance. A further referendum was again a total win for UK sovereignty arguments, 17900 to 187.

Gibraltar defends itself and its waters mainly through the Royal Gibraltar Police, but there is also a military presence in the form of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and a Royal Navy presence in the form of the Gibraltar Squadron, which lines the patrol boats HMS Sabre and HMS Scimitar plus a number of RHIBs and an handful of men.
They provide force protection to visiting warships, mostly Royal Navy ones, but they also intervene in support of the RGP when necessary, as during the latest confrontations with fishing boats and trawlers coming in to fish illegally in british waters, escorted by Spain's Guardia Civil boats.  

Tomorrow, Foreign Secretary William Hague will have talks in London with Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, and Gibraltar will be an hot topic.

But one has to semi-seriously wonder if, instead of today's little Gibraltar Squadron and ministerial talks, the return of a sizeable Royal Navy Force H isn't what Spain needs to calm down for once.

Ah, nostalgia! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

CEC dead, FRES SV delayed?

DefenseNews reports that the FRES SV fielding, albeit confirmed in the "balanced" MOD budget, might be delayed to 2020, compared to the dates so far hypothized (from a best case 2015 to a more realistic 2017). Numbers of vehicles to be procured (between 400 and 589) might also be reduced, depending on what kind of Army structure is announced next month (not before Parliament returns from recess, so it'll be 12 June at the earliest).

The article also confirms that the plan to fit Cooperative Engagement Capability system to the Type 45 is dead, and actually adds that CEC has been removed from the list of systems to be fitted to the Type 26 as well. This is a very nasty blow to take: the air defence capability of the vessels would have been massively enhanced by fitting the CEC.
However, this relatively small-ticket program could return at some point in the future if the Royal Navy will feel it is truly needed.
The real question that emerges is about how many other "small" programs have been silently killed off or delayed: i'm thinking about MHPC, which is particularly crucial to the future of the Navy, but also about the Fast Landing Craft and the Force Protection Craft programs, for example.

The only "good news" in the article is that the MOD is continuing to plan for the Challenger II Capability Sustainment Programme (entry in service around 2018, so it should start not later than 2016) and for an "utility vehicle", presumably FRES UV, for entry in service in 2022, with assesment phase to begin likely in 2016.
In 2001, when the solution to the current FRES UV problem was the MRAV Boxer used by the Germans today in Afghanistan, the UV requirement included a baseline 8x8 vehicle with mission modules. One had to be the APC (2 crew, 10 soldiers, 48 hours of supplies), then there were to be an Ambulance/Casualty Evacuation module, and a Medical Treatment module.
The requirement was completed by the Anti-Tank Platoon Vehicle, a modified APC module giving mobility to two Javelin teams (2 missile launchers, 6 men) and carrying 16 missiles.
Today's requirements are unlikely to be different in these general lines. 

Over the next 10 years, these 3 programs, of which the Challenger CSP is the smallest and cheapest (particularly if even less tanks are retained in the new army structure...) have to squeeze into a 5.5 billion budget. It is obvious that some real challenges remain, since the FRES SV demonstration, testing and long-lead orders pre-production contract were expected to cost up to 1.4 billion in total, as reported by the NAO in 2011. And that's for FRES SV Block 1: a Block 2 is needed and envisioned, to deliver ambulances, command posts, engineer recce vehicles and Fire Support Teams carriers (replacement for Samaritan, Sultan and Spartan/Bulldog vehicles currently in use. NOTE: the Fire Support Team vehicle is NOT a firing platform. The Fire Support Team is a tactical team of 6 men of the Royal Artillery field regiments. Each team can direct air attacks, mortar and artillery fire. The FRES SV FSTV is meant to provide them with under-armour mobility and under-armour target designation capability). 

FRES as it was. Now Block 1 is more likely to number around 400 vehicles, and not nearly 600. Block 2 seems to have been expanded to include the Ambulance (and Medical Treatment?) variants, once planned for Block 3. Block 3 is unheard of, and the shifting of the Ambulance variant to Block 2 might be an unofficial death sentence for Block 3. This was to include a missile overwatch vehicle to replace Striker, a CounterMobility vehicle to replace Shielder, an higher-echelon command post and possibly a wide-area ground surveillance vehicle. Confirmed as DEAD are the Medium Armour section, and ipso-facto the Maneuver Support section as well, even though the Army apparently still hopes to procure medium bridgelayers (Warrior-based as shown at DSEI , or REBS bridges on tactical trucks, possibly).

But challenges or not, one has to wonder if it makes any kind of sense to conclude testing and development of the FRES SV Block 1 vehicles by 2013, then freeze the program instead of going into production, and jumping to FRES UV assesment instead, or perhaps continuing development to prepare for production the ambulance, command post and engineer recce variants of the SV.
Can't the Army start one armor program and complete it, for once? FRES UV was prioritary, by 2008 it had been trialed, the preferred bidder selected, then all was frozen and FRES SV was prioritized. Now it looks like we'll see the SV frozen, and the UV brought back into focus... holy hell, make up your goddamn minds! In a decade, save for UORs and specialized vehicles such as Titan and Trojan, all what over a billion pounds of armor budget expended has only bought the army trials, demonstrations, selections of preferred bidders that went nowhere, delays, hopes, hesitations, cancellations, and 7 FRES SV prototypes.

Now FRES SV is delivering, is ahead of schedule, is working, is confirmed as "vital", and yet you are thinking abount messing up the schedule. Again. 

Are you f*****g kidding me...?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Does it melt the decks or not...?

There are many ways to give an answer. Words can be used, with some smartness, to tell a story that, while generally true, hides a few factors.
When F35B went to sea for trials on the USS Wasp, the US Marines needed a success to show to the public and to Congress, to have the F35B taken out of probation and saved from the many threats surrounding it.
One of the things they had to demonstrate during the trials was the resistance of the ship's deck to the F35B engine's exhaust. They had to counter the famous "it will melt the deck!" claim (which, by the way, is born out of a real concern apparent from official documents relating to the F35B development prior to sea trials, and not by an urban legend).

The F35B did not melt the deck, just as the C did not melt the Jet Blast Deflectors on trials. The USMC were also quick, when they released the Wasp trials videos, to specify that the very evidently freshly re-coated flight deck of the LHA had been treated with the usual, standard coatings, and specifically so that, after using the F35B on it, it would be possible to analyze the eventual damages.


The trials confirmed that most of the fears were fortunately unfunded, but despite the triumphant claims made by the USMC publically, the DoD documents show that there still are some issues and worries.
The F35B jet blast generates a 75 feet danger radius that must be kept in consideration during all deck ops, and while it does not melt the deck, it does degrade the coatings and paint much, much faster than any other aircraft but the MV-22, which has the same kind of hot exhaust issues, even if the propulsion is entirely different.

The US Navy official announcement at the end of the trials eventually specified that the new coating on Wasp was actually not entirely legacy and standard, after all. Landing Spot 9, used for the Vertical Landings, was coated with a new, experimental non-skid material, the Thermion
With the words of the US Navy statement:

Also being tested is a newer non-skid deck surface, Thermion, which is supported by a mechanical bond of ceramic and aluminum that makes the surface more resistant to extreme heat and better endures the wear and tear of flight operations. The Thermion covers landing spot nine on the flight deck, a small area used for vertical landings.

“The Thermion shows no signs of heat stress, which is good for the F-35, and eventually good for all surface ships,” said Kalnajs. [topside design and integration technical warrant for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)]

In addition, a series of other modifications were made to the USS Wasp for enabling it to work with the F35B, some of them definitive, such as the re-location of some antennas and radomes, some of them made for prudence and likely to be only temporary, such as replacing the rear Sparrow missile launcher with a dummy one, laced with sensors to measure heat, vibrations, overpressure, and sound levels, to make sure that aircrafts coming in to land won't damage the actual launcher or, worse, cause a missile cock-up inside it.
An almost certainly definitive change is the

moving (of) the flight deck’s “Tram Line,” or yellow line, which is used by pilots to guide them when performing short landings, closer to the port side of the ship.
This is due to the larger wingspan and greater sizes of the F35B compared to the Harrier. 
In total, JSF modifications ammounted to 6.4 million dollars in expenditure.

It is fair to expect the presence of Thermion in the deck coatings of the LHDs and LHAs of the USMC in the future, and it would be no surprise at all if Thermion made its way onto CVF as well.
So long as it works, all is good.

The F35 program is continuing to progress in its test and validation phase: one very important news is that solutions to the imagery lag and jitter issues of the Helmet Mounted Display have been engineered and are going to soon be flight tested. A new model of micro-camera is also due to be tested, hopefully solving the problem of acuity of the Night Vision imagery.
These mods are crucial to the success of the F35, which has in its HMD a fundamental component, also due to the decision of having no traditional HUD on board.

The sensors and mission system tests are also speeding up, with the aim of validating the Software Block 2A in the near future. Two-ways Data Link 16, radar, and infra-red targeting systems are all being tested and progressively readied.

So far into this year, both the F35B and F35C are reportedly 20% ahead of their test schedule. We are getting closer to validating the top performances required, with the F35B having flown to Mach 1.4 and having flown to 49.000 feet altitude, so well on the way for the final target of Mach 1.6 and 50.000 feet. It also achieved its expected 7G maneuver limit and validated its maximum airspeed of 630 knots.
The F35B is 50% done through its testing with clean-wing profile.

The F35C validated its 7.5 G limit and flew to 630 knots, but the naval variant requirement is 700 knots, so testing has not concluded. The C flew to 45.000 feet.
It is roughly 40% done in clean-wing configuration testing. Testing with external payloads will have to follow.
In the summer, the re-designed tailhook is due to be tested. 

The F35A is 45% done with its overall test program.

All variants have started flying with weapon payloads, and later this year tests for validation of high angle of attack maneuvers (50° is the requirement) will start. And at that point perhaps we'll have a solution to another cry often heard by people looking at F35 videos: "That's not a fighter jet, it never makes tight turns!".

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quick News - UPDATED 23 May

350 million pounds in design work for Successor Submarine (Vanguard Replacement): announcement expected in this week.

UPDATE: announcement delivered. 328 million pounds for BAE in design work, 4 million to Rolls Royce for initial work on integration of the PWR3 nuclear reactor into the new submarine and 15 million to Babcock for initial work on solutions for in-service support.

The expenditure is part of the 3 billion pounds budgeted in 2010 for early SSBN design activities and long-lead orders. The 3 billions will be progressively committed to the program by year 2016, when the Successor Submarine program will meet its Main Gate decision point. By then, the design is expected to be at least 70% mature, and long lead orders will have been placed for the first 3 vessels, for a value of 380 million pounds for the first down to six for the third.
Expenditure on the fourth submarine will only happen (eventually) post 2016, when the decision is taken, at Main Gate, about the fleet consistency. The committment to retain Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD) is a strong factor in favor of a 4-boats fleet. While CASD is in theory possible with 3 vessels, there is no marging at all for problems that, occasionally, do pop up.  

8th RAF C17 handed over by Boeing: wow, that was fast! 200 million pounds well expended.

Voyager troubles: in order to meet delivery targets, at least one more of the RAF's Voyagers will be converted in Spain and not in the UK. Work ongoing to solve the fuel leak problem with Tornado in-flight refuelling.

NATO signs AGS contract: 1.7 billion dollars for the 5 Global Hawk Block 40 drones, to be based in Sigonella. Everyone in NATO expected to contribute to support costs, but France and UK want to offer Heron drones and Sentinel R1 airplanes respectively instead of cash. That would save the Sentinel from retirement in 2015, so it is double welcome if confirmed.

A new Squadron to stand up on RAF Leuchars with Typhoon jets: I Squadron RAF to return officially on 15 September this year as Typhoon squadron, after having been a Joint Force Harrier GR9 squadron until 2011.
Once I Sqn was expected to be a JCA/F35 squadron, among with IV squadron and possibly 800 and 801 Naval Air Service squadrons. Plan has changed in recent times, however, and IV Squadron identity went to the Hawk T2 training squadron already.
Who gets the F35?
And has something changed regarding Typhoons transferring to Lossiemouth, with Leuchars to become an Army Base?
We might not know until near year's end, when a new, updated Basing plan for the forces is expected.

Big export win in Saudi Arabia: officers and pilots of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will train british style, using 22 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers, 55 Pilatus PC-21 and 25 yet-to-be-chosen primary training aircrafts, procured in a 1.6 billion pounds deal with BAE systems.

Replacing ALARM; fighting in hostile skies

The ALARM missile, national solution to the RAF requirement for the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD), is arguably by far the most advanced Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) on the market, able as it is to loiter over an area to strike at enemy radars as soon as they turn on, and has the especially good feature of being relatively small and light, allowing carriage of numerous missiles on a single plane. On a Tornado GR4, ALARM missiles can be carried as self defence weapons, along with other weapon payloads, to help the jet make its way through the enemy defences to its target.

The Tornado can carry a huge amount of ALARM rounds, making for a very capable SEAD asset

With the ALARM missiles under the wings and 12 Brimstones under the fuselage, this Tornado is ready to self-escort itself against enemy air defence networks while it goes tank-hunting. A Meteor-based solution would enable this useful capability to stay with the Typhoon and F35.

Even the Tornado F3, in its last years of service, could employ the ALARM. The Sea Harrier also was capable to employ the missile, which was never cleared, curiously, on the RAF Harriers instead. Once, Typhoon was expected to carry at least 6 ALARMs, from 2013. The plan has been abandoned. 

The ALARM's best feature is that it does not require a dedicate SEAD airplane to be employed, differently from the US HARM, which requires a variety of specialized radar-locating ESM to be fitted to the launching platforms: so, while the RAF can notionally put ALARM missiles on any Tornado GR4 (and, from 2003 to their retirement in 2011, on Tornado F3 as well), air forces using the HARM have to use specialized, purpose-built/kitted airplanes for the SEAD role. This is true for Germany and Italy (Tornado ECR variant) and for the US as well.

The old generation HARM is also quite easily countered by turning down the targeted radar, leaving the missile without guidance. With the ALARM, this is not possible, as the missile can still navigate its way to the target, or anyway go into loitering mode, climbing at high altitude and dangling from a parachute, forcing the enemy to either keep the radar turned off, letting the strike jets pass, or turn on the radar and be destroyed.

The ALARM, however, is approaching the end of its service life. Although unconfirmed, a 2013 out of service date has appeared on some documents, and the requirement for integration of the missile on Typhoon has been dropped.
The HARM is even more out of date, and less and less effective, but the USAF's attempts of producing a replacement in the form of a multi-role missile capable to replace at once the AMRAAM and HARM have so far been unsuccessful, with the latest in a series of development effort being killed off by the 2012 budget cuts at the DoD.

The HARM uses speed as its main instrument for success, being meant to hit the radar quickly after it is located, rushing against it at high supersonic speed, but its inability to pursue radars that are shut down after its launch have limited its combat effectiveness already in the 90s, making it less and less convincing and reliable a solution to the SEAD problem.
Differently from the USAF, which is willing to wait on an HARM replacement in order to develop a super multi-role future missile, the US Navy and USMC have chosen a quicker, simpler path to walk. Since 2003, the US Navy is funding the development and acquisition of an improved HARM, the AGM88E AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile) which is meant to counter radar-shutdown techniques and introduce other improvements. The missile is fitted with a passive radar seeker, which locks onto the enemy radar emissions; a GPS navigation system capable to keep in memory the position of the enemy radiation source, and an active, millimeter-wave radar seeker (similar to that used by the Longbow Hellfire and Brimstone missiles) to detect, identify and track the radar and SAM launchers for striking them with accuracy even if the emissions are terminated.

In 2005 the AARGM also gained the funding and participation of the Italian armed forces, which use HARM missiles on the Tornado ECR SEAD airplanes of the 155° Squadron, 50° Wing, based in San Damiano, near Piacenza. The AARGM is thus going to be employed on airplanes such as the Growler, the Prowler and, by Italy, on the Tornado ECR and, possibly in the future, on Typhoon. Germany is a possible future user of the AARGM as well, depending on what they decide to do with their own SEAD squadron on Tornado ECR, or with their Typhoons. Use on the F35B (external carriage) is also a distinct possibility, since the US Marines will not have a replacement for their Prowlers, and won't field any Growler. The F35B is all they are going to have.
The missile could also go on the USAF F16 Wild Weasels (the SEAD specialists) and on F/A-18s and other platforms.
The american AGM-88 HARM (A, B, C) and AGM-88E AARGM family is the current american SEAD kinetic effector

Italy's participation in the AARGM followed the failure of an european, German-led initiative for the development of a new generation ARG missile. The program died for lack of funding, unfortunately, but between the late 90s and early 00s, the initiative generated the ARMIGER (Anti-Radiation Missile with Intelligent Guidance and Extended Range). The AARGM was seen as a low cost, low risk alternative, as most of the missile (propulsion, warhead) is just carried through from existing HARM of the AGM88B and C variants already in use.
The ARMIGER was a new missile, faster and with longer range thanks to the adoption of RamJet propulsion (as on the Meteor, to which the ARMIGER bores some resemblance). It was to use a double seeker with a passive radar sensor and an Infrared Imaging one for terminal guidance. It gained the interest of the RAF, of Italy and even of France, but ultimately went nowhere. 

Two images of the abandoned ARMIGER: the resemblance with the Meteor is quite evident. The Meteor however only has two Ram Jet air ducts, on its underside, in order to fit into the Typhoon's under-fuselage recesses. Note the windows of the Imaging Infra Red seeker, coupled to a passive radar receiver. Speed was to be superior to Mach 3 over a range greater than 100 km. Both performances should be even bested by a Meteor-derived solution: the warhead might need changes, though, in order to engage radar antennas and vehicle-mounted SAM systems efficiently.

In 2001, however, the new idea was to take the ARMIGER double seeker, and fit it to the Meteor air to air missile body, creating an ARM with the same size factors of the new air to air missile. This would mean dramatic advantages, opening up many more options for carriage, including the under-fuselage recesses of the Typhoon and the weapon bays of the F35.
Targeting would require a couple of Typhoons flying together and sharing their sensor-generated picture to triangulate the source of enemy radiations. The missile would work like the AARGM, but be totally passive (undetectable to ESM) thanks to its terminal guidance being based on an Infrared seeker instead of a radar one.

The Meteor should finally enter service around 2015, after several delays. France has ordered 200, the UK an undisclosed amount, Sweden and Italy and Germany should also buy several hundred missiles. Export potential is very good and several potential customers are said to have asked MBDA about the missile already. Even the US Navy was, and potentially still is, interested.

Unfortunately, even this approach seems not to have proceeded much further, with no funding being provided in the latest years, even though the US themselves became interested in the effort, in particular the US Navy. Boeing was tasked with studying the feasibility of a ARM Meteor, and studies were completed, apparently with success. Back then, the Meteor was faced with a double, huge opportunity: being selected by the US Navy as a Phoenix long-range AAM replacement, and as new ARM.
However, no one in Europe committed funding for the ARM development, and the craving of the US Navy for a new Phoenix eventually went a bit cold as time moved on, even though it is not entirely vanished even now.

The lack of decision and courage on the multi-role Meteor is a really sad one. The US Navy eventually started the AARGM effort, while continuing to make tests for a new, much faster missile as a long-term replacement.
Then, in 2005, there was another twitch of life for the Meteor ARM, when Italy joined the AARGM effort but, looking at the future, required, as part of the negotiations over the program, to study the feasibility of putting the AARGM seeker onto the Meteor.
Despite the AARGM being 250 mm in diameter, against 180 for the Meteor, the seeker system was small enough to make the migration feasible. As of 2011, this development path was still talked of, and in theory it is an alive concept, but progress is unheard of, since no one is exactly committing to the system, and the only real hope at the moment is represented by the US Navy eventually deciding to aim strongly for the Meteor, perhaps with the ambition of bringing in service also the basic air-to-air variant, as Phoenix replacement and, long term, possibly as AMRAAM successor (NOTE: while the USAF is studying and testing options for long term AMRAAM replacement as seen earlier, the US Navy is not at the moment planning an AMRAAM replacement of its own, counting to use its AIM-120 stocks for many more years).

A game-changing development could be the commitment of the RAF to this relatively low-risk solution. It is possible (albeit of course far from certain) that the decision of the UK to develop the Meteor ARM would be the stimulus needed for partners such as Germany and Italy or even the US Navy to "get on with it", as the requirement definitely exists, but no one seems to want to go at it alone, fearing the costs of such an enterprise.
A Meteor-based ARM would be compatible with internal carriage in the F35's bays, and readily available for use from the 6 Typhoon stations cleared for Meteor. It could represent a huge export win, if the F35 sells a lot (as expected) in the next 30 years, just because it would be the only compatible ARM.
It would not have the loitering mode of the ALARM, but thanks to its radar or IIR terminal guidance it would not need it, as it would be able to see the radar, recognize it, and hit it even if it is turned off.
It would be possibly twice as fast as HARM (Meteor is a Mach 4 missile) and it could well offer a massively increased range (the Meteor is an unique AAM because its RamJet engine burns for the whole length of the attack sequence. AMRAAM's rocket, instead, burns very quickly, accelerating the missile to Mach 4 and then turning off, letting the missile fly forwards only on the accumulated kinetic energy. Having propulsion all the time, the Meteor offers a much greater range, and a much greater "no escape" zone as it can maneuver a lot more without losing speed and kinetic energy, differently from AMRAAM. Attacking a static or semi-static target such as a ground based radar, even truck or tank-mounted, does not require much in terms of maneuvers, and would allow the missile to glide at high speed for many more miles after the engine dies off for lack of fuel, extending the range probably by a huge margin).

It could be possible to develop a multi-role Meteor, with appropriate funding [a missile meeting the USAF specifics of "Triple Target Terminator" by combining active and passive radar seeker allowing it to work as air-to-air missile, Anti-Radiation Missile and ground-attack missile for the destruction of time-sensitive targets] but this might be too ambitious and expensive, at least in the short term.
Developing an ARM variant of the Meteor, to add to the air-to-air one, on the other end, seems a relatively straightforward job, with at least two Seekers up to the job and pretty much ready for adoption.

If there's a weapon program i'd like to see added to the "Complex Weapons" initiative list of to-do, it is the Meteor ARM.

Electronic War: no need to Growl  

It has been noted, rightfully so, that in Europe there's no one at the moment with adequate strategic electronic war capabilities. In Libya last year the only way for NATO to have a wall of electronic disturbs to hide behind was to have US Navy Growlers or Prowlers leading the way to the targets.

Electronic War is important in today's technological battlefield, and it is likely to be even more relevant in tomorrow's one. Accordingly, the US Navy is acquiring a consistent number of Growler airplanes specialized in EW. They are acquiring over one hundred, to form 10 squadrons, each with 5 airplanes, to assign to each of the Aircraft Carrier Air Wings. 4 more "Expeditionary" squadrons add to the force for supporting enduring operations and land operations, helping the USAF fill the hole left by the termination of the B52 standoff jammer system. The 14 squadrons are supported by a 12-airplane Fleet Replacement Squadron training the personnel for service. 

The EA-18G Growler is the latest incarnation of the Hornet family. It is a world-beating Electronic Warfare platform, but it is currently limited by its ALQ-99 EW system, which is aging, eats a lot of power, and takes away a lot of space.

The Growler is a powerful war machine of the modern times. It combines EW and kinetic weaponry on a capable F/A-18 airframe. It goes into battle normally loaded with the pods of the EW system plus a couple of HARM/AARGM missiles for the physical destruction of radars, and a couple of AMRAAM missiles for self defence. It is the replacement for the old Prowlers.    

The USMC has its own 4 Electronic War squadrons, equipped with Prowler, but they have no plan of putting in service any Growler. Their program is to keep the Prowler going in the short term, sustaining their fleet with the airplanes that the US Navy replaces with Growlers, and then provide EW from the F35B and from a drone yet to be selected.
It is expected that the USMC Prowler squadrons will begin to disband, one per year, from 2016 to 2019/2020.
The replacement is intended to be in the form of F35Bs carrying Next Generation Jammer pods. The NGJ is a replacement program for the ALQ-99 EW system used on the Growler, and its integration on the F35 is especially relevant for the USMC.
For the UK, the Next Generation Jammer represents a big chance of expanding its capabilities at relatively low cost and complication. There's no need to have the EA-18 Growler to obtain world-class capacity to blind the enemy sensors and silence their communications, once the development of NGJ and its fielding on JSF are on the way. Unfortunately, there is no date at the moment for F35 integration, but the USMC's need for a Prowler replacement and the unwillingness to renounce to the advantages of a jet fleet on sole F35s should ensure that the program progresses at some point in the next few years.