Monday, September 26, 2011

Santa comes with a MTP uniform

Afghanistan's Army will, in 2015, likely receive a big gift from a Santa Claus wearing british MTP uniform, as the British Army apparently plans to leave them most of the UOR-acquired vehicles used in the long operation in Helmand.
Reports on the press have been saying that this is because "bringing them home would cost too much", which is of course not true, at least not entirely. While returning them to the UK undoubtedly would cost money and represent a sizeable challenge, it is evident that the cost would never realistically overcome that of vehicles that definitely are expensive, and relatively young, even if often extremely hard worked.

The real issue is cost, but not that of bringing them home: the problem is bringing the vehicles into the Core defence budget. What now is paid from Treasury Reserve money under UOR contracts would have to be financed and supported with money coming from the MOD budget, which notoriously struggles to make ends meet as it is.
UOR vehicles have been acquired with very lacking and limited provisions for their long-term sustainment, which means that spares already now are a nightmare, mainteinance is done at the minimum indispensable levels and training, as good as it has gotten, is a temporary solution. Part of the reason why Mastiff came in service so cheaply is that very little has been invested for future-proofing it by establishing a support line, an adequate logistical base and a long term training solution.
There's also many versions of the same vehicle (Mastiff being the most evident case), which would have to be rationalized.
It is easy to see how challenging it would be to bring everything into a core budget already badly strained.

Nor is that of the UORs a purely-Army problem. The Reaper fleet is a UOR as well, with a "best before date" of 2015.
The RAF is, however, thankfully already active on planning for money to use to bring Reaper into Core budget as a gap-filler in the wait for Mantis/Telemos, planned for 2018 at the earlier.
Even so, not all 10 drones, of course (5 still to be delivered) will survive: the older ones have already flown thousands of hours, and their airframes will be dead by then.

For the Army, press now reports (actually, it had been suggested also in the past already) that "up to 1800" vehicles could reportedly be left in Helmand, and among the names quoted, there's Warthog, and even Wolfhound, but also the Mastiff and even Jackal.
British Forces News brings some common sense in the debate, noting that this might be a bit of an extreme option, especially since the MOD has not yet taken a firm decision, and also because some vehicles actually have the eye of the army for a future role.

Foxhound, for example, is going to be a long term addition to the Army inventory, and not just a UOR, so that its future appears safe.
Jackal might have a role to play as well. In the race for scrapping, all remaining WMIK Land Rovers should come first due to their lower protection and performances. While the Army probably hopes to order the Fire Support variant of the Foxhound for the same role, i fear that it would be very unwise to throw away Jackals (which are overall effective bits of kit) before knowing if the "ham" of tomorrow is going to come, and how far away tomorrow actually is! After all, a second batch of 200 Foxhounds (in which variants?) are "planned", but a date for ordering them is absolutely not known yet.
I'd expect at least a part of the Jackals and Coyote to make it back home, if only the vehicles in the best conditions by 2015, to "future-proof" the Army in the wait for the Foxhound.
After all, what if further orders of Foxhounds fail to materialize for lack of funding...? Very possible, to say the least. It would have nasty consequences. 

Mastiff, which the Sunday Times condemns to abandonment as well, might actually have a future as interim solution for the lack of FRES UV vehicles (which, admitting it is not cancelled, is not planned for introduction before 2022 at the earliest!) according to Forces News (Listen to the audio file). Of course, the earlier variants will be scrapped, also due to them being worn out anyway, and by 2015 the MK3 might have been overcome by yet another variant... so it is hard to make plans, and the vehicles surviving the Afghan adventure would only make for a fraction of the totals needed. Ridgback, which is essentially a Mastiff on 4 wheels, would then be retained too? Hard to say, if not impossible.
But if Mastiff survives, the Wolfhound also almost certainly will, to support it, and perhaps to tow L118 Light Guns too, also because the RB44 vehicle was retired in March last year.

The Mastiff retention is perhaps the most likely, due to FF2020 containing mention of Mechanized Infantry in all of the five MRBs.
As of now, three infantry battalions are listed as Mechanized, notionally kitted with the Bulldog FV430 MK3. Numbers of Bulldog are obviously not going up in the future, but down, so, if a further two battalions have to be mechanized by 2022, and with FRES UV nowhere in sight, Mastiff is the easier solution.

At the times of the Warthog order, the Royal Marines were looking for a vehicle like it to replace old BV206s alongside Vikings. The requirement was killed to fund Warthog, but you can bet that the Commandos could and would gladly use the Thogs' in the role, especially if the Viking that come back from Afghanistan are few and worn out. And this is only one of the possible roles that a vehicle so versatile could cover. I personally think that this is a vehicle that really should be retained, because it is very useful and very capable.

Springer and Husky might well be abandoned, with the Army looking forwards to the Assisted Carriage System (a small drone [perhaps optionally manned] capable to carry bergens and kit for a Section of 8 men) and Operation Utility Vehicle System (a Land Rover replacement programme which should come back to life in 2012, after it was delayed in PR10). Few will miss the Springer anyway, i'd dare saying.

Indeed, this is a complex issue, but also a monumental case of "Jam Tomorrow".
It is basically about scrapping kit available because of difficulties funding its full transit in long term service, while at the same time hoping to have money "tomorrow" to order, in their place, more Foxhounds, the OUVS, FRES SV, one day FRES UV, and others.

Risky in more than one way.
There's still time (in theory) until 2015.
There's also a credit of quite a lot of money that the Treasury still has not paid back to the MOD for the costs of 8 years of Iraqi ops (those expenses that had to be met from the Core defence budget and which are effectively the cause and beginning of the worst part of the MOD's financial doom). Will this money, promised but never made available, ever come?

I'd suggest the Army, if they already haven't thought about it, that they should be very careful in what they say they'll scrap.
See what is effectively ordered and delivered first. And if there are hopes more solid than dreams, scrap what needs scrapping.

But if UORs by 2015 finance more Mastiff MK3s, generals might want to find ways to put spares provision and other wise measures into the bill somehow, to have a parachute to open when shit eventually (probably?) hits the fan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

22 September - News

24 million pounds in Apache ammunition - ATK has been awarded $37m (£24m) to provide lightweight 30mm ammunition, including the M788 TP (target practice) training round and the M789 High Explosive Dual Purpose tactical round, to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. The rounds will replenish the stocks depleted after several tens of thousands of rounds have been fired in Libya.

NATO further extends Libya mission - 21 September, the North Atlantic Council agreed to extend the campaign's mandate by a further 90 days until late December
The UK confirmed enduring participation, but will reduce its deployed force by withdrawing four Eurofighter Typhoons and three Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopters from the Mediterranean region.
16 Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, will remain forward-based at Gioia del Colle, Italy, and two Army Air Corps Apaches will continue to be employed on HMS Ocean. These will remain in-theatre "for as long as required".

India and UK join forces on Military Research and Development -
The UK MOD's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Welland, has signed a Letter of Arrangement in London with Dr Vijay Kumar Saraswat, Director General of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The two countries will pool their world-class science and engineering expertise to work on projects such as unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced explosives, and factors affecting human performance on the battlefield.
In addition to developing new technologies for equipment, scientists will also explore better ways of defending against chemical and biological threats through protection, decontamination and medical countermeasures.

Let's hope it is a first step on a road that sees Typhoon selected for the IAF, and Type 26 for the Indian Navy!

Malaysia asks information about joining the Type 26 development - Malaysia is considering a number of defence joint ventures with the UK including the development of the Type 26 frigate. Brazil, India, Turkey and Australia have expressed interest in helping to develop the Type 26 frigate, or Global Combat Ship, but BAE’s reputation has made other potential partners nervous and Malaysia would want a guarantee that it would not be liable for budget overruns before it signed up.

Ministerial level talks have apparently taken place, with the UK government and industry ensuring that the tightest of cost control regimes will be applied to the new programme. BAE was also reported in July to be bidding for a tender to replace Malaysia’s MiG-29N with its Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Times said that the MiG-29N replacement deal could be worth £2.4 billion.

MBDA Germany works to develop Laser for C-RAM role -  MBDA Germany successfully tested a 10kW laser illuminator designed for use with future Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) laser weapon system. The laser evaluated in the recent test series was a 10kW illuminator matched with beam direction optics trough geometric coupling technology patented by MBDA Germany. The system enabled the laser to dwell for few seconds on a moving target, located more than two kilometers away while retaining a high quality beam. According to EADS announcement the system demonstrated tracking of dynamic objects and the effects on the object, performed over a distance of more than 2,300 m and an altitude differential of 1,000 m under real-life environmental conditions.
The successful tests by MBDA Germany have been conducted on behalf of the German Federal Office for Defence Technology and Procurement (BWB) at the latter’s WTD 52 testing site.

Laser technology if of great interest for this and other roles, and according to the SDSR the British Army should be given a C-RAM capability by 2020.
British Industry, including UK based suppliers, work for Saudi orders - Saudi Arabia has ordered 36 M777A2 howitzer and 17 M119A (the american variant of the L118 Light Gun), plus ammunition, radars and Humvees for support, to re-equip three artillery regiments. Workers in the UK will be involved in the production.

Meanwhile Creation UK has created a joint venture with Saudi Arabia's ERAF Industries to jointly develop and build its family of Zephyr multirole machines in the gulf nation. The two companies are hoping the tie-up will lead to a deal with the Saudi military to acquire the vehicle, as the armed forces of the country have a similar requirement.

The Zephyr has been under development for almost five years and was an early contender for the British Army's light protected patrol vehicle program, a contest eventually secured by Force Protection with its Ocelot design.

So far, Hampshire, England-based Creation UK has configured production-ready vehicles around protected patrol vehicle requirements, although the platform can also be used for applications such as a light logistics carrier, command and control, reconnaissance, battlefield ambulance and other specialist roles.

Gap SAR programme - Details have emerged about the UK government's interim search and rescue requirement, following the collapse of the £6 billion SAR-H project earlier this year. The new programme, which has been dubbed the Gap Search and Rescue Helicopter Service and became open to tender in July, was launched as an emergency measure in order to ensure continuity of service following the abandonment of the SAR-H programme after irregularities were found in the bidding process.

The Department for Transport (DfT) - the tendering department – has stated that the contract will be for six years with the option to extend a further 12 months. The department hopes to have the Gap SAR service operational in the spring of 2012 with the total cost of the contract estimated to be between £200 and £235 million.

According to Gap SAR tendering documents, the DfT is offering bidders the opportunity to make three bids: one that covers the two northern bases, one that covers the south bases and a bid that covers both regions. This may open the possibility of different providers operating the Scottish and south coast operations.
Currently, SAR helicopter operations are carried out by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force flying the Westland Sea King, and by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) using a mix of S-92s and AW139s, provided by CHC under an interim contract operating from Portland, Lee on Solent, Shetland and the Isle of Lewis. That contract is due to end in the first half of 2012.

Under previous plans, the helicopters involved in the interim contract and the Sea Kings would have been replaced by a new single-type fleet purchased by preferred SAR-H bidder Soteria – a consortium of CHC, Thales and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). The service would have begun operations when the interim contract ended, and was due to be fully in place by 2016, when the Sea King is planned to be retired.

It remains planned that all Sea Kings will be retired within 2016, so a long term plan for SAR provision is one of many things to be fixed, along with marinization of Merlin HC3 to replace Sea King HC4 and along with MASC/Crow's Nest to replace the AEW service of the Sea King MK7.

Falklands and the oil - British oil group Rockhopper Exploration has unveiled optimistic plans for a $2 billion oil infrastructure investment in the Falkland Islands announcing on 14 September that it expected to start pumping oil in 2016 from its four licensed Sea Lion concessions totaling 1,500 square miles, with a projected production rate of roughly 120,000 barrels of oil per day by 2018. Rockhopper Exploration said the fifth well in the Sea Lion complex "had found a high quality reservoir package and oil column."
The Sea Lion field is now estimated as having a 350 million barrel recoverable resource. The plan assumes that Rockhopper will use a leased FPSO, a ‘floating production storage and offloading’ vessel, to remedy to lack of existing infrastructure and to the issue of having no land-support at handy reach: with Argentina and Brazil denying access to Falklands-bound ships, material will have to come from the UK, adding challenges to the adventure. The UK Foreign Office is in talks with Rockhopper about the plans. 

This roseate picture is somewhat clouded by several facts, including that currently Rockhopper Exploration has on hand a mere $170 million, enough to pay for two more scheduled wells. The latest well drilled gave good results, but to really launch the enterprise towards success, further good results will be necessary, along, very possibly, with a Big name coming in to help and fund the job.
Nevertheless, Rockhopper Exploration shares, which have outperformed the European index of oil and gas companies by 14 percent since August, were up 1.1 percent in early trading after the company's announcement. So far, Rockhopper is the only one company who had luck with the few wells drilled to this date. Last, but not least, Argentina's aggressiveness about the islands is higher than ever.

Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd., a U.K.- based explorer in the South Atlantic, delayed the start of drilling at its Loligo well and may sell stock late 2012 if the well is successful, Chief Executive Officer Tim Bushell said.
The company will probably start drilling the first well at Loligo, southeast of the Falkland Islands, in April instead of the first quarter as it expects to receive the Leiv Eiriksson rig more than a month later than planned.

Loligo, located to the east of the Falklands islands, holds as much as 5 billion barrels, Bushell said. The wells to be drilled will have to prove this true.


Future Local Area Air Defence

FLAADS, Type 23, Type 26 and Rapier


Known as CAMM (Common Anti-air Modular Missile), the new missile is the effector used by the Future Local Area Air Defence System (Marittime) and FLAADS (Land) both. The missile is the same, a derivative of ASRAAM, but with many differences. The most evident ones are the Cold Launch feature, and the fact that CAMM is not an IR imaging missile, but a Radar guided, fire and forget missile.
CAMM is also a bit bigger, being 3.2 meters long and 99 kg at launch.

FLAADS(M) is the first variant planned to hit service. It is going to replace the Sea Wolf MK2 at least on some of the Type 23 frigates, and it will equip from build the new Type 26s. The replacement of Sea Wolf will give Type 23 a much enhanced punch and protection against aerial threats, and will allow the system to be validated and used operatively before the Type 26 starts being built, in order to inform eventual improvements and changes to the new ships, and thus helping to keep risks to a minimum.

CAMM is being developed by MBDA under the “Team Complex Weapons” agreement with the MOD, with the aim of replacing Sea Wolf, Rapier, and inform future upgrades to, or even replace, ASRAAM in future, making it the first true tri-service missile program. Significantly, this means that firing trials of CAMM for the Marittime system, are happening from the FLAADS(Land) platform truck prototype, allowing both configurations to evolve and develop at once, minimizing costs. On land and sea, FLAADS uses the same missile and the same all-weather canister. 

The first variant of FLAADS to hit service will be the Maritime one, but the firing tests and validation of the system are already happening from the prototype FLAADS(L) launcher truck. Note the 12-rounds missile battery erected, and the mast-antenna of the MBDA targeting data link extended. On the rear, the crane for reloading the missile canisters can also be seen.
The greatest features of CAMM can be summarized as:

-          No need for expensive Vertical Launch complexes such as MK41 or Sylver. While it is often noted that 4 CAMM canisters can be fitted in a Sylver/MK41 cell (dimensions are standard, with only the length of the cell being different, depending on the missile), CAMM is actually fired from its own container-canister, ejected cold, thus with no exhaust, heat and flames to manage. This means that the Land CAMM can be fired from a truck flatbed without melting it. This also means that CAMM is easily installed pretty much anywhere: you could bolt the canisters on HMS Albion’s flight deck if you wanted, and the wiring would be the only problem.

A conventional missile, such as Aster, needs a very specific silo, and a VLS system installed in it, to manage the stress, heat and shock of the Hot Launch.

The MK41 or Sylver launchers are a fixed, rather expensive and complex kind of structure that needs to be fitted in a specially designed missile silo, and both are “racks” in which container-launch canisters containing the missiles are vertically lowered. The VLS contains the electronics that allow the ship to dialogue with the missile inside its container, and they include the Venting system that makes launch possible. 
A simplified graphic that shows the basic working of a VLS system, like the MK41 or the european Sylver, highlighting the big issue of the rocket ignition and related heat, flames, shock and exhaust. 
A Tomahawk fired from a MK41 cell on a US warship. The "hell" of flames venting through the middle duct of the MK41 VLS is very evident, as shown in the graphic above.

The Missile System of a modern warship: from Left to Right, the MK41 VLS structure, in a 8-cell module, a sealed canister-launcher, and the missile contained within it.

A canister-launcher is lowered into a MK41 cell to reload the warship's arsenal.

CAMM does not need such VLS structure, although it can of course be quad-packed inside existing Sylver cells on Type 45, for example, as a cheaper solution for short-range engagements than Aster 15. While now a Type 45 is expected to have a missile load of 32 Aster 30 and 16 Aster 15 in its 48 cells, tomorrow the same ship might end up carrying 40 Aster 30 and 32 CAMM in the same number of cells!

On Land, Cold Launch has the additional advantage of making the truck-launcher much harder to spot.

-          No need for dedicate radar tracking systems. CAMM is radar agnostic, and can dialogue with any 2D or 3D radar installed on the ship to get the initial data about the position of the target. Once launched, CAMM pursues the target with initial indications from the ship’s radar, before its seeker acquires the contact, and makes the missile wholly independent and fire and forget.
This is very different from other SAM systems, Sea Wolf obviously included, which come with their own dedicate suite of radars and target-tracking sensors. The Sea Wolf is guided from ship-mounted sensors for the whole engagement, and is not fire and forget. Its original ship-mounted tracker system weighted some 13.5 tons below deck, with the latest Type 911tracker system still taking some 5 tons, with two of them on each ship. 
In the red circle, the Type 911 Sea Wolf tracking system on HMS Sutherland.

Type 23 and Type 26 fitted with CAMM will only need their ARTISAN 3D (Type 998 for the Royal Navy) radar, reducing the amount of sensors to maintain and support, and keeping complexity and costs down. 

On land, CAMM will get targeting data from a variety of radars, including Giraffe ABM, via LEAPP network, through a secure, MBDA-developed data link. The FLAADS Command and Control (C2) system features greater than 75% commonality of Sea Viper C2 software, and also the new Radar Seeker mounted on the missile made as great a reuse of existing technology as possible.

MBDA said that it would be possible to give CAMM an anti-surface attack capability, but the MOD was very clear that this is a welcome expansion in capability only if it comes with no extra cost, and it is subsequently likely that, at least at first, such capability won’t be available.

-          Seperation of booster from the missile is now removed, a complication that adds to potential failures and increases development costs.

-           The gas 'gun' (piston) that launches the missile exerts less G-forces on the missile or at least can be tailored to do so.

-          The soft launch system is more compact than a booster and requires no exhaust ducting, so length volume and weight of the silo is obviously reduced. The silo is also easier to 'seal' hermeticaly, having just one large opening, instead of a second for the exhaust. Packed in a neutral atmosphere the missile does not deteriorate as fast as when exposed to the air, let alone the sea air (laden with salt water).

-          If the missile engine misfires the missile will still get out of the tube and be off the ship before anything blows up. This is the main reason why Russians adopted soft launch methods long ago: they also use to adopt slightly-tilted launch tubes, to make sure that an eventually misfired missile falls into the water and not on the deck.

CAMM is a quite impressive sight at launch: the missile is ejected cold from its cell, thanks to a piston in the canister, and high-pressure air. It “jumps” to some 100 feet of height, and a series of small guidance jets placed on the tail of the missile turn the weapon in the direction of the incoming target before the main rocket engine ignites at all, ensuring that all the energy of the rocket is used to gain speed and intercept the target. 

This very special multiple image of the last May test firing shows the soft launch feature well: no flames, minimal smoke, almost invisible compared to an Hot Launch. The various shots composed in this image also show the CAMM missile using its guidance jets to steer and guide itself in the general direction of the target, before the rocket engine even ignites. 

The entry into service of FLAADS(M) is expected to be 2016, according to a modifications made during the definition of the MOD Planning Round 2009: back then, the MOD decided to cut the number of Type 23 frigates getting the Sea Wolf Mid Life Upgrade by two hulls, with these planned to get directly the CAMM missile replacement during refit, around the middle of this decade.

It is not clear which ships these will be: the Type 23 Mid Life upgrade programme is ongoing, and it involves year long refits for the ships, with a cost variable from 20 to 30 million pounds, depending on the condition of the vessel. HMS Northumberland came out of refit in 2005, with the new Intersleek 700 silicone paint applied to its hull for the first time, the MK8 MOD 1 upgraded main gun, the Thales 2087 Low Frequency Active sonar, S2070 anti-torpedo defence system, 30 mm light guns, and new Merlin-handling flight deck equipment.

HMS Iron Duke was the first, in 2007, to get the new CBRN filter system that was subsequently mandated for the whole fleet. She also got a new transom flap to improve fuel economy. In 2008, HMS St Albans came out of her own refit, with her set of upgrades, including the sonar 2087.
In 2008, Sutherland came out of her own refit, having received the first ship set of upgraded, Bloc 2 Sea Wolf missiles.
Next in was HMS Montrose with the first fitting of the new DNA(2) command system, followed by HMS Argyll, which came out of refit in September 2010. 
December 2010 saw HMS Kent enter refit: she can be seen these days in Dock No2 in Rosyth, right beside the dock where HMS Queen Elizabeth is being assembled. She is getting the sonar 2087, MK8 Mod 1 main gun, 30 mm guns, DNA(2) system and all other improvements as part of the refit. She is scheduled to exit dock this November.

In 2008 the contract for ARTISAN 3D radar was signed, and the whole Type 23 fleet is scheduled to get it by 2015, along with Albion, Bulwark and Ocean.

Five Type 23 frigates, HM Ships Montrose, Monmouth, Iron Duke, Lancaster and Argyll are not scheduled to receive Sonar 2087. These ships will be employed across the normal range of standing strategic, home and overseas commitments. These include Fleet Ready Escort duties around home waters, operational deployments to the Gulf and Arabian Sea, and standing tasks in the South Atlantic (APT(S)), and within NATO's Standing Maritime Group in the Mediterranean (SNMG2). They will also continue to contribute to the UK's Maritime Joint Rapid Reaction Force (JRRF) held at high readiness for contingent operations, and deploy on pre-planned activities as JRRF elements within a Task Group, but their ASW kit will not be as advanced as that of their 8 more-specialized sisters. Not casually, 8 ASW + 5 GP is the planned structure of the Type 26 fleet as well, with the ASW ships probably starting their active service with S2087 kits migrated from the earlier Type 23s, until a new sonar system is eventually adopted.
It had been earlier planned that 12 sea-going ship sets of sonar 2087 would be acquired, plus two shore-based training systems, but this proved too expensive to fit in the budget.
By 2010, six ship sets had been installed, with the last two expected by 2013.

The Lynx Mk 8 helicopter is operated by the frigates Argyll, Montrose, Richmond, Iron Duke, Kent, Portland, Somerset.
HMS Lancaster, Monmouth, Westminster, Northumberland, St Albans and Sutherland operate the Merlin and have been fitted with the Prism flight deck handling equipment during their refits. Other Type 23s are also capable of working with the Merlin and have been getting the new deck handling equipment, but routinely use Lynx MK 8. Merlins for the Type 23 frigates come from Squadron 829 NAS, which has 8 helicopters, roughly 130 men, and provides six Small Ship Flights.
824 NAS has 8 helicopters and works as OCU for the fleet, 814 and 820 provide large ship flights for embarkation on big units such as now retired Ark Royal, but also RFA ships such as Argus or the Forts.

Out of service dates for the Type 23s go from 2023 to 2036, so there is still plenty of work left for the Dukes, and they likely will all get, in time, the FLAADS(M) missile system, but saying in which order, and in which date, well, that’s very complex!
Anyway, CAMM promises to be a great step forwards, and it will expand the targeting envelope, and the “bubble” of protection: current Sea Wolf has a range of perhaps 13 kilometers or less. CAMM extends this in near Aster 15 range, by reaching 25 km (against 30 for the Aster).  


CAMM on land should enter service around 2018, if the process is not delayed due to financial constraints. On land, it will represent far more of a quantum leap than at sea: Rapier is a quite limited system, and CAMM is going to expand massively the range of what’s possible doing. The truck-mounted CAMM will have better battlefield mobility, but will in turn lose part of the strategic mobility of Rapier, which can be transported under slung from helicopters, for example. 

FLAADS(L) as shown recently at the DSEI show. Mounted on the MAN HX60 4x4 chassis already in widespread use in the RLC SV fleet, the system comprises 12 erectable missile canisters and a crane for reloading, plus the MBDA Data Link and related electronics and antenna.

Due to the nature of CAMM, an interesting, possible future development to remedy to this issue is the adoption of a palletized launcher, NLOS-style. As far as I’m aware, MBDA has not proposed anything of this kind, at least so far, even if an earlier concept art, interestingly, showed a flatbed truck carrying a multiple-cell pallet of missile canisters, in an installation very ship-like. 

The NLOS - LS was a US Army artillery programme, building on a small, highly mobile pallet with 15 canister-launchers, each weighting some 80 Kg and moved by two men. The 16th cell was occupied by the system's electronics, batteries, and radio. The NLOS was to be remotely operated, and had to employ two munitions: a guided, direct attack missile and a Loitering ammunition. The loitering ammunition's cost spiraled out of control and was cancelled, and recently budget cuts killed the whole NLOS concept, at least for land use: the US Navy is keeping the system alive, with trials expected in 2012, as the NLOS is to be the main attack weapon for the Littoral Combat Ships. Each vessel is to carry (in one of the several mission kit lists developed) 3 TEU containers, each containing 3 NLOS pallets, for a total of 45 missiles per container.

Obviously, the issue with such a fixed, vertical assembly for launch cells is that their height would give the truck a very high silhouette, with related troubles, so that a collapsible assembly for the launch tubes is more than desirable.  

However, a pallet of missiles, comprising a built-in electronics cell with the MBDA data link and a Data radio Bowman compatible to be networked with the LEAPP network of the Royal Artillery, could be landed from an helicopter pretty much anywhere, and operated remotely, receiving targeting data from any available outside radar source via the MBDA data link. Very possibly, the very same towed, air-portable search radar currently used as part of the Rapier FSC batteries. They could then be loaded onto a flatbed truck, secured to the cargo bed, and transported / used from such vehicle base.

This would make it much easier to deploy a FLAADS(L) battery even in the very first moments of an amphibious assault, such as a remake of San Carlos. Helicopters could bring ashore a radar and several pallets of missile-cells, and the battery would rapidly be able to provide a bubble of protection.

Such hypothetical pallet installation would probably use a 1.4 meter x 1.4 meter base, which should be able to take 16 vertical canisters, of which one or more would be replaced by a fixed housing containing the radio, batteries for long endurance, and a foldable-mast antenna, much like the American NLOS-LS. 

FLAADS in a box: the pallet concept used by NLOS and by the Israeli JUMPER could be exploited with CAMM to put on the market the first pallet-deployable Local Area Air Defence system ever. It would be useful on land as on sea, as such pallets could represent a ready solution for arming small vessels when and where necessary, by exploiting free space on deck. They could even be parked on an aircraft carrier flight deck, such as Queen Elizabeth, to quickly give her a missile system for self defence, that she currently lacks.

Unlike the NLOS, the pallet would be quite high, though: well over 3, perhaps close to 4 meters. Still a measure that would fit the cargo bays of C17 and A400, making the pallet air-portable and very possibly parachute capable. The weight of a canister, besides, overcomes the 100 kg, probably by a good bit, differently from a much smaller NLOS canister that could be moved by two soldiers. The whole pallet might weight around 2 tons, a weight still easily manageable: too heavy for a Lynx or Wildcat, but an easy load for a Puma, Merlin and of course Chinook.

It would be a way to have a mobility that even the Rapier did never have.

In conclusion

CAMM is without doubt one of the most interesting programmes of the last few years. It might not be excessively revolutionary, but it brings forwards changes and innovations that promise to give it a leading edge that, reportedly, has already awakened interest in several possible export customers. For the Royal Navy and the Army, the CAMM represents a much needed future improvement, and what is reassuring about this programme is that, so far, everything has been working nicely, with no problems and no delays.
The hope, of course, is to see the success story continuing. The curiosity, is for seeing if and when the advantages of the soft, cold launch will be fully exploited, by designing something, like my proposed pallet-installation, that can be easily deployed at will whenever it is needed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Awareness of the errors made?

One of the decisions of the SDSR that irked me the most, was the bit about retiring Sentinel in 2015, as it always felt like an absurd decision to make. The Sentinel represents the smartest investment of the RAF and Army in a long time, and a capability that is nothing short of invaluable, other than being rare.
Ground Surveillance represents a hole in NATO's capability that is, at least from a decade, constantly highlighted in the reports of the top officers, but never really addressed. Until the Sentinel R1 came online, the only capability of this kind was provided, unsurprisingly, by a "small" (relatively, of course) fleet of J-STARS airplanes of the USAF, which are considered by the US armed forces one of the most precious bits of kit they have. Its popularity has been on the rise constantly ever since it made the famous radar-photo of the "Mother of All Retreats" in the Gulf War.

ASTOR is the british equivalent of the J-STARS. Smaller airframe, but sensor suite just as capable, providing a formidable stand-off ground target surveillance, which is being heavily used in Afghanistan (from even before the airplane formally entered service) and in Libya.
It is a young system, which has cost good money, and that could provide sterling service for many, many years in the future.
NATO is trying hard to fill its gap in ground target surveillance, via the AGS programme. However, this is not a replacement of ASTOR: the UK has not formally joined the AGS, instead choosing to provide the ASTOR, as it provides its own Sentry fleet, in addition to the NATO one.
AGS, besides, is a small system: it started with great ambitions, by foreseeing big and very capable "J-STARS" on Airbus 321 airframes, working in cooperation with modified Global Hawk drones. But funding, of course, was cut more than once, and the manned part of the system, the Airbus 321, was the first victim, followed by numbers of the drones as well.

The Global Hawks to be based in Sigonella air base, Sicily, for the NATO AGS, are a welcome addition to ASTOR and to the global capability of NATO in this fundamental field (the sky knows how much the AGS would have been useful in the Libya operations!) but the British Armed Forces should not throw away the valuable system they are procured and paid for.
The announcement that Sentinel was to be "retired as soon as it is not needed in Afghanistan anymore" or "anyway by 2015" came as a total surprise within the SDSR, and it caused many frowns and a lot of speculation, mainly about the performances of the system: surely, to plan to get rid of it, it had to be crap.

Speculation apparently was wrong, as often happens. Sentinel is not wrong or bad at all, but of course, the RAF wants to retain Tornado GR4 as long as possible, and so other things had to be cut to keep Tornado cuts small.
Everything is being sacrificed to keep Tornado. First the Harriers, the Sentinel, even the integration of Brimstone and Storm Shadow on Typhoon, which is not being advanced at all. This had to be the year of Typhoon in Afghanistan, and 11 Squadron trained in the land attack role specifically with a 2011 deployment in mind, with the Tranche 1 urgent improvement programme, with integration of Litening III targeting pod and Paveway bombs funded to prepare the plane's ground attack capability, earlier than what planned by other partner nations, with the deployment in Afghanistan in mind. Now, not only the 2011 deployment idea is dead, but there is no talk at all anymore about using Typhoon in Afghanistan, and it is only a case that we have the Libya crisis giving Typhoon a role. It is very hard not to feel suspects growing about how the whole Tornado story is managed, but this is another story.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stepgen Dalton has recently released an interview to DefenseNews, and there are a couple items of interest, in what otherwise is, honestly, one of those "I talk, but say nothing" interviews. Here we can see the interesting bits:

Critics say the RAF is moving in the wrong direction on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. You scrapped your MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft and the Sentinel radar plane is to be retired in 2015. Your view?

To start with, we didn't decide not to maintain the MRA4 on a whim. We looked at what we thought was the intelligence picture, we looked at what we thought was the requirement in the next few years, and we looked at what our allies had and what capabilities we therefore could perhaps ask our allies to help us out with.

If we now move into the requirement over land, and I will just point out that our defense review said when we no longer needed the Sentinel, we would then look to dispose of it.
I think what has been proven in both Afghanistan and Libya, when the whole fleet has been airborne at one time, was that the Sentinel R1 capability has proven its worth time and time again.

In terms of the Nimrod R1, we are very clear, and have committed to three of the RC-135 program - we are calling it Air Seeker - that will give us the ability to contribute to and have a unique capability in an overall ISTAR picture. With everything else, we will have a pretty good picture to be able to put together.

Will you consider improving ISTAR capabilities by putting pallets on C-130 transports or pods on A330 tankers?

As an Air Force chief, I am always looking for those good ideas and innovative ways to maximize that capability. Before we do something like that in the future, I will look at what the merits are, what the costs are, and what the support costs are, because it's all about the sustainability and the cost of that, rather than necessarily the price tag of buying it off the shelf.
I have to look at whether it's a remotely piloted system, an aircraft system or some other combination of capabilities that will give us the overall capabilities we need. And when we know that, we will then have a look at what we can do, maybe working with our allies, to produce that capability.

The talk of using air tankers as "auxiliary" ISTAR platforms is not new: there was a suggestion in this sense already a few months ago, with rumors of a RAF interest in a podded solution for the Voyager, perhaps inspired by the US Marines plan for the "everything-doing" KC130J Harvest Hawk without any doubt one of the most interesting developments of the recent years. The idea is promising, particularly if it comes at no expense for the air-refuelling role, and as an ADDITION to more specialist kit. It is a mirage to replace, without loss, the capability of Sentinel with a camera-pod under an A330's wing.

The Typhoon, born as an air superiority fighter, has been fitted with a limited air-to-ground capability but can't deploy Storm Shadow and Brimstone precision missiles. Will you accelerate fitting them on Typhoon?

The Typhoon has been operational for a number of years in the air defense role, as you say, both in the U.K. and the Falklands, and in that role, it has a formidable capability. Among the Typhoon nations, it has been fitted with the capability to operate in the air-to-ground role, and as you say, that has now been proven very successful.

We have a very clear plan where we are going to go. As the operator, I would love to accelerate the capability, but what I have been very clear about is we are progressing to a very coherent program to give us a range of capabilities. We have the Tornado [fighter-bomber] available to us, which has performed magnificently in Libya and still does so in Afghanistan. It can carry the weapons we have not yet got onto Typhoon.

The combination of those platforms with the combination of weapons they can carry have been the stars of the show in Libya. So at the moment, there isn't pressure to get that kit on the Typhoon.

Naughty me reads this as "Are you mad? If we put the weapons on Typhoon, how we justify to the Treasury the retention of 96 Tornado to keep 18 at readiness?!?". 

Note that the retention of Tornado is a real good news, actually. The Tornado is a very capable platform, and the two fleets give the RAF the capacity to do more, obviously.
What irks me is the cost we are paying to retain Tornado at all costs, from the total loss of At-Sea air power for 10 or more years, to the billions of money that are to be spent on the GR4 in the next few years, to the talk of retiring Sentinel, to the loss of Nimrod, to the, perhaps more worrisome of all, risk of yet more cuts in PR12 and beyond, as foreshadowed by this bit of the interview:

We hear the RAF is 4 billion pounds [$6.3 billion] over budget. You've been through the three-month funding review and PR '12 is starting. What will you cut to make ends meet?
What's really happened is that we have looked at the program overall in detail over the last 18 months, and we are now pretty sure that we are in a position to be able to [advance] capabilities that we think we need in 2020 and beyond.
What we're looking for now is how to ensure that we have genuine capability in depth to meet our requirement, and of course in doing that, we must assess what the lessons are from the operations we have been involved in recently.
So, I don't think at the moment that we are in a position to say that we've not got the capabilities that we need. When you look at the results of the three-month exercise, you'll see actually that we have confirmed all of those capabilities.
Is the 4 billion figure accurate?
I don't think that we know, quite frankly. There is the need to make the particular cuts in the future, there's always an adjustment, there is always a fluid plan, and we need to make sure that we know [what] those costs are. But actually, in the three-month exercise, we were pretty clear that we knew what the costs were for these, and I'm not at all concerned that we are going to have to make any significant cuts.

I think any comment to the above would be a waste of time. I can only underline that, if the 4 billion figure is true, there's no way in hell that the RAF won't "make any significant cuts".
With Tornado expected to save 7 billions if retired, against 1 for the Harrier, i continue to say that we risk paying simply a too high cost to retain the big bomber jet.
I'm absolutely clear that in a world in which retiring Tornado allows me to balance my budget, and actually perhaps be able, within five years, to spend a couple billions for the urgent adjustements (which i would use to retain Sentinel, launch the 1-billion programme for 5 Poseidon as Nimrod replacement and advance the Typhoon weapons integration programme), i keep the Harrier, even if less capable, even if it means no Storm Shadow raids in Libya the month later. We keep talking of painful decisions to make: this is one. Retaining Tornado is actually the easy choice, due to the fleet being larger and more capable.
The problem is that the greater cost of keeping it is messing everything else up.

The Apex is reached when the question touches the Sentinel R1 again:

Is the Sentinel slated for retirement because of its cost or that its capability won't be needed after 2015?

Not at all. The issue is about understanding how much that capability genuinely delivers the ground picture which is going on. Now that we have more experience with its demo stated and absolutely critical capabilities, and if we can't find a way to produce that capability, then we will seek the ability to re-engage with that platform and keep it going for longer. I believe it has demonstrated fundamentally its role and its capability and its importance to any campaign, air or ground.

Congratulations. You've discovered hot water, a new invention which humanity will be forever be grateful to you for. 

It is good to see a patently stupid decision being already regreted, just like the idea of fitting only one carrier with catapults, and doing away with Marittime Patrol airplanes.
Problem is, money still does not appear to be there.

Losing Harrier was bad. Losing Tornado now, and having none of the two, will be worse. Cutting back on ISTAR, on other vital force multipliers, and on future numbers of F35s, to retain Tornado now, would be disastrous in the long term. 

Ever since the Parliamentary Defence Committee hearings on the SDSR, the RAF has been saying they are aware of the ever growing need for ISTAR, while making decisions that reduced, and in some fields nullified the capability. Say A, do B. 
If, in the near future, the Service Chiefs are effectively given control and responsibility for their service budgets, getting to set more directly their priorities, we will finally see if the ISTAR lesson is being learned, or not. No excuses at that point.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

DSEI 2011

I'm putting together all articles about DSEI, along with a final, fast word.
Technologically, there have several interesting novelties shown in this edition of DSEI, but nothing revolutionary. In terms of contracts signed, by the MOD especially, we really are at an all-times low: the budget crisis and the difficult state of economies worldwide truly is having a very evident impact. Despite much expectations, for example for the signing of the Warrior CSP contract, almost everything is delayed to, as a parliamentary answer puts it, to "later this autumn". The 10-years Equipment Procurement plan is not yet complete, as the Forces are struggling to fit within the budget: in particular, the Army appears to be in serious difficulty, as it is probably the service which needs the most new kit, and has several serious urgencies, (FRES SV and Warrior upgrade above all) which all need addressing but all are expensive and heavy on the budget and planning.

The equipment report, promised for September, is in my opinion likely to be released only in October, if not later, as it appears very hard, as of 18 September, to imagine publishing a report before the end of the month if the Army is still unable to fit its two top-priorities in it.
We'll have to wait some more for the report, and in the meanwhile, we all have to hope it is detailed, clear and well thought... and especially, we must pray that it does not bring too many bad news along.

The links below will bring you to the articles i made for the various days of the DSEI show.

DSEI - Day 1
DSEI - Day 2
DSEI - Day 3
DSEI - Day 4

Think Defence also collected in a page of his blog a big list of useful links to articles from various sources and publications about DSEI and the products showcased there.

An awesome military expo

I couldn't visit DSEI, unfortunately, nor anything comparable to such great show, but here yesterday we had our little fair of Military Stuff, mainly ancient treasures from the two world wars.
The biggest find for me was the exposition of an italian guy coming in from the UK, where he lives from the 80s': his exposition was nothing short of awesome, with uniforms, UBACS, Osprey load carrying kit, a complete Royal Marines parade uniform, PARA berets, badges of practically all RAF and FAA squadrons, badged caps of the Scottish regiment, or the Grenadier Guards, of the Coldstream Guards, everything!
He missed the red uniforms of the Trooping the Colour and the bearskip cap, admittedly, but there were little things, for the rest, that he hadn't.

I left several pieces of my heart on his exposition. Was i rich, there's a thing you can bet upon: his whole exposition would have changed owner in a fraction of second, because i would have acquired it, no matter the expense. Unfortunately, i am not that rich. Still, i could handle a Lee Enfield rifle - something i had wished to do in forever; next wish to fullfil, actually own one! -, buy a White Ensign of the Royal Navy that will soon be on my wall, wear a Royal Marines Commando beret and be photographed in it (a true emotion for me) and. Well. Buy a SAS beret. Which was even more emotional. Ah, and he had the PARA beret as well... i would have adored it too.
Agh. Money. Dictator that it is.

I want to show you some images of all the awesomeness of that exposition, and i just... wanted to share the pleasure and emotion it gave me to see that all.

Which makes me wonder: are the british Armed Forces aware of the passion they awaken in lots of people like me? I bet it would be possible for the Army to make money out of its glory and history.
For sure, they would make money with me, at least.

I probably aren't the most handsome of guys, but hey. This is almost certainly the only chance i get to show myself with a Commando beret on my head. So be patient, and be amused of how much emotions a "simple beret" or badge can transmit.

To me, at least.