Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bits and pieces - UPDATE

The release of a first factsheet about the SDSR 2015 and some other documents and announcements begin to provide some of the details that the original document did not provide. This article is meant to provide a quick summary of what we now know.

UPDATE begins 

F-35 and weapons 

Some new information is now available about plans for putting british weapons on the F-35B. This graphic, released by US officials back in early 2015, should be confirmed:

The Block IV programme and the full list of the weapons that will effectively be integrated is still taking shape. The Pentagon and the JPO are taking time to evaluate the options and hopefully come up with a programme which is realistic and can be delivered on time and on budget. The problem is that the list of the wishes is pretty long, and steadily growing. Not everything is going to make it onto the final list.

The RAF confirms that integrating Meteor and SPEAR Capability 3 is the main priority for Block IV. Regarding SPEAR Cap 3, after a moment in which the "US option" of SDB 2 was seen as putting at risk the survival of the current programme, the RAF now confirms that they remain committed to the MBDA 100B design, which is expected to reach Main Gate in 2018.

Regarding Meteor, internal carriage requires clipped wings, especially to carry multiple rounds. These will be adopted: studies done by MBDA have long confirmed that no problems are to be expected.
After trying to secure italian participation in the Meteor integration process, the UK seems now to put much hope in Japan: a bi-national programme, known as Joint New Air to Air Missile (JNAAM) is taking shape, entering its second phase this year.
The programme is about mating the Meteor with an advanced AESA radar seeker made in Japan. There can be little if any doubt that the clipped wings will also be part of this "new" design.
Timeframes for the JNAAM have not been detailed, but the Meteor that goes into the F-35 might actually well be the JNAAM itself. Japan is purchasing the F-35A, so their interest is easily explained.

In practice, it looks like JNAAM will be the actual AMRAAM C-5 replacement for the RAF: the C-5 can now be expected to stay in service well into the 2020s, arming the retained Typhoon Tranche 1 (which cannot receive Meteor without expensive upgrades and retrofits) and, initially, the F-35B.
The AMRAAM C-5 support contract has been recently extended out to 2020, and a further 5 years or more of extension are extremely likely.

Meteor and SPEAR Cap 3 remain the UK's primary requirement for Block IV

ASRAAM New Build, also known as Block 6, should not present problems. Basically, it is the same ASRAAM as is already being integrated, with only minor changes, mainly obsolescence removal in some components. Similarly, SPEAR Cap 1 - Penetrator should not present serious challenges, as it is merely a replacement of the current warhead with the recently ordered bunker-buster one, with the same external shape. These two "integrations" should be little more than an update, easy to get through, as the F-35B is already receiving full integration of the current Paveway IV (2 internal, 4 external) and ASRAAM (2 external) in Block 3F.

The SPEAR "Seeker" is almost certainly a SPEAR Capability 1 development, which means a seeker for Paveway IV enabling better moving-target capability. Raytheon UK is indeed offering such a seeker option for PWIV, and the RAF is evidently interested, but no contract has yet been signed for this development and it looks like it will be the first one to get written off the list of requirements if the JPO asks the UK to remove something.
Other possible PWIV developments proposed include wing-kits for gliding over stand-off distances and a diminished power warhead offering lower risk of collateral damage. All these and more could come one day as SPEAR Cap 1 developments.

Finally, Storm Shadow. The RAF has now formalized its intention not to integrate Storm Shadow on the F-35, instead aiming to integrate its successor, which should come out in the 2030 - 35 timeframe, from SPEAR Capability 5, also known as the UK-France "Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon" programme.

The decision does not come entirely as a surprise. Storm Shadow has been a bit on the losing side as of late: substantial stock reductions have happened after the SDSR 2010 (reportedly over 200 million in value, so a reduction possibly equating to 200+ missiles) and, in France, a dramatic decision has been taken to go down to just 100 rounds in storage.
Moreover, Storm Shadow is aging. France will begin this year a programme to update and life-extend the Scalp missiles remaining in stock, and the UK should participate, although there is no official confirmation from the british side.
The Storm Shadow life-extension is believed to make up SPEAR Cap 4.
Even with the life extension, Storm Shadow should leave service around 2030, and since integration on the F-35 could only realistically take place after 2026, as part of Block V, it is obvious that it would represent a waste of money.
The decision to aim directly to Cap 5 makes sense, but the wait will be a long one. Every effort should be made to try and shorten the wait as much as possible.

Brimstone never gets mentioned. Unfortunately, internal integration of Brimstone is very likely to be a problem due to the weapon being rail-launched rather than dropped. The development of Brimstone 2, with a whole new propulsion rocket, would have been the perfect moment for introducing a "drop launch" mode, but it does not seem to have happened. There is no talk of external integration either, for now.
However, SPEAR 3 is more of a mini-cruise than a CAS weapon, so that integrating Brimstone (or an eventual 3rd generation variant of it, coming out from SPEAR Capability 2) is probably going to be required at some point to provide a more adequate spread of capabilities.

The Common Weapon Launcher, if funded into service, will enable carriage of 2 Paveway IV or 3 Brimstone or 3 SPEAR 3 on four of the six external pylon of the F-35.

If the Common Weapon Launcher development progresses, this triple rack (being developed for Typhoon by adapting the existing triple Brimstone rack) could then become an attractive (and obvious) option for external integration on F-35 as well, potentially doubling the number of Paveway IV that can be carried externally and allowing carriage of SPEAR 3 and/or Brimstone rounds when complete stealth is not a requirement. All this, however, is left for a rather distant future, not before Block V (so after 2025/26).

In the meanwhile, BK-4 is now flying and will soon be in british hands for good. The production contracts for LRIP 9 and 10 should come soon, while some long lead orders have begun for Lot 11 as well.

It is confirmed that Marham will have an Integrated Training Center.

Finally, Squadron Ldr Jonathan Smith RAF will be the 1st international pilot to complete the entire F-35B training at MCAS Beaufor, following the move of the training squadron from Eglin. 

V-22 Osprey for the UK? 

There is not any remaining doubt about a very real british interest in the V-22 Osprey. From a number of news and declarations, it seems pretty clear that both the Royal Navy and the Special Forces Director are pushing for an Osprey purchase.

Officers from the JHC confirmed the interest days ago, but said that it is "unlikely" that the purchase might happen. The british interest for retrofitting helicopters (believed to be the Chinook, ideally, but with Merlin HC3 as alternative; SEE BELOW in this article) for air to air refueling (a new capability) is apparently a consequence of the impossibility of ordering Ospreys.

The Royal Navy interest is due to the Carrier On-board Delivery mission and, potentially, for the future ability of the V-22 to act as a tanker for AAR of helicopters and jets. Special Forces are interested because of its reach and speed, and AAR capability: the Osprey does not require a "slow" tanker, but could use the existing Voyager probes. So it costs more to procure, but does not require equipping C-130s as tankers.

V-22 demonstrating AAR capability from drogue adapter on KC-135 boom

Photo by Mike Yeo

There is interest in France and in Italy as well, and even Spain has thought about it, but all countries seem to be in a "we'd like to, but we can't" situation. The possibility of a cooperative acquisition programme is fascinating but unlikely to solve the money and manpower problems.

The british special forces do have helicopter requirements in the next few years, which include replacing the Lynx AH9A when it goes out of service in 2018. Currently employed by 657 Sqn AAC, the Lynx might end up perhaps extended to 2022, but a replacement is a real need.
The Special Forces Director seems to like the idea of going from Lynx to Osprey, but probably will have to settle for far less ambitious solutions. In 2011 it was almost forced to accept the Wildcat "Light Assault Helicopter" variant, in numer of 8. It did not progress back then, but it might return.
There is even the risk that nothing comes, which would be worse still.

In any case it goes without saying that, if the Osprey was purchased, it certainly would not go to the Army Air Corps: the RAF would most certainly want to take it, and only the Fleet Air Arm might have a chance to obtain it instead, due to its usefulness for the carriers.


The MOD and HMG continue to be silent on the incoming U-turn which will see the Army taking back the whole CBRN mission after it was moved entirely to the RAF Regiment back in the previous SDSR (after years of "jointery" in the Joint CBRN regiment).
The latest Factsheet provides no additional details.

In the meanwhile, however, FALCON Sqn (Royal Tank Regiment) is continuing to work up towards operational capability with the re-activated Fuchs recce vehicles. This year will include training exercises in Jordan that will put the sqn to the test.

One Troop of Fuchs on exercise. The army is back in the CBRN business. The truth is that they should have never been pushed out of it. The transfer to the sole RAF Regiment was a monumental cock-up and lots of hard won knowledge was, reportedly, literally cancelled from the hard drives. It took the tragedy of Syria to bring back some common sense (and Fuchs).

FALCON on exercise. DROPS carrying the Decontamination equipment are in sight.

The unit is a Very High Readiness formation available to the Field Army Command. It comes with two Troops (13 and 14) alternating into the "Vanguard" role.
Each troop has 4 Fuchs vehicles in two sections; plus 2 Coyote MEP vehicles carrying C2 and Logistic Sustainment kit. Each Troop also has a Decontamination capability provided by 2 Multi Purpose Decontamination Systems, currently carried on the old DROPS trucks, due for replacement with EPLS in 2017.
A 9th Fuchs is held by the Sqn HQ and works in a Confirmation role. 2 more Fuchs are possibly being used for tests and evaluation purposes, while a simulator for training has been activated.
A number of Panther and Husky vehicles are also part of the squadron's fleet of some 30 vehicles.

The old IBDS has now been replaced by a more capable, wider-area system

The Integrated Biological Detection System has been replaced by the new Biological Surveillance Collector System. Probably two such systems have been procured, and according to the contract notice for support services, each system comprises an advanced, containerized laboratory and a number of fixed, unattended sensors which can be deployed around a wide area. The sensors are, at least for now, not networked, which means that CBRN specialists must regularly visit the sensors to collect their findings. Networking is expected to be added later on. Initially, the BSCS will be taken up by 20 Wing CBRN.
The area protected is reportedly much larger than what could be covered by IBDS, but the system obviously remains a static solution, good for protecting major HQs or key rear line areas.

It is worth reminding thet the Ajax armored vehicle comes with CBRN sensors providing mobile early warning from the very frontline.

Light Role Teams, possibly 8 of them, are the most recognizable expression of the RAF Regiment CBRN capability. It is now apparently planned to move everything back into the Army field. 

Re-absorbing the capabilities provided by 20 Wing (CBRN), RAF Regiment (composed of 26 and 27 Field Squadrons) will take time, investment and manpower. FALCON Sqn is too small to do everything on its own, and hundreds of soldiers will be needed. The consequence of the return of CBRN into the Army might imply a change of role for one Cavalry regiment, probably one of the Light Cav formations.


MCM Force 

The SDSR Joint Force 2025 graphic shows 12 MCM vessels, down from 15 today. The Factsheet confirms that 3 of the oldest Sandown class vessels will leave service by 2025.
This is not unexpected as it is felt that the Hunt ships are more useful and, more importantly, more suited to be refitted to serve as motherships for the unmanned vehicles of the offboard MHC and Sweep capability in development.

The Hunt class vessels are being re-engineered and re-engined, with 5 vessels refitted by the end of this year. The remaining 3 will now however take longer to retrofit, and the programme will not be over before late 2019.
It is not clear at this stage whether the delay is connected to MHC work: the Royal Navy has been planning for a few years now to convert at least one Hunt into a mothership, needed for further MHC sperimentation.
The conversion of up to 4 Hunt vessels is part of the (UK only) Unmanned Combined Sweep capability programme, and so the first few vessels of the class might soon have their stern modified with an unmanned vehicles "hangar", a cargo space for the larger unmanned surface vehicles and an A frame for their launch and recovery.

We might learn more about the "unmanned future" late this year, when the Royal Navy will hold the "Unmanned Warrior" exercise / demonstration as part of Joint Warrior 16-2.


The factsheet again confirms that two more OPVs will soon be ordered, bringing the total of River Batch 2 vessels on order to 5.
The fleet will grow to "up to six", which is a way to say that the future of HMS Clyde, the Falklands patrol vessel, is still uncertain. It might be kept into the far future, giving a fleet of 6 OPVs, or be replaced by one of the new vessels, giving a fleet of 5.
The River Batch 1 ships will be withdrawn from service, and might find customers abroad: Bangladesh is reportedly interested. 

The factsheet reaffirms that the role of the OPVs will be expanded to cover standing tasks abroad:

We will use these ships to support our destroyers and frigates in delivering routine tasks and to enhance our contribution to maritime security and fisheries protection.

An earlier post-SDSR statement by the First Sea Lord had already made it clear, while also adding that the Royal Navy will try to use reservists on board the OPVs whenever possible, which makes sense.

In the meanwhile, as a last confirmation that the Royal Navy has finally seen the light on OPVs, the North Atlantic standing tasks is, for the second time, being covered by a River: HMS Mersey has deployed days ago, following the success of her sister HMS Severn, which proved the feasibility of giving the Caribbean role to the OPVs.

MARS Solid Support Ships

They are expected to enter service around the middle of the 2020s, roughly in line with the out of service dates for the current Fort ships, which are spread 2022 to 2025.
No other detail released.

Amphibious role for the carriers

The factsheet reaffirms the objective of being able to land a 1800-strong Royal Marines battlegroup, even after HMS Ocean will have been withdrawn. Both carriers will receive mods to enable greater capacity to carry and deploy amphibious forces. The SDSR had mentioned the sole HMS Prince of Wales but, as could be guessed, she is likely going to just be the first to get the mods.

The scope of the upgrades is not detailed, but adding accommodations and preparing spaces for carrying ammunition and stores for the embarked marines is highly likely. Studies have also been completed on how to arrange helicopter spots on deck, dividing it in 10 operational areas. It is not clear if HMS Queen Elizabeth (which hasn't had her deck coated and painted yet) will be able to get the 10 spot deck right at build. Might have to be added during a later refit. Hopefully, Prince of Wales will get it from the start.

Fast Jets

Unavoidably, Tornado GR4 gets another life extension, with the third squadron extended again, out to 2018. The OSD remains 2019.
No further detail is provided about when the two new Typhoon squadrons will form. It is highly likely that they will depend on the rundown of Tornado.

FCAS, the joint project with France for developing a UCAV, continues. A national technology programme will complement the joint studies with national developments.

Pilots training 

No details provided, but the number of training aircraft to be procured to replace Tucano, G.115 and Beechcraft 200 will go upwards a bit from the abysmally low expected totals published by the NAO a while back, as the new shape of the RAF will require more crews.
Announcements for both the Fixed and Rotary Wing training fleet programmes are to be expected this year.

A new force generation cycle

It is now confirmed that the Army will have to adopt a different readiness cycle, on 2 rather than 3 years, as the requirement for 2025 is to have one armoured and one strike brigade at readiness at any one time.
The factsheet provides no indication about if and how the Army will continue to be able to sustain for enduring operations a brigade in the field. The focus of all documents remains on the "Maximum Effort", that is elevated from 30.000 in the SDSR 2010 to 50.000, of which 30.000 made up by the Army division with 3 brigades.
Despite what was earlier said in the House of Lords (the division would have two armoured and one strike brigade), it seems far more believable to assume that such division would have one armoured and one strike brigade, with the third composed by PARA and/or Royal Marines. Even so, it remains a formidable force, and one which would take quite some time to be generated. The expected "notice to move" required is not detailed.

Greater Ambition. By 2025 we will be able to deploy a force of around 50,000 drawn from:

• A Maritime Task Group of between 10-25 ships and 4,000 to 10,000 personnel.

• An Army Division of three brigades and supporting functions of between 30,000 to 40,000 personnel.

• An Expeditionary Air Group of between 4-9 combat aircraft squadrons, 6-20 surveillance platforms and 5-15 transport aircraft and 4,000 to 10,000 personnel.

• Joint Forces, including enablers and headquarters, of around 2,000 to 6,000 personnel.

A force of 2 to 5 Light Role Infantry battalions will be reconfigured (and made smaller to free manpower, presumably to enable the formation of the strike brigades) into units with an establishment of 450 to 500 men, tasked with defence engagement and training abroad.
The most optimistic reports have suggested that these battalions will be a "Tier 2" Special Forces capability resembling the US Green Berets, but there is every reason to be skeptical: where would the army find the money and the wide range of precious specialists in all trades which are required to form US-style "A teams"?
The effective capability range is likely to be much more modest.

Armoured Cavalry

Joint Force 2025 will require the Ajax family of vehicles to equip four rather than three brigades. Ajax will continue to provide armoured cavalry, primarily tasked with reconnaissance, to the armoured brigades, while also serving the Strike Brigades, where it will also deliver a "Medium Armour" capability.

Medium Armour used to be a capability area of FRES, and was about creating a light / medium tank with a 120mm gun. Unfortunately, Medium Armour in its original shape has been cancelled to save money and is extremely unlikely to come back.

Logic suggests that Ajax could be asked to equip 4 regiments rather than 3, requiring a bit of a change in terms of regimental allocations and structures since the number of vehicles purchased is, again, unlikely to grow.

Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme 

There will not be a smoothbore gun retrofit nor a powerpack change, but the army hopes to expand the range of ammunition natures available (no details, however). On the mobility side, it appears that new Hydrogas suspensions and a re-manufacturing of the existing engine to improve reliability and performances are on the cards. More power and better suspensions are very much welcome, considering that when fitted with the full range of add-on armor, RWS and jammers the Challenger 2 weights an astonishing 75 tons.

Another major change is the replacement of the thermal sight, which might also be re-located over the turret, away from the current not too happy placement on top of the gun mantle.

The Army is calling for 227 tanks with room for growth (or shrinkage) as Oman might want to buy in and the SDSR 2015 might imply an increase (extremely unlikely) or a further decrease (unfortunately pretty likely with the loss of the third armoured brigade).

For reasons hard to guess but extremely frustrating and groan-inducing, the Army is looking at yet another 2-year concept phase before reaching Main Gate in 2019. So slow, in fact, that the Army is considering an interim solution for the Thermal imaging sensor, to enter service in 2018. Hard to even comment.

Heavier tanks, stronger bridges

Project Tyro, the upgrade to the BR90 bridging equipment, remains an army priority. By 2022, the project hopes to deliver a replacement truck for the current Unipower while reinforcing or replacing the bridge elements to deliver a Military Load Class (Tracked) of 100, at a minimum, to restore full freedom of movement even for the most heavily loaded Challenger 2 tanks.

As last published, the requirement is for 25 to 33 sets of Close Support Bridging CSB (the bridge sets which are carried and launched by the Titan bridgelayer). 33 is the current number, but a reduction to 25 as one armoured brigade vanishes would not surprise anyone.

Each Close Support Bridging  set is composed of:

- 1 Titan bridgelayer  (not touched by Project Tyro)
- 2 bridge sets spanning 13.5 meters (No 12 tank bridge) - requirement for new system is 12 to 15 meters
- 1 bridge set spanning 26 meters (No 10 tank bridge) - requirement for new system 24 to 28 meters
- Unipower 8x8 BR90 TBT trucks for transport of the resupply bridge sets
- Trestles and combination briding equipment to enable spanning a 66 meters gap - requirement min 60 m

The requirement extends to General Support Bridging GSB, with 12 to 16 sets planned. A set is composed of:

- 1 BR90 ABLE launch truck
- 2 BR90 TBT trucks carrying bridge elements
- bridging elements to build a single-span 32 meters
- elements to build a 44 meters span bridge with Long Span equipment -
- elements to build a 62 meters two-span bridge using fixed or floating piers 

The ABLE vehicle in the middle horizontally launches the GSB bridge. The trucks on either side carry the bridge elements.

The GSB upgrade requirement is for a solution offering 28 to 36 meters in single span, scalable to a minimum of 60 meters while retaining a minimum MLC 100 (T). 

Greater accuracy for the artillery 

This year, Indirect Fire Precision Attack will try again to put something in service. The IFPA programme is a saga of Royal Artillery attempts to modernize which have almost always been frustrated by cancellation or endless delaying.
Now it is planned that AS90 will trial a precision artillery system by Orbital TK. This is believed to be their Precision Guidance Kit, a course-correction fuze with GPS which dramatically reduces the CEP for normal, existing artillery shells.

Procurement of a guided shell (with available options including Excalibur, SPG, Vulcano) was also planned, and hopefully will return to the fore.

The Royal Artillery could also definitely make good use of the Alternative Warhead for GMLRS. This round replaces the now withdrawn bomblets-carrier rocket, restoring Wide Area Attack capability with 0% of residual Unexploded Ordnance scattering. Entering production for the US Army, this round (partly) restores that "Grid Square Removal" capability that was once the pride of the MLRS but that has been lost to make it "only" a long range "sniper" with point attack capability by GPS guided unitary warhead.  

It would be sweet to one day learn the fate of the Fire Shadow loitering munition, too...

Apache CSP 

Main Gate, with the decision to be made between wholly new build or re-manufacturing of existing helicopters is "months not years away", according to JHC officials.
I'm not exactly reassured: Main Gate was planned specifically for March 2016, and the "months not years" is a downgrade. Will the decision still come in march, or will it slip to the right?

Helicopter Air to Air Refueling

One of the most surprising developments coming out from the SDSR is the (possible) procurement of an AAR capability for british helicopters. Funded by the Special Forces money, it would be the main part of the SDSR promise to give SF transport aircraft and helicopters the ability to deploy "farther, faster". 

The idea is not new: the director special forces tried to obtain such a capability already years ago, but only obtained a few Chinook HC2A, which only have the fuselage predisposition for an AAR probe. Fitted for but not with, in other words. Impossibility to procure the probe at the time brought forth the purchase of the 8 HC3 Chinook, with their "fat tanks" for extended range.

Now it is time to try again, with the wish being to procure and retrofit a number of probes on some of the Chinooks.
The only other helicopter in british hands with a latent AAR capability is the Merlin HC3, which was trialed years ago in british skies with the assistance of an italian C-130J tanker.
Italy has now procured the HH-101 CAESAR CSAR variant of the Merlin, with AAR probes available, and has 6 C-130J tankers.

JHC officials confirmed only this week that the AAR for helicopters is a real aspiration. The rumor has been around from before the SDSR publication, however.
Details, as always, are non existent. The JHC only provided vague indications, saying we are still in an early phase and even saying that the UK might not acquire tanker kits for its own C-130J, depending on allies showing up to refuel its helicopters.
There seems to be an incredible confusion in the UK about whether AAR is a key capability or not: on one side, a shiny fleet of 14 Voyager tankers with lots of give-away fuel, on the other side several strategic platforms unable to plug in to receive.
Now, the possibily of adding a bunch of helicoper receivers without procuring the tanker capability.
Tell me that it is not dumb, if you can.

Procuring two or more tanker kits for short-fuselage C-130Js really should be a no brainer.

With 14 C-130J meant to be retained in the long term, there should be no particular problem. Initially, however, the MOD has signaled to LM that only the long-fuselage C-130J-30 will be retained.
The existing tanker version of the C-130J is based on the short fuselage variant, however. It is highly questionable whether trying to create a long-fuselage tanker is feasible / worth the risks. The simplest solution would be to keep some short fuselages as part of the 14.
This might already be the case: according to Defense News, the recently signed contract for extending the support arrangements for the C-130J include provvisions for the future fleet of 14, including two aircraft earmarked for helicopter refueling.

Fat tanks and AAR probe make the "SF" Chinook, the MH-47, unique looking. Will the UK be given access to the probe? Apparently simple, the probe is something the US has been reluctant to export in the past.

Retrofitting the HC3 (HC5 post JULIUS upgrade) with AAR probes would make them similar to the US special forces Chinook variant, and would give them extremely long legs, making them a strategic resource.
As well as Special Operations, such helicopters could cover CSAR duties, providing the UK with a capability which has been absent for an eternity.
It is understood that the Army / Special Forces Director are looking for an Internally Transportable vehicle able to be carried, fully armed and ready, within a Chinook.

The Flyer Gen III internally transportable vehicle is used by US forces and is now being procured by Italian special forces as well. It is one of several available options.

The combination of AAR and internally carried vehicle would represent an extremely capable combination. Although it is licit to wonder if putting the Boom on at least some of the Voyagers wouldn't have had a greater strategic effect, especially with P-8 Poseidon on the way, with a confirmed future overland surveillance role as well (de-facto replacing Sentinel R1 after 2022).

The C-130J will be upgraded with Block 8.1 software and hardware, enabling the addition of enhanced communications and self-defence equipment to finally properly replace the lost C-130K in Special Forces configuration, allowing the long delayed Project Hermes to progress.
9 aircraft have already been retrofitted with external fuel tanks, expanding range.

Merlin HM2: some more, please 

The Royal Navy has not abandoned the fight to try and squeeze the last 8 Merlin HM1 into the budget for an HM2 upgrade and a continuation of service. The SDSR did not approve the request, but the Navy intends to try again and logic suggests that the best chance will come with the Main Gate for CROWSNEST. Expanding the fleet from 30 to 38 helicopters would be incredibly beneficial as it would allow for a "separate", permanent AEW fleet without biting too deeply into the availability of "normal" HM2 for ASW and Maritime Security roles.

From Zephyr to a replacement for Desert Hawk 

The SDSR factsheet again does not mention Zephyr directly, but there is little doubt that it will be the platform for the "high altitude communications relay" also described as "high altitude long endurance surveillance and relay RPAS".
Zephyr 8, to be test flown this year, is expected to stay aloft for 3 months, flying as high as 70.000 feet and has british origins and has seen constant MOD involvment.
The problem of Zephyr is that using solar power brings not just advantages but also issues: the payload margin is tiny, with only 5 kilograms available to work with. The main challenge so will probably be developing a communications relay package and a surveillance sensors package (or, with further miniaturizaiton and miniaturization, a combined payload) small enough to fit while still delivering the effects needed.
Longer term, Airbus (now owner of Zephyr) plans further developments, bringing the payload to 20 and then to 40 kg.

An operational Zephyr system could include up to 4 UAVs controlled by a single Ground Control Station. Flying several at once over the same area is made easier by the fact that no one else flies so high, so there are no deconfliction issues. Using multiple UAVs allow for very long range signal relay and means that payload problems can be somewhat avoided by having one UAV carrying surveillance sensors and another the communications relay.
There is a lot of potential. News that the MOD would purchase 3 Zephyr 8 came out before the SDSR was published. For some reason, the MOD immediately tried to silence the reports, forcing even Airbus to backtrack on its announcement.
A Zephyr purchase, though, seems all but certain at this point.

Within a few months we should have a better idea of what features Protector will come with, with Main Gate expected early this year. It should be based on the "certifiable" Predator B by GA-ASI and hopefully will finally employ british weapons, instead of requiring GBU-12 and Hellfire purchases.

Desert Hawk III has received an upgrade giving it digital communications and has seen its operational life extended 6 years, out to 2021. Further upgrades are being evaluated but are not under contract: LM offers a "3.1" upgrade package that extends endurance from a maximum of 90 to 150 minutes; fully waterproofs the drone and replaces the current interchangeable sensors with an integrated electro-optic, infrared and laser illuminator payload, so that all functions are available at the same time.

This upgrade might be a cheap solution for making the DH III the mini-UAV of choice well into the 2020s, but the Army and the Royal Marines are already investigating a replacement. Plextek is working to develop a miniaturized solution for Sense and Avoid and also a mini radar sensor that could fit within a mini-UAV fit to replace DH.
Sense and Avoid would make it much safer to employ low-flying UAVs in areas where helicopter movements are also present: the British Army has had near miss events which have caused some worry.

The Royal Navy is pushing hard to get two new UAV programmes started this year, but all depends on securing funding. The two programmes are the Flexible Deployable UAS and the Joint Mini UAS.
FDUAS is intended to be the "post Scan Eagle": the Royal Navy has extended the contract for the provision of contractor owned, contractor operated Scan Eagle systems out to the middle of 2017, with the hope of immediately moving on to a new, navy owned service. Described as a "Sea Eagle plus", the system could use a more recent variant of Sea Eagle, or the larger Integrator selected by the US Navy and USMC, or perhaps something else entirely.
It would still be a small UAV compatible with existing ships.

The JMUAS is a requirement primarily expressed by the Royal Marines, which aren't happy with how Desert Hawk performs at sea, in amphibious scenarios. JMUAS, being Joint, probably hopes to be an Army-Navy programme aiming at finding a common replacement for Desert Hawk III.

Later on, the Royal Navy continues to plan for procurement of a tactical, large, multi-role Rotary Wing UAS. The early experiments with the AgustaWestland SW-4 Solo have been convincing, but an operational system is years away, for the Royal Navy. Some interesting studies and projects are already ongoing, either for industrial initiative or with MOD funding: these include a miniaturized FLASH dipping sonar and a small pod capable to deploy mini sonobuoys, the latter potentially targeted also at the manned Wildcat helicopter.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy is continuing to experiment with small, inexpensive 3D-printed drones. After the first successful tests from the OPV HMS Mersey, a number of the same mini-drones have been embarked on HMS Protector for her current deployment down south.  

Ballistic Missile Defence

A BMD radar will be procured, but it is not clear yet if it will be fixed or mobile, nor where it will be based. It will be a british contribution to the NATO BMD plans.

Importantly, BMD activities on the Type 45 destroyers will continue. So far, these have included developing suitable radar and software mods to enable tracking of ballistic targets. Simultaneous AAW and BMD is planned and might have already been tested.
Studies have also been funded to shape a plan for eventual adoption of MK41 launchers and SM-3 interceptor missiles.
No kinetic interception is going to be acquired for now, but at least a path is being opened.

Deployable HQ 

A new 2* deployable standing Joint Force headquarters to command and control the Joint Expeditionary Force is promised. Probably, it is actually a modernization of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force HQ element.


  1. Thanks Gabriele,
    At last some black hole filling information!
    1.Strike brigades are to get an Ajax regiment.
    2.Deployable division, is now 1 armoured, 1 strike and either 16 AA or 3 CDO brigades.
    3. But still no news on the new 8x8?
    4. If we go down to 2 challenger regiments, (In my humble opinion, that's what's going to happen). How many challengers will we end up with? (Counting BATUS).
    5. Looks like time between operational tour times is going to be 18 months?
    6. OPV's are they the light frigate now?
    Cynical Phil

    1. MIV is the other key item of the Strike Brigades, but there is nothing really new to report on that front.

      The nature of the third brigade in the division is my guess. I struggle to see the army generating three brigades otherwise.

      The OPVs are not the light frigates (those will come in the late 2020s or even into the 2030s, since there are 8 Type 26 to build before them) but they will finally be used not just in home waters.

      Challenger 2 numbers and distribution remain a mystery, and anything i said would be a wild guess.

    2. Good news on the OPV's, but they still really need hangars. Some sort of telescopic version would surely be doable on the larger batch 2/3 River's.

      Deploying abroad whilst having to rely on RFA's for helicopter support defeats the point and is rather absurd in my view.

    3. Challenger,

      Telescoping hangars are a real need and, as you say, probably doable (right up front on "Batch 3" and refitted to B2.) Also a bigger gun, maybe BAE/Bofors 57mm. (Seahawk SIGMA abaft the bridge each side would also be nice but that gets into wishes, horses, and beggars.) If you have six of them, on patrol plus a wartime MCM mothership role in sea lanes and backstopping the refitted Hunts closer to shore, then you've upped MCM capability to 14 again and have essentially back-doored an MHPC solution.

      At that point, if you could drive the T26 order to ten full-cream ASW (essentially filling the old C1 requirement), then you have 16 destroyers (really the T26, a child of T22 Batch 3 more than T23 despite the equipment crossover, is an ASW destroyer like the T22 B3s were) and fourteen MCM/patrol ships, six of them fully ocean-going and the other eight ocean-going in a pinch. At that point the question is whether to expand capability by filling the old "C2" slot with something like these mooted light frigates.


    4. As I said elsewhere, I'd like to see Army 2025 turn into a revision of focus where the goal is not simply to "provide a division," but to rejigger the Forces in general around providing not one of these expeditionary capabilities but two, one focused around high-intensity heavy combat, and one around something more mid-range. In that case you want to be able to fill out two divisions with regulars (and, possibly, have the capacity to generate a third from the Reserves? It's either that for them or act as a "bridge" of casualty-replacement/reinforcement to the regulars plus training cadres for regeneration in an unforeseeably huge war.) You could either have "Neapolitan" divisions (sorry, Gab, it's a very English ice-cream idiom -- one each of three flavours :), or a heavy-role (2x armd bdes and 1x reaction) plus a low-to-mid-role (2x "strike" bdes and 1x reaction.) Based on that kind of logic it's not really about time between tours anymore but about brigade/divisional readiness levels for short-notice deployments. Back to a truly "expeditionary" model (ie going out on a job, doing the job, and bringing at least the large bulk home -- "but the French are still in Mali!" yeah, but it's just a light battlegroup plus advisors not 9000 bods on Herrick -- not going to use That Term but expeditionary seems accurate) rather than "occupational" warfare (occupation both in the sense of occupying somebody else's country for the long term, and for the higher-ups bc having forces on perpetual active service somewhere is good for the career ladder and defending the service budget.)


    5. I'm not certain telescopic hangars are doable on the batch 2/3 Rivers, but it will certainly be a major deficiency if they end up with no aviation facilities at all. You'd like to think that if the RN is taking the idea of deploying them on overseas ops seriously they'll be getting the design team to at least look at the feasibility of adding this to the design.

      Of course if money and effort could be put into a larger Scan-Eagle fleet then perhaps a helicopter wouldn't be as badly needed and a smaller 'dog-kennel' hangar could be utilized.

      I don't think introducing something like a 57mm is worthwhile for only 5-6 ships. If it were up-to me i'd be aiming for a single Seahawk Sigma mount which would be an improvement on the existing 30mm gun without the need for different ammunition or support.

      Completely agree on the sense of building 10 T26 to provide 16 high-end vessels which will be sourly needed to furnish the carrier-group with enough escorts whilst still providing singular units in the South Atlantic and East of Suez.

      Shame that MHPC seems to have died a quiet death, at least for now, but it's also a good point about 8 upgraded Hunt's and 6 OPV's providing some semblance of the original 14 ship requirement.

  2. Gaby

    A fascinating summary of the details that have filtered through since the original announcement of SDSR 2015.

    You say quite a lot about the future helicopter force. I don’t know whether you have seen the article in Jane’s today but there is mention made of how the JHC has carried out a study (called the “Air Manoeuvre Future Capabilities Study”), the purpose of which was to decide how to meet the UK's future helicopter requirements as far ahead as the middle of the century.

    I have not been able to read the whole of the article, as I am not a subscriber to Jane’s but from the little bit of information given in the caption underneath a Puma helicopter, it would seem that the study revealed an enduring need for a medium-lift helicopter capability to at least 2045.

    Will the UK finally get something like the NH90 or perhaps even a few Ospreys? Only a thought!

    1. I can't read the whole article either, but for a while now JHC has signaled the wish to keep Puma HC2 going into the 2030s to then replace both it and Merlin with a single programme.

      The need for a medium helicopter is pretty clear: what is not clear is what money will be available to keep that capability, as always.

  3. Gaby

    That Flyer Gen III internally transportable vehicle looks an interesting one. Did it start out a as a Light Strike Vehicle with more of a skeletal frame?

    Incidentally, I too would like to know more about the fate of Fire Shadow. If memory serves me correctly, the MOD/Army actually bought 24 units in order to test them. Is all that purchase expense now simply to be written off?

    1. The Flyer was designed specifically in response to a SOCOM requirement for a troop carrier vehicle and a light strike vehicle that could fit within CH-47, CH-53 and Osprey.

      The british army also evaluated the Storm: http://defense-update.com/20120925_storm_srtv.html

  4. Gaby

    Many thanks for the replies.

    “The most optimistic reports have suggested that these battalions will be a "Tier 2" Special Forces capability resembling the US Green Berets, but there is every reason to be sceptical”

    I’m sure you are right to be sceptical. As you say, where would the Army find the money and the wide range of precious specialists in all trades which are required to form US-style "A teams"?”

    Where did such reports emanate from and what do you think those forces will end up looking like? Will they be anything at all like special forces or an elite with their own identity and insignia? Or something far more modest? Perhaps it is too early to say.

    1. I think they'll keep their current capbadges. You know that they are off limits.

      I fear they will be even smaller light role infantry battalions, pretty much. Don't expect anything really special, but we'll see. Reports appeared in the Times.

    2. Gabriele,
      I have to agree with you. No change to cap badges.
      I also think that these units are not going to be special forces as we think of them in the UK.
      More like training teams to help friendly armies and an excuse to cut 5 infantry battalions down to 450. A smaller number of available infantry battalions for deployment by stealth.
      I also hear 1 PARA has lost a company?

    3. 1 PARA has most likely lost a company. Not 100% sure it is a permanent change, but the Strike companies went down to two platoons each and took the Heavy Weapons groups as third maneuver unit, leading to the vanishing of the company which used to group the fire support elements.

  5. Keeping the 3rd Tornado squadron going until 2018 is pretty much unavoidable. Hopefully by then Typhoon will finally have Brimstone.

    I'd imagine 12 squadron will re-role as a Typhoon unit in 2018, followed by either 9 or 31 in 2019 as the force finally retires, with the remaining one's manpower going towards bringing 617 up-to strength and/or getting 809 NAS off the ground in the early 2020's.

    The ambition seems to be for 'up-to 3' F35 front-line units, so it'll be interesting to see if there will be any give left in terms of manpower to eventually see an extra squadron. Considering the RAF was fielding 9 fast-jet squadrons until 2013 and the FAA will contribute to Joint Force Lightning it may be possible.

    Overall good news, although i do wonder what will happen when AMRAAM starts to become obsolete and the lack of Meteor, AESA and other issues with the T1's begins to hit home in the mid 2020's.

    I hope accelerating our F35 order will mean more than 48 air-frames by the mid-late 2020's and ensure the RAF has a stable fleet of around 180 fast-jets well into the future.

    1. If the order for 138 F-35 holds, the Tranche 1 will go out by 2025/26, i'm guessing (along with AMRAAM) and further F-35 squadrons will be built up in their place. At some point in the late 2020s FCAS should also enter the scene.

    2. From an FOI request that I recently had answered:

      On current plans the OSD for the Typhoon aircraft is 2040. What mixture of Tranche 1, 2 and
      3 aircraft to be retained and flown until the OSD which has yet to be determined.


      The RAF does have AMRAAM B missiles. On current planning they will not be upgraded
      prior to their OSD of 2018.

    3. AMRAAM support was recently procured for another five years, so the 2018 OSD is evidently gone. AMRAAM is needed well into the 2020s for both Typhoon T1 and F-35 itself, in a way or another.

    4. It's the older AMRAAM B that's being replaced by Meteor while the more capable AMRAAM C5 soldiers on until the Joint New Air-to-Air Missile with Japan (an upgraded Meteor designed to fit in the bay of an F-35B) comes along.

  6. To update you with releasable information into the public domain on the CBRN front. Integrated Biological Detection System (IBDS) is out of service as of December 2015, replaced by Biological Surveillance Collection System (BSCS) plus a couple of container laboratories. BSCS will only be deployed to protect major assets, DOB, SPOD or APOD, maybe a High Formation HQ at a push.

    Control of all CBRN for the Joint Forces is now the responsibility of the Army. The RAF Regiment Defence CBRN Wing will disband, but that will take at least 3-5 years before that whole process will be complete and the Army running everything.
    Falcon Squadron is up and running, but that is only 60-80 personnel using 1 major item, the Fuchs. Funding the change over from RAF to Army is not an issue, the main problem is manpower.

    To increase from 60-80 up to a possible 350, with teams on Immediate Notice to Move for internal or external operations is the real headache. Rumours are already circulating that the QDG’s might be lined up for it as they have already been involved in the trials to bring Fuchs back. I believe this issue will be passed around various Corps like a hot potato with nobody willing to take it on. Some General at some time will more than likely point to a Corps to sort it out. 3-5 years can pass quickly, so I would expect some finger pointing soon.

    1. Thank you for that. I was just wondering which RAC regiment would pay the price and re-role, since a single squadron will not do. Can't they continue to exploit RAF Regiment manpower, like in the old days? It looks far less short of men than the army, in consideration of what it has to do...

    2. Hi Gabriele,
      If we assume that the 2 RAC regiments from the disbanded armoured brigade will form part of the 2 new strike brigades,
      it seems logical that one of the 3 remaining RAC regiments, (LD, Catterick, 1 QDG, Swanton morley or RSDG Leuchers) should be the new CBRN unit?
      I guess we are also assuming then that the strike brigade RAC regiment will be recce and fire support role?

    3. It is a likely scenario, although the number of light cavalry regiments will also depend on what exactly happens with the 6 Infantry Brigades and how they are supposed to force generate and be employed.

    4. Phil & Gab,

      If the Army do their sums right and work the linesmen at HMT, I see something more like:

      - Each armoured bde continues to have 1 Ajax cavalry regt and 1 C2 regt
      - Each "strike" bde gets 1 light-recce regiment (honestly I'd rather have them on one of the up-armoured Flyers than Jackal 2, saving the latter for the air-assault forces. I'm usually all for buying domestic over American OTS but the Flyers have lower COG and the armoured version actually protects the chaps poking their heads up at least a little bit rather than the "un-armoured bridge" approach of Jackal) plus 1 Ajax regiment as the heavier cav.

      That leaves you one over, yes. (And I suspect post-referendum that RSDG will get Ajax back. They lost their tanks to a combination of cost savings and a shot across the bow at the referendum, sort of "Jackals as punishment detail.") Instead I could see Royal Tank Regiment becoming a singleton entity. They'd provide the DT squadron for Army armour at all levels, plus a CBRN sqdn unless it's relocated to another corps, plus a headquarters running everything that could run a BG if necessary in wartime, plus three sabre squadrons that would spend a lot of time playing OPFOR for combined-arms training, and be able either to supply one sabre sqdn each to the "strike" brigades and one rapid-reaction bde, or (plus a fully done-up sabre sqdn from Royal Wessex Yeomanry) be able to reinforce two battlegroups each in the armoured bdes, bringing their wartime tanks-per-bde total up from 56 to a more respectable 92. On that basis, you could keep 235-245 "working C2s total plus about 15 DT models, and while that's a hair more than the current provision, you could actually make the bean-counters happy by junking the rest rather than preserving them in cold storage.


    5. Hi Jackstaff,
      The way I read things, The UK strike brigades are going to slot in to a US Stryker brigade. So I think they will be very similar.
      3 Infantry, 1 recce and 1 artillery units.
      I assume the recce will have to be some sort of new unit. Maybe having both wheel's and tracked. The Ajax having a kind of close support vehicle role?
      I still have my doubts about mixing tracked and wheel's in the same formation and there being enough Ajax vehicles to equip 4 units and BATUS.
      But we will have to wait and see.
      In my own humble opinion, the army would want to go below 200 tanks, but will still want to save money. Maybe only upgrading enough to equip 2 type 56 units, 56 for BATUS and some for the Wessex to practice with?

    6. Phil,

      My thinking on the Strike bdes is different as a matter of procurement (and just because I can't suppress my inner pedant -- it's no fault of your own, the fault's mine -- the Stryker bdes do have an attached recce-cav unit, not as well armed as the Italian equivalents with their Centauros or the Poles with their new "Wilks" -- 105mm Rosomaks -- however.) It's purely a matter of money. In order to equip in the American (Stryker) or Italian (Freccia) or Polish (Rosomak) fashion, you need as many 8x8s -- somewhere in the 300-400 range -- as HMT is willing to buy in total just to fit out a single brigade (plus DT and spares.) Two is too much. So I suspect they're going to end up looking more like the French light mech bdes if not quite exactly, on the lines of:

      - one recce regt on Jackal 2
      - one heavier cav regt on Ajax family
      - one heavy inf bn on 8x8
      - two light-protected inf bns on Foxhound/MRV-P (a nice to have but less useful version of the French VBMR Griffon b/c they carry less people)

      That would mean lots of the bde (Jackal 2, Foxhound, MRV-P, maybe even an M777 buy while the line's still hot and if they got crazy enough to *actually* spend 2% GDP) really is pretty easy to bung on planes. It's the armoured glacis of Ajax and 8x8s that would be harder to haul. One 8x8 bn for each Strike bde, plus one 8x8 bn for each armoured bde (the based on Granby, Kosovo, and Telic I the Army seem to like armoured battlegroups with 4-5 maneouvre elements, and a company group of 8x8s can add some useful extra mobility to a BG for certain cases) and you have four 8x8 bns but not many support versions needed b/c the overall bde would use mostly ABSV/MAN family for the armoured and MRV-P and such for "strike." That gets you their purchase total and still gets some value for the service.

      I suspect they really will fight for that third armoured formation, especially as Carter's infantry-centric star is eclipsed, there's just not enough heavy-gunned firepower in the high-intensity brigades at 56 tanks per. There's a reason 7 Bde rolled into Telic 1 with around 120 Challys. And if you need to send both bdes you need a bit extra. Plus it's nice to have the option (as the French did for Mali) to put a tank squadron on standby as reserve. What I do expect is the move to four Ajax regiments, subbing something else in (maybe something that's actually small and sneaky rather than a light cavalry tank on the Franco-American model?) for the regimental/battalion recce role.


  7. The Standing Joint Force Commander was created months ago. Surprised you don't know.

    1. Which one do you mean? Joint Force Command? Permanent Joint Forces HQ? There is a whole list.

    2. Anonymous.

      Standing Joint Commander ( UK ) is Andover based and is another name for Commander Field Army, now CinC Land Command is gone. Nothing to do with JFC, which is what I think Gabs was referring to.

      You also have Commander Joint Force Operations at the Northwood based Joint Force HQ, which is under the CJO at PJHQ. JF Logistic Component HQ sits along side this.

  8. As ever nice article thanks.

    I know brimstone was tested on Predator, do we have firm reason to believe Protector will carry Brimstone 2 and Paveway IV ? Certainly would improve their capabilities quite a bit.


    1. Hellfire out of service date is currently 2021, and GBU-12 is non-standard equipment bought specifically for Reaper. If only for these reasons, moving on to british weaponry is quite important.

    2. Thanks, yes, that's pretty definitive !

      Good news.

  9. Other interesting replies from my FOI request:

    Lynx AH9A and Gazelle AH1 OSD is now March 2018

    Bell 212 OSD is September 2017

    Is it at all possible that after the Apache order has been made and (assuming it goes to Boeing) then Agusta Westland gets a compensatory order of some kind for additional Wildcats to replace some of these three helicopter types?

    Have you heard anything?

    1. Gazelle OSD will probably slip. Recently ordered some upgrades for them, and no clear path to a replacement.

      Bell 212... if it does not get extended, they'll contract someone to provide the few helos needed.

      What's left is the replacement for the Lynx AH9 in Special Forces support role. A few more Wildcat are a possibility.
      But someone behind the closed doors is trying to get V-22 Ospreys, which also interest the Navy. Unlikely they will succeed, but we'll see how it goes.

    2. I thought for some reason that the Lynx AH9 OSD was more like 2022? Has it been brought forwards? A few more Wildcat's (as another commentator said to placate AW as well as providing capability) would be good. The SF will need something, and beyond that fielding just 34 support helicopters would be rather feeble.

      A single figure order of Bell 212 replacements wouldn't cost the earth, but yeah i imagine that sort of thing could get contracted out. Seems to be the way a lot of things are going.

      Gab didn't you also recently suggest that some of the Squirrel's from the Defence Helicopter School could get some of the kit from Gazelle and act as replacements once a suitable training helo is found? Would make a lot of sense.

    3. They fitted a Squirell with an EO/IR turret. Apparently it was to prove the JHC concept of "surrogate training helicopter", aka using a cheap helicopter as a flying simulator impersonating a more expensive cab. Don't know what, if any, conclusions were drawn from the trial.
      It could also be a decent Gazelle replacement, i would think, but don't know if they will consider it for real.

    4. Whether it's Squirrel or an off the shelf purchase i definitely think the Army needs a 2nd tier of cheaper helo's to compliment Wildcat and focus on UK ops when Gazelle eventually retires.

  10. and on the naval front RFA Diligence has an OSD of 2020 and RFA Argus 2024 so surely something is needed pretty quickly to replace these two?

    1. They'll just push OSD to the right yet once more, i'm afraid.

  11. Is there a timeline on when the P8's are coming into service?

  12. "An Expeditionary Air Group of between 4-9 combat aircraft squadrons"

    9, really?

    1. Possibly even less credible than the "25 ships". It would mean deploy the entire fast jet fleet, which is obviously not likely.

  13. Gaby

    Many thanks for the updates. They make for very interesting reading.

    Thanks for the detailed update on CBRN. I was going to ask Cbrn Guru for a few more details on that. Being more than a bit of a vehicles “anorak”, I wanted facts about the kit used by Falcon Squadron but you (Gaby) appear to have provided that. Anyway, Cbrn Guru, if you come back to look at this thread again, thanks very much for all the interesting details you have provided over what is now quite a long time and for your expert knowledge. Incidentally, is the Pinzgauer still the principal vehicle used by the Light Role Teams?

    The item on the Osprey is fascinating. It would be nice to have some, of course, but I think they will be too expensive at the moment. It is easy to understand the Royal Navy’s interest. The Carrier CO(B)D Delivery system would be particularly relevant in the case of the large carriers which are coming into service and I understand that the USA has looked at the Osprey as a possible solution for that role. As you say, the aircraft also has considerable potential to act as a tanker for AAR of helicopters and jets.

    1. The HV-22 variant, with larget tanks (fat sides, like the Chinook HC3's ones) will be built for the US Navy for the COD mission, to replace the old C-2 Greyhound.

    2. Gabriele,
      Just my own humble opinion, but wouldn't it be better to go for the Chinook option?
      The Ospreys are going to add another type and going to take forever to get the money for?

    3. Ahh Gaby, don’t jump the gun yet, BSCS will go to the 20 Wing RAF Regiment first, not to any Troops in Falcon. Networking comes under Project Calite, ISD is 2019/2020.

      MikeW, always happy to fill in some gaps. Pinzgauer is the main LRT vehicle, it carries a serious amount of specialist equipment, I would say more than the Shadow vehicles (Dstl scientific laboratories) that are provided for National CBRN events and 3 times as much as the DIM vehicles used by the Fire Brigades across the UK. So their inclusion as part of any UK CBRN Terrorist incident is already in place and they have personnel and vehicles on 30 minutes to move. Something else the Unit taking over the LRT’s will have cover.
      Wither the Pinzgauer is replaced within the LRT by the MRV-P in the future, we will have to wait and see.

    4. Thanks, corrected to state that passage.

  14. Gaby

    Thanks for the reply.

    On the subject of Osprey for possible Special Forces work - I have no idea of how quiet or noisy an aircraft it is. As quiet a signature as possible would be best for such clandestine work. Do you know how it would compare with some UK helicopters as far as noise is concerned?

    1. The V-22 should be less noisy than an helicopter in horizontal flight, even when flying low. On take off and landing, it gets loud, but that is to be expected.

    2. Gab,

      Very cheered by the Osprey possibility. That plus some converted C-to-MC-130s would cover SF/SFSG needs very very well. And not only would they make for COD it would be best, really, to see Crowsnest on them (greater radius and higher altitude.) In fact, I've seen an advertisement from the makers for an AEW Osprey where the "friendly naval forces" in the illustration of its capabilities look a hell of a lot more like QE/T45/T26 than anything in the USN. Know your customers?


  15. Hi Gabriele,
    Thanks for the updates.
    On the subject of Challenger 2, and its upgrade.
    What will be the OSD date?
    What do you think/hope will follow?
    Or will the UK abandon heavy tracked vehicles for a lighter more mobile force?

    1. The LEP is meant to extend the OSD to 2035. What comes after that will probably depend in no small measure from what happens to the joint FR-GE MBT project also sometimes called "Leopard 3". Can't see heavy armour being abandoned unless there is a dramatic change in the very basis of warfare... or Britain quits the world stage for good.

    2. Thanks for reply Gabriele.
      Just wondered if there was a 'lighter' MBT option?
      I assume the Ajax will be in service till something like 2050?

    3. @Phil,

      2050 sounds about right on "the Greeks" (Ajax/Ares/Athena/etc.) It is probably useful in the near term (both the possibilities of going up against someone like a Russian corps stuck into Finnmark or the Baltics, or somewhere else with heavy kit lying around for Redfor and not enough American top cover) against well-equipped foes or being sucked into urban warfare by something like a massacre of expats in a failed state, to have a behemoth like C2 LEP. (75 te? Really? Good Lord.) In the longer term, because the Poles want a T-72 replacement and the Scandies offer a potential market for competition viz. "Leopard 3", to develop something more like a 21st Century Centurion based on the Ajax. By the time you stick a proper tank turret on it and adjust the chassis balance/weight/supports to accommodate, you're probably up to 50 tons or above. Once you've sorted out improved armour and active protection plus 21st century comms/targeting, I'm sure you're in the range of Leclerc/Ariete/Altay in the mid-50s. If the much-improved drive train and such (the bits "under the bonnet") on the Ajax family are as good as said and you work on a first-class gun, then you really do have a new Centurion. Useful in combined-arms battlegroups as a "shoot and scoot" heavy hitter moving with the force and without prohibitive logistics, and possibly an export candidate also.


  16. Gaby,
    I wonder what you think about the RAF getting their top man as UK Armed Forces Chief?

    1. I think there is something seriously wrong about the Navy not getting one man into the CDS chair from 1997. Zambellas strikes me as a good, forward-looking leader and i believe would have been an excellent CDS.

    2. +1,

      Of the current service chiefs, Zambellas is the best of the lot. Not-Nick Carter is a "negative positive" (you gain by not promoting him), but Zambellas would be the best option. It does make me wonder if combined chagrin about the QEs/Successor caused a joint Army/RAF front against the historical pendulum-swing back towards a "navalist" strategy for the UK and away from the (fiscally very costly) 20th century "continental" approach.

    3. I think Zambellas would have been head and shoulders the best choice.
      I think Anonymous may have a point about chagrin about the switch to an offshore strategy; plus I can see all the old air marshalls writing doom laden letters to No 10.
      Bizarre truly bizarre.

    4. You seem to forget that A) the new guy is very purple in career, B) A lot of his experience is in the intelligence area, a large beneficiary and focus in SDSR15, and C) he didn;t annoy his political masters too much :)

  17. @Cbrn Guru

    Many thanks for that extra information.

  18. Having seen the cost per flying hour of the V-22 compared to helicopters, I do not think it would be that great of an idea as a purchase. Considering the timeframe of this, I think it would be worth seeing how Sikorsky fares with their S-97 Raider design. The rigid coaxial rotor design has a lot of speed and range advantages, without the added complexity of a tilt rotor.

  19. @Jackstaff

    Glad to see you are bang on form. I agree with you about Osprey.

    “In fact, I've seen an advertisement from the makers for an AEW Osprey where the "friendly naval forces" in the illustration of its capabilities look a hell of a lot more like QE/T45/T26 than anything in the USN.”

    I think I might also have seen reference to Ospreys carrying out landings on our flat-tops (“Navy News”, for instance). The post from Taurevanime is somewhat sobering, in that he quotes costs per flying hours but it is the lifting capacity of the V22 that is so impressive. I think the Osprey can carry up to 24 troops (seated) and 32 troops (floor loaded) but I think the S-97 can only take 6 seated. Can anyone tell me whether I am right on this?

    On the subject of the Challenger 2 LEP, I think the long-term future of our heavy armour (post the 7-tonne Chally 2 behemoth) might very well lie with “something more like a 21st Century Centurion based on the Ajax.” We need to start developing more variants on that chassis. As you imply, with a first-class gun, it could be a new Centurion. So, with a variant with a 120mm or possibly a 105mm gun), one with an ATGW missile (Overwatch) and a few converted to bridgelayers, you could have a very impressive vehicle indeed. The Centurion is widely considered to have been one of our best-ever tank designs. I think its weight was about 52 tons, so you are not far out there!

  20. Jackstaff and MikeW.
    On the subject of the future MBT.
    An Ajax with a gun was the direction in which I was thinking.
    As forces get smaller, you have to be more mobile, right?
    Having a lighter and smaller MBT, must be the way forward?
    Don't know what you could fit onto the Ajax frame work, I expect Gabriele has all the facts and figures, but with an out of service date of 2035 and the speed in which the MOD moves, shouldn't we be talking about what comes next now?

    1. Ajax has a 2.1 meter turret ring option, making the addition of a tank turret more than feasible. As i wrote, it was actually planned that they'd do just that with the "Medium Armour" development. So, that is not a problem. But the Ajax limit as is in the low 40 tons range, and that means that protection must be carefully thought out. And it would still have a pretty high shape, too.

    2. Thanks Gabriele.
      What sort of gun could 2.1 meter turret ring take?
      I guess it would need to be at least 105mm?

    3. 120 mm smoothbore without trouble. That's what they wanted to fit on the Medium Armour.

    4. Thanks Gabriele.
      I one draw back would be that it wouldn't be a huge production run.
      I guess we would only be talking about replacing the 2 type 56 units and some training vehicles?
      Would that be workable or would the UK need an overseas order?

  21. Overlooked your comment about the new training fleet Gab.

    What sort of numbers are they expecting to get for the Tucano, King Air & Tutor replacements now? Agreed that the original figures were dismally small.

    With a future RAF of 9-10 fast-jet squadrons, plus 20 protector drones planned do you think we'll see any growth in the size/structure of the training pipeline or do you think they'll continue with larger but fewer, more centralized units like 4/72 squadrons at Valley and 16/57/45 squadrons at Cranwell?

    Any word on rear-crew training as well? Or is this going to continue to be shared with the FAA unit on an ad-hoc basis?

  22. Hi Gabriele,
    Been doing some maths on infantry battalions.
    current paper strength; 32 battalions.
    2 Cyprus.
    1 Brunei.
    3 Public duties.
    5 overseas training.
    4 Armoured brigades?
    6 Strike brigades?
    3 16 AA.
    That leaves 8 available for other duties?
    Is that correct?

    1. Taking account of the Special Forces Support Battalion that actually leaves 7 available. In addition, as ever, we do have 3 Marine Commandos + 1 "0ther" Commando.
      Point remains that there are 7 Infantry battalions with no real role in the order of battle... Makes one wonder what could be done to the establishment of all the other ones + cavalry + support units if one was to use the manpower embodied in them for other duties (3,500 heads minimum)....

    2. SF battalions are not listed.
      Those 8 battalions do have a role.
      Public duties battalionsare rotated every 6 months.
      There are operations and deployments that those 8 battalions have to cover.
      For example, the Falklands.
      What I am trying to say is can those 8 battalions provide the 2 adaptable brigades that are planned to do?

    3. And my point was that those two "adaptable" brigades are pointless non-deployable paper tigers and it would be far more rational to use those resources (cap badge politics aside) to ensure that the remaining brigades were actually full strength and as they should be, not as they probably will be. On the public duties point - yes they are, and they should be rotated with those other battalions you listed - ie those in the active brigades and Cyprus. Falklands deployment already comes from one of the 3 on public duties, why would that change?
      Key point - we do not need 32 battalions to deliver 5 deployable brigades, full stop.

  23. To actually-Anonymous just above: should be shooting for six deployable brigades (incl a modified 3 Cdo; I did a little rundown in the Signals thread about giving what are now 16AAB and 3 Cdo identical TOEs each incl an RM Cdo, a Para bn, and two para-sized all-terrain light bns) but you're right that 32 is overkill.

    I recently read a piece by a major "in-house" American military historian (works at their War College in Pennsylvania IIRC) about the "hollow force" business at the end of the 1970s. The phrase came out of a congressional hearing when their CGS equivalent was basically angling for budget increase, but in practical terms the examples he cited stemmed from a very poor strategic decision by Kissinger and Schlesinger during the Ford years (both those men, lauded for their brilliance, come off more and more as duffers on actual strategic choice-making, Kissinger especially, the more of the primary-source record comes out.) They'd wanted a showy size for the newly-volunteer Army after it hit its nadir around 1972-73. Sixteen divisions was the goal: problem was, the personnel, structural, and supply systems of the day couldn't fully support a force that size (more realistic was 12-14 tops.) So, over the decade, the service bosses went about fixing the highest priority forces: the US forces in Europe, the division in Korea, the brigade in Panama, and the 82nd Airborne for rapid reaction. By the time of the "hollow" quip those elements of the service were well-trained again, personnel issues were finally shaping up better, they were over-manned on purpose to help with those personnel issues, and were just waiting on a new generation of equipment to complete the process. Problem was, doing that meant most of the other home-based units in the States had shortfalls of manpower, equipment, and materiel. The "paper" force of 16 divisions was larger than it could really be and the Army'd gone on pretending.

    For different motives (I still firmly believe Carter staged a structural coup, esp with all those paper bdes that only have infantry components nothing else, to save colonelcies and brigadierships for the Infantry to ensure their dominance of flag-rank posts in a smaller Army -- jobs for the boys. Cap badges are in that case hostages, not motives, they'd take twelve squaddies and a regimental sheep for some of those units so long as an Infantry colonel got to lead it.) That's not to do down the branch -- although it's very much to do down Carter the bureaucratic opportunist -- in a modern force the Infantry by their very nature are an elite of sorts, the bit of a larger, more complex force that actually meets an organised foe face to face. So they need larger, fully-manned, fully-kitted formations, and that means fewer of them.


    1. Hi Jackstaff,
      I agree with much of what you say.
      But you have to remember both 16 AA and 3 CDO can't deploy more than a couple of battle groups each, as one of there units is always deployed or at high readiness, and therefore when they finish that tour they have to have some down time. I feel that they should get an additional battalion each so they can deploy as a full 3 battalion brigade making us of all the brigade assets they have.
      Likewise public duties and units deployed on other operations, such as the Falklands have to have down time and time to work up to be deployed.

  24. Really-Anonymous and Phil,

    I've elsewhere ginned up a regimental-reform program, based on the RRS (no really) and Rifles experience in that it's about making the Heraldic Divisions into large regiments (eg the Guards get to keep their bns but they become one large regiment, likewise Queen's Division, etc.) The individual battalions retain an identity and beyond that, since so many of the amalgamated regiments were made out of four-battalion (five in a couple cases but there are workarounds) regional amalgams, give capbadges, recruiting catchments, and legacies back at the *company* level. (eg a Gloucesters company in a Rifles bn identified by its Wessex roots, a North Staffords company in a Mercian battalion labeled by region, etc.) The Army organises by heraldic units but fights by battlegroup which means mixing at the company level, so that's fine. Even adds some esprit. It saves all the precious capbadges (and they are at least a little precious, geographic identity and historical legacy have some real purpose) and it lets you make some consolidations based on an Army of "working" (deployable) bdes and recruiting records in the regions. So:
    - A Guards regt
    - A mostly-northern (King's Div) regt that incorporates the Mercians
    - A pan-Celtic regiment (the Welsh and Irish bns are singletons, and the Scots might grumble but it'll make them big fish in a Union regiment so that'll be good for the ego)
    - A Queen's Division-turned-regiment
    - The Rifles (ex-Light Division)
    - The Paras

    Axe the Gurkhas (it's time, folks), that's two bns. Lose the Brunei assignment too, there are other ways to do FPDA than enabling an increasingly kooky regime. Get the Army out of Cyprus (get out of Dhekelia in toto, it's nothing but a risk factor these days, and Akrotiri should be the Rock Apes' job, get some honest work out of them.) Also out of FI (bootnecks and RAF Regt.) Those were garrisons for a big army, it's not now. Then:

    - Fer gawd's sake pull the Argylls into the Highlanders (then they're a proper big-arsed bn with a great history), and amalgamate the Lowlanders in one big bn, that's three Scots bns at the core of a five-bn Celtic regiment
    - Make the shattered Duke of Lancs' bns (one of the worst victims of pecking-order prejudice despite their seniority, recruited pretty well too) into one big useful bn
    - Do the same with PWRR who have admitted their problems recruiting in the Southeast, they get to be the senior bn of a new regt so there's that
    - Make the Green Jacket elements of the Rifles consolidate in a single bn (KRRC and Rifle Bde legacy elements.) The county elements of The Rifles were 22 bns back in Childers' day and now they're three; the "true" Rifle units were eight back then, even the Black Mafia can't justify two legacy bns in this sized force.

    Now you're at 25 (and, if one of the above makes enough of a snit, you could still manage 26) that could be fully manned with Regulars (unlike current TOE on the light-protected and light-role) and with slightly fewer people than the current Infantry allotment. Rotate public duties less often (give 'em a full two-year stint, then rotate the units back into the "working" bdes' structures) and you're home.


    1. Hi Jackstaff.
      You make some very good points.
      My own humble opinion the problem of keeping battalions at full strength has still not been addressed.
      As a former infantry soldier, I would prefer less battalions, but I would go for fighting and reserve/garrison battalion system.

  25. I agree with less but larger units. However there is a gaping hole in Infantry manpower. The MOD won't award well recruited units and don't have the balls to axe the poor ones. Take the small Royal Irish regiment with one regular Bn and one reserve. A study concluded that the regular Bn could generate an additional company every 6 months and a second regular Bn in 18 months. It's reserve Bn was tasked to expand to150% manning last summer and it has achieved it in a few months. This capbadge could make a massive impact on regular and reserve infantry numbers if the MOD would let it. It's worth pointing out that not so may years ago this capbadge had 9 regular Bns.


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