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17 Apr 20. DST scientists develop next-gen camo to protect Aussie personnel across spectrum. DST scientists are building up a database of hyperspectral imaging data to support the development of next-generation camouflage that will help Australian soldiers avoid detection on the battlefields of the future.
Whether moving through a forest or operating in the desert, soldiers wear uniforms that are specifically designed to enable them to blend in with their surroundings.
But on the modern battlefield, avoiding detection requires much more than tricking the human eye. Recent advances in hyperspectral imaging technology mean our troops face a far more formidable foe.
While humans can perceive only a very narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, hyperspectral sensors measure reflected and emissive energy at wavelengths far beyond the visible, and therefore collect information from right across the spectrum.
Developing effective counter-surveillance camouflage requires an understanding not only of the materials being used to disguise soldiers, but also of the characteristics of the operating environment and the new types of sensors that might be used to hunt for them.
With so many different sensor systems being deployed on a wide range of platforms – including small uninhabited aircraft, or drones – potentially posing a threat to military personnel and their equipment, conducting exhaustive testing using human observers is not practical.
Dr Bin Lee and his colleagues within Defence Science and Technology’s Land Division are working to develop the framework for a database containing real-world or ‘ground truth’ hyperspectral imaging data.
That is why researchers from DST are establishing 3D, dynamic and spectrally accurate virtual environments where they can carry out electromagnetic signature assessments. Using these virtual environments is a quicker and easier way for them to test the effectiveness of camouflage under any representative environmental conditions.
“The next generation of equipment will include detection technology and sensors that would be worn by soldiers to enable them to identify threats, as well as countermeasures to protect them from being detected themselves. And our unique database will underpin research in both areas,” Dr Lee explained.
The database would act as a reference library for spectral signature measurement, assessment, modelling and simulation activities, and would support the design of adaptive camouflage or decoy options for responding to threats in different background environments.
This work is being carried out under the Land Signature Modelling and Simulation Capability program, otherwise known as Lelantos (a god in Greek mythology whose name means ‘something that goes unobserved’).
“As we think about how best to equip the soldier of the future, we are working on two fronts: camouflage and detection,” said Dr Lee.
DST has already collaborated with camouflage experts from Defence Research and Development Canada and NATO, conducting field trials in a range of different representative operational background environments, both around Australia and overseas.
Recent field trials have been undertaken at the Puckapunyal Training Area in Victoria, where the scientists collected hyperspectral imagery of land targets and terrain backgrounds in different seasons and weather conditions.
Further trials are planned that will enable Defence researchers to add more high-resolution reference data to their database. Ultimately, this important work will inform the design of enhanced camouflage that will help to protect soldiers and give them a capability edge. (Source: Defence Connect)
16 Apr 20. Warmate loitering munition recovered in Libya. Photographs purportedly taken in Libya show a Warmate loitering munition, the weapon’s Polish manufacturer WB Group has confirmed to Jane’s.
The photographs of the munition with a broken fuselage and no wings lying on the ground in a desert location began circulating on social media on 14 April, with supporters of Libya’s Government National Accord (GNA) saying it was an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) that had been shot down near Abu Grain. At least one LNA supporter claimed it was a Turkish UAV shot down by the LNA. The photographs showed it was carrying a warhead with the markings ‘GK-1 HEAT IR’, an option for the Warmate that includes an infrared camera for night time operation. (Source: Jane’s)
15 Apr 20. U.S. says China may have conducted low-level nuclear test blasts. China may have secretly set off low-level underground nuclear test explosions despite claiming to observe an international pact banning such blasts, the U.S. State Department said in a report on Wednesday that could fuel U.S.-Chinese tensions.
The finding, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may worsen ties already strained by U.S. charges that the global COVID-19 pandemic resulted from Beijing’s mishandling of a 2019 outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Wuhan.
U.S. concerns about Beijing’s possible breaches of a “zero yield” standard for test blasts have been prompted by activities at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site throughout 2019, the State Department report said.
Zero yield refers to a nuclear test in which there is no explosive chain reaction of the type ignited by the detonation of a nuclear warhead.
“China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round, its use of explosive containment chambers, extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur and a lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities … raise concerns regarding its adherence to the zero yield standard,” the report said, without providing evidence of a low-yield test.
Beijing’s lack of transparency included blocking data transmissions from sensors linked to a monitoring center operated by the international agency that verifies compliance with a treaty banning nuclear test explosions.
The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) allows activities designed to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons.
A spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which verifies compliance with the pact, told the Wall Street Journal there had been no interruptions in data transmissions from China’s five sensor stations since the end of August 2019 following an interruption that began in 2018.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing in Beijing that China was committed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and said the United States was making false accusations.
“China has always adopted a responsible attitude, earnestly fulfilling the international obligations and promises it has assumed,” he said.
“The U.S. criticism of China is entirely groundless, without foundation, and not worth refuting.”
A senior U.S. official said the concerns about China’s testing activities buttressed President Donald Trump’s case for getting China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace the 2010 New START treaty between Washington and Moscow that expires in February.
New START restricted the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads, the lowest level in decades, and limited the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
“The pace and manner by which the Chinese government is modernizing its stockpile is worrying, destabilizing, and illustrates why China should be brought into the global arms control framework,” said the senior U.S. official on condition of anonymity.
China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal, arguing its nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.
Russia, France and Britain – three of the world’s five internationally recognized nuclear powers – signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which still requires ratification by 44 countries to become international law.
China and the United States are among eight signatories that have not ratified it. But China has declared its adherence to its terms, while the United States has observed a unilateral testing moratorium since 1992. (Source: Reuters)
15 Apr 20. Hypersonics: 5 More Army-Navy Flight Tests By 2023. The first four flight tests – one a failure — took nine years. The next five will take less than three years.
“We need to accelerate the pace of testing,” the Army’s three-star director of hypersonics says. “Fourth quarter FY23 is when the Army builds [this weapon]; that time is coming really fast. [And] we’re lucky, because when we woke up on the 27th of December and the Russians publicly declared that they had fielded a similar capability, that really put us on a path to accelerate.”
Last year, Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood took over the Army’s reorganized and renamed Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which is now responsible for both offensive hypersonic missiles and missile defense lasers. What kind of acceleration is he talking about?
The weapon that evolved into the Common Hypersonic Glide Body – so-called because it will go on both Army land-launched missiles and Navy submarine-launched ones – has had just four flight tests in nine years. The first, successful flight was in 2011. It took three years to get to the second test, in 2014, which produced no useful data because the booster rocket failed and the glide body never detached. The second successful test took another three years, to 2017; the third test, last month, another three years.
But looking forward, “our next flight test will be in third quarter ’21. Then we have additional flight tests in first quarter ’22,” Thurgood told me. “We have five more flight tests – at least five more flight tests – before we build in fourth quarter ’23.”
Tests will not only come closer together. They’ll also become more demanding.
“We are working to make it more accurate and survive in a more stressful environment,” said Thurgood’s deputy for hypersonics, Robert Strider. “With every test that we do, we’re increasing the test envelope to make sure that it will work as designed.”
That initial test in 2011 – using a larger and less refined version of the glide body – was simply about proving the design could survive the flight profile: extreme acceleration from the booster, the heat of air friction as it ripped through the atmosphere, the vacuum of near space, and reentry coming down. The failed 2014 test, and the 2017 test that replaced it, began to explore accuracy, lethality, and other performance characteristics. The future tests focus on fine-tuning the design to perform precisely as the Army and Navy missions require.
“As we hone in further and further on refining our operational outcomes, the [test] objectives become more narrow in their scope,” Thurgood told me. “We know over the next five tests exactly the outcomes we need to test to.”
In parallel to the flight test program, the Army is also trying to build an industrial base from scratch. All the glide bodies tested so far have been built, one at a time, at the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories, which invented the design. That’s not a viable model for mass production.
“The glide body technology is solely owned by the government,” Thurgood told me. “They’re currently produced – ‘made’ is probably a better word. It’s not really a production line – they’re really handmade by the great folks out at Sandia. [But] obviously how the great PhDs at Sandia make a thing may not be how we commercially make a thing.”
So the Army has contracted aerospace firm Dynetics – whose subcontractors include major players like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Atomics – to start a private-sector manufacturing line. The companies have teams at Sandia learning how to build the design first-hand from its inventors. Over time, Dynetics & co. will take the lead. First they’ll build a glide body at Sandia under the lab scientists’ supervision. Then, about a year from now, Dynetics will start production at their Huntsville, Ala. factory.
Can the Army and its contractors stick to this tight schedule amidst the disruptions of COVID-19? “Right now, I think it’s exactly on track where it needs to be,” Thurgood told me. “Even in this (COVID-19) crisis we have now, our industry partners are responding really well.” By working from home where possible, and breaking up large groups of workers into small ones where hands-on labor is required, the program has so far kept going despite the pandemic.
The other potential disruption is the Air Force’s withdrawal from the Common Hypersonic Glide Body program to focus on other, more compact hypersonic weapons that fit better on an aircraft. Even when they were involved, Thurgood told me, their unique requirements required some modifications to the glide body before they could use it. Looking forward, he said, there’s also a possibility the Air Force might step back in.
With the Air Force no longer paying a share of the overhead, “it’ll change our cost numbers a little bit,” Thurgood acknowledged. But it also frees up R&D resources for the Army and Navy.
The Air Force continues to participate in the all-service board of directors governing the Common Hypersonics Glide Body project, he said.
The current membership:
- Thurgood, director of the Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), US Army
- Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, director of Strategic Systems Programs (SSP), US Navy
- Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, military deputy to the assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics
- Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)
- Mike White, Assistant Director for Hypersonics for the Undersecretary of Defense, Research & Engineering
- Kevin Fahey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
For more from our interview with Lt. Gen. Thurgood, read the edited transcript below:
Q: How does the division of labor among the services work?
A: It’s a really great relationship we have with Admiral Wolfe in the partnership we have with the Navy. We have a Memorandum Of Agreement: the Navy owns the design responsibilities for all the services, the Army owns the production responsibilities for the glide bodies for all the services.
The Air Force has always been an important partner in this program, but they were mostly a receiver of the technologies. Now the Air Force has terminated their HCSW [Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon] program, which shared the same common hypersonic glide body.
Some of the investments they had in their program, we’ve agreed as a glide body board of directors to redistribute some of that into the Army and Navy, because they had resources that we can now leverage, like software integration labs and hardware integration labs.
They’re still members of the board. They still come to our meetings as a partner. We’re still happy to have them, and there still may be an opportunity in the future for that piece of the Air Force technology to be regenerated. We’re keeping them in the loop as we go forward.
Q: How are you working with industry?
A: We don’t have a big single prime just doing everything for us. There’s about six companies that are the key players in this, with a large number of subs. We’ve formed a partnership called the Industrial Board of Directors in order to be transparent and engage with our industry partners.
We have a quarterly meeting. We share our literature. We share our cost data. We share schedule data across all these companies totally transparently.
We have signed a contract with a company called Dynetics to become the commercial producer of the glide bodies, but it’s one thing to have the technical data package on how to build a thing: It’s another thing actually to build it. if you’re anything like me, the first time you built a baby crib, you had a couple of bolts left over. There’s a learning curve that’s associated with that and we want them to learn that from experts, which is Sandia.
Dynetics and their subcontractors, including Lockheed, Raytheon, and General Atomics, they’re all out at Sandia in teams. We just finished our second class, actually. They have been helping build the glide bodies that we’re using.
They’ll actually build their first glide body out at Sandia. Then they’ll transition to Huntsville.
Q: How are both the government and industry sides coping with COVID-19?
A: As tragic as it is, we’ve been able to keep ourselves on track and minimize the impact.
We’re maximizing our telework in the government and with our industry partners as much as we can. We haven’t changed any of our battle rhythm meetings, our review processes. We don’t do it in person anymore. We do it on VTC and our online tools.
If you’re a software engineer, you can actually do that work in an alternate work location. You don’t actually have to be at your office. Same with some engineering work. They’re really being quite creative and innovative in how they’re keeping themselves on track.
Our industry partners, some of this is touch labor, meaning they’ve got to bend metal and they got to put bolts in things. They’ve been able to make smaller groups and different shifts. You can have smaller groups come in at variable times throughout the day rather than a single shift when everybody’s there at one time in the day.
Q: How has the program progressed through flight tests, and what’s the plan going forward?
A: 2011 was really the first hypersonic flight test; that was done by the great S&T community in conjunction with Sandia, who owns the design. It was really to see if the materials, the technology we had would survive the environment we needed to survive.
That was followed by another successful test in 2017 with some refinements to the glide body. And then this test we just had last week had some additional refinements. Now we’re really making tweaks to the insides of the glide body and how we execute the missions.
I won’t give any specific numbers, but the original glide body was a little bit bigger when we were testing in 2011. Now the glide body is the size that we’re going to build. There are nuances of the changes in the material technologies, certainly the technologies that are on the inside, that you’re not going to be able to tell by looking at it
If you look at the 2011 test, it was really to see if the materials, the technology we had would survive the environment we needed to. Once you proved that in 2011, then in 2014 you would start envelope expansion, you start accuracy expansion, lethality expansion.
Now unfortunately, as you mentioned, the 2014 test, the booster was fouled on takeoff and the glide body never actually separated from the booster. In the 2017 test, we had to replan some of the things in ’14 that didn’t work out.
Our next flight test will be in third quarter ’21. Then we have additional flight tests in first quarter ’22. OSD [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] has the lead to make sure that our test infrastructure can support what we need. There’s a lot of work going on what the range complexes need to adjust to.
As we accelerate our tests, we’ll actually be able to train the future workforce at a faster pace than we have. The young engineers are in ops all the time. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
16 Apr 20. US paves the way toward delivering new nuclear SLCM.
- A nuclear sea-launched cruise missile capability is seen as central to the US intent to reinforce its non-strategic nuclear deterrence
- The US DoD is analysing SLCM-N capability requirements and alternatives, with a view to informing the FY 2022 budget request
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has set out further details of the strategic requirement, deterrence benefits, and initial development processes for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N). In a March 2020 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy white paper on the SLCM-N, the DoD stated, “Developing SLCM-N is an urgent task and initial steps in the acquisition process are under way.” (Source: Jane’s)
15 Apr 20. Hungary orders Aselsan RCWS and gunshot detection systems. An unnamed NATO country has signed a contract with Aselsan for remote controlled weapon stations (RCWS) and gunshot detection systems, the company tweeted on 10 April. Well-informed Turkish defence sources told Jane’s on 13–14 April that the customer is Hungary. Aselsan did not identify the systems but the image accompanying the tweet shows the Stabilized Advanced Remote Weapon Platform (SARP) and SEDA gunshot detection system. Plans call for the Aselsan systems to be installed in Hungarian Defence Forces Ejder Yalçın armoured combat vehicles from Turkish private company Nurol Makina. (Source: Jane’s)
14 Apr 20. US Army Research Lab Develops Grenade Launched UAS. Scientists from the Army Research Laboratory have designed a camera drone capable of being fired from a 40mm grenade launcher, researchers say, on the heels of a patent filed last month. There are two variants of the Grenade Launched Unmanned Aerial System, or GLUAS, one is a is a small, paragliding system with folding blade propellers and Mylar paragliding wings to help it stay in the air, and the other is a helicopter-style that hovers on a gimbaling set of coaxial rotors, said John Gerdes, a mechanical engineer with ARL.
The GLUAS is a small projectile, 40 millimeters in diameter, can cover a long distance with a gun-launching system. The breakthrough, he said, is with how miniaturized autonomous flight hardware has become.
The drone has a 2-kilometer range with a projected battery life that could top 90 minutes, and is capable of operating up to 2,000 feet in the air, according to researchers.
After launching, the drone spreads its wings and soars at a fixed airspeed controlled by ground troops with a joystick or handheld device. On the drone, a camera is equipped to provide a video feed to a ground station below.
“In battle, there are multiple scenarios of when Soldiers would use this technology,” Gerdes said. “How it’s used depends on which theater they’re operating in.”
For example, on the mountain ranges of Afghanistan, if Soldiers found themselves under sniper fire, they could deploy the drone to check over the area and determine the enemy’s location.
The lightweight GLUAS drone is designed to increase Soldier lethality by giving them a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, he explained, and will easily integrate into most kits carried by Soldiers in the field.
“This device provides an autonomy and intelligence platform to help Soldiers perform useful missions while having a lookout from hundreds of feet in the air,” Gerdes said. “This integrates modern types of intelligence.”
“[GLUAS] is aligned with Army modernization priorities,” said Hao Kang, another mechanical engineer with ARL. “We’re trying to provide capabilities to individual Soldiers. The most exciting part of this is the viability of this platform, coupled with its gun-launched deployment capabilities.”
“Things like GPS receivers and flight controllers are very feasible to install [onto the GLUAS], which makes it easy to maintain a position or follow a ground unit,” Gerdes said. “Basically, if there is something you want to look at, but you have no idea where it is yet, that’s where the drone comes in.”
Although they’re making technological breakthroughs at ARL, the scientists aren’t working on the same timelines as other developers, Kang said.
“We’re here to develop innovative concepts for the warfighter’s needs, which generally means we bring the size and weight down of a device, and push up the range and lethality,” Gerdes said. “At ARL, we’re typically focused on the basic innovation and discovery aspects of research.”
ARL is part of the Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. (Source: UAS VISION)
14 Apr 20. N. Korea Fires Barrage of Missiles on Eve of Founder’s Birthday, S. Korea’s Elections. North Korea fired what appeared to be cruise missiles off its east coast and air-to-ground missiles from fighter jets into the East Sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, in muscle-flexing maneuvers on the eve of the late national founder’s birthday and the South’s general elections. The surface-to-ship cruise missiles were fired northeastward from areas near its eastern coastal town of Munchon at around 7 a.m. during a time period of more than 40 minutes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, adding they flew around 150 kilometers before splashing into waters off the east coast. Along with the missile launches, the North flew Sukhoi-variant fighter jets and MiG-type planes above the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, and fired multiple air-to-ground missiles into the East Sea, the JCS added. It was not immediately known if leader Kim Jong-un guided the latest firings.
“The military is closely monitoring the situation for possible additional launches, while maintaining a readiness posture,” the JCS said in a release. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Yonhap News Agency)
14 Apr 20. DoD Seeks $2.9bn For Hypersonics In 2021. While Army and Navy spending nearly double, Air Force and independent agency spending drops almost 40 percent. The Pentagon is asking Congress for $2.865bn for hypersonic weapons in 2021, up not quite 14 percent from a 2020 total of $2.508bn, according to DoD budget documents obtained by Breaking Defense.
Army and Navy hypersonics spending would nearly double in 2021. Each increases by 95 percent. But that’s offset by a 40 percent reduction in spending by independent defense agencies like DARPA, which are handing off much of the work to the services as programs move from basic research to prototyping, and a 35 percent cut in the Air Force, which cancelled one of its two major hypersonics programs.
Hypersonic weapons fall into two main categories. The more conservative approach — relatively speaking, since these are all bleeding-edge weapons — is known as boost-glide, because it uses a conventional rocket booster to accelerate the weapon to hypersonic speed, after which the glide body containing the warhead detaches from the booster and coasts, skipping along the upper limits of the atmosphere like a stone across a pond. The Navy and Army programs are both boost-glide weapons, and the two services are using a common booster rocket, built by the Navy, and a Common Glide Body, built by the Army and lead contractor Dynetics. The Navy also plans to customize the weapon to launch from submarines, while the Army version will fire from trucks, a much simpler engineering challenge.
The Air Force had two boost-glide programs. HCSW (pronounced hacksaw), the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon, which would have used a modified version of Army-built Common Glide Body. But the Air Force decided to cancel HCSW and focus its efforts on the more compact ARRW (arrow), the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon. (Both HCSW and ARRW are Lockheed Martin programs).
Finally, DARPA is working on an alternative to boost-glide: air-breathing hypersonic cruise missiles that spend their entire flight in the atmosphere, with their engines providing continuous thrust. That allows the engine to take in oxygen from the air as it flies, rather carrying bulky oxygen tanks — as a boost-glide weapon’s rocket boosters do. But flying through the atmosphere also creates friction, heating up an air-breathing hypersonic weapon in ways a boost-glide design, which spends most of its time in a near-vacuum, doesn’t have to worry about.
Since the air-breathing technology is more ambitious, it remains a DARPA effort for now, with two contracts: Northrup Grumman and Raytheon are working on the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapons Concept (HAWC) and Lockheed Martin on the Hypersonic Strike Weapon air-breathing (HSW-ab). While these programs will probably transition to the Air Force in the near future, they don’t yet have their own budget lines in the documents we obtained; they’re almost certainly folded into the figure for independent defense agencies.
The documents summed up a portfolio of programs the Pentagon now refers to as “missile defense and defeat,” a euphemism which combines offensive and defensive programs. As Breaking D readers know, DoD has taken to lumping long-range strike efforts known as left-of-launch into its budget reporting on missile defense, with a total of $3.26bn included for such activities in the 2021 request. Spending on hypersonic weapons is listed as a subcategory of “nontraditional” missile defense funding, defined as:
funding for missile defeat efforts outside of the above missile defense efforts. This captures ‘left-of launch’ efforts that defeat missiles before they take flight via high-speed strike (e.g. Conventional Prompt Strike) or cyber-attack operations.
We combed through the document to extract the offensive hypersonics programs from traditional missile defense, directed energy (lasers), cyber warfare, and other means of neutralizing enemy missile salvos.
The document broke down 2020 funding and 2021 requests for Army, Navy, Air Force and defense-wide, both for foundational science, technology, test and evaluation (STTE) as well as for each individual service’s programs to develop hypersonic missiles. Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency and the Space Development Agency are working on a space-based sensor to detect adversary hypersonic and cruise missiles, under the Hypersonic & Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) Prototyping program.
The Navy is the big spender in 2021, with the bulk of the funds slated for the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS), a submarine-launched boost-glide weapon set to enter service in 2025. Its total hypersonic budget in 2020 is set at $526m, but jumping to just over $1bn in the 2021 request. (DoD agencies spent $31m in 2020 wrapping up their portion of CPS, but the whole program will be in the Navy budget as of 2021).
The Air Force’s 2020 budget includes $848m, the budget documents show, but that drops in the 2021 request to $554m due to the cancellation of HCSW. The Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) is funded at $286 m in 2020 and the service is asking for $382m in 2021.
As for the Army, the documents put 2020 spending at $441m, and the 2021 request is for $859m. That increase is driven by a big jump in the budget for the land-based version of the common Army-Navy boost-glide weapon, the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), from $409m in 2020 to $801 m in 2021.
(This LRHW line item also includes some work on the cancelled Mobile Intermediate Range Missile. DoD never said publicly what MIRM would be, or even whether it would be a hypersonic missile or a conventional ballistic missile, and it appears to have been stillborn).
The documents also show the Army spending $19m on the Operational Fires ground-launched hypersonic missile program in 2020, and asking for another $28 m in 2021. OpFires is a joint program with DARPA. Lockheed Martin scored a $31.9m contract from DARPA in January to begin Phase 3 Weapon System Integration under the program. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
14 Apr 20. North Korea fires salvo of possible anti-ship cruise missiles into sea, say South Korean officials. Pyongyang fired what appeared to be a salvo of short-range anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) into the East Sea (also known as the Sea of Japan) on 14 April – the eve of the 108th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il-sung -, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
In a statement issued that same day the JCS said the as yet unidentified projectiles were fired in a north-easterly direction from an area near the coastal town of Munchon in North Korea’s eastern Kangwon Province at around 07.00 h local time. The projectiles flew a distance of around 150 km before falling into the sea, said the officials, adding that the firings lasted for more than 40 minutes.
A JCS official told Jane’s that Seoul believes North Korea may have tested the same anti-ship cruise missile system it tested on 8 June 2017. Referred to as the KN-19 by US Forces Korea (USFK), this mobile coastal defence system was first publicly displayed by the communist regime on 15 April 2017 in a parade to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung. On that day Pyongyang paraded a number of tracked transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) carrying launch tubes consistent with the North Korean version of the Russian 3M24 ASCM.
The 3M24-like missile had previously been fired from North Korean missile patrol boats, but the June 2017 test-launch marked the first time that the missile was shown being fired from a land-based vehicle. The TEL seen carrying the missile at the time appeared to be based on the 2P19 tracked vehicle clone that North Korea uses as a TEL for R-17 ‘Scud’-type short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). (Source: Jane’s)
13 Apr 20. Patriot missile defense systems now active in Iraq, say US officials. New air defense systems are now protecting American and allied forces at military bases in Iraq where troops have been attacked by Iranian-backed insurgents in recent months, according to U.S. officials.
Patriot missile launchers and two other short-range systems are now in place at al-Asad Air Base, where Iran carried out a massive ballistic missile attack against U.S. and coalition troops in January, and at the military base in Irbil, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive weapons movement. A short-range rocket defense system was installed at Camp Taji.
The military has been gradually moving the defensive systems into Iraq over the last few months to provide more protection for troops that have seen a series of rocket and missile attacks.
Soon after Iran launched a massive ballistic missile assault against troops at al-Asad in January, questions were raised about the lack of air defense systems at the bases. But it has taken time to overcome tensions and negotiate with Iraqi leaders, and to also locate defense systems that could be shifted into Iraq. Prior to the missile attacks, U.S. military leaders did not believe the systems were needed there, more than in other locations around the world where such strikes are more frequent.
The systems are now operational, as top U.S. officials warn that threats from Iranian proxy groups continue.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday that because of that threat, hundreds of soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, remain in Iraq.
He said only one battalion was allowed to return to Fort Bragg, N.C., “in part because the situation with the Shia militia groups and Iran has not 100 percent settled down.” He added that “they will continue their mission until such time that we think the threat has subsided.”
Several rockets hit near the site of an American oilfield service company in southern Iraq this week. It was the first such attack in recent months to target U.S. energy interests. Americans had already left the location.
President Donald Trump early last week said his administration has received intelligence that Iran is planning a strike. He provided no details, but he warned Iran in a tweet that if U.S. troops are attacked by Iran or its proxies, “Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!”
Other officials in recent weeks said there had been an increase in intelligence pointing to a possible large attack. But they said this week that the threat appears to have tapered off, as countries grapple with the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
Still, military leaders have argued that U.S. and coalition troops needed the extra protection because threats from the Iranian proxies continue and it’s unclear how much control Tehran may have over them, particularly now as the virus hits Iran hard.
In early January, the U.S. launched an airstrike in Baghdad that killed Iran’s most powerful military officer, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq. Kataib Hezbollah, one of those militias, has been responsible for a number of attacks on U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces.
The Soleimani killing triggered the Iran ballistic missile attack, which resulted in traumatic brain injuries to more than 100 American troops.
Iraqi leaders, however, were angry over the al-Muhandis killing, and protests around the county had been calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Those conditions made negotiations over the Patriot systems very sensitive.
In addition, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, told reporters that moving Patriots and other systems to Iraq was tricky because it meant he would have to take the systems from another location where they were also needed. Officials have not said where the systems in Iraq were taken from.
It also has taken time to move the large systems, piece by piece, into Iraq, assemble them and and link them together.
The Patriot batteries, which are designed to protect against missiles are at al-Asad and Iribil. In addition, the so-called Army C-RAM system is being used and is able to take out rockets and mortars. And the more sophisticated Avenger air defense system can counter low-flying missiles and aircraft, including drones and helicopters.
Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and has steadily reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been eased or lifted under the terms of the deal. Late last month, the administration slapped sanctions on 20 Iranian people and companies for supporting Shia militia responsible for attacks on U.S. forces.
Currently, there are more than 6,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. While some forces have been withdrawn over the past few months, others have flowed in to set up and operate the new air defense systems. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
10 Apr 20. Covid-19: US Army extends up-gunned Stryker competition again. Vendors vying for the contract to up-gun the US Army Stryker fleet with a 30mm cannon now have an additional two months to submit their proposals, although the service said the decision should not delay plans to begin fielding the weapon to soldiers in 2022.
The army announced on 3 April that vendors competing for its Medium Caliber Weapons System (MCWS) programme now had until 10 August to submit their written proposals, bid samples, and armour coupons. The service told Jane’s that this decision was taken in order to maintain competition at a time when the nation is grappling with the effects of coronavirus.
“The extension is resultant of Covid-19-related closures at various vendor sites and travel restrictions that are impeding progress on proposals,” Ashley John, the director for public and congressional affairs for the Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems, wrote in 9 April email. “The extension protects the competitive approach to the effort.”
Initially, companies had until 8 June to deliver their MWCS bid samples, also dubbed “production-ready system samples”, armour coupons, and written proposals to the service. But in mid-March the programme manager opted to grant competitors an additional 30 days to deliver their bid samples and armour coupons.
After receiving additional information from the vendors, however, the army opted to further extend the delivery deadline for everything, including the written proposals, until 10 August.
“Responses to the query indicated an additional 30-day extension was warranted in order to provide maximum opportunity to all competitors for a successful proposal,” John said. “The programme manager will host individual pre-proposal conferences in late-April with each competitor to further assess Covid-19 impacts based on a developing understanding of the situation. (Source: Jane’s)
10 Apr 20. US Navy Targets Sub-Launched Hypersonic Test By Mid 2020s. For the rest of this year, the Navy is doubling down on its boosters, conducting a series of static fire tests to collect data before another test firing. “We’ve been crawling, now we’re starting to walk where we’re going to get the booster design done — we’re going to static test this year — and then we will start to truly, truly run,” Wolfe said.
The Navy plans to test its developmental hypersonic missile from a submarine by the mid-2020s, and is pushing the burgeoning program through a series of static tests this year to demonstrate technologies as it gears up to equipping its Virginia-class submarines with the weapon.
“Our goal is to have an early capability in the mid ‘20s,” Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs said. “We’re trying to take a methodical approach to this, as we work through this to make sure we get it right.”
The weapon is being developed through a unique partnership between the Navy and Army, in which the Army buys the glide body for both services, while the Navy buys the rocket booster. After rounds of joint tests, like the successful launch last month, each service will customize the missile for its own particular needs: the Army plans to field a battery of four truck-borne launchers in 2023 while the Navy will take a few more years to work out the more complicated design specifications of a sea-launched version set to fly from Virginia-class submarines.
Late last month, the two services launched their Common Hypersonic Glide Body from the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii. It was the second successful test of the C-HGB, about a year-and-a-half after the first test in October 2017.
For the rest of this year, the Navy is doubling down on its boosters, conducting a series of static fire tests to collect data before another test firing. “We’ve been crawling. Now we’re starting to walk where we’re going to get the booster design done — we’re going to static test this year — and then we will start to truly, truly run,” Wolfe said.
In the fiscal 2021 budget request, the Navy asked for $1bn to fund work on the Conventional Prompt Strike program. Budget documents said the program will “enable precise and timely strike capability in contested environments across surface and sub-surface platforms.” It targeted fiscal 2028 for fielding on a Virginia-class submarine with Virginia Payload Module.”
Placing the weapon on Virginia subs would allow the US to strike any target anywhere on the planet within minutes, giving the Navy an unprecedented quick-strike punch that would help in contested environments around the first island chain in the Pacific, where the Chinese buildup has most concerned the US and its allies.
The Virginia Payload Module gives the submarines space for 28 additional missile tubes, for a total of 40 missiles per boat. The additional missile tubes will help the Navy fill part of the gap that will be left when the four Ohio-class guided-missile submarines begin leaving the fleet in the mid-2020s. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
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