Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Briefings : Nimrod, ISR, Largs Bay

Flight International has a very good look back at the Nimrod Mk2 which ends it's 41 year career with the RAF today. Nimrod Mk 2 saw action in the Falklands War, Gulf War 1, Yugoslavia, Gulf War 2 and Afghanistan.
The spyplane Nimrod R1 s also being withdrawn and being replaced by RC-135s though it is warned that a defence review might delay the investment in this and other ISR platforms like the planned purchase of a MALE UAV. Yet another big MOD has run into criticism, the future tanker PFI deal will be 5 years late and will require further modifications because the MOD did not think they would need protection for flying in combat zones. You couldn't make it up.

RFA Largs Bay has returned from Haiti where it took relief supplies on behalf of the government and NGOs. A DPRK submarine or semi-submersible was apparently leaving and returning to it's base before and after the nearby sinking of the Choenan corvette though there is nothing to suggest the South Korean ship was lost due to a torpedo attack.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Briefings : UK contracts, Cheonan, Nimrod

The MOD have concluded it's spending spree ahead of the election. A contract has been signed with BAE Systems to maintain the Hawk T2 trainer fleet and a partnership has been begun with MBDA for future air-launched weapons.

A DPRK mine is now the main suspect in the explosion that destroyed the South Korean corvette Cheonan. It is not known if the mine was recently laid, deliberately placed in South Korean waters or was an old one which drifted there though because no mines dating from the Korean War have been found since the 1980s the former possibility could be more likely. Hopes of finding any of the 46 missing sailors alive are now fading fast.

The Nimrod MR2 has now left service but the RAF is now preparing for the Nimrod MRA4 which will enter service in 2012. The first upgraded Lynx AH9A helicopters will deploy to Afghanistan next month.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Briefings : A400M, Green military, Afghan AF

The UK is likely to spell out it's share of the increased contributions by partner nations to the A400M air lifter project. The increase in money the UK will provide is said to be "miminal" but the RAF's order will drop from 25 to 22 planes the first of which is expected in service by early 2014. The MOD has also published it's Sustainable Procurement Strategy which aims to make the UK military "greener" (no jokes please). Recent MOD policies have certainly reduced the military's carbon footprint: less ships, less planes and less troops for less CO2!

RAF fighters have been scrambled twice this month in response to possible hijacked airliners. The ultimate reason for the fighters is to shoot the airliner down if necessary to prevent 9-11 style mass casualties though this decision can only come from the PM, Home Secretary or Transport Secretary. The Cessna 208 Grand Caravan is thought to be the favourite to win a contract for 60 light transports which the US will provide for the Afghan Air Force.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

South Korean warship sunk (updated)

A South Korean naval patrol vessel has sunk near to the border with North Korea. An unexplained explosion is said to have ripped through the hull of the Cheonan, a Pohang class corvette which carried 100 crew 58 of whom have been reported to have been rescued.

At the moment the cause of the explosion is unknown, a torpedo attack from a DPRK vessel is one possibility though at the moment the south is playing this down but an emergency meeting of the south's security council has been called.
Update : South Korea has ruled out any involvement by North Korea in the loss of the corvette though as yet do not know what caused the explosion. 46 crew men are still missing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

10 more Lynx to be upgraded

10 more Lynx AH9 helicopters are to be upgraded to AH9A standard in order for them to be able to used in Afghanistan. The upgrade includes more powerful engines, a strengthened structure and upgraded avionics. This further contract is on top of the existing upgrade currently being carried out on 12 Lynx the first of which will deploy to Afghanistan next month.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Briefings : Type 26, RAAF, RMAF

A contract has been signed for the assessment phase for the next Royal Navy warships the Type 26 Combat Ship which will replace the Type 22 and eventually the Type 23 frigates. Calling the Type 26 a Combat Ship and not a frigate from the off is interesting, personally i think the terms like destroyer and frigate are obsolete. Though even more interesting perhaps is the fact the "combat ship" will be also suitable for non-combat missions like humanitarian relief. But its the MOD, its not supposed to make sense. Work on Astute #5 will also begin and long-lead items for #6 will be bought. A long term service agreement for the Astutes has also been signed with Babcock.
The first of the Royal Australian Air Force's new Super Hornets will be making their first flights over their new home tomorrow. Malaysia is looking to buy some new fighters and AEW aircraft.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Defence budget real-terms increases and cuts

In the wake of the budget today in the UK the various government departments had to spell out how they would save money. The MOD is to made £700 million "efficiency savings" by doing things like using less consultants and better IT. If they say so though some of these savings are a little vague, working in IT as i do i know that just buying new systems does not guarantee you will become more efficient and save money - sometimes the total opposite! The MOD meanwhile claim that the defence budget will have real-terms increases in 2010-11 with several billion earmarked for Afghanistan on top of the defence budget. Though of course they at the same time have to save over a half a billion.
JSF and CVF : an Admiral's dream. A Treasury official's nightmare.

Cheerfully a committee of MPs say the defence budget is facing a black hole of up to £36 billion and major projects may need to be cut. After the election we will just have to see where we stand. The days of gravy are over for awhile though, unless you work for a bank of course.

Briefings : Red Arrows, JSF, More fighters

Two Hawks from the RAF's display team the Red Arrows were involved in a mid-air collision during training in Crete. One Hawk was destroyed and the pilot had to eject, he suffered non-fatal injuries. The other Hawk was able to land. The Bear is active it seems, RAF fighters have been scrambled 20 times over the last year to intercept Russian aircraft approaching British airspace.
Scratch one BAE Hawk, even Scotty couldn't fix this

The JSF may be a project rapidly stampeding out of control, at least cost wise, but at least there is being made some decent progress with the flight testing. The V/STOL F-35B has now made a vertical landing. Denmark is delaying it's decision as to whether to buy the JSF or some other fighter until 2014. Romania meanwhile is to buy 24 second-hand F-16s to replace it's Soviet era MiG-21s.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Briefings : Combat ISTAR, Endurance, F-X

The RAF now had "combat ISTAR" over Afghanistan thanks to platforms like the Reaper and views the combination of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities at the heart of it's new concept of operations. The RAF say it's emphasis has now moved from precision attack to exploting the information space. You can read more jargon in the article. A long-endurance UAV is next on the RAF's list, a competition to procure a medium altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle will be launched. BAE's Mantis and the Predator C Avenger are considered contenders.

A lack of training has been blamed for the engine room flooding which nearly lost HMS Endurance in 2008. Incorrectly connected air control lines to a hull valve allowed water into the ship which ended in the ship nearly capsizing off the Straits of Magellan. Thales UK have won a contract to support the Daring destroyer classes' communications systems.

Frustrated by a fruitless wait for the F-22 Japan is moving ahead with it's F-X competition and will buy 40-50 fighters to replace it's F-4EJ Phantoms. Contenders include the Typhoon and the Super Hornet. The Rafale will not be a contender, Dassault say Japan will never buy a European fighter. Which is probably true to be honest.

UK to buy 3 Rivet Joints (updated)

The MOD seems to be clearing the decks before the election. Not content with announcing the FRES-SV winner it also confirmed the purchase of 3 RC-135 Rivet Joint ISR planes off the US. The Rivet Joints will replace the Nimrod R1 fleet which is due to be withdrawn next year.

Update : the RAF Rivet Joints will be conversions taken from the USAF's KC-135 tanker fleet and won't be available until 2014. To fill the gap some USAF Rivet Joints partially crewed by RAF personnel will be made available.

Monday, March 22, 2010

FRES-SV to be built by General Dynamics UK

Despite some last minute attempts by BAE Systems to win the FRES-SV contract for new armoured vehicles for the British Army the contract has been won by General Dynamics UK as previously rumoured. The ASCOD SV, 73% is said to be built in the UK, will be used for scout, recovery and protected mobility missions. 580 will be built in the first instance replacing vehicles like the Scimitar.

Briefings : Westminster, SAR, GPS spoofing

Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster has completed it's major refit and upgrade. The frigate's Seawolf system has been upgraded to increase the range, the command and control system upgraded, new gun and a transom flap. Westminster will begin sea trials ahead of a return to the fleet in May.

The Royal Navy's Search & Rescue duty crew have broken the "record" for responding to emergency calls. In 2009 there were 447 call-outs, breaking the previous record of 382.

France are still trying to sell Rafale to someone, Kuwait is a likely customer though the sale is now facing opposition in the Kuwaiti parliament. GPS spoofing could be a future terrorist threat it has been warned. More subtle than jamming, spoofing would be harder to detect.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Fail : Rocket fighters

Along with the jet engine the rocket engine was another alternative method of propulsion that promised unrivalled performance gains over piston-engined fighters. However whereas the jet engine went on to dominate military (and civil) aviation the rocket engine has not and to this day there has only been one operational rocket powered fighter (not including jet powered aircraft which also used rockets) and that was the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. Why? Because of range.

The Komet, which was one of the advanced fighters designed by the Germans in a desperate attempt to halt the daily Allied bomber attacks, had an amazing performance. It could reach around 700mp/h far in advance of anything on the Allied side at the time and easily out-climb any fighters being able to shoot up to 39,000ft in 3 minutes. That performance came at a price though and the Komet had only enough fuel for a few minutes of powered flight. After that it was simply a futuristic looking glider and had to try and return to it's base unpowered.

One other problem with the great performance was that the targets (the bombers) were much slower than the Komet and thus were difficult to hit. The Komet pilot only having a couple of brief opportunities for firing on it's target before it had to disengage. Only a small number of successful kills were made by Komets. Allied pilots quickly learnt the Komet had very short legs and waited for the fuel to run out before attacking the now unpowered Komet.

After the war rocket power continued to be explored by the various participants in the Cold War but the pure rocket powered fighter died a quick death. Rocket power was explored to boost the performance of jet powered aircraft but as jet engines gained in power rocket power has been relegated to research aircraft only.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Briefings : Rare Earth minerals, Denmark, Russian SAMs

US politicians are looking into forming the first official stockpile of rare Earth minerals and to revive domestic production of minerals. China currently controls nearly 100% of world supply and production of the minerals which are crucial to the production of weapon systems ranging from night vision goggles to missiles.

Following speculation on state radio about Denmark ditching the JSF for the Super Hornet the Danish defence ministry says their fighter competition is still ongoing. The Russian Air Force has received 10 SA-22 Greyhound SAM systems (or to give them their actual Russian name Pantsir S1). Each unit carries up to 12 SAMs and also has 2 30mm cannons.

Swiftsure class submarine HMS Sceptre has been sent down to the South Atlantic to bolster Royal Navy and other UK forces around the Falkland Islands. The Chinese ballistic missile defence programme is discussed in the Taiwan Link blog in the light of a successful exo-atmospheric test intercept of a missile in January.

France offers to share nuclear deterrent with UK

France has offered to form a joint nuclear deterrent with the UK with shared submarine patrols according to reports. The UK is so far against the idea because of soverignty issues though if the SSBN force is reduced from 4 submarines to 3 it may be a pooled force will be required to absolutely guarantee a continuous deterrent. The question would be of course what if we wanted to nuke someone but a French boat was on patrol at the time and refused to fire. It is likely though that any attack on either country would require a response from both countries.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Briefings : JCA hover, Korean helicopter, Defence cuts

The F-35B JSF (JCA in the UK) has demonstrated it can hover during a test flight in the US. The aircraft hovered for 96 seconds.

The Korean Utility Helicopter, developed by KAI and Eurocopter, has made it's first flight. Stop the presses! Gordon Brown has admitted he was wrong. He told the Iraq Enquiry defence spending had increased in real terms during every year in the New Labour regime but has now had to admit in real terms the defence budget has dropped.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Briefings : Astute, Hummingbird, MiG-29

Work is set to start on the 5th Astute submarine for the Royal Navy though with long lead items already being purchased for it it was no surprise. Eventually the navy will have 7 of these SSNs, could do with more though.

Boeing has begun building its A160T Hummingbird unmanned helicopter anticipating orders for it from the US military for the "cargo resupply and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions".

India has ordered 29 more MiG-29Ks for it's navy after the naval version of it's Tejas fighter slipped behind schedule.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Briefings : FSC, FRES SV, Lots of fighter news

The UK could move ahead with development of it's next frigate (FSC / Type 26) and select a contractor for FRES SV soon (General Dynamics are already rumoured to have won this) in the next few days.

China is said to be close to flight testing it's next generation fighter which will surprise the US Secretary of Defence who said China would not have a 5th generation fighter before 2020. Maybe he meant "into service" which apparently is the PLAAF's aim for it to enter service.

Japan is looking to replace it's ageing F-4s and the Super Hornet could be an option. Boeing is willing to outsource some production to Japan if they decide to buy the jet and could deliver the first 10 in 2015 if the order is placed this year. Denmark is also looking at buying the Super Hornet instead of the F-35 according to some reports, sceptical on that to be honest. Argentina is also looking to replace some fighters at the end of their lives (some Mirage IIIA/DAs) however in their case their target is a rather more modest second-hand purchase of ex-Jordanian Mirage F1CJs. Two Saab 340 Eyieye AEW planes will also be bought.

Monday, March 15, 2010

General Dynamics wins FRES SV contract? (updated)

General Dynamics is reported to have beaten BAE Systems in winning the contract to build new armoured reconnaissance vehicles (FRES SV) for the British Army. The ASCOD 2 was chosen over the CV-90 and the initial contract is for 750 vehicles in a billion pound deal. 80% of the ASCOD will be built in the UK and General Dynamics claim over 10,000 UK jobs will be supported by this. Of course quite a lot of the CV-90 would be built in Sweden.
Update (15/03) : there is no official word yet but now BAE Systems say they will transfer CV-90 work from Sweden to the UK if it wins the order.

Briefings : UK/France, A400M, K-8

Britain and France may be moving closer together on matters of defence. Financial and geopolitical pressures may be forcing the two countries to think about a more shared defence future. When Royal Navy Rafales land on Charles de Gaulle i'll believe it! In other UK defence news, some more on Skynet 5D.

Now the A400M's future seems secured EADS are being bullish about the air freighters' future saying it could replace the C-130 as the world military transport of choice. We'll see. Venezuela have received 8 K-8s from China.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Fail : Project 685 "Mike" submarine

The Soviet Project 685, known as "Mike" to NATO, was a singleton class of submarine which sank 5 years after commissioning and is now a radioactive time bomb under one of the richest fishing areas in the world off the coast of Norway.

The order to design the 685 was made in 1966 but it took nearly 20 years before K-278 (as the boat was numbered) entered service in 1984. The 685 was an experimental submarine designed to test a number of new technologies and design features including a double hull and stronger internal bulkheads. The inner hull being titanium. The 685 could dive notably deeper than any NATO submarine, down to 1250m. The 685 included a personal escape sphere built into the sail to allow the crew to escape if anything happened in the deep sea.

The 685 came a cropper in relatively shallow waters though, on the 7th of April 1989 while at a depth of no more than 335m south west of Bear Island a fire broke out on board. Despite the watertight doors being closed the fire was able to spread via cables. The reactor was shut down and the submarine surfaced and most of the crew abandoned ship though many died of expsoure. Several hours later the submarine sunk. In total 42 men died in the accident.

And 685 became a radiological hazard. As well as the reactor the 685 carried 2 torpedos armed with nuclear warheads. If there is a serious radioactive leak then rich fishing grounds off the coast of Norway could be ruined for centuries. Surveys of the wreck have indicated cracks along the hull but as yet no serious radioactive leak. The wreck has a large hole in it's torpedo compartment however. Sea water is said to be corroding the casings of the warheads and the submarine's hull. Some plutonium was detected to have leaked from one of the warheads in 1994.

As raising the wreck would likely be too risky the strategy instead has been to seal cracks in the hull. The hull is now said to be safe for 20 to 30 years. So that is reassuring.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Briefings : Triumph, Nimrod, JSF

Submarine HMS Triumph has returned to the sea following a 6 year long refit. 6 years seems a long time for a refit doesn't it so what have they been doing in that time? Well Triumph's upgrades include the sonar system and the provision to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles, a new communications system including improved satellite communications and a fibra optic network.

The RAF meanwhile has accepted it's first Nimrod MRA4 though it will only be used for crew training until 2012 because of cost savings. With the withdrawal of the MR2 fleet this means Britain (an island nation of course) has no long-range maritime surveillance for 2 years. Pitiful isn't it really?

The overall cost of the JSF for the US has jumped 40%, not a good thing for sure in these days of recession and debt.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Briefings : British armour, Reaper, KC-X

The winner of the programmes to upgrade the Warrior and produce the FRES SV will be announced on March 26th according to the CEO of one of the companies involved.

The RAF has doubled the amount of operational activity over Afghanistan with it's MQ-9 Reaper UCAVs and hopes to double it again when they get extra aircraft (well you would hope so wouldn't you?)

The USAF will not modify it's KC-X tanker programme after one of the two bidders (Northrop/EADS) dropped out. Boeing have a clear run. France are not happy about Airbus (EADS) not being involved anymore. Defense Tech talk about Chinese digital camouflage, and very nice it is too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Briefings : Submarines, UK Training, QF-16s

The Royal Navy may lift the ban on women serving on it's submarines. They will make a decision later in the year and female officers could serve initially aboard the 4 Vanguard ballistic missile submarines. The UK MOD is looking to acquire the remaining major elements of it's Military Flying Training System. The RAF's Shorts Tucano and Hawker Siddeley Dominies will be replaced in the deal.

After many years of destruction the USAF is running out of QF-4 drones and will now convert the 126 oldest F-16s in storage of QF-16.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tugs of the future

A new fleet of tugs and support vessels are being built to support the Royal Navy's new generation of warships including the forthcoming CVF. A new fleet of 29 vessels will eventually be built, the entire fleet of vessels at Portsmouth will be replaced including 6 new tugs and a fuel lighter.

Briefings : LPPV, Phantom, KC-X

The Supacat SPV 400 (below) and the Force Protection Ocelot are the two contenders for an MOD order for 200 light protected patrol vehicles (LPPVs) to replace the Snatch Land Rover in British Army operational use in Afghanistan.

A 4th Skynet satellite will be launched in 2013 further extending British military communications. 

The Phantom lives on, Turkey has received the first of 16 upgraded F-4Es. The old birds have upgraded avionics, communication systems and flight control software. 54 of it's RF-4Es are also being upgraded in a separate project.

Northrop Grumman will not take part in the USAF's future tanker programme competition, the KC-X. They had partnered up with EADS in an earlier competition but will not take part again. EADS have also ruled out going it alone. They say the new USAF competition favours Boeing with it's smaller 767 offering.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Briefings : Armour, Helicopters, Naval

A new fleet of armoured vehicles is to be urgently bought to replace the controversial Snatch Land Rovers which have been blamed for 35 troops deaths (or rather have been blamed for not protecting the occupants sufficiently). 200 vehicles will be bought though the MOD are denying it originally was going to buy 400. The MOD is assessing a range of potential vehicles which will be "world-beating British-built vehicles and will provide unprecedented levels of protection for their weight class."

Aviation Week looks at some technologies which could produce faster helicopters, something special forces are crying out for. The USN has commissioned it's latest destroyer, USS Dewey, the 55th Arleigh Burke. A new Hyperbaric Medical Unit has been opened at St. Richards hospital in Chichester for the treatment of decompression illness in RN divers.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Fail : Rockwell XFV-12

The Harrier is, to date, the only successful V/STOL jet fighter in the west. The US adopted the Harrier themselves but in the 1970s they tried to produce a superior and supersonic fighter to replace it. This was the Rockwell XFV-12 which was fine except it couldn't actually take off.

The XFV-12 had a thrust augmented wing, engine thrust was diverted through slots in the wing to produce vertical thrust. The XFV-12 had 2 sets of wings more or less as it's canards providing almost half of the available wing area. So why did it fail?

The problem was simple. The thrust available, even with an uprated engine, was not enough to get the plane off the ground. Too much engine thrust was being lost through the exhaust ducting. It probably could have worked, if the aircraft weighed 25% less. A major drawback with the thrust augmented wing scheme by the way was that the wings could not be used to carry weapons which meant that the only place to carry weapons was under the fuselage.

This proved rather academic in any event as the project was canceled by the end of the 1970s due to cost... and being useless.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Briefings : Iraq, A400M, Iran missile

Today the PM had to face the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, what he said was no surprise really. He said the decision to overthrow Saddam was right, he rejected he had starved the military of funds while Chancellor and that the military got everything they asked for. He admitted the reconstruction phase had been badly planned though tried to blame the Americans for that.

EADS have struck a deal with it's European partners over the A400M to amend the contract. Though Spain want the UK to reduce the amount of work it gets out of the project unless it pays more.

Jane's say the next generation Iranian missile / space launch vehicle Simorgh shows similarities with the North Korean Unha-2 missile. The USAF is considering whether to keep the production tooling for the F-22 after production ceases. Russia will destroy all of it's chemical weapons by 2012.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Briefings : E-8 upgrades, GLONASS, US fighters

The USAF have begun a programme to re-engine it's fleet of E-8 JSTARS aircraft. They have gone for the JT8D-219 over the more fuel efficient CFM56 as fewer modifications to the aircraft will be needed.

Russia has launched 3 more satellites for it's GLONASS GPS system, 19 satellites are now in place with 1 under repair. This is said to be enough to provide coverage across all of Russia though at least 24 are required for worldwide coverage.

124 more Super Hornets and Growlers may be bought for the USN, once the Pentagon makes up it's mind. Meanwhile an audit of the troubled JSF shows part shortages will cause further delays of aircraft deliveries. Defense Tech looks at the programme and asks if the plane is militarily vital. Egypt wants to buy 24 more F-16s.

China has announced it's smallest increase in it's defence budget for years, it will only increase by 7.5% in 2010 which is tiny obviously. Here the MOD is misleading people over it's budget problems MPs say.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Briefings : Exercise, Russian bomber, MAV

The MOD have a photo gallery from Operation Cold Response currently being held in Norway. The Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Marines took part in an amphibious assault.

Russia, having got it's next generation fighter the T-50 into the air, will switch it's attention to a new strategic bomber to replace the Bear and the Blackjack in the next decade PM Putin has said. Meanwhile 3 more T-50s will be built before the end of the year.

The USAF is working on a "killer micro-drone" called Anubis with AeroVironment, a killer MAV that can engage high-value manovering targets, like insurgent leaders in pick-up trucks? The Royal New Zealand Air Force's display team, the Red Checkers, have been grounded following a minor mid-air collision.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Briefings : Engineers, Russia, Training

Construction has begun of 60 new armoured earth moving machines for the Royal Engineers. The BAE Systems Terrier is said to have been honed by experience by other machines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well lets hope so.

Two RAF Typhoons were scrambled after a disturbance on a Dallas-London flight but returned to base when it was confirmed the 767 was not involved in a terrorism incident.

Russia will give Lebanon Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships under a military aid programme instead of the MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters previously considered. Russia meanwhile are negotiating with France for the sale of 4 Mistral amphibious warfare ships, the first will be built in France but the building location of the next 3 has yet to be decided. The ex-Soviet Baltic states are meanwhile concerned about the deal. Gas supplies to France are part of the deal, this is how the 21st century is going.

The Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) programme is a 9 nation scheme to combine jet training although the governments involved are yet to allocate any funds.