Thursday, December 29, 2011

A final analysis of the Libya experience

Unified Protector is the sole NATO mission officially complete and finished, and it has also been an important operation which saw the US showing, for the first time and very evidently, what Robert Gates had announced in several of his speeches as Defense Secretary of the USA: the United States are no longer willing to do all the work in the European area, have new priorities in South East Asia, and generally no longer have a great appetite for shouldering the challenges of the Mediterranean area unless NATO steps up its contribution and works as a realistic, capable partner.
In fact, comparing Unified Protector and Allied Force, the NATO intervention against Slobodan Milosevic, it is very evident the difference: 90% of the targets hit during Unified Protector were attacked by NATO assets, an almost exact reverse of the balance in Allied Force, which saw NATO only hit roughly 10% of the targets.

However, it would be wrong to take this as a proof of maturity of NATO, because the US were still fundamental for the viability of the operation, and in fact Unified Protector had almost as many shadows as it had lights. The most embarrassing fact was the inability of several European countries to sustain even just a mild air effort such as Unified Protector, with countries literally running out of bombs in just a few weeks. Other countries, namely Germany, refused to take part into the operations. Interoperability problems emerged in communications and even in fuel (and planning) matters, with the Swedish Gripens arriving in Sigonella only to find that they needed fuel unavailable on the base, which is used by the US Navy and only had JP5 fuel, with the Gripen needing civilian Jet A1 fuel. Until JP8 fuel could be made available, the 8 Gripens were either grounded or forced to take off light and immediately after top up their fuel tanks from a Sweden C130 air tanker.

A whole range of “specialized” capabilities were in short supply and relied almost totally or entirely on the US contribution. This goes from certain kind of weaponry, starting from cruise missiles (Tomahawk) to go through RECCE, ISTAR, electronic war, Psyops from the air, air transport, drones and air to air refueling, with 30 out of 40 air tankers employed coming from the US.    
At one time, the Royal Danish Air Force was the only force in the operation with the BLU-109 bunker-busting warhead, urgently needed to target reinforced structures and ammo depots, but kind of rare. The RAF followed, deploying Paveway III with BLU-109 warhead to Gioia del Colle for use on the Tornado GR4.

The final report of Unified Protector tells of the combined effort of a force of around 200 airplanes, made available by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Greece, Norwey, Holland, Spain, Turkey and United States, plus (external to NATO) United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Sweden. They flew a total of 26.320 sorties, of which 9658 strike sorties, hitting 5900 targets, with an average (calculated from March 31) of 120 sorties per day.
Outside these numbers sits the – still largely unknown – contribution of the makeshift aviation of the rebel forces, made of captured airplanes or of machines and crews joining the rebels and coming from the government forces. Apparently, the rebels air force has some 3 or 4 Mig21UM, 4 Mig23UB, around 10 J-21, G-2 and L-39 and L39ZO trainers, SIAI Marchetti SF.260 and a dozen cargo aircrafts between BAE 146-300, IL76 and Antonov AN26 , plus around 12 helicopters Mi-8, Mi-14, Mi-17 and Mi-24. Perhaps most important, anyway, was the reported use of mini drones in the rebels’s forces: Canadian-produced ‘Aeryon Scout’ minidrones proved apparently very precious. 

The targets destroyed by NATO are  600 armoured vehicles, 405 artillery pieces, 600 military buildings and infrastructures, 1270 ammo depots (over an estimate of over 4000 present in Libya!) and 690 air defence sites.  

In terms of sorties, American airplanes, despite the US’s “secondary role”, actually flew 30% of the sorties, followed by France (21%), United Kingdom (11%) and Italy (10%). The data about Italian participation is particularly interesting and will be later better analyzed because it represents perhaps the greatest effort ever of the AMI since the second world war, in terms of quality at least, if not in numbers. The data is also all the more impressive due to Italy’s initial reluctance in joining or sustaining the intervention.

In terms of targets hit, France, UK and Italy account for 35% of the targets destroyed, but it is Denmark which has the best score and ratio of missions/target struck, having hit a shocking 17% of the targets. The six Lockheed Martin F-16AM fighters deployed by Denmark on Sigonella airport, Sicily, delivered in fact 930 bombs in 595 missions (data updated to 24 October).
It would be interesting to know which kind of targets Denmark was assigned. Given that they were the only ones with bunker-buster bombs and practically always dropped at least a bomb in each mission, they probably have hit almost exclusively buildings and infrastructure.

The Libya effort, nation by nation

Belgium – 6 F16 deployed to Araxos, in Greece.

Canada – 7 CF18 Hornet and 2 CP140 “Aurora” (P3 Orion Marittime Patrol Aircrafts), based in
Trapani-Birgi and flying respectively 450 and 179 sorties. (2%)

Denmark – 6 F16 in Sigonella, 595 missions, 930 strikes (17% of strikes with just around 2% of sorties!).

United Arab Emirates – 6 Mirage 2000 and 6 F16 based on Decimomannu, Sardinia.

France – 5600 sorties flown by Armee de l’air and Marine Nationale (21%), of which 3100 strike missions (32% NOTE: not all strike missions saw the use of weapons), 1200 reconnaissance missions, 400 air defence missions, 340 missions for control of the air space and of the No Fly Zone and 580 air refueling missions, for 27.000 flying hours. They accounted for 750 targets hit (12%) with the use of 950 guided weapons including 15 SCALP cruise missiles and 225 AASM bombs. French ships fired over 3000 shells of 76 and 100 mm of caliber in Naval Gunfire Support missions.

France employed 5 Rafale and a single Harfang drone from Sigonella (after the Charles De Gaulle returned to port) and 6 Mirage 2000D, 4 Mirage F1CE, one AWACS E3F and one air tanker KC-135 based in Suda (Creete), where they worked alongside the Mirages of Qatar which needed assistance as this was their first war missions (note: Qatar Mirages weren’t even technically cleared for air ground missions and weaponry, but still went into strike missions and dropped a number of bombs).

The Marine Nationalle contributed with 10 Rafale M, 6 Super Etendards and 2 E2C Hawkeye embarked on Charles de Gaulle, along with several helicopters, giving a maximum airgroup size of 25. The CdG worked in Libya for 120 days, with a record of 63 spent entirely at sea without any break (far from the 150 of HMS Invincible in the Falklands in 1982 anyway!). In this period, there were 2380 launches and recovery of airplanes and 3600 flying hours were logged in, generating 840 strike sorties, 390 reconnaissance sorties with Rafale M with recce pods, 120 E2C sorties and 240 buddy-buddy refueling sorties. The contribute of the carrier group was very significant: when she left to head back to port (she needed respite after having been four months in the Indian Ocean to fly Rafales over Afghanistan before joining Libya ops) she had accounted for 33% of the sorties and most of the strikes conduced to date, and to partially replace her and the advantages given by its capability to stay near the fight, Rafales were sent to the base of Sigonella in Sicily, perhaps the closest base of all those available.    

The La Tonnere LHD went into battle with 4 Puma helicopters (probably for CSAR and other duties), 2 Tiger attack helicopters and 12 multirole Gazelle helos modernized, 8 armed with HOT anti tank missiles, 2 with Mistral AA missiles for escort role and 2 with 20 mm gunpods. The helicopters flew 450 sorties (4,5%) but destroyed no less than 550 targets (nearly 10%), expending 431 HOT plus an unspecified number of 68 mm rockets and 20 mm rounds.

Jordan – 6 F16A-MLU, on Aviano air base, used only to escort Jordan cargo planes which were used to deliver supplies (and weapons?) to the rebels.    

United Kingdom – The UK forces flew 3100 sorties (11%) of which around 2100 (21%) were strike missions. At least 18.000 flying hours were logged in, with 640 (11%) targets having been hit with the use of 1420 guided ammunitions, inclusive of a number of Tomahawks and 110 Hellfire missiles fired by AAC Apaches. 4100 rounds of 30 mm gun were used, along with at least 19 CRV7 rockets. HMS Liverpool fired 240 shells from her gun. In the moment of maximum effort, the deployed component counted 16 Tornado GR4 and 6 Typhoon FRG4 on Gioia del Colle, 5 Apache helicopters on HMS Ocean (along with at least two Sea King MK7 AEW and a number of Lynx in force-protection role). The force included a Sentinel R1 plane flying from Akrotiri (in the last few days it moved on Gioia del Colle), 3 E3D Sentry AWACS and 3 VC10 air tankers flying from Trapani-Birgi, from where they were quite rudely kicked out in October, thankfully at mission practically over for lucky coincidence, because the local administration needed the airport free for welcoming well-paying civilian tourists.
It was embarrassing, but expected: the base had only been made available up to the 20 of October from the very start. Initially, it was expected that it would have been more than enough, but as we know Unified Protector was extended twice, and the timeframe turned out being too tight, even if thankfully not by much.
For a while, the RAF was able to contribute to the intelligence and SIGINT effort by delaying the planned retirement of the Nimrod R1, but ultimately this asset was retired, and not even Ellamy was considered a sufficient reason to further delay the end.

The Apache flew only around 25 sorties, but hit successfully over 100 targets. They were supported by 99 Sea King MK7 sorties guiding them through the enemy defences. Despite the brilliant success of this first experience of war from the sea, the Apache proved to be not quite navalized enough, and some 44 planned missions could not be flown. The AAC, post-Libya, has compiled a list of the things that the Apache still needs to work from ships in safety, and it is a quite significant list.

An important british contribution was made with submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles, but this highlighted some problems as well: with a stock of just around 60 missiles, each submarine has just few TLAMs to carry, and they are soon left without missiles. Replenish a submarine of TLAMs in open sea is currently not possible, it takes at least a safe harbor, and according to rumors emergency replenishments had to be done with the help of the large US Navy TLAM stocks due to the difficulty of getting more missiles to the subs in the area.
The problem of the otherwise awesome SSN+TLAM combination, and one of the reasons why the RN has been spending the last few years trying to expand the number of TLAMs in stock and the number of launching platforms as well, namely by trying to get funding for TLAM on the Type 45.   

At least 199 Tomahawks were launched on Libya by March 28, starting with the super-barrage of 112+ on March 19, the opening act. The Uk was part of this strike, but with just a single-digit amount of missiles from HMS Triumph. The SSGN Ohio of the US Navy, at its first big mission, fired, on its own, at least 60 of the missiles.
RN submarines went into double-digit amounts of missiles fired with successive launches throughout March.     

Tornado GR4 flew for 7000 hours (equivalent to 2 years of peacetime airframe usage), with Typhoon accounting for another 2519 hours (to 18 august). The last 4 Typhoons were withdrawn from Gioia on September 23. 10 of the planes had arrived on March 21, but they had in time gone down to 6, 4 of which had been assigned to ground attack missions from April 5, with the first bomb dropped by a Typhoon on April 12. The Tornado force had initially generated a deployed force of 8, which was twice expanded to reach the amount of 16 planes, with 4 flying to Italy on April 4 and 4 more (with a RAPTOR recce pod) following on July 18 to try and fill a gap in the RECCE capability of the coalition.

For the Typhoon this was the baptism of fire, and Italian and British Typhoons flew a combined 4000 hours with great results. In particular, the RAF reported that its Typhoons had a 97% availability rate. The data about missions planned and missions effectively flown would suggest 94.4%, but we can assume that part of the aborted missions were not due to the plane but to changes in the situation of the moment.

Flown hours
Missions planned
Missions flown
Weapons dropped
Transmission of targeting imagery

A report of the performances of RAF Typhoon planes in OP Ellamy

A typical Libya mission was a severe test for the machine and for the crews, both of Tornado and of Typhoon: a typical Iraq CAS mission would cover 560 km, a typical Afghan mission can be expected to go 520 km, while a Libya mission inexorably involved several air refuelings (3, normally) and a travel of, on average, 960 km from Gioia to Libya, followed by missions taking place on an area spanning as many as 1280 miles of length over 5 hours average (at least since May). The Typhoons performed brilliantly, doing these missions with a heavy load comprising a couple of ASRAAM missiles for self defence, 4 1000lbs Paveway II bombs, 1 Litening III pod for targeting and two external 1000 liters fuel tanks and still flying comfortably at 12.200 meters of altitude.

In general, the availability of the machines and their reliability was good, even though there were a few emergency landings in Malta due to mechanical problems aboard Tornado GR4 fighters. No airplanes were lost,

Unsung heroes of Ellamy are, however, the many men of the logistical sector, and in particular, in this case, the men of No 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron (2 MTS) RAF, from Wittering, which During Op ELLAMY, drove 1,169,986 miles (1,882,910km); which is equivalent to travelling around the equator more than 47 times, and carried 8,540 tonnes of freight - the equivalent of 813 Hercules aircraft loads, to keep the forces in Gioia del Colle active. This impressive score was collected by convoys normally counting 10 trucks, traveling some 4000 miles from the UK to Gioia and back over 8 days. 2 MTS also suffered the only operational fatality of the Operation, with the loss of Senior Aircraftman James Smart, who was involved in a deadly road traffic accident as his convoy was transiting through southern Italy. Many more tons of supplies were delivered by air, thanks to RAF cargo planes and chartered flights.

Operation Ellamy was a success, but it was a reminder of the many issues connected with mounting an air campaign abroad, even with “safe” and “granted” support by an hosting country such as Italy. There were real issues to deal with. Gioia del Colle lacked accommodation, with expensive solution being the many local hotels; the base lacked proper facilities, and its runways weren’t in good conditions. Trapani-Birgi was available with a timer, and ultimately the RAF was asked to leave. Malta said no. Cyprus loudly asked not to fly combat missions from Akrotiri. The distance made everything more complex and more expensive, and the funny bit comes when one tries to think of what would have happened had the option of truck convoys being unavailable.
Driving a truck from Marham to Gioia in peacetime is a big feat, but still a normal one. Truckers in Europe do it all the time. Delivering over 8000 tons of supplies to a base abroad, especially with Afghanistan still ongoing, would have been a massive problem had the base been somewhere else.

‘Operation Ellamy was not the model for how we want to do things in the future,’ said Gp Capt Richard Hill, A4 Force commander and station commander of RAF Wittering and Cottesmore.
‘The pump had not been primed: aircraft arrived in theatre before logistics support was on location. They struggled to keep up,’ he told delegates at the Military Logistics Conference in Bristol on 29 November 2011. Within days, several Typhoon aircraft had become unavailable because of unserviceabilities and the units were beginning to run out of munitions.

During the early days of the conflict, munitions for the aircraft had to be flown in on RAF transport aircraft because land supply lines were only just becoming established.
However, flying munitions by air is neither cost-effective nor efficient, and the rates at which bombs were being dropped meant that munitions began running out. Furthermore, no weapons were available to the RAF at Gioia del Colle.
‘Gioia del Colle was not how we left it eight to 10 years ago,’ Hill noted.
In August the RAF website reported how personnel at the base were forced to do ‘regeneration’ work in consultation with the commanders of the Italian airbase. In 20 days alongside Italian contractors, the RAF resurfaced the eroded taxiways and parking areas and erected sun shelters for the aircraft. They also cleared the site of foreign object debris.

For this and for other reasons, the argument for aircraft carriers emerged strengthened by the Libya experience.

Greece – made available an Embraer 145 AWACS and a number of Super Puma helicopters.

Italy – made available most of the bases used in the operation (Trapani-Birgi, Decimomannu, Sigonella, Gioia) and the command and control infrastructure, namely the NATO HQ in Naples, which had been, just in the summer, at risk of closure during the major restructuring of NATO infrastructure and was “saved” and very conveniently immediately used by the alliance, as a payback for Italy making the bases available for the offensive. This is to be seen as the main reason behind the insistence of Italy in asking for a NATO leadership over the operation, menacing to negate host nation support if a binational France-Britain guidance was chosen instead.

The military contribute of Italy went past the mere provision of host support, however. For Unified Protector, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI – Italian Air Force) did form the Task Group Air “Birgi” on the airport with the same name, near Trapani. The TGA was assigned F16 from 37th Wing, Typhoon from 4th Wing, Tornado IDS from 6th Wing, Tornado ECR (SEAD/Electronic War) from 50th Wing, AMX light attack planes from 32 and 51 Wings and, from August 10, the recently delivered Reaper drones ordered from the US and arrived just in time, flown from the airbase of Amendola by 32 Wing’s personnel. The Italian air force also made available a KC130J air tanker from the 46th Air Brigade and the first KC767 strategic air tanker, which finally entered service with 14 Wing, after long delays due to Boeing issues with the preparation of the 4 planes ordered.

Italy flew 2500 sorties (9%), 1900 of which were made by the AMI for 7300 flying hours. 8 AV8B+ Harrier of the Navy, embarked on the aircraft carrier Garibaldi, flew a further 1223 hours in 560 sorties. A total of 714 guided weapons were used (over 500 of which by the AMI), destroying 750 targets (12%). The AMI was practically the only force which assisted the otherwise exclusively American electronic war effort, flying a G.222VS with signal intelligence kit and the Tornado ECR in SEAD missions.   
For the AMI it was also the occasion for a series of first great achievements: for the first time Italian warplanes employed the Storm Shadow missile (96% success rate) and the US-built JDAM. Unfortunately, an order for 500 Small Diameter Bombs has yet to deliver, so this useful, small weapon with low collateral damage was not available yet. Some 340.000 images were recovered, of 1600 different targets, by Tornado and AMX recce planes, along with 250 hours of video imagery from the Reapers.

The AMI also deployed a SPADA SAM battery from 2 Wing for the defence of the Trapani air operations hub, from which high value assets such as the AWACS went into war, and made available HH3F and AB212 SAR and CSAR helicopters to support operations. Navy helicopters flew over 3000 hours.
The Tornado IDS (Italian counterpart of the GR4) also flew a number of Buddy-Buddy tanker missions to try and mitigate the insufficiency of tanker support. Still, during Unified Protector, Malta’s airport had to allow emergency landings several times to NATO warplanes low on fuel.    

Norway – 6 F16 based in Suda, Creete, flew 583 sorties (2%) and dropped 569 bombs. Retired its forces by August 2.

Holland – 6 F16 on Decimomannu, Sardinia. Only for air defence and recce.

Qatar – 6 Mirage 2000 and a C17 based in Suda. Flew strike missions.

Spain – 4 F18 for air defence, a single CN-235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and two KC707 air tankers. 250 sorties and 700 flying hours. (1%)

United States – The US assets flew 7725 sorties (30%), of which 1845 were strike sorties (19%) even though only 397 saw the use of weaponry. 145 missions were made by two Predator drones. The US lost a F15E to mechanical failure, the crew of which was recovered by a US Marines CSAR mission into Libya with Harriers and MV22 Osprey planes. A MQ8 Fire Scout helicopter drone used by the US Navy was instead shot down. US Marines Harriers from the LDH-3, USS Kearsarge, flew a consistent number of strike sorties. The US supplied Growler electronic war planes and C130s in Psyops and EW variants, plus 30 out of 40 air tankers employed for Unified Protector and a whole range of other capabilities.
They also made available weapons, fuel and spare parts worth 250 USD millions to allies with stocks embarrassingly empty.
They have also provided B2 sorties and the vast majority of the around 200 Tomahawks used against Libya. They also leased a couple of Greyhounds transport planes for Carrier On Board delivery to France, which needed them to support Charles De Gaulle on ops.

The US have put the cost of their Libya role at 1.1 USD billion.

Sweden – Contributed 8, then 5, Gripen fighters and a C130 air tanker, flying 500 sorties (2%).

Turkey – 6 F16 with non-offensive tasking and 2 air tankers. 748 sorties. (3%)

 A few final considerations

Libya was a success, but a partial one. It was, for NATO, an historic moment in which the US took a step backwards and told Europe, for the first time ever, “go at your problems yourselves”. It did so to signal that they do not have the will nor the possibility anymore to contribute over 70% of NATO efforts and capabilities on their own, and especially not a time in which they are shifting their focus on China, basing troops in Australia and planning for a new naval base in Singapore. Europe and the Mediterranean are now periphery, and the European part of NATO is required to do its part much more incisively and look, on its own as much as possible, over its own share of the world.

Libya taught NATO, once more, lessons already known. The insufficiency of ISTAR assets and their absolute value, for example. A welcome news in this sense is that the NATO AGS system, even if downsized again and again in the years, is nearing its entry into service. Its Global Hawk drones will be a welcome addition to the capability of the alliance. Even better is to see that the british posture on the Sentinel R1 retirement has changed, and now the fate of the system is not tied to Afghanistan, but left to SDSR15 for decisions, with a reprieve now seen as highly likely, unless Telemos drones enter service early and prove miraculous. And it is highly unlikely they will: in fact, from a 2018 in-service date there already seems to be a shift towards 2020, at least on the French side. France just put 4 SIGINT satellites into orbit, the UK is pursuing Rivet Joint. Together, these systems will be invaluable, just as much as Sentinel and NATO AGS.

Another lesson learned (at least partially) is that of air refueling, with France advancing its acquisition of new A330 MRTT tankers, with 7 planes to be ordered in 2012/13 and 7 more to follow later on.

Political issues such as Germany staying out of the operation, countries refusing to offer basing, or Italy playing games to obtain advantages in exchange for its bases, are unlikely to vanish. The political game is unlikely to change, but Ellamy, launched exclusively from NATO bases and fought on the threshold of home did prove how much cost and risk is connected to the dependence from third party host support.

This was an easy mission, we shouldn’t hide this fact. Unified Protector flew, on a quite long time, a small fraction of the missions flown for Iraq in 2003, or Afghanistan, or during Allied Force. It was a low-intensity air campaign fought by NATO from NATO bases. Yet there were issues with basing, communications, logistics and distances and even with stocks of weaponry running empty in merely weeks. To put things in proportion, 200 days saw 26.000 sorties take place. In 1999, over Serbia, in 78 days over 38.000 sorties were flown, at a rate of 487 per day on average and with highs of 700 missions per day in the critical moments. 4 to 7 times as many missions as were sustained over Libya. It must also be noted that NATO was almost entirely unopposed, and completely owned the sky, and not just because of the TLAM and B2 strikes on SAM sites and radars and command centers, but because of the surprisingly dire state of the Libyan air force and air defence system. Serbia did pose much more of a problem, Iraq also. It is not likely that we will always get away with things so cheaply.
The problems experienced with basing, sustainability and long-endurance coverage are all the more serious when considering these simple facts.

There were also arguable choices in the conduct of the air campaign, especially in the first phase, when coordination was not very good. There was disproportion in the efforts: initially, the main ammo and weapons depots were almost ignored, while a sudden, powerful strike on just the main of 4000 weapons depots would have greatly reduced the capability of Gaddafi forces to fight for so long. Air defence sites and airports which were effectively inoperable as they were did get a big share of attention, that they did not deserve. The effort for attacking vehicles on the ground was plagued by long transit times, insufficient ISTAR and too tight rules of engagement, which all contributed to the dramatic reports coming from Misrata, which was daily ravaged by rockets and artillery fire for months, with NATO airstrikes unable to destroy Gaddafi’s artillery surrounding the rebel fortress. The situation was so dire at one point that the Royal Navy amphibious task group seemed about to be ordered ashore, and France and the UK had drawn up plans for a “Libyan Dunkirk” to bring the rebels out of the town by sea if Gaddafi’s forces were to finally breach the perimeter.
Helicopters were instrumental in improving the situation a bit, and French helicopters in particular proved invaluable in opening the way for the rebels as they advanced on Tripoli.
The strategic direction of the air campaign will have to be analyzed critically to draw up the lessons of the case.

The distance was also a very serious enemy to contend with. Denying won’t do any good. Distance made it difficult to impossible for NATO to establish a proper 24h wide-area coverage. Between a NATO strike and another, Gaddafi forces often counterattacked successfully against the rebels. The most effective NATO missions were those of helicopters flying from HMS Ocean and Tonnere, and those flown by Charles De Gaulle, USS Kearsarge and Garibaldi, and those launched by land-based aircrafts operating from Sigonella, the closest as possible to the targets.
It is a logical consequence, undeniable: more transit time means more cost, more complexity and less efficiency and less time on target, with need for greater air tanker support.

The airplanes taking off from Charles De Gaulle were 15 minutes away from their targets, the Tornados in Gioia del Colle were 1 hour away. The situation on the ground changes a lot in 1 hour, and the targets you take off to hit in that time might be lost, be destroyed or hide or enter in heavily urbanized areas were attacks are not an option, and the mission ends up cancelled without any bomb being dropped. This has happened very frequently.
Planes from Charles De Gaulle flew sorties of 2 hours on average, without air refueling. Land based planes would refuel on average 3 times in the air, and fly for 4 to over 5 hours, but spending roughly the same amount of useful time on the targets. Even though it is standard practice to have a Rafele or two with Buddy-Buddy kit in the air during recovery of planes returning to “mother”, the sea-borne assets practically did not use already stretched AAR assets.  

The absence of carriers due to the US limited involvement and to Charles De Gaulle having to retire into port without a replacement available was an issue to planners and further reduced the responsiveness of NATO. Libya might not appear as a “carrier war”, but it actually did prove the point of carriers once more. Italy for example used, when possible, Garibaldi and its Harriers in an open acknowledgement of the greater cost-effectiveness of the combination.
This cost-effectiveness will be further expanded, in the UK, by the availability of large carriers, capable to sustain a Libya-dimensioned effort for over 70 days without replenishment. The F35, when integrated with all the planned weaponry, will be capable to face all kind of missions, unlike the Harrier, and the CVF+F35 will represent the most effective and sole independent mean of projecting air power in a place of UK’s choosing. The large sizes of the carrier will make it possible to launch a more incisive campaign as well, with higher sortie generation rate. Already with 12 F35, 20 strike sorties per day, sustained, are expected. This is already a progress from the 13 missions per day flown during Ellamy, which include all kind of missions and machines, and not just strike ops.
Given enough airplanes and support, and converting the second CVF to catapults as well, the UK carrier force will be able to project air power much more incisively and effectively for a more or less constant period, the two-ships solution ensuring over 500 days a year of availability.

Investing, without “if” and “but”, in the regeneration of this power projection capability is a major step forwards for the UK and for NATO, and meets the wish of the US to see the European countries taking on a greater role, with France and UK leading the European side of NATO and working not just as biggest contributors, but as strategic enablers and coordinators to ensure that the rest of the countries can add their significant contribution and provide the numbers needed to beef up the complete “skeleton” of capabilities provided by the leading countries.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Type 26 design: November decisions - UPDATE

UPDATE: BAE systems' Engineering Manager, Bob Clarke, will speak at a conference organized by IET Solent Network Isle of Wight Section, January 26, 2012. The conference is about the Type 26 Global Combat Ship and it will outline where the Type 26 Global Combat Ship is in it's design programme and consider some of the key technical challenges associated with delivering it, such as manning, propulsion, combat system architecture, international partnering and operational flexibility.
In this occasion we will finally be updated in hopefully great detail about the concepts and design options selected for the new frigate last November.

It would appear that the planned November decision point for the Type 26 frigate was respected, even though to this day there has not been any great announcement or report. The BAE systems' page about the Global Combat Ship has been slightly updated to include a tiny bit of additional details, which are, in themselves, juicy. At the voice "Key Facts" now appears the statement that the data shown is based on the reference design dated November 2011: the current chosen design guideline. Previously, the slightly different data was signaled being based on "a proposed design".

The ships will be 148 meters long and 19 wide (up from 141) and displace around 5400 tons with a 60 days endurance at sea before needing replenishment, a 130 men crew (according to some BAE documents, the actual ship crew would be around 110/115, plus 15/20 men for the embarked Ship Flight) and an Embarked Force of 36. Speed is expected superior to 28 knots, which suggests that an All-Diesel solution (considered cheaper) was not taken, with a combination of diesel and gas chosen instead. An integrated all-electric solution such as that of the Type 45 has been considered, but already from some time it was not considered adequate to meet the stringent requirement for quietness of an hull which will have ASW mission as core task. Range is 7000 naval miles at 15 knots. Endurance and range are thus going to be two big good points of the new vessels.

The most interesting update is however the description of the Mission Bay in the back: it is now described as sized to accomodate 4 12-meters long boats (which will be launched and recovered at speeds of up to 15 knots) or a mix of manned and unmanned surface, air and subsurface vehicles. It will be, it seems, a quite large mission bay, because the description also states that it will be possible to house in it up to 11 TEU 20' containers/mission modules. Learning about the configuration of the mission bay will be very interesting: will there be a RoRo access ramp? It would appear wise to have it, with such an ample cargo area being available. Vehicles up to the size of the RM Viking could be parked inside, after all. In one previous presentation it was also indicated that the Mission Bay could be reconfigured to provide an additional 84 berths. Modular hospital and medical care facilities will also be probably a possible fit.

The bit about air vehicles is also suggestive: will there be a lift from the mission bay to the flight deck or hangar? It would appear necessary if the air drones are to be stowed down in the mission deck, and wise for a whole range of other reasons, as it would ease the usage of any kind of equipment and cargo carried in the mission bay.

The Hangar bit in the interactive picture is unchanged, and speaks about one light or one medium helicopter: it is actually expected that the hangar will be very similar to the Type 45's one, so it will be able to take 2 Wildcats or a Merlin, even though normally only one helicopter will be carried.

According to news reports, the 127 mm gun option has also emerged strenghtened by the Naval Gunfire Support experience in Libya, which means that, possibly, the Type 26 will be succesful in what the Type 45 tried to do but failed: bringing the RN into a new "gun era" with the demise of the MK8. Whatever gun is chosen for the Type 26 (if the 127 mm solution is adopted, the choice is between the BAE-United Defense MK45 and the Babcock-Oto Melara 127/64 LW, the latter being the favorite) it will have to be retrofittable to Type 45. Both guns meet this requirement. The BAE page mentions Loitering Ammunitions as well, and it must be noted that Fire Shadow, which will debut next year in Afghanistan, has the Navy's eye and is being marketed for use at sea. It is compatible with the Sylver VLS cells, so one day we might have a Fire Shadow variant vertically launched from the missile silos of Type 45 (first ship for which this possibility was mentioned) and Type 26.
A catapult for the launch of Boeing ScanEagle minidrones (tested by the Royal Navy on a Type 23 frigate already in 2001) is also shown in many images and videos, even though the Royal Navy is actually now more interested in a helicopter-drone, with a project for experimental conversion of ex-army Gazelle helos into drones having been proposed at DSEI.

This interesting video is also worth a look: even though it is outdated in some aspects, it should still be valid in many others.
I hope that there will soon be more solid information coming out, though, including images, hopefully.

But the Type 26 frigate has just gotten more interesting.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

100 more Foxhounds on the way

A new 400 million pounds investment in C-IED technology has been announced by the MOD, and this includes an order (still being negotiated with Force Protection, now a branch of General Dynamics) for making "around 100" more Foxhound vehicles available to the british army.
200 million pounds are going into C-IED technology, but the MOD is not announcing what this package will include: it could be new jammers, possibly body-worn, but it could also include drones with ground-penetrating radars and perhaps even portable, backpack-sized mine-clearance kits. These last are a soldier portable, miniaturized variant of the Pythoon of the Royal Engineers, so to speak, and include a rocket dragging a line charge through a mine field to detonate any weapon and create a safe path across the field. All of these devices are being used by US forces, and have been evaluated, at different times, by the MOD.

400 millions - 200 millions gives 200 millions, though, and unless the Foxhound just got more expensive (the order already in place, for 180 millions is acquiring 200 vehicles), something does not fit in. Where is the rest of the money going...?  In fact, 100 Foxhound should cost around 90 million pounds, and ideally less, since the rule should be that the more vehicles are ordered and built, the less they should cost.
It remains a good item of news, even though it would really help to know more about what kind of C-IED kit is being acquired, and it would be interesting to learn which Foxhound variants are being acquired: the current order for 200 should entirely be about the Patrol variant, a fully enclosed vehicle with a crew of 2 and seats for 4 dismounts seating face to face in the back. The Foxhound, however, has since demonstrated the Utility module, with a pick-up cargo bed at the back, and also the Fire Support module, which turns the vehicle in a much more protected and potentially even better armed Jackal (the FS Foxhound module offers two more weapon mounts compared to the Jackal or Land Rovers WMIK). 

It was hoped that the first order for 200 Foxhounds would be followed by a second batch order, again of 200 vehicles, but i honestly had grown worried about the effective likelyhood of it ever coming, so that even 100 would be better than i expected.
DefenseNews reports that the 100 new Foxhounds are being funded from the core defence budget, and not anymore from UOR money, and it also specifies that the requirement for a third tranche of Foxhounds is being assessed.
It is likely, i dare guessing, that this third tranche will be evaluated as part, or in relation to, the effort that was, until Planning Round 2011, known as Operational Utility Vehicle System and has now been renamed the Multirole vehicle protected.  

The Australian army, which trialed the Foxhound for its LAND 1300 requirement, recently chose to pursue a national solution by continuing development of the Hawkei instead: this has been a bitter blow to the Foxhound, since the contract is worth 1300 vehicles in Australian planning, and a win would have been a massive boost.
The 1300 figure also gives an idea of the numbers that the British Army would actually need for the future (Foxhound has always been a "core" programme procured with UOR methods, not an Afghan-specific programme with a 2015 best-before date) to equip the infantry properly. But at 900.000 pounds each, the Foxhound is very expensive for thinking of buying thousands, especially if export orders do not come to help make the programme economically viable: for comparison, a Panther CLV comes at 450.000 pounds inclusive of Theatre Entry modifications and Remote Weapon Station on top, and around 300.000 pounds for a more basic configuration.

I know that the British Army has not been very happy with the Panther, and i honestly struggle to understand the reasons. Inside it is cramped due to the Bowman installation, but can it really be THAT bad as it is suggested on the internet, when the rest of the world loves the vehicle so much? The Panther is built on the Iveco Lince jeep, which offers NATO standard protection levels from 3 to 4 depending on configuration, and it has saved countless lives in Afghanistan, in particular with the italian contingent. The Lince is heavily used and has been hit by IEDs and attacks very frequently, but save for extreme cases (last October a Lince was destroyed and another heavily damaged with the death of 6 of the 10 Italian soldiers that had been aboard of the two jeeps, when a Toyota used as bomb and filled with an estimate 150 kg of explosives hit the convoy), it has protected the men inside very well. And better it would have done had the Italian army provided protected turrets and RWSs earlier: the gunners, horribly exposed to man machine guns without much of even a gunshield, have been injured frequently, but only in 2010 an order for 80 RWSs and enclosed turrets was finally placed.

The Lince has been produced in the thousands for Italy and has also been widely exported (401 to the UK, several hundreds to Belgium, Austria, Norwey and other european countries, and even 1755 to be produced on licence in Russia).

The Panther CLV was procured not as a patrol protected vehicle, originally, but as a command and scout vehicle. Contract was for 401 vehicles with options for a further 400. Of the 401 vehicles purchased (for 166 million pounds), 326 vehicles are fitted with a BAE Systems ENFORCER Overhead Weapon Station (OWS) (Group 2 Panther) and 75 are fitted for but not with the OWS (Group 3). Panther was the first British Army front line vehicle to feature a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS). The data gathered will help to increase vehicle availability and reduce support costs.

In April 2008 the MoD awarded BAE Systems Global Combat Systems a £28 million contract to guarantee spares availability and reduce cost of ownership to the UK MoD for a five-year period. Under it, BAE Systems is required to provide 90 per cent availability of spare parts plus technical support to field units.

In May 2009, the Panther CLV was pressed into service in Afghanistan after successful hot weather trials in Oman and in Afghanistan itself. These Panthers were given a Theatre Entry Standard update by BAE system, including larger roof hatches, a rear view camera for enhanced situational awareness, protected engine compartment, new rear cargo pod and electronic devices to counter improvised explosive devices, under a 20 million pounds contract. A standard Lince comes with seats for 5, but on the Panther this goes down to 4, and the Bowman takes away a lot of space making even these four seats quite cramped. 
The upgrade began with the delivery of 73 TES kits, each made up by some 39 components. It is unclear if only those 73 vehicles were modified; some internet sources say that the upgrade was extended to "most" of the fleet, even though 67 vehicles received TES treatment in the first batch. The cost of TES kits would bring the total unit cost of fight-ready Panther vehicles with RWS, IED jammers etc at a total of around 700.000 pounds each (for 73 vehicles, long-term support cost excluded. That works out at around 14.000 pounds per year per each of the 401 Panthers).  

Panther originally was to be used in the following main roles:


Manoeuvre Support Battlegroup Close Reconnaissance
Manoeuvre Support Battlegroup Mortar Fire Controller and Forward Observation Officer
Battery Reconnaissance Officer


Liaison Officers for Armoured, Armoured Recce and Armoured Infantry Units
Commander’s vehicle for Engineer Troops, Anti-Tank, Mortar and supporting fire platoons


Asset co-ordination
Rebroadcast on BattleGroup nets and Regimental Signal Officers
Route proving for Close and General Support Engineer units

Some 13 to 15 roles within the army are covered by Panther, and some vehicles went to the RAF Regiment as well. Indeed, when in 2009 it was first deployed to Afghanistan, the RAF Regiment and the Army's Close Support Logistics Regiment were the first users. 
The fuel consumption of a fully kitted-up Panther vehicle when used on a surfaced road is estimated to be 6 km/ltr when travelling at a constant speed of 80 km/h. The off-road consumption is estimated to be 2 km/ltr.
During acceptation trials, the Panther was trialed against 6 kg AT mines, and it was verified that the crew would survive the hit. The requirement for Panther was to carry a crew of 1+3 plus kit.

The Iveco Lince in its standard variant carries 1+4. The Lince Light Multirole Vehicle is marketed in two main versions: the standard 3.2-metre-wheelbase variant that carries a 2.3-tonne payload and a new 3.5-metre, 2.5-tonne version. The latter can be fitted with either the standard four-door cab, with an extended rear stowage pod, or a short two-door cab that allows various modules to be fitted on the rear, such as Ambulance module, as ordered by the italian army.
Depending on the threat the LMV can be deployed as a soft-skinned vehicle or with one of three - light, medium or heavy - protection kits fitted to the crew cell or citadel. The modular armour system uses an innovative suite of applique panels, supplied by Germany's IBD Deisenroth Engineering, that are placed between the vehicle's inner and outer skins. The Light kit provides Stanag 4569 Level 1 (5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ball ammunition) protection while the Heavy kit boosts protection to Level 4 (14.5 mm AP ammunition). A multi-layered undercarriage structure beneath the crew citadel provides protection against mine blasts, and this can be enhanced by fitting a blast shield to protect against anti-tank mines. Iveco is working to further enhance protection against buried bombs. Trials have also been conducted with IBD's AMAP Active Defence System to defeat attacks from rocket-propelled grenades and similar threats. 

The Iveco LMV in the trials was brought to Ballistic protection STANAG 4569 Level 4 (STANAG 4569 Level 3+ for the windows and windshield), with Blast protection STANAG 4569 Level 2b/3b underbelly and Level 3a/4a for the wheel house. At 140 kg, the AMAP-ADS installation includes sensor-countermeasure modules arranged all around the vehicle. A processor determines the type and the trajectory of the approaching target. Subsequently a countermeasure module close to the calculated impact point is activated. This countermeasure ejects "directed energy" destroying or disrupting the approaching threat so that it cannot penetrate the vehicle. The overlapping sectors of the sensor-countermeasure modules enable the system to defeat multiple-attacks (in the trials multiple RPGs were successfully countered) and its incredibly fast reaction time makes it possible to react to threats as close as 10 meters.  

For the Panther, Universal Engineering created a new high mobility trailer as well, the XM Panther, which uses the same wheels and tires. It is designed to provide a stable and safe high mobility base for use with a wide range of demountable bodies tailored for specific roles and payloads. 

Mobility trials for a Panther with its trailer

The Foxhound, hopefully, will in time gain a share of the market and deliver even greater performance, but it is imperative that its price drops. It will be interesting, in this sense, to see the terms of the new contract for this second british batch. It will also have to live up to its promises: as it stands, the Foxhound is not yet in action, and all its awesomeness exists only on paper.

Another reason why i honestly didn't expect a follow-on order so soon.
A welcome news, but much remains to be known, verified, and there's much more work to do.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shedding some light on the Wildcat Light Assault Helicopter

Not much light, sincerely, as we still do not know what the new variant will offer over the other two, but the Light Assault Helicopter, Wildcat, seems set to go to the Special Forces support role, according to Defense News.

When i first read of the LAH variant, my first guess was that it would be a weaponized variant of the Army Wildcat, to be issued to 847 NAS, as part of Commando Helicopter Force, to improve the squadron's capability to support Royal Marines operations.
But soon after, i realized that it was unlikely, and came up with a second hypothesis, that now seems to prove true: the helicopters will be assigned to Special Forces support role, which likely means that the funding for the 4 additional airframes (plus conversion of a further 4 from the 34 Army helos on order) will come from the 500 or so millions allocated to SF in the SDSR.
Interestingly, prior to the SDSR publication there had been suggestions of a possible order for 10 Special Forces helicopters, speculated, back then, to possibly be NH90 TTH modified. Of course, clarity was never really made on the subject, as always happens with SF-related information.

DefenseNews notes that the Wildcat LAH will replace the current Lynx AH7 in the SF role, but steps short of making a guess on which unit will use them.
I feel a bit more daring than them, and i'm willing to bet that, if this plan is true, it applies to 657 Squadron Army Air Corps.

657 Sqn is part of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, together with 7 Sqn RAF flying the Chinook. Lynx helicopters (reportedly armed with M134 miniguns) escorted Chinooks from 7 Sqn RAF in the famous operation Barras in Sierra Leone, for example. Both squadrons are based in RAF Odiham.
651 Sqn AAC flies the Islander fixed wing plane in support of Special Forces, and last but not least, the AAC also provides 8th Flight, the unit which was known to fly SAS teams in urban areas using civilian painted A109 helicopters that were captured from the Argies in the Falklands in 1982. The A109 has actually been replaced with civilian-colored Dauphin helicopters, but this is less known. 

Unless the squadron's colors are put into suspended animation to bring back to life another historic unit, and i deem it unlikely, 657 Sqn will practically certainly get the new SF Wildcats, and it will probably be the only squadron on the type with its own assigned, fixed fleet of airframes, since the 30 Army Wildcats are likely to be kept in a pool and assigned to the various squadrons (including 847 NAS) according to the needs of the moment, with airframes made available to each squadron to keep a mandated number of crews trained and current.

It is not yet clear if there will be a reduction in the number of squadrons, or in their strenght, or both. In theory, the Army Wildcat should go and equip:

1st Regiment AAC
652 AAC - according to some rumors, it will be the first unit to re-equip on the new helo
661 AAC

9th Regiment AAC
659 AAC
669 AAC
672 AAC

671 - Conversion to Role Training, part of 2nd (Training) Regiment AAC

847 Naval Air Squadron - assigned to 3rd Commando Brigade's Commando Helicopter Force (6 helos)

30 helicopters for all these squadrons are very few, considering also that the current mandated strenght for a Lynx squadron of the Army is 8 helicopters.
However, 5 frontline army squadrons would be needed to meet "the rule of the five", and if the helicopters are kept in a pool and assigned each time on a mission-shaped basis, there's no apparent reason why the number of Sqns should drop.

The 28 Navy Wildcats will go into 702 NAS (OCU squadron) and into 815 NAS, the largest helicopter squadron of the UK, in which each helicopter will go and form a Small Ship Flight, to be assigned for cruises to frigates and destroyers. As always happens with the Fleet Air Arm, a temporary squadron (700W for Wildcat) stands up to work the new type into service, as happened, last time, for the Merlin with 700M squadron. 

In the meanwhile, British Forces News reports that, after enjoying the first landings at sea on RFA Argus, the Wildcat has landed in Portsmouth, where it will prepare for the challenges of next month, when the new helicopter will embark on HMS Iron Duke and work with her out at sea to write the manual of ops for the Type 23 - Wildcat combination.

In Portsmouth, a a 31-strong test team needed to ensure Wildcat can land on a Type 23 and can be moved in and out of the hangar using the ship’s helicopter recovery system. On-board refuelling and ammunition checks were also carried out. In january, they will do it again, but out in open sea, during a 3 weeks test cruise.

As an interesting, but totally unrelated news, ex RFA Largs Bay has arrived in Australia under her new name, HMAS Choules, and new pennant, L100, sporting a very evident hangar module added on her deck.