Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Aachen Treaty and Great Power Competition

First of all, a due premise: if it wasn’t already clear, I will warn that I am a convinced Atlanticist. I literally have a NATO star mosaic in the alleyway leading to the door of my home, designed by me and built by my ever skilled father, who has worked so much and for so long in his life to pick up an amazing breadth of abilities.

This week, at my new job at Rivista Italiana Difesa (Italian Defence Magazine, if you want a tentative translation), arguably the best defence-themed periodic in Italy and one with a long tradition, I’ve been reviewing an important geopolitics article titled “The return of Charles the Great?”, authored by an Italian defence commentator with decades of experience. He is most clearly not an Atlanticist, so we cooperate but also regularly disagree, even quite vehemently, since his opinion of the United States is about as moderate of that of Vladimir Putin himself.

For once, though, we are in complete agreement on what is the current direction of travel in Europe. The title of his article should already have given you a clue, and I’ll give you another by telling you that the recent Aachen Treaty is the key element at the center of the reasoning.
Of course, while we read the implications of the event almost in the exact same way, we do completely disagree on whether it is a good or a bad development. He thinks it is a good thing in an anti-american optic; I am horrified.

Another thing we do essentially agree upon, however, is the fact that there has been way too little talk about the Aachen Treaty, what it says and moreover on what it implies without saying it aloud.
While at first glance the Aachen Treaty provisions might sound just like “more of the same”, reaffirming things that have been already said in the past, there is every reason to take it very seriously.
Germany and France are aligning their policies, with defence front and centre, in new and far more ambitious ways. The closeness envisaged by the Treaty in economics and defence and foreign policy matters approaches the terms of a Confederation, and effectively impresses a whole new dynamic and speed to the maturation of an European project. Note that I use “an” European project and not “the” European project because the direction of travel taken by France and Germany actually goes so far past the current EU integration that it might end up finding resistance coming exactly through current EU organizations.

If you have followed the political debate in the last while you will not have missed the repeated claims that an European army is coming. Claims that now come from the like of Merkel and Macron themselves, although some Remain-inspired media continues to approach the issue as if it was fantasy and conspiracy theorism from this or that association. It can no longer be denied that things are moving, and that they are indeed accellerating. 
It might not be EU-wide for many years still, but the Aachen Treaty sure goes a long way towards forming one military force composed of France and Germany. Joint decision-making, joint meetings of ministries, a new joint council, and joint deployments are all part of the Treaty.

You should moreover not have missed the part about France “loaning” its seat at the UN Security Council to Germany. The issue has been reported almost as badly as the “EU Army” one, which is caught between the two extremes of the “absorption by stealth” and “it’s not true at all!”.
France might or might not let Germany sit in its seat for a while, but what France has promised to do is to campaign within the Security Council to obtain the addition of a new and permanent seat specifically for Germany.
While this is unlikely to succeed, it is an unequivocal signal that Germany thinks that its period of repentance for the past is over, and France agrees. It is actually pretty easy to imagine the current hopelessly confused political class in Britain giving support to the initiative just as a way to show that they really still side with Europe. 

You might not have heard about the musings coming from the Munich Security Conference about the role that France’s nuclear deterrent “should” play in “Europe”. Or at least, I’ll correct, in the context of the Aachen Treaty. This aspect gained even less air time on the media, and most of the comments were quick attempts to once more hide the evidence. 
France already tried to get Germany to pay some of the costs of its 'Force de Frappe', but in 2007 there weren’t the conditions for such a move. Not yet.
Now, however, Aachen goes a long way towards opening the door for such a development.
While the European Union is a superpower on paper but not in fact due to its inner divisions, a combination of Germany’s economic might and France’s nuclear deterrent is a major world power from the day one. When you hear all the speeches and comments about the new age of inter-state competition, you’ll better start counting in the France-Germany combination. 

You might not have heard in the generalist news about the renewed and stronger than ever push in Germany against NATO Nuclear Sharing, and against the presence of dual-key American B61-12 nuclear bombs in the country. But it is highly likely that you will hear about this more and more frequently in the future.
Germany has already started landing blows on Nuclear Sharing by arbitrarily excluding the F-35 from the race for the replacement of its remaining Tornado bombers. The F-35A is the intended carrier (together with the F-15E, but that is relevant only to the US) of the B61-12 bomb, with an integration programme already ongoing and other NATO Nuclear Sharing partners already on board.
Germany, on the other hand, is restricting its choices for the replacement of the Tornado to the Typhoon and Super Hornet, both aircraft with no nuclear strike capability and no defined path towards ever acquiring it.
Keeping the Super Hornet as candidate effectively means, with 99.9% certainty, that the “race” is a complete farce, and Typhoon it is. Germany has literally forced the head of its Air Force and a few other high officers to leave post over their publicly stated preference for the F-35, and this tells you something. Considerable political pressure was applied on Belgium as well NOT to chose the F-35, although in this case Germany and France were eventually rebuffed.
The Tornado was European-built and carries the B61, so there is no definitive reason why Germany couldn’t simply add B61-12 integration to the cost of its new Typhoons, but I’d be very, very surprised if the attempt to do this didn’t lead to protests over the cost and, right afterwards, to accusations against the US of making it “more complex and more expensive” than it should be, as a punishment for not purchasing the F-35. It’s really, really easy to see coming.

Ghedi air base: american nuclear bomb, Italian Tornado bomber. NATO Nuclear Sharing is a key component of Europe's security. 

And while Germany has formally sided with the US on the withdrawal from the INF treaty, it has also made clear that new American missile systems in Europe are not welcome, which is kind of a contradictory position to take. 

The disagreements on B61 and on the way ahead post INF are a perfect excuse for Germany and France to press on with their greater alignment. Germany might soon decide to pull out of Nuclear Sharing altogether, and that would be a huge blow to NATO and the obvious first step towards seeking refuge under France’s own nuclear umbrella. Which, naturally, the two countries will then try to present as Europe’s nuclear umbrella, seeking financial contributions from the other European countries as well.
It might take time, but this is the direction of travel. Whoever thinks that France has committed to giving Germany a seat at the UN Security Council virtually for free is either willfully blind or a complete fool.

The bilateral nature of Aachen means that it does not technically affect EU members, which on the other hand have no effective way to counter or influence it in any way. It is immediately clear, however, that this level of integration between Paris and Berlin is going to have immense consequences for the whole European Union. 
Italy, through Prime Minister Conte, has remarked that the new UN seat should, if ever created, go to the European Union as a whole and not to Germany, which is an eminently sensible observation to make, albeit complex to turn into reality. Naturally, his remark was played down, despite being arguably very pro-EU, because he is, of course, “the puppet of Salvini” and thus just another sovranist enemy.

Yes, the sovranists. The new enemy of the EU is Sovranism. Populism was an earlier phase, now the threat is sovranism. Because sovranism means that other countries will try to resist the de-facto instauration of an economic and military hegemony of France and Germany, united politically and economically and shielded by a credible, non-american nuclear umbrella. Sovranism is a reaction against external control and globalisation, and as such it is an obstacle. 

America, and not Russia, is the untrustworthy side for many in Europe. European and American media alike will tell you that it is because of president Trump, but this is, in good measure, a lie or, at best, an half-truth.
Trump is not the beginning of anti-american feelings in Europe, nor is he the end of them. He is a convenient figleaf, a perfect excuse to press on with the new global ambitions of Germany and France while throwing the blame on the Atlantic side.
It is not Trump that is abandoning Europe. He has actually reversed, at least partially, years of American drawdown in Europe, which Obama happily accelerated. He has been extremely tough on the INF breach. He has committed to more American troops in Europe and he keeps asking for a stronger NATO through investment from the European partners (he's been more vocal, but he is not the first to do so). He opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, too, which is in the interests of Russia and damages those of Ukraine.

And that is exactly the problem. He is doing too much. The truth, I fear, is that there are very strong currents of thought in Europe which were far happier when American troops were traveling towards CONUS, rather than coming from CONUS to Europe.
We know which side is co-funding Nord Stream 2 and holding hands with Putin. And it is not Trump.

And then there is Brexit. Brexit is the "mother of all sovranisms", the greatest-ever form of resistance against the constant expansion of centralised european powers. This makes it the supreme evil. And yet, on the other hand, Brexit brings the UK away from Veto powers in Europe, which are now one of the greatest problems that Germany and France face. The truth? Brexit is a blessing for France and Germany. 
Their hegemonic project in Europe is now free from a heavy anchor which was holding it back. And they have pretty much said as much, haven’t they? The UK’s constant prudence on European initiatives, especially in the field of defence, has been remarked more than once, in most rude form in the last few weeks. The "british friends" rethoric is incredibly hollow, and one of the most amazing things about Brexit is how many britons helplessly drink from that poisoned spring. 
There have actually been remarkably unfriendly accusations coming from Europe, and the side which has tried to put up walls is not led by London. The amazingly long time it took for Europe to begin reciprocating the promise of rights for british citizens on EU soil is plenty noticeable, yet the Remain side is strangely willing to let it all pass. For some, the EU seems to have turned into some sort of divinity. 

I get the feeling that many in the UK and the US, including most if not all the media, do not realize how much hostility there is in some quarters against America’s perceived control over Europe. And against the UK, historically seen as America’s agent within the European Union. I am amazed to see the naivety with which the issue is debated in the USA and in the UK.
You would be shocked to see the ferocity of the arguments and words used by my illustrious colleague in the article I’ve mentioned. But what you especially don’t seem to realize is that his thoughts are shared by many. Too many, perhaps. Sadly, for many the UK is still the "Perfidius Albion" of fascist memory.  

The UK and US have not yet awakened to the truth. This is NOT a reaction to Trump and Brexit. Trump and Brexit are welcome excuses that are being used to camouflage a sharp acceleration in plans to truly make Europe, or at least the Paris-Berlin core, an increasingly antagonist side to the US. Alignment is over. Disagreements are going to be far more frequent in the future.
When I see American media and commentators wondering if the alliance with Europe “can survive Trump”, I bitterly remark that the alliance has been changing and dying from well before Trump.
Going back to my colleague, he openly talks of NATO as a novel  Delian League, with the US playing the part of Athens and exploiting the alliance to control the other cities / European countries. Do you remember how the Delian League ended?
It is a sorry state of affairs, years in the making. And it is not going to heal easily. If at all. 
Regardless of whoever will be elected after Trump, it is indeed unlikely that things will ever go back to the way they were, simply because it is not an issue of Trump or no-Trump to start with.

The same is true of Brexit. Regardless of who is prime minister, regardless of Customs Union or not and regardless of how much London promises to do against Russia in the Baltic and in Norway, relationships with the new center of Europe will stay tense.
Nothing is ever universal, of course, but let me remark that there is a political current, Europe-wide, which is all too happy to have London’s veto out of the way. The feeling is that America’s “undercover agent” is now out of the room.
The use of inflammatory language over Gibraltar and many other controversies will remain in the long term, regardless of what the UK might do or say. The US and UK should both stop being so penitent about Trump and Brexit and realize that a new phase has begun. Great power competition it is, but China is not the only rival to be worried about. 
Germany-France are a rival. And the EU as a whole will be, if the new center can win over the resistences of the periphery.
The EU is a Superpower, economically. It isn’t a great power politically and militarily because it is still divided. But the new France – Germany alignment, on its own, and particularly if the nuclear deterrent situation goes as we imagine it, will generate a voice that will more often than not become the de-facto “european” position. Exactly as is happening with the new FCAS fighter jet, France and Germany are trying to “define the project” and then have “partners” tag along. In front of an essential "fait accompli", the Union will follow the hegemons. 
And as a major power with a major voice, it will increasingly speak against America and the UK. The sooner the anglosphere realizes this, the better.
If you can’t see what is happening, you are pretty blind. You can either be happy with it, like my colleague, or be worried by it, like me. But please, don’t pretend it isn’t happening! 

The next phase of the struggle internal to Europe is now officially between Germany-France and the periphery of Europe.
The periphery means Poland and in lesser measure the rest of East Europe, which are great NATO supporters as they do not trust (for very good reasons, if you ask me) France and Germany to be able and willing to defend them from Russia.
Poland has already said that it will gladly take those US troops, missiles and nukes that Germany would really like to be gone. Poland has even dared voicing support for the UK, too. Poland is sovranist. Poland is an obstacle.
The next few years might end up seeing Germany and France increasingly in disagreement with the US, increasingly hostile on the economic front, increasingly calling for European “autonomy” from the US, while still effectively defended by US troops, based in Poland. While still blaming the US for the fracture, in fact. Regardless of  what the president’s name will be. Just like now: shame Trump, but demand he does not leave Syria. Protest his every plan and request, but do not contemplate the option of using European soldiers to secure what is, in words at least, seen as a key security crisis right on Europe’s threshold.
Hegemony is an addicting thing: it is not likely that we will see a climbdown from Aachen. There will be disagreements and difficulties between Paris and Berlin (defence export is just one of many potential thorns on this rose), but the axis will hold because it is clearly advantageous for both countries.

The periphery also means Italy. It is not a case that the new “public enemy number 1” is now Sovranism. The greatest danger, specifically, is represented by sovranists with veto powers within the EU. Sovranists which might soon fill a great number of seats in the EU parliament after the elections of May. Sovranists that might turn the EU into a brake, rather than a tool in the hands of Paris and Berlin. 
Salvini is a sovranist: he does not quite advocate leaving the EU (not anymore, or perhaps not yet depending on how you look at it…), but he is certainly a source of resistance and opposition. And he is popular. He, and Italy, are the next big obstacle. Italy either has to be won over (and already years ago Paris tried by proposing a treaty to Italy which would have looked a bit like Aachen) or silenced in some ways. And make no mistake: the international media campaign against Salvini will keep getting more virulent. And Spread attacks against Italy will continue, too. They worked in 2011, after all, when the last Berlusconi government was effectively forced to resign and was replaced by unelected, appointed Mario Monti and the semi-elected leftist, europeist governments that followed.
The same left that went into the 2018 elections under “+ Europa” and “United States of Europe” banners, only to be savagely punished by the electorate.
Italy is in the Eurozone. It has joined the currency that was custom-tailored over Germany's needs. And because of it is greatly vulnerable. 
In the political battle for Italy, even Berlusconi has now resumed usefulness in the eyes of the EU: babysitted by Antonio Tajani, president of the EU Parliament, he is (so far unsuccessfully) trying to simultaneously ride on Salvini’s wake by formally siding with him in regional elections, while savagely opposing the government and sticking to an Europeist agenda. Berlusconi and the candidates of the Left all aspire to being the Italian Macron, defeating the evil sovranism / populism and climbing on a stage with blue flags waving and Europe's anthem blaring in place of the national anthem.

Don’t undervalue the role that Italy has to play, even unknowingly, in the next chapter of Europe’s history.
Regardless of what your misguided media like to tell you, Salvini is probably your most important ally in the next few years.
But you have to awaken from your self-defeatist, absurdly repentant “it’s all our fault” slumber.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A look at the Equipment Programme and an ear for the Secretary of State's speech

Equipment Programme 2017: Category A and B projects

The MOD has published a FOI answer in which it details the names of the projects of category A (value exceeding 400 million pounds) and B (from 100 million to 400). The list does not provide any additional detail, but even so it is simply invaluable to better understand the 10 Years Equipment Programme.

The fact that the MOD is fine with revealing this list if specifically asked to do so, but does not include anything comparable in the EP document itself, is extremely irritating, and it proves once again that there is no security reason whatsoever for publishing such a vague EP document. As I’ve fully embraced the cause of greater accountability and transparence by the MOD in the handling of the defence budget, I will remark that in the future it should no longer be necessary to use FOIs to get this level of information. It would be very helpful to include it in the EP document itself.

Getting to the document, in addition to the really big programmes that are well known and expected to figure, the list does contain a number of voices worth touching upon. 

Complex Weapons

There are several voices here that are of enormous interest. One is the Category A project unimaginatively named “Battlefield Weapon”. It is hard to guess what this is, exactly. With the JAVELIN anti-tank missile having a notional OSD of 2025, the development of a new, more multi-role missile for the infantry might well be what’s hiding under this name. The British Army also has (or had?) a requirement for a “Reusable Multi-Role Medium Range Shoulder Launcher (MRSLs)” to introduce into the platoon to increase anti-structure and anti-infantry firepower and, effectively, replace the outgoing 60mm mortar. The expected date for contract award has however passed months ago without a selection being announced. The contenders were (are?) the Carl Gustav, which is enjoying a major renaissance being selected by both US Army and USMC as new Squad weapon; and the C90 Reusable.
MRSL might be hiding behind “Battlefield Weapon” as well, in theory, but it is not likely, also because even an Army-wide purchase of Carl Gustav would still not get anywhere near the 400 million mark.

There is also a “Tactical Guided Munition – Indirect”, which appears as a voice both under Procurement and under Support. This could hide the decade-old requirement for a guided 155mm shell solution for the Royal Artillery’s AS90 howitzers.

We also have, however, “Land Precision Strike”, which, if I had to guess, would be related to the GMLRS rockets. Again, there is no way to tell for sure. These are both Category A procurement programmes, so we are talking about sizeable projects for new capability. It would be hugely beneficial for the Army to procure the new GMLRS “Alternative Warhead” which restores area-effects lost with the demise of traditional sub-munitions, but I’m not sure an area-effect weapon would fit very well within the project name.

Finally, we have the “Deep Fire Rocket System”, again a Category A project. To comment on this one we have to note that for well over a decade the Royal Artillery has wanted a long range weapon, namely the ATACMS large rocket for the M270B1 launchers. 
We must also go back to the end of last year, when 16 RA Bty went into suspended animation, but with a most unusual promise of a relatively swift return to active service to operate a new Deep Fires capability. In the occasion it was said:
 “There is a plan in the middle of the 2020s around 2024 when we develop a new capability for the British Army and enhance some of our deep fire capabilities as part of a divisional fires regiment.”

While there is no way to confirm it, it seems very likely that the British Army intends to procure the new missile that the US Army is developing to replace ATACMS, the Long Range Precision Strike munition for GMLRS launchers. The standing up of a new battery for it, however, suggests that the launcher vehicle might also be new, and it is relatively easy to imagine that the army might be thinking of the wheeled HIMARS launcher, which would complement the tracked, heavier (but with more rockets ready for launch) M270. This solution would deliver wheeled GMLRS capability for the Strike Brigades and introduce a 500 km precision strike capability (or maybe even more than that if the INF treaty collapses for good. The LRPF is a prime candidate for quick range extension in that case).

HIMARS and LRPF for the Royal Artillery in the early 2020s? 

Curiously, the integration of Meteor on the F-35 also appears in the “Complex Weapons” budget rather than in the “Combat Air” one, as happens instead for weapons integration on the Typhoon. This might be due to the fact that the missile is to receive a new set of “clipped” wings as part of the integration. It might also have to do with its further development (GaN AESA radar seeker) under the name “Joint New Air to Air Missile”, a bi-national programme with Japan. JNAAM does not appear in the FOI: it is either part of “LII (Lightning II) Meteor integration” or is too small a budget to enter in category A and B.

There is a “Next Generation SPEAR” voice as well, which is not readily identified. Brimstone 2 Capability Sustainment Progamme (also known as Brimstone 3), SPEAR Cap 3 and Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon are all listed separately, so this might revolve around the Paveway IV spiral development, or represent a whole new system.
In the Category B list it is worth noting two large purchases of Paveway IV bombs for arsenal replenishment: 1200 and 3500 bombs respectively.

There are also a “Javelin follow-on buy” voice, which might or might not include the purchase of the latest, multi-role Javelin F with improved blast-fragmentation effect for roles other than anti-tank.
The 4th Tranche of High Velocity Missiles (Starstreak) is also listed as Category B.
There is a Category A “Future Systems” which is as vague as it could be but no doubt covers all sort of studies.
The Storm Shadow Mid Life Refit is a Category A equipment support project. There is a “Future Ground Based Air Defence contingency” voice which is probably connected to FLAADS Land Ceptor (now Sky Sabre).
Complex Weapons budget includes also a “Medium Range Radar” voice which is probably ARTISAN. The inclusion of this and most of the Sea Ceptor costs in the Weapons budget explain why the Type 23 CSP appears so cheap.

Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon is quoted as two programmes: FLRDFC is (probably) the replacement for Storm Shadow, but the exact meaning of the horrible acronym is uncertain. FC/ASW FOSUW should be the Future Offensive anti-Surface Weapon, the replacement for Harpoon on ships.

Brimstone 2 CSP is worth a mention as this programme should deliver a "Brimstone 3" round which is expected to replace Hellfire on the British Army's Apache Block III helicopters in the 2020s. By then the US Army will be transitioning to JAGM, and while Hellfire will remain a plenty big player for many more years, it will become progressively harder to support as the main customer moves on to the new system. Brimstone, on the british side, is the obvious solution. Brimstone 3 is also offered to France for the TIGER attack helicopter modernisation, but it is pretty easy to imagine that Paris will go with a MMP development or some other non-british solution, especially since a british purchase of VBCI has well and truly gone with the wind. 
It would be very interesting if Brimstone 3 added a launch mode that sees the missile dropped before the rocket ignites: this modification would enable integration of the 3 inside the F-35's bays. Currently, Brimstone is rail launched so is not compatible with confined spaces... 


In the Land Sector the big disappointment is the disappearance of the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle which brings the issue of replacing FV432 in armoured formations back to square one. It had been present up to the 2016 edition. Not for the first time I’m left wondering how the “Armoured Infantry 2026” overarching programme is supposed to ever deliver full operational capability if the Warrior CSP is not supported by a replacement for FV432. If they are looking at having MIV covering the role, I can only repeat my suggestion: bin WCSP and put the new turret on MIV. It would be absurd to have, say, the mortar team in support to a battalion of Warriors traveling on a wheeled AFV larger and heavier than the IFV itself… 

MITER and NAV-P are both present, however. MITER is a large Category A programme which aims to unify, in the 2020s, the provisions of the current C Fleet, Protected Plant fleet and Mechanical Handling Fleet.
The C Fleet comprises of engineering, construction and plant equipment to enable manoeuvre, construction, logistics, force protection engineering and life support. It is currently provided under a Private Finance Initiative contract which will end in 2021. The current small protected construction plant fleet is owned by the MOD and is mainly the result of UORs. It is now supported by industry under a contract also ending in 2021. The Defence Mechanical Handling Equipment is currently almost entirely provided under the DMHE contract, ending in 2020. The equipment fleet, composed of pure Commercial Off The Shelf kit, is owned by the contractor and provided to MOD on a period lease basis. Under MITER, the future contractor will manage and sustain the combined construction and mechanical handling equipment fleet in the United Kingdom, on deployed operations and overseas environments.

The Non Articulated Vehicle Programme is the replacement of DROPS. In July 2018 the MOD ordered the conversion of 382 of its MAN SV HX-77 trucks to be converted into Enhanced Pallized Load Systems EPLS, including 33 winterised/waterproofed for Royal Marines operations. 40 deliveries are planned early this year with final deliveries by the end of march 2021. Around 180 had been procured earlier on. NAVP will build on this interim solution to hopefully finally complete the DROPS replacement.

One notable absence, not easily explained, is the Multi Role Vehicle - Protected voice. The Foreign Military Sale authorization for up to 2,747 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles is dated 10 July 2017, so the programme was definitely ongoing already. But, up to that point it might, for internal accounting reasons, have been reported as a smaller-budget project? After all, no MRV-P candidate, not even the JLTV, is still fully and definitively selected. 
JLTV should cover the Group 1 requirement, while Bushmaster and Eagle 6x6 are still battling it out for the Group 2 requirement for a larger vehicle (selection might take place this year). Group 3 should cover the Light Recovery Vehicle. 
The absence of MRVP from the list is curious, but not necessarily concerning. However, MRVP does seem a remarkably vulnerable programme which might well be delayed once again in the near future as far too many priorities battle over a far too tight budget. 

Worth a mention is the Category B project TYRO for the upgrade or replacement of BR90 equipment, both Close Support (Titan-launched scissor bridges) and General Support (the ABLE system.
The latest variant of contract notice published for TYRO – Close Support adds a new vehicle requirement: a Wheeled Close Support Launch Vehicle that must be able to launch the same bridges as operated by Titan.
As of today, the Close Support bridge does not have anything like this: the supporting vehicle is a Unipower trucks that carries spare bridges but is not meant to launch them.
Up to 36 Wheeled Close Support Launch Vehicles are requested, and the inclusion of “Close Support” is significant because, keeping pace with army doctrine and definitions, it requires a vehicle that can operate in the Direct Fire zone. In other words, something offering a decent level of protection, because it is expected that there will be a fight going on while launching the bridge.

Not just Tank Bridge Transporters anymore. Under TYRO, a wheeled close support launch vehicle is now requested. The number of ABLE General Support bridges, on the other hand, shrinks to compensate. 

It is pretty evident that such a vehicle would deliver greatly enhanced bridging support to the Strike Brigades when compared to the Rapidly Emplaced Bridge System (REBS) which spans a smaller gap, is launched by a lightly protected MAN SV EPLS and has a Military Load Class limited to 50.
TYRO requests that all bridge elements are certified at least for MLC 100 (Tracked), which means that pretty much everything has to be able to cross.

There is no Project TRITON in sight yet, but it might just be because of timelines. The TRITON project for the procurement by 2027 of a replacement for the M3 rigs for Wide Wet Gap Crossing has been unveiled in late 2018 in the new Army’s newsletter. It probably hadn’t been firmed up yet in the 2017 plan.


ISTAR big projects are dominated by communications, and in particular Future Beyond Line of Sight, or SKYNET 6, the successor to the current constellation of comms satellites. As is know, a first “transitional” satellite, SKYNET 6A, has been ordered in summer 2017.

Many of the other voices are part of the Land Environment Tactical Communication Information Systems mega-programme for the renewal of comms at pretty much all levels. FALCON 2 EXPLOIT and EVOLVE both figure in the Category A programmes, and it is meant to expand on the capabilities of the current FALCON, which is the deployable High Bandwidth Backbone Network for the joint force, and primarily for the army.

Importantly, Dismounted Situational Awareness appears as a Cat A programme. It is part of the MORPHEUS communication system (data and voice radios and display for situational awareness) meant to progressively replace BOWMAN.

PICASSO also figures, and in this case we are talking of the national capability for strategic Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and GEOInt, which provides commanders with information obtained from the analysis of date coming from national and multi-national collectors.

The Increment 1 and 2 of the Aliied Systems for GEOINT (AGS) are also included.

Combat Air

The elephant in the room, due to the current uncertainty surrounding it, is the UK-France Future Combat Air System, aka the UCAV for the 2030s. If we believe the press reports, France was ready to progress into a funded Demonstration phase and proceed with the building of prototypes, but the UK has refused to commit funding to that. Whether the programme survives, and in which form, is currently hard to say.

Then we have, of course, the national FCAS, better known in public as Project TEMPEST. Connected to it is also project PYRAMID, which is meant to develop the solutions for the MOD’s Mission System Reference Architecture for future Air Systems.

Worth of mention is Typhoon RADAR 1, a category A project meant to deliver a workable AESA radar for Typhoon Tranche 3 (and hopefully Tranche 2 too). The radar 1, or R1, is the baseline AESA in development for the consortium, but the UK’s intention is to eventually use a more ambitious R2 standard, with Electronic Warfare capability. R2 does not appear in the list, but this might simply be because the additional investment so far authorized over and above R1 funding does not yet qualify into Cat B. Some 60 millions were given to BAE Systems. A more recent version of the list might or might not display R2 since the Secretary of State for defence, speaking at RUSI on February 11, mentioned that the Transformation Fund includes another 60 million for the Typhoon radar. The 100 million mark, in other words, might now have been passed.

One notable Cat A project is the Watchkeeper Mid Life Update. Given the pricetag, it should include some serious improvements and additions. The Army has finally declared Full Operational Capability for Watchkeeper, but it is actually still struggling to secure the certifications needed to operate it from Boscombe Down as intended. Training on Salisbury Plain, in non-segregated air space, was the big promise of Watchkeeper and on this one point there isn't yet a happy ending. 

Air Support 

One surprising absence is ASDOT, which should more than qualify as Category A. It might, however, have been included into the rather incomprehensible “DCS+S - DOTC-A- Core System + Services”, which stands for Defence Operational Training Capability – Air. Its core component is the development of a Common Synthetic Environment that enables the connectivity between different simulators, in different locations, to enable articulate, large-scale simulations.

Another byzantine acronym is MSHATF PFI, but this is the well known 40-years Private Financing Initiative with CAE for the delivery of the Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility in RAF Benson.

The Sentry CSP makes an appearance, but as we know the MOD’s preferred approach is not so much a Capability Sustainment Programme anymore, but rather replacement with new build E-7 Wedgetail.

Sentinel R1 capability and its “project team” are both Cat A programmes. Its mid-life update, with the addition of maritime radar mode and other upgrades, might be the explanation.

The Secretary of State for defence’s speech at RUSI

While it is clear that the uncertainty around the budget has not gone away, the Secretary’s speech should be welcomed as it signals that the armed forces have finally found a champion who truly has a vision for the UK’s role in the world.
For one, I was particularly pleased with it because it attempts to change a narrative of decline into a rather happier one in which the armed forces return to the center of the UK’s visibility in the world. I was of course particularly happy also because, in the last few months, defence policy has been heading in a direction which I had identified years ago and for which I’ve been campaigning as relentlessly as I could, while admittedly having a lot less time for blogging than in the past.

I was incredibly pleased to see the removal from service of the River Batch 1s being pushed to the right. My readers will known that ever since the River Batch 2s were ordered earlier than necessary, I’ve been saying that the only way to make them into a genuinely good story was to also keep in service the earlier ships. While at the moment it is a short-term promise only (a couple of years), the Royal Navy has confirmed that it will try to man them with the help of the Reserve, and if the scheme can be made to work successfully it will prove to be a massive force-multiplier. I believe that there are good chances that the three vessels will stay into service well beyond the next two years if the experiment is successful. In turn, this will allow some of the newer Batch 2 to be employed in constabulary tasks far away from home. You might have noticed that, following the experimental deployments of two River Batch 1s in the Caribbean in the last couple of years, the North Atlantic Patrol tasking is regularly quoted as part of the Batch 2’s missions. This is all the more likely to become routine if the Secretary’s “ambition” of restoring a more permanent and sizeable presence (or a “base”, even) in the Caribbean is realized.

The other massively welcome development, which I’ve also auspicated for a very long time, is the announcement of two “Littoral Strike Ships”. The image released on Twitter by the 1st Sea Lord is virtually identical to the American MV Ocean Trader, and so very, very similar to my proposal for aconverted Point-class RoRo vessel. However, at this stage the programme is still in concept phase and the exact look of the ship, as well as the decision for whether it will be newly built or perhaps converted from an existing vessel, is still up in the air.
While the announcement came a little “out of the blue” after months of gloomy reports of cuts, it was actually in the air from a while. Back in 2017, Jane’s reported that a concept study for a Multi Role Support Ship had been launched, to firm up options for a vessel with utility for amphibious, forward repair, and medical capability work.
More recently, during a hearing in front of the Defence Committee, the MOD’s deputy chief of staff for Military Capability, Lieutenant General Sir Mark William Poffley, said that a new programme for “support ships” was being considered for launch ahead of the Solid Support Ships, something i discussed in depth here.
Finally, reports emerged of two “hospital ships” to be jointly funded with DFID.
The Secretary’s speech, most evidently, is just the culmination of a quiet but determined campaign which has been progressing within the MOD for at least a couple of years.

It is pretty likely that these new vessels will cost the Navy the “optional” third Fleet Solid Support ship, but this is not a bad trade-off. Two supply vessels are enough to support the single large task group that the Royal Navy is able to generate, while these two new vessels will greatly help in a number of areas which would otherwise be very problematic. The loss of RFA Diligence without replacement, the lack of a realistic plan for replacing RFA Argus in 2024 and the fact that up to two thirds of the Landing Ship Dock hulls are actually unavailable for amphibious operations at any one time are 3 major concerns which I’ve been highlighting constantly over the years.

The Littoral Strike Ship's first concept art as posted by the 1st Sea Lord on Twitter. The MV Ocean Trader vibes are evident. 

All the way back in 2016 i made my very own "mad" suggestion for something similar to the MV Ocean Trader, but a bit more ambitious and even more flexible. If the Littoral Strike Ship was newly built rather than a conversion of an existing ship, it would not be impossible to incorporate all of these changes. 

The name “Littoral Strike Ships” is kind of misleading, as we are most likely looking at something which will be done on the cheap and will thus not be quite adequate for the more “fighty” operations that “strike” suggests. Multi Role Support Ship, while far less pyrotechnic, is probably still the best definition for these units.
The “new” Littoral Strike Groups announced by the Secretary, in fact, might not be based on the new ships, but rather on the existing Bay-class LSDs that these new hulls might end up releasing from the Caribbean and the Gulf respectively.
The Littoral Strike Groups will, realistically, be the continuation of the semi-experimental “Special Purpose Task Groups” that the Royal Marines have been sending out at sea in the last couple of years. These formations, normally of Company-group size and embarked on a single amphibious vessel, have been sent all the way to Pacific (HMS Albion’s tour of last year) and have repeatedly traveled in and out of Mediterranean and Indian Ocean (RFA Lyme Bay, most recently). The Littoral Strike Group should be a more capable evolution of the SPTG, hopefully enabled by the availability of extra supports, including escort vessels.
The new Littoral Strike Group will probably embark significant amounts of Marines and is likely to beat the Bay-class in aviation facilities (the MV Ocean Trader used as example has a two-bays hangar for medium helicopters and a two-spot flight deck that can take anything up to the gigantic CH-53), but is unlikely to have a dock in the stern. It will still be plenty useful, however, and if a RoRo / container ship hull is used, it will have enormous utility as additional strategic sealift.
With the right people and modular facilities on board it could also do decently as a Forward Repair and Support vessel, and it could be able to replace Argus in the medical role if able to embark a modular Role 3 hospital, for which the Navy could work alongside the Army for maximum efficiency.

The MV Ocean Trader, ex MV Cragside, after being modified for use by the US forces 

MV Cragside undergoing her transformation in Mobile, Alabama

The announcement of a RAF Squadron equipped with Swarming Drones is also a welcome development. The mention of this by the Secretary fueled a lot of comments, especially since he made it sound like the whole system would be ready by the end of the year. The MOD has subsequently clarified that it Is more a three years effort, and at the moment we can only speculate on the final form that this capability will take. The “end of 2019” mentioned by the Secretary might actually be for the formation of the squadron, which I figure could well start out as an experimental unit, much like the Fleet Air Arm’s own 700X NAS.
At the moment it is impossible to say if the LANCA (Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft) low-cost UCAV, which was sought last year in a call for proposals to industry, is part of this effort or a parallel development.
The UK, however, was already experimenting with unmanned loyal wingmen back in 2008, when a modified Tornado took control, in flight, of a BAC 1-11 modified to serve as UAV; plus 3 other simulated unmanned aircraft. There clearly has been an interest in the capability for many years, and this fits into the wider campaign of experimentation ran by UK industry, which includes of course TARANIS, but also the very interesting BAE MAGMA which replaces flaps, ailerons and other moving surfaces with blown air taken from the engine. In other words, there are the capabilities to put together some good capability.
The result might be something like the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie intended to be used as part of the Low-Cost, Attritable Strike Unmanned Air System Demonstration for the USAF.
It will also be a step forwards on the way to unmanned companions for FCAS / TEMPEST. Replying to a House of Lords written question by Lord West on 14 february, Earl Howe wrote that “the combat air acquisition programme is looking at the replacement of Typhoon's capabilities and any new combat air system will need to be interoperable with the Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) programme. The concept phase of the acquisition programme will consider QEC basing for any unmanned force multipliers which may form part of the future combat air system.”
This reads as if the TEMPEST will not be carrier-capable (sadly, not a surprise and one of the reasons why the lack of catapults on the QE class remains regrettable) but the unmanned part of the future combat air system might be. This is very interesting, but it’s very early days and I’m somewhat skeptical still.

Williamson also mentioned a non-specified “VENOM kinetic strike capability” which is meant to give an attack capability to “ISTAR platforms”. UK Defence Journal says that, according to MOD sources, the platforms in question are the C-130J and the SHADOW R1 (soon to be R2 after the ongoing mid-life update programme).
The C-130J is not properly an ISTAR platform, but like the SHADOW R1 is commonly used in support to the Special Forces and there are several good options readily available for its armament.
It has now been confirmed that at least one C5 short-fuselage C-130 is being retained as part of the 14 that the RAF is going to keep in the long term. This is important because the tanking kit has only ever been installed on short-fuselage C-130s and might not be adaptable to the stretched ones. The HARVEST HAWK kit has been developed to equip short C-130s in tanker configuration (KC-130J). 

HARVEST HAWK originally swapped out one Air Refueling pod and replaced it with a quadruple launcher for Hellfire missiles. In addition, a palletized console is embarked into the cargo bay and a 10-cell launcher for GRIFFIN lightweight missiles was installed on the ramp. A TSS EO/IR turret is provided thanks to a modified external fuel tank. 

HARVEST HAWK evolution is continuing, however, and the USMC is replacing the TSS with a MX-20 EO/IR turret mounted under the nose, to restore the full fuel load. Moreover, with the Outer Wing Station 430 modification (OWS430), by 2020 they will have added two additional underwing pylons, doubling the capacity for externally-carried missiles while allowing the return of the Air Refueling pod. The new and improved HARVEST HAWK will restore 100% of its tanking potential while doubling its fire power at the same time. 
The missile launcher on the cargo ramp has been replaced by an enclosed launcher in a modified side door ("Derringer Door") which enables the launch of the missiles without requiring decompression and ramp opening. That also ensures that cargo capability is retained and requires less preparations before a mission. 
The USMC is also integrating the INTREPID TIGER II Electronic Warfare pod, while Hellfire will be replaced by JAGM. 

The RAF has only activated two pylons on its C-130J-30s so far, adding external fuel tanks to them in the last few years. 

In an ideal world, at least a second C5 should be retained and HARVEST HAWK kits, including AAR capability, should be procured for the pair. That would deliver a great firepower boost while also introducing in service a couple of tankers able to refuel helicopters. The Merlin HC4 is AAR capable and the Commando Helicopter Force wants to tap into that latent capability since extra range would obviously help a lot in all missions, including Joint Personnel Recovery.

Harvest Hawk in its original configuration. The 30mm gun pallet is on hold. 

The Special Forces are also known to want the capability, ideally on CHINOOK, and the SDSR 2015, in theory, promised them “longer range helicopters”.
Putting a couple of pylons and lightweight munitions such as MBDA’s VIPER-E on SHADOW R1 wouldn’t be difficult, either. But if I was in a position to make the choice, my priority would definitely be converting two C5 into KC-130Js and getting a pair of HARVEST HAWK kits for them at the same time.

PROTECTOR deserves a mention too, because we have recently been given the first official indication that maritime patrol capability could feature in the intended second batch (16 are on order, but there are 10 options as well and the stated intention remains to get to “at least 20”). Leonardo has showcased its SEASPRAY radar, which is ready for adoption on the centerline pylon (PROTECTOR will have 9 pylons overall, up from 5 on REAPER, or 7 counting the low-payload external ones, which in practice have never been used so far but would be good for, say, Sidewinder / ASRAAM). ULTRA is continuing work on its ASW sonobuoy-dispensing pods.
It is now contractually confirmed that PROTECTOR will be armed with Brimstone and Paveway IV and fitted with the Due Regard Radar, which was initially only going to be Fitted For But Not With. On the other hand, deliveries will happen later, and entry in service will arrive in 2023 rather than 2021, while the RAF is in the process of “decommissioning” one of its 10 Reapers. A curious development, might be because the UAV has suffered damage that is deemed not worthy to try and repair.

In his speech, Williamson briefly touched on the issue of Warrior upgrades, indirectly confirming that WCSP is going ahead. 2017 and 2018 have been tough and unpleasant years for the programme, which was called into serious question over the big delays accumulated (entry in service now to start in 2023 when it had once been 2018, then 2020…), but the ongoing trials at Bovington seem to have been positive enough that cancellation is no longer a possibility.  

A remotely operated, unmanned TERRIER was used to breach anti-tank obstacles during a demonstration ran by the US Army which also included unmanned M113s laying smoke to cover the action. The US Army is already seeking an Optionally Manned IFV for replacing Bradley. 

Also for the army, the Secretary remarked that he supports the fielding not just of unmanned logistic support vehicles, which have so far gotten most of the attention, but unmanned combat vehicles too.
At the latest AWE event, a WarriorIFV was converted into a remotely operated combat vehicle and I thinkt the demonstration opens up interesting possibilities. If I had to put my money on something in this area, it would be on surplus CRV(T) Scimitar to be converted in unmanned combat vehicles. Their insufficient protection would no longer be quite as concerning, while their awesome strategic and all-terrain mobility, as well as air mobility, would make them incredibly flexible in support of manned AFVs and infantry alike. The RARDEN is not a good weapon for an unmanned vehicle due to manual reloading and lack of stabilization, but there a few good options out there for replacing the turret and introduce an autocannon+missile combination that would be enormously capable.

Jordan's KADDB's proposal for upgunning CRV(T). Add remote control. The first British Army unmanned companion for much larger and less deployable manned AFVs? 

The Secretary also announced that funding will go towards equipping all infantry (including Royal Marines and RAF Regiment) with advanced night vision equipment which so far was reserved to Special Forces. This follows on similar decisions in the US and will go a long way in ensuring the Army can truly own the night. It could be argued that night vision is a major asymmetrical advantage over non-peer enemies, but that so far it hasn’t been exploited as much as it should have been. 

Some growth

In the coming months, 23 Amphibious Engineer Troop, in Germany, will be growing into a Squadron. Mothballed M3 rigs are being reactivated and the new ORBAT is being defined. With its M3 rigs, it will remain forward based in Germany, alongside its german counterpart and well positioned to continue training on the river Weser.

M3 rigs, british and german, in action during NATO exercises

This is also the year of the return of 28 Royal Engineer Regiment as a joint C-CBRN regiment is reformed after the idiotic SDSR 2010 cut. 28 RE Regt will take under command 77 Field Squadron, ex armoured squadron, which was part of 35 RE Regt until this converted into an EOD unit.
FALCON Sqn Royal Tank Regiment, with its FUCHS reconnaissance vehicles, will join the regiment in July.
27 Squadron RAF Regiment, the current CBRN specialist, will also join the new unit; 64 Headquarters & Support Squadron will form up this year and 42 Field Squadron will be re-established in 2020. There are also tentative plans for a reserve squadron to follow in 2022.

The Brigade of Gurkhas in particular is growing quickly to fill some gaps and help with the manpower deficit. This too is a U-turn on disastrous 2010 and 2011 choices. The Gurkhas now man Gurkha Company (Tavoleto) in its role of Training Support Company, part of the Specialist Weapons School at the Land Warfare Centre in Warminster.
Moreover, the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment is growing and two additional Gurkha sqns are appearing, one within 9 RLC Regt and one within 4 RLC Regt.
The Queen’s Gurkha Signals are growing by two squadrons as well, with 247 Sqn within 16 Signal Regt and 249 Sqn within 3 Divisional Signal Regiment.
The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers could also see growth in the near future. They have taken up significant roles within the ARRC support battalion, beginning in 2014 with the Close Support Troop and Engineer element.