Sunday, August 26, 2012

Towards FF2020

Army Air Corps plans

The Army Air Corps is expecting a major mid-life upgrade for the Apache fleet, to extend their service life out to 2040 and keep the helicopters roughly in-line to the US ones. Studies to determine what the upgrade will include are ongoing, and it is possible that some further "naval" features will be added to the helicopter following the experience of operations in Libya. The Future Land Operating Concept studies also make it clear that the Army expects to operate in the littoral more often in the future, so improving the Apache's capability to go at sea is going to be important.

The other big change on the cards is the start of the Wildcat era, which will also imply the loss of one Aviation Regiment and one base under the Army 2020 plan.
The Army Air Corps is due to reorganize its command structure forming the "Aviation Reconnaissance Force", which will control both the 5th Regiment (Manned Airborne Surveillance), flying Defender and Islander fixed-wing airplanes and the 1st and 9th Regiments, flying the Lynx helicopter. This new command should be up and running by the end of this year, under the command of Colonel Richard Leakey.

The 1st Regiment, currently based in Germany with 2 squadrons and formally part of the 1st UK Division, will return to the UK to be based on the Fleet Air Arm base of Yeovilton, where it will be joined by 9 Regiment AAC, transferring from Dishforth, by 2015. Dishforth is likely to close by then, as it will be effectively empty, with nothing in sight that could use the base.
1st and 9th Regiments will then merge as they convert to the Wildcat. The Army's Wildcat Fielding Team is already up and running at Yeovilton, alongside the Navy's 700W squadron, which is working to validate the naval variant.
The Army variant of the Wildcat (AH1) will hit IOC next year, and according to current plans the first squadron to convert to the new machine will be 847 Naval Air Service, the squadron supporting 3rd Commando Brigade.

Officers of the Army Air Corps said in July that the plan is for the AAC to operate 4 Wildcat squadrons. It would appear that they refer to frontline squadrons (of course the squadrons will have the manpower, but will only get the full complement of helicopters for deployment, due to the small number of airframes available), and they did not expand on how flying training will be delivered. Currently, 671 Squadron at Middle Wallop acts as Conversion to Type squadron, preparing crews for the Lynx (and Gazelle and Bell 212 too), but it is not clear if there will be changes to this.

Assuming that the 4 AAC squadrons are "frontline" ones, the net loss would be of just one squadron, as 9th Regiment has 3 Squadrons and 1st Regt has 2. Of course, the reduction in airframes that will happen as the Lynx AH7 is retired from service in 2015 is so serious that the actual reduction is worse than it appears, but still acceptable. Especially since, thanks to 847 NAS, the force can meet the "rule of the 5" and have enough manpower to sustain a long enduring committment was it ever necessary.

Farnborough: the first Wildcats are delivered to the MOD. The helicopter in the photo is of the AH (Army) variant, and clearly lacks the radome. The Army and Naval variants will anyway share a lot, included the color scheme. Army Wildcats come wired for later installation of the radar, and for adoption of weapons. Initially, only the naval Wildcat will carry missiles, however.

The Lynx AH9A currently used in Afghanistan will live on at least until 2018, and it might live on longer than that depending on how the situation will evolve. Once it retires, the AH9A will serve the AAC one last time by acting as a source of spare parts for the Wildcat (they have the same engine and other parts will be transferable), enabling a saving of probably around 20 million pounds in spares. Useful to the very end.

One thing that has somewhat vanished from the radars is the increase of the Wildcat order to 66 airframes as part of the Light Assault Helicopter procurement plan. This adjustement to the plan, which appeared in Planning Round 2011, would see 4 AH1 helicopters from the 34 on order become "Light Assault Helicopters", fitted with additional secure radios, fast-roping kit and other Special Forces gear, with a further 4 LAH produced in addition to the current order to give a force of 8 machines.
This plan was confirmed in a ministerial written answer on 14 December 2011: 

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Lynx light attack helicopters he plans to convert from the battlefield reconnaissance version; and what the conversion cost will be for each such helicopter. [85589]

Peter Luff: We are planning to increase the number of Wildcat helicopters being purchased from 62 to 66. The fleet will consist of three types: 28 Helicopter Maritime Attack (HMA), 30 Army Helicopter (AH), and eight Light Assault Helicopter (LAH). Four of the LAH aircraft were previously to have been AH type. The costs of conversion are still under consideration.

The NAO Major Project report 2011 estimated the Net Cost of the new plan at 37 million pounds.
The Light Assault Helicopter was meant to replace the Lynx AH7 used by 657 Squadron, based at RAF Odiham, part of the Special Forces Support Wing, but of this plan, apparently finalized late last year, nothing has been heard since.
All statements released in the last months, as the MOD received the first Wildcat helos, speak of 62 airframes on order. While this does not necessarily go against the plan announced late next year, which might still be a plan and not a contract signed, it does cause a bit of a frown. It is likely that the NAO Major Projects report 2012, coming out in the autumn, will help understand what exactly is going on.

Replacing the helicopters used by the Special Forces is, after all, very important. So much so, indeed, that prior to the SDSR publication there were rumors about one particular, rare "spending measure" in what was going to be, as we know, a review made of nothing but cuts: at one point, a purchase of 10 helicopters for the Special Forces was mentioned, with the candidate helo being the NH90 no less.
That measure did not pass the concept phase, but replacing the Lynx helos of 657 Squadron remains a priority.

A little piece of good news is that the 6 Regiment (Volunteers) of the Army Air Corps should stand up a third reserve ground crew squadron (probably 666 Sqn) as part of the Army 2020/Future Reserves plans.
The new squadron is to stand up on Yeovilton, to support the Aviation Reconnaissance Force.

C130K and Project Hermes 

A number of C130K airplanes is likely to have its service life extended past the planned 2012 OSD, under a 10 million pounds option supported by the Director Special Forces. On the press, this was prematurely linked to the "A400 Atlas being too large to be suited to the SF mission profiles", but the actual reason (at least for the moment) is simply that the C130J is not yet ready to take on the SF role.
Unfortunately, due to delays in the US with the funding and release of the newest software for the C130J, the RAF was unable to stick to the original schedule of Project Hermes, the adaptation of the C130J to the Special Forces requirements.
A number of C130K will so have to stay around for a longer than planned time, as part of 47 Squadron.

In the future, with the C130J now planned to be out of service in 2022, it will be interesting to see how 47 Squadron is resourced for its job, since the A400 is indeed a very large plane, and the SAS seems to be already leaking out to the press that they do not consider it a good solution for their peculiar needs. Also because, clearly, there will just be too few of them...

A400 Atlas

As of July 2012, the RAF expects to hit IOC with the A400 Atlas cargo plane in 2015, with 3 airplanes in 70 Squadron. The Squadron No. 70 operated C130K until a few years ago when it was disbanded. It will resurrect as the first A400 squadron.
Full Operating Capability (FOC) will be declared in 2018, with 12 airplanes, with all 22 being delivered progressively to enable the C130J to retire in 2022.
The RAF expects to operate the A400 in the squadrons No. 70, No. 30 and No. 24, with this last squadron including the OCU Flight.

47 Squadron, the unit supporting the Special Forces missions, does not figure in the list. It is not absurd to assume that the Director Special Forces will use all its considerable political weight to ensure, come 2022, that a number of C130s live on longer. After all, the 2022 OSD for them is a SDSR10 invention, which wasn't previously envisioned.

Voyager KC2 and KC3

The Voyager force at Brize Norton is slowly working its way to IOC. Currently, 10 Squadron (a resurrected formation which used to fly VC10 until a few years ago) is the sole Voyager unit.
The Tristars fly in 216 Squadron and all VC10s are in 101 Squadron. It is not clear if both squadrons will convert to the Voyager, or if the tanker fleet will be composed by just 2 relatively lage squadrons.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Type 26 takes shape

The BBC today reports on the Ministry of Defence's first major announcement about the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the design of which is progressing, with the general principle and requirements by now frozen and with detailed design now underway.

The report proves me largely right, since the design now officialized was shown in detail on this blog already in March 2012, after BAE systems began to circulate a very short video of the evolved Type 26 design in January 2012.

148 meters long, and around 5400 tons in weight. The Type 26 will be a big ship, albeit smaller than once expected (up to 7000 tons in some proposals). Propulsion is expected to be CODLOG, with a MT30 gas turbine (a variant of those used on the CVF aircraft carriers) and 4 diesel engines for silent running in ASW role. Core crew was expected to be around 115 men, plus around 15 for the Helicopter Flight and space for a further 36 men. A further 84 accommodations were described as a possible use for the mission bay some time ago, but until we learn of the current shape and sizes of the flex deck, take this value as indicative only.
Updated BAE System data (they did not update the photos, though!) however suggests a crew of 118 (not clear if it includes Helicopter Flight, probably it does not) and accommodation for a further 72. It would appear that, with the Navy wanting to use drones on Type 26 in the future, a significant increase in accommodation facilities was agreed upon, from 166 to 190. A wise move.  

Speed in dash will be superior to 28 knots, and the ship will offer a logistic endurance of 60 days (very high value) with a range of 11.000 naval miles at 15 knots (7000 naval miles at 15 knots between a replenishment and another will be the typical indicative plan, though).
The Royal Navy is trying to shape the Type 26 as an innovative, future-proof multirole vessel, while doing all it can to keep costs down. Cost control on Type 26 is going to be absolutely crucial for the future of the fleet, there is no overstating this.

The Navy has decided, to help with cost control, to reverse the Type 45 approach: from an "80% new, 20% legacy" guideline to a "80% legacy, 20% innovation" ratio. But we should not look down at this thinking of Type 26 as a ship that brings nothing new to the table, because the design comes with several great new enhancements for the fleet.
And even the "legacy" equipment will be modern and top-class: the plan is, in fact, to use the Type 23 as a test bed for development and adoption of new systems that then will live on into Type 26. For example, the new frigate will receive the world-beating sonar 2087, the Type 997 Artisan 3D radar (both systems will start appearing on Type 23 in 2016) and a combat system which will be an evolution of the DNA(2)/CMS-1.

The plan is to build 8 "ASW" frigates, fitted with the 2087 towed sonar array, and 5 "General Purpose" frigates with a reduced mission fit (no 2087) but able to be eventually fitted in the future. 13 ships to replace 13 Type 23 vessels with. 

There are some good news, as it appears that the Royal Navy might have won this time around getting the go ahead for two major aspects of the design that they tried to include already into the Type 45, without success at the time: a new, modern and capable medium gun, and vertical launch cells for land attack weapons.

Type 26 will have 24 "cruise-missile compatible" Vertical Launch Cells, which should mean either MK41 or Sylver A70. In particular, the Royal Navy handbook 2012 said that the possibility of arming the ship with Tomahawk is still being considered. This means adopting flexible "strike lenght" cells and requires an investment in new Tomahawk VL missiles: the Royal Navy currently has an arsenal of sole torpedo-tube launched TLAMs, which come with a capsule for underwater launch.
The Royal Navy is also hoping to replace the Harpoon anti-ship missile with a new weapon system, vertically launched and with ground-attack capability. It is not clear yet if this new system is included in the 152 billion committed 10 years budget; we might find out only this autumn when a summary of said budget is expected to be released. I reported about this particular program here.

It is to be noted that the Fire Shadow loitering ammunition entering service with the Royal Artillery, currently as a rail-launched system, is planned to introduce canister-vertical launch in future, and the Royal Navy has been eyeing it as a possible future solution to Future Maritime Fires capability at least since 2009. The Fire Shadow can fit into a Sylver A50 cell (Type 45) and, of course, could fit easily into the "strike lenght" cells on Type 26.
Offering a 6 hours loiter at 100 or more kilometers of range, this hybrid drone/missile would add a lot of capability.

Type 26 will have a new Medium Calibre gun, which is likely to be retrofitted, in time, to Type 45 as well (the transition will last many years, in any case). In Italy there have been several reports in the last two months about ongoing negotiations between the UK MOD and Oto Melara, the italian gun-maker industry.
In July, the respected italian defence publication "Rivista Italiana Difesa" reported from Oto Melara's base in La Spezia that the Managing Director of the company, Carlo Alberto Iardella told them that a historic success in the UK was close, with the American competition (described as politically powerful but technologically inferior) left to be beaten.

Oto Melara teamed with Babcock in the UK to put forward to the Royal Navy the 127/64 Lightweight medium calibre naval gun, and it would appear that this gun has the Navy's favor.
The American competition is represented by the 127/62 MK45 Mod 4 made by United Defense (BAE Systems owned). The current MK8 Mod 1 gun seems not to be an option anymore, and this is already a big novelty in itself.

The Oto Melara 127 is an excellent gun system. Germany has selected it for its F125 frigates, and Italy is putting the gun on its FREMM General Purpose frigates, with France interested in possibly upgunning its own FREMM ships with it in the future.
With 56 rounds ready-to-fire in four revolving round magazines, the gun can have 4 different types of ammunition available for immediate use at all times, and it offers and unmatched (in its calibre class) rate of fire of 35 rounds per minute.

The MK45 is also a very good gun, adopted by many Navies and used on all US Navy warships, but is not as advanced and, perhaps the true crucial difference, it is currently without a guided long range ammunition, after the advanced shell that the Mod 4 was supposed to fire was cancelled by the US Navy.
The Oto Melara 127/64 instead can come along with the Vulcano ammunition, which would offer a 70 to 120 km reach to the ship, a formidable extension in gunfire capability.
Moreover, the Vulcano ammunition comes in 155 and 127 mm NATO standard calibres, and with the Royal Artillery due to obtain a Long Range Guided ammunition by 2018 as part of the Core funded equipment budget announced by minister Hammond, going Vulcano would offer a degree of commonality between Army and Navy.  
Said commonality would be much inferior to that offered by the sadly defunct programme for the development of a modified MK8 fitted with 155/39 or even 155/52 gun, but that option died in 2010, and the Vulcano appears the second best option.
The Royal Artillery as of 2010 was working to adopt the US Excalibur GPS-guided round, trialed and validated for use on the AS90 howitzer, but with the purchase of the extended range guided shell delayed to 2018 there should be plenty of chances to use a joint approach and collaborate with the navy to obtain a capability that is much superior to the Excalibur, offering greater range (north of 70 km against 40) and potentially even greater accuracy, as a Vulcano round combining GPS and Semi Active Laser guidance (SAL) is already being tested. This version is going to be a cheaper alternative to missiles for accurate, long range strikes.

Type 26 as shown in January and March 2012

For Self Defence, the ship is shown fitted with two DS30 remote gun mounts. The Royal Navy currently uses the Bushmaster MK44 30mm gun on them, but already in 2010 there was work ongoing at DSTL to trial a navalized 40mm CTA gun, the same weapon which will be on FRES SV and Warrior. With high-power HE grenades and Airburst grenades already available, a "DS40" would greatly enhance the ship's capability against swarm attacks of fast and suicide boats.
In addition, an "A3" (Anti-Air Airbust) grenade for the CTA will soon be ready, so that the new gun would have much enhanced "CIWS-lite" capability and would be a great anti-air weapon, particularly suited to killing UAVs, a menace likely to figure heavily in the battles of the future.
The firing positions are excellent to offer great all-around coverage.

There will be 2 Phalanx 1B CIWS positions (possibly Fitted For but Not With) and three separate silos for CAMM anti-air missiles. The Common Anti-air Modular Missile, known (as a system) as Future Local Air Area Defence System (FLAADS) and named Sea Ceptor by the Navy, is a fire and forget, radar-guided missile developed using the RAF's ASRAAM missile as a base. The missile is ejected "cold" from its canister, and thrown at 100 feet of height with cold compressed air, before its main rocket ignites.
In addition, the CAMM is a radar-agnostic system that can be made to work with any kind of air search radar: on land the British Army will use it with the Saab Giraffe ABM and perhaps with the radar of the Rapier, while the Navy will use it with Artisan 3D.
These two features make the CAMM a very flexible and easily deployed system, that can be "dropped in" onto any kind of truck or vessel, as there is no hot flames and smoke to manage like in normal "hot" launch missiles and VLS systems.
The Type 26 graphic animation shows two "small" silos (actually, each seem to have 12, and possibly more cells) on the bow, to the left and right of the forward CIWS, while another large array of CAMM cells is located amidship, in the funnel tower (this one very possibly showing 24 or more cells). This suggests direct use of the CAMM's own canister-launcher: another option (more complex and expensive) would have been to fit Sylver or MK41 cells and then "quad-pack" CAMM missiles into them.
Due to the cold launch feature, there is no need for complex and expensive VLS systems and exhaust piping for smoke and rocket blast, so it makes a lot of sense to just slot in the single CAMM canisters. The graphic suggests that, anyway, a Type 26 will easily be able to carry some 48 anti-air missiles, with room for even more.
The separation of the silos in 3 locations means further shortening of the reaction times to threats approaching from different directions and, even more, it means that the ship will not be left defenceless by a single aimed hit at the main silo on the bow.
CAMM is said to have a secondary capability against surface targets (such as speedboats, for a frigate application), and has an anti-air range of 25 kilometers. Its speed is superior to Mach 3. It is a great leap in capability from Seawolf, and will appear on Type 23 from 2016, before "migrating" onto the Type 26.  

The Mission Bay for the frigate has been retained, but as i had already reported, the Flex Deck moved up, from the stern, under the flight deck, to the superstructure, forming a large space adjacent to the helicopter hangar. The press release of the MOD says that the frigate will have hangar space for "a Merlin helicopter or a Wildcat/Lynx", but i believe that, due to the arrangement of the ship's spaces, it is very likely that it will be possible to carry and employ 2 Wildcat helicopters at the same time, when necessary.
In addition, there will be fixed and rotary wing aerial drones, and surface and subsurface drones, these last ones deployed from 3 large davits.
The stern ramp and mission bay most likely ceased being viable when it was decided that the Type 26 would only be a 5400 / 5500 tons ship, opposed to the almost 7000 once envisaged. The downsizing has probably caused issues in trying to place a large flexible deck under the flight deck without affecting the height of the latter over the water, with negative consequences on all-weather aviation operations.
There is no detail on the current dimensions of the Mission Bay, but it was earlier described as capable to take four 11m boats or eleven 20' containers. The relocation to the superstructure might mean a slight reduction in the number of containers that can be carried, however at a minimum there would seem to be space for three large boats/drones plus aerial drones and support material. The superstructure shows the doors to 3 large boat davits, and in the latest graphics there would seem to be at least one additional smaller opening as well.

Thanks to Richard Beedall's Navy Matters website, we get this awesome graphic of the mission bay of the Thales F2020 frigate concept, which was part of Future Surface Combatant studies. The current Type 26's mission bay follows a similar concept.

A quick sketch i made to show how i think the current Mission Bay is configured, judging from the openings in the superstructure and other elements, such as the funnel tower and hangar.

In general, the Type 26 promises to be an excellent ship, with great patrol range and endurance, a hull and propulsion system designed to be ultra-silent and perfect for ASW missions, and a complete weapon system, which will give the ship much greater usefulness thanks to great land-attack capability. In addition, CAMM makes of this ship a good "Goalkeeper" for a larger asset (capital ships from Carrier and Amphibs to Type 45 itself).
There are, of course, challenges: first of all, the Royal Navy must do all it can to secure the funding, and then fit into it so to get all 13 hulls in the water. This is essential.
Developing a new vertical-launch multi-mission missile to replace Harpoon with is another challenge.

But the Type 26 design as revealed today is sound. Now the rule must be: stay in the budget. Get 13.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Giving eyes to the aircraft carriers

I will start this article by making it clear that I deem extremely unlikely (unfortunately) the scenario that sees the UK buying the V22 Osprey, fascinating and militarily attractive as this solution arguably is. I don’t think the MOD has the money, the will and perhaps not even an impelling enough necessity for doing it. It is a lot more believable, instead, to talk about the US Navy exercising its option for the buy of 48 Ospreys, to use mainly for Carrier On-board Delivery (COD) and, eventually, Search and Rescue (SAR) and Air to Air Refuelling (AAR). And, perhaps, at some point the US Marines will want an Aerial Early Warning platform capable to operate from the flat-deck amphibious vessels, who knows.

With the return to the F35B and, as a consequence, to a STOVL-configured CVF, rumors have been prone to come up every few minutes about the UK possibly buying a number of Ospreys for AEW and COD and AAR roles. Not without a reason, since the V22 AEW was a contender in MASC (Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control) for the replacement of the Sea King ASaC Mk7 AEW, with some interesting collaboration going on between the UK and the US Marines, who showed quite a bit of interest in fitting the british Cerberus AEW suite to the Osprey. In addition, the Royal Navy was pretty eager to demonstrate that it would be able to operate with an airplane as large and complex as the V22, even on a deck as “small” as that of an Invincible-class carrier.

A lot of things have changed, however, and not for the best. MASC has become Crowsnest, and it is now pretty much certain that the new AEW solution will be Merlin HM2-based, with the helicopter being fitted with the Cerberus system, migrating from the Sea Kings, or with the new Lockheed Martin Vigilance podded radar system. A marked backwards step from the earlier Navy hopes of procuring around 10 dedicate AEW platforms: under the new scenario, the already hard-worked fleet of Merlin helicopters, while going down from 42 (4 in storage) to 30, would be loaded with yet another role, in addition to ASW and Maritime Security in the Gulf.
Even worse, there is a very real risk of having to face and AEW gap of several years, with the Sea King Mk7 bowing out in 2016, with the replacement only available possibly as far away as 2021 or 2022.

From this scenario to a buy of V22s for specific navy use… well, I think it is evident why I find it real hard to consider the Osprey option anything other than a nice dream. However, it is a subject worth treating, and, who knows, perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.
I’d love it.


The core role that needs to be met, urgently and categorically, is the Airborne Early Warning one. The Falklands have well shown what happens when the surface ships are left on their own, trying to react timely to airstrikes that their mast-mounted radars can only detect at short distances. Highly deployable airborne radars capable to provide the commanders with a complete picture of what’s happening in the air and on the surface have proven relevant and indispensable in many, many more occasions: name a recent conflict the UK has been a part of, and the Sea King MK7 was there.
It was there in 2003 to provide 3rd Commando Brigade with the necessary airborne surveillance capability. It was there in Libya, it was there to protect the Olympic games and it is used to great effect in Afghanistan.

Crucial to the Sea King MK7’s success is the Cerberus system, with the Searchwater 2000 radar. This system, delivered from 2002, turned the Sea King MK2 (a pure AEW platform) into a multimission surveillance and control system: the Searchwater 2000 is a very capable radar that can track targets on the surface and in the air, processing three radar modes at once.
The two observers flying into the Sea King MK7 can share the battlefield picture obtained thanks to the radar with the commanders on ships / on the ground, via Data Link 16 and an extensive Secure Communications equipment.
In any moment, the Observers can be asked to re-task, and look over a particular area. For the almost totality of a typical 3.5 hours sortie, the Sea King MK7 is an all-seeing eye over the battlefield.
There is no exaggerating the impact of this kind of capability.   

The radar, multimission by nature, makes the Sea King better, under certain aspects, than an immensely more expensive, much bigger E3D Sentry: the AWACS has very little use as a ground-target tracking platform.
In addition, the small sizes of the Sea King, and its ability to take off vertically have been important, making its deployment a lot easier when compared to the use of huge E3D Sentry and/or Sentinel R1.
On the other hand, the Sea King’s typical sortie lasts a fraction of that of a Sentry or Sentinel, and the helicopter can only fly at a much, much lower altitude. And there’s a price to pay for this: the radar has to be placed as high as possible, as altitude means increased range, and increased range means detecting the enemy earlier, and having more time to react. And time is never enough in certain situations. Every additional second counts.

Delivering 24 hours coverage with the Sea King is not easy. The MK7 will often fly two missions a day, but even so, you need no less than 4 airframes to ensure constant coverage. And there is no remedy to the altitude issue.
These two being the reasons that make the V22 attractive.

The V22 is fully compatible to a STOVL carrier, and is almost as deployable as Sea King: it does not need big runways to operate. On the other hand, it is much, much larger than Sea King, so deployment on small ships such as frigates and destroyers is a no.
On the other hand, the V22 offers greater mission endurance and flies at a much higher altitude, with a service ceiling of 24700 feet. A Merlin-based solution would fly at 15.000 feet at most.

The MV22 is also much faster, at between 250 and 262 knots maximum sustainable cruising speed against Merlin’s cruise speed at 150 knots. Even in “economic” cruise speed, the MV22 would undoubtedly lead by a great margin.
The MV22 has at least 4 hours endurance with a load of 24 combat-ready troops, but its mission normally is not described much in terms of endurance, but in terms of range and speed: it can carry the 24 Marines out to 325 naval miles and return to the ship in record time.
The Special Forces CV22 has additional fuel tanks, and its mission is to carry a 18-man team out to 500 naval miles.

In March 2008 Boeing was already proposing a V22 ASaC solution which would incorporate the CV22 additional fuel tanks, improved power connectors, secure communications and a Link 16 antenna. A rigid radome would contain the Searchwater 2000 radar. As of 2012, the proposed V22-Cerberus is still mooted, as Totally Organic Sensor System (TOSS).  

The US V22 plan calls for the acquisition of 458 V22s, of which 360 for the Marines (MV22 variant), 50 for the US Special Forces Command, via USAF (CV22) and 48 for the US Navy (HV22). As of 2010, 216 Osprey aircrafts had been procured, 185 for USMC and 31 for USAF. The 48 Navy Ospreys haven’t yet been ordered.
Recent buys have been conducted under the terms of a 10.4 USD billion contract signed on March 28, 2008, valid out to FY2012 and covering procurement of 141 MV22 and 26 CV22, giving an average cost per unit of roughly 62,3 million dollars for the multiyear contract. When the over 10 billion dollars of Development costs are added, the unitary cost is 109 million each over the planned 458-strong fleet.
The V22 is not a cheap airplane. However, it is worth remembering that the UK is paying for 14 new Chinooks a billion pounds (including 5 years of support), and that means north of 100 USD million per airframe.

In terms of capabilities offered, a MV22 AEW would mean a big leap forwards, thanks to greater speed, altitude and endurance. Besides, the Osprey can refuel in flight, and while the Merlin (the HC3 variant, at least) can also be air refueled, the UK currently is unable / unwilling to exploit this particular characteristic.  
The TOSS envisaged 3 workstations on board, adding one compared to Sea King MK7, and better accommodating teamwork with UAVs, that the UK has been experimenting as part of MASC since 2005. Namely, the Sea King MK7 was back then trialed working in team with the Scan Eagle drone, which the future AEW platform could send ahead to visually observe a target acquired on the radar, for example.
This year the Scan Eagle will again be trialed by the Royal Navy from a Type 23 frigate, but this time it’ll be an operational trial, since the drone will be used in the Gulf, during a routine deployment.
An April 2012 image of a possible V22 ASaC shows two workstations, but probably there is quite a lot of flexibility in how the AEW equipment can be arranged on board.

The AEW Osprey is shown equipped with a palletized Cerberus, rather similar to what was proposed in 2010 by Thales and AgustaWestland for adoption on the Merlin HC3. The radome containing the Searchwater radar is lowered out from the rear ramp, while a pallet fitted with the electronics and workstations

As a Carrier On-board Delivery platform, the V22 offers respectable performances: it has an internal cargo bay volume of 739 cubic feet, and can carry a 20.000 pounds load, with the floor rated for a pressure of 300 pounds per square foot.
The length of cargo space available is 20.8 feet, which means a load of, for example, four 48x48 Warehouse pallets, or two 463L pallets. The cargo space can take containers as large as 68 inches wide, 66.23 inches high, and 250 inches long as long as they can achieve the necessary restraint criteria.
For external loads, there are two cargo hooks, either of which can support a 4358 kg load (10.000 lbs). Alternatively, both hooks can be used together, to stably lift a 15.000 lbs load.
There is also a rescue hoist on a removable boom. Good for SAR work, it is rated for 600 pounds. Fastrope equipment can be fitted under the tail, allowing men to rope down from the rear ramp with the Osprey hovering.

As an Air to Air Refueler, the V22 is fitted with a palletized 660 lbs kit with a single drogue unit, deployed centrally from the rear ramp. Two auxiliary fuel tanks are installed in the cargo bay, each for 430 gallons, for a combined 5590 lbs of weight.
The installation of this kit takes around 1 and a half hours. Max speed is 230 knots in this configuration, enough to safely refuel fixed-wing jets, F35 included. The central position of the drogue keeps the plane that is being refueled safe from the vortexes of the two massive rotors of the V22.
Internally, the MV22 carries 1720 gallons (117000 lbs), with the CV22 carrying 2040 gallons, so that, with the auxiliary tanks installed, there’s at least 17290 lbs of fuel on board, much of which is transferable.
It is not much, when you consider that a F35B carries more than 13.000 lbs of internal fuel, but for sure it is enough to provide an helpful top-up to several F35s in a single sortie, extending their range and endurance considerably. 

The ISR-C2 variant shown seems to be equipped with the TOSS system based on the Cerberus and Searchwater radar. The trademark "bag" of the radar is well visible.

The deck footprint of a V22 is quite huge: 84,6 feet in width and 57,3 feet in length. When folded for storage, however, the width reduces to just 18,11 feet [5.8 meters], while the length increases to 63 feet. The V22 can be brought down into the CVF’s hangar without being folded, as the lift and hangars are big enough to take the airplane. The hangar is also high enough, at least for part of its length, to take the unfolded V22, which is 6,7 meters high, reducing to 5,5 meters when folded down.

If the UK ever got around to buying the Osprey, there would also be an opportunity for collaboration and joint maintenance in the UK, as the US are deploying a squadron of CV22 Special Ops Ospreys to the airbase in Mildenhall.

There is no doubt that the V22 would make available some very interesting capabilities to the Royal Navy, but at a quite high cost. I don’t think the Navy will ever be able to justify said costs. To the scrutiny of the MOD and Treasury, the Merlin helicopter is probably going to result perfectly adequate for the AEW role, and COD and AAR roles are not immediate requirements, much as they would of course add a lot to a carrier task force’s capability. 

Data from: - thanks to SNAFU - Solomon for putting this online

Arnie Easterly (January 2004) "Navy V22 Concept of Employment, US Naval War College" 


Crowsnest: the Merlin AEW

Indeed, as said also in the Royal Navy 2012 handbook, the Crowsnest is by now set on using the Merlin HM2 platform as base for the AEW role.
The HM2 is the soon to be in service upgraded variant of the Merlin HM1 sub-hunting helicopter. Originally, 44 Merlin HM1 were purchased, but in the years 2 have been lost to accidents and 4 have been mothballed. Of the remaining 38, 30 are being updated, while an option for modernizing the other 8 seem set not to be exercised.

The Merlin HM2 fleet will routinely be asked to provide 6 or 8 Small Ship Flights for the Type 23 and then 26 frigates, with more potentially earmarked for Type 45. A requirement also exists for providing larger (4 to 6 helicopters) flights to big ships such as RFA Argus (it has become a common solution for Somalia anti-piracy deployments) or the Fort class replenishers, and of course to the Aircraft Carrier in future. Then there are additional security tasks, training needs and other requirements to be met.
If we consider that all ship flights ideally should be triple (one training, one deployed, one recovering after deployment), we can immediately appreciate the full dimensions of the problem, and of the work that the already stretched Merlin family does. Meet all calls from a fleet of 30 aircrafts will be a real problem.

As I said, I deem it highly unlikely that we get an Osprey solution. My greatest hope is to see Crowsnest adjusted to involve the upgrade and use of the 8 – 12 HM1 airframes not currently part of the HM2 upgrade. This upgrade could do away with everything relating to the dipping sonar and sonobuoys, and focus on delivering the core software and hardware modifications of the HM2, to remove obsolescence and make the fleet logistically common to the main one. This way, the two AEW Squadrons could be retained as a separate force, like now, and the requirements could better be met.  
If we were to obtain this, it would already be something worth cheering for.

There are two different industrial teams putting forwards two modular AEW solutions for adoption on the Merlin HM2. One team is composed by AgustaWestland and Thales, and includes a palletized Cerberus solution, “migrated” from the Sea Kings.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are putting forwards their Vigilance podded radar/ESM solution, developed specifically on the HM2 software and systems, which are a Lockheed product to start with.
In some more detail:

Thales and AgustaWestland proposal

The initial proposal by Thales and Westland was made in the summer of 2010, and aimed at HC3 type Merlins equipped with a rear ramp. The choice of airframe was rather weird, as there is no overabundance of Utility helicopters, quite the opposite!
The possibility of modifying the surplus HM1 airframes to cut a ramp opening into their back was, as far as I’m aware, never confirmed, and anyway such an approach would require quite a lot of work and expense. Westland at the time was planning on the hope that the MOD would acquire around 10 new helicopters specifically to meet AEW needs. 

The original Thales - AgustaWestland proposal, targeted at the Merlin HC3 (or better still at new build "HC3+" with folding rotors and navalization)

In this first proposal, a pallets with two workstations and the electronic equipment would be rolled into the fuselage, followed by another pallet mounted on the edge of the ramp, holding up the Searchwater 2000 radome, which would be lowered once in flight to have unobstructed 360° coverage.

In 2011 the Thales/Westland proposal evolved as it became clear that HM2 airframes would likely to be mandated for the job. The new proposal removes the need for a rear ramp and for pallets, by utilizing modified HM2 workstations (2 of them, no additions) and by fitting a modified Searchwater radome over rails fitted to the side of the fuselage.
The radar pod would slide up and down the rails: up to clear the way for landing, and down to obtain unobstructed view once in the air. 

The revised Thales proposal, with rail-mounted radome. The "bag" slids upwards prior to landing.

This new proposal involves minimum modifications to the base helicopter, and would enable quick re-roling of the Merlin if most or all of the HM2 fleet was fitted with the rails and software mods.   

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman proposal

The Lochkeed Martin/Northropp Grumman Vigilance AEW radarpod is a 280 to 300 kg pod, entirely self-contained, which houses a powerful Northrop Grumman AESA radar, said to be related to the AN/APG80 and AN/APG81 radars of the same company. The AN/APG81, in particular, is the “super radar” of the F35.
Said AESA radar is said to offer quite unbeatable performances, with SAR and ground targeting capability, and powerful air to air AEW mode.

The Vigilance pod also contains the processor and power system, an IFF interrogator, GPS/INS, ESM sensors and its own cooling system. Two of these pods, mounted on the torpedo hardpoints of the Merlin HM2, can give 360° degrees of AEW and land surveillance capability. They only need a single power source connection, and can work with the software and tactical workstations (2) of the Merlin HM2, even if two more stations could be added for improved performance in the various roles made possible by the multimission nature of the radar. 

The Vigilance radar pod fitted to a Merlin HM2 for tests
The Vigilance pod contains IFF, AESA radar and integrated cooling system

Again, this solution requires minimum modifications to the helicopter (very possibly even less than required by the Thales solution) and would be quickly adoptable on potentially all of the HM2s.

The Vigilance pods could almost certainly be fitted to the V22 as well, leaving more space in the cargo bay to install auxiliary fuel tanks and expand endurance. The pods are indeed offered for adoption on a huge variety of rotary and fixed wing platforms. Validated on the Merlin HM2, the Vigilance is offered for platforms all the way up to the C130.

The odd and fascinating one

News of Royal Navy interest in hybrid airships surfaced on the press some time ago and generated immediately quite some interest.

The Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles is producing its HAV304 airship platform for the Northrop Grumman’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), an airship that will offer the US Army a 21 days loiter time at 20.000 feet (plus possibly the equivalent of 2 days loiter in range of deployment), with a wide range of sensors and cameras installed as part of a 1800 lbs payload.
With a crew of men onboard, loiter time reduces to 5 days at 16.000 feet.
The hybrid airship can loiter at 30 knots speed and cruise at a max speed of 80 knots.

The LEMV has made its first flight in the last few days, some 16 months behind schedule: it had to be in Afghanistan by the end of 2011, and it won’t be there before 2013.

The Royal Navy interest was apparently for the HAV314 variant, however, a larger heavy lift airship with a payload of 50 tons. Now known as AIRLANDER 50, this hybrid airship can land on water or on any reasonably flat ground surface. It does not need a runway, but it does require around 4 times its length in open space to safely land and take off.
Range is 2600 nautical miles (at full payload of 50 tons?), and the body of the airship is fitted with a cockpit for a 2-man crew. The cargo area is separated in two zones: the first area, just behind the cockpit, has a raised floor and offers 2.8 meters (9 feet) in height and 10 meters (33 feet) in length, with a minimum width of 5,64 meters. The second cargo section offers 3.93 meters (13 feet) in height and 20 meters (66 feet) in length and can take 6 standard containers in two rows of 3. In the rear, a vertical crane assembly is provided, which can lift 20 tons, and pull up or lower a container on a truck or on the ground.
Landing and take off speed is 40 knots, and cruise speed is around 80 knots or higher. 

With 200 passengers, it can cross the Atlantic in around 36 hours. According to the Telegraph report, the Royal Navy was even considering the Airship as an assault vessel, carrying up to 150 Royal Marines and a number of RHIBs that could be lowered into the water via crane, or deployed after landing the airship on the water. Fascinating, even if I wonder what the range and endurance would be, what kind of accommodations the Royal Marines would have on board and what exactly would be the mission of such platform.

As an AEW/ISTAR platform, an airship is both attractive and problematic: how would it deploy? Self-Deploying at range over a naval task force in open sea might be a real issue, and the airship definitely can’t land on the carrier’s deck, even less on a smaller vessel.
Would it be possible to refill, maintain, refuel and support the airship by landing it on the water, or would an airship-support vessel be required?
With an airship costing 60 million pounds, reportedly, the solution is already far from cheap, at least in initial procurement (the savings come over the service life of the platform, which requires a lot less support and a lot less fuel than helicopters and airplanes), without needing to buy a (huge) support vessel capable to embark at least a couple of airships, the number needed to ensure continuous coverage.
Even assuming that a Cerberus-like payload can be integrated, and then operated remotely from on board the carrier to maximize the time the airship can spend in the air, and at maximum altitude, the problem of deploying the airship over the task force and keep it flying needs a solution.

As air-tanker, the Airship has no chances, as it is way too slow to enable fast jets to refuel from it.
As a COD platform, with a 20 ton crane capable to lower standard TEU containers on the deck of CVF, and with the capability to carry 50 tons or 200 passengers, the airship is quite unmatched.

But the only way I can see an airship used in the Royal Navy is as an additional capability, not as a Crowsnest solution. A small number of airships, fitted with a payload of sensors and surveillance cameras and with a remaining significant payload margin for transport and COD missions would certainly be useful.
But would they be useful enough to justify their cost in a crowded and always tight budget?

The airship might not be the right solution for the present.
It might, however, be the solution for the future, paradoxically. Enter the Lockheed Martin’s ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is Structure) airship, a gigantic high altitude platform meant to fly at 70.000 feet for up to 10 years per sortie, while carrying a massive integral air search radar capable to detect air targets at a range of 373 naval miles in all directions, while simultaneously carrying a monstrous ground surveillance radar system capable to track multiple static and moving surface targets out to 186 naval miles. The airship would be able to relocate globally in a 10 days time thanks to a sustained speed of at least 60 knots and sprints to 100 knots, and operate without in-theatre support. The control element would be CONUS-based (CONtinental United States).  
This capability would replace at once the E3D Sentry AWACS, the Sentinel R1 and the carrier-borne AEW platforms, offering much increased performances over all of them. The US has been working on the ISIS for years, with the LM contract awarded in 2009. A demonstrator might fly next year.

This airship program, if successful, would no doubt represent a true revolution.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Royal Signals and Army 2020

A rather detailed overview of the Army 2020 impact on the Royal Signals has appeared on the August issue of their magazine "The Wire", courtesy of Col G Norton, Corps Colonel, so that now we know the general ORBAT of the Corps.
In detail:

The new Royal Signals ORBAT as part of Army 2020. 11 Signal Brigade is set to become the largest formation in the Corps by far. It'll also include, as shown, the Central Volunteer HQ (CVHQ) which looks after the TA specialists and after the Full Time Reserve Service. It also is responsible for organizing mobilisation efforts. 1 Signal Brigade is to be the top level Strategic Communications enabling formation, closely related to ARRC and JRRF. Very interesting to see the 14 Regiment (EW) assigned to the Surveillance and Intelligence brigade.

2nd (National Communications) Signal Brigade is, as we know, disbanding after the end of the Olympics, and 7th Regiment is to disband as well. There won't be other regiment-level losses.

11 Signal Brigade is to become a massive formation. Its new ORBAT includes:

7 Signal Group; Reaction Forces

Under 7 Gp, there will be 5 "Multi-Role" Theatre Support Regiments, evolution of the "Campaign Regiments" formed to support operations in Afghanistan. These regiments will provide signals support to deployed brigades and divisional HQs, with the loss of all but 16 Air Assault Brigade's Signal Squadrons.

Each Multi-Role regiment will have four squadrons (1 Support Squadron and 3 Field Squadrons). The Multi Role regiments are:

1st Signal Regiment (ex 1st UK Division signal regiment)
2nd Signal Regiment (To maintain a Queen's Gurkha Signals (QGS) squadron in its force)
3rd Signal Regiment (ex 3rd UK Division signal regiment)
16th Signal Regiment
21 Signal Regiment (ex Air Support signal regiment)

Each of the above regiments will come with some TA contingent components posts to facilitate regular/reserve integration. The exact detail of which squadrons will make up the Regiments, and the transition and implementation plans will follow on later this year.
The only ones who seem to already know their future are the men in the Queen's Gurkha Signals: their 3 squadrons all seem set to survive, and stay where they already are. 

2 Signal Group; UK Resilience and Adaptable Forces

Under 2 Gp will be grouped the Territorial Army signal formations, which are being reorganized under the Reserves plan, hopefully to be announced by year's end.

In addition, there will be the 10 Signal Regiment (regulars), in ECM(Force Protection) role and Information Communication Systems (ICS) infrastructure support. The Regiment will have the Squadrons 225, 241, 243, 251 and 81 (Volunteers), the latter being a TA formation.

Again, 2 Gp will have 15 Regiment (Information Support). The regiment provides Level 3 support, deploying elements abroad and providing "reachback" support. The Regiment was born only recently, on 30 September 2011, by re-titling the Unified System Support Organisation, which had steadily been growing in size and relevance over the years. The regiment will also include the Land Information and Communications Services Group (Volunteers), LICSG(V).

Finally, there will be 299 Signal Squadron (Special Communications).

New info has been provided with the January 2013 issue of "The Wire", magazine of the Royal Signals. The above graphic shows the current structure of the brigade. 1st and 3rd Regiments haven't yet moved in, 14 (EW) Regiment hasn't yet moved out and the two Groups (7 and 2) haven't formed yet. TA regiments from the disbanded 2nd Signal Brigade have moved in.

For a while, the brigade will also include the Land Information Assurance Group (Volunteers), which is however expected to move under the newborn Joint Forces Command at some point in the future.

11 Signal Brigade will also have the Central Volunteer HQ, which looks after the TA specialists and after the Full Time Reserve Service and is responsible for organizing mobilisation efforts.

Lastly, the brigade is due to assume the function of regional 1-star HQ over the West region, and will do so thanks to the Regional Point of Contact RPOC(West). This suggests that the current Regional Brigade (West), 143 Bde, is sadly going to vanish as part of the restructuring.

The future plan (Army 2020) on the left, and the current Regional Brigades structure on the Right. The 11 Signal Brigade is to take over the West Area. 143 Regional Brigade HQ seems set to go, and the direct comparison of the maps helps in guessing which other regional brigades are likely to vanish.

1 Signal Brigade will have the role of supporting deployed strategic communications for the ARRC and for the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. It will meet its requirements by lining the following regiments: 

22 Signal Regiment; on 1 Support and 4 Field Squadrons, with one being Queen's Gurkha Signal (QGS). 

30 Signal Regiment; on 1 Support and 4 Field Squadron, again with one being QGS. 

Allied Rapid Reaction Corp Support Battalion  

In addition there will be several more formations under other Commands, namely:

11 Signal Regiment (Training), to remain part of the Defence College of Communications and Information Systems (DCCIS) under 22 Group (Training) RAF.
The regiment provides training, and is based in Blandford Camp along with the DCCIS HQ.
DCCIS also includes the No 1 Radio School in Cosford and the Royal Navy CIS training unit at HMS Collingwood.

18 (UKSF) Special Forces Support Regiment; undergoing no changes from current structure and strenght and staying under control of the Director Special Forces.

216 (PARA) Squadron; the communications element of 16 Air Assault brigade.

628 Signal Troop; british contribution to the 1st NATO Signal Battalion. There are also another 74 or so posts for Royal Signals personnel within NATO. 

660 (EOD) Signal Troop; assigned to direct support of the EOD force

Joint Service Signal Organisation; around 200 Royal Signals posts within the JSSO. This organization, part of Joint Forces Command, has its headquarters in RAF Digby and is commanded by a RAF Operations Support Branche group captain.
The JSSO delivers support to deployed operations and contribute to innovation by researching new CI systems and techniques.

JSSO is divided in three Joint Service Signal Units, one in Cyprus JSSU(Cyp), one in Digby and one in Cheltenham.

A further 154 or so Royal Signal posts will be kept to provide support to Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) in several locations. 

Finally, and very importantly, 14 Regiment (Electronic Warfare), on 1 Support and 4 Field Squadrons, is being assigned to the newly formed Surveillance and Intelligence brigade. 
This reinforces in me the belief that this particular 1-star command is going to become one of the most important components of the Army, bringing together a wide array of enablers. 

My guess is that 32 and 47 Regiments Royal Artillery, with their UAVs including Watchkeeper, will be part of this new brigade, along with the Military Intelligence battalions. Possibly, even 5 Regiment Royal Artillery (Surveillance and Target Acquisition) could move under this new command. 
Currently, 5 Regt is part of 1st Artillery Brigade along with 39 Regiment (GMLRS) and the UAVs regiments. 

I'm expecting the UAVs and possibly 5 Regt to move into the Surveillance Brigade, and as we know 39 Regiment is to disband. 1st Artillery Brigade will however receive, in my opinion, the 5 "Fires" regular regiments, with the exception of 7 Royal Horse Artillery and 29 Commando which will stay with 16 Air Assault and 3rd Commando brigades. 

In any case, 14 Regiment (EW) has received a good news in these last few days, with the announcement that the ROKE Resolve manpackable EW system has been accepted into Core budget and will live on after Afghanistan, where it has been introduced as UOR under Project SEER. 
The RESOLVE system can be used on the march, in the backpack of a soldier, or on the move when installed on a vehicle, or, of course, it can be used from a base or any stationary position, with the option of erecting it on top of a mast to gain better coverage. 
While the press releases do not talk of it, the selection of Resolve is almost certainly part of the LANDSEEKER programme for the renewal of the Electronic Warfare equipment of the Army and Royal Marines. 

Resolve will provide the Light, man-portable EW solution to the Royal Signals of 14 Regiment and to the Royal Marines of Y Squadron (EW), 30 Commando. 

Interestingly, the ROKE Resolve is being installed on the Marshal TRAKKAR Unmanned Ground Vehicle, which is being evaluated by the British Army as an Assisted Load Carriage platform for the Infantry. While the Army's priority is to procure a platform capable to carry north of 25 kg of load from each soldier in a Section, to keep the men light and agile and comfortable, a longer term aim is to have the UGV provide ISTAR and possibly even Fire Support. 
Good news for once, and lots of potential for future improvements to the armed forces.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Infantry of Army 2020: Lethality

Previous posts in this series   

The Infantry of Army 2020 – Introduction

Battalion Strength

First of all, an update to the analysis on Battalion strength that i provided in the Introductive Post: on ARRSE, serving soldiers are reporting being briefed by their commanding officers that the Adaptable Force’s battalions (Light and Light Protected Mobility battalions, for a total of possibly 20 formations out of 31, depending on whether one or two battalions stay in 16 Air Assault Brigade together with the two Para units or not. It is also not clear if the Gurkha battalions will be similarly affected.) will be downsized by removing a rifle platoon from each Rifle Company. There is also a rumor that the Machine Gun Platoon might have to go as well, but on this second point I’d be careful as there are big doubts.

The plan is that the Territorial Army will supply the missing platoons and bring the battalion up to strength for deployment. It is worth remembering that the Army 2020 restructuring plan for the Territorial Army has not yet been completed, and it is not expected to be released before around year’s end, but the Army 2020 plan says that Adaptable Force’s battalions will be paired with TA battalions. It is not yet clear how this will be achieved in practice, but in numerical terms, 14 regular Light Role battalions planned face a TA force of exactly 14 battalions. The British Army document on Army 2020 shows also the Foxhound-mounted battalions as paired with a TA battalion, but I think it is more than premature to say that the TA will get additional formations.
A way to achieve the result would be to have smaller TA “battalions”, but more numerous (20, so the Foxhound-mounted Regulars get their own Reserve counterpart) very closely connected to their Regular counterpart (and thus ideally based as close as possible, in the same area) and very much structured to provide a minimum of a Company worth of manpower.

The regular battalions can be expected to deploy for 6 months in a 3 years period, while the Reserve personnel will be asked to face a 6 months tour in a 5 years period, so the TA battalion must be large enough to be able to field 2 companies, made of different personnel, in a 5 years period to provide adequate support to the paired regulars.

Now, a consideration. The British Army works daily to the assumption that there must be 3 maneuver units into a formation if this is to fight successfully. At Company level, this means having a Platoon that Assaults, one that Supports and one acting as Reserve.
This is for the routine: for deployment on combat operations, the Army’s doctrine calls for 4 maneuver units, (Assault, Support, Reserve, Echelon) and for years the stated role of the Territorial Army has been to provide to deployed battalions an additional company plus supporting mortar and anti-tank section. Something that never actually happened, as far as I’m aware, with the TA employed most frequently to provide individuals, not formed subunits.
In future, achieving the optimal number of 4 maneuver formations will be even harder, and indeed even deploying multiple Adaptable Force battalions at full 3-companies strength risks proving challenging: if the Territorial Army fails to deliver the planned output, elements of regular battalions will have to be assigned to the deployed force just to bring it up to the minimum “full” establishment, further reducing the number of battalions/battlegroups that the UK will effectively be able to deploy and sustain.
Using the reserves to achieve a 4-coy structure for deployment will likely only be possible once in a 5 years period, in alternative to providing a coy two times.

Albeit non optimal (someone has already called it an Army “fitted for, but not with” soldiers) an approach, it is perhaps the only real way to integrate the TA. It is clear, however, that with these new planning assumptions it becomes even more important to get the Territorial Army reform right.

It is formally correct to note that British Army battalions will almost never fight in their peacetime structure and establishment, both because they will make modifications to adapt to the situation at hand and both because they will almost certainly be formed into battlegroups, but the reality is that the constant reduction in the manpower and firepower of infantry battalions is going to damage the Army’s capability significantly.
A Battlegroup ideally should be formed by taking an Infantry Battalion and attaching to it one or more Tank troops or Tank Squadrons, for example, plus an Engineer Squadron and perhaps an artillery battalion. The deployed battalion would of course receive other specialist reinforcements relevant to the contingent situation (ECM Force Protection teams, additional Signallers, a Fire Support Team of Royal Artillery observers and JTACs, UAV detachments, HUMINT teams, military working dog teams…).
But there is a big difference between the above process for forming a battlegroup and one process in which a battalion ends up needing to draft in companies from another, taking two just to form a battalion-sized battlegroup.
And this is what the Army fears will happen, when it talks of future enduring operations not stretching beyond 3 years or so: in theory, Army 2020 has what it takes to go on and on past the 3 years mark, but if to make a regular battalions you need 2, of course the whole story changes…

Unsurprisingly, the Army would have preferred to keep fewer but full-strength battalions, but Army 2020 was very much a political problem before a military one, and the loss of capbadges was unacceptable. The Army had effectively no alternative. 

Moving on to the topic of this post, I will now look in as much detail as possible at the current and future “Lethality” of the British Infantry, by exploring the weapons and sights employed and planned.

Section Weapons: UORs and beyond

The main weapon of the British Army, the SA80 assault rifle, has been significantly enhanced and modified for use in Afghanistan. In its current incarnation, the rifle is known as SA80A2 TES, even though SA80A3 is incorrectly frequently used.

The SA80 TES has had the handguard replaced with a Picatinny Quad-rail assembly developed and produced by Daniel Defense, it has been fitted with the vertical foregrip with extendable bipod (Grip Pod), it has had an interim weapon sight adapter system and it received the Vortex flash eliminator.
In 2011, the Magpul Industries polymer-made EMAG magazine was introduced to replace the previous, heavier steel one, achieving a considerable weight saving (from 249 grams to 130), with a million magazines on order over a 4-year period. On a typical load of 12 magazines, a soldier ends up carrying 1.56 kg less than before: definitely not bad.
For a while, the SA80 had the SUSAT sight replaced with the ACOG 4x, while now it is getting the ELCAN Specter 4x, selected as part of the Future Integrated Soldier Technology – Surveillance and Target Acquisition (FIST - STA) 

L85A2 TES fitted with Grip Pod, new handguard with rails, ACOG 4x on interim adapter, Vortex flash eliminator and Light Laser Marker (LLM) installed under the barrel.

These are important improvements, and also come with the added bonus of a significant reduction in the weight of the rifle, down to 5290 grams, a reduction of over 1 kg from a baseline SA80A2 with optic.
The SA80A3 was (and should still be) envisaged as the weapon for FIST, at least in its initial years. Modifications would include a full-length top rail for easy fitting of optics and accessories (replacing the interim adapter) and further weight savings.
Powered rails are a future target, as part of improvements to the power distribution infrastructure in the soldier system. Powered rails would make it possible to fit lighter accessories, which would not need the huge amount of AA batteries currently used.
The power would come from the centralized energy solution of the soldier, but of this aspect I’ll talk in a future post in this series.

Above, the new Handguard for the SA80, with integrated rails; and the E-Mag lightweight magazine UOR
Further weight reduction is a target, and the Cranfield University has been working for the MOD on this, producing two SA80 prototypes incorporating many changes and mods. Stellite-made barrels were trialed, and validated: the greater resistance to heat provided by Stellite makes it possible to fire more rounds without carrying replacement barrels, or to remove material from the barrel to make it lighter but with the same useful life.
Parts of the SA80 were replaced with others made in plastics and carbon fibre, following a study into the stress suffered by the rifle during usage: where this is low enough, excess material (and weight) were eliminated.
The two recoil rods of the rifle, made of steel, were replaced with others made of titanium, saving 90g per rod.
Another prototype was used to lighten the Grenadier’s gun by providing a new, lightweight mount and assembly for the L123A3 (H&K AG36) underslung grenade launcher.

Delivered from January 2011, the prototype P1, completed with picatinny rails at the front, grip pod and ELCAN weights just 4829g, a reduction of 461g in weight.
The P1A prototype for the Grenadier with the AG36 launcher, without sights, weights 4629g, down from the current 5501g, again without sights. An impressive 872g difference.

I will cover the Cranfield University’s work more completely in a future post of this series, as they have also been working to develop lighter ammunition and further weight-saving, but I thought it was worth to put the SA80 work here, because lightening the rifle represents a possibly attractive option for the future, not just for Afghanistan.
As of 2011, it is anticipated that Initial Gate for a SA80 replacement programme will be in 2014 for delivery in the 2020s, but a SA80 ‘A3’ modification centered on significant weight reduction could be a cost-effective alternative.    

In terms of sidearms, under a UOR, a new pistol has been procured to be issued in place of the Browning 9mm High Power. This gun is the SIG Sauer P226, known as L105 by the Army. The L105A1 is the standard pistol, the L105A2 is the P226R, which adds a rail for easy application of accessories, ahead of the trigger guard, and the L106A1 is a further improved variant with corrosion resistant finish.
A smaller compact variant, the P229, is in service as L117A2, since the earlier compact P228 was already in use with the SAS as L117A1. 
A requirement for replacement of the Browning continues to exist in the Army plans, and apparently the Sauer, despite having performed well in Afghanistan, is not the definitive solution envisaged by the Army, which wants something else.    

Under another UOR, the Army procured 200 12 gauge shotguns, produced by Italy’s Benelli. The M4 Super 90, which is also in service in the US, is known in the british army as L128A1. It weights nearly 4 kg, and carries 8 rounds in the extended tubular magazine, with different types of ammunition available. It has a 130 meters range with a solid shot, and 40 meters with buckshot. It is carried by the Point Man on patrol. The rifle in British Army service comes with foregrip, picatinny rails and EOTech holographic sight. 

L128A1 with rails and Eotech sight

Possibly the most important and most appreciated UOR weapon, the L129A1 Designed Marksman Rifle is already a mainstay of the future army, which has been very impressed by the impact it has had in the field. Produced by Lewis Machine & Tool, the “Sharpshooter” has a 16 inches barrel, a lightweight polymer magazine for 20 rounds, an Harris bipod and fires 7.62 x 51 mm NATO rounds with high accuracy easily out to 800 meters. In Afghanistan it is issued at least on the basis of one per Section.
The initial order, placed in August 2009, was for 440 guns for 1.5 million pounds, but several sources indicate that consistent follow on orders might have already been placed. It would appear that the Army, as of August 2012, has been handed some 1500 L129A1s.

Royal Marine Sharpshooter in action

Apparently, the L129A1 has also been selected for another UOR, far less publicized, which is the “Sniper No. 2 system” or "sniper support weapon" for the renewal of the personal armament and kit used by the spotter in a sniper pair (the sniper using the L115A3). A very small hint of this was already provided back at the time of the initial order: "The Sharpshooter's capabilities are also complementary to the current Sniper System." 
The main difference between the Sharpshooter and Sniper No.2 is made up by the sights: the Sharpshooter is fitted with a Trijicon ACOG 6X sight, compensated for bullet drop out to 1200 meters and fitted with a secondary Close Quarter Combat CQB sight on top, the Trijicon Ruggerized Miniature Reflex RMR. The Sniper No. 2 is used with a more powerful scope sight Schmidt & Bender (possibly migrated from the L96/L118 rifles being progressively retired) for day engagement and with OSTI MUNS night sight for nocturnal use. The MUNS (Magnum Universal Night Sight) is an image intensifying night sight that is installed ahead of the day scope and allows engagements out to 700 or more meters at night. The MUNS would appear to be used as night-sight solution for the rifles in Sharpshooter role as well. It can be seen mounted on a L129A1 at minute 4:03 of this Army video.

The L129A1 is issued with 20-rounds P-mag polymer lightweight magazines. The L129A1 is used in Sharpshooter role with the 16 inches barrel, but a 12 inches and a 20 inches barrel are available, and it is not absurd to assume that in the Sniper No. 2 configuration the longer barrel might be used.
Issued one per Section, (27 or more per battalion) the L129A1 is an excellent weapon, and around 1000 are the long term requirement for Sharpshooter role. While there are indications of additional orders having been placed past the initial 440, I’ve no details available.

The L129A1 has also been seen used by RAF heli-snipers on Puma helicopters deployed for the protection of the Olympic games, another demonstration that the well liked weapon is finding new roles in the force. 

A number of G3A4 rifles and an unknown amount of H&K 417 are in service, used for for a variety of missions: the 417 is in use with the Special Forces which needed a sharpshooter quickly and could not wait for the Army to make trials and take decisions. The H&K 417 has reportedly some defects and issues, and was beaten by the L129A1 during british army acceptation trials. The G3 is seen quite frequently in the hands of Royal Marines on ships.
A long-term rationalization on L129A1 might be attractive. 

Overwatch on HMS Cumberland alongside in Libya for the 2011 Evacuation effort: the soldier is armed with the G3A4
The L110A2 Minimi (the british Army and Royal Marines adopted the Minimi PARA, with short 14’’ barrel and sliding buttstock) has not been left out either. Modifications to the machine gun were part of the soldier system improvements for Afghanistan, and a reconfigured Minimi was shown during the presentation of the FIST STA sights package. I’m not entirely sure on the timeline of introduction of these modifications, but selected improvements include Grip Pod downgrip, Picatinny tri-rail handguard and top cover, retractable Savit buttstock, and a prong-style flash “eliminator”. The improvements comport a weight reduction of .29 kg, down to 6.91 kg (15.24 pound). 

The MINIMI seen during the presentation of FISTA STA equipment, showing rails, new buttstock and Grip Pod. In foreground the MOSKITO binocular can be seen, and nearby is the Light Infantry Periscope, unfolded and ready for use. Near the machine gun, on the table, is a MaxiKite 2 (MK2)

In the longer term, beyond Afghanistan, the Army intends to “reconfigure” the LMG. This is likely to involve additional changes over those explained above, and very possibly include a longer barrel: the short one used in the Minimi has been widely criticized, and it is said that it reduces the useful range of the Minimi to 200 meters, and in any case less than the range of the SA80, which uses the same round but from a 20 inches barrel. 

Grip Pod (above) and the new butt stock (M4 style) for the Minimi

As widely known, taliban often fire from 500 or more meters away, and the British Army has had to reintroduce the GPMG Light Role (L7A2 with bipod and provision for 50rounds belt) into the Sections/Patrols, after removing it years ago.
Probably to provide a lighter and less bulky alternative to the “gimpy” in foot patrols, the MOD eventually placed a UOR order for the acquisition of 176 “Major Minimi”, the Minimi 7.62x51. The first 176 had to be delivered by the end of 2011, and the contract includes options for a further annual order of 250 machine guns in 2012, 2013 and 2014. 
The Minimi 7.62 offers 70% commonality to the 5.56 Minimi, and is more than 30% lighter than the GPMG. Of course, it does not deliver quite the same firepower at range as the General, but the Minimi 7.62 represents a good compromise. 


The British Army in Afghanistan has been using the M72 LASM (Light Anti Structure Munition), also known as M72A9, procured as UOR in 2007 as an interim solution on the way to the intended Anti Structure Munition.  

The 66mm LASM rocket is produced by Norwey's NAMMO Talley, and comes within an extendable, disposable (single-shot) tube which is less than 80cm long when folded for transport. Weight of the system is 4.3 kg, a lot more than the original M72 Light Antitank Weapon (LAW), mainly due to the larger warhead employed in the LASM in its new role. The LASM is used against fixed positions, bunkers and other buildings, and it uses it's kenetic energy to penetrate the outer walls of a structure before the high explosive warhead detonates inside.

The LASM rocket and tube (extended, ready to fire)

The Anti Structure Munition was selected with a 7 million pounds assessment phase which saw Dynamit Nobel and Saab Bofors Dynamics compete for the contract. Dynamit Nobel eventually won, offering a rocket launcher derived from the Rafael Matador.
The contract, signed in 2006, covered an unspecified number of systems plus training and five years of support, for 40 million pounds. In-service date was 2009, then slipped to 2010, and the rockets possibly did not reach Afghanistan until 2011, with the LASM reportedly still being used, even alongside the ASM.
The LASM should finally retire this year, as the ASM enters full service and the FIST UGL Control System arrives in theatre.

The L2A1 ASM’s problem is that it weights close to 10 kg, a feature that is highly unlikely to be appreciated by the soldiers out in the field. Its advanced design, however, offers increased safety as it is compliant to Insensitive Munition regulations and the tandem warhead can be used to destroy light-armoured vehicles or mouse-hole walls (even in triple-brick walls), or it can be programmed to smash inside a building and explode inside with devastating effect. It has a minimum range of 10 meters and an useful range of up to 400 or 500 meters.  

This photo shows the elusive ASM, laying on the ground in foreground in the picture. The man climbing up appears to carry a LASM over his backpack.

In the Anti-Tank role, the British Army has been using the LAW80 for years (at entry in service it replaced the L14A1 Carl  Gustav recoilless rifle and M72 LAW rocket which then made a return as LASM), this 94mm rocket being the baseline weapon, with spaces for the stowage of 8 being reserved into the Warrior IFV, for example.  
Of course, the LAW80 has been aging, and it eventually became obsolete before a replacement was ready: perhaps the most relevant defect being the impossibility to fire the rocket from enclosed spaces, so this brought to an UOR, met by purchasing the AT4CS rocket launcher as ILAW (Interim Light Antitank Weapon).

In 2002, the Saab Bofors Dynamics MBT LAW was selected to become the Army’s Next-Generation LAW (NLAW), offering a fire and forget Predicted Line Of Sight guided rocket with a minimum range of 20 meters and a maximum range of 600+ meters, capable to defeat Main Battle Tanks. The rocket can be fired safely from enclosed spaces. It uses top-attack mode against tanks, but also offers Direct fire option against light armor and bunkers or buildings.
The launcher is reloadable, and the system is compliant to Insensitive Munition regulation. Around 14.000 rockets have been ordered/acquired, with entry in service from 2009 and an expected service life of some 20 years.   
The system weights 12.5 kg, however, so it is not that light to carry around. In the contract, an In-Door Training aid and an Outdoor training round were included. 

NLAW training
When the transition will be completed, the British Army section will have access to the ASM and NLAW systems, both top of their classes, as the other interim and obsolete systems are retired. The weight issue, however, is serious.  

In support

The L7A1 (FN MAG 60.20 T3) and L7A2 (FN MAG 60.20 T6) GPMG were originally manufactured on license by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock in Greater London. When that closed, UK production of GPMGs and spare parts moved to Manroy Engineering Ltd of Beckley, East Sussex, better known for being the UK’s provider of .50 Heavy MG. In 2008, following problems with Manroy who lost the rights to produce the GPMG, the UK’s L7A2 machine guns are produced by H&K in Oberndorf, Germany.

The GPMG is used in Sustained Fire and Light Role modes. In SF mode, it is mounted on the L4A1 stable light mounting developed by the Royal Small Arms Factory. This tripod mounting incorporates a recoil buffer unit, permits all-round traverse and has a quick-release mechanism allowing free traverse, elevation and depression. In Light Role, it has a folding bipod and can take 50 rounds belts. The GPMG is a popular weapon in the army, but the weight is its obvious defect, and a reason for its disappearance from the Section when the SA80 era started.

The loss of firepower and the reduction in the ability to suppress the enemy, particularly at range, was badly felt, however, and the British Army eventually adopted, for some years (until around 2008, indicatively), the US model of adding a Maneuver Support Section (MSS) to the platoon, containing 2 GPMGs, at the cost of adding 4 men and 1 NCO.
Eventually, in the early 2000s, the Minimi LMG was procured as a replacement for the L86 LSW, and the under slung grenade launcher was introduced to the Section. The cost was the loss of the Platoon’s 51mm mortar and of the recently introduced MSS,  removed for saving manpower. Both choices did not prove happy ones, as we’ll see.

In Afghanistan, the GPMG ended up being heavily used, and it returned to the Section, with each patrol going out having one. At least.
However, weight issues remain, and weight reduction for the General is a recognized objective, even after the ‘Major Minimi” UOR. Cranfield University has been working on it, with ambitious long-term aims: as of 2010, the target is a weapon mass reduction of 3.6 kg and a further 6 kg saving in the weight of 800 rounds and belt links.

Other studies have been made on light medium machine guns around the world, and H&K proposes its own solutions, from the H&K-121 (a new machine gun design) to the Lightweight L7A2 GPMG revealed in June, sporting a welcome 1.8 kg reduction in weight thanks to modifications that include a fluted barrel, picatinny rail for sights on top cover, folding butt, “dark earth” colored body matching the Multi Terrain Pattern camouflage and an improved feed tray with ‘pawls’ to stop the ammo belts from slipping around. This gun does not include titanium-made body, which has been mooted for a long time and is possibly still being trialed. It might not have been judged mature enough yet, or it might be a money problem. In any case, it remains desirable and under study at Cranfield: it is estimated that it might imply a saving of up to 3 kg.
For the future, beyond Afghanistan, a Lightweight GPMG remains a stated army priority. 

Lightweight L7A2 by H&K

The underslung grenade launcher (H&K AG36, adopted by the Army as L17A1 for use on the L119A1 carbine and as L123A1, A2, A3 for use on SA80) only reaches half of the distance covered by the 51m mortar, at most, and is not as lethal, so that the Army made it clear that a requirement exists for procuring, at some point, a capable Medium Velocity 40mm (40x46) grenade offering range of 800 meters or more. The UGL currently employs Low Velocity 40mm grenades. The High Velocity grenades (40x53) are used by the GMG, and are unsuitable for the UGL, but several types of Medium Velocity rounds (in 40x46 or 40x51 mm calibers) are available and/or in development.
These add quite a lot of recoil force the Grenadier has to deal with, but carry more explosive and double the range out to 800 meters or more.
Differently from the US M203 grenade launcher, the UK-adopted, H&K AG36 UGL is readily capable to take the longer 40x51 mm grenade, eventually, as its breech does not slide forwards for reload, but swings open to the left.  
In the meanwhile, this year the FIST UGL control unit will entry in service, and by reducing the CEP at 300 meters range to just 5 meters it will dramatically enhance the effectiveness of the weapon.

H&K AG36 UGL open for reloading
However, as of now, there is no Medium Velocity grenade in service, and anyway it has been recognized that, even when there will be one, it won’t fully replace the effect provided by the Platoon’s hand-held light mortar.
And in fact, a UOR was launched and procurement of a complete 60mm Light Mortar capability went ahead, possibly procuring a total of 630 mortars which will stay in the Army in the long term, and not just for Afghanistan.
Two variants of 60mm mortar have been procured, both from Hirtenberger: the M6-640 is used at Platoon level, and is an Hand-Held (HH) ‘Commando’ weapon. In Commando mode it weights around 4.6 kg and is 726 mm long with a 1921 meters maximum range at Charge 3.  

The M6-895, with longer barrel ( 984 mm, 5.5 kg ) and bipod, is used as a Light capability added to the Mortar Platoon at battalion level. Mounted with baseplate and bipod, it has a maximum range of 3610 meters, is 977mm long and weights 19,5 kg. The M6-895 can also be used in Hand-Held mode after undergoing a simple 2-minutes conversion. In Hand-Held mode it can be used to maximum Charge 3, with a range of 2100 meters.

The 60mm ammunition is the same, and there is a huge assortment of rounds available: the 1.4 kg HE bomb generates 590 splinters, and there is a Practice round, a Smoke-White Phosphorous with a 90 seconds burnt time, a 90-seconds Red Smoke round, an IR illuminating round capable to provide 35 seconds of illumination over a 1200 meters radius area, and others.   

The M6-640 can be fitted, eventually, with the same bipod and plate as the M6-895. For both mortars, the maximum rate of fire is 30 rounds per minute.  

The L134A1 Grenade Machine Gun was first introduced as a UOR, with an order for 40 systems from H&K placed in November 2006. A second, much more relevant 18 million order was placed in February 2008, to fulfill the requirement for the infantry Fire Support Weapon. This order also included a complete suite of weapons optics including telescopic day sight, image intensifying and thermal night sights, and a laser rangefinder. A simulated training system, allowing to train realistically without firing a single grenade, was also procured.
The Fire Support Weapon focus was on providing weapons and tripods specifically for the use of the GMG in the fire support elements of Light, Mechanized and Airmobile infantry. Armoured infantry, having the Warrior’s gun in support, can do without.
The GMG anyway remains fully vehicle-compatible, with integration tackled by procuring the ISTEC Universal Gun Mount, which provides a single, common assembly for mounting GPMG (single or twin), HMG or GMG.  It has been reported that by 2010-11 the holdings of GMGs had increased to around 400.

Training with the L111A1
Finally, the L111A1, the immortal Browning .50 Heavy Machine Gun. Prior to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the Army had left its holdings of .50 HMG wither down to just 156 guns, but successive orders, according to some sources, have brought the number up to around 1100 by 2011!
The L111 is produced by Manroy, which also introduced a ‘Soft Mount’ reducing recoil and improving accuracy, and a Quick Change Barrel system.

In the long-range Anti Tank role, over the 2500 meters distance, there is the well known Javelin, in service since 2005. The missile has been widely used to hit compounds and other targets at range, leading to a few consistent orders to replenish the stocks of rounds. The Aiming unit of the Javelin provides a valuable ISTAR kit by enabling long range observation. The UK continues to use the L16 mortar, in 81mm caliber, as its heaviest support weapon in infantry formations, pretty much an exception to the rule since the allies have long moved to the 120mm mortar at battalion level (US, Italy, France, Germany…) and nations such as Russia and China have long embraced the advantages offered by 120mm Mortar-cannons capable to fire in direct as well as indirect mode. 

L16 in action
This, however, will be material for a future post in the series.    

Sniper System Improvement Program

The L115 designation in British Service indicates the Accuracy International AWSM (Arctic Warfare Suprt Magnum) rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum caliber. The first rifles purchased were known as L115A1 LRR (Long Range Rifle) and saw extended usage in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, fitted with a Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50 PM II optics.

The L115A2 followed, and introduced several improvements, such as Tan colored body, Harris bipod, fluted barrel and suppressor. It was effectively a prototype for the further enhanced L115A3.   

L115A2 rifles are similar enough to the final A3 configuration that they were converted to A3 standard, but the legacy L115A1 LRR (Long Range Rifle) was not modified.

In 2007, finally, the Sniper System Improvement Program kicked in, and in November 2007 the MOD announced the selection of a new standard sniper rifle for Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment, with the placement of a 11 million pounds  order in March 2008 to Accuracy International for 580 of the new, improved AWSM variant, the L115A3.
The new rifle came with a more powerful optic (with twice the magnification, at x25 against x12), the Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56 PM II. Other improvements include a suppressor to reduce the flash and noise signature, a folding stocks for improved ease of carriage, an adjustable cheek pieces assembly for more comfort and better eye alignment with the telescopic sight, a Butt spike or ‘monopod’ to enable the shooter to observe the target area for extended periods with minimal fatigue, a new adjustable bipod and 5 round box magazine.
The L115A3 would finally entirely replace the L96 family (L96A1, L96A2, L118A1) in 7.62x51 mm, increasing range and lethality with the adoption of the more powerful Lapua Magnum round.


This purchase was followed by the Sniper Thermal Imaging Capability program, for the purchase of suitable night sights. Two products of Qioptiq were selected: the SVIPIR2+ as Thermal Sniper Sight, which is mounted ahead of the scope. The VIPIR2S+ is issues as night sight for the Spotter (also known as No.2) and can be handheld or mounted on tripod.
The SVIPIR2+ is designed to operate in total darkness, being a Thermal camera and not an Intensifier sight (which needs at least a little external light source) and enables engagements out to 1200 meters at night and/or in foul weather, fog or dust cover. It is also fairly light and small compared to other comparable systems, but with the defect that it needs 4 AA batteries at a time, and empty them in as little as 6 hours.

In Iraq, the KN203 Night Sight Simrad was widely used. This is a II system that clamps onto the day sight scope, and might still be used as complementary to the new thermal sights. In presence of some form of light, (star, moon light or other), the II sight is very useful for identifying the target. The thermal imager does not need external light sources, on the other hand, but identifying the soldier you are looking at is very difficult.

The sniper teams will also use the Kestrel 3000 pocket weather reader to determine a variety of factors crucial to the shot's accuracy, from winds to humidity levels.
The spotter might also be carrying the LEICA Vector laser range finder and the Leupold x40 spotting scope.
SSIP also covers other elements of the sniper’s equipment, from special tripods to other bits of kit: one is the Vectronix PLRF 15C Pocket Laser Range Finders, ordered in 2007. PLRF15C can lase a target out to around 5 km, and it includes a DMC Digital Magnetic Compass feature. This small addition provides a wealth of additional data: azimuth or bearing, inclination or elevation; horizontal distance and height difference – not only between the observer and an object, but also between two remote objects A and B.

A sharpshooter accompanied by a soldier pictured here looking at the enemy with a PLRF15C

A number of rifles in .50 caliber are used by British Forces, from SF to the Royal Marines, which use the Barrett as L82A1 Infantry Support Weapon. The Accuracy International AW50F .50 with folding stock was also procured, and put in service as L121A1. It used by Royal Marines in counter-smuggling, as it can disable a boat with a shot well placed, but it is also use to shot at IEDs from the distance.  

The second major requirement in terms of weapon system within Sniper System Improvement Program was an Anti-Material capability provided by a semi-automatic 12.7 mm rifle to complement or replace the existing arsenal. In 2009, this requirement was estimated in around 50 rifles. Deliveries had to be made in 2010, and the selection was down to two competitors: the Accuracy International AS50 and a modified M82A1 Barrett variant. The requirement was specifically for a .50, semi-automatic, accurate enough to enable the sniper to engage sequentially 5 targets in 10 seconds. The rifle would have to immobilise a vehicle engine and penetrate laminate and toughened glass by day, out to a minimum requested range of 1800m, with a desired range of 2000m.  
AS50 and M82A1 were selected for final trials, with 8 rifles of each type requested for appropriate evaluation. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find further information, and I don’t know if this branch of the Sniper System Improvement has progressed, or if it fell victim to budget cuts.

A wider adoption of Anti-Structure Precision Rifles is worth considering, as such heavy caliber weapons have gained a lot of recognition during operations. The US Army and Marines identified the .50 sniper rifle as one of the most important capabilities they had available in Iraq, where the sniper war was incredibly complex and ferocious.

.50 Sniper rifles are used by Canada, US, Italy and many others. The US case is particularly interesting. In the US BCTs, the Infantry company is given a Sniper Team made up by 3 men: one is armed with the XM107 Barrett .50, one has the M24 in 7.62mm caliber and one man is in the close protection role, armed with an assault rifle, complete with under slung grenade launcher, which provides a chance to break free of engagements.  

In the Italian “medium-weight” brigades, the Infantry Company is given a sniper team of two men. The plan is to give the “sniper” a .50 Barrett, while the “spotter” gets a SAKO TRG 42 in the same .338 Lapua Magnum caliber of the L115A3.

The british sniper team, conversely, uses the .338 caliber weapon as main sniper rifle, with the scoped L129A1 apparently selected as weapon for the spotter/No. 2. On paper at least, the intended force is a Sniper Platoon of 16 men in 8 teams per each infantry battalion, even if the aim is to give each platoon a sniper (pair, ideally). 

The combination L115A3/L129A1 makes a good sniper team, but in my mind using .50 sniper rifles only for Special Forces, stand-off counter-IED and niche roles, as purely anti-material (anti-boat most of the time!) weapons is depriving the wider Army of a very useful capability. As part of the Sniper enhancement programme, in my opinion a reassessment of the .50 precision weapon is necessary. 

Improved bullets?

In June 2010, the MOD and BAE announced that a first batch of a million 5.56x45 mm rounds would be produced for experimentation, with Qinetiq to evaluate the effective eventual improvements.
Officially, this had nothing to do with Afghanistan, but unofficially, improved range and lethality quickly available for use in Afghanistan were desired.  

The current L2A2 round (SS109 NATO) uses a steel–tipped, lead core bullet, while the new, improved SS109 was intended to have a full-steel core, removing lead entirely from the equation (and so doing also removing the concerns of lead poisoning, making greenpeace happy). Nicknamed the “Dirty Harry” round, its current status is unclear. Just this week, the Guardian wrote that the Army has no lead-free bullets, and no plans to adopt them. Either the Guardian is wrong, or Dirty Harry did not progress.
If successful, the new type of bullet would be adopted for 7.62 mm rounds as well.  

The US Army has long been trying to improve the 5.56 round’s lethality. Their M885A1 round, development of the baseline M885, encases a steel core in a thin copper jacket which fragmentates in high speed impacts. The UK refuses to adopt this solution due to strict interpretation of the Hague convention, which would appear to make this unlawful.
The US have also used the MK 262 open tip match bullet, but even this solution is considered banned.  

Efforts to improve the bullets, making them much lighter, if not more effective, continue.  

Sights and Night Vision

Following a variety of UORs which brought into service a wide range of day and night sights, from the ACOGs to the MaxiKite, the Synergistic Individual Surveillance Target & Acquisition (SISTA) UOR brought into service a number of VIPIR2+ night thermal weapon sights, which had already been preceeded by 300 hand-held VIPIR-S surveillance sights ordered in March 2006 and by a further 450 ordered in January 2007. 

VIPIR2+ sights installed on a GPMG and SA80. Now that FIST STA solved the problem of providing night sights to the dismounts, it is likely that the VIPIR2s will more and more frequently be seen on support weapons, from GPMG to HMG and GMG

The Army was finally able to move onwards with FIST STA in 2009, and place a coherent order for the complete re-equipping of pretty much the whole army.
In fact, the initial order, signed in September 2009 was for delivery and in-service support of 95 Infantry Company ‘packs’, but in December 2010 a follow-on order of 51 further packs brought the total to 146 Companies, enough for whole (or almost) of RAF Regiment, Royal Marines and British Army. The first 95 Company Packs will all be delivered by 2014, with the rest to follow.

FIST STA includes:

Lightweight Day Sight ELCAN Specter OS4X each man in the Section gets one. It is the intended replacement for the SUSAT, with the (still evolving) plan predicting a gradual retirement of the SUSAT, to be complete by 2025. The ELCAN is a 4x sight, and is fitted as backup for close range engagement with the Shield-produced Mini Sight Reflex Red-Dot, said to be the smallest and most compact red-dot sight in the world.

The introduction in service of the L129A1 rises an interesting question, as the sharpshooter in the Section envisaged by FIST was to employ the L86A2 LSW, with the 4x sight. As we have said, the L129A1 is using a 6x ACOG sight, and it would be a retrograde step to reduce the magnification available to the marksmen. As I write, it is currently unclear what the long term solution will be. Perhaps bringing into FIST the ACOG 6x, or adding a dedicate procurement of the ELCAN 6x…?  

Fist Thermal Sight (FTS) a high performance un-cooled Thermal Weapon Sight that provides the User with 24hr target detection, acquisition & engagement capabilities out to extended ranges, in every weather conditions and even in total absence of any external light source. The FTS is equipped with a 640x480 format un-cooled thermal core, and is powered from AA batteries.
The FTS has an integrated Infra Red Laser Aimer (IRLA) for enhanced target identification, along with the integrated fall-back Close Quarter Battlesight (CQB) red dot sight from Shield, as we said earlier.
The FTS also has the ability to be controlled remotely via the weapon hand guard, again demonstrating an enhancement in the wider integration context.

In each 4-man Fire Team, the FTS is assigned to the Leader and to the LMG Gunner.

Common Weapon Sight the Pilkington Kite night sight is a Generation III Image Intensification (II) night sight capable to use starlight or moonlight to provide night vision. In the Army is known as Common Weapon Sight, and has been around for some time. Under FIST STA, the sight is upgraded and fitted with the Shield red dot, and then re-issued. It is used by the Grenadier and provides 4x magnification. It weights 990g excluding the 2 batteries and offers night detection of a standing man out to 500 meters with sole starlight available. 

MaxiKite 2 is the big brother of the CWS, and just as CWS it was already in service prior to FIST STA contract. Like the CWS, it gets upgraded and fitted with the red-dot before being re-issued. The Maxikite offers 6x magnification and allows targeting at night over long range (a standing man will be seen at 750 meters) and will be issued to the Sharpshooter. It weights 1.36 kg and can operate for 70 hours with a couple of batteries.

Grenadier UGL Fire Control System the SA80A2 with UGL is fitted with a UGL sight provided as a UOR by Istec Services of Hertfordshire, coupled with the FIST-specific Rapid Acquisition Aiming Module fire control system jointly developed by Vectronix of Switzerland and Wilcox Industries. RAAM instantly calculates the distance, angle of declination or inclination, and adjusts the point of aim accordingly.
The combined solution is valid day and night, and reduces the Circular Error Probable to 5 meters over a 300 meters range. 

MOSKITO Commander’s Target Locator a binocular day/night target acquisition system, weighting less than 1.2 kg and offering 5x daylight and 3x night magnification with a 24 hours of night vision observation duration with a set of batteries. MOSKITO measures range, azimuth and vertical angle, locating NATO standard targets up to 4 km away.

Ruggerized Digital Camera a sturdy, highly resistant digital camera to take photos or short videos valuable for intelligence examination. Issued one per Section. This commercial off-the-shelf camera produced by Olympus was specified for FIST due to its ability to transmit and receive images from patrols. Weighing only 200 grams (6.4 oz.), it is designed for harsh conditions. The camera reportedly operates even after being immersed in 10 meters (33 ft.) of water or dropped 2 meters.

Lightweight Infantry Periscope produced by Uniscope, Israel, this foldable periscope is issued one per Section and enables soldier to look past a corner without exposing themselves. It is seen as an interim solution: cameras integrated in the rifle sight relaying imagery to a head mounted display were trialed, but judged not yet mature enough. Besides, with the freezing of the “C4I” elements of FIST, there is currently no data architecture and no selected display to use in such a system, which features, instead, in Soldier Systems such as Italy’s Soldato Futuro, France’s FELIN, the various US projects and so along. This architecture makes it possible to fire accurately exposing only the weapon past the cover, something that with the LIP is not possible.  
The LIP offers a 12-deg. field of view and 3X magnification.

Overview of the FIST STA items, and how they fit into a 4-man fireteam as of 2011. Note that on operations, the L129A1 is used in the Sharpshooter role, one per Section. Since a Section has 2 fireteams, in the future one of the two Sharpshooters might continue to use the LSW. The LIP (Lightweight Infantry Periscope)  is issued one per Section, as is the Ruggerized Digital Camera (RDC). The MOSKITO Commander's Target Locating System (CTLS) is issued to each fireteam leader, so 2 per Section. Everyone gets the Light Laser Marker and the HMNVS night vision. 

While not procured under FIST STA, the Light Laser Marker (LLM) is an important component of the Lethality package. Issued in measure of one per soldier, the LLM-01, a design by Oerlikon Contraves, is a small unit mounted on the personal weapon and combining Visible Red Laser Beam Marker; Invisible IR laser marker for use with night vision equipment; IR illuminator, again for facilitating use of Night Vision equipment and II weapon sights and a Lamp Head (Visible Light torch) or Laser Head available in Marker and Illuminating variants. 

LLM unit: (1) Visible Red Light Laser (2) Invisible IR laser (3) IR illuminator provides invisible light for use with NVG (4) Visible Lamp Light or IR Invisible Lamp Light
In the same role, the Special Forces favor the AN/PEQ-2, which is standard issue of the US forces.  

This well known photo of a squad from the Special Forces Support Group (1 PARA) shows an H&K 417 sharpshooter rifle (second man knelling from the left) and SA80 rifles all very evidently fitted with the AN/PEQ-2
Also not directly a FIST STA component, the Head-Mounted Night Vision System (HMNVS) AN/PVS-14 is fundamental. This monocular sight, used extensively by the US forces as well, is now the standard night sight for the british armed forces, with 32.000 units in inventory as of 2011 and some 10.000 more planned, enough to give night vision to all deployed soldiers, in each section. An additional order (for all of the 10.000 planned?) has been placed in early april this year, with deliveries to be completed by 2016.    

AN/PVS-14 can also be used hand-held or rifle mounted

The British Armed Forces also use the LUCIE sight, and will use it at least out to 2023 according to current plans. LUCIE is an image intensified (II) night vision goggle.  
In this area, in 10 years, the British Army made huge leaps, as this historic figure from a 2003 Written Answer show: back then, Night Vision was pretty much stuff for special forces, with available numbers of sights for the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantryman) low or extremely low.

In the future, FIST envisages a Head Mounted Sight (a function of a multirole Head Mounted Display, I believe, like in other Soldier Modernization programmes) and a new kind of “all-doing” weapon sight combining optical, Image Intensifier and Thermal Imaging modes to provide a day/night all-weather system.
Research and development should start in 2014/15, and proceed towards a FIST 2 capability which will start delivering from 2018. FIST 1 is the current FIST package in delivery: it had to comprise Increment 1A (the weapon sights as listed above) and a Situational Awareness/C4I package under Increment 1B.
Increment 1B was cancelled, and FIST restructured in “epochs” (1, 2 and 3). Epoch 2 will be particularly important as it is a bridge, comprising the many UORs moving into Core post-Afghanistan, towards the targets of the full FIST platform for the 2030.

Another Surveillance and Target Acquisition instrument available to the Army at Team level and above is the Thales Surveillance System And Range Finder (SSARF), 707 of which have been procured with deliveries completed in 2011. The SSARF is similar in concept to the MOSKITO, but features an un-cooled thermal sight element, and is used by Fire Support Teams to detect targets for subsequent mortar, artillery or air attack.  

Observing with SSARF

Again, the British Army ordered in March 2012 a significant number of Sagem (Safran group) JIM LR (Long Range) multifunction infrared binoculars for the “Long Range Thermal Imager” requirement. The JIM LR offers day/night (infrared) vision, rangefinding, laser pointer, North seeker, GPS and data transmission. The British Army variant also provides Image Fusion between the infrared and visible channels, to penetrate camouflage during the day, and to provide true all-weather vision (through smoke, etc.). It will also be able to record imagery on USB supports.
VIPIR-S, SSARF and JIM LR should more than make up for the soon to come retirement of the old LION short range and SOPHIE Medium Range thermal imagers, by providing greatly increased Short, Medium and Long range thermal imaging and surveillance capability. 

Moving ahead

The Army has a list of programs and priorities for the next few years, and in the “Lethality” sector, we can summarize them in the following list: 

-          Reduce weight as an absolute priority as part of the long term aim of achieving a maximum 40 kg load per soldier by 2020 and a 30 kg load by 2025, with a 25 kg load considered ideal.
-          L129A1 expected to live on “well past 2015”, being brought into core
-          NLAW and ASM fully in service
-          60mm Mortars to stay
-          SA80 replacement initial gate in 2014, with fielding in the early 2020s. A SA80A3 upgrade remains a possibility.
-          The polymer-made lightweight magazines procured as UOR are intended as an interim solution, with a Lightweight Magazine Long-term replacement planned.
-          A Lightweight Bayonet is planned
-          A Lightweight GPMG is planned
-          The LMG Minimi will be “reconfigured”, likely to reduce weight and install a longer barrel
-          Weapon Paint Rounds systems for training
-          Powered rails on the personal weapon, connected to the Soldier’s power system for easy attachment of accessories and reduction in the number and weight of batteries to be carried
-          Round counting   
-          Rationalization of Hand Held Thermal Imaging equipment
-          Lightweight binoculars and monoculars
-          Development of an Universal Helmet Mounting system

Personally, I’m adding to the list the already mentioned .50 sniper rifle reassessment, plus considerations for adoption of the 120mm mortar-cannon. In future posts I’ll also explain my opinion on the need for re-establishing the Platoon-level Maneuver Support Section and the need for a powerful Fire Support Group at Company Level.

Finally, a note to this and other posts of this series: the argument I’m treating is immense, and very complex. A huge numbers of UORs and years of delays, changes and rethinks on a variety of programs have made this subject very complex to treat in full detail.
Despite my best efforts, I might be missing something here and there, or even making some mistakes. Believe me when I say, however, that I’ve tried to cross-cue as much as possible, using as many, as reliable and as up to date sources as possible. I will welcome any useful contribution you can make to improve this and other posts.