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05 Oct 18. Gulf Security: Ministerial Visit. The MoD reported (5 Oct 18) that, as part of a five-day visit to the region, the Armed Forces’ Minister officially opened the UK-Oman EX SAIF SAREEA 3 alongside the Oman’s Minister Responsible for Defence Affairs. The Minister’s regional tour also included Bahrain where he visited UK Naval Support Facilities at Mina Salman Port and Iraq where the Minister met troops who are helping to train Iraqi Security Forces as part of the Global Coalition against Daesh.
Comment: EX SAIF SAREEA 3, which involves over 5,500 UK troops training alongside Omani counterparts, is being hailed as the UK’s largest military exercise in 17 years. The RN confirmed (4 Oct 18) the arrival in Oman of HMS ALBION which will be leading the naval element of the Exercise. The Amphibious Task Group includes the Type 45 destroyer HMS DRAGON, minehunters HMS BLYTH and LEDBURY, RFAs Cardigan Bay and Lyme Bay as well as the military ferry MV Anvil Point. Eight Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth and an E-3D Sentry aircraft from RAF Waddington have also been deployed to Thumrait Airport. The final test Exercise is due to take place from 24 to 27 Oct 18 while the firepower demonstration is scheduled for 29 Oct to 3 Nov 18. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
05 Oct 18. NATO: EX TRIDENT JUNCTURE. UK troops arrived in the Netherlands (10 Oct 18) as part of the road move to Norway for EX TRIDENT JUNCTURE which is taking place from 25 Oct to 7 Nov 18. A total of 2,700 UK personnel will be involved in the Exercise which will train the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and the NATO Response Force 2019. Once in Norway, British troops will work alongside their Danish and Polish counterparts. Six RN ships are set to contribute, forming part of two multinational tasks groups operating throughout the Exercise. The RAF will exercise remotely while also providing Hawk aircraft to act as the enemy.
Comment: EX TRIDENT JUNCTURE, NATO’s largest collective defence exercise for over 10 years, will involve 40,000 participants, 10,000 vehicles and some 150 aircraft. The training will culminate with a week-long live exercise involving a British-led battlegroup and brigades led by Germany and Italy. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
05 Oct 18. Germany: Defence Co-operation. Reaffirming the UK’s commitment to building closer relationships with allies, the Defence Secretary and his German counterpart signed (5 Oct 18) a Joint Vision Statement. The Statement outlines initiatives to increase co-operation across a range of areas, from tackling violent extremism to building new military capabilities. The Defence Secretary also attended a demonstration of the German-UK combined river crossing capability at Minden. The Statement was signed after a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers on 4 Oct 18 which focused on “further adapting and strengthening the Alliance in response to an increasingly assertive Russia and continued instability in the South”.
Comment: As part of EX TRIDENT JUNCTURE, the UK is moving a convoy of 70 Foxhound, Husky and Land Rover vehicles through Northern Europe, including Germany. The road move will test the ability of customs border regulations and infrastructure to cope with rapid and heavy troop movements. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
07 Oct 18. Royal Navy: Support Contracts. The Defence Procurement Minister announced (7 Oct 18) the award of new contracts to UK firms “expected to be worth over £1,000m” over the next decade for the support of military vessels. The contracts, which cover 17 ships, will improve how repairs and maintenance work is carried out and will secure over 700 jobs at the shipyards concerned. The agreements are expected to be worth:-
- £357m with Cammell Laird to support RFA Fort and Wave Class fleet tankers.
- £262m with Cammell Laird to support RFA Tide Class fleet tankers.
- £239m with A&P to support RFA Bay Class landing ships as well as the casualty ship RFA Argus and the ocean survey vessel HMS SCOTT.
- £150m with UK Docks Ltd to support survey ships HMS ECHO and ENTERPRISE and the ice patrol ship HMS PROTECTOR.
Comment: In addition to the above, a further three contracts are expected to be signed within the next year as part of the Future In Service Support (FISS) project. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
08 Oct 18. Type 26 Frigates: Port Basing. In a Written Statement (8 Oct 18) The Defence Secretary confirmed plans for the RN’s Type 26 frigates to be based at HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth. The Defence Secretary said: “This decision is judged to be in the best interests of the Service and to provide greater stability for Service personnel and their families”.
Comment: The eight Type 26 frigates are due to replace the current anti-submarine warfare Type 23 frigates from 2027 onwards. Plans to base the Type 26 vessels in Plymouth follow the November 2017 decision to base the eight Type 23 ships fitted with a towed array sonar at Devonport, making the site a centre of excellence in anti-submarine warfare. Devonport is also home to the RN’s survey and amphibious vessels, while the general-purpose Type 23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers are based in Portsmouth. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
03 Oct 18. Maritime Unmanned Systems: NATO Co-operation. Defence Ministers from 13 NATO member countries signed (3 Oct 18) a declaration of intent to co-operate on the introduction of maritime unmanned systems. Signatories include: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US. Working alongside traditional naval assets, it is intended that unmanned systems will enhance NATO’s effectiveness in areas such as detecting and clearing mines and finding and tracking submarines.
Comment: The above initiative is intended to support the implementation of NATO’s reinforced maritime posture agreed at the Brussels Summit in July 2018. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
09 Oct 18. Afghanistan: Deployed Personnel. It was confirmed in the House of Lords (9 Oct 18) that, as at 17 Sep 18,146 UK personnel were deployed to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy and 28 personnel were deployed in support of the Afghan Infantry Branch School. Both deployments are part of the UK’s contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.
Comment: The UK is the third largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan, following an uplift of numbers agreed with NATO in July 2018. The UK now has over 1,000 personnel serving in the country.
(Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
04 Oct 18. Japan: EX VIGILANT ISLES. The Army reported (4 Oct 18) that 50 soldiers from the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) have deployed to Fuji Training Camp to train with their counterparts from the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force. As part of EX VIGILANT ISLES, troops are being stationed at observations posts for joint training focused on sharing tactics and surveillance techniques.
Comment: While the RN and RAF have undertaken recent exercises with the Japanese Self Defence Forces, this is the first time that any foreign troops (except for American Forces) have conducted military exercises on Japanese soil. The HAC is the Army’s Reserve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance regiment. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
10 Oct 18. Vietnam: Joint Statement. During an official visit to the UK (9-10 Oct 18) the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary agreed a Joint Statement which noted “the growing importance of collaboration in the UN, on peacekeeping, global security, international law and the illegal wildlife trade”. Particular reference was made to the transition of provision of the UN field hospital at Bentiu in South Sudan from UK to Vietnamese peacekeepers.
Comment: The above visit was part of events to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the UK. A 63-strong Vietnamese medical team is being deployed to South Sudan where it will replace UK personnel in the Level 2 Hospital at Bentiu later in October 2018. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
04 Oct 18. RAF: Joint Graduation. The first joint graduation of Airmen and Officers took place at RAF Cranwell on 4 Oct 18. 91 recruits, who completed their initial training at RAF Halton, graduated alongside 106 Officer Cadets and 10 Commissioned Warrant Officers.
Comment: The joint graduation marks the conclusion of the official RAF Centenary celebrations. As part of the Centenary legacy, there are plans to establish a single point of entry for Airmen and Officers at RAF College Cranwell reflecting the meritocratic principles upon which the RAF was established in 1918. (Source: DNA DEFENCE NEWS ANALYSIS, Issue 18/36, 15 Oct 18)
12 Oct 18. Albania’s graveyard of MiGs to become NATO air base. Long the graveyard of its once mighty air force, Albania’s base at Kucova is set to become a NATO station – to the delight of its former airmen longing to hear the engines roar again. Albania retired its 224 Soviet- and Chinese-made MiGs in 2005, and since 2009 NATO neighbours Italy and Greece monitor its airspace. That led to economic decline in and around Kucova, which was called “Stalin City” during the era of Communist rule.
“The base is the first footprint of NATO in the Western Balkans as it will transform Kucova into the first NATO air base for the region,” Defence Minister Olta Xhacka told Reuters.
NATO will spend over 50m euros (44m pounds) on the first stage of work to turn Kucova into a support base for supplies, logistics, training and drills, Xhacka said. Albania feels it has earned such a transformation at the base for helping maintain stability in the Balkans and contributing to NATO peacekeeping missions around the world.
“The region as a whole has entered into an irreversible Euro-Atlantic integration process,” Xhacka added.
News of a NATO base has stirred hopes in Kucova. Civilians see the base project as an economic boost for an area plagued by emigration and unemployment. The last generation of trained pilots, now in their early fifties, are keen to hear the rumble of engines again, while younger people on the site mull quitting due to their low wages. Sheep graze in the bushes between the taxiing lanes and the runway. Some 88 MiGs squat on their flat tires near three underground hangars, while birds sing around them. The runway, conceived by Soviet planners who stored dynamite under the airfield to blow it up should it fall into enemy hands and built by political prisoners in the 1950s, has good weather conditions all year round.
“A NATO base there will boost the country’s defence capacities, and foreign investors will have more confidence in Albania. It will also be good for employment in the area,” said 68-year-old retired air force commander Klement Alikaj. (Source: Reuters)
11 Oct 18. Defence Committee – Gavin Williamson session. Departmental Priorities Post-NATO Summit.
17 October 2018,Room 8, Palace of Westminster
- Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Defence
- Peter Watkins CBE, Director General Strategy and International, Ministry of Defence
The Committee will be taking evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence following the NATO Brussels Summit which took place in July. Questions will also be asked about a number other areas of defence policy including the Modernising Defence Programme, Russia, procurement policy, recruitment and retention and Armed Forces pay.
10 Oct 18. Brexit aside, British troops test ability to reinforce Europe. British troops disembarked in the Netherlands on Wednesday en route to Norway to test NATO’s ability to move personnel and armour quickly across Europe, an exercise officers said showed London’s commitment to European security after Brexit. In a drill with Cold War echoes, Britain is moving some 600 armoured vehicles, jeeps and supply trucks and 1,200 troops by land to NATO’s northern flank over 10 days to join the alliance’s biggest exercises since the end of the Soviet Union.
“We haven’t done this … since the Cold War,” Dutch Brigadier General Hans Damen said as 76 dark green British army vehicles arrived at dawn at the ferry port of Hoek van Holland.
Britain, which has the biggest defence budget in the EU and is rivalled for military capability only by France, is eager to show that despite its vote to leave the European Union it remains committed to Europe’s security.
“In a post-Brexit world we will still do this, we are still a member of NATO, we will still help our European partners,” said British Major Stuart Lavery.
Part of NATO’s response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, 45,000 troops from 29 NATO countries plus non-members Sweden and Finland will mass in the Arctic for the “Trident Juncture” exercise from Oct. 25.
SENDING A MESSAGE
Several years in the planning, the exercise follows Russia’s biggest drills since the 1980s.
Britain branded Russia a “pariah state” last week when, along with the Netherlands and United States, it accused Russian military intelligence of cyber attacks on the West. Russia denies wrongdoing and blames NATO for threatening stability with a military build-up on Russia’s borders.
Admiral James Foggo, commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa, said on Tuesday the alliance’s preparedness was “a message to anyone who might conduct any kind of an aggressive act”.
The Arctic exercise emphasises NATO’s traditional role defending Europe, after years when it took responsibility for the U.S.-led war in far-off Afghanistan.
Allies will train in sub-zero temperatures to see how they fare when fuel threatens to freeze, equipment jams and survival means keeping on special snow boots even inside sleeping bags. First, the British troops will tackle more mundane obstacles en route, such as border clearances and vehicle breakdowns.
“It’s all about recording what issues arise and ensuring that we are ready for them in the future,” said British Lieutenant Harry Busby (Source: Reuters)
10 Oct 18. White Flag? An examination of the UK’s Defence Capability. White Flag? – An examination of the UK’s defence capability. Michael Ashcroft & Isabel Oakeshott from Biteback Publishing. This is a very timely book, says reviewer Nick Watts. Whitehall is in the midst of the latest iteration of a recurring debate: How big a military does the UK need, and what is it for? This book delves into this question. In 1962 Dean Acheson, former US Secretary of State in the Truman era, remarked that Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role. The resolution of this continuing dilemma affects the UK’s armed forces, and the roles they might be expected to undertake, as Global Britain seeks to redefine itself. The Armed Forces are an arm of government policy – as long as the government knows what it wants them to do. Arguments about defence budgets, types of equipment and the likely threats faced by the UK complicate the role of the armed forces. Policy makers try to second guess the future by placing big bets on ‘exotic’ equipment, at a time when technology has never been more agile.
The book draws attention to an MOD programme ‘Agile Warrior’ in which the leaders of tomorrow’s army think about how they will fight tomorrow’s wars. This example demonstrates a much needed attitude within the military generally, namely not trying to fight the last war, with different equipment. This matters, because the services rely on the successful balance of people and kit. Invest too little in either and, as the book points out, the British military risks become irrelevant to the changing threat environment.
Unfortunately, the world has not become a kinder, gentler place since the end of the Second World War and the advent of the nuclear threat. Warfare has become increasingly low tech, with Kalashnikovs and machetes responsible for most deaths in recent conflicts. The UK might choose to retreat within its island fortress, but our position as a member of the P 5 at the UN requires it to play a role in world affairs. Our network of alliances and trading links gives Britain a global interest, whether we like it or not. While the US seemingly steps back from its role as leader of the west, it is not unreasonable to expect that the UK can continue to play a significant role on the world stage.
The Foreword to the book by General Sir Mike Jackson neatly summarizes the matter: “Rather than reflecting what is thought to be affordable, our armed forces should reflect the position we wish our country to hold in the world, and the threats to which we believe they may have to respond. Only then, when we have identified what we expect of our services, can we begin to assess what the necessary capabilities are going to cost. When governments alight on an arbitrary figure….and ask defence chiefs to make the best of it, they are in danger of putting our security at risk.”
The book takes a look at the threat, which all examinations of national security should do. It then examines the politics, the services and the relationship between Defence and Industry. As a study in the dilemma facing contemporary planners and policy makers, the book encapsulates the contemporary scene very well.
Policy makers would do well to study the appendix, a global defence survey, on attitudes towards power and influence in the world. Ashcroft has a reputation for conducting opinion polls which dig below the surface of headline attitudes. In this survey the UK ranks 5th, roughly equivalent to its GDP ranking. The UK’s armed forces were seen as stronger and more effective than those of Germany and France, but behind the USA, China and Russia. The UK is still seen as one of the most influential world powers. Three quarters of respondents in the UK felt that the treat to national security is higher today than it was thirty years ago.
Politicians may reflect that their role is to shape opinion, rather than be led by it. If there are those in public life who believe that Britain’s defence requires more funding, they must step up and make the case; this book gives them plenty of ammunition.
10 Oct 18. NATO member Romania warns of increased Russian activity in Black Sea. NATO member Romania voiced concern on Wednesday over increased Russian military activity in the Black Sea which it borders and said strengthening European defence would be a major theme when it assumes the rotating European Union presidency in January.
“The Russian Federation is using the Black Sea to project force in the eastern Mediterranean,” Defence Minister Mihai Fifor told an international conference hosted by the Aspen Institute think tank.
“The situation has changed dramatically in the last year,” he said.
Romania is one of the European NATO states along with Poland that has ramped up defence spending, as the alliance seeks to deter Russia and undergo modernisation.
Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu told the conference that strengthening cybersecurity and addressing hybrid warfare threats from Russia would also be an additional focal point during Romania’s presidency of the EU.
Speaking to Reuters later, Fifor said the Bucharest government planned to unveil two more major military procurement programmes before year’s end, augmenting already announced plans to buy new fighter jets and other equipment.
He said Romania had met the NATO defence spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the past two years, and would continue spending at that level for a decade.
“We plan to add two more major programmes after we present them to the Supreme Defence Council,” Fifor said.
He gave no details on what type of acquisitions would be involved in the two procurement programmes.
Earlier this year, Romania signed up to buy Patriot missile defence systems as part of an integrated air defence system. It also hosts a U.S. ballistic missile defence station and has contributed troops to U.S.-led and NATO campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Source: Reuters)
06 Oct 18. The Tempest combat aircraft: there’s a storm coming. Stuart Nathan tries to unravel some of the engineering aspects of Tempest, the UK’s new combat aircraft, whose development was announced this summer. When BAE Systems and secretary of state for defence Gavin Williamson teamed up in July at the Farnborough Airshow to announce that a new combat aircraft would be developed for the UK, it came as something of a surprise. The RAF’s main fighter aircraft, the Typhoon, still has the gloss of a relative newcomer. Tornado, its “older brother”, is still in service, and the F-35 Lightning II has not yet become active. Surely it was too early to start developing yet another fighter aircraft?
Moreover, the way the announcement was made led to much of the mainstream coverage (including The Engineer‘s; see above link) concluding that the new aircraft, which is to be named Tempest, was to be a purely UK venture. This also came as a surprise. The last combat aircraft in service with the RAF and Fleet Air Arm that was not an international collaboration was the Harrier, which made its debut in 1969.
Tempest will carry swarming drones in its payload bay which its pilot will co-ordinate during missions
Since then, the Jaguar was an Anglo-French production; Tornado involved the UK, France, Italy and West Germany; Typhoon these four partners plus Spain, and the development programme for Lightning II involves the US, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Turkey, alongside the UK.
The official line throughout these programmes has been that cutting-edge combat aircraft require such a complex set of technologies that no single country is capable of producing them, certainly not with limited budgets of European nations. So what has changed?
As ever, the true picture has been somewhat obscured by politics. For although the development of a combat aircraft would undoubtedly be the largest and most complex and highest-technology single engineering project starting in the UK for many years – probably since the project to develop the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers – no defence-related technology programme can possibly be free of politics.
Arguably, the most important single factor behind the announcement and its timing is Britain’s impending exit from the European Union. The government is very keen – if not desperate – to maintain the UK’s image as a leading nation internationally, and defence is undeniably a tool to do this. Anxious that cutting ties with its closest international partners does not leave the country looking like a minor player, what better way than to flex its muscle? In the RAF’s centenary year, demonstrating that we can still develop combat aircraft – the primary way that nations project force in warfare – is ideal.
The Farnborough reveal was not as simple as it seemed. Williamson and BAE Systems in fact made three announcements that were conflated into one by most of the coverage at the time. These were interlinked, so reporting the existence of ‘Project Tempest’ was the simplest way to report the story.
“The announcement came out like three legs of a stool,” Andrew Kennedy, head of strategy for military air and information at BAE Systems, explained to The Engineer. “At the same time as the government made the announcement of the funding into ‘Team Tempest’, they then announced the establishment of a team to look at the combat air acquisition programme, which is effectively starting the process for the acquisition of a new aircraft.
The third element was the combat air strategy which effectively provides a framework for the government in which future decisions are going to be made. So all three of them are closely linked, but they are actually separate. It’s a bit confusing.”
The assumption that Tempest is going to be an all-British production is mistaken, Kennedy insists. Williamson’s announcement sounded the starting gun for a series of year-long feasibility studies with potential partners to see whether requirements for a future combat aircraft could be aligned, along with investment plans and the industrial requirements to develop and build technologies that would be part of such a project.
This inevitably obscures any discussion of what technologies might find their way on to Tempest and BAE Systems is unwilling to dictate what technological solutions might be part of the future system. “We don’t want to say ‘this is the solution’ and then try to force other people to come along with that,” Kennedy said. “The whole point of these feasibility studies was to try to align requirements rather than to force our solutions on to other people, so it’s a true partnership.” At this point in the project, potential partners have not yet been revealed, if they have even been identified.
The RAF and Ministry of Defence are unwilling to discuss an aircraft that does not exist yet, so to gain some insight into the role a future combat aircraft might play, The Engineer consulted Greg Bagwell, president of the Air Power Association, an organisation that brings together individuals, companies and bodies with an experience and interest in aerial combat. Bagwell, a former Air Marshal in the RAF, is well placed to provide such a view. As well as being air commander for RAF operations over Libya in 2009, earlier in his career he served as a Tornado pilot; he has also flown F-16 Fighting Falcons and Typhoons. His comments as reported here are his personal views, based on that considerable experience.
Harrier is a useful example to look at to see how the UK’s approach to combat aircraft changed in the intervening half-century, Bagwell said. “By the time we had finished with Harrier, it looked a lot like an AV-8B which, of course, was very much a US product. In many ways the way the Harrier morphed from a UK to a US product is synonymous with the way the UK defence aerospace landscape has shifted.”
He explained: “To be brutally honest, the UK home market is not big enough to be able to justify a completely new aeroplane, the numbers would not add up. So it has to be done with export in mind which almost undoubtedly means partnerships; and clearly there is competition.”
That competition would include the US, which is hoping to sell the F-35 into additional markets; and France and Germany, which are also reported to be in discussions about developing a new combat aircraft. In fact, Bagwell said, countries including India, Korea and Turkey are all technologically “in the foothills” of generating new combat aircraft. These are all countries to which the UK might be hoping to sell Tempest, along with its existing export base which includes Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Australia, so these are countries which are probably among the potential partners with which Williamson, the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems hope to be commencing discussions.
So what will they be discussing? Tempest will be a sixth-generation fighter – such ‘generations’ being a somewhat slippery classification applied to aircraft of the jet era. These aircraft are inevitably designed to fill multiple roles. Typhoon, for example, is primarily an air superiority aircraft, designed to engage in air-to-air combat and intercept other aircraft to ensure that its operator has the freedom to fly over disputed areas. The F-35, meanwhile, is optimised for ground attack. Despite this optimisation, however, both aircraft are capable of the other role as designed, and in any case over their service lifetimes aircraft are inevitably adapted for new jobs.
“Look at Tornado, for example,” Bagwell said. “We designed that to fly low-level missions over Germany in a full-on war with the Warsaw Pact. Whoever would have thought it would be flying counterinsurgency missions over urban areas in Afghanistan and Syria? But we adapted it through the use of different sensors and weapon systems.”
Some of the features in future virtual cockpit set-ups in both Typhoon and Tempest
In a recent briefing at BAE Systems air combat development site at Warton in Lancashire, journalists were told that some air forces are becoming reluctant to use aircraft for too many different roles, because of concerns that if enemies developed a method for bringing down one aircraft, it could potentially seriously damage the capability to fly many different types of mission.
Bagwell agrees that the prospect of an air force flying only one type of aircraft for everything is ridiculous, but the cost benefits of a modular approach with flexible aircraft are undeniable. “Anybody who thinks we can afford one-trick ponies is on the wrong track,” he said. “Look at the F-22 Raptor, for example. It’s very good at its one role – air superiority – but when you haven’t been able to use it for 10 years, people started to doubt its value for money, which is why it got cancelled.”
The combat air strategy document itself is quite vague: in summary, it states that the UK will retain the capability to carry out air-to-air and air-to-surface combat with the ability to carry out surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and command and control tasks concurrently. Details are thin, in line with Kennedy’s comments about the evolving nature of the programme and desire to consult with partners and allies. However, it is made clear that the strategy rests upon F-35 and Typhoon for the near future, and commits the UK to continue to invest and upgrade Typhoon. This is an important point, Kennedy stresses, and represents a change in the way the UK has previously approached new aircraft development.
At Farnborough, Williamson announced that £2bn would be invested in the development of Tempest up to 2020, and BAE Systems would lead development with Rolls-Royce contributing engines, MBDA integrating weapons and Italian company Leonardo developing sensors and avionics.
The plan is to finalise design in the early 2020s, produce a flyable prototype by 2025 and have the aircraft entering service by about 2035. By that time, Typhoons are likely to have many flying hours still in reserve – the aircraft is still in production – and those in service will be phased out gradually over five to 10 years, in line with the RAF’s existing practices.
In the meantime, many of the systems which will be developed for Tempest are likely to be first in service on upgraded Typhoons. “We’re trying to make sure we can maximise the return on investment on Typhoon by rolling over those capabilities on to Tempest,” Kennedy said.
“We could see it almost as just changing the skin on a current-generation system and then you gradually upgrade it as you go through, so it’s an evolution rather than everything stops and we start again with the future combat air system.”
This, he explained, is in part a reaction to a previous complaint that the RAF and other customers had about the evolution of aircraft and the way they are superseded. “We are requiring Tornado at the peak of its capability now, but we are also retiring it because the airframe really doesn’t have any life in it any more. The change now is that we are seeing airframe as a system in the same way as we see radar, for example, as a system: it’s something that can be upgraded.”
This is a common approach in many other heavy industries such as automotive and civil aerospace, where features are introduced as “top-of-the-line” in existing models and then rolled on to their successors. “We have looked around and taken best practice from these other sectors,” Kennedy said.
The hoped-for effect, he added, is that Tempest will be fully effective from the moment it enters service, as most of its key systems will already be tried and tested. The timescale for developing Tempest seems ambitious to Bagwell, but Kennedy stated that it was market-driven. “The mid-2030s is when we see the demand for this sort of aircraft beginning.” It is not unusually long or short for this type of project, he claimed.
The aircraft itself – or at least a concept mock-up – graced the BAE Systems stand at Farnborough. However, details of what the final aircraft will include are, understandably, sparse. Engine partner Rolls-Royce revealed that it is looking towards new, low-weight materials, such as ceramic composites in the turbine, and in one tantalising detail the new aircraft is expected to need so much electrical power that generation capability will be integrated into the engine itself in the form of magnets directly bonded to the turbine shaft.
Among the list of possible features discussed in the initial documents describing plans for Tempest is the aspiration to use directed energy weapons. These are mentioned in the context of “non-kinetic attacks” implying they might be used, for example, to knock out enemy sensor systems rather than to shoot down other aircraft, but in either case a great deal of electrical energy will be needed to operate them.
Bagwell pointed out that a major advantage of directed energy weapons over conventional projectiles is that, as long as energy is available, there is no chance of running out of ammunition. “You are clearly going to need some serious power,” he said. “It might replace a gun, it might replace a close-in missile, but the idea that you are going to use a laser to intercept something at 30, 40, 50 miles away, I think we are some way off yet.” Fantasies of Star Wars-style dogfights are just that, he said. “But whoever designed the Star Wars scenes might turn out to be a visionary in 50 years’ time.”
According to Kennedy, any technologies mentioned at the Team Tempest launch event should be seen as an aspiration, rather than a concrete announcement; partly because everything is still subject to the feasibility studies with potential partners, and partly because in many cases they simply haven’t been developed yet.
One example of this is stealth technologies. The Farnborough mock-up featured the sharp angles along the sides of the fuselage which are also a feature of the F-35 and are characteristic of the current design philosophy for confusing radar systems. However, according to Bagwell, “what is low-observable today almost certainly won’t be low-observable in the future, because radar manufacturers are developing their products as well.” Bagwell described this as a race between airframe makers and radar, but to Kennedy this is just a fact of life in the defence sector. “There’s always a kind of competition, whether it’s in stealth or any other air or military system: offensive and defensive capabilities tend to develop in parallel.”
There are a few other hints that can be gleaned from the mock-up. Firstly, Tempest is, like Typhoon and F-35, a twin-engine aircraft, but likely to be slightly larger than both. This would give it greater flexibility in weapons load and possibly implies longer range. The twin tailplane configuration improves manoeuvrability and suggests a trade-off against stealth.
What’s more, any observer would have noted that in recent years all new combat aircraft have looked very similar. “There are only so many ways you can design an aeroplane in a wind tunnel which has both stealth and basic kinematics built in,” Bagwell said.
Gavin Williamson said that Tempest would be capable of flying as a piloted aircraft or in an autonomous mode. This is in line with discussions over whether future fighter aircraft will be piloted or drones, but to Bagwell this was an example of hedging bets. “Unmanned is clearly growing in utility, and there could be a time downstream where it is technically feasible that all combat will be conducted with unmanned vehicles. However, we haven’t even cracked cars, trucks or ships yet, so why is the most difficult thing in the world (combat aircraft) something we are looking to solve or accept first?”
There are two potential problems with flying an aircraft like Tempest as a drone, he said. “I think there’s a moral argument in there about keeping a human in the decision loop.” The second reason is more practical: “If it’s unmanned, is it controlled through remote means? And if that’s the case, can you guarantee your satellite links?”
For Bagwell, there are advantages and disadvantages to both piloted and pilotless operation, but making an aircraft capable of both is likely to just end up costing more money and leading to compromises that blunt the advantages in both cases.
However, the use of an aircraft to control a swarm of drones in the battle space, which it might carry itself in its payload bay, is another matter and one which is likely to be a reality quite quickly. “The manned/unmanned mix is a thing of the future and if we haven’t got there before Tempest I’ll be amazed,” Bagwell said. “There is effectively no difference between programmable decoys or swarm drones then firing eight missiles at different targets. It’s not a big leap of faith, and they make the ‘quarterback’ aircraft more survivable and more lethal. The bigger issue is making cheap enough swarm drones.”
This, and Bagwell’s use of the term quarterback, implies that even in piloted mode, the actual job of the “pilot” will be less one of actively flying the aircraft, and more one of monitoring the battle space. “Aeroplanes are much easier to fly than they were 20 years ago,” he said. “With flight control software, fly by wire, new sensors, collision warning directors and ground proximity systems, the idea that the pilot dedicates the majority of his or her time to flying the aeroplane is just not true any more. In the past, we had to select Harrier pilots very carefully because it was so difficult to control the hover. That is not the case in the F-35B. But although aeroplanes are much easier to fly, they are much harder to operate. There is lots of data… lots of fusion, lots of things to think about; and you have to do it at greater ranges and higher speeds.”
This is the thinking behind a system which will definitely find its way on to Tempest and will first be used in upgraded Typhoons: virtual cockpit. The idea is that instead of the huge array of dials and switches lining the cockpit, all of the indicators and controls will be projected on the monitor screen inside the pilot’s helmet, as described in The Engineer’s recent feature on the new Striker II helmet. This will even extend to the use of haptic gloves so that when the pilot reaches for a “virtual switch”, which he or she can see but does not actually exist, there will be a feeling of pressing the switch replicated using vibration devices mounted in the fingertip.
One feature of such a system will be that the display will be configurable by the pilot, so they can place the display wherever in their field of vision they feel it is most useful. For mid air-refuelling, for example, they might want to place a fuel tank display over the point in their vision where the refuelling probe docks with the trailing basket from the tanker. Another feature that is being tested is a “smartwatch”-type display that the pilot can pull out from their wrist, which might feature their own biometric data collected by sensors inside their flight suit. It might even display the biometric data of other pilots in their squadron.
“If you’re detecting blood pressure, pulse rate or galvanic skin response, that can give you an indication that somebody is feeling particularly stressed,” explained BAE Systems head of human factors Jean Page. “And if your squadron leader knows that, it will help distribute the workload around the squadron to ensure that everybody is working at the peak of their ability and nobody is overloaded.”
Assessing the cognitive load on a pilot is essential to designing such a system. Page is working with psychologists to determine how much information a pilot can usefully process in the pressured atmosphere of a cockpit in a battle space. Such information will help to determine how virtual cockpit works in Tempest when it is ported over from Typhoon. One factor which the team already knows it will have to accommodate is the physical effect of G-forces. “The eyes are affected during a 9G manoeuvre, so we know, for example, that we wouldn’t be able to reliably use gaze tracking under those circumstances,” Page said. G-forces are already countered by inflatable pressure cuffs in flight suits which help keep blood circulating and prevent blackouts, and this is likely to be developed further.
One system that may be used in this environment is artificial intelligence to determine which information is likely to be most useful to the pilot. Bagwell believes this is more likely than the use of AI to actually fly the aircraft.
“Information flow and fusion is now more automated, and this is where I think artificial intelligence has a place – it’s not to make autonomous decisions to pull the trigger or not, but provide you with fused information so you can decide more easily. It’s more assisted intelligence than artificial intelligence.”
As a self-confessed old-school combat pilot, Bagwell confesses he is sceptical about some aspects of virtual cockpit. “Flying an aeroplane can be quite a tactile thing,” he said. “Replicating the level of feedback you get from actually pressing a physical button or handling the controls, getting that through gloves and without the use of simple sight and feel seems to me to be denying two fundamental senses – I can see the concept but I’m a little sceptical. But the idea of producing more and more information through different means, we are already there. The old analogue systems on aircraft now are the back-up systems, not the primary.”
One thing that Bagwell was particularly keen to stress is that the notions of what is ‘high-tech’ have shifted, and today, military technology is likely to be somewhat more primitive than consumer technology: a complete reversal of the situation when he joined the RAF aged 18. “Today, there is probably more memory in your mobile phone than most combat aircraft flying, and a faster processor: the F-35 certainly doesn’t have that much. Defence technology these days changes quite slowly. That’s relatively recent, for a number of reasons. One is that digital technologies, processors and software are developing well inside the life cycle of an aircraft platform. Also, whereas before defence were the innovators because they had the resources to hand fast, now because commercial demand is high and the cost of R&D of some technologies has reduced, it is the commercial marketplace that demands volume and fast turnaround times. You are now seeing a Leviathan defence marketplace where, whether it be through design or test, we can’t build these things very quickly any more.” (Source: News Now/The Engineer)
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