Thursday, June 26, 2014

News from the forces - Check for updates

IPA-7 to fly this year to experiment new Typhoon aerodynamics feature; Brimstone 2 and CFTs

The german instrumented aircraft IPA-7 is preparing to fly with a package of aerodynamic modifications including LERX and strakes. The german side of Eurofighter has been working on LERX surfaces for quite a long time, to demonstrate that the Typhoon's agility can be improved.

FlightGlobal reports on the expected benefits of the changes:

The article does not cover the annoying part of this new aerodynamics program, which instead appeared in the mega special issue on Typhoon 20th anniversary by AirForcesMonthly, which by the way is strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in Typhoon. The information is that Conformal Fuel Tanks can have "quite a severe impact" on stability margins for Typhoon, causing strakes to be considered "essential enablers". 

It seems, in other words, that the Tranche 3A is not as "ready to take" the CFT as we've been told for a while. This means cost and complexities to re-introduce the new aerodynamics afterwards. My confidence on seeing CFTs on RAF Typhoons has dropped a lot when i read that. Even though inserting LERX and strakes should not be particularly challenging, we all know how tight the budget is, and while the RAF has opened a program and a funding line for AESA radar, one for CFT was missing, even before these news.

Then a 5 million contract for early studies on Brimstone 2 integration on Typhoon was awarded to BAE, with the aim of having the missile available by 2018, in time to avoid a gap as Tornado GR4 sis withdrawn. Good news, but again with a bitter part: the Brimstone integration contract covers only four pylons instead of the once planned six, leaving out the "wet" pylons needed for external fuel tanks. My confidence on ever seeing CFTs on RAF Typhoons dropped even lower still, because logic suggests that, if there was confidence in adopting CFTs, having the Brimstone integrated on all main underwing pylons would make sense. Paveway was integrated on all pylons, for example. Integration on all pylons would give flexibility in terms of max load and mixing of Paveway IV and Brimstone, with the CFTs more than compensating the loss of the under-wing fuel tanks (possibly even giving 3000 litres instead of 2000).

It was once expected that Brimstone launchers would be integrated on all six A-S pylons under the wings, like Paveway. It does not seem to be the case.

But without CFTs, external tanks will pretty much always be there, and that would explain the "no bothering with wet pylons" approach.

A first configuration of LERX was flight tested already years ago

Worst part by far in a possible no-CFTs scenario is the Storm Shadow carry config. No way to avoid the loss of 2000 litres of fuel, in that configuration, which ranks among the most fuel thirsty because of Storm Shadow weight and drag. A bad deal, if that proves to be the case. I can only hope that we will actually see CFTs brought in, despite the challenges.

Meanwhile, the Typhoons of 6 RAF Squadron completed their transfer to Lossiemouth on June 20, and celebrated the event by flying in a big Six formation.

Picture by

Typhoons in the refurbished Hangar No3 at Lossiemouth

The Typhoon has also had a few sad news in recent times, with one spanish unit crashed and one air collision in Germany which sent a Learjet with two people on board crashing. The air collision is likely to add new urgency to the RAF's work, revealed in december 2013, for testing and adopting a Collision Avoidance system for installation on Typhoon.
The Honeywell TCAS II collision avoidance system has been in the meanwhile purchased for installation on Tornado GR4, after many years of hesitations and delays.

F-35A ground fire putting pressure on plans to deploy F-35B to the UK

Following the fire which developed in the aft section of an USAF F-35A taking off from Eglin AFB, F-35A and F-35B flying has been put on a safety pause while the damaged aircraft is examinated to determine the likely cause of the accident.
A full investigation and report could easily take between 60 and 90 days, and that would be a very serious issue. At the moment, the F-35 fleet is not grounded, and flying is expected to resume immediately if the preliminary findings are favorable. Commanders with responsibility for the test, training and operational fleets will decide whether to authorize flying or not, on a daily basis, until full confidence is restored.
The deployment of 4 F-35Bs to the United Kingdom remains planned, with the first useful window for the transatlantic flight from Patuxent River being on June 29. Time margins are most evidently tight, and pressure is undoubtedly mounting.

Tide class tankers construction begins in South Korea

DSME cut the first steel for the future RFA Tidespring on June 24, the first of four new tankers to be built under the MARS Fleet Tanker programme. Hull manufacturing will take just 10 months from first steel cut to launch, while the blocks making up the ship are expected to be joined up in just 50 days. Handover of the basic ship, ready for the sea, to the MOD is planned for 15 October 2015 in South Korea.

A crew of around 30 from the RFA will sail the ship to the UK, where it will be extensively customized and fitted out with all the role-specific equipment. Entry in service in 2016.

Photo by BMT

According to the schedule, DSME will hand the last ship in the class (Tideforce) to the MOD on 15 April 2017. All deliveries will happen six months apart.

First three Chinook HC6 active in Odiham

The first three new Chinook HC6 have been re-assembled and put in service in RAF Odiham. Reportedly, their digital flight control system is performing excellently, so much so that the RAF is already trying to work towards a new upgrade program for the rest of the fleet, to roll out digital flight controls on all other Chinooks.

The Digital Automatic Flight Control System on the HC6 provides improved handling qualities and aircraft stability, and increases safety of operations in brown out conditions. Deliveries of the HC6 are due to complete before the end of 2015, and Full Operational Capability in No 7 Squadron is due by 2017. 

Plans on how to employ and base the expanded fleet of 60 Chinooks are not yet finalized. RAF Odiham is not large enough to support intense usage of all 60 helicopters, the station commander went on record saying. Some of the helicopter might end up parked in hangars as back-ups instead of genuine additional helicopters. To avoid this scenario, the hope is to stand up a "new" Chinook squadron, by re-roling one of the current two Merlin HC3 squadrons, which will soon disband as the Merlin is handed over to the Commando Helicopter Force. 
The idea is to exploit the space available at nearly Benson to stand up a Chinook OCU squadron on the base (which already hosts the simulators and training rooms for the type), while keeping the current squadrons in Odiham as frontline fleet. 

Commando Helicopter Force takes over the Merlin HC3 in September

September 30 is the date planned for the takeover of the Merlin force by the CHF. Immediately after, in early October, AgustaWestland will begin the phase 1 conversion of 7 Merlin HC3 in HC3I, with basic navalisation. 
These helicopters will cover the gap between the withdrawal of Sea King HC4 and the arrival of the first fully marinised Phase 2 Merlins HC4 in 2017. The HC3I (Interim) will be brought to full Phase 2 / HC4) standard at the end of the program. 
The deliveries might have been speeded up, with the end date earlier indicated as March 2022 being now apparently 2020. 

The current RAF Merlin squadrons will disband: 78 Sqn should disband already in September, replaced by the reformed 846 NAS, while 28 Sqn will stand down in mid-2015. 

FRES SV Troop carrying variant showcased 

The only big news from DVD2014 so far is the unveiling of the pre-production prototype of the Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support variant of the FRES SV family. 
This vehicle, mainly intended to replace Spartan, carries 8 dismounts and is equipped with a variety of systems: 

Its extensive capabilities include acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route marking system, an advanced electronic architecture and a high performance power pack.

Like the Scout is planned to be, the PMRS variant seems to be also equipped with a Vitavox public address system that allows the vehicle's commander to speak to people outside the vehicle without exposing himself to danger. The vehicle in static exposition sports a RWS with .50 machine gun, and a 360° degrees situation awareness system, integrated with very thick add-on armour kit. Details, however, still are few.

I will avoid the easy (and sad) irony inspired by the "Ready to go" sign, considering the story of FRES. 

VitaVox was awared a 2.8 million contract for its Public Address system in January 2013

The cost of the demonstration phase has grown from 500 to 600 millions, as work on developing future variants (ambulance, possibly also engineer recce and command post) has been brought forwards and included in current activities. The MOD is now trying to cut the waiting and get to the signing of a production contract before the general elections and SDSR come in and impose the usual delays and uncertainty. 

Minister Dunne is sitting in the gunner's seat. An hatch above him allows access and reload of ammunition boxes on the Kongsberg Protector RWS. Armed with the .50 heavy machine gun, the RWS is stabilized to allow fire on the move. To the left of the minister, slighty ahead, the Commander's position can be partially observed. The driver sits further ahead, down in the front of the hull. The number of dismount seats, surprisingly, remains controversial: it varies from 3 to 8 in news reports. Official MOD and General Dynamics news releases made no clarity on this point.

UPDATE: the PMRS seen at DVD does indeed have only 3 seats for dismounts, all on the left side, facing a huge storage space on the right side. If this is the final recce support configuration, the Support Troop in reconnaissance Sabre Squadrons, assuming it remains on four vehicles, will still have 24 (1 officer, 23 soldiers) men, spread six per vehicle as with the far smaller and lighter Spartan APC. The Spartan, however, carries 4 dismounts and 2 crew, while PMRS has a crew of 3.

Photo by Defence Photography. Visit the gallery:

Photo by Defence Photography. Visit the gallery:

Immensely interesting images of the inside of the vehicle and of the engine hatch open for maintenance are available thanks to Defence Photography:

WalesOnline and Forces TV have a few more interesting photo of PMRS:

And video:

Regarding numbers, Lochkeed Martin hopes to produce 245 turrets, suggesting that 245 Scout vehicles will be produced. Including PMRS, Recovery and Repair vehicles, the FRES SV Block 1 should include in total between 400 and 580 vehicles.

Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme

At DVD, something is on the move about the LEP programme for Challenger 2. The programme is in its concept phase, and taking shape for initial gate decisions planned in the first quarter of 2015.

Unfortunately, the budget, once hoped to be in the 1.2 billion pounds range, has been reduced to 700 millions. The risk now is that upgrading all the 227 tanks left in the Army might not be possible, creating a two-tier fleet which might even result in a further cut, as the non-upgraded tanks could become simply impossible to use. 

This follows a years long drop in the ambitions related to Challenger 2 modernisation, which already saw the dropping of the project for fitting a smoothbore, NATO-standard gun and, most likely, the abandonement of any ambition about replacing the powerpack as well.

Bridging for the future 

Another army programme that should pick up momentum in the next months is the renewal of bridging equipment to extend its service life and increase its Military Load Class capability to ensure gap crossing for the heavier, up-armored and new generation army vehicles. 

BR90 equipment will likely get refurbished and upgraded with a CSP programme, but new buy is also an option: WFEL is at DVD2014, proudly displaying its Dry Support Bridge, a strong contender for the british army requirement. With the capability to bridge a 46 meters gap with a Military Load Class 120, this strong bridge more than meets the requirements set forth by the MOD.

The british army will decide the way forwards with a competition under Project Tyro, to be launched in October. At this point, the BR90 ABLE launching equipment and the Unipower bridge carrying trucks might indeed change. Earlier ambitions included mounting the bridging equipment on a more standard and wide-used army vehicle, ideally the MAN support trucks, to achieve logistic commonality with the SV fleet, and there might still be a chance to see it happening. At DVD2014, the Dry Support Bridge was seen on the Iveco Trakker truck, which is also in british army use, albeit in the low hundreds instead of in the thousands like MAN SV. The Trakker has the advantage of being a cheaper truck, though, and that might help. 

Warrior CSP and ABSV 

The Warrior CSP should finally progress. There have been several months of delay from original expectations, but manned firing trials should take place over the end of this year and in early 2015. The Critical Design Review should be completed in the second quarter of 2015, and then the army should finally be able to start acceptance trials. 

11 vehicles in all variants will be prepared for the trials. Their production is expected to take 9 months, and will happed at the UK DSG facilities in Telford. The CSP prototypes will include six FV510 Section Vehicles, two FV511 Infantry Command Vehicles, one recovery and one repair vehicles (FV512 and FV513) and one FV514 Artillery Observation.

The final number of vehicles to be upgraded is not yet set in stone. The decision is expected to be made in the new year. The bottom target figure is 381 vehicles, including 250 turreted ones. The NAO report 2013 suggests 445 vehicles are the army's plan for the upgrade, but it is not clear if this figure includes ABSV.

Note that 250 turreted vehicles (FV510 and FV511) would not be sufficient to cover the six planned armoured infantry battalions and training fleet needs. Considering that each battalion needs about 50 turreted Warriors, a total of 250 would realistically cover only 4 battalions, plus training margins.

It has now been reported that the ABSV program has been formally separated from Warrior CSP. The programme should progress towards Initial Gate before the year's over, and in-service date is tentatively fixed for 2019, to stay roughly in line with the introduction of the upgraded Warriors.

Using surplus Warrior hulls for ABSV remains an option, but is no longer considered the automatic choice. The Army will look at the available options.
ABSV is to deliver much needed replacement for FV430s used in Command Post, Mortar and Ambulance roles. An Anti-Tank variant is tentatively envisaged: currently, british armoured infantry battalions do not have vehicle-mounted anti-tank systems, but employ Javelin teams disembarking from slightly modified FV510 Section vehicles (turreted).
An ABSV anti-tank variant, if it ever happened, would replace the FV510 in this role and thus reduce the number of FV510s upgraded needed.
The Army will have to balance these considerations, and stay inside tight budget constraints.

BAE has shown at DVD a turretless Warrior ABSV demonstrator in mortar carrier configuration, fitted with slat armour, 360° Situational Awareness camera fit and a Selex Enforcer RWS. 

British Army will trial lots of french kit 

A rifle company from 4 RIFLES battalion will deploy to southern France in september for an 8-month training and trial programme on the french VBCI vehicle. The trial is known as Project Brittany, and will inform requirements for the future FRES UV restart. 
The VBCI was one of the contenders in the 2008 evaluations for the ill-fated earlier life of the FRES UV programme, but lost out early because it did not adequately respond to key british requirements: the engine couldn't be removed and replaced in the field, and the growth margin was insufficient. 

In these years, however, the VBCI underwent upgrades and is now offered with new suspensions and transmission enabling weight growth to 32 tons; engine replacement in the field, 4th wheel steering for improved tight turning; upgraded air conditioning and engine power; repositioned fuel tanks and better optimization of internal available volume. 

British personnel will also trial the CAESAR self-propelled truck mounted 155/52 howitzer, and the 120mm heavy mortars to inform future requirements as the out of service dates of AS90 and L118, already pushed to the right several times, draw nearer. It will be years, though, before anything actually moves on.

Type 26 new contracts 

General Electric to supply the electric motors
Imtech Marine to supply HVAC and low voltage power systems
Babcock at work on advanced Air Weapons Handling System

FASGW(Light) contract for final development and Wildcat integration signed 

Thales has been awarded a 48 million pounds contract for the final development of the 5-pack LMM launcher and for its integration on the AW159 Wildcat helicopter.


  1. good post as ever. My personal view is these new RFA's will be incredibly useful. I think as time goes on the line between "warship" and "non warship" will get more and more blurred.

    Clive F

    1. MARS FT has been badly needed for quite a long while, it was a relief seeing the programme finally moving when the contract was signed.

      Now the next big struggle is MARS FSS, which is potentially even more decisive in terms of future shape and capabilities of the Navy.

    2. It was meant to be 6 tankers originally wasn't it? Although the way things go these days i was still mildly surprised and relieved to see that 4 were replacing the 3 old Rover/Leaf ships in service. Shaping up to be a good buy!

      MARS FSS will be crucial to get right. The idea of a genuinely multi-purpose vessel with a large hangar/flight-deck, boats on davits, a stern ramp etc in addition to their primary replenishment duties sounds promising As Clive F said the lines between auxiliary and warship may continue to blur, which i personally see as a good thing and an important way of trying to take some of the strain off of the overworked destroyer/frigate force.

      I guess the challenge will be to fund as much of that extra stuff as possible without seeing the unit cost skyrocket.

    3. Yes, up to six tankers were once envisaged, with one being optimized for carrier strike group support. But it was another navy back then, with greater hopes, more manpower and more hulls.
      MARS FT so far still looks very much like a very good deal though, it is true. A true leap in capability from what is in use now.

      And the importance of MARS FSS can't be overstated, i believe. I'm worried by how little talk there is about these vessels, and i'm worried by how other programs are rushing towards contract awards to arrive to the SDSR with deals signed and locked in stone as much as possible. That leaves MARS FSS especially vulnerable. Let's hope it goes the right way.

    4. Six tankers including the two Waves still isn't terrible, and both larger and more capable than their predecessors.

      Haven't the three remaining Forts recently started getting refits to see them out to 2023-2024?

      The RFA will need some kind of replenishment vessel in around a decades time so i'd say it's safe to assume MARS FSS will slowly push on. I share your concern though over hull numbers and capabilities. Ending up with two basic replenishment vessels instead of three with all the extra bits and pieces to make them more multi-role would be a raw deal but one that has plenty of precedent and that i can sadly see happening.

      Yes, let's hope something more concrete begins to form where they are concerned before or during the next SDSR.

    5. Yes, Fort Austin and Fort Rosalie are due to bow out in 2023 and 2024 after their OSD was pushed to the right again. Fort Victoria possibly to follow in 2025.
      Come 2015, a decision on FSS will be needed: these programs take time, and it is more than time to start rolling.

  2. Fascinating updates. A couple of gems stand out -
    1. The Chinook situation is surely indicative of fundamental problems with MOD planning - ie that we have the potential of owning a fleet of 60 aircraft for any period at all without the means to operate that many (either infrastructure or crews). When the order was placed for an additional 14, in effect as replacements for the Merlin HC3, surely all the thinking around crewing and basing had been done....?
    2. The mystery of FRES SV costs continues - not wishing to belabour the point, but it is still difficult to understand just why the demonstration phase is costing £600m
    3. This sudden French enthusiasm is bizzare for two reasons -
    a. While the equipment being offered is perfectly adequate, it is not clear how it would actually meet UK needs - surely M777 is the clear replacement for the L118, with the Portee idea being perfect should more mechanisation be required. VBCI is an wheeled IFV - surely if we were to collaborate with the French on an APC, the equivalent for the UK requirement would be their VAB replacement - the AMC?
    b. where is the French reciprocation planned (or being requested) - the only "potential" purchase ever mooted is that of Watchkeeper..... and even that appears at best "perhaps" and only until a fully European equivalent is developed.... If the UK is to buy both its only APC and its only artillery piece from France, surely we should be expecting them to, for example, replace Alphajet with Hawk and/or their purchase of Terrier etc etc. One gets the feeling that this is going to turn into the "joint" helicopter deal of the 1960s/70s, where in return for the French buying 20 Lynx, we bought dozens of Pumas and over 100 Gazelles....

    1. France has indeed sent its own personnel over to try Terrier, and interest in it is alive. That and Watchkeeper could be their part of the deal.
      By the way, i wouldn't get too worried about the trials of french kit: any potential purchase is sadly sitting in a distant future, beyond tough budget battles all yet to be overcome.

      I do think that the french VBMR, their 6x6 replacement for VAB, might be a more affordable and equally interesting solution, in particular because i would really encourage the british army to mechanize more than just 3 battalions.

      The M777 Portee is a very good bit of kit, i believe, and it would make for an excellent replacement of the L118, since the Portee is light, Chinook compatible, highly mobile and, importantly, it can separate gun and truck. It was a brilliant product, i think, and it more than deserves new consideration when the time comes.
      For replacing the AS90, if i was the one making the choice, the german AGM turret on a FRES SV hull would be my choice right away.

    2. It is nice to know I am not going completely mad then. On each point -
      1. Hopefully sanity will prevail and the VBMR / AMC option will be the one pursued. This option is both cheaper and offers more ability for a truly "joint" development. Probably in the realm of fantasy, but the objective should be to standardise on this as the standard vehicle for all heavy & light protected mobility batallions (mechanised infantry in any other army) - 9 is the current number planned....
      2. Portee would then form 5 regiments, with the donar / mlrs combo forming the other 3 - again leveraging ASCOD as the standard heavy armour - perfect thinking.

  3. Nice bits and pieces of info Gab!

    So will Typhoon with external tanks have the same range as if it had proper conformal fuel tanks, just with two less weapons pylons available?

    I guess Benson and Odiham will have to share the larger Chinook fleet. Is the idea of reforming either 28 or 78 squadron with some of these additional air-frames just a personal wish of yours or something that seems to be increasingly likely to happen?

    1. 2 external fuel tanks bring 2000 liters, while CFTs would, i believe, contain 3000. The CFTs should also come with less drag than external tanks, so CFTs should be considerably more effective in extending range. And their advantage is that they don't take away weapon pylons: Storm Shadow in particular can only be fitted in place of the external tanks, and since Storm Shadow raids are normally strategic and long-range, having more drag and also 2000 litres of fuel less is a very bad deal.

      Reforming one of the Merlin squadrons on Chinook is one of the options on the table, and the RAF favorite for obvious reasons. The issue is that it is, of course, also the most expensive option. Forming an OCU Sqn in Benson, i'm told, is the current idea, but a funding line will have to be secured for that.

    2. CFTs sound pretty advantageous then, especially where Storm Shadow is concerned.

      A fourth proper Chinook squadron would be great and make sense but i can appreciate it wouldn't come cheap. A OCU at Benson sounds like a reasonable compromise, although why don't any of the helicopter fleets have OCU's to begin with like most other aircraft types in service?

    3. They have, effectively, but the squadrons acting as OCU also have a more remarked frontline role.
      A squadron more training focused, based together with the sims in Benson, would be a good solution. The other squadrons so can all top up on their strenght and focus on frontline.

  4. Hi Gabriele, will you be doing a piece on the state of the Italian force levels and the defence cuts in Italy. I know you have spoke of doing this i the past. I would find this fascinating. I can never find any decent info out there on the Italian Forces and the real levels of capability. Thanks

    1. I possibly will, but i will at least wait for the new defence white paper due before the end of the year to be published, so i write info as up to date as possible.

    2. Seconded! Perhaps we might all be interested in your knowledge on other forces, if its anything like your pieces on UK.

      I really enjoyed your comparative piece on frigates a while back.


  5. Can you post more new links to verify the writing?

  6. "verify the writing?" LOL, little cheeky, believe me he really does know what he is talking about. I read alot of this stuff and his commentary tends to be one of the more factual, balances and reliable sources.

    On another note.

    Gab, I note Brimstones tend to get fired in batches of 12, i also read that they "talk to each other" to coordinate a strike on a colum, in terms of prioritisation and simultanious strike. Do we think only 4 pylons are being equiped for that reason ? ( although i tend to agree its proberbly due to the CFT :( )


    1. Tornado can carry 12, and did in Libya in 2011 when two GR4s with that kind of load made the first operational big salvo firing of Brimstone.
      Tornado GR4 can carry, launch and control in the air 12 missiles at a time, but i don't think this is the reason why they are looking at 12 for Typhoon as well: if they wanted, i'm sure it would be more than possible to expand the envelope to 18, as once planned.
      Besides, as i said, having the possibility to mount Brimstone on all pylons doesn't necessarily mean you'd always carry it. It would ease the mixing of payloads, though.

  7. Gaby

    Sorry but I have been away on holiday for a fortnight and am still catching up. From what you have said, though, it would appear that there was little news from DVD 2014. The conclusion to draw perhaps is that money is very tight. Surely, though, with Army 2020 mostly formalized and a major Defence Review due in 2015, there should have been a few announcements made at the show about future equipment programmes?

    What about all the money that Mr. Hammond says that he has in reserve for kit? Is that all going to disappear, to be clawed back by the Exchequer and spent on all the wrong things?

    1. The "Headroom" money risks being seen as a painless cut in 2015, and might as well vanish.
      Even if it does not, it is not money that would be committed at DVD 2014. Hopefully in the early part of next year there will be much more activity.


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