Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Fail : Maus

The Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus was the heaviest tank built in World War 2, and at 192 tonnes probably the heaviest tank ever built (by comparison a Leopard 2 weighs just over 60 tonnes). Now tank designs often get heavier during their development but the Maus was rather impressive in that aspect, the original design was to be 100 tonnes but the result (which never entered service) was almost double that.

That sheer weight bought a lot of problems of course. It was too heavy to use many bridges so it had to be designed to ford rivers instead. To cross deep streams or rivers the Maus was designed to be able to travel along the river bed fully subermerged coupled up to another Maus on the bank which would supply it with electrical power for it's transmission. Late in the war you might think German engineers and scientists might have better things to do.

Moving nearly 200 tons was another problem of course, a special railway car had to be built for it. But for it's own engine no German made engine proved powerful enough to give it a decent performance. A 1200hp engine was fitted but this couldn't take the Maus over 8mp/h.

The Maus would have been a formidable tank to fight of course with a 128mm cannon and a 75mm secondary armament (which on it's own was more powerful than the guns tanks had had for much of the war). The armour ranged from 60mm to 240mm steel. However it is not thought any of the Maus prototypes saw any action. The Soviets managed to capture several prototypes but noticeably it does not seem like the Maus made much impact on postwar Soviet tank design.

The Maus was no doubt an impressive sight but it's utility as a military weapon was rather suspect. Considering the vast resources that would need to go into producing a decent force of the tank it is likely the Maus, if it had entered service, would have remained in small numbers and considering it's slow speed probably would have just been bypassed by advancing Allied forces and destroyed at their leisure.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Briefings : Tornado, Afghanistan, PAK-FA

Maybe as a result of some calling for the RAF to operate COIN aircraft instead but the air force has showcased it's Tornado fighter bombers and how they are used to combat the Afghan insurgency. Meanwhile an RAF pilot has flown, what probably will be the replacement, the JCA F-35 for the first time.

A transcript of a webchat Defence minister Bob Ainsworth took part in has been made available.

The Russian "5th Generation" fighter the PAK-FA / T-50 is due to make it's first flight today. We might then finally see what it looks like!

Update: and here it is :

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Briefings : Bambirik, Gripen, Cyber Warfare

The MOD has published a gallery of images from Operation Bambirik, an attack by the Royal Welsh on a Taleban stronghold in Afghanistan.

The UK Hydrographic Office has produced more up-to-date maps to assist the US and other countries in the Haiti relief effort.

Thailand are to order another 6 Gripen fighters and another Saab 340 AEW aircraft plus upgrade some of it's F-16s. The Pentagon's cyber-security strategist says that governments need to improve their cyber defences and not sit behind firewalls. The French Navy have successfully launched their next generation M51 ballistic missile from a submarine for the first time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Briefings : A400M, Ambush, FRES

The A400M's maiden flight did not proceed quite as smoothly as was originally reported. A software glitch meant that one of the engines had to be shut down.

There was a fire aboard the Astute class submarine Ambush which in final construction and will be launched soon. The fire was said to be small and did not damage the superstructure.

The US are advised to change their strategy in Afghanistan away from fighting to reconstruction by a Russian General who served there when it was the Soviet Union's turn to find out they couldn't tame that land.

Former Defence secretary John Hutton has called the FRES programme to produce the Army's next generation of armoured vehicles a "shambles".

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Briefings : RAF, Sweden, US Cyber warfare

The chief of the RAF has joined the inter-service debate on the future of the British armed services by saying Britain needs long-term defence plans. Unfortunately politicians tend not to do long-term very well. Sweden's military is also looking at the future and change.

The USAF's cyber warfare unit the 24th air force has become operational.

The Canadian Navy is opting to modernise it's frigates with as much non-American equipment as possible saying that buying American can lead to delays.

Monday, January 25, 2010

CVF takes shape

The first of (hopefully) two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, Queen Elizabeth, is taking shape at a shipyard in Govan.

Briefings : Gunsights, Ark Royal, Cobra

Trijicon, who supplied the gun sights containing Biblical references to the British, US, Australian and New Zealand armies, have agreed to stop putting the reference on the sights and will provide kits to allow their removal from existing weapons. The British have ordered 400 sights for use with it's new L129A1 rifles.

HMS Ark Royal will resume it's role as the Navy's flagship today after completing it's sea trials following a refit. The carrier will also become the RN's "strike carrier" and operate Harrier jets.

US Marine Corp Cobra helicopter gunships are to receive new datalinks and helmet displays in  a $24 million update. The China-US cyberwar rumbles on. An expert has claimed the Chinese used backdoors built into Gmail for the US government to spy on e-mails to launch it's own attacks. China has accused the US of "online warfare" including using a cyber army to increase unrest in Iran.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Fail : P-75A Eagle

Two things can screw up a project: bad timing and changing requirements. Unfortunately for the rather interesting P-75 it suffered from both.

Conceived early in America's fight in the Second World War the Fisher P-75A Eagle was an innovative attempt to build a high performance fighter. Unfortunately by the time it was ready to begin flight tests the war was almost over and the USAAF no longer needed the type.

In 1942 the USAAF was desperately in need of a high performance interceptor with a high rate of climb, the Fisher Bodies division of General Electric came up with the interesting idea of combining aircraft parts already in production with a powerful engine to come up with a solution to the air force's problems quickly.

The P-75 thus took wings from a P-40 (originally they were to have come from a P-51), the tail from an A-24 and the tail wheel unit from an F4U and combined them in a new fuselage and they fitted a 2885hp Allison V-3420 engine in it. The P-75 had quite an advanced design with twin contra rotating propellers and the engine behind the cockpit.

By the time of the P-75's first flight in late 1943 however the USAAF needed a long-ranged escort fighter not an interceptor and the performance was rather disappointing anyway. The design was modified into the P-75A which was ready for testing by late 1944. Unfortunately for the P-75A by then the end of the war was in sight and the USAAF no longer wanted new fighters of this type, especially a brand new aircraft. Just 5 P-75As were built in the end, the conditional 2,500 production order was canceled.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Briefings (23/01/10) : A400M, US defence budget, DPRK base

There have been "zero major issues" with the A400M so far into it's test programme. It has now conducted 7 test flights. Indeed the aircraft seems very good, the only problems appears to be political and financial...

Seven major weapon programmes could be for the chop under plans for the 2011 US defence budget. The C-17 and JSF second engine are again in the gunsights.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il secret (well no longer surely) mountain base has been revealed. Mount Baekdusan has been excavated and would be his command centre in the event of an invasion (or coup).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Briefings (22/01/10) : UK in Haiti, A400M, Light Patrol Vehicle

RFA Largs Bay will depart later this month from Southampton and will arrive in Haiti in February. It will carry supplies from the British government and NGOs and will also provide a sea base for UK personnel involved with the recovery effort.

The Foreign Office has a short fall of £110 million and will have to cut back on it's anti-terrorism efforts in Pakistan it is claimed by the opposition.

The UK has conducted load tests of the A400M using a mock-up of the transporter's hold.

Supacat have unveiled it's contender for the British Army's new light patrol vehicle to replace the Snatch Land Rover in Afghanistan. The SPV400 has been delivered to the MOD for trials.

New Zealand have ordered the removal of coded Biblical messages from US made gunsights they are using in Afghanistan. Microsoft are to publish an urgent security patch for Internet Explorer after it was revealed it was security holes in IE that enabled Chinese hackers to attack Google and other US companies.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Exercise South West Sword

Royal Navy ships and Royal Marines have begun an amphibious exercise off the South West coast of Britain. South West Sword involves HMS Albion, RFA Mounts Bay and 42 Commando Royal Marines and includes a series of landings and raids along the Cornish and Devon coasts.

Briefings (21/01/10) : Lynx, Submarine accident, Chinese Navy

The first 4 upgraded Lynx AH9A helicopters, upgraded for service in Afghanistan, have re-entered service. Though they are currently in North Yorkshire for training before being deployed.

The Commander of HMS Superb Steven Drysdale admitted failures which resulted in the crashing of the submarine into rocks south of Suez in 2008. Other officers on aboard also admitted failures. You may wonder what the Royal Navy is doing during the Haiti disaster? Well nothing at all so far unfortunately as they have no ships currently in the Caribbean due to cost savings however RFA Largs Bay will be sent.

Following on from the gunsights used by the US Marines with Biblical references on them now it seems the British Army will also have them as they have ordered the sights for their L129A1 rifles.

With the Chinese seemingly having the upper hand in the info-war the US Office for Naval Intelligence (ONI) have not helped matters by accidentally putting a report about the Chinese Navy on a publically accessible website (or maybe it was intentional?) Report can be found here, for the moment anyway.

An Israeli company has created a sonic cannon that can potentially kill if the person is close enough.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RAF suspend VC10 passenger operations

Passenger operations with the RAF's ageing fleet of Vickers VC10 have had to be suspended. The RAF say "There are some areas where further investigation must be done to ensure that our airworthiness arrangements are at least as effective as for civilian aviation." The VC10s are due to remain in service until 2015 (some dating back to the mid-1960s), and are certainly a wonderful sight, we'll miss them when they are gone.

Briefings (20/01/10) : Service chiefs clash, Weather

The head of the British Army, General David Richards, has countered the claims by the other services on the dwindling British defence budget (such as the First Sea Lord who says Britain must retain hard power) by saying the UK should concentrate on weapons for counter-insurgency and lower intensity warfare. A lot of UAV and COIN aircraft could be bought for the price of a few JSF he says. But surely you should be preparing for the next war not fighting the last one again?

The BBC are considering not renewing it's contract with the Met Office (which is part of the MOD of course) for it's weather forecasts. Geoff Hoon has told the Chilcot Iraq War inquiry that the British forces didn't have enough helicopters because of the Treasury. Now who was in charge of the Treasury back then... why i believe he is now Prime Minister.

US Marines are being issued with gun sights which include Biblical references in the sights.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Edinburgh begins final refit

Type 42 destroyer HMS Edinburgh has begun a £17.5 million overhaul, the last of the Type 42s to undergo such a refit. The hull will be painted with Sigma 990 paint which reduces water resistance (and could reduce fuel consumption by up to 15%), weapons and sensors will be upgraded, crew facilities will be improved and 2 of the 4 engines will be replaced. The refit will keep the ship in service until 2013.

Briefings (19/01/10) : New rifle, A400M, Chinese hacking

British troops in Afghanistan are to get L129A1 Sharpshooter rifles. 440 have been bought as part of a UOR. The rifle, which fires 7.62 rounds, will be more useful in long-range firefights.

Flight International look at the A400M project problems and concludes that it is too big to fail.The First Sea Lord warns against spending cuts to the Royal Navy.

In the light of the knowledge security flaws in Internet Explorer allowed Chinese hackers to attack Google the French and German governments have advised it's citizens to not use IE, however the British government and armed forces are to continue using it (IE6 too, blimey!) Meanwhile foreign reporters in China say their Gmail accounts have also been hacked. McAfee say the cyber attack was "ultra sophistocated", the most sophisticated cyber attack outside of the defence industry.

Italy is investigating what caused one of it's Predator A Plus UAVs to ditch in the Adriatic while on a training flight. India are set to buy 29 MiG-29Ks for it's Navy, no doubt for use on an ex-Soviet aircraft carrier India is still yet to receive despite paying billions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Briefings (18/01/10) : Haiti, US space, Silent Eagle

The first US aircraft to respond to the terrible Haiti earthquake where not helicopters or transport planes but spyplanes and drones. U-2s and Global Hawks were first on (or over) the scene using their sensors to detect buried fuel and water lines and look for possible chemical spills as well as assess the state of the remaining infrastructure ahead of the arrival of relief forces.

The US' long-awaited Space Posture Review may... er... need to be waited for a little longer. The review of US space control and superiority and deployed systems could be delayed for a another year.

The F-15 Silent Eagle is preparing for it's first flight, South Korea could be a first customer. Got $5 million to spare, why not buy that Flanker you always wanted? China is now facing a serious gender imbalance with 24 million more men than women. Could Venezuela be eyeing Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles? While many navies are shrinking around the world Greenpeace are to build (or have built for them anyway) a new £14million flagship.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Fail : Nuclear Bazookas

Sometimes people joke about a "nuclear hand grenade" well here is the nearest thing to it, the nuclear bazooka, a weapon that did enter service but maybe we should be thankful that it never had to be used...

The idea is simple: a very short range tactical nuclear weapon that can be used against fast approaching enemy troops. Weapons like the Davy Crockett (US Army) and Wee Gwen (British Army) were designed in the 1950s as a way of halting Soviet ground forces and buy time for NATO to regroup.

Davy Crockett was amazingly thus a nuclear recoiless rifle projectile with a range between 2-4km. Obviously the nuclear warhead of such a device had to be very small otherwise it would be destroy the defenders too. Davy Crockett had at it's core the W54 warhead which was the smallest ever produced by the US. The warhead had a yield of between 10-20 tons of TNT (0.01-0.02 kilotons) but a major part of the weapon's effect was the radiation produced that would leave the area of impact uninhabitable for 48 hours. As such it was one of the first neutron bombs though the term was not used at the time.

This radiation hazard proved even more important when the weapon was tested and found to be highly inaccurate. Anything 400m from the blast was likely to receive a fatal dose of radiation even at the lowest yield setting though 550m was considered the minimum safe distance for friendly troops. The margins were a bit tight though as 500m would cause sterility and a lack of co-ordination. Contrary to myth the blast radius was not greater than the range of the weapon so it was not a suicide weapon, in fact the blast radius could be as small as 200m

Davy Crockett was used by the US Army between 1961 and 1971. The British Wee Gwen never entered service and proved very controversial with the Army who considered weapons like it and the Davy Crockett unsound because of the difficulties it would create with command and control.

The inaccuracy was maybe the main problem with the Davy Crockett, because the blast radius of the weapon was small it was likely the defenders would have to fire a lot of the weapons to try and halt a determined mass Soviet attack. The further the projectile was fired (and thus safer to defending soldiers) the more inaccurate it got too. Well you see the problem there.

Because of the inaccuracy troops would have to fire more against concentrations of the enemy to try and ensure a hit and lets just say there were cheaper warheads they could have fired. Never mind less hazardous!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Briefings (16/01/10) : Trident, Typhoon engines, JSF

The Conservatives (who are - probably - likely to form the next UK government) say they will delay the Trident replacement by 5 years though this will face resistance from the Royal Navy, UK ship building industry and even the shadow chancellor so things could change. Some Tories want SLBMs replaced with an air launched cruise missile system to maintain the nuclear deterrent. One benefit of delaying though would mean the new boats would come in at the same time as the US' Ohio replacement which could mean we could share some aspects of the design (well we are already).

Rolls Royce have been awarded a 10 year £865 million contract to provide long-term support for the Eurojet EJ200 engines powering the RAF's fleet of Typhoons.

Britain says the European partners in the A400M project remain committed to the airlifter but "not at any price".

The US Navy are now also looking at the rising costs of the JSF with concern and are warning that the F-35B/C are becoming harder to afford citing the JSF will be twice as expensive to fly compared to the Harrier and Hornet. The latest cyber attack is a hacking of the PEO Soldier Army military equipment website though a Lebanese hacker is claiming credit for this one. Meanwhile the US is to set up a cyber defence team to protect the US electric grid from cyber attack.

Japan has ended it's refuelling mission of ships involved with the Afghanistan operation. Japan has supported the US led mission since 2001 but will now concentrate on reconstruction work in Afganistan itself.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Briefings (15/01/10) : FIST, Rockets, Bulava

Defence Management asks if the MOD is on track with it's Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) programme, the answer seems more or less. £333 million worth of contracts have been awarded for the Royal Navy's future carriers, the vast majority of equipment for the Queen Elizabeth carriers have now been ordered.

The US could arm A-10s and AV-8s with precision guided rockets. The BAE APKWS II is considered safer than existing munitions like the Hellfire in situations where friendly troops are very close to the target. The US meanwhile is concerned about the build-up of cyber and space weapons by China. Amid all the doom and gloom in the world though the Doomsday clock has been turned back 1 minute back to 6 minutes to midnight.

A design flaw may have caused the latest failure of the Russian Bulava SLBM rather than a faulty component which is probably the worst news. Researchers have identified the command servers between recent espionage and cyber attacks on Google and other US companies and traced them to the Chinese government.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Briefings (14/01/10) : Rescue, UAV data, Google-China

The RUSI is warning that the UK armed forces could lose 20% of it's trained personnel because of pressures on the defence budget and rising military costs. The RAF Search & Rescue teams have been busy because of the wintry weather in the UK.

The US are heavy users of drones and that use is going to get heavier but one of the problems they are having is the amount of data being gathered, in 2008 24 years worth of footage was gathered alone! The US is now turning to the television industry for technology and techniques to help them manage and analyse the vast amount of data.

Google's decision to not censor results in China and potentially closing down it's operations in China may have been because of the Chinese government's hacking of the Gmail accounts of human rights activists and other cyber attacks which may be part of a wider spying effort by China on US IT companies. Wikileaks is claiming China was accessing Google's source code and also the US Government's Gmail-intercept system. The always excellent Information Dissemination also looks at this.

Al Qaeda may be linked to a "rogue" aviation network of aircraft which regularly criss-cross the Atlantic laden with drugs and weapons.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

UK set to buy 3 RC-135s

The UK is set to replace it's Nimrod R1 Elint aircraft with 3 RC-135 Rivet Joints, the UK has decided to do this instead of modifying development Nimrod MRA4s. The 3 Rivet Joints are currently stored airframes in the US and will be made operational by L-3 Communications. A contract will be signed in weeks, the Nimrod R1s will remain in service until they can be replaced by the Rivet Joints though the similar MR2s are being retired within months.

Briefings (13/01/10) : Trident, Chinese BMD, RQ-170

An indefinate delay in the programme to replace the existing British nuclear deterrent has thrown the programme into disarray. The MOD say further time is needed, it could all depend on the general election or more likely whats left of the British economy later in the decade! Early work has begun at the proposed £12 billion Defence Technical College project in Glamorgan though a final decision on the project will be... delayed of course.

Information Dissemination look at some recent Chinese anti-missile tests, testing a mid-course missile interception system. Aviation Week talks about CVF again, not sure there is anything new there to be honest. China and Iran seem to be engaged in a cyber-war, but why?

The US Coast Guard plan to turn off the LORAN-C radio navigation system saying it is no longer needed because of GPS.

DEW Line has some more photos of the mysterious, though frequently photographed RQ-170 drone.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A400M project at risk

EADS' CEO Louis Gallois has issued a warning that the A400M project cannot continue beyond the end of January unless European customers agree to increase funding of the development costs. EADS had made a "mistake in accepting a fixed price contract on a programme with huge technical challenges and an unrealistic schedule" but aid partner nations shared the blame for insisting on production sharing and engine choices. A400M cannot be allowed to jeopardise the whole Airbus business, the CEO of Airbus has said. However with defence budgets coming under increased pressure this may not be the time to ask for more cash.

Video : First in-flight engagement of lift-fan on F-35B

Pratt & Whitney's F135 engine and Rolls-Royce LiftFan® successfully powered the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) fighter through the first in-flight engagement of its STOVL propulsion system on Jan. 7, 2010.

Briefings (12/01/10) : Winter and warplanes, Sea based BMD, JSF

Defence Management has an interesting, and timely, article on some of the ways military aircraft can be protected from ice deposits. Aviation Week discusses sea-based BMD and how this trend in missile defence is gaining in credibility though you have to agree with one of the comments, there are some situations where a sea-based BMD platform will be too far away from the "action".

The Guardian looks at Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, and the increasing strangehold it has over European gas supplies, a powerful economic weapon.

Navy News has another pic of the F-35B prototype testing it's lift fan, the type will one day be the JCA in RAF and FAA service. The Dutch however have raised some concerns over the noise of the F-35.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Briefings (11/01/10) : Reconstruction, Indian C-17s, JSF

The Tories say they would expand the role of the Army in reconstruction if they win the next election. A stabilisation and reconstruction force would be created to perform work like repairing bridges and local infrastructure in places like Afghanistan. Funding could come from other departments like international development.

Boeing say India is interested in buying 10 C-17s, seems everyone wants them at the moment but they are pretty good after all. Flight International's DEW Line blog has a photo of the F-35B prototype engaging it's lift fan for the first time.

Images of the wreck of the Australian hospital ship Centaur have been seen for the first time, 60 years after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in WW2.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Fail : Pheonix

Part 2 in our weekly series of military projects that never really made it.

The Pheonix UAV was developed by GEC & BAE Systems for the British Army's artillery to work with the Battlefield Artillery Target Engagement System (BATES).  It is perhaps a typical example of a modern British defence project. Late, expensive, flawed. No maybe that is unfair as usually the end result works well after much toil and sweat and billions of pounds. Pheonix seldom did.

Despite a first flight in 1986 by 1995 there were no signs Pheonix could be got to work. After a review of the project a final chance was given to the manufacturers to try and get into service and they achieved this in 1999 and Pheonix saw active service in Kosovo and Iraq war. 198 were built, though because so many were lost they probably needed more. 23 were lost alone between March and April 2003 over Southern Iraq, there must be a market for UAV bits in Basra. Officially the Army say it worked well and that some attrition was due to it being kept on station for longer to keep an eye on the target and thus it could not be recovered.

Pheonix was launched by catapult from the back of a specially designed truck and landed by parachute. From the very basic design concepts alone you can see that something was wrong. Pheonix was a twin-boom design but instead of that then allowing for a pusher propeller to be fitted a tractor propeller was fitted instead on the front. Thus this meant the sensors had to be carried in a large pod underneath to avoid being obstructed by the prop. Most odd.

Pheonix was finally taken out of it's misery and retired in 2008.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Briefings (09/01/10) : Chinook, Afghanistan, A400M

Following on from the leaked MOD documents that indicated problems with the Chinook Mk2 engine control software before the Mull of Kintyre crash the Chief of the Air Staff has said that the FADEC software was not to blame. This was later attacked by the former chief test pilot of the Chinook Mk2 and said the original pilot gross negligence verdict was unfair.

How to rebuild the Afghanistan army, by someone who helped rebuild Liberia's army.

The A400M turbulence continues, France is insisting the project continues though Germany appears unwilling to put any more money in. Staying with France the French helicopter carrier Jeanne d'Arc retires in May after a 50 year service, and could become a helipad for the rich!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Briefings (08/01/10) : Iran, Winter weather, C-17, India-China

The Guardian is reporting that British troops tried to rescue recently released hostage Peter Moore back in 2007 when he and his fellow captors were apparently being taken across the border into Iran. More recently the armed forces have been, as you would expect, helping snow covered Britain after the former superpower was reduced to chaos by some snow in January.

The UAE has increased it's C-17 order from 4 to 6, the RAF are no doubt glad the C-17 production line is being kept open for as long as possible as i'm sure they'd like a few more! India and China, the 2 possible future superpowers, will expand security co-operation following high-level talks.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chinook HC3 finally enters service; Lynx AH9A

After lying in storage for years following a fiasco involving control software the RAF has finally accepted into service the first 2 of 8 Chinook HC3 helicopters and the type has now achieved initial operational capability clearance. All 8 are expected to be received by the RAF by the end of the year. The HC3s remained unusable since 2002 because of an inability to certify their software but the HC3s have now had their avionics bought (downgraded we assume) to HC2/2A standard. The Army has also received the first 4 of 12 upgraded Lynx AH9A with new more powerful engines for Afghanistan operations. The rest of the AH9 fleet may also be upgraded at a later stage.

Ark Royal suffers fire scare

HMS Ark Royal has suffered a third fire scare since it's refit when part of one of it's gas turbines overheated during trials. The gas turbine has to be cooled with fire sprinklers after it set off the fire alarm. There no injuries in the incident, which happened before Christmas, and the ship was able to continue with it's trials.

Briefings (07/01/10) : Airport security, Streetfighter, FX-2

Information Dissemination looks the "Streetfighter 2010" concept.The Brazilian Air Force has completed it's technical evaluation of the various contenders for it's FX-2 project though not officially released the findings yet, unconfirmed reports state that the Gripen comes out on top in the evaluation.

London Heathrow, in the wake of the underpants bombing scare, expects to deploy body scanners in a few weeks time though the Guardian reports that body scanners may break child pornography laws!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Briefings (06/01/10) : UK, Piracy, Cyberwarfare

The UK is incapable of fighting modern wars according to a report written by former commanders. British armed forces are, the report claims, "institutionally incapable of keeping pace with rapid change and the associated willingness to adapt." Meanwhile the UK government is looking at proposals for a national food strategy and how to keep the population fed in future. Dig for victory!

The ELP Defens(c)e blog meanwhile ponders what kind of aircraft the USAF needs in the new decade.  Think Defence meanwhile reports that the UK is an unlikely beneficiary of the piracy problem off East Africa and elsewhere because "most of the P&I Clubs that insure shipping are based in London so War Risks Premiums go straight to the bottom line". Defense Tech asks if the US should start launching pre-emptive cyber strikes against terrorists, especially Jihadist recruiting sites.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Briefings (05/01/10) : C-17, A400M, PAK-FA

Contracts have been signed for a 7th C-17 Globemaster for the RAF. It should enter service in March next year.

However the RAF's future airlifter the A400M could be in trouble again, this time from Airbus who apparently want to ditch the project?! Airbus don't want their troubled airlifter to damage it's successful commercial division.

Russia have begun ground tests of their next generation combat fighter, the PAK-FA and it will hopefully make it's first flight later this month. There are still no photographs of this mysterious new beast though so we don't know yet if its a Raptorski, Flanker 3.0 or something else entirely.

A US drone has crashed in eastern Afghanistan, probably due to technical problems not enemy fire. The French Navy is celebrating 100 years of naval aviation this year (the FAA celebrated it's 100th birthday in 2009 of course).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Was software to blame for Chinook crash?

The BBC say they have received evidence that the crash of a Chinook helicopter in 1994 that killed 29 people may have been due to faulty software in the engine management system. In the official enquiries the pilots were found guilty of gross negligance but the BBC say the MOD documents it has received, written months before the crash, say there were problems with the Chinook Mk2's airworthiness and the engine control software, FADEC, was "positively dangerous".

The MOD replied that the Chinook Mk2 has had a very safe service history since the crash on the Mull of Kintyre and that the MOD documents in question were availably to the Inquiry team and were not new evidence. The MOD have refused to reopen the Inquiry despite later inquiries in the House of Lords and House of Parliament that found the gross negligence verdicts on the pilots unjustified.

Women set to serve on RN submarines

Women now serve in many areas of the British armed forces alongside men but one bastion of maleness has remained underwater so to speak. The ban on women serving on submarines may be lifted though the ban on frontline infantry will remain. Lifting the ban would bring almost total gender equality to the Royal Navy, though the number of ships women can actually serve on is unlikely to increase by much anytime soon. Submarines like the Astute (below) could be  adapted to accommodate women though existing classes may be more problematic.

Briefings (04/01/10) : Iraq, Chinook, Airships

In December there were no US combat fatalities in Iraq, the first time there haven't been since the start of the war in Iraq. Though there were 3 non-combat fatalities, and a huge number of Iraqis killed of course. Think Defence looks at the Royal Navy's efforts to replace it's current escort fleet with Type 45 and FSC.

Flight's DEW Line blog asks how serious the US are about airships and includes a recent USN presentation on the subject. Former Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind writes in the Telegraph that a defence review must reflect policy not budgets, i hope he tells that to his mate the shadow chancellor.

The BBC are claiming the 1994 Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash, that claimed 29 lives, may have been caused by software faults after getting hold of a document that spoke of problems with the engine control on the Mark 2 Chinook.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Fail : Supermarine PB 31E Night Hawk

Military projects do not always work out as you know but usually the end result is something reasonably close to the original project aims (once you throw enough extra billions at it). But in this weekly series i will present projects that never made it. Military projects that simply never worked, not to say the projects were all bad. They failed for a variety of reasons, for the PB 31E it was probably just a bit ahead of it's time...

In this first week we go back to the First World War and the first aircraft to bear the Supermarine name, the company changed it's name from Pemberton Billing in 1916 (after Mr Pemberton Billing sold his interests to the company's other directors). One of the last aircraft Pemberton Billing had been working on had been the PB 29E, a large quadruplane for anti-airship defence. Unfortunately the sole PB 29E crashed during flight testing but the Admiralty decided to continue pursuing Pemberton Billing's ideas for combating the zeppelin menace so sponsored a further aircraft (Bruce 1969).

Supermarine PB 31E

This was the PB 31E, like the 29E it was a large quadruplane 37ft (11.27m) long and with a wing span of 60ft (18.28m). It was made more sturdy than the 29E with a planned crew of 5 and heavily armed with a 1½-pdr recoiless gun and twin Lewis machine guns. It was intended to be able to stay aloft for up to 18 hours and carried a searchlight that was powered by a separate engine and thus was probably one of the first aircraft to carry an auxiliary power unit (Andrews & Morgan 1981). Because of the long planned duration it was fitted with some basic comforts for the crew including a heated cabin. The aircraft also carried armour in some key areas and the cockpit was bound with fabric to avoid wood splinters in the event of a crash to protect the crew.

The problem with all of these features was weight, the PB 31E weighed over 6100lb (2787kg) when loaded and there simply wasn't the engine technology of the time to properly handle such a plane. Two 100hp Anzani engines powered the PB 31E and was enough to get it airborne but not enough to give it sufficient performance to perform in the anti-zeppelin role. The PB 31E took an hour to climb to 10,000ft which meant that zeppelins could easily escape it by ditching ballast and climbing rapidly. The design speed had been 75mph (120kph) which was considered fast enough to catch zeppelins (though some zeppelins could go faster than that in favourable conditions) but it is reported the PB 31E struggled to pass 60mph (97kph) (Bruce 1969).

Front view showing the search light on the nose

The PB 31E first flew in February 1917 but by then it was apparent there were flaws in the concept, highlighted by the PB 31E's poor performance. Unable to pursue a zeppelin it's only chance of success would have been the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time and firing on the zeppelin before it got out of range (Bruce 1969). It's main armament, a 1½ pounder Davis non-recoil gun, was also rather unwieldy.

The sole PB 31E was scrapped in the Summer of 1917, the second planned example never being built. The PB 31E, which was given the name Night Hawk, was technically innovative and it's concept could maybe have worked with a better performance. It was an early example of what we would call today a "weapons system" (Andrews & Morgan 1981). In the event the zeppelin was near the end of it's time as a military weapon anyway, Supermarine survived the war. You may have heard of one of their later products.

Further reading :

Supermarine Aircraft Since 1914 (Andrews & Morgan, Putnam, 1981)
Warplanes Of The First World War - Volume 3 (Bruce, Macdonald, 1969)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Breaking the Iron Law, the importance of the nuclear deterrent

When James Callaghan left Number 10 after being defeated by Margaret Thatcher in the May 1979 election (i just about remember it) he broke the so called "Iron Law". An outgoing administration is not supposed to supply it's files to it's replacement but Callaghan thought some files were important enough to break the law, they were on the British nuclear deterrent.

Callaghan had already been discussing with President Carter replacing the existing Polaris SLBMs with Trident and he wanted to pass on his notes to Thatcher and technical documents he had commissioned. In the event Thatcher continued with the Trident programme and we now stand at a point where the deterrent has to be replaced again.

The smart money is on renewing Trident with improved missiles and a new generation of boats though it could be the government may aim to delay replacement as long as possible to save money. A design contract has already been delayed of course and it is likely they will try and make do with 3 boats not 4 (the original RN SSBN force was to have been 5 boats).

Is a nuclear deterrent still as important now as it was in 1979, could you imagine Brown passing on his notes to Cameron? The deterrent is still important which it why it is likely to remain part of the British defence armoury despite the current fiscal strains. A permanent seat on the UN Security Council would be difficult to justify without the means to destroy much of the world, as well as that it (and the French nuclear weapons) are a vital part of EU foreign policy and security in many ways even if you would never get anyone to admit it.

Briefings (01/01/10) : LEMV, A400M, Trident

Happy New Year to everyone, as it is the start of a new year (and a decade) i am going to run things a little differently on this blog from now on. I will regularly (hopefully daily during the week but we'll see how it goes) present a briefing of defence related news and information i hope others may find interesting. There will also be editorials and other news items as well.

That is the plan anyway, for our first briefing the US Army is looking into lighter-than-air technology again and hopes to buy a long-endurance hybrid airship for surveillance in Afghanistan called LEMV. The A400M's flight test programme will get into top gear in 2110, with testing to also take place in France as well as Spain.

Back in 1979 out-going Prime Minister James Callaghan broke the "iron law" about handing over files to a new administration (Maggie Thatcher of course) when he made sure she received "key documents" relating to replacing the British Polaris nuclear deterrent with Trident. Sticking with strategic weapons USAF Global Strike Command (AFGSC) has taken over responsibility for US ICBMs part of an ongoing plan to unify all USAF nuclear assets under one command.