Monday, September 23, 2013

Tankers in the Falklands, C130s to the scrapyard...

Thanks to Tony Osborne's tweeter feed. He is one to follow, if you are not doing it already.

Tony Osborne ‏@Rotorfocus 40m
Tristar retirement still expected in March 14, but RAF has option of six month extension. #avgeeks

Tony Osborne ‏@Rotorfocus 34m @Airtanker will base one Voyager in the Falklands from March after Tristar retirement, but RAF is exploring other tanker options #avgeeks

Tony Osborne ‏@Rotorfocus 35m

A330/Voyager will not fit into hangar at Mount Pleasant airfield, Falkland Islands, among issues #avgeeks

Again i say, could the BAE 146 MK3 become the Falklands tanker after Afghanistan is over...?

Also, one sad but not unexpected news:

Tony Osborne ‏@Rotorfocus 39m

RAF will retire/withdraw four C-130J C5 (short) models during 2016 as part of drawdown of Hercules fleet. #avgeeks

The evolving USMC and USN Aviation Plan

On April 17 this year, the Armed Forces Committee of the House of Representatives had a hearing on the aviation plans of the services, with the following high-profile witnesses:

Lieutenant General Charles R. Davis USAF 
Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition

Lieutenant General Burt Field 
Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Plans and Requirements, U.S. Air Force, USAF

Rear Admiral Bill Moran USN 
Director of the Air Warfare Division, U.S. Navy

Lieutenant General Robert E. Schmidle USMC 
Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation, U.S. Marine Corps

Vice Admiral W. Mark Skinner USN
Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research,
Development, and Acquisition), U.S. Navy

Mr. Michael J. Sullivan
Director of Acquisition and Sourcing, U.S. Government Accountability Office

During the hearing, a juicy information was dropped about the future shape of the fighter/attack fleet of the US Marines Corps, which represents a very noticeable change from earlier plans daring back to the 2010 and 2011 aviation plans. The subject is, of course, the F-35. The US Marines continue to plan for a purchase of 420 aircraft, but the split between F35B and F35C has changed from 340 / 80 to 353 / 67, and the planned number of squadrons has changed very significantly.Let's see how the USMC aviation plan has evolved.

2010 plan
Up to the Memorandum of Understanding for the integration of tactical air fleet between US Navy and USMC, signed in March 2011 by the admiral Gary Roughead, the secretary for the Navy Ray Mabus and the commandant USMC James F. Amos, the USMC planned to operate a force of 420 F35B.
These were to entirely replace the "legacy force" composed by:

7 squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet A/C (12 aircraft per squadron)
5 squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet D (12 aircraft per squadron)
1 squadron of F/A-18 Hornet C (Reserve) (12 aircraft per squadron)
7 squadrons of AV-8B Harrier (14 aircraft per squadron)

1 Fleet Replacement Squadron of AV-8B and TAV-8B (28 aircraft)
1 Fleet Replacement Squadron of F/A-18 B/C/D (36 aircraft)

with a fleet of:

14 squadrons of F-35B (10 aircraft per squadron)
7 squadrons of F-35B (16 aircraft per squadron)
3 squadrons of F-35B (Reserve) (10 aircraft per squadron)

3 Fleet Replacement Squadrons of F-35B (20 aircraft each)

Following the signing of the MOU on TACAIR integration, the USMC split its planned buy of F-35s between the B and C variant, with the committment to provide five squadrons of F-35C to complement the 15 US Navy squadrons on the same aircraft, needed to equip all 10 Carrier Air Wings.
This represented an uplift in the CVN responsibility of the USMC, which has so far provided only three squadrons of F/A-18 B/C/D aircraft.

The immediate effect was a change in the number of 10-aircraft F-35B squadrons, which dropped from 14 to 9, as five squadrons were now planned to deploy 10 F-35C each instead.

The new USMC plan detailed in the April hearing is very different, and comes with a significant drop in the overall number of squadrons, probably due to the need to achieve significant savings in the budget.
The USMC now plans to have:

9 squadrons of F-35B (16-aircraft each)
5 squadrons of F-35B (10-aircraft each)
4 squadrons of F-35C (10-aircraft each)
2 squadrons of F-35B (Reserve) (10-aircraft each)
1 Operational Evaluation Squadron (6 F-35B)

2 Fleet Replacement Squadrons of F-35B (25 aircraft each)
10 F-35C provided for training alongside the USN's own training fleet, probably enabling the US Navy to stand up 16 instead of 15 F-35C squadrons, keeping the total of 20.

The remaining aircraft will be assigned in this way:

58 F-35B
12 F-35C

as Backup Aircraft Inventory

25 F-35B
5 F-35C

as Attrition Replacement Aircraft

The Backup Aircraft Inventory (BAI) is a reserve of airframes which are rotared into the frontline units to keep them up to strenght while aircrafts undergo scheduled and unscheduled depot-level maintenance, modifications, inspections and repairs.

The Attrition Reserve is an inventory of airframes used to replace unanticipated losses due to peacetime accidents or wartime attrition. The aircrafts can also be used to reconstitute combat units in the event of mobilization. 

The new plan will of course have an impact on Basing plans, as well. When 21 regular squadrons were planned, they were expected to be spread in the following way:

10 squadrons (plus 1 Reserve Sqn) between MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point
5 squadrons plus OEU Sqn in MCAS Yuma (one squadron would actually be stationed to Iwakuni, Japan) 
6 squadrons in MCAS Miramar

Now it seems that both USMC F-35B training squadrons will be home-based in MCAS Beaufort, with the first, VMFAT-501 "Warlords" squadron, transferring from Eglin AFB in January 2014.
The bases will now be in competition to get a share of 18 (instead of 21) Active Component squadrons, and 2 instead of 3 Reserve Component formations.

The US Navy requirement remains set at 40 Active Duty frontline squadrons, with 440 aircraft, spread over 10 Carrier Air Wings.
In the long term, 20 squadrons will have the Super Hornet (12-aircraft per squadron) while 20 (in 2011 planned to be 15 USN + 5 USMC, now 16 + 4) will have the F-35C (10-aircraft per squadron), giving to the standard peacetime air wing a consistency of 44 strike fighter jets. Each carrier wing has two squadrons of F-35C, one squadron of F/A-18E single-seat Super Hornet and one squadron of F/A-18F twin seat.

Two Reserve squadrons (20-aircraft each) are planned, probably one for Super Hornet and one for F-35C.
There is a Fleet Replacement Squadron on each Coast, for both types. FRS have 30 aircraft each.

The transcript of the Hearing is available here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Arming the Royal Navy of the future

During DSEI, Navy Recognition had the chance to speak with Geoff Searle, program director for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, and one factor emerged: apparently, there is not a clear plan, at the stage, for arming the Type 26 with a surface to surface missile. At least, there is not a plan that BAE knows: it is always possible that, within the MOD and Royal Navy, thinking is actually at a much more advanced phase, since there is a long running program for the definition of Future Maritime Fires capability.

At the moment, however, what can be observed is that the Royal Navy does want at least 16 Strike Length VLS cells fitted to the new frigates at build. There just isn’t a precise plan (at least not out in the open) for fitting a specific weapon system in these cells.
More precisely, a definitive choice hasn’t even been made yet about which cells should be fitted: the europen Sylver A70, or the American MK41 system? A choice could be made next year, or later still.

At the same time, the Royal Navy is preparing to fit the Type 45s with the electronics and wiring needed to support the Harpoon Block 1C missile, with four of the destroyers effectively fitted with launchers and missiles taken from the prematurely withdrawn Type 22 Batch 3 frigates.
In addition, a 2012 graphic in a Royal Navy presentation which provided some insight into what programs are included in the famous 10-year Budget Plan, includes an important voice of expenditure detailed as “GWS60 Harpoon sustainment program”, meaning an upgrade and life-extension for the missile currently in service. There is no detail (yet) about the extent of the upgrade, nor an indication of the extent of the life-extension the missile is going to get, but I believe it is fair to assume that the aim of the Sustainment Program would be to delay the OSD for Harpoon all the way to 20230 – 2036.
The 2036 date is not casual: on the current planning assumptions, 2036 is the year in which the last of the Type 23 frigates, armed with Harpoon, leaves active service.
The graphic, which is the only information we have at the moment, does not provide precise numbers on the amount of money that will be devoted to the various programs, but provides a visual indication of when the most of the expenditure is planned, and that is between the 5th and 9th year of the 10-year budget. Since the budget covers the period 2011/2012 to 2021/2022, the Harpoon sustainment program should be in full swing in the second half of the current decade. 

This graphic shows the plans the Royal Navy has made for the allocation of its portion of the Core Budget in the 10 years plan. This expenditure is "uncommitted", as there are not yet contracts signed about these programs, but the work is ongoing and the money is allocated. The expenditure for Type 45, CVF and Type 26 is not shown in this graphic as they all are part of the Committed core budget.

NOTE: for an in-depth analysis of the workings of the 10-year budget and of the above graphic, see my earlier article.
The graphic also shows the Future Maritime Fires System expenditure, roughly starting from the fourth year of the Budget. The main item of FMFS is the new medium gun to be fitted to the Type 26 frigates, and in fact, in compliance with the general indication coming from the graphic, the selection of the new 127 mm gun (either the Oto Melara/Babcock 127/64 Lightweight or the MK45 Mod 4 127/62 from BAE/United Defense) is expected next year. There is no telling, at the moment, if FMFS also includes the purchase of new missiles: while missiles (and even the Fire Shadow loitering ammunition) are all part of the study, there is no evidence suggesting that they are part of the funded program in addition to the new main gun. The relatively small amount of money suggested by the graphic makes me think that, for the moment, the budget just covers the guns.

It is anyway in the FMFS voice that the long-running requirement for a Future Surface to Surface Guided Weapon has been likely folded into. The british requirement is indicated under the very generic acronym SSGW (surface to Surface Guided Weapon) and has been around, in a shape or another, from the early 90s. An SSGW system was part of the Type 45 planned mission fit, but was notoriously written off from the list of requirements for the AAW destroyers for the time being. The detailed requirements are not known, but according to some sources, the ambition included developing a rocket boosted-weapon for long range anti-submarine attack as well as providing an anti-ship and land-strike missile. The anti-submarine rocket would restore a capability the Royal Navy has missed for decades, ever since the old IKARA system was retired from service without a replacement. Comparable weapons of this kind in the world include the American ASROC and the Italian MILAS: these rocket-propelled torpedoes enable a frigate to immediately attack a submarine contact at ranges of over 30 kilometers, even if the helicopter is unavailable. They are a good solution for the need to hit time-critical targets at range without having to send the helicopter in the air all the time, and they are good at filling the many gaps in helicopter coverage that come up in a rolling 24 hours period. The Type 23 and 26, which will relay on the big Merlin helicopter for ASW work, and that carry a single such machine, would appear to badly need such a gap-filler, since a single helo can’t be in the air all the time, and obviously can’t be expected to be always in the right place at the right moment. Despite this consideration, it is fair to assume that it will be really tough for the royal navy to develop or even just adopt this kind of very single-role, highly-specialized weapon.

Certain is, instead, the requirement for a genuinely multi-role missile capable to hit enemy warships but also able to strike targets well inland. The new missile will be vertically launched, and it is behind the selection of Strike Length cells on the Type 26. 
The idea seem to be that the old MK8 Mod 1 gun and the old Harpoon missile will be around as long as the Type 23 is in service, which under current plans means 2036. At that point (or by that point) the new Medium Gun can be expected to be retrofitted to the Type 45 to standardize the fleet back on a single main gun type, and the 45s could finally receive their own Strike Lenght cells, losing Harpoon in exchange for new capability. 
There is also the chance that MK41 cells make their debut on Type 45 much earlier than 2030, if the ongoing assessment of the T45s as anti-ballistic missile platforms evolves into a program for the acquisition of kinetic ABM capability.  

With the RAF and with France

The only new anti-ship missile there is currently talk of, is the UK-France Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon (FC ASW). And to say the truth, it is not like there is much talking going on about it in the open. This new weapon was conceived under the framework of the UK/French joint Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation agreed at Lancaster House in November 2010, but only came to the light in early 2012, when the governments of France and United Kingdom disclosed its existence and announced that a two-year seed contract had been awarded to MBDA in December 2011. The contract was signed by the French Direction générale de l'armement (DGA) with MBDA UK and MBDA France, on behalf of both countries.
Currently, we are at a very early stage: the contract covers initial studies over the concepts, technologies and system options that could be employed to bring to life the new weapon, or family of weapons, which is destined to replace cruise land attack and anti-ship missiles currently in service.
In practice, Storm Shadow, Harpoon and Exocet would all be replaced with the weapon(s) that come out of this joint development. Perhaps even Tomahawk would be replaced by this new missile.

In the first quarter of this year, a first selection was made between the concepts emerged so far, with around six being brought forwards for further study and development. The approaches being considered to make this new weapon survivable and lethal against ever improving air defence systems (mostly of Russian design) essentially come down to stealthness and to very high speeds, with Mach 3 having been mentioned more than once in recent MBDA concept works, such as PERSEUS and, more recently HOPLITE.
The aim of the joint project is to prepare the new weapon (or family of weapons) in service sometime between 2030 and 2035. 

Among the requirements that this new weapon will have to satisfy, there’s clearly the capability to be launched from vertical cells on warships, from airplanes and almost certainly from submarine’s torpedo tubes as well.
Being intended also as a Storm Shadow replacement, the FC ASW project is part of the Selective Precision Effect At Range programme of the RAF, as Capability 5.

SPEAR Capability 4 is about the mid-life upgrade and life extension of Storm Shadow. This project, which once again is jointly sustained with France, should start soon enough and aims to keep the missile relevant and effective out to the 2030s. France confirmed in its own White Paper, released earlier this year, that the joint work on Storm Shadow (Scalp, in French service) will be funded.
Together with the Harpoon sustainment programme, this seem to be intended to “hold the ground” before the new system developed under the Capability 5 headline does arrive.

Sylver or MK41?

I first of all invite you to give a look at the following presentation about MK41, which will give you a much better idea of what a VLS system is and how it works: presentation by Mark Zimmerman

With the Type 26 frigate, we are back to a debate which never really ended ever since it was opened by the attempts of the Royal Navy to get MK41 VLS systems for the Type 45, attempts that were frustrated by European political considerations and by the worries connected to the possible costs and technical challenges of integrating the European Aster missile in a VLS cell made in America.
The problem is now back on the table for the Type 26, and a decision has not yet been taken.

It is clear that, if the Royal Navy has no real hopes to get a missile into the Strike Length cells before SPEAR Capability 5 comes of age, going Sylver A70 might make sense: since the FC ASW missile is developed jointly with France, compatibility with the Sylver VLS system will be a requirement from the very first moment. The French have adopted the Sylver A70 on their new FREMM frigates, and the same launcher will be expected, in the future, to welcome the new missile. It is to be seen, though, if this is enough of a justification for going again with the Sylver line of VLS systems.

In the short term, in fact, Sylver A70’s only weapon is the Scalp Navale cruise missile, ordered in 250 pieces by the French armed forces. This “European Tomahawk” seems not as capable as the Tomahawk itself, especially the most recent TLAM Block IV, while it is much more expensive, as is to be expected for a new weapon, which has not been (and perhaps never will be) produced in the same huge numbers as the Tomahawk. France is planning to purchase some 250 missiles in four separate orders. 50 missiles will be encapsulated for torpedo firing from the new nuclear attack submarines of the French fleet, with entry in service in 2017, while the rest will be for vertical launch from the A70 VLS cells on the FREMM frigates. The expected cost is 910 million euro, and done the math, the Tomahawk is a much, much cheaper option for the Royal Navy.
Of course, the A70 cells can also be used to embark Aster missiles, but it is a bit of a waste since these only need five meters deep cells (the A50 module) and not the full seven meters of the A70 VLS module.
Until SPEAR 5 eventually happens, the only use of A70 cells eventually fitted to Type 26 would be as launchers for the Scalp Naval: but there is no reason at all to justify the purchase of a more expensive, less capable “clone” of Tomahawk, establishing two separate logistic lines.

Adopting the MK41 Strike Lenght VLS used by the US Navy, instead, opens the door to the possible integration in the Type 26 combat system of a huge variety of weapons, including the full range of surface to air missiles employed by the Americans, plus Tomahawk, ASROC and, in a not distant future, the new LRASM anti-ship and strike missile.
Adopting the MK41 would, in my opinion, offer the greatest insurances for the future. As it is destined to remain the launcher of choice of the US Navy for many more decades, the MK41 won’t be short of support and will be the launcher for which the greatest number of weapon systems will be certified. The sole fact of being fully ready to employ the Tomahawk Block IV is an important consideration, as the TLAM has effectively become the weapon of choice in all military operations. The Royal Navy tried to secure funding for the addition of MK41 cells and vertical launch Tomahawks on the Type 45s already in the early 2000s: the attempt was unsuccessful back then, but there are good chances that it would be successful in a new try.

Gaining the capability to fire Tomahawks from surface ships as well as from submarines would mean having more platforms fully capable to influence events ashore, well inland. It would simplify planning, as it would be much easier to bring a launcher platform in the area of a crisis, and it would not tie a precious nuclear submarine into a “launch box”, a small area of sea where the SSN stations and waits for the order of launching a missile against targets ashore. In the future, the small, precious fleet of SSNs could be needed to cover many other tasks, so avoiding the limbo of the “launch box” would help meeting the other commitments.
There is also an important financial factor at play: an SSN is an expensive launch platform, which is not always necessary. Against an enemy with capabilities as limited as Libya’s, there was no real need to covertly deliver strike missiles from an undetectable submarine: a cheaper surface ship could have done the job almost as safely.
Again, the Tomahawk capsule for torpedo tube firing adds several hundred thousand dollars to the price of every single missile, compared to the Vertical launch variant used on ships from MK41 cells.

Strike Lenght cells aren't an easy fit: they go down into the ship for 7 to 9 meters, so they can't be fitted everywhere.
Lockheed Martin has introduced the very smart idea of the ExLS insert, which is an "adaptor" which can be slid into MK41 cells, with the electronics and canisters made for missiles not initially thought for MK41. An ExLS with quadpack is being validated for use with CAMM. The ExLS can also be used, in some cases, as a stand-along launching system. An ExLS Standalone with three CAMM cells is being jointly developed by LM and MBDA.

The first test ejection of a CAMM missile from a MK41 cell fitted with ExLS module.

Ultimately, Tomahawk has proven to be a highly useful, highly requested and highly useable conventional strike weapon. When TLAM was first purchased, specifically for use on submarines, the british armed forces didn’t think they would end up using it so much, so often. TLAM was almost conceived as a conventional arm of the policy of submarine-based deterrence, but operational experience has proven that it is far more than just that, as Dr. Lee Willett wrote in his essay “TLAM and british strategic thought”. The introduction of the Tactical Tomahawk, the Block IV, has only made the TLAM even more useable, and further improvements are being jointly developed by the US and the UK, including the Joint Multi-Effect Warhead System, which couples fragmentation effect with enhanced bunker-busting capability, making the missile capable to engage pretty much any kind of target. Importantly, TLAM is evolving to be able to engage even relocatable and moving targets, with Third Party In-Flight Retargeting capability already demonstrated, also during HMS Astute’s TLAM firing trials in the US.
There is every reason to consider an expansion in the number of Tomahawks available to the MOD (thought to remain at a total of around 60 to 65 rounds) and, critically, in the number of launch platforms. 

A Tomahawk is launched from a MK41 cell on a US Navy warship. Notice the blast of the rocket venting upwards and wooshing out of the opening in the middle of the launch module. CAMM removes this complexity by adopting the ingenious Cold Launch feature: a piston powered by compressed air ejects the missile and shoots it around 100 feet into the air before the Sea Ceptor's rocket ignites. CAMM, however, is an exception, not the rule: the other missiles need a VLS system, complete with the exhaust system.
The adoption of MK41 cells on Type 26 would be the solution. It would also be a reliable parachute for the Royal Navy, was something to happen with the development or procurement of SPEAR Capability 5: with the weapon potentially more than two decades away from entering service, I don’t think the RN can shape the new ships to be only focused on the hope of getting this particular European product. Was the program to die in future budget cuts, and the Royal Navy had fitted Sylver cells, the alternatives would be very few: the Navy would most likely end up having to fork out new money to try and adapt an American missile to the Sylver system.

Since MBDA and Lochkeed Martin are now collaborating to integrate European weapons in the MK41 launcher, starting with the Sea Ceptor missile, also known as CAMM, I believe there is every reason to go with the proven MK41. After signing an agreement last May, the two companies have very rapidly made tangible progress, and demonstrated in early September a first ejection sequence from an ExLS quadpack inserted in a MK41 cell.
Considering that the Type 26 design is still to be completed, and keeping in mind that SPEAR Cap 5 is many years away, there is all the time to make sure that the missile can fit into the MK41 cells when the day comes. This would ensure the best capability for the new frigate, both in the near term and in the long term.

Anti-ship capability: timeframes do not match

Tomahawk is a ready-to-go solution available to give the Type 26 a punch against land targets, from day one at entry in service, if the MOD will want and find the money for it. There is also the option of adapting the Fire Shadow loitering munition for vertical launch, MBDA says. Fire Shadow only has a range of some 150 km, but it can loiter over a target area for six to ten hours, sending imagery intelligence back to the ship and denying an area to the enemy by being ready to strike as soon as one shows up. It would be a great capability to have, although completely different in nature from the long-range reach offered by the cruise missile.
What about anti-ship capability in the fleet, though?

A new vertical-launch missile, especially if large enough to require strike length cells (which means tubes with a depth under deck that ranges between 7 and 9 meters, meaning some three deck levels) could never be fitted to the Type 23 frigates, which just do not have the space for such a VLS system.
If the missile is longer than around 5 meters, it won’t fit the Sylver A50 cells employed on the Type 45 destroyers, either, but the Type 45’s VLS silo has been built to a design and size values that make it possible to add a further 16 cells to the current 48, and all the cells (newly-fitted and existing ones) could be Strike Length if the need was identified.

The Harpoon currently in use is not a Vertical Launch missile. It can only be fired by the well known stacks of tube launchers employed on the Type 23s. The Royal Navy uses quadruple launchers, but the canister-launchers can also be stacked in couples, or even used singularly. The Type 45 destroyer has been built with space and fittings arrangements for mounting a couple of quadruple Harpoon launchers behind the Aster missile silos, and four of the six vessels will receive their fit of Harpoons in the next future, the MOD has confirmed.

Observation of the current Type 26 design, however, suggests that it is not possible to install the conventional stacks of canister launchers (used not just by Harpoon, but by the likes of Exocet, Otomat TESEO, PRBS-15 and Naval Strike Missile). Observing the images and the models showcased so far, there does not seem to be any adequate allocation of space for the installation of the launchers. On the Type 26, the typical locations in which such an installation normally happens (amidship between radar mast and funnel, or, in british style, behind the main gun/ VL missile silo) do not appear to be properly dimensioned and kept clear of obstacles. In particular, the space between the sensors mast and funnel does appear to be really too restricted. And effectively, the conventional launcher for anti-ship missiles was last seen in the very first concept pictures for Type 26: as the design progressed, they vanished.

The twin quadruple launchers commonly used by current-generation western anti-ship missiles were clearly shown on the very first Type 26 design. Soon, they vanished.

Today's Type 26 has changed a lot, and improved a lot.

The current arrangements of the ship's spaces and armament suggest that the Royal Navy wants to make the big step with the new frigate, moving entirely to vertical launch weaponry.

While the decision to move fully to vertical launch makes perfect sense, the Royal Navy is going to find itself in trouble because of timeframes that do not match.
The Type 26 frigate will, under current plans, begin to entry into service from around 2021, and will then replace, one for one, the Type 23s at a rhythm of roughly one per year all the way out to 2036.
With the Harpoon apparently incapable to move from the Type 23 retiring to the Type 26 entering in service in replacement, the number of royal navy ships fitted with an anti-surface capability will shrink dramatically from the third T23 onwards (assuming that the Harpoons removed from the first two Type 23s would move on to the last two Type 45 destroyers).
With the risk of having to wait until 2030 or 2035/36 before a new missile is inducted, the Type 26 could be without an anti-surface weapon for over a decade, and the Royal Navy could go down to as few as six or seven vessels fitted with such a capability, before a replacement comes with SPEAR Cap 5.


In theory, there are alternatives to a Type 26 without anti-ship capability for a decade. Going MK41 with the VLS cells would keep the door open for adoption of the LRASM, for example, which the US Navy is developing and trialing right now as a solution to its own Harpoon problem. The US Navy is, in many ways, are already in trouble for an acute shortage of anti-ship capability on its surface vessels. The old Harpoon is seen as increasingly outdated and ineffective against modern decoys and missile defences, and the number of ships fitted with it in the American fleet is much lower than one would think: attempts to develop a vertical launch Harpoon never went ahead, and the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers have not been fitted with Harpoon launchers ever since the Flight IIA production lot started.
The US Navy is, in many ways, in the situation that the Royal Navy seems doomed to experience in the 2020s, and is trying to take swift action with LRASM to remove this dangerous gap in capability.
The alarming fact is that the US Navy at least still has submarine-launched and air-launched Harpoon. The Royal Navy lost the first capability in 2003, and the second in 2009/10, when the Nimrod, last british air platform with a heavy anti-ship missile, was withdrawn from service.

Unfortunately, even the adoption of MK41 cells does not automatically remove the anti-ship missile problem: it is hard to imagine the Royal Navy having the money for a substantial investment in an interim anti-ship missile, while simultaneously having to keep spending on Harpoon and on the development of SPEAR Cap 5.
A large ship-launched anti-ship missile is an important capability, but a bit of a niche one, which hasn’t seen much use in the operations the RN has been a part of. Seeing how complex it is to get funding even for an expanded Tomahawk arsenal, despite it being used all the time, arguing for more investment for the anti-ship niche is likely to be a desperate, hopeless struggle.

One solution could come, once more, via Tomahawk. The solution could be the Maritime Interdiction Multimission capability proposal, also known as Multi Mission Tomahawk. The MMT would introduce a moving-target seeker and an upgraded data link to the Tomahawk Block IV, turning it into an hunter-killer weapon capable to locate and pursue moving targets including warships out at sea.
The MMT idea has been around since 2009, and has been briefly brought back in the spotlight in August 2012, when the US Navy and Raytheon were reported as “close” to going ahead with the development of an anti-ship capability package for the TLAM Block IV.

Early data for the “Maritime Interdiction” missile, released by the US Navy, assumed that the modified Block IV would be able to search for targets in an area of 30 square nautical miles, accounting for possible errors in the position of the target supplied by third-party directors and, of course, for the movement of the target at speeds of up to 30 knots. The range of the missile for such a complex anti-ship engagement would be around 500 nautical miles. The navigation system, the data link and seeker would have to be reinforced to ensure the missile can find its target even through jamming and decoys.  

The Multi-Mission Tomahawk was intended to be US Navy Interim Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare solution, but as of April 2013 the US Navy seems to have abandoned the Tomahawk Block IV conversion, while DARPA-funded work on the Lockheed Martin LRASM A (a weapon derived from the JASSM cruise missile) is ongoing, with a successful test on August 27 that involved launch from a B-1 bomber against a barge loaded with empty containers acting as target. The missile hit the containers as expected. Preliminary work to demonstrate launch from MK41 vertical cells was completed on September 4, and next year, LRASM should be fired twice from MK41 VLS cells, demonstrating its ship-launch capability. A submarine-launch variant could follow.

For the Royal Navy, a Tomahawk solution would have been easier to acquire, because it wouldn’t have been a total departure from established logistics and knowledge basis, and it would have fitted in the idea of expanding TLAM attack capability, as the missile retains full utility as a long range land strike weapon, indeed adding greater capabilities against complex, mobile targets.
The Tomahawk solution could still happen, though: the US Navy is still working on choosing its next move. LRASM could be chosen without a competition, but Raytheon and Boeing are ready with their own proposals if the pentagon decides to give a chance to other systems.

Sea Ceptor for everyone?

If the anti-ship segment of the RN capability is close to extinction, there is at least some relief in the Anti-Air missile arena. With an order placed for the production of CAMM Sea Ceptor missiles, the Royal Navy can now work to get it on all relevant platforms.
In March this year, a study should have been concluded, on the costs connected with eventual installation of Sea Ceptor on the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. There is no open-source evidence of the results of the study, nor can we realistically expect to see an investment made any time soon to fit the missile system, but it remains an option. The carriers are fitted with the Long Range Radar and with the Artisan 3D radar (Type 997 in RN service), both of which could feed targeting information to the missiles, which are, differently from Sea Wolf, fire-and-forget and would pursue their targets autonomously after being launched, with the aid of information relayed from the ship via secure Data Link.

The first platform that will get the Sea Ceptor in current planning is the Type 23 frigate. The first vessel should swap Sea Wolf for the new CAMM during a refit in 2016. The ship has not yet been identified. The work to be carried out will involve the removal of some five tons of Sea Wolf cabinets and old electronics, plus the two guidance radars, in exchange for a far more modern, smaller and lighter data link system.
The missile silo on the bow will be modified with the removal of the 32 Sea Wolf tubes and the installation of CAMM electronics. The Sea Ceptor missiles will be fitted in quadpacks into 12 sealed wells to protect the canisters from the sea water washing over the deck. The number of missiles carried will be boosted to a maximum of 48.  
On Type 23, the CAMM will be feed data on the targets by the Type 997 radar, which is due to replace the earlier Type 996 over the coming years, with HMS Iron Duke having received the first-of-class fit already.

The Sea Ceptor fit will then be physically moved out of the Type 23s as they are withdrawn from service, and installed on the new Type 26. The images and models shown so far about the new frigate show that the 48 air-defence missiles will be distributed in rows of 6 canister-launchers each, with four such rows arranged in the bow missile silo and a further four rows aft of the funnel mast.
The canister-launchers are weather-proof as they have been developed to be used (from around 2020) by the Army as replacement for the elderly Rapier, so they do not appear to have additional protection: on the Type 26, they are installed high enough in the superstructure to be protected by the sea spray without having to be sealed into enclosed wells like on the Type 23.
The Type 997 radar will also move on from T23 to T26.

Around 2016 there will also be the chance to transform a potential problem in an opportunity. The Royal Navy has decided that it will withdraw from service the Goalkeeper CIWS system, to standardize instead on the Phalanx (36 mounts + 5 new on order). This is due to the fact that the number of Goalkeeper mounts in the fleet by then will have fallen dramatically in number, due to HMS Illustrious bowing out in 2014 with her three mounts, leaving the sole Albion and Bulwark with a total of four mounts (although Albion’s ones have already been removed as she was put into reserve and mothballed).
In 2016 it is planned that the two LPDs will trade places in the fleet, with HMS Albion being refitted and regenerated to return into active service, while HMS Bulwark enters her own period of mothball (unless the SDSR, as I personally hope, allocates the 20 or so million a year needed to operate the second LPD as well).

The LPDs should both receive their Type 997 radar during the next refits, and they can be expected to be fitted with a couple of Phalanx CIWS in replacement of Goalkeeper.
The opportunity I see, however, is that of fitting the bow CIWS on top of the deckhouse, instead of on top of the small superstructure used by Goalkeeper. There might be some problem since the two manned GAM-BO1 20mm light guns for surface close defence are located up there as well, but it should not be an insurmountable issue. The GAM-BO1 are arguably well in need of being replaced by the DS30M remotely operated 30mm gun mounts being adopted throughout the fleet, as well.
Phalanx has no under-deck penetration, while the much larger Goalkeeper turret takes one deck of space. By removing Goalkeeper and relocating the frontal CIWS, the LPDs would have a little bit of precious free space on the bow for the fitting of CAMM missile cells.
This would of course have a cost, but it would massively increase the survivability of the LPDs against all kind of threats: the Royal Navy is fully aware of how vulnerable these large ships can be, especially when docked down for landing craft operations. Air attacks, swarm attacks with FIACs and missiles are all very serious threats, and CAMM would counter them all (the missile has a secondary anti-surface attack capability, good against fast and suicide attack boats).  

The LPD problem that could be an opportunity: replacing Goalkeeper

The small superstructure on the bow, currently occupied by Goalkeeper's under deck segment, offers precious space that could be used to fit CAMM cells.
Moving Phalanx on top of the deckhouse could be a problem because of the old GAM-BO1 gun mounts. Imagine doing this with a Phalanx mounts a few meters away, buzzing and taking aim and perhaps opening fire. The GAM-BO1 could and should really be replaced by the unmanned 30mm mounts as on the rest of the fleet

On the export front, there is some initial sign of interest from Italy. The Italian army will need to replace its Skyguard batteries in the near future, and CAMM is seen as an attractive option. MBDA Italy and MBDA UK could end up collaborating on the land variant of CAMM, with MBDA Italy looking at the command and targeting system, introducing elements of the SPADA 2000 air defence batteries. For sure, CAMM is a very interesting missile system, with a great potential and very good chances of gaining international success. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

News from DSEI 2013 - UPDATE

Type 26 frigate

The Type 26 design is progressing towards finalization, but there are nonetheless noticeable changes from what was showcased at Euronaval 2012: the most evident is change is the return of the Chinook-capable flight deck, which was a feature of the very first Type 26 design, but not of the 2012 variant, which instead had a shorter deck, limited to the Merlin. The larger flight deck comes with “wells” at the corners (again like in the very first design) to hide the docking equipment from the radar and to provide machine gun positions for self defence of the platform.

The return of the huge flight deck is not without consequences: the whole superstructure was moved ahead by a fair bit to accomodate a larger flight deck, and this means a more "cramped" bow. A raised protection to shield the VLS missile cells on the bow from the waves has in fact appeared, and the Strike Lenght cells have reduced in number, from 24 to 16.
If the large flight deck is a requirement on which the MOD is unwilling to make compromises, the price the pay is a reduction in VLS cells (and, but hopefully no, perhaps a reduction in the size of the mission bay too?). Frankly, while unpleasant, it is not that surprising. The Type 26 is no longer the 6 or 7000 tons leviathan once envisaged. It is only going to be some 3 to 4 meters longer than an italian FREMM, and it is supposed to displace up to one thousand tons less, while coming with a huge range (so lots of fuel), a 60 days logistic endurance and a mission bay for up to 11 containers or up to four 11.5 meter boats and a few containers, plus accommodation for some 190 people.
There is no space to spare, in other words. Fitting it all in 148 meters and 5400 tons is quite a big feat in itself.

BAE has released a fantastic new video which also shows us the very first official images of the boat area, showing the massive doors on the two sides, the four 11.5 meters boats, a storage module roughly equivalent to a couple of 20’ containers in the middle and “grabber” motion-stabilized cranes like those mounted on Type 45. The ones on Type 26, however, will obviously have different arms, different size and different lift capacity, all much greater than on the 45s.
A second, smaller opening in the port side of the ship is also visible, which might be an access point to the hangar and to the rest of the mission deck, but at the moment there are no details about it.

Another easily noticeable change is a modification in the arrangement of the CAMM missile cells in the funnel mast area. The number of cells (24) is unchanged, but they have been moved back towards the stern, to a position more “clean” of the funnel itself. 

The new images released by BAE, showing the current design

The changes are best seen in the model of the ship displayed at DSEI, which we can admire in the photos by Xav, up at Navy Recognition. So, go look right away:

Copyright Navy Recognition

The photos of the model on show at DSEI, by Navy Recognition, show the return of the Chinook-sized flight deck and the reduction in the number of the VLS Strike Lenght cells. Unchanged is the number of CAMM cells, 48 in total.
BAE Systems has chosen the first sub-contractors: Rolls Royce, as expected, is in to supply the MT30 gas turbine (1 per ship) and, together with Daimler as part of the TOGNUM joint venture, to provide the MTU diesel generators (4 per ship). The propulsion arrangement is confirmed as CODLOG.
David Brown Gear Systems Ltd will provide the gearbox and Rohde & Schwarz has been tapped for the integrated communications system:

BAE and the MOD are also planning to begin work on in-service support arrangements for the new frigate class before it is even built: significant economic efficiencies could be obtained by giving stone-like stability to the programme from the very start, ordering a full block of 13 sets of major subsystems and also agreeing a 10-year support deal. See:

There is growing foreign interest in the Type 26, too: talks are ongoing with 8 different countries, with combined requirements worth up to 30 vessels. Of course, it remains an uphill struggle for so many reasons, but I think it’s been a long time since a british warship has been so much at the center of international interest:

UPDATE: Navy Recognition has a video interview with Geoff Searle, program director for the Type 26. In the interview, he confirms that the Mission Bay can be used to embark "around 10 containers", or four large boats, but it could also be used to extend the capacity of the hangar to support embarkation of UAVs.
A less pleasant news, not really surprising, is that there is not yet a clear plan for arming the Strike Lenght cells of the Type 26. Tomahawk remains an obvious option, but replacing Harpoon with a vertical launch, multi-role missile will have to become a priority in coming years, if we want these warships to actually be capable of doing their job.

CAMM missile production order 
The MOD, in the meanwhile, has placed a 250 million contract to begin the production of the CAMM missile, which will arm the Type 23 frigates from 2016 as a replacement for Sea Wolf, and will then move on to the Type 26:

MBDA and Lochkeed Martin announce successful CAMM launch from MK41 cell

In record time, MBDA and Lochkeed Martin have made a successful CAMM launch from a MK41 VLS cell using the Extensible Launching System (ExLS)

MBDA's Tweet below: 
Announcing successful first missile launch from a MK41 launcher using ExLS

The ExLS launcher is built of lightweight composite structure attached with drop-in/snap-in connectors and mechanical interfaces as the existing canisters. The launcher features Open System Architecture and Open Software and Cell Based Electronics for rapid interface with the ship's combat management system.
This design enables the rapid deployment of completely assembled weapons and munitions, such as the Nulka, developed BAE Systems Australia, RAM Block II short range air defense missiles or Precision Attack Missiles (PAM), to augment traditional weapons designed for the VLS missions – such as the Standard SM-2 and 3 and Tomahawk, Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESS) and Anti-Submarine VL-ASROC weapon.
Computer graphic image of ExLS modules carrying: 4x NULKA countermeasure rounds, a NLOS-LS missile launch box and RAMBLK2. The ExLS is slotted inside normal MK41 VLS cells and allows the speedy integration of different missile systems with their own All-Up Round canisters. CAMM has now been demonstrated in a similar arrangement, with four missiles packed into a MK41 cell.

A stand-alone ExLS three-cell launcher for CAMM is being developed for ships too small to employ MK41 VLS systems, so MBDA and Lochkeed are both evidently convinced they are in for significant international interest.

There is still time to remove the "CAMM-only" missile cells from the bow silo of Type 26 frigates and replace with 16 more MK41 cells... If there is enough space (depth-wise, critically) in the Type 26 hull for doing it, adding sixteen more MK41 Strike lenght cells would be a dramatic improvement and increase in flexibility. 6 quad-packed cells could still take all of the planned 24 CAMM rounds, and still offer 10 more cells for other weapons, including Tomahawk.

A decision on the new Royal Navy's Medium Gun should be made next year

The MOD has received the two final offers, one by BAE / United Defense with the MK45 Mod 4 127/62 mm gun, and one by Oto Melara / Babcock with the 127/64 LW.
BAE's offer includes the Standard Guided Projectile; and Oto Melara counters with the VULCANO guided long range family of shells, along with the highly automated ammunition magazine.
For details of the guns and ammunition, see here:

Report by AviationWeek:

Planning for Carrier Enabled Power Projection 

The Royal Navy is finalizing new plans for the Air Wing packages for the new aircraft carriers, keeping in mind the (hopefully only initial) size of the F35 fleet and the need to integrate the LPH role in the tasks of the carrier.
This means coming up with a "Fleet Carrier" package which would include 24 F35B, 9 Merlin HM2 in ASW role and a further 4 or 5 in AEW role; as well as with a Littoral Maneuver / LHA package which would add to a squadron of F35Bs the support of Merlin HC4, Chinook, Wildcat and Apache helicopters.

This planning work affects the final organisation of the flight deck. Helicopter operations spots, once planned to be only in six huge areas will be rearranged to achieve up to 10 spots to aid the ability to launch a reinforced company of Marines (up to 250) in a single wave of medium helicopters (Merlin HC4).


Important contracts expected in the fighter jets arena 

Ministers at DSEI indicated that they expect to confirm the first large order for F35B jets for the first frontline squadron (617 Sqn RAF) in the coming months.

Always in the "coming months" they expect that a contract for the launch of actual AESA radar initiative for the Typhoon will be finally signed and announced.

In addition, minister Dunne downplayed the possibility of the UK adopting a split-type order of F35s jets, when quizzed about the speculated british interest for the F35A variant.

Typhoon AESA contract due in the coming months. Land-attack capability "must be there when Tornado is retired"

Much needed reassurances about Typhoon have been given by minister Dunne and by important RAF officers:

Speaking at the DSEI 2013 defence and security exhibition in London, Minister for Defence Equipment & Technology Philip Dunne - who is heading to a meeting of his counterparts from Germany, Italy and Spain on 13 September - described the E-Scan radar as the "essential prerequisite for successful export of Typhoon".

"We are working with our partners in four nations and the [industrial] consortium to button this down," said Dunne on 11 September. "I am confident we will achieve success and get a contract in a reasonable time frame, not many months from now."

Eurofighter executives had hoped to secure agreement of the formal launch of the Captor-E AESA radar - which is currently being developed by a consortium led by Selex Galileo, containing Cassidian and Indra - last year but the four Eurofighter partners could not agree on how to proceed. The UK has launched its own AESA radar demonstrator project with Selex Galileo, dubbed Bright Adder, as a fallback solution but it is now expected to be subsumed in the Captor-E project after it is formally launched.

RAF officers are relieved the deadlock and delay that had dogged the Typhoon AESA project is coming to an end, and hope the progress will open the way to further upgrades to the aircraft. This includes the integration of additional air-to-ground weapons and sensors on the Typhoon, beyond the existing suite of Raytheon Paveway multi-mode guided bombs and Rafael Litening III advanced targeting pod.

The RAF is simultaneously working to align its budget and plans for upgrading the Typhoon with the international Captor-E project. Speaking at DSEI on 10 September, Air Commodore Guy van der Berg, Assistant Chief of Staff Capability (Planning) at Headquarters RAF Air Command, said: "We are looking to make progress on the E-Scan radar in this planning round and will be briefing industry in the next financial year."

Air Commodore Gary Waterfall, commander Typhoon Force at RAF Coningsby, said that in an "unpredictable world" it was important that the Typhoon stays at the heart of the RAF.
"When the Panavia Tornado GR.4 retires at the end of the decade, the Typhoon has to be ready to replace the Tornado GR.4's capability. Typhoon needs the same capability as the Tornado GR.4 today," stated Air Cdre Waterfall.

"We don't have a fixed date [for additional capabilities to be integrated on Typhoon] to keep the programme as flexible and adaptable as possible. We are working hard to get the MBDA Storm Shadow [stand-off missile] and a smaller family of weapons with low collateral damage capabilities on Typhoon."

This later weapon is understood to be the MBDA Brimstone missile and the enhanced derivative, the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 Block 1 weapon (known as Brimstone 2). This is undergoing development and scheduled to enter service by the end of the year on the Tornado GR.4. It will then migrate to the Typhoon.

Is there a british army future for Warthog? 

Still some hope for British army’s Warthogs? STK believes there are,. But Viking, BV206 already used in those roles. BV206 does need a replacement, both in the British Army and with the Royal Marines. That's Warthog best chance. But will money be there?

James Fisher Defence presents new swimmer delivery vehicles for special forces

These new toys will sure have the eye of SEAL and Special Boat Service personnel:

Retaining ISTAR capability: Sentinel R1, Shadow R1, Reaper 

Chief Air Staff Andrew Pulford seems to be well aware of the critical importance of the ISTAR fleet the RAF has built up during the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. Along with air vice-marshal Stuart D. Atha, he has provided some very strong evidence of his intention to preserve and bring into core the various capabilities. Sentinel R1, Shadow R1 (a sixth airplane is on the way to entry in service) and Reaper are all capabilities that the RAF needs and wants. Holding on to them will be a big objective for the service. 

UPDATE: in order to secure funding for the Reaper, the RAF is considering whether it can meet the SCAVENGER requirement, while also studying the possibility of adapting the platform's sensors to make them useful for surface maritime surveillance, helping in closing the situational awareness gap left by the loss of Nimrod.  

Another option is to get the MOD and Treasury to agree on making Reaper an element of the long-term british presence in Afghanistan, to be known as Operation TORAL, at the end of the current HERRICK operations. If Reaper was ordered to stay in support of the ANA and of the british and allied presence in the Helmand province, UOR funding might continue. See the report by AviationWeek here:

Maritime Patrol Aircraft: sights set on the SDSR 2015

The lack of an MPA capability is recognized as the most serious gap in capability, and the SDSR 2015 must look at the issue and make choices.
If an MPA programme is launched by the SDSR, Seedcorn will be inglobated within the project to prepare the crews for the new platform, otherwise it will be terminated by 2016.

Multi-mission capability and role flexibility are seen as major requirements for the new platform:

Sentinel R1 offered as a maritime surveillance asset

Raytheon and the RAF are becoming "allies" in campaigning for software mods that would enable the Sentinel R1 radar to survey surface maritime targets, including very small, very hard to see objcts such as periscopes.
They are also campaigning to add more sensors (probably an electro-optic sensor turret, i'd guess) to "expand the capability of the airplane". But since the Sentinel R1 had to make do without the once-planned Air to Air refuelling probe because of weight issues, we can safely warn that weight growth margins are very tight.

In any case, there's no way to add ASW capability and the pylons for the employment of any kind of anti-sub torpedo and/or anti-ship missile, so the solution would be very, very limited.
This looks more like a way to secure long term funding for the Sentinel R1 than a genuine attempt to solve the MPA problem.

My readers know that my position is clear: Sentinel is precious and MUST be retained.
But it is not and will never be an MPA, and the RAF shouldn't sell it as such just to secure the funding, while leaving the Navy in trouble with the remaining gap in ASW long-range surveillance.

Anyway, report here, by Jane's 360:

Scan Eagle will take longer than expected

Despite being a Contractor-Owned and Contractor-Operated system, the Scan Eagle detachments procured as UOR for the Royal Navy will still require at least a small number of trained RN personnel, to provide a safety certification of contractor operations and, crucially, to analyze the data and picture coming in from the unmanned vehicle.
The Navy currently has almost no personnel at all experienced in UAV operations, and training even the small number needed is likely to require more than the six months once planned.
According to evidence provided by minister Robathan to the defence committee, Scan Eagle should enter service on the Bay-class LSD used as MCM mothership in the Gulf only by January 2014.

See report by AviationWeek on the manning challenge:

AgustaWestland concept for a RWUAS

AgustaWestland's stand shows a concept for a new Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System. The Royal Navy has a requirement for the future acquisition of a machine of this kind, and has signed a contract with AgustaWestland which will result in trials of the SW-4 SOLO optionally piloted helicopter on a Type 23 frigate in October 2014.
This concept art shows how a more mature RWUAS might look by around 2020, when the RN would like to acquire this capability. Report by AviationWeek:

Synthetic training call; next SDSR must resolve maritime patrol capability problem

Pulford also signals that next SDSR needs to take wise decisions regarding national ambition and, with it, decisions on restoring the invaluable Maritime Patrol Capability lost with Nimrod.
See: and:

More Foxhounds

The british army will get a further 24 Foxhound vehicles, bringing the total of machines on order to 400.

ACCOLADE decoy round development 

Image by THALES showing the firing trial at Salisbury Plain
THALES reports that good progress has been registered by the ACCOLADE joint UK-France programme for the development of a new ship-launched active radar decoy for protection against anti-ship missiles:

Unmanned minesweeping: moving towards MHPC

THALES and ASV have showcased their HALCYONE optionally-manned boat. This 11.5 meters craft, capable of speeds of roughly 30 knots, is meant to carry and/or tow mine-detection sonars. It can also be fitted with a launch and recovery system that can put into the water Unmanned Underwater Vehicles both for search and for disposal of mines. The HALCYONE shown at DSEI is coupled with SAAB Seaeye UUVs for the underwater search and identification of mines, and with the SAAB Hydra which is a multi-shot mine neutralization UUV.

The Hydra can neutralize up to three mines in a single mission, at the end of which it can be recovered and reloaded for a subsequent mission: a big improvement over the current Seafox C, which self-destructs in order to neutralize a mine, after the re-usable Seafox I round has found and identified them!

HALCYONE can also two combined influence sweep equipment. These capabilities make HALCYONE a perfect fit for the MOD requirement (dating back to 2005 in its first form!) to promive a stand-off replacement sweep capability to make up for the withdrawal from service of the combined sweep kit once part of the Hunt-class equipment. 

HALCYONE (top) and the SAAB Hydra
The MOD has earlier explored and trialed an unmanned boat with similar roles and capabilities, under a 2007 contract with ATLAS: the resulting craft, based on a Combat Support Boat, has been trialed since 2009 under the name Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology (FAST). 

FAST during a recent demonstration. Born to tow sweeping kit, FAST has evolved a lot, and here is fitted with a launch system for the SEAFOX disposal drone. Image by Mer et Marine

An old image showing the proposed modification for the Hunt minesweepers. Two FAST crafts would be carried, with a crane for launch and recovery. HALCYONE would most likely be carried in this same general arrangement.

HALCYONE, FAST, or a system closely related to them, is expected to be part of the MHPC solution planned to start entering service in 2018. The MOD plans to modify the current Hunt minesweepers with the capability to launch and recovery a couple of such unmanned surface vehicles, while wholly new vessels for the replacement of Hunt and Sandown minesweepers are not expected before 2028.

UPDATE: always at DSEI, ATLAS is indeed responding with the Remote Combined Influence Sweeping System (ARCIMS), a similar system, optionally manned, 11 meters long and with a declared speed higher than 4 knots. ARCIMS has already received an order for two crafts, by an as-yet unnamed customer.

ARCIMS, in a photo by Shepard

BAE 146 now is an air tanker too

BAE Systems announced that it is possible to convert the BAE 146 into a cheap tactical / training air tanker, equipping it with a centerline system in the fuselage for the deployment of one hose. BAE says that a lightweight boom could also be developed, on request.

The transferable fuel carried is, of course, far, far away from the well over 100 tons on a Voyager: 7000 kg of fuel can be passed on if only the standard fuel tanks are employed, rising to around 18.000 kg if additional tanks are installed in the cargo cabin.

The RAF has got two Bae 146 Mk3 now, in Quick Change configuration: they can be fitted with seats for troops, or used for the transport of pallets of cargo, or a combination of seats and cargo. They have been procured as UOR to support operations in Afghanistan, and as such, they currently can’t say to have a safe, certain future: they might be simply scrapped as soon as operations in Afghanistan end and UOR funding from the Treasury dries up.

The RAF has also a future problem at hand, however: replacing the C130 and tanker permanently based on the Falklands. Of course, deploying one Voyager and one A400 is a possible solution, but it looks quite expensive both in terms of money, logistics and sheer number of assets (the Falklands based assets would have to come from fleets of just 9 core tankers and just 22 transports, after all). Another possible solution would be two A400, with one AAR kit on one of the two, which would present some serious logistics advantages, but not really solve the problem of having too few assets of all types.

That’s where the Bae 146 MK3 might get a chance: if the range and transferable fuel capability of the BAE 146 are assessed as sufficient, there might be an interesting future post-afghanistan for the two MK3s, in the Falklands. See:

Support deal for Apache and Merlin engines

A new 6-year deal for the maintenance and support to the RTM322 engines powering Merlin and Apache helicopters in british service has been announced, promising 300 milion in savings compared to earlier deals:

Ceramic armor research and production in Wales

A new centre of excellence for research and production of ceramic armor is to begin operating in Newport, in southern Wales. It will be the largest centre of its type in Europe:

UPDATE: FRES SV progress and problems; Mobile Test Rig on show

The Mobile Test Rig is undergoing rigorous, demanding tests, and will have to demonstrate its worth and reliability before the six planned SV Family prototypes are produced and rolled out for testing.
Unfortunately, no news on whether the MOD did expand the "Block 1" family, as proposed in the Planning Round period, to include the Ambulance and Command Post variants (initially part of the Block 2 family of vehicles, that would only follow on later).
Army Recognition has the photos and the details:

Defense News is reporting that development has hit issues, including excess weight that will have to be shaved off the vehicle.

SELEX ES contracts

SELEX ES and ULTRA CSS will deliver thermal, day-night cameras for the Situational Awareness fit on Warrior CSP. The current contract is for 13 sets, to be used on the Warrior upgrade prototypes. SELEX will supply the Driver's Night Vision System 4 (DNVS4), while ULTRA CSS will deliver HUBE situational awareness day-night cameras that will be installed on the upgraded Warrior to provide 360° field of view around the vehicle, day and night.

SELEX ES has also been contracted for supporting the GSA8 gunfire direction system installed on the Type 23 frigates. This optical sensor turret includes the General Purpose Electro-Optics Director (GPEOD) which is used to direct the fire of the 4.5 inch MK8 Mod 1 main gun. The GPEOD is also used as a general purpose situational awareness day-night sensor.

Finally, SELEX ES will provide the Royal Navy with 18 Hawk - S medium-wave thermal imaging cameras that will replace the ALBATROSS sensor on part of the DS30M Automated Small Calibre Gun System turrets.
The Hawk-S is a new generation thermal imaging product, that will provide enhanced capability to the 30 mm gun mounts on some of the RN ships. It is fair to expect further orders in the future if the product proves its worth.

THALES provides demonstration of Generic Vehicle Architecture advantages

Thales has displayed a representative "pod" fitted with the basic GVA-compliant system used on British Army Foxhound, and demonstrated how easy it is to readily add and integrate additional capabilities, adding RWS, mast-mounted sensor, more powerful cameras for 360° Situational Awareness and other devices.
The GVA project of the british army is a major technological effort to ensure that new platform can be constantly upgaded and given new capabilites through life, while containing the time and expenses needed. See report:

C-Trunk unveils the THOR

This catamaran craft could be a contender in the race for supplying the Royal Marines with a Force Protection Craft, which will also replace a part of the LCVP Mk5 fleet.

THOR as demonstrated at DSEI, in a photo by

Kelvin Hughes showcases new SharpEye solutions

KH has made a major effort on showcasing new applications and solutions for the SharpEye navigation and surveillance radar. The Royal Navy has already selected this powerful radar for installation on the new MARS FT tankers, and is working to validate it as NASAR (Navigation and Surveillance Radar), for the future replacement of the Type 1007 navigation radar across the whole fleet.

SharpEye has been fitted to RFA Argus, where it has demonstrated its capability in controlling and directing helicopter operations as well. Another SharpEye set is being evaluated on board RFA Fort Victoria to specifically assess its capability in detecting FIAC-type surface threats.


Important news on CROWSNEST

While the Thales proposal remains the same (retaining CERBERUS mission system and Searchwater AEW radar), the Lochkeed Martin VIGILANCE offer is making progress, but does not yet include a firm choice on the radar. Lochkeed, in fact, has test-flown the Mission System and the pods destined to contain the radar antennas and IFF system on a Merlin HM2, but the Northrop Grumman AESA radar which was expected to be inside the pods was not there. Northrop's radar, a development of the AN/APG-80 radar (which might or might not include features of the AN/APG-81 radar used on the F35) remains a contender, but Lochkeed has not yet firmly decided which radar will be offered inside the pods.
The MOD, on its part, has ordered both Thales and LM to consider four different radars: Searchwater, the Northrop AESA, an unspecified Selex ES product and an ELTA radar.

The most welcome news is that the RN is working hard to try and obtain a significant speed up of the whole program. While Main Gate remains officially expected in 2017, the RN is hoping to revert the planned date back to 2014, with a system selection in 2015 and entry in service in 2018.
There would still be a capability gap of some two years in this way (the Sea King ASaC is to bow out of service in 2016), but the AEW skills of the current crews would be preserved and employed in the CROWSNEST development and validation, instead of being lost.
A Main Gate in 2017 would come too late to avoid the loss of precious AEW skills honed by years of operations, including in Afghanistan, unless a new Seedcorn initiative is developed, sending navy crews abroad, or at least on RAF Sentry aircrafts.

Report by AIN Online: