Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Final warship veteran of Falklands War retires

HMS Exeter's long career will end today as the Type 42 destroyer is retired. The destroyer was the last surviving ship from the Falklands War still in RN service. During that war it shot down 4 Argentine aircraft and also served in the 1st Gulf War in it's 29 year career. During her service the ship clocked up 892,811 nautical miles.

It would be nice if the ship was preserved wouldn't it? It'll probably end up in India or Turkey being cut up though.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trident faces review... again

With the defence budget to come under increasing strain because of the financial Armageddon all major projects are again under review and one project that is very tempting to look at for reductions is the £20 billion Trident nuclear submarine replacement. The MOD are looking to see if they could make do with 3 boats instead of the 4 which has been maintained since the days of Polaris (though of course the original plan back in the 60s was for 5 SSBNs). The possibility of extending the lives of the Vanguard class submarines into the 2030s is also being examined (which means the replacement can be delayed until the 2020s).

Land or air based delivery systems will also be looked at as well as getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether. Which is the most unlikely outcome. The UK (and French) nuclear weapons are a major part of national (and EU) international clout, sovereignty and deterrence so they won't be going anywhere. Three boats is probably a most likely solution (but whether that will actually save that much money is moot).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GPS close to breakdown?

US officials are worried about the Global Positioning System (GPS) which underpins everything from smart munitions to helping drivers. It is feared the system could start to deteriorate from as early as next year because of underinvestment and mismanagement of the system that transferred to USAF control in the 1990s. A programme to upgrade GPS is ongoing but delays (replacing satellites is currently running at 3 years late) could see the quality of the service degrade.

Good job for Galileo eh which certain sections of the media decried as a waste of money. Obviously they always put their eggs in one basket. Russia already have an equivalent system, GLONASS, though this also fell into disrepair and recently has been restored to working order. China are working on their own version, Beidou. India and Japan are working on regional solutions.

The Coldest War

A good read from the Daily Mail summarising the political and military manoeuvrings over the Arctic. The estimated great untapped oil and gas reserves up there at the North Pole and Russia's desire to get it's hands on it.

A number of other countries have territory which borders on the Arctic region however and representatives from these countries have met which Russia's continental shelf claims which would give it a large chunk of the Arctic region disputed by other countries. A revised Russian security strategy lists the Arctic region as a "key region of conflict".

So is the Cold War back, this time literally, certainly Bears continue to be intercepted by NATO fighters as they approach NATO territory, such as this example with Canada.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spare parts shortage hit Mastiff

The Mastiff was urgently ordered to provide extra protection for troops in Afghanistan however a shortage of spare parts meant 30% were out of action meaning less well protected vehicles like Snatch Land Rover continued to be used because of a dispute between the US manufacturer and a UK company who up-armoured and supported the vehicles for the British.

The problem arose because the Mastiffs were made by a US company, Force Protection, who demanded any spare parts which British company NP Aerospace used came from themselves and by US law spare parts have to go to the US forces first and foreign armies second. Thus spare parts intended for the British instead went to the US in Iraq. Finally the US company relented but the damage was already done.

Which just goes to show why you need to maintain an indigenous armaments industry doesn't it? Then at least you can only blame yourself when stuff isn't available.

Exercise Flying Rhino 09

2000 UK personnel took part in Exercise Flying Rhino in the Czech Republic alongside troops from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania and the Czech Army of course. The exercise involved army and air force units including artillery from the 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery and 101st Regiment Royal Artillery and Tornado GR4s from RAF 34 squadron. Flying Rhino was originally intended for Forward Air Controllers (FACs) who guide aircraft to their targets on the ground but now includes other personnel and other kinds of training.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Exercise Shomodro Torongo (Taurus 09)

Shomodro Torongo is the latest exercise involving UK forces in the big Taurus 09 deployment. While the ASW boys played hide and seek with an SSN in the Gulf HMS Bulwark and RFA Wave Ruler headed to Bangladesh where Marines from 40 Commando and 4 and 539 Assault Squadrons took part in exercises alongside their Bangladeshi counterparts in the Ganges delta.

Helicopters from 820 NAS also took part in CASEVAC support and the gathering of intelligence. RN personnel also helped to build a community house in an example of soft power.

MOD pays to upgrade APCs being taken out of service

Even though the failed Vector armoured vehicle is being withdrawn from service as it is insufficient to protect troops in Afghanistan against IEDs the MOD is still paying to upgrade it! The vehicles are being withdrawn after just 2 years when they were found inadequate, so much so indeed Army commanders called them "Coffins". BAE has an ongoing programme to upgrade the suspension and wheel hubs but not the armour which was quickly found not to deflect the blast from roadside or buried bombs. The MOD will have to pay for 20 more vehicles to be upgraded later this year.

The vehicles are not totally useless of course, they can be used in other theatres, training et cetera but it seems a bit silly does it not? The MOD are also paying to upgrade some Snatch Land Rovers which are also being withdrawn.

Bowman upgrade

The key to the modern and future battlefield is data and the UK military's tactical communications and data system, Bowman, is to be upgraded to BCIP5 to make it easier to use and "provide enhanced battle planning tools, a more stable and robust tactical internet, and improved situational awareness"... phew! Bowman, developed by General Dynamics, has not been without it's problems of course.

Its being rolled out to troops, vehicles, ships and helicopters. The new Type 45 destroyers arn't due to get it until well in the next decade though.

RAF to get third batch of Typhoon

The government have said they will move ahead with procuring the third batch of Eurofighter Typhoons though they did also say they looked forward to receiving an affordable bid. Wriggle room? It is hoped to sign the contract by the end of the year. The actual number that will be bought is unknown.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Airbus try and get A400M back on track

Airbus Military is trying to get the much-delayed and yet-to-fly A400M back on track with a show of commitment from from the 7 European partners before proceeding with the programme. The first flight is now expected some time later this year though the date as yet has not been made public. Delivery dates cannot be given until the flight testing has begun and they have some idea of how much work (and money) will be required to get the plane to completion. Earlier it was estimated delivery to the first customer will be about 3 years after the beginning of flight testing.

Of course the question remains for the RAF, in or out? Leaving it would seem the immediate relief for the short term pain but unfortunately in the long run the wrong option. Leaving A400M would put British jobs at risk and this plane will sell, and likely to sell a lot.

Of course the long term job prospects of Airbus employees is of little comfort or interest to hard pushed troops on the ground and strained RAF logistics crews and it is easy for some commentators to say an off-the-shelf solution should be procured immediately but that is ignoring politics. At the end of the day the military's greatest enemy is politics and its a fact of life that much military procurement is designed to generate or retain jobs in the home nation. Its not ideal for some reasons (but not a total loss, see below) but its a fact of life and grown-ups have to just "deal with it". Keeping arms production "local" is also one of the few times politicians actually think beyond their immediate re-election prospects.

To be reliant on foreign countries for your military hardware is not a situation you really want to be in. In some cases too you can only make some weapons for yourself (e.g. nuclear submarines) and you need to ensure a continual work stream to keep skills and facilities intact. For an example of what happens when you don't, Astute.

So basically the RAF will have to eat the short term pain to afford long-term political and economic gain, but they may get an extra C-17 or two out of it anyway.

Vector axed

The Vector armoured troop transporter vehicle is being withdrawn from combat operations just 3 years after it was procured in a £100 million contract. The reason is basically its not good enough. 100 were bought to give British soldiers more protection from IEDs and other insurgent goodies but it's design is flawed. It has a flat bottom instead of a v-shape which can help deflect the blast from buried bombs. Although up-armoured to protect crews 5 soldiers have died in Vectors since their introduction. Of course it may well be more soldiers could have died without the use of the Vector.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

100 years of Royal Navy flying

On 7th May 1909 the Admiralty placed an order for it's first aircraft, an airship. Now 100 years later the Royal Navy is celebrating 100 years of aviation, through the RNAS to the Fleet Air Arm, such that it is these days.

The Royal Navy has often been at the forefront of Naval aviation including the first take-off of an aircraft from a moving ship in 1912, angled flightdecks and steam catapults which defined carrier design post war and of course VTOL aircraft in the shape of the Harrier and ski-jumps.

A number of events are being held across the country, HMS Illustrious is currently docked in London and there have been a number of flyovers by current and former FAA aircraft including the Sea Vixen.

Army to get Jackals and Coyotes

You may notice this blog has not covered much in the way of British Army or land warfare issues up until now mostly because i find the variety of equipment they use rather bewildering! This is going to change though as the way way to learn about something is to research it and write it up! If i screw up though, say so!

180 new vehicles have been ordered for the Army for combat duty in Afghanistan. 110 Jackal 2s and 70 Coyote Tactical Support Vehicles have been ordered.

Compared to it's predecessor, the Jackal 2 has improved manoeuvrability and (stated) reliability, that of course has to be proven in action, and can carry 3 crew instead of 2.

Coyote is a 6x6 version of the Jackal. Deliveries are expected to begin in a couple of months and the vehicles will be ready for service by the Autumn. Of course the big question is, are these vehicles any good. No doubt they are better than light (or none) armoured Land Rovers but the excellent Defence Of The Realm blog is less than impressed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Victor takes to the air again... kinda

During the Cold War Jets Open Day at Bruntingthorpe Handley Page Victor, XM715 accidentally became airborne for a few brief moments during a high speed taxi run. The former Cold War Warrior is not on the civil aviation register so technically this is illegal however the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is not intending to investigate. Its not known why the Victor took off or if the aircraft was damaged in any way. What a wonderful sight it would be to see the aircraft airborne again, properly, though!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

MOD Police name new launches

The MOD Police have christened their 2 Island class launches Gigha and Jura. The 2 launches provide protection to the Clyde naval base. The launches use water jet technology for agility and to stop cutting protesters to ribbons in the water with propellers.

Astute has another setback

Following the fire aboard Ambush at the start of April it now appears Astute also suffered fire damage on April 18th according to the MOD. The fire broke out on the conning tower and the damage has apparently prevented BAE engineers from sorting out problems with the propulsion system. BAE Systems still say they will deliver Astute by the end of the year.

Georgia condemns "Russia backed coup attempt"

A Georgian army mutiny at Mukhrovani base near Tbilisi has been described as a coup attempt with Russian backing by the Georgian government. Though confusingly Defence minister, David Sikharulidze said the main aim of the uprising was to attempt to disrupt NATO exercises being held in Georgia. The commanders at the base have been dismissed and the soldiers, from a tank batallion, confined to barracks following talks between the Georgian president and the plotters. The Georgian government said the plotters received Russian money and Russian special forces would support the uprising, the Russians replied that the allegations were crazy. NATO declined to comment.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Shallow Water Combat Submersible for SBS?

The elite Special Boat Service (SBS) could be getting some new transport. Shallow Water Combat Submersible (SWCS) is a mini-submarine that can carry 6 men for up to 100 miles. SWCS is equipped with sonar to assist detection and evasion of the enemy. The SWCS is being designed for the US Navy SEALs and could also be used for the SBS seeing as they already use the same system the Mark VIII, it is thought the mini-sub is being fast tracked for use in anti-piracy operations off Somalia.

Replacing the 70s vintage Mark VIII SDV SWCS is a lot more advanced though like the Mark VIII the hull will be flooded with water when in operation to negate the need for an airlock. It will have video imagery, passive sonar, and a submerged navigation system what uses pulse doppler sonar and motion detectors to calculate the sub's position exactly so it does not need to break to the surface to get a GPS fix.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tories may cut Trident

The Conservatives have already said they may cut some major weapon programmes if/when they get elected as they cut spending and try and balance the books, A400M and the new tankers have already been mentioned as being for the chop. But now it seems one of the biggest future procurements of all could be at risk : the Trident nuclear deterrent. Though looking into the story a little deeper the hint of cuts come from major Tory figures not offering protection for Trident, which will cost over £20 billion, should there need to be big defence cuts.

Cameron has said that a cheaper alternative may be pursued including "land based cruise missiles" which personally i do not understand. Now submarine launched cruise missiles is another matter and one i personally wish the UK would pursue to replace Trident instead of a next generation of SLBMs.

Of course i don't believe for one moment the Tories would actually get rid of our nuclear weapons. Surely?