Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Medium Weight brigade and the 8x8: the italian way and FRES

The Medium Weight Brigade

The British Army now has taken the road of the Multi Role Brigade, to standardize the Army on 5 “everything-doing” homogeneous formations, plus Parachute/Rapid Reaction brigade. Originally, though, the plan, symbolized by the FRES (Future Rapid Effect System) vehicle programme, was to have two Heavy brigades and a number of Medium Brigades, equipped with air mobile FRES vehicles acting as core. The Medium Weight brigade is of course not a purely british idea: the US Army currently has the Stryker brigades, which fit perfectly into this definition and which arguably has started the great age of glory of the 8x8 combat vehicles, which are gaining prominence everywhere in the world.

In Europe, a modern example of Medium Brigade with high level of digitalization and networkability, in other words what FRES was supposed to deliver, comes from Italy, of all places. The Italian army is investing heavily in the conversion of several of its brigades to a new “Medium Weight” model, building on the Freccia (Arrow in English) VBM (veicolo blindato medio – a very unimaginative Medium Armoured Vehicle, translated in English), a modern 8x8 IFV, and on the Lince 4x4 jeep, which is the base-vehicle that the UK has adopted as Panther CLV.

While the Medium Weight Brigade concept in the UK appears “dead”, the Multi Role Brigade might still build on several common principles, and even though the FRES UV is now considered at very serious risk of never happening due to budget problems, it is still interesting to take a look at the Italian medium brigade and at the Lince, to reason about what the Uk army could (should?) do.

The Italian Plan

The Medium Brigade is part of the modernization plan of the Italian Army, and is closely tied to its Digitalization as well. The lack of funding (a constant for all European armed forces, not just for the british ones) mean that the plan is incredibly long, building up very slowly in its phases. It is planned to deliver its full effect in 2031 (!) which no doubt makes the “Future Force 2020” ambition look suddenly nicer and more ambitious, at least in time terms.

In 2031, the Italian Army currently envisages to still posses all of its 11 Maneuver Brigades, despite fears (realistic) of reductions being inevitable in the coming years. Anyway, the plan is for the Army to assume the following structure:

2 Heavy Brigades (‘Ariete’ of El Alamein fame, and ‘Garibaldi’)

4 Medium Brigades (‘Pinerolo’, ‘Aosta’, ‘Sassari’ and ‘Pozzuolo del Friuli’)

5 Light/Specialized Brigades (‘Folgore’ [PARA] ‘Friuli’[airmobile], ‘Julia’ [mountain troops], ‘Taurinense’ [mountain troops] and ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’ [light mechanized infantry]) 

This force will be completed by the ‘Forza di Proiezione dal Mare’ (Sea-projected Force), which will be a sort of amphibious Army-Navy brigade with:

-          2 Infantry Regiments (‘Lagunari serenissima’ from the Army, and ‘San Marco’ from the Navy)

-          2 Cavalry squadrons

-          1 regiment of towed ultra-lightweight howitzers (the Army plans to buy the M777)

-          2 STINGER SHORAD air defence batteries

-          2 Engineer companies

-          1 Command Element

The Landing Force will have its own 8x8 armored vehicle, fully amphibious, now in development from IVECO. It will be lighter than the Freccia, but it might share the same turret and weaponry. 

Simplifying the concept, we could say that the general idea behind the concept of Medium Brigade is that the brigade should be able to deploy, fight and win in any kind of military operations, short of an improbable third world war, in which anyway the Freccia would still be useful as it has IFV protection and firepower, but wheels instead of tracks, just like the French VBCI.

The first Medium Brigade, the ‘Pinerolo’, is expected to be ready by 2014, with the following structure:

-          3 Mechanized Infantry Regiments [battalions, for british army name system] on FRECCIA VBM

-          1 Cavalry/RECCE regiment on CENTAURO

-          1 Artillery Regiment with ultra-lightweight howitzers (self-propelled, funding permitting, otherwise towed)

-          1 Engineer Regiment

-          1 Command Element

The PINEROLO, shaped on the FRECCIA VBM, was to line 231 FRECCIA vehicles:

-          153 in ‘Combat’ variant (basic IFV)

-          30 ‘Anti-Tank’ with turret-mounted SPIKE missiles

-          12 ‘Mortar’ with 120 mm rifled mortar from Thales

-          12 ‘Recovery’

-          16 ‘Engineer’ [the engineer variant of the FRECCIA is not yet ready, and a prototype is being prepared]

-          8 ‘Command Post’

More FRECCIA could be added if the self-propelled howitzer variant is pursued and acquired: the prototype appeared this year, during the army parade in Rome on 2 June. Armed with a 155/39 ultra-lightweight howitzer, this FRECCIA variant would be the best possible solution for the Medium Brigades, but its fate will be determined by budget more than by requirements. A number of FRECCIA in Ambulance variant will now also figure in the brigade ORBAT: originally, the plan was to use the sole stretched Lince chassis as ambulance, but experience in Afghanistan made an heavily protected casualty evacuation vehicle a requirement, and the first 4 FRECCIA ambulances have been ordered.    

The structure planned for a Medium Mechanized Infantry Regiment of the Italian army bears similarities with the US ORBATS, and, to a lesser degree, to the Commando 21 structure of the Royal Marines: each Company of Infantry has its own Maneuver Support Platoon, in addition to the Regimental-level Maneuver Support Company. In practice, an Infantry Company will have a total of 14 FRECCIA ‘Combat’ IFV and the following structure:

-          a command element with two FRECCIA, 2 5-tons trucks with trailers and 1 Lince with trailer

-          3 Infantry Platoons, each on 4 FRECCIA IFV. Three IFVs in the platoon carries a Section of 8 men in two standard fireteams  each with Grenadier, Gunner with Minimi LMG, Marksman, and rifleman. In the second fireteam, the Marksman is replaced by a specialist with a Panzerfaust 3 Anti-Tank rocket. The Fourth vehicle carries the Platoon commander and the Maneuver Support firepower, in the form of a couple of medium Mg42/59 machine guns for fire support and a lightweight Hirtemberger 6C 60 mm mortar, identical to that acquired as UOR by the British Army for Afghanistan after the regretted retirement of the old light mortar.

-          Maneuver Support Platoon, with two FRECCIA Anti-Tank, each with a couple of SPIKE Medium Range (MR) missiles on the turret, and each carrying a dismounted ATGW team with tripod-mounted SPIKE launchers. 3 Lince with trailers give mobility to 3 81 mm mortars and their ammunitions and crew, a further Lince carries the command element, another carries a Fire Direction and Target Acquisition team and a last Lince carries a Sniper team.


Infantry Company ORBAT. The wonderful drawing is from Ennr, and first appeared on ForumDifesa

The company counts 171 men, of which 2 officers, 11 noncommissioned officers and 158 privates.  

The Maneuver Support Company, at regimental level, has:

-          Command Element with two FRECCIA, 2 5-tons trucks and 1 Lince

-          A RECCE Platoon with 6 FRECCIA and dismounts - A possible restructuring would see this element having not FRECCIA vehicles but Lince jeeps with the VISTARS mast-mounted recce sensor system

-          An Heavy Mortars Platoon with 4 FRECCIA with semi-automatic TDA 2R2M 120 mm rifled mortars and Mortar Fire Controller team plus command on two Lince vehicles

-          ATGW Platoon with 4 FRECCIA Anti-Tank, each with two SPIKE Long Range (LR) launchers plus dismounted ATGW teams.

-          Sniper Platoon with 3 sniper teams and Lince vehicles.

Maneuver Support Company ORBAT. The wonderful drawing is from Ennr, and first appeared on ForumDifesa

A Medium Infantry Regiment can count on a great firepower, with a significant Mortar element, but the Italian Army does not employ the Centauro as a Mobile Gun System: the US Stryker Infantry Company has 3 organic Mobile Gun System vehicles providing direct fire with their guns, and the FRES has always planned a fire support variant, probably for use in this fashion. 

A US Stryker infantry Company ORBAT, with the very noticeable presence of 3 Mobile Gun Systems for direct fire support
The Italian Army prefers to keep the Centauro centralized in their own Cavalry Regiment within the brigade, for use in a variety of roles from tank-hunting to RECCE by force to, of course, infantry fire support.

Italian job   

First of all, it is worth noting that Italy has been one of the earliest supporters of the 8x8 vehicles, without entering now a debate about the merit and problems of the formula. In 1991, in fact, Oto Melara started producing the very successful B1 Centauro 8x8 wheeled tank destroyer, of which 400 Centauro entered in service with the Italian Army as a Cavalry and reconnaissance vehicle. Around 100 have since been retired.

One of the Centauro leased by the US Army for Stryker-conversion trials. The first crews of the MGS had their first 8x8 "big gun" experience on italian Centauros.

The Centauro has been everywhere, from Somalia to Iraq, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania, kosovo, Afghanistan to Lebanon, and has always delivered good service: just one year after entering service, the Centauro was operating in Somalia, in 1993, and since then it was deployed everywhere the Italian Army went. 
In august 2004 the Centauro was the protagonist of heavy fighting in the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, where it was used to provide direct fire support to the infantry. 

The Centauro worked in a lot of roles, but ironically (and luckily) never had to face the scenario which was at the base of its birth: an Air or Sea landing on the long and exposed Italian peninsula of URSS forces.
The success of the Centauro has been noticeable enough that Spain, bought 22 of them, and then ordered a further 62 in 2002. Oman also placed an order in 2008 for 6 vehicles with a 120 mm gun instead of the 105/52. They were delighted with it, and exercised their option for 3 more. Jordan is also considering buying around one hundred. 

Most notably, though, the US Army contracted the Italian Army and Oto Melara to lease 16 Centauro vehicles, which were used for trials between 2000 and 2002. They were used by the IBCTs (Initial Brigade Combat Team) that the US Army formed to prepare the crews for the Stryker, and to shape the doctrine for the use of the wheeled armoured vehicle brigades. The trials took place in Ft. Lewis, Washington, on the west coast of the US.

The IBCTs were built leasing 8x8 platforms representative of the incoming Stryker: the Centauro was in fact accompanied by some 34 Canadian LAV III, around 20 german Fuchs, plus a number of Fuchs in NBC role. The Centauro was specifically use to prepare the crews for the Mobile Gun System variant of the Stryker, a vehicle which notoriously didn’t come out entirely successful.

In a way, we can see that the Italian experience helped shaping the US Stryker brigade, which, despite enduring criticism, has actually turned out being a huge success, which is taking on a larger and larger share of the US Army as more brigades are converted.

The Centauro is an 8x8 all-welded steel armour hull, which provides protection against 14.5mm armor piercing ammunition and artillery shell fragments all around. Enhanced armour protection over the frontal arc provides protection against 25 mm ammunition. Protection levels are routinely increased with add-on armor, which can increase the resistance up to 30 mm rounds (on the frontal arc). 

The Iveco 6V turbo-charged, after-cooled diesel engine is rated at 382kW (1,865Nm). The automatic transmission system designed by ZF, and manufactured under license by Iveco Fiat, has five forward and two reverse gears. There are eight wheels each with independent suspension and disk type brakes. The steering is on the first, second and fourth axle. The fourth axle is used only for turning at high speed. Top speed is in excess of 100km/h. The vehicle can negotiate gradients up to 60%, fording depth of 1.5m without preparation, and have a turning radius of 9m. The Centauro uses an unique H-shaped transmission with two axles on the wheel line instead of a single central trunk, allowing for a somehow lower silohutte of the vehicle when compared to other 8x8 vehicles, as the hull floor can be built lower down while keeping the same clearance of its rivals.

The Centauro has a crew of four (commander, gunner, loader and driver) and is equipped with an Oto Melara 105mm / 52-calibre gun. The low-recoil rifled gun fires standard NATO ammunition, including APFSDS (armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot) rounds. The gun is equipped with a thermal sleeve, integrated fume extractor and muzzle reference system. 14 rounds of 105mm ammunition are carried in the turret and 26 rounds are stored in the hull. An alternative configuration, the 8x8 T, replaces these 26 rounds of ammunition with space for four soldiers. 150 of the Italian Army’s 400 Centauro are of this variant.

Centauro II

The Italian Army is now investing in the development of the Centauro II, which will build on the success of the vehicle and remedy to its age and limits.
The Centauro II will have a more modern hull design, incorporating the V-shaped underbelly for improved mine resistance, and increased all-around protection. The hull will derive from the Freccia's one, (ironically, since the Freccia's hull is a development of the original Centauro idea!) but incorporate even more modern solutions. The Centauro II will be a little shorter, will not have troop-carrying space, and will be heavier and much better protected. From 26 tons, the final weight will rise to 28 or even 30 tons. The engine will be placed forward, on the right, with the driver on the left as in the current Centauro. There are not yet info about the engine, but the requirement is for a minimum power/weight ratio of 24 (compared to 18.5/20.5 currently) and a minimum range of 600 km. The Freccia engine is likely to be the base of development. Transmission will retain the H structure, and to further improve resistance against IEDs and mines "floating crew cells" inside the hull are being considered, in addition to the most recent suspended seats.  There is also a requirement for the crew to be able to evacuate independently the vehicle regardless of its orientation, so this seems to suggest that the driver will get an under-belly hatch, which will inexorably be a technological challenge as such an overture in the hull is a potential weak spot in the armor.

A 360° degrees view system with cameras is also a requirement, and the turret, an HITFACT evolution, will have a 3rd Generation independent thermal camera for hunter-killer and improved situational awareness for the Commander. The current Centauro has a single fixed camera for the Gunner that requires the rotation of the whole turret to scan the surroundings, and this is a disadvantage, especially in tight urban roads. 
All turret mechanism will be electric, eliminating the current high-pressure hydraulic systems which are a danger to the crew in case of hit. The ammo reserve will be protected by anti-explosion panels and there will be an advanced Fire-Extinguishing system. It will contain 30 or 36 shells. 

The armament  of the HITFACT will be a 120/45 smoothbore gun which will fire the same ammunition of the Ariete MBT and the turret  is required to have a greater gun Azimuth mobility for the gun than the current +16° elevation. A coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, a SAPHIRE RWS capable to take a 7.62, 12.7 or 40 mm grenade launcher and a pintle mount for a further manned machine gun will complete the armament. For self-defence, the turret is fitted with two quadruple Galix 80 mm grenade launchers for Smoke, Illuminating and Non-Lethal Anti Personnel rounds. 

The vehicle will be fully digitalized and fitted with the last generation radios and LAN and SATCOM systems.  

Two prototypes have been ordered, which should be delivered late this year or early next one, and after trials it is expected that the first two regiments to receive the new Centauro will be the "Piemonte Cavalleria" and "Lancieri di Novara".

The 8x8 family

It was as far back as 1998 that the Army started dreaming about expanding its 8x8 fighting vehicle fleet, assigning a contract for the initial development of Centauro-derived variants, namely IFV, Command Post and Mortar Carrier variants. Prototypes were made, with the first IFV configured for transport of the then-planned 6 men infantry squad. However, exactly while the prototype was entering trials, the Modernization plan of the Army at the end of the 90s’ increased the Infantry Section to 8 men, and the requirement for the IFV of course changed as well.

Lack of funding in the military budget slowed down things even more, and the orders never came, being delayed again and again. As a good side-effect, the time that passed and the direct war experiences made in the period informed the development of the vehicles, which lost some of their commonality and relation with the Centauro, but gained a better-protected hull and other improvements.

Finally, in the Spring of 2006, the Ministry of Economic Development stepped in to help the cash-strapped Ministry of Defence, and opened a 15-years loan with which initial funding was granted to a series of “urgent” equipment programmes relevant to the Armed Forces and to the Italian industry: this included the FREMM frigates, and the FRECCIA family of vehicles. The first contract was finally signed in 2007, with an order for 50 IFVs, 2 Command Posts, one Anti-Tank and one Mortar Carrier, plus 10 JANUS panoramic mast-mounted vision systems. Successive orders brought the total numbers to 253:

172 standard IFV,

36 anti-tank,

20 command

21 mortar carrier

4 Ambulance Variant

These vehicles should be enough to equip the PINEROLO brigade and cover training needs, but further orders are to come: development of the Recovery and Engineer variants are not yet complete, and orders for both will have to be placed. As I already mentioned, a Self Propelled Howitzer variant might also come, and anyway many more Freccia will have to be ordered if by 2031 a further 3 Brigades are to convert to it.

The cost of the current phase is of 1540 million euro, of which 310 coming from the Economic Development Ministry. The expense is spread on the financial years 2006 to 2014, giving a virtual impact of 192.5 millions a year. The cost of a FRECCIA can be empirically set at 6 million euro each, or 5.4 million pounds at current exchange rate.


The FRECCIA builds on the success of the Centauro, but is substantially a new design, incorporating all the most modern technology available to the Italian army and all the lessons of the bloody war against IEDs. It is a bit lighter than the huge Boxer, with a weight in combat order of around 26.5 to 28 tons, roughly what the FRES UV was expected to reach before the programme was interrupted.

The FRECCIA’s hull is built in ballistic steel and composites, and comes with a kit of Add-On armor for increased protection when necessary. The hull is built with anti-mine and anti-IED resistance in mind, and incorporates shock-absorbing materials and a double V underbelly for improved blast resistance. The seats are blast-protected, and are not connected to the floor in order to minimize transmission of blast shock to the passengers seated. The standard protection level is indicated in 25-30 mm piercing rounds on the frontal arc and resistance to a 6 kg AT mine, increased to 8 kg under any wheel with add-on armor.

The selected engine is the same of the Centauro, even if slightly modified: this ensures the highest possible commonality and logistics advantages, and still grants a road speed of 105 km per hour. The transmission is also derived from that of the Centauro, so it is an H structure with two lines of external axis, wheel-to-wheel, instead of a central transmission shaft. This removes a potentially dangerous element that a mine blast could fire upwards into the crew cell, and also allows the hull floor to be built lower while keeping the same road clearance of other 8x8 vehicles, giving the FRECCIA an advantageous lower profile (20 to 40 centimeters lower than its rivals). The wheels have independent hydro-pneumatic suspensions and disc brakes.

FRECCIA ‘Combat’ Infantry Section Vehicle: the Combat is the standard IFV variant. It has mine-protected seats for 8 equipped soldiers and a crew of 3, driver plus commander and gunner in the turret. The turret is the Oto Melara HITFIST PLUS, which was offered in the early phases of the Warrior upgrade programme, armed with an ATK 30 mm gun.

On the FRECCIA, the armament is the Oerlikon KBA 25 mm gun, capable of 540 rounds for minute and coupled to a coaxial 7.62 machine gun. The gun has a double-feed system, and fires HE and APDS rounds. The turret mechanisms are all electro-digital. A further pintle mount on the turret roof is available for installation of a further 7.62 machine gun.

The gun comes with the Galileo Avionica LOTHAR sight, with color day camera and IR night camera and laser telemeter. 


The FRECCIA used by the Company Commanders will be also equipped with the Galileo Avionica JANUS panoramic vision system. This mast-mounted sensor has a TV color camera with 768x576 pixels resolution and an IR camera. All the images from the JANUS are displayed on multifunctional screens in the turret and in the soldier compartment, and can be transferred to other FRECCIA via SICCONA (the digital network of the Italian army). All the FRECCIA come equipped with an extensive state of the art digital communication suite, inclusive of wireless data network WiMAX for the exchange of data, images and files.  

The FRECCIA has blast-resistant seats for 8 fully equipped soldiers

FRECCIA Anti Tank: the Anti-Tank variant comes with the HITFIST PLUS turret armed with two side-mounted SPIKE LR missile launchers. The infantry compartment gives mobility to further tripod-mounted SPIKE launchers and relative ATGW squad. 

The FRECCIA Anti Tank. The two "boxes" of the SPIKE LR missiles are very evident on the sides of the turret.

FRECCIA Mortar Carrier: the turretless Mortar Carrier has a big rear roof hatch to allow the firing of the Thales-produced 120 mm rifled mortar with semi-automatic loading system. The defensive armament is a Oto Melara SAPHIRE RWS turret with a 7.62, 12.7 or 40 mm grenade machine gun.

FRECCIA Command Vehicle: the Command Post is fitted with additional communications and strategic-tier SIACCON 2 digital network. It has no turret, and the ample space in the hull is used for 8 + 1 seats for officers and operators, with the relative consoles of command and control. A map table can be lowered in the middle of the room from the ceiling, and there’s an independent power unit for air conditioning and systems operations at vehicle motionless and engine off. Self-defence is granted by an HITROLE RWS with 12.7 machine gun.

FRECCIA Recovery: still in development and trials phase.

FRECCIA Engineer: still in development and trials. It has been said that a Bridgelayer version is in study as well.      

FRECCIA Ambulance: the ambulance variant has the same hull as that of the command variant but is fitted with the medical equipment necessary for rescue and treatment on the battlefield.

FRECCIA Self Propelled Howitzer: a mock-up of the Howitzer variant paraded last June with the rest of the Army. In development, this variant is armed with an Oto Melara ultra-lightweight 155/39 howitzer, fitted with a fully automatic loader with 15 ready to fire rounds and capable of a rate of fire of 8 rounds for minute, with Simultaneous Multiple Hit capability of four. The gun is compatible with NATO standard ammunition and with the Oto Melara Vulcano long range ammo. The turret is fixed, which limits traverse to +/- 15°, while the elevation and depression are +75° and -5°. The crew is made up by just two men sitting in the hull. Total weight is around 30 tons, with time to get in-battery and ready to fire estimated in 3 minutes, with time to leave the position set at 1 minute. 

Last June, the 155/39 FRECCIA howitzer variant paraded in Rome

The system is aimed at equipping the Artillery Regiments of the Medium Brigades.

FRECCIA DRACO: the FRECCIA hull can also be mated with the DRACO multi-mission artillery turret system from Oto Melara. Armed with a 76 mm gun derived from the naval Strales gun mounted on FREMM and Cavour, the 76 mm gun can fire a huge variety of rounds, included a radar-beam guided shell with airburst capacity, to be used against missiles, mortar, rockets and artillery threats, and against airplanes and helicopters. It can fire at a rate of 80 to 100 rounds per minute, with a maximum range of 5000 meters against air targets and 15 km against fixed land targets. 

The gun is also capable of direct fire in support of the infantry, and a Semi-Active Laser Guided shell is being developed, which will allow the DRACO to work as a mini-howitzer, firing guided rounds up to 22 km away. The DRACO so far has not received firm orders by the Italian army, which however plans to adopt it as part of its C-RAM batteries. The FRECCIA-DRACO might gain a place in the Medium Brigades one day, perhaps in the Mobile Gun System role, providing each company with organic direct and indirect artillery fire and with AA and C-RAM defense on the move.


The JANUS Vehicular Integrated Surveillance, Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance System (VISTARS) is an observation payload developed and manufactured in cooperation by OTO Melara, Galileo Avionica, SELEX Communications and Larimart. The VISTARS has been re-named as Janus. Janus/VISTARS is designed to provide real-time 24-hour, all-weather, day and night, and on-the-move automatic area surveillance, reconnaissance and target detection and acquisition capabilities in support of peacekeeping and wartime operations.

The JANUS is here seen mounted on a Lince 4x4

The Janus stabilized, modular, electro-optical, multifunction payload includes eye-safe laser rangefinder, optical sight, infrared thermal camera and 768x576-pixel CCD-TV sensors. This compact system can be integrated on a variety of vehicles using an elevated mast of up to four meters height offering enhance panoramic view. It will be mounted on Company Commander FRECCIA vehicles, and on several Lince jeeps that will be assigned to the RECCE Platoons.


The Freccia was briefly considered for the FRES UV project of the British Army, but soon abandoned, and was not trialed together with the Boxer, Piranha V and VBCI. However, also considering that the Freccia is successfully serving actively in Afghanistan since the summer of 2010 (the Boxer soon will too, the first four have been airlifted in theatre in the last few days, the VBCI was deployed during July 2010) and that a whole range of variants has been in the meanwhile fielded, FRES-style, I think it is fair to assume that, if the FRES UV is not cancelled, a second look at the Freccia is likely. In the meanwhile, the Italian Medium Brigade, together with the Stryker brigade, will be undoubtedly a source of considerations and experience about the effective possibilities of the Medium Weight Formations.



Medium armoured vehicle

First Vehicle Delivered

February 2009


8 soldiers, 1 driver and 2 officers


Consortium Iveco-Oto Melara


Length 8.6m

Width 2.9m

Height 3.0m

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) 26t


Type Iveco Diesel 6V supercharged engine

Engine Power 550hp


Maximum speed 110km/h

Range 800km

Saturday, July 30, 2011

News of the Forces

Type 45 to replace the Type 22 COMINT capability

A reason why HMS Cumberland proved so precious outside Libya was the fact that Type 22 were fitted with extensive COMmunications INTelligence kit and had great Signal Intelligence capability. It is understood that there were strong calls for keeping at least two of the Type 22s in service longer due also and particularly to this fact. At one point, a further delay in HMS Cumberland’s decommissioning appeared likely. However, financial reasons won, as with the Nimrod R1, and after a period of service, both platforms were retired.

A replacement, luckily, appears to be on the way. Think Defence spotted a very interesting bit of news, which he timely reported: the UK is procuring SSEE increment F as a Cryptologic Electronic Warfare Support Measure (CESM) replacement program for the Cooperative Outboard Logistics Update (COBLU) fitted on Type 22 Frigates, to use it as the future maritime CESM system fitted on the Type 45 Destroyers. It is expected the UK will be able to fully absorb and utilize the Communications Intelligence (COMINT) system and capability. The systems are being acquired via Foreign Military Sale process from the US.

The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) has requested the sale of seven Ship’s Signal Exploitation Equipment (SSEE) Increment F, seven Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Modules (SAASM) GPS Receivers, and seven System Signal and Direction Finding Stimulator packages, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment up to 2018, support equipment, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, logistics, and technical support services, testing, publications and technical documentation, Fleet Information Operation Center upgrades, installation, life cycle support, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $90 million, and the seventh system is likely to be destined to training ashore. The prime contractor will be Argon ST in Fairfax, Virginia.

The system comes under a joint US/UK project called COBLU or Cooperative Outboard Logistics Update which was to replace the existing AN/SSQ-108 based OUTBOARD system. A welcome bit of cooperation that, as with the Rivet Joint that will replace Nimrod R1, will bring greater capability and obvious benefits to the forces.

FRES Scout prototype progress

Reading the news, I found the General Dynamics announcement that the first test version of the reconnaissance variant, Scout, has begun to take shape with the successful joining of the Experimental Demonstration Unit (EDU) turret to a “mule” base platform at the first attempt. The first successful combining of turret and base unit last week further proves the vehicle design, the systems integration between the two sections and the team work between prime contractor General Dynamics UK and turret design authority Lockheed Martin UK.

The FRES SV Scout prototype is taking shape
The “Mule” base unit, known as PT3, is based on a mature ASCOD vehicle already in service with the Austrian Army. (This means that we are talking of a Ulan chassis, with the Spanish variant of ASCOD being known as Pizarro) The 1.7 metre race ring, specifically designed by General Dynamics UK for FRES Scout and for the possible integration of different turrets in future FRES variants, was integrated onto the vehicle by General Dynamics European Land Systems at its Simmering facility in Austria. The vehicle was then transported to General Dynamics UK’s Pershore facility in Worcestershire, UK, to undergo a series of tests and prepare it to accept the EDU turret. It was then transferred to Lockheed Martin UK’s facility in Ampthill, Bedfordshire last week for the integration of the turret.

In parallel, the first EDU turret was being built at Rheinmetall Landsysteme in Gersthofen, Germany. Rheinmetall Landsysteme designs, develops and manufactures the Scout SV Turret Structure for turret design authority Lockheed Martin UK. Following a successful first build of the turret, the mandated CT40 Cased Telescoped Cannon System was integrated into it and fired for the first time in May, five months ahead of schedule. It was also subsequently transported to Ampthill where it has been undergoing extensive testing and preparation for integration with the PT3 mule base unit. The EDU is a 2-men manned Rheinmetall Lance turret. The Lance turret, in its unmanned variant, equips the Puma IFV of the German army. More than once I’ve expressed my doubts about ASCOD/FRES SV being “british to its bootstraps” as GD claims, so I won’t return on the question, by so far we have a Spanish/Austrian hull, german engine, german transmission, anglo-french gun, german turret and American turret drive system. Judge by yourself.

Anyway, this progress is still a good news that I welcome, and I look forwards to seeing further progress, to finally understand just what will the Scout be capable to do. The Scout does not appear to be any shorter than a normal ASCOD in IFV variant (notoriously, the BAE CV90 rival bidder had built a prototype with a CV90 IFV hull shortened and with one roadwheel less than the baseline vehicle), which begs the question of what will be done with the large space in the back of the vehicle. Will FRES Scout carry infantry for dismounted recce role?

I’ve also read suggestions that the hideously expensive (500 million pounds for 7 prototypes!) contract for FRES SV development might actually include funding for armor research and development. I have absolutely no evidence backing this claim up, but I can only say that I hope this is how things are. 500 millions for 7 prototypes REALLY is foolish otherwise.

HMS Queen Elizabeth starts to take serious shape

The enormous LB03 hull block has been revealed to the public yesterday. At 66ft (20m) high and 207ft (63m) long, the section was slowly moved out of a hall at the BAE Systems shipyard in Govan, Glasgow to be loaded onto one of the two biggest seagoing barges in the world on Sunday. The move, overseen by a team of 10, took just over one hour, as 64 remote controlled transporters carefully moved the 8000 tons carrier section 200 metres across the specially reinforced tarmac.  

The huge LB03 shows well the huge overture of the hangar lift in the flank, and it also gives a clear view of the width of the hangar, which will have a very high roof (one whole deck taller) once the top modules are fitted. A Galley deck will stand between the hangar and the flight deck. 
The next 16 August the block will start a 600 miles travel around the north of Scotland to reach Rosyth, where it will meet the LB01 block (the bow of the ship) which is already there. The carrier will be assembled in the No2 Dock at Rosyth. Marking the occasion, over 50 cyclists will leave the Govan yard on the same day to take on a gruelling 500 mile cycle around the north of Scotland in an attempt to ‘beat the block’ to its final destination and raise money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.

Approximately 350 Govan-based employees will follow the block to Rosyth where they will work in partnership with employees at Babcock to complete the assembly phase of this section of the ship. Meanwhile, at Govan, construction of Lower Block 04, the largest and most complex section of hull, is progressing and production on the second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, started last May. 

Video from BBC here

A long way has been walked since 2009 when the first steel cutting, but a lot of road remains to cover. 
A great article of The Sun includes photos of one of the crew cabins showing the furniture and also provides an interesting image of a weapon depot, with some of the rails of the semi-automated ammunition moving system visible on the floor. 

Are the Americans copying PECOC…?

The new Personal Clothing System and Pelvic Protection Kit developed as part of PECOC are just entering service (they will be fully operational for the next Herrick deployment next October, more detail in the Army page of this blog), but work progresses to improve the Load Carrying system that will replace the current one, and work also continues to improve the Osprey armor and the MK7 helmet. Some time ago now, the PECOC team released images of a new helmet prototype, which caused quite some debate online, and quite a lot of criticism. The image, which probably many of you will remember since it was just august last year, was this: 

Now, look at this Revision Eyewear prototype of helmet that the US Army has just financed: 

Revision has been contracted in a development work that will continue in the next 3 years with a 1.990.340 USD budget for drawing up the next-generation head protection system of the US Army. The new system is intended to provide impact protection improvements over current helmets, and come with integrated electronics and power. It will also be modular, allowing soldiers to tailor their protection level to the needs of the moment.

“The current situation is that head-borne protection and functional capabilities have not been designed as an integrated platform using Soldier-centric design principles. This has prevented the optimization of weight, balance and sub-component integration” noted Don Lee, Project Engineer, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. He went on to say, “This development contract supporting the Helmet Electronics and Display System – Upgradeable Army Technology Objective is expected to develop integrated headgear system technologies to include upgraded ballistic and impact protection, integrated CBRN mask, full face protection, and integrated heads-up display and sensor inputs for actionable information to Soldiers and Marines. We anticipate the final outcome will be tools and technologies that will allow the U.S. Army and USMC to field well-balanced, optimized headgear systems that will provide improved head protection, allow for increased situational awareness, and increased mission performance allowing our Soldiers and Marines to be the decisive edge on the battlefield.”

The new helmet design will integrate or be compatible with a trauma liner, communication system, heads-up display, CBRN mask and enhanced night vision goggles. The fully integrated and fully modular system will also feature a visor and mandible guard option designed to provide better blunt force, blast and ballistic protection than a helmet shell alone.

Less is known about the UK helmet, which is, as the images show, shockingly similar. For sure, it incorporated a mandible guard and an active ear-protection system capable to attenuate automatically loud noises such as explosions to protect hearing while enabling the passage of voice messages. It also had a mounted torch and a not better identified device for improving night vision (perhaps an IR torch…?).
The criticism had mostly been caused by the mouth guard, and I did not really know how to judge such a kit piece… but now, the Americans seem to be walking down the same route, and it reassures me. If it was so bad an idea, surely they wouldn’t even think about it, wouldn’t they…? To be fair, it is worth noting that, at least at the moment, it appears that the mouth guard would be one of the optional extras for top-cover sentries and for soldiers serving in other particularly exposed areas/roles.