Friday, November 28, 2008

Chinese UAV developments

Some time ago i wrote an article on Chinese UAV development (the blog it was written on is now in archive mode i.e. no longer updated but you can still read the old article here).

Flight International has reported from the 2008 Zhuhai show where the latest Chinese UAV tech has been on display. The designs are very exotic (and some take... lets shall we say... plenty of inspiration from western designs) of course but then again UAV designs tend to be as you don't have to worry about it flopping spectacularly and killing someone (though of course those holding the purse strings might be less blase).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vanguard could serve longer

Already the RN's Vanguard fleet of SSBNs have had their service lives extended from 25 years to 30 because of delays in designing and building a replacement now that could be extended further if there are more delays. The NAO says the current timetable is already challenging and if Astute-style delays occur then the Vanguard boats may have to stick around until later in the 2020s. Currently the fleet is due to start being withdrawn around 2023. The MOD are not counting on it but are looking to see what the implications might be. So it'll probably happen then.

UK to buy 3 JSF for carrier trials

The UK is expected to buy 3 early production F-35s for a joint test team for initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E). The UK is already preparing for when it embarks F-35Bs on it's new carriers, the CVF, which will begin building next year. HMS Illustrious is currently host to the VAAC Harrier (below) testbed to help develop a rolling vertical take off technique for the future JSF fleet.

An 11 day "visualisation and experimentation exercise" has recently been concluded to simulate the operation of the JSF on the CVF (say that 3 times fast, while drunk). The exercise saw 8-12 sorties "performed" a day to see how operations could be sustained with the type. This apparently allowed BAE to "de-risk" the applications, oh how i love that word de-risk!

USAF experimenting with synthetic fuel

The US Air Force are trialling synthetic fuel for it's aircraft based on natural gas. Aircraft from it's fighter, trainer and transport fleets have all been trialled or will be with the fuel, the F-22 recently conducting flight tests with the fuel and no anomalies were found. A T-38 is currently in flight test and a C-5 will begin trials next month. Trials will also take place with the C-130, A-10, RQ-4 and MQ-9. The USAF aims to have it's entire fleet certified by 2011 and by 2016 have half it's domestic fuel needs met by synthetic fuels derived from coal and natural gas by the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Syntroleum has produced over 400,000 gallons of fuel using the Fischer-Tropsch process and has been working with the USAF on the right fuel blend. It would be interesting to know what the RAF are doing on this, if anything.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

28 more years of Type 23s

A parliamentary answer by Bob Ainsworth, the Minister of Defence, has revealed the planned out-of-service dates for the Royal Navy's fleet of Type 22 and 23 frigates and they are going to around for longer than was thought. The Type 22s are now due for retirement between 2019 (HMS Cornwall) and 2022 (HMS Chatham) and the Type 23s between 2023 (HMS Argyll) and 2036 (HMS St Albans). Which means we have 28 more years of the Type 23 to come, personally as its my favourite ship i am not complaining about it!

HMS Cornwall, 11 years to go

As both types are going to be around for some time yet we can expect updates to their armaments and sensors in the years to come. Seawolf will be replaced by a new missile, the CAMM around 2018 (so the Type 23s are likely to receive it). The Type 23s are already due to receive / are receiving the BAE Systems Insyte Artisan 3D Radar.

Indeed HMS Sutherland has just completed a refit and update which includes improved radar and sonar and Seawolf Mid-life Update.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Royal Navy to lead EU armada against pirates

An EU fleet under British command will, next month begin to tackle the piracy problem off the horn of Africa. The EU fleet, Operation Atalanta, will be led by HMS Northumberland though the rest of the fleet is currently unknown though should include ships from 10 countries. Originally the fleet was going to protect aid ships but now it will have a beefed up mandate and EU defence chiefs will work out rules of engagement. Presumably that means they shouldn't be too mean to the pirates who are merely misunderstood.

Merlin and Northumberland's helipad

Meanwhile pirates captured earlier by HMS Cumberland have been handed over to the Kenyan police. HMS Cumberland and RFA Wave Knight (which delivered the pirates to the Kenyan Old Bill) are in the region and so one assumes they will also be part of "Atalanta".

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time for the media & public to ask about the Royal Navy

The timing was perfect, the story of the hijacked oil tanker off Kenya appearing in the same bulletin as news that the largest LNG tanker yet has arrived at the UK and will form an important future part of our energy supply. The timing perfect as hopefully many people would be able to add 2 to 2 and make 5. If tankers loaded full of energy from the Middle East are to be part of our energy future then surely it would be a bad thing if they are hijacked en route right? Well hopefully it was a brief thought before attention changed to Strictly Come Sequins.

And maybe members of the public might now think about the Royal Navy and whether it is capable of protecting our energy shipments. So the time has come for the media to reveal the state of the surface fleet, how much it has declined in numbers under Labour and to ask if it can still meet the needs of our future security and whether it is ready for it's vital future role (now of course i know and you should know it has always been vital but i fear the mass of the public do not appreciate that and think all those goods on the shelves of Tesco appear by magic from the far off lands where they are grown/made).

This would require politicians and the public taking defence seriously however. Which tends to only happen when something bad has happened and the horse has already bolted. Some people have also expressed the opinion that the money spent on the navy and projects like CVF was wasted and that money should instead be spent on the troops fighting in AFghanistan and Iraq currently. OK back onto X Factor then, truly important matters.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pirates seize oil tanker with British crew members

Pirates have seized the Sirius Star, an oil tanker with British crew members, in the Indian Ocean and are holding it near the Somali coast. Other crew members are from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia. The tanker is carrying 2 million barrels of oil and is said to be the pirates "most audacious" attack for some time. The double shock in this is the size of the prize and the fact it was seized some way outside the usual pirate operation areas and shows the sophistication of the modern day pirate. No more peg-legs and hard tack, more like GPS navigation and satellite phones me hearties.

Eagle1's blog has excellent coverage of this and similar issues and you can check out a live piracy map here.

First FutureLynx airframe delivered

GKN Aerospace has delivered the first airframe of the FutureLynx to AgustaWestland. FutureLynx has apparently 80% less parts than the previous SuperLynx achieved by use of "monolithic machine components" which sounds rather disturbing but i assume just means "big bits". Three-dimensional digital modelling was also used, well it is 2008 but hey yes it does deserve a big-up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

British and Russian warships chase away Somali pirates

While their governments might be at loggerheads Royal Navy and Russian Navy units repelled an attack by Somali pirates on a Danish registered freighter in the troubled seas off Somalia. HMS Cumberland and the Russian frigate Neustrashimy both sent up helicopters to chase away the pirates attacking the cargo ship but it is unknown if either opened fire on the pirates.

RFS Neustrashimy (FF 712)

Update : RM Commandos killed 2 pirates and a third later died. What is the FCO going to say now? Surely the pirates' human rights were infringed! The Times has some pics, interestingly it also says the RN were unaware of the Russians also taking part in this.

Real-time ship tracker

Now this is rather cool, a real time tracker of civilian ships using Automatic Identification System (AIS). Unfortunately not all areas of the globe are covered but those that are are very interesting, especially choke points like the Strait of Gilbraltar where you can see a real traffic jam of ships.

Nuclear leak from RN submarine

280 litres of toxic coolant has leaked from a faulty hose as it was being pumped from HMS Trafalgar. The liquid, which includes tritium, leaked into the River Tamar as the coolent was being drained from the submarine at Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth. The incident was said to be the worst spillage of contaminated material at the base for 23 years. A spokesman said "The environmental risk is assessed to be negligible and analysis of river water has not shown any detectable contamination." but i doubt he'll be swimming in the river any time soon.

The worst aspect of this is that the leak occurred on November 7th but the council was not told until the 11th.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Old meets new on the Clyde

Type 42 destroyer HMS Edinburgh sailed up the river Clyde as part of the Remembrance Day events in Glasgow and encountered it's replacement in the guide of Type 45 destroyers HMS Dauntless and Daring. The difference in size is easily apparent in this picture.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

We will never forget

Nice and safe in our comfortable skinny latte western world let us remember the sacrifice of those who fell and suffered to give us the peace we have enjoyed since 1945, in the west at least. Those who fell on foreign fields in the cause of freedom and not just those who fell, those who survived yet were changed forever more. Those also who kept the home fires burning. Those who served and continue to serve. We will never forget.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Georgia busted over South Ossetia attack?

Accounts by independent observers appear to cast doubt on Georgian claims that it was acting in self-defence against Russia and South Ossetia in the Summer's short war which left Georgia's military crippled by Russia. The accounts suggest Georgia attacked the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali with indiscriminate shell and rocket fire and not the surgical strikes the Georgians have claimed. The claims that the attack was in response to attacks on Georgian villages earlier has not been able to be verified. Needless to say the Georgians dispute the observers. They also dispute the findings by a human right's group that Georgia used cluster bombs against civilians, as did Russia.

As a reminder that the region is a powerkeg in neighbouring North Ossetia 12 people were killed by a female suicide bomber in the capital.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Risk of delay to Vanguard replacement?

The National Audit Office is warning that the MOD needs to keep a tight control of the development and budget of the next generation Royal Navy SSBNs to replace the Vanguard class in the mid-2020s. Otherwise they warn the massive project worth up to 20 billion pounds could face delays and cost overruns (but surely this is a MOD tradition?) Personally i don't believe the Astute problems (which have seen a delay of 41 months according to the article) will occur again as that was largely due to the too large a gap being left between submarine building programmes that saw the skill base decline.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fire at ICBM silo rages undetected for 5 days

A fire at a Minuteman III ICBM silo in the USA raged undetected for 5 days. The fire was caused by a faulty battery charger in an equipment room and was only detected by repair crews later on. The USAF say there was only a minuscule chance of the missile as the fire did not reach the launch tube. If it had then the missile could have exploded which would have been rather unpleasant. Although the warhead itself would be unlikely to detonate it would likely be badly damaged and could have released radioactive material into the environment. Of concern to experts is the admission that duct tape is being used on cabling and other sloppy activity.