Monday, May 31, 2010

Briefings : F136, SIGINT A320, Indian fighter upgrades

The alternative engine for the JSF, the GE/Rolls Royce F136 has been in trouble from the bean counters for some time but may survive another year at least because the US government simply doesn't have the time to axe it because of other defence priorities.

Airbus is working on a SIGINT version of it's A320 airliner. Airbus are currently bench testing equipment in a self-funded study. There are no orders for such a plane yet though Airbus say they are talking to several potential buyers.
India is busying it's chequebook in order to upgrade it's fighter fleet. 40 Su-30MKIs will be upgraded with new radars, EW systems and support for the BrahMos missile. The air force's 56 Mirage 2000s are also likely to be upgraded with new avionics, cockpit displays and EW/weapon systems.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Operation Dynamo 70 years on

It is 70 years since Operation Dynamo, the "miracle" when thousands of allied troops were evacuated from France at Dunkirk (and other ports) back to Britain as the Germans pressed irresistibly into France. The BBC website has created a nice selection of maps and infographics to try and explain exactly did go on at Dunkirk.

A fleet of boats, some survivors from the original operation, will re-enact the journey over to Dunkirk today. They will be escorted across by HMS Monmouth.

The Telegraph have a video report. The Daily Mail looks at some of the soldiers who didn't manage to be evacuated and their terrible fate.

The Guardian has meanwhile gone back into it's archives to 1936 to find a report complaining about the state of the British Army and how so many recruits were rejected as they were unfit. Similiar things are often said about recruits nowadays, the more things change the more things stay the same.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Britain to have no more than 225 nuclear warheads

We already knew that Britain has 160 "operationally available" nuclear warheads but the total figure of warheads to be held by the British including warheads in maintenance has remained a secret until now. The government has announced it will retain a maximum of 225 warheads. The government say they are committed to the nuclear deterrent but are to review the circumstances under which it would be used.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Briefings : Lynx AH9A, Camouflage, USN Fighter Gap

The upgraded Lynx AH9A has entered service with the British Army in Afghanistan. The first two helicopters sent to the country began operational flights earlier this month following some training and test flights. The AH9A has more powerful engines and improved guns, electronics and self-protection.

Also in Afghanistan British troops have begun wearing the new MTP camouflage scheme, the first change in camouflage for 40 years. The US Navy will attempt to close it's "fighter gap" by extending the lives of it's Hornets into the 2020s rather than trying to speed up production of the JSF or buying more Super Hornets.

What happened to the X-37B after it was launched into space? The USAF arn't saying but amateur satellite observors have discovered it's orbit.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Retro Tucanos

The RAF have repainted two of it's Tucano T1 trainers in a "retro" WW2 camouflage style (the red in the roundels looks too small to me though) as part of it's effort to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. They flew in formation with one of the RAF's heritage flight's Spitfires a few days ago. I'd love to see a Typhoon repainted like this too.
Photo © Geoffrey Lee/Planefocus

Friday, May 21, 2010

Briefings : AURIGA, Patrol vehicles, Reaper

A number of Royal Navy and RFA vessels are taking part in the AURIGA multinational naval task force. A four month series of exercises involving the RN, USN and French Navy are currently taking place off the US Eastern seaboard. HMS Ark Royal, HMS Liverpool, HMS Sutherland and RFA Fort George are among the vessels taking part.

Force Protection and Supacat are being invited to tender for new patrol vehicles for the British Army which will replace the controversial Snatch Land Rover in Afghanistan. The two vehicles being considered are the Ocelot (below) and the SPV400.

The Reaper UAV has reached the 10,000 flying hours mark in RAF service over Afghanistan.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Briefings : UK defence policy, Nimrod, Choenan

The UK coalition government has published it's joint policy for the next parliamentary term. Defence policy holds no surprises from what has already been stated. The Tories are committed to Trident, the Lib Dems will agree to disagree, but both agree on better pay and conditions for troops on active service whilst cutting the running costs of the MOD. As for Trident the RUSI has said that cutting the number of patrols could extend the life of the existing Vanguard submarines and save billions of pounds. A risky idea to my mind considering how fast events can unfold these days.

The last Nimrod R1s are preparing for their final deployment ahead of it's retirement next year. The last 2 aircraft are to deploy to Afghanistan following a number of upgrades and are likely to remain there until retirement next March.

North Korea has been officially blamed for the destruction of the South's corvette. The Choenan was sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine according to an international team who have investigated the incident. Staying in that area RAND have been looking at the Chinese Air Force and have some interesting things to say.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Briefings : Cheonan torpedo, USN order, KC-X

According to the Korea Times parts of the screw of a torpedo have been found at the site of the Cheonan corvette which indicates it's destruction was due to a North Korean torpedo attack. The torpedo was either Chinese or Russian made. Tensions are rising in the area, a few days ago South Korean fired warning shots at 2 North Korean patrol boats when they strayed into South Korean waters.

The USN is to buy 124 Super Hornets and Growlers over the next 4 years in a fixed price contract which will cost the Navy less per plane. Despite this order the USN is still likely to be short by over 150 fighters later in the decade.

In the latest twist to the KC-X saga Boeing now say they may not bid on the massive tanker deal as they may not be able to make any money out of it. EADS have been stressing how American their offering will be and it's European equivalent the A330 MRTT is continuing it's development demonstrating buddy tankering when one A330 refuelled another.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Briefings : Typhoon, CVF, Defence review

BAE Systems has won a support deal with the UK, Germany and Spain for avionics on the 3 countries fleets of Typhoons worth £150 million. Meanwhile Romania is the latest export target for the Eurofighter consortium who are trying to get the government to change a planned purchase for F-16s into ex-Italian Air Force Typhoons instead.

The new UK coalition government has said the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers currently being built for the Royal Navy are "safe" (or built anyway). Plans to move HMS Sultan, the RN's engineering training school, from Portsmouth to Wales may also be shelved.

The new Defence Secretary meanwhile said that resources would be tight over the next few years and a Strategic Defence Review would take place. He said "the needs of our armed forces can no longer be considered in isolation from other security challenges we face".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

National Security Council set up

One of the Conservatives manifesto pledges with respect to defence was the setting up of a National Security Council, and they have done just that. This new group will oversee all aspects of Britain's security and will include a number of permanent members plus others bought in depending on the situation at hand. The new Minister of Defence is Dr Liam Fox and he said a Strategic Defence Review would be started immediately.

Now what will a Con-Lib coalition mean for defence?

Finally the election is over so maybe we can get back to normal. A Con-Lib coalition is what we have got, i did vote for one of the two parties in the coalition so am reasonably happy. Trident will be secured (though apparently will be looked at for value for money), personally i wanted it scrapped (so that might give away which of the coalition i did vote for?)

I thought it would be interesting to look at the two manifestos from the coalition parties and see if we can glean any common ground with respect to defence policy. First of all the Conservative manifesto stated :
  • a system of regular defence reviews
  • replacing Trident with like
  • 25% savings in the running of the MOD
  • NATO not the EU being the cornerstone of defence policy
  • improves bonuses, treatment and after-care for serving service personnel
And from the Liberal Democrat manifesto :
  • hold an immediate defence review
  • review all major projects, Typhoon Tranche 3B would not be procured
  • not replace Trident with a like for like
  • improve co-operation with the French and EU
  • improved pay, conditions for service personnel
There are other items for both but these are the key points. As can be seen there are some areas of overlap and some where the two parties are immediately opposed. We can expect a strategic defence review pretty soon and probably budget cuts but that was a given considering the economic difficulties. Co-operating more with the French and EU is probably not incompatible with remaining strong in NATO (as most countries in NATO are in the EU after all).

In the end the true determinant of where the shared defence policy will stand will be how much money is in the wallet and that could be pretty frugal for some time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

RAF Hercules crash lands

A Hercules C1 has made a wheel up landing at RAF Brize Norton. The incident happened late last week and blocked up the runway which is the main transport hub for the British air bridge supporting operations in Afghanistan. The Hercules was on a training flight when it crashed, there were no injuries reported. The ageing C1s are gradually being withdrawn of course.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Briefings : Sea Avenger, US nukes, Rafale

General Atomics has unveiled the Sea Avenger UAS and offered it to the USN to fill their requirement for a carrier launched attack and surveilance drone. This is a navalised version of the Predator C drone.

The US has revealed the exact size of it's nuclear stockpile for the first time at the UN talks on the non-proliferation of nuclear warheads, though the figure of 5113 warheads did not surprise experts that much which was pretty much in line with their estimates. Thousands more warheads are awaiting dismantlement.

Dassault is still waiting for it's first Rafale order though UAE looks like it may buy the fighter. However talks are ongoing as the UAE want a better version of the fighter than the F3 which currently equips the French Air Force. The UAE want more engine thrust, an AESA radar and better electronics in an F4 model, however this could also equip the French Air Force too.

Meanwhile the Indian MMRCA fighter contract (which will be for 126 aircraft) has dragged on so long that the competing companies will now have to re-bid.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Briefings : Iraqi Hawks, Taiwan kickbacks, USN cuts

Iraq is considering buying the BAE Systems Hawk as it's advanced trainer as it gradually rebuilds it's air force in a deal that could be worth over a billion pounds. Iraqi Air Force officials will visit Britain later this year to test fly the trainer.

French defence giant Thales has been ordered to pay damages to the Taiwanese government after being found guilty of using bribes to secure a contract for 6 frigates back in 1991. The total Thales might have to pay out could be as high as a billion dollars.

Is the US Navy in line for some big cuts? Secretary of Defence Gates is reported to have questioned the need for so many carrier battle groups and whether the US could afford so many multi-billion dollar programmes. One future weapon system said to be under review is the Ohio SSBN replacement. This has implications for the Royal Navy's Successor ballistic missile submarine programme of course.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

British submarines went to sea with "potentially disastrous" defect

Nuclear attack submarines HMS Tireless and Turbulent are both reported to have taken to sea with a potentially disastrous defect. Safety valves to release steam in an emergency were sealed off which means of course if there was such an emergency the build up of pressure could have led to a very serious accident and a leak of radioactivity. The valves were sealed for maintenance work but were not removed before the submarines returned to sea. Both submarines were in service for over a year (more than 2 in Turbulent's case) before the problem was detected. Poor discipline at Devonport is blamed. There has now been a shake-up of safety procedures the MOD claim.

Video : The Dutch Marines way of tackling piracy