Thursday, July 31, 2008

Orbital Spaceplane test flight

Boeing and the USAF are preparing for the first test flight of an unmanned military space plane. The X-37B should lift off atop an Atlas V in November from Cape Canaveral and hopefully land in one piece a little later in a runway landing at Edwards AFB in California. The flight will test the operational concept of this type of reusable multi-mission space vehicle which has been in development for a long time though the X-37B is just a test plane and an operational type could be quite different.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Navy to plug troop gaps in Afghanistan

1000 Royal Navy personnel will be assigned to Helmand province in Afghanistan to help fight Terry later in the year. It will be the largest land deployment of RN personnel in 50 years and shows how stretched our armed forces have become as the naval ratings fill gaps in the 8000 strong force (3 Commando Brigade) being deployed in September. The RN personnel will serve as drivers, medics, radio operators and other roles and have been training for the 6 month tour in the UK though some training has been hampered by a lack of equipment. Still i suppose with Labour abolishing the fleet the sailors need something to do.

Teachers back cadet forces in schools

Teachers from the union Voice have backed the setting up of cadet forces in state schools to "improve discipline". The motion to back them was made at their conference today. The cadet forces are sponsored by the MOD to train children in first aid and military skills though there isn't a chance the cadets can be called up to fight. No doubt the MOD hope and expect quite a lot would consider a career in the armed forces of course. 130,000 school children are cadets in the UK.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sergeant cleared of stealing from SAS

A Finance Sergeant has been cleared by a military court of stealing money from the SAS (surely foolhardy to the extreme?) Staff Sergeant Mark McKay was found not guilty of stealing US$200,000 from the 22 Special Air Service based in Hereford. McKay claimed the money, found hidden in a plant pot, was part of his takings from running a shop for troops at a base he served at in the Gulf in 2003. McKay said the money was hidden in a plant pot to keep it hidden from his wife with whom he was breaking up with at the time. McKay, who now is set to be promoted to Sergeant Major, said he was ashamed though of making so much money from his comrades through selling beer and viagra.

A400M could be (further) delayed by engine troubles

Two engine problems during ground trials could further delay the Airbus A400M military transport which is due to make it's maiden flight in October, a deadline now described as "tight". Water ingestion and gearbox problems have occurred during the trials of the Europrop International TP400-D6 turboprop. Analysis of the problems needs to be carried before before it is known if the first flight need be delayed. Flight testing of the engine aboard a C-130 is also due to begin before the end of July... well they still have a few days yet.

Cornwall commander moved or removed?

Commander Jeremy Woods, captain of the frigate HMS Cornwall which last year was at the centre of an embarrassing international incident when 15 of the frigate's sailors and marines were captured by the Iranians, has been removed from command. He has been moved "to a post where his talents and experience can be used to best effect" in fact, whatever that means. Whether his reappointment is due to the incident or not is unknown, of course the MOD are denying it and the media will no doubt try their best to link the two. Cornwall is currently involved in sea training and will have a new commander appointed soon.

Iron Duke busts suspected drug smugglers

A helicopter from Type 23 frigate HMS Iron Duke, which Prince William is serving on, has stopped a speed boat in the Caribbean that was suspected as being involved with drug smuggling. The frigate's Lynx helicopter opened fire on the boat to stop it running away after it ignored signals to stop. The three crew members were taken on board the Iron Duke after the speed boat had been disabled by the Royal Marines on the Lynx. Cocaine was found on the men who were transferred to the Colombian authorities. Firing at speedboats from a helicopter in the Caribbean? And they are getting paid for it too!

Zimbabwe army near collapse

The Zimbabwe army is said to be near collapse with impoverished soldiers with poor equipment that is falling apart. No i said Zimbabwe not Britain! The economic collapse of the country is impoverishing it's army so does that have implications for Mugabe as he is being propped up by the powerful Generals? They are rich however while the lowly foot soldiers earn less than £13 a month and miminal food. Their equipment like boots, the cheapest Chinese available, fall apart in days. Ammo is in such short supply that new recruits arn't training on the firing range. Unfortunately the state of the army is said to not mean Mugabe is about to be removed as most soldiers would rather desert or leave than revolt.

So another low is reached, last week it was reported Zimbabwe couldn't even print any more of it's largely worthless currency as it had run out of the paper (and probably ran out of space for the zeroes). But when you think that poor country has reached the lowest point and can't get any worse unfortunately it seems to do just that.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Full cost of Astute concealed

The full cost of the RN's new Astute class SSN has been concealed by switching £227 million to a separate contract for the next generation of SSBNs. This is part of £1 billion switched between contracts unearthed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to disguise their true costs for an MOD struggling to afford them. All in all the forecast cost of the biggest military procurement projects is up 11% on the original price tags. As for the Astute "switch" the explanation given is that the money was overheads to maintain the Barrow shipyard facilities which will begin construction of the next SSBN after the Astute programme.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New warheads for Britain

The Guardian is reporting that the British nuclear warhead stockpile will be replaced at a cost of £3 billion. They claim they have seen details of a private meeting between an MOD official and arms manufacturers where the plans for new warheads were detailed. This could commit the UK to nuclear weapons until 2055 opponents say. I say... excellent. Peace campaigners are also saying the new warheads would allow for more targeted strikes. Quite how they know that is unknown but its good news if its true. The government are claiming the "speaking note" which the Guardian obtained through the FOI does not reflect government policy. Of course New Labour like to pretend they are anti nuclear weapons to appease their most left-wing supporters but they voted to renew Trident anyway.

Missile alert crew asleep on duty at Minot AFB

The three man crew in a missile alert room at Minot AFB in North Dakota USA were found to be asleep on duty on the 12th of July even though they had the keys and launch codes to launch nuclear missiles, Minuteman III ICBMs, in their care. Minot AFB has already been in the news for the wrong reasons lately, it was here a B-52 was mistakenly loaded with nuclear tipped missiles and flew across America. The three men of the 91st Missile Wing's unauthorised nap is an embarrassment though USAF officials say there was danger to the security of the nuclear weapons in their care, the codes had been changed and were redundant apparently (so where were the correct codes and how would they be gotten to the crew in an emergency?) and the room was locked.

RAF to upgrade Chinook fleet to HC4

The RAF are planning to upgrade their entire Chinook CH-47 fleet to a new HC4 standard, this includes the 40 HC2/2As and the "infamous" 8 HC3s which have spent years in storage. The HC4 version will new glass cockpits with HUD and night vision, radio upgrades for compatibility with the Army's Bowman communication system and improved defensive aids. Sounds good, they just need to get the funding for it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nimrod R1 is dead apparently

Some will rejoice the demise of the Nimrod R1 as apparently confirmed by the boss of L-3 after the crash in Afghanistan and masses of bad publicity. Others will mourn the fact the UK will be using Rivet Joints instead of making our own but then again Elint aircraft are a bit of a niche these days and its not the end of the world is it?

France to close 50 military bases

The scale of French defence cuts have been revealed and will see 50 bases and facilities closed, 54,000 jobs cut and 83 units closed. This will save nearly 2 billion euros a year which it is claimed will be invested back in the French armed forces. Total defence expenditure from 2009 to 2020 will be 377 billion euros.

I suspect the cuts won't mean a return to these days

The defence changes are part of an effort to restructure the French forces away from a conscript to a career mentality and to improve the effectiveness of the armed forces to match the current strategic need. The French defence minister Herve Morin has already noted that only 40% of French military personnel are in operational roles the opposite of the ratio here in the UK but God help the French armed forces if they are going to use us as a template for their restructure.

Upgrading RAF Spitfires

Upgrading military aircraft is of course a never ending process but you may think the Spitfire and other aircraft from that time would be long off the upgrades list. However the aircraft of the Battle Of Britain Flight have just received an avionics upgrade so they can continue flying in the 21st century. The upgrade to the 70 year old Spitfires, Hurricane, Lancaster and Dakota was needed because of mandated airspace policies in place in the UK and Europe.

Increasing amounts of airspace require aircraft to carry transponders with identification friend or foe Mode S (mode select) transponders that allow an airframe to be interrogated automatically (reporting back identity, intent, capability location and altitude) using an unique address. Without this equipment the BBMF aircraft would be restricted as to where they could fly.

Luckily fitting the equipment to the old aircraft wasn't too difficult, the fittings for the old IFF system were able to be reused so no changes were required to the aircraft's structures.

Republished from my general tech blog

US Navy airship

The US Navy and Coast Guard have leased an airship for a 6 week test in the surveillance role. The Skyship 600 (which is British built of course) will be used off the Florida coast. The airship has a 52 hour endurance but will be restricted to 8 hour flights because of crew fatigue (so lets think of an UAV version perhaps?). The fuel efficiency of the airship is a big plus especially with the current price of gas. The airship is also faster (at 52mph) than Coast Guard cutters and a more stable and smoother platform than a helicopter.

The US Navy have used blimps and airships before of course in the past, not always with the best of results.

Watchkeeper 450 progress

Derived from the Elbit Hermes 450 and developed by Thales, the British Army's future UAV the Watchkeeper WK450 made it's first flight a few weeks ago and has made a good impression already. The WK450 was said to be a robust and stable aircraft. It differs from the Hermes 450 in having an automated take-off and landing system (as yet not tested), a de-icing system for it's new wing, and a better engine from a UK supplier.

Payload (caution acronym overload!)

For it's ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) role WK450 will be fitted with a Thales I-Master SAR (synthetic aperture radar) / GMTI (ground moving target indication) sensor and a Elop Compass IV EO (electro-optical) / IR (infrared sensor) with laser target designator. I-Master is said to already give very good resolution with the SAR said to be world-leading but there is still some fine tuning that can be done. Development is being carried out by these systems on other manned and unmanned test aircraft.

Thales are looking into providing WK450 with the ability to process imagary and only sending back revelent imagery via the datalink to reduce the work load on ground controller and image analysts. There are also attempts to fuse the SAR/GMTI and EO/IR data.

Production WK450 airframes will be built in the UK by Lola with production expected to begin in 2009. Elbit will produce their own version called the Hermes 450B. Future growth could see a twin-engined version in the future.

Republished from my UAV blog

Book Review : Japanese Tanks 1939-45 by Steven J Zaloga

Osprey produce many interesting books on less obvious subjects at a handy price and this book is one of their New Vanguard series which focuses on weapons of war, and in this case Japanese tanks of World War 2, an aspect of the war much less covered than tank warfare in the west. Though the book is a bit misnamed, as the period covered stretches from early Japanese tank developments just after the First World War onwards.

The Japanese were the largest manufacturer of tanks in the 1930s outside of Europe, their early designs based on imported British and French tanks and steadily developed thanks in some part to combat experience in the 1930s in China. At the start of WW2 they were pretty much on a par with European and American designs and led the way in the incredible Japanese advance across the Pacific proving that tanks could be used through jungle terrain and played a full role in actions such as the capture of Singapore.

However their development and production stagnated as the Japanese navy and airforce took the priority so when the Allied fightback against the Japanese later in the war began the Japanese tanks were outclassed and had been left behind by armour and weapon advances and suffered accordingly.

This is an interesting read on the less well known aspect of tank warfare in WW2, gorgeously illustrated as with all Osprey books with some fine colour artwork. The writing by Stephen Zaloga is up to his usual high standard and covers the history of development and combat experience. My only real criticism is the book is a bit short but that is the case with all of the New Vanguard series which could be better served with a few more pages.

Republished from my tech blog

The ultimate shoot down : anti-satellite warfare

As with any advance in military technology as soon as the Cold War rivals were able to put up spy satellites then the capability to destroy these satellites was also sought. In this blog article we will look at the various attempts and systems developed to attack satellites, in what must be the ultimate shoot down.

Manned interception

As the Soviets were developing their Soyuz space capsule in the early 1960s (which is easily the most successful space ship to date considering it is still in use) one of the planned variants was the Soyuz P (Perekhvatchik or Interceptor).

Modern day Soyuz spacecraft - NASA photograph

This military subtype was intended to allow manned inspection and destruction of enemy satellites. Once the Soyuz has got up to the enemy satellite's orbit the cosmonaut was then intended to leave the Soyuz and then either destroy (either totally or just put out of action) or capture the satellite. In the end the idea of a "space interceptor" like this was abandoned because of the technical challenges and also the danger to the cosmonauts. The Soviets had started to booby trap their satellites to destroy them if the ground base lost contact and the Soviets expected the U.S. had done the same.

A later manned system was experimented with the Almaz manned spy satellites (which are probably better known as Salyut). Salyut 3 was fitted with an aircraft cannon which was test fired at a target satellite while the station was unmanned. The cannon was also intended as a self-defence measure. A later Salyut was to have tested rocket armament but was never launched. One problem with firing the cannon of course was the recoil effect could modify the Salyut's orbit. Considerable shaking of the space station was also caused.

Anti-satellite missiles & unmanned "satellite killers"

The way forward was in unmanned anti-satellite weapons and both superpowers began to develop missile based systems. The problem with this of course is that hitting a small object in orbit is not easy. An early U.S. missile that was tested was based on the Martin Bold Orion air-launched ballistic missile. In a test it passed within 4 miles of the target satellite. To kill the satellite a nuclear warhead would be needed for that range but of course detonating a nuclear warhead in orbit would also wipe out many other satellites nearby, including your own! Indeed high atmospheric nuclear weapon tests knocked out satellites over the Pacific with their EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse).

However nuclear warhead based ASAT systems are not really an option for the superpowers because increasingly their infrastructure and that of their allies is dependent on satellites for communication, imagery et cetera and their militaries also rely on satellites for targeting and weapon guidance (such as GPS guided bombs). A nation like North Korea who arn't so dependent on satellites, however, could strike quite a blow in a wartime situation by detonating a nuclear weapon in low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Moving forward to the 1980s the U.S. tried out the Vought ASM-135 ASAT which could be launched by fighters like the F-15. Although in tests the system was said to be successful the project was canceled at the end of the 1980s. The Vought ASAT employed a kinetic warhead guided to collide with the target using a sophisticated interceptor vehicle which had a ring of 56 motors to enable exact control.

Vought ASAT test launch - Public domain image

The Soviet Union worked on a number of satellite interceptors or Istrebitel Sputnikovs (IS), as well as the Soyuz-P. The IS system was intended to enter an orbit very close to the target satellite and when it got within range the warhead of the IS would explode in the same manner as a shaped charge mine and destroy the target satellite with directed shrapnel. In tests in the late 1960s some shrapnel hits were recorded on a special target satellite. The IS system was considered operational but was not used and was finally canceled in the early 1980s.

Laser based weapons

As well as missiles both superpowers developed ground based lasers (also known as Directed Energy Weapons or DEWs) to attack enemy satellites. The Soviet Union launched a series of "attacks" on U.S. satellites from the late 1970s intended to "blind" the satellites or cause system malfunctions. Things came to a head in the early 1980s when the Space Shuttle mission STS-41-G was affected by a Soviet laser strike. On 10th October 1984 the Shuttle Challenger was hit by an ion laser (Terra-3) as part of a protest by the Soviet Union at the U.S. plans for space-based ballistic missile defence and because of fears by some in the Soviet government that the Shuttle was being used for spying. The laser caused some system malfunctions and temporary blindness of the crew. The U.S. also worked on ground based laser weapons, in one test a laser managed to destroy a missile fuselage being held in a stressed condition on a ground test rig.

Current developments : FY-1C and USA 193

Anti-satellite weapons, and related technologies, were of course part of the "Star Wars" ballistic missile defence systems that generated many column inches (and cost a lot of money) on both sides in the last decade of the Cold War but after the end of the Cold War most projects were either canceled or cut back to a lower level. Anti-satellite warfare remained very much a thing of history books until January 2007 when the Chinese announced they had joined the ASAT club. A ballistic missile (a DF-21) launched from Xichang fitted with a kinetic warhead was able to successfully hit a weather satellite (FY-1C) and spread debris across space. NASA said that 35,000 pieces of debris over 1cm2 had been spread and 2,317 pieces were big enough to track. China are also said to be working on laser weapons and may have "blinded" some U.S. satellites.

Debris field from Chinese ASAT test
STK-generated image courtesy of CSSI (

But then it was the U.S.' turn to try and shoot down a satellite. A U.S. satellite, USA-193, was coming down out of control and the problem was no one is quite sure where the 2 and a quarter ton satellite would land. The US Navy managed to shoot down the satellite using Aegis guided missile destroyers that had already been modified for ballistic missile defence so the satellite could be directed to land safely in water. The attempt took place earlier in the year and was successful and used a modified RIM-161 Standard Missile 3.

References :

"Defending Space : US Anti-Satellite Warfare & Space Weaponry" by Clayton K S Chun (Osprey 2006)
"Modern Airborne Missiles" by Bill Gunston (Salamander 1983)
"Soyuz P" - Encylopedia Astronautica website
"OPS-2 (Salyut-3)" - Russian Space Web
"The F-15 ASAT story" - Space History Notes website
"STS-41-G" - Encylopedia Astronautica website
"Red Star Wars" by Steven J Zaloga (Jane's Intelligence Review May 1997)
"Blunt arrows: the limited utility of ASATs" - The Space Review June 2005
"Chinese ASAT Test" - Centre for Space Standards & Innovation
"Navy tasked with destroying satellite" - Navy Times website

Republished from my general tech site

Insurgents driving the development of MBTs?

Whilst reading up on some new equipment and updates being procured by the British Army i found that the army's Challenger 2 MBT (Main Battle Tank) will be receiving a number of armour and weapon updates. Nothing is new in that of course, tanks are always under development and like all military equipment there is a constant effort to improve faster than your enemy can. However in the past what drove MBT development was other MBTs.

Tanks like the Challenger 2 were designed for World War 3 and tank battles against the Soviet Union. The need to kill Soviet tanks is what drove development of the tank. However since the end of the Cold War the prospect of epic tank battles across Central Germany has pretty much disappeared. In the 2 wars against Iraq the Challenger 2 mostly faced much older Soviet-era tanks like the T-55.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein however tanks have been used to support ground forces fighting the insurgency and this seems to be driving MBT development now. The Challenger 2 has had armour upgrades especially at the front to improve protection against IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) e.g. road side bombs. The tank has also had an extra machine gun fitted atop the turret that can be fired remotely from within the protection of the tank (though just for development at the moment). Such an extra gun is not really aimed at fighting other tanks but another anti-insurgent measure. Other armour upgrades have sought to improve protection against rocket propelled grenades. The tank has had to develop to combat not the latest cutting edge Soviet design but pretty low-tech but insurgents with no lack of courage or ingenuity.

Images from MOD Image Database
Republished from my general tech blog

BAE JetEye anti-missile system tested on airliners

BAE System's JetEye anti-missile system is now being tested aboard airliners belonging to American Airlines in a programme being monitored by the US Homeland Security department. One AA Boeing 767 has had the system, derived from similar military systems, fitted and 2 more 767s will be fitted with it later in a trial which will last until early next year. JetEye contains sensors to detect incoming infrared seeking missiles, tracking sensors and a laser designed to attack the missile's guidance. Once the system is turned on it operates totally automatically.

All in a system that only weighs 100KG though of course with fuel prices as they are the airlines probably consider that a lot and thus its expensive... though a lot cheaper than replacing an airliner shot down by an idiot with a MANPAD of course.

The tests however will not be involving any live firing of missiles but will check the maintainability and reliability of the system.

UK aerial targets

Aerial Target Systems is the term used in the UK for UAVs and other projectiles used to emulate aerial threats for the testing and training of the various anti-air warfare systems deployed by the the 3 arms of the UK armed forces. Here we will look at the various systems currently used. These systems will be operated by QinetiQ in the Combined Aerial Target Service (CATS) who are to be responsible for all UK aerial target requirements.

BTT-3 Banshee

The Banshee, built by Meggitt Defense Systems, is a piston-engine powered delta winged target that has been in UK service for 20 years and is used by over 40 other countries. The catapult launched Banshee can be remote-controlled in visual range or beyond that by using it's own autopilot with GPS tracking. When they are set to fly autonomously one ground station can operate up to 4 Banshees.

The Banshee can be quickly modified to suit the mission using a variety of plug-in modules including flares, IR sources and a radar altimeter for low-level flight down to as low as 5m.


Falconet, by Flight Refuelling Ltd., and is a fast jet powered target used as the primary trainer for the British Army's Rapier SAMs. The Falconet can be programmed for a variety of attack profiles including low-level and sea-skimming.

Falconet can take off with JATO assistance or more economically from a circular runway. It can carry it's own towed target. It can also be fitted with a variety of equipment including signature enhancers and miss distance indicators.

Mirach 100/5

The Mirach, made by Italian company Finmeccania, is a jet powered subsonic aerial target used by the Royal Navy. It has replaced the Chukar II. The Mirach can be controlled using remote control or fly a pre-programmed flight guided by it's Global Positioning System/Inertial navigation system.

Mirach can be fitted with a variety of equipment including distance indicators, flares and chaff, other smaller drones and interestingly a rearward facing video camera which must have provided a few interesting views of incoming missiles which has included exercises with RN Sea Dart and RAF Sidewinder missiles.

(Note : this article previously appeared in my now defunct UAV blog)

Welcome to Cold War Warrior

Welcome to my new blog dedicated to military news and views, maybe concentrating on the more unusual. Comments are welcome but don't just put that you think i am an evil right-wing maniac. You can just foxtrot oscar if you think that, and are wrong anyway.