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13 Mar 21. Regaining the initiative: General Sir Patrick Sanders sets out the future of Strategic Command. General Sir Patrick Sanders sets out the future of Strategic Command. General Sir Patrick Sanders KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen. MOD Crown Copyright 2020.
On the night of 28 June 2007 at a junction codenamed Orange 13, I watched the deceptively slow flight of an RPG-7 heading our way before it ricocheted off the road and streaked over our heads. Moments before and yards away, four soldiers had been caught in a blast bomb as we secured a route for a vulnerable logistics convoy. Our attention was desperately focused on the missing soldiers. But at the back of our minds we had another concern, which would have consequences beyond a bad night in Basra: we had lost the initiative. The UK and the West risk a similar fate. We are ceding the strategic initiative to our rivals. For all we herald the return of great power competition, the truth is it has never ended. While we drained our strength in interventions like Iraq, others used the time and space to further their interests more strategically. China has pursued a strategy of winning without fighting, changing the terms of the international order; Russia has combined military and non-military means to alter the map, attempting to change the balance of power and undermining the cohesion of our societies through disinformation. Both are gaining a decisive advantage in information age military technologies.
The consequence has been a succession of strategic surprises, the erosion of strategic advantage and the loss of initiative. Unchecked it is not unthinkable that we will find ourselves vulnerable in time to a fait accompli, where as a nation we have capitulated without a shot being fired. This all matters because it coincides with a moment of reckoning for the UK. Our departure from the EU means we are a sovereign actor in this competition, so our strategy matters more than any other point since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Government’s Integrated Review will set out a competitive strategy for regaining the initiative. The clue is in the name. It will better integrate our national levers of power to regain strategic advantage, leveraging the formidable international influence we can exert with our allies. It will preserve the best aspects of the old while shaping the emergence of a new order, and defence and the armed forces have a critical role to play. The announcement of a £24.1bn uplift in spending is an emphatic statement of intent. Alongside investments in modernisation of our conventional fighting force – our ships, armoured vehicles, aircraft, all so critical to our commitment to Allies and partners – we will be guided by a laser-like focus on tackling the emerging threats of the future, shaping different armed forces. We will sharpen our competitive edge, particularly in space and cyber and fields like Artificial Intelligence. The UK Armed Forces will be more active, more dynamic and more global, contesting incursions in the so-called grey zone. And they will be more integrated.
The three traditional services will have a critical role operating in this grey zone as well as providing the foundations of our fighting power. But at the heart of this modernisation lies the more discreet organisation I head, known as Strategic Command. From our headquarters in Northwood, Strategic Command brings together everything that integrates the armed forces – the enabling information age technologies, cyberspace, space (with the RAF), Intelligence, Special Forces, our force design brain and the underpinning support base.
This starts, first and foremost with Defence Intelligence – the expert assessment of intelligence and risk that allows us to identify long term opportunities for competitive advantage, whilst mitigating vulnerabilities, and further strategic surprise. We won’t always get this right, so our approach will be guided by constant experimentation and rapid prototyping of new ideas.
Secondly, we need to compete in Information Age warfare. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, told the US Senate that ‘the sources of battlefield advantage will shift from traditional factors like force size and levels of armaments, to factors like superior data collection and assimilation, connectivity, computing power, algorithms and system security’. Our rivals agree and are investing accordingly. In the UK our research sector gives us an edge. So we are building a digital backbone for Defence and exploiting cloud computing. And we will deliver on the PM’s vision of an AI Centre to exploit the advantages of increasingly autonomous systems.
Third we will grow our grey zone capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies and regain the initiative. We are growing the National Cyber Force with GCHQ to become a world class responsible cyber power while securing our own networks and data and regain the edge in electronic warfare. This year for example we are providing cyber defences and cyber effects for HMS Queen Elizabeth’s global deployment. And we will transform and expand our special operations forces, maintaining their counter-terrorism skills while growing their ability to work with and train reliable partner forces around the world.
Our ambition is to be the leading integrated force in the world. We have long been among the most effective when it comes to combining our forces – air, land and sea. To these we must now add cyberspace and space, both growing our capabilities in these new domains and designing the force to be seamlessly integrated. A soldier on the battlefield will be able to instantly draw on space-based surveillance, cyber defences and sensors, to craft the precise response needed, whether that’s ordering a swarm attack by drones or a long-range precision strike from a ship or aircraft – all without skipping a beat. The ability to pose multiple dilemmas for our adversaries and radically increase our speed of action and decision making, through AI, will make us a respected competitor a more effective ally and will deliver modern deterrence for our nation.
Sooner or later, soldiers, sailors or air force personnel will find themselves in the sort of ugly gritty fight we were caught up in on 28 June 2007. It is an article of faith for all of us leading defence that we must do better to make sure that at the strategic and the tactical level we have given them the tools to seize the initiative. The Integrated Review sets us on that path.
12 Mar 21. £80bn boost for UK military to arm it with new tanks, warships and ‘kamikaze drones.’ ( Ed: The announcement is now expected to be made on March 17th). Britain’s military is to get an £80bn upgrade as the Government announces a modernisation drive this month to get the Armed Forces ready for the wars of the future. The Telegraph understands that is roughly what will be invested in improving military equipment over the next four years. The total over the next decade could amount to close to £200bn.
More than a hundred ageing Challenger 2 tanks will get new turrets, guns, sensors and engines, becoming more deadly in the battlefield, while new frigates are being acquired.
The cap on the number of nuclear warheads Britain can stockpile will increase from around 180, The Telegraph has learned, ending a decades-long drive to cut stocks.
There is also a new push under way to acquire what are called loitering munitions, sometimes dubbed “kamikaze drones”, which can hover around a target before detonating.
There has been alarm that hostile nations such as Russia and Iran have been using such munitions, which are a cross between cruise missiles and armed drones.
One senior government source said: “Technology has proliferated, that’s what we should worry about. Everyone from terrorists to other nations have modern equipment and killer drones.”
The moves form part of a major rethink of Britain’s defence, foreign policy and security outlook, with results to be revealed in two government documents over the coming fortnight.
The first, the UK Integrated Review, will be published on Tuesday. It will map out what the Prime Minister’s ‘Global Britain’ vision means in practice, including a tilt to the Indo-Pacific.
The second, the Defence Command Paper, will come out March 22. It will reveal a major modernisation plan for the Armed Forces, seen as long overdue by defence chiefs.
The proposals will include cuts to troop numbers and the scaling back of so-called “legacy platforms”, which are parts of the military that have been prominent since the 20th century.
Government figures have stressed that such changes should be seen as “retirements” rather than “cuts”, given the overall Ministry of Defence budget is increasing.
“To modernise, some things have to be retired. Otherwise the musket would still be on the field,” a senior government source said.
The changes will affect all branches of the Armed Forces, the Army, Royal Navy, RAF, and Strategic Command, which oversees cyber attacks.
The focus on so-called kamikaze drones reflects how rapidly combat is changing in the battlefield, with nations (including adversaries) increasingly investing in them.
A senior defence source said: “We’re seeing them used all over the place. How to counter the capability and how to use it are two things there is a lot of interest in.”
How Government is preparing for wars of the future
Boris Johnson has billed the integrated review into Britain’s foreign, defence and security policy as the most radical overhaul of the nation’s posture since the end of the Cold War.
The review will be published on Tuesday, while on March 22 a Defence Command Paper will set out the Government’s plan for a generational modernisation of the Armed Forces.
The Prime Minister unveiled a £16.5bn funding uplift for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the next four years at the spending review last November to fund the strategy.
The challenge for Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, and the service chiefs, has been to balance pouring cash into upgrading legacy platforms with investment in cutting-edge military technologies.
Britain is set to publicly declare on Tuesday that it is increasing the number of nuclear warheads it can stockpile, The Telegraph understands. At present the UK has around 180 nuclear warheads.
The higher cap will signal a new direction from Britain on nuclear non-proliferation, making a firm statement on the nation’s position as a nuclear power.
The Government has already confirmed it is replacing the existing warheads that are used in the Trident nuclear deterrent. Ministers have also committed to building four new Dreadnought Class nuclear attack submarines to replace the current Vanguard boats by the middle of the next decade.
Defence sources said research collaboration between the UK and US was expected, but the MoD confirmed on Thursday night that both the warheads and submarines would remain independent, sovereign programmes.
The heightened cap is due to be unveiled amid fears about China’s swelling nuclear stockpile.
Sam Armstrong, of the Henry Jackson Society foreign policy think tank, said: “The world is an increasingly dangerous place and this increased nuclear deterrent tells us all we need to know about where the long term threat from China is heading.”
Experts on nuclear non-proliferation stressed how striking a move the policy would be.
Matthew Harries, a senior research fellow in nuclear policy at the Royal United Service Institute, said: “An increase in the UK’s declared nuclear stockpile cap, if confirmed, would be a significant reverse of steady disarmament progress since the end of the Cold War.”
Tanks and armoured vehicles
The Army’s ageing Challenger 2 tanks require an urgent upgrade to their turrets, guns, sensors and engines. Around 150 to 170 of the UK’s 227 tanks will be upgraded, according to defence sources. The remainder will be mothballed for spares, it is understood.
All 758 Warrior infantry fighting vehicles are meanwhile expected to be “abandoned” from next year. They are set to be sold off to save money, insiders have said.
This decision will be balanced by a move to accelerate the introduction of more than 500 Boxer mechanised infantry vehicles.
These vehicles are set to arrive next year to avoid a gap between the two programmes. A Whitehall source signalled the programme would also be expanded, saying: “We are increasing the order of Boxer and that’s the right thing to do.”
Question marks hover over the future of the Army’s high-intensity armoured warfighting capability, if the modernisation does not also boost field artillery and air defence systems.
Troop numbers cut
The Army is set to fall to around 73,000 soldiers, finally abandoning its minimum threshold of 82,000 personnel – a target it has not met for years.
A formal reduction to the service has been on the cards since December 2019, when Boris Johnson dropped the pledge from the Tory election manifesto.
Its current full-time trained strength is 76,348. Service chiefs are set to rely on the organic departure of troops, due to resignation or retirement, to reduce the headcount rather than make personnel redundant, it is understood.
Britain is expected to pull back from its previously stated ambition to buy 138 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, which are the most expensive weapons system in military history. The UK is so far only contractually obliged to buy 48 of the stealth multi-role fighter jets by the end of 2025, at a cost of £9.1bn.
The US-designed fifth-generation jets will be bought in tranches over many years, however, meaning decisions about future orders can be thrown into the long grass, avoiding confrontation with Washington now about the final order numbers.
Investment is also being poured into Tempest, a UK-led programme to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet. One design option is for this to be an unmanned aircraft.
It is also set to be accompanied in flight by a swarm of unmanned combat drones known as “loyal wingmen”.
The use of loitering munitions, which are a cross between cruise missiles and armed drones, by Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and other nations has been watched closely by the MoD.
Defence chiefs have pushed for the UK to invest in developing a domestic capability. “We need to develop these capabilities, test them, experiment with them and work out how best to employ them. That might require some changes to how we organise the way we fight,” said a defence source.
More investment is planned for autonomous, AI-enabled systems, including both aerial and underwater drones, as well as land-based robots.
Unmanned capabilities are particularly attractive because they avoid the need to put personnel at risk of harm.
Fresh focus on the Indo-Pacific
The review is expected to set out the Government’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” vision, which includes a new emphasis on the Indo-Pacific.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of Britain’s two new aircraft carriers which have collectively cost more than £6.2bn, is due to set sail on its first operational deployment around late April.
It will sail to the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and east Asia, into China’s backyard, testing freedom of navigation rights.
Defence chiefs are also examining plans to “forward base” more personnel and assets (including warships) overseas in the Middle East and Pacific regions. Bases and ports in Japan, Australia and Singapore have been scoped out as potential options by officials.
Britain has already confirmed plans to triple the size of its military base on the coast of Oman to enhance the Royal Navy’s presence “east of Suez” after Brexit.
Boost to fleet and shipyards
The Prime Minister has announced that the UK will acquire eight Type-26 frigates, which are sophisticated anti-submarine warships, as well as five Type-31 frigates, cheaper general purpose warships.
His plan is to restore Britain’s position as “the foremost naval power in Europe”, he said last autumn, as he also confirmed plans for new support ships to supply food and ammunition to the aircraft carriers, and new multi-role research vessels.
Combined, the programmes are set to support up to 10,000 jobs and are seen in Whitehall as a boost to the Union as shipyards in Scotland and Northern Ireland are set to benefit.
A long-delayed National Cyber Force, a joint unit between the MoD and GCHQ, is being created to boost protection to Britons at home as well as to develop new offensive cyber weapons to deploy against adversaries overseas.
RAF Space Command is expected to be capable of launching its first rocket by 2022 and will aim to better shield the UK’s satellites. A new Artificial Intelligence agency is meanwhile set to develop autonomous weapons systems.
Stressing the importance of data in future conflicts, a senior Whitehall source said: “What’s certain is that the future will be about cyber, space, AI.”
An MoD spokesman said: “As threats change our Armed Forces must change and they are being redesigned to confront future threats, not re-fight old wars. The Armed Forces will be fully staffed and equipped to confront those threats.
“We will not comment on speculation about the Integrated Review, which will be published on Tuesday.”
The UK Integrated Review is understood to be around 100 pages long and entitled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
BATTLESPACE Comment: Killing off Warrior will put the Strike Brigades at a disadvantage given that Boxer needs to keep up with what will then be called Challenger 3. Sources suggest that the MoD has looked at the Rheinmetall Lynx tracked APC. Or, there may be a competition as in Australia to include such vehicles as the Hanwha Redback? The MoD will have to take a £500m hit on Warrior as will Lockheed Martin which has spent £100m of its own money on WCSP. Where this leaves the CT40 Programme, which in our view was the major contributor to Warrior’s demise is unsure. Any Boxer variant to support infantry will require a turret and Lithuania is the only European customer to order this and there is no Boxer turret in production with CT40 mounted. So, to drop Warrior next year will cause a large capability gap. From an industrial point of view, Warrior is key to the UK tracked vehicle supply chain and cancelling WCSP will cause some firms to go bust. Babcock is already conducting a comprehensive review of all its businesses following the arrival of new CEO David Lockwood. Loss of WCSP where Babcock Land Defence Ltd. (previously DSG) had a major part to play in supplying the upgraded raw hulls, will usher in the much-predicted write-down of the DSG acquisition and also the possible sale of the unit. Lockheed has already stated that the future of its Ampthill turret facility will be reviewed in the event of a cancellation of WCSP. Finding a buyer for the Warriors will be an uphill struggle given their condition and the huge international choice for such vehicles on the world market. Expect Kuwait to follow suit and cancel its Warrior upgrade and o buy a new fleet. One option could be to retain a number of Warriors to be converted at a later date to ABSV to replace the ageing FV430 Series which is still in service.
Whilst the decision to look at ‘loitering munitions, sometimes dubbed kamikaze drones’ is a welcome development to look at new technology. One caveat is that such systems do not replace long-range artillery, they work alongside it which explains why militaries are looking at long range Mobile Fires using new 155mm ammunition such as the BAE/Nexter Bonus Mk 2 tank destroyer which was fired in France last week. (See: MISSILE, HYPERSONICS, BALLISTICS AND SOLDIER SYSTEMS UPDATE, US Fires BONUS MK 2 Round In France). A reader told BATTLESPACE that armed drones cannot do what 155mm artillery can do. They offer a limited attack capability to militia groups that do not have artillery or air forces, so cannot hit targets 20 – 30 kilometers away using conventional weapons. Weaponised drones gained a reputation for being cheap, easy to use (minimal training required), able to strike without warning, hit their targets and cause damage. However, small weaponised drones were not used as attack weapons until recently, so the first attacks were completely unexpected. Second, look at the nature of the targets they attacked – Saudi oil fields. These are large, static targets, open to approach, easy to find and completely unprotected. It would have been surprising if they had not been hit, rather than the fact they they suffered any damage. Besides which the damage was minimal anyway and the success of the attacks was more in the surprise and concern they raised than in the amount of damage inflicted. Since then potential targets have introduce defence measures and the success of the drone strikes has fallen considerably. On 7 March the Houthi rebels (AKA Iranian terrorists) claimed to have struck Aramco targets in a number of drone attacks. They admitted that the damage was ‘limited,’ but had caused serious disruption. What they did not admit was that the Saudi defence force jammed some of the drones to prevent them reaching their target and shot down 6 others with a mix of missile and lasers. Times are changing and the utility of small drones as attack weapons ain’t what it was. And it will only get worse as the effectiveness of anti-drone defences gets better.
12 Mar 21. UK military planners deploy AI to gain edge over adversaries. PM has made clear that modernising armed forces will depend on harnessing machine learning. The UK armed forces will use artificial intelligence to predict adversaries’ behaviour, perform reconnaissance and relay real-time intelligence from the battlefield, according to technology companies that work for the government. Military chiefs hope that applying AI technology to warfare — a key feature of the government’s new defence and security strategy, due out next week — will provide commanders with better information during critical operations. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, has already made clear that modernising the armed forces will depend on harnessing machine learning. “We will focus our investment on the new technologies that will revolutionise warfare: artificial intelligence, unmanned aircraft, directed energy weapons and many others,” he told the Munich Security Conference last month. Johnson also said that the £16.5bn funding boost for defence, announced last Autumn, would help fund a new military research centre for AI — which is expected to involve the redeployment of some personnel from the Ministry of Defence’s science and technology laboratory at Porton Down. Rob Bassett Cross, a former army officer whose data analytics company, Adarga, is contracted to the MoD on two AI projects, said there was potential for the armed forces to use machine learning as a “global radar” for threat intelligence. Algorithms trained to focus on particular threats — such as enemy weapons capabilities — can translate and analyse announcements and military intelligence from adversaries in China, Russia or North Korea, according to Bassett Cross. “AI has the ability to be dynamic and you can ask it questions. So you could be alerted when threats are identified,” he said. “You can have it providing suggested judgments for decision-making. You can have it writing reports, you can have it updating certain scenarios for you.” Bassett Cross added that even though these capabilities already exist, the UK military is still “relying on a small number of humans” to absorb and process intelligence from around the world. Recommended John Thornhill To maintain tech supremacy the US must avoid ‘military-civil fusion’ Adarga is contributing to a contract between the software developer Improbable and the UK’s Strategic Command on a virtual reality programme which would create a digital replica of Britain, allowing military chiefs to “war game” operations and boost defences. The company is also licensing AI software to Strategic Command under a separate contract with BAE Systems. Bassett Cross said potential military AI functions for consideration by the MoD include automating analysis of drone footage for reconnaissance and building tools which can determine the function of a building in a foreign city based on the movement of people and vehicles around it. Oliver Lewis, a former MoD intelligence officer who is co-founder of the tech firm Rebellion Defence, which works with the UK government, said AI will allow “soldiers, tanks, and weapons systems to become supercomputers which are absorbing and analysing intelligence on the battlefield” via wearables and cameras, running their own algorithms. “One of the most exciting things about AI is the potential for active data triage by a machine,” Lewis said. “The problem at the moment isn’t data collection, it’s sifting and surfacing to a commander the relevant bits of information for making decisions. It’s the software orchestration of war, and that means for the first time we can connect air, land, cyber and sea battles.” Earlier this month the US’ National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which is chaired by former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, produced a 765-page report warning that China is planning to undermine US conventional military superiority by “leapfrogging” to new technologies. The Commission raised concerns that Beijing is “training AI algorithms in military games designed around real-world scenarios” and that China’s military leaders “talk openly about using AI systems for ‘reconnaissance, electromagnetic countermeasures and co-ordinated firepower strikes’”. “[The US] will not be able to defend against AI-enabled threats without ubiquitous AI capabilities and new warfighting paradigms,” the report concluded. (Source: FT.com)
12 Mar 21. Turkey plans to deploy attack drones from its amphibious assault ship. The Turkish government hopes to transform its landing helicopter dock Anadolu into a carrier ship for attack drones, and has already begun tests to see if the dock ship is strong enough for the mission.
When the United States removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project after it purchased the s S-400 air defense system from Russia, the Turkish Navy lost the capability to launch a fixed-wing aircraft from Anadolu.
“To give UAVs takeoff-and-land[ing] ability on aircraft carriers, their structure must be strong because they are subjected to very high G-shocks. We aim to develop a new [unmanned combat aerial vehicle] UCAV that will successfully land and take off on LHD Anadolu in one year,” the CEO of drone-maker Baykar, Haluk Bayraktar, said during an recent interview.
Ismail Demir, the government’s president of defense industries, said companies have been working on the Baykar-made Bayraktar TB2 and other unmanned fixed-wing projects to turn Anadolu into a drone carrier.
With that setup, at least 10 armed drones could be simultaneously used in operations and integrated into a command-and-control center on the ship. After completing the project, between 30 and 50 folding-winged Bayraktar TB3 drones will be able to land and take off using the deck of Anadolu, he said.
Officials are reluctant to offer specifics about the projects, yet it’s widely expected that a new model of the Bayraktar TB3, derived from the combat-proven TB2, is under development. The new drone will be larger and feature a higher payload capacity.
The Turkish Navy fitted the Anadolu ship with a fully equipped flight deck (with a ski jump ramp in front), suitable for F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft. The ship’s deck was designed and built with these type of aircraft in mind; but it doesn’t have the structure, provision and equipment for the conventional landing of fixed-wing aircraft. Only VTOL and STOVL air assets can operate on Anadolu.
As a result, the Turkish military’s attack drones cannot land and take off from Anadolu, and that’s why officials want to make modifications. But doing so could cause a delay in the delivery of the ship.
A drone carrier would also be a new operational concept. Since the drones do not have air-to-air combat capability yet, their primary purpose seems to be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as small-scale strike operations (such as engaging coastal targets and naval assets with low air-defense capabilities).
The drones could also be used as sonobuoy carrying platforms for anti-submarine warfare operations. (Source: Defense News)
12 Mar 21. £90m boost to fire up UK aerospace manufacturing.
Investment in five projects could secure 1400 jobs across the UK.
- Five innovative aerospace projects backed by nearly £90m investment set to revolutionize aerospace manufacturing in the UK
- State-of-the-art technology including 3D printing machines will be crucial to help industry build back better and greener from COVID-19
- Projects being funded today have the potential to help secure 1400 jobs across the UK
1400 jobs could be secured across the UK thanks to nearly £90 million investment in aerospace manufacturing announced today by Business Minister Paul Scully (Friday 12 March).
The government-industry funding for the five projects through the Aerospace Technology Institute Programme aims to improve manufacturing within the aerospace industry, developing technology to make production lines quicker, more efficient, and more cost-effective. This will safeguard the UK’s manufacturing sector, ensuring that the UK remains a competitive market for aerospace companies as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Successful projects could help to secure approximately 1400 jobs across the UK, from Bristol to Belfast, and South Wales to Somerset, improving local growth and benefitting communities.
Minister for Business Paul Scully said, “This multi-million-pound cash injection will safeguard vital jobs and support the aerospace sector as it builds back stronger after the pandemic. Manufacturing is at the very heart of UK industry, and innovative processes will ensure that the UK is at the forefront of global efforts as we develop technology that can power a green aviation revolution.”
A particular focus of the project proposals is on creating lightweight materials and parts that will reduce how much fuel is used and that can be adopted onto future hybrid and electric planes. This will help the wider aerospace industry build back greener as it innovates and adapts to more sustainable travel over the next few decades.
Projects receiving funding today include:
- GKN Aerospace-led ASCEND [Bristol]: With McLaren Automotive also joining the consortium, the project is seeking to develop and accelerate new lightweight, composite technology, including parts for aircraft wings, in the aerospace and automotive sectors, and improve supply chains for more sustainable future mobility solutions.
- Renishaw-led LAMDA [Gloucestershire]: The project will develop a 3D metal printing machine to mass produce smaller components for aircraft, increasing production and consistency and reducing costs. Manufacturing will take place in South Wales.
- Q5D-led LiveWire [North Somerset]: The project will create a machine that can automate the manufacture of wiring and embed it into aircraft parts including airline seats or even a control panel in a flight deck, reducing costs and making lighter, higher-quality components. The technology will provide new employment opportunities in the UK, and on-shore jobs previously undertaken abroad.
Aviation Minister Robert Courts said, “Net Zero aviation is the future and this cash injection will boost capabilities as we look to build back greener and make businesses sustainable in the future. We are committed to working closely with industry, including through the Jet Zero Council, to accelerate the development of new aviation technology and Sustainable Aviation Fuels to help us realise net zero flight.”
The government will help advance the UK’s future transport system through its extensive R&D Roadmap and to increase R&D public spending to £22bn per year by 2024/5. This investment comes ahead of the consultation on the Aviation Decarbonisation Strategy this year, set out as part of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution, with jet zero and low carbon aviation as a key pillar to building back greener.
The announcement of today’s grant winners forms part of a wider £3.9bn government-industry investment in aerospace research and development projects from 2013 to 2026 through the Aerospace Growth Partnership and delivered through the ATI Programme. The ATI Programme’s grant winners have been chosen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Innovate UK, and the Aerospace Technology Institute. The total investment in the projects will be £88.7mi, with £44.1m coming from government and £44.6m from industry.
Aviation has a crucial role to play in achieving the government’s net zero commitment. To this end, other government support for the aerospace industry includes:
- Funding £125 million of grants, matched by industry, through the Future Flight Challenge, for companies to invest in future aviation systems and vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles.
- The establishment of the Jet Zero Council, a partnership between industry and government to bring together ministers and industry stakeholders to drive the ambitious delivery of new technologies and innovative ways to cut aviation emissions.
- Funding FlyZero, a research project delivered through the Aerospace Technology Institute bringing together experts from industry and academia to determine the future viability and capability of and market for zero-carbon emission commercial aircraft.
During the pandemic, aerospace companies have been able to benefit from the government’s extensive business support measures including furlough, CBILs, and Bounce Back loans. The aerospace sector and its aviation customers are being supported with almost £11 billion made available through loan guarantees, support for exporters, the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility and grants for research and development.
Details of the projects receiving funding today:
GKN Aerospace-led ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) [Bristol]
£39.6m investment over three years – £19.6m government grant, £20m from industry.
The consortium behind ASCEND aims to develop innovative technologies, processes, and tools for the high-rate manufacture of lightweight composites for sustainable aircraft, cars and future mobility. The project will focus on increasing automation and skills to support the reduction of carbon emissions across these industries. ASCEND will help support the rapid growth in the low-emissions aerospace and automotive sectors, as hybrid and electric aircraft and new mobility concepts become more mainstream. The project will keep the UK at the forefront of this technology development and ensure it remains competitive in the global market.
If successful, the project could help secure 729 design and manufacturing jobs by 2033/34, with the majority based in Bristol and Dorset.
Renishaw-led LAMDA (Large Scale Additive Manufacturing for Defence and Aerospace) [Gloucestershire]
£26.4m investment over four years – £13.2m government grant, matched by industry.
This project aims to develop a 3D metal printing machine which can be used to build larger aerospace components and mass produce smaller parts. This will reduce costs by delivering higher production rates. By exploiting superior material properties and innovative design, this will enable the manufacturing of smaller, lighter components, contributing towards net zero aviation.
If successful, the project could create or secure a peak of 240 design and manufacturing jobs in Gloucestershire, Wales, Blackburn, Bristol, Coventry, and Poole.
Airbus-led Smarter Testing [Filton, Gloucestershire]
£10.6m investment over three years – £5.3m government grant, matched by industry.
The Smarter Testing project aims to develop a novel test and certification process for aeronautical structures, which will combine virtual and physical tests to provide a step reduction in development lead-time and costs. The partners intend to use this opportunity to build a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for Smarter Testing in the UK. This will strongly rely on the expertise and skills developed within this project by the industrial partners and an extended support network of academic and research organisations.
If successful, this project could help to secure a peak of 98 jobs across the consortium in 2029-30 in Filton, Gloucestershire, and elsewhere in the UK.
Thales-led COREF (Connected Reconfigurable Factory) [Crawley and Belfast]
£10.4m investment over three years – £5.2m government grant, matched by industry. This project will focus on Industry 4.0 (‘smart’) tools & processes for low-volume, high-complexity manufacturing, creating two open-access, digitally-connected innovation laboratories. These will enable companies to increase the productivity and efficiency of their electronic systems design and assembly processes, while reducing costs. The Crawley laboratory will concentrate on digital innovation, while the laboratory in Belfast will concentrate on manufacturing. These facilities will be accessible to the supply chain and the public through partner invitation. COREF will create or safeguard 25 research and development jobs throughout the life of the project and up to 18 manufacturing-related jobs post-project. These will be spread across the UK but concentrated around Crawley and Belfast.
Q5D-led LiveWire [Portishead, North Somerset]
£1.7m investment over three years – £0.8m government grant, £0.9m from industry.
Wiring in aircraft, cars and many consumer electrical goods is done by hand. It is an expensive and laborious process that is prone to errors that can cause failures and sometimes even fires. The aim of this project is to automate this complex process to reduce or remove the manual handling required. Doing this will create lighter more efficient wiring for higher performance, eventually at a lower cost. Automation will provide safety improvements via repeatability and increased design analysis. If successful, the project could help to secure over 300 jobs in R&D, design and manufacturing by 2029/30 in the UK in the project team and wider supply chain. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
11 Mar 21. The Royal Navy leads an international task group of warships on a security patrol of the Baltic. Royal Navy frigates led vessels from all three Baltic states in a test of elements of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force. Frigates HMS Lancaster and Westminster, tanker RFA Tiderace and vessels from all three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – together with aircraft from the Swedish Air Force, have joined forces for a concerted demonstration of Britain’s commitment to the security and stability of the region.
The deployment is another test of elements of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force – a partnership of nine northern European nations committed to working together on operations as varied as warfighting through to humanitarian assistance and defence engagement.
In this instance, the expeditionary force is focusing on maritime security and freedom of navigation in the southern Baltic Sea.
The Royal Navy ships have been joined by Estonian minehunter Wambola, Latvian patrol vessel Jelgava, and from Lithuania minehunter Jotvingis and patrol ship Selis.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
Some of the UK’s closest and most steadfast Allies are found in the Baltics. This deployment is both the latest example of a long and proud history of defence cooperation and a clear demonstration of the capability of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).
As the first maritime patrol of made up of exclusively JEF nations, we are ensuring our ships and people are ready to operate in challenging conditions alongside our Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Swedish allies.
Commander Will Blackett, Commanding Officer of HMS Lancaster:
It is a real privilege to command the first task group of this type and I have been impressed by the capabilities on display from our partner nations.
My ship’s company are continuing to deliver success on operations against the hugely challenging backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic.
His ships conducted a series of combined manoeuvres to test collective seamanship and get used to working together as a united task group, all played out in unrelenting sub-zero temperatures.
HMS Lancaster warfare specialist Able Seaman James Hearn said:
It is hugely exciting to be working with allied navies on live operations and a real privilege for me to experience.
Lancaster’s Wildcat helicopter is flying patrols by day and night, in particular making use of its cutting-edge thermal imaging camera to refine identifying shipping in the Baltic, as well as practising secondary duties such as search and rescue and winching.
The weather in the Baltic in March – glorious sunshine one minute and a few hours later the aircraft is flying through snow squalls – is placing demands on the aircrew as well as the engineers maintaining the helicopter.
The British ships underwent a week of ‘full-throttle’ individual and combined training in the North Sea on their way to join their Baltic allies.
The workout has covered firefighting, medical training, damage control, ships sailing in close formation, refuelling at sea, gunnery, air defence, and intensive training with helicopters – plus adjusting to sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms as the ships pushed deeper into the Baltic. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
08 Mar 21. Royal Navy eyes ‘catapult system’ to launch drones and jets from aircraft carriers. Experts warn ‘Plan B’ launch and recovery systems needed for F-35. The MoD has asked industry for ideas about future “aircraft launch and recovery systems” that could be fitted to ships in the next five years.
The document issued by the MoD says it “wishes to assess the availability of electromagnetic catapult, and arrestor wire systems for the launch and recovery of air vehicles”.
Potential solutions should be “sufficiently technically mature to be fitted to a suitable ship from 2023”.
The system must be capable of launching an aircraft of almost 25 tonnes, with arrestor gear able to handle just over 21 tonnes – the discharge of fuel and weapons reducing the weight of returning aircraft.
These weights are typical of modern-day crewed fighter aircraft, but might also indicate future heavy-lift drones providing combat, refuelling, airborne radar or logistic services are being considered.
Aircraft are catapulted from ships using either high-pressure steam from the ship’s reactors or, in modern systems, electromagnetic power. The towbar on the jet’s front wheels is attached to a block that runs in a channel along the flight deck. To land, the pilot has to snag steel cables stretched across the ship with a hook at the tail of the aircraft.
George Allison, a defence expert, said the request from the MoD “shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the Royal Navy are abandoning the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B model and returning to catapult launched fighters”.
More likely, the system would be used for “larger uncrewed aircraft as the armed forces begin to rely on them more, in place of crewed platforms,” he said.
It is anticipated that the forthcoming Integrated Review (IR) will reduce the total number of F-35 jets from 138 to the 48 for which £9bn has already been committed. No announcement about future launch systems for aircraft carriers is expected in the IR.
Tim Ripley of Jane’s Defence said the idea of using an electromagnetic catapult system and arrestor gear – known as ‘cats and traps’ in defence circles – showed the MoD was experimenting in a bid to avoid mounting defence procurement costs.
The F-35 programme has produced affordable jets, he said, but the wider systems required to support the highly technical aircraft meant the project overall was hugely expensive.
“They seem to have been able to make it to price, but they can’t operate it to price, [the MoD] needs to have a Plan B,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
His concerns echo recent comments from the US Chief of the Air Staff.
General Charles Q. Brown hinted that supporting F-35 operations was so expensive they should be used less as a multi-mission fighter as originally envisaged, and more for special missions only.
“I want to moderate how much we’re using those aircraft,” he said.
“You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays.
“This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight … We don’t want to burn up capability now and wish we had it later.”
Mr Ripley says as the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers are expected to remain in service for around 50 years they won’t always fly the F 35B.
The MoD’s future combat air system – called Tempest and expected to be a mix of crewed planes and drones – could well be operated by cats and traps. Tempest is due in service from the mid-2030s.
With engineering spaces below the flight deck Britain’s new carriers have been built to take electromagnetic catapult systems in the future if need be.
HMS Prince of Wales had originally been designed with the US Navy’s EMALS system (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) in mind.
However, when the MoD decided to buy the vertical take-off variant of the F-35, the plans were stopped.
Electromagnetic catapults allow for a smoother acceleration of the aircraft compared to steam systems, thereby reducing stress on airframes.
The Royal Navy has embarked on a drive for innovation, with the Future Maritime Aviation Force, which may include this system, being a key element.
Gareth Corfield, a defence specialist, said: “The weights this proposed catapult is supposed to handle are well below the F-35C’s (the carrier variant) maximum takeoff weight of 32 tonnes. But it could be an early look at how the Tempest optionally manned aircraft could be used by the Royal Navy.
“Timing is key and the 2023 installation date might fall towards the end of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first major refit after her South China Sea deployment later this year.”
A Royal Navy Spokesperson said the service was “committed to ensuring it is ready to confront future wars, and is exploring the use of novel and innovative technologies including uncrewed air systems.
“This tender is purely an information gathering exercise to gauge existing technology and it is not an indication of intent of further procurement activity.
“The Armed Forces regularly conduct fact finding exercises with industry partners to understand the latest technological developments and how they can improve existing equipment to meet future threats.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
06 Mar 21. Dassault boss Trappier floats ‘Plan B’ considerations for the troubled FCAS warplane. Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier, whose company leads the tri-national New Generation Fighter (NGF) destined to replace France’s Rafales, Germany’s Typhoons and Spain’s EF-18 Hornets, has admitted that there is “trouble” afoot with implementing the program’s next stage, dubbed 1B.
The phase involves getting Spain and additional suppliers on board. The mandate to include Spain’s industry means that work share between Dassault and Airbus, instead of being split 50/50, is now split three ways, with Airbus holding 66 percent, as it represents Germany and Spain.
“I’ve accepted that,” Trappier said, “but it’s made sharing the work in all the packages, including the strategic ones, more complicated.”
The fighter program is part of the Future Combat Air System effort, which envisions networked drones accompanying the manned aircraft, and a combat cloud architecture pulling all elements together.
Trappier said that “we still believe in this program,” which was an “efficient” way for the three nations to develop a sixth-generation aircraft at a reasonable cost. However, he said any responsible chief executive “tries his very best to make Plan A work, but always has a Plan B.”
In this case it would appear that France’s Plan B is to go it alone on this program. Trappier pointed out that “in terms of technology, Dassault knows how to build aircraft alone. Safran knows how to make engines for combat aircraft. Thales knows about electronics, and MBDA missiles,” so French industry has all the know-how necessary.
Speaking at a virtual press conference Friday to announce Dassault’s 2020 financial results, Trappier explained that currently the partners “are butting against the one-third-each share of [industrial] work packages between us, Airbus Germany and Airbus Spain.” He explained that in the joint work packages “nobody holds responsibility.” He cited the flight control strategic work package as an example of an obstacle. “There’s no boss, but we are the prime on this program and as such are responsible to our government,” he said. “Dassault has to have the levers to action our responsibility.”
Addressing the issue of intellectual property he stressed that the “there will be no black box” in the sense that “all the states will have access to all the boxes.” But he remarked that “it is the creator who remains the owner [of the intellectual property], and we have 70 years worth of experience. Nobody can force me to give away our intellectual property.”
Regarding the prospect of a second NGF demonstrator, called for by German unions to preserve design capability, Trappier pointed out that this “is not planned for and has not been requested by the states,” and was a “problem between the states.” But he said that if there were to be a second demonstrator built, “it would be under identical conditions as the first one.”
Regardless of how the program proceeds, France’s sixth-generation aircraft “must be compatible with an aircraft-carrier, which obviously weighs on the decisions,” Trappier said. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
07 Mar 21. Apache helicopters land on HMS Queen Elizabeth. Aircraft carrier. HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently on trials before deployment, part of that involves conducting exercises with all types of carrier-capable aircraft.
The Ministry of Defence say that HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Carrier Strike Group’s capabilities will be on show during Exercise ‘Strike Warrior’, which will take place off the coast of Scotland in May.
The UK-led war-fighting exercise, including several other NATO navies, will be the final test for the Carrier Strike Group before it undertakes its maiden deployment.
The Ministry of Defence say that the deployment is expected to include two Type 45 Destroyers, two Type 23 Frigates, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary logistics vessels and a submarine in addition to an American destroyer and potentially other allied vessels.
“The task of protecting an aircraft carrier involves many ships, submarines and people. A Carrier Strike Group has an escort in the form of Type 23 Frigates and Type 45 destroyers, giving the strike group the ability to defend against above and below the sea threats. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary also play a vital role, keeping the strike group replenished with food and armament. The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will be deployed with up to two operational Lightning squadrons and 24 F-35Bs on board, with a maximum capacity allowing for up to 36.”
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said. “The new UK Carrier Strike Group is the embodiment of British maritime power, and sits at the heart of a modernised and emboldened Royal Navy. Protected by a ring of advanced destroyers, frigates, helicopters and submarines, and equipped with fifth generation fighters, HMS Queen Elizabeth is able to strike from the sea at a time and place of our choosing; and with our NATO allies at our side, we will be ready to fight and win in the most demanding circumstances. Carrier Strike offers Britain choice and flexibility on the global stage; it reassures our friends and allies and presents a powerful deterrent to would-be adversaries.” (Source: News Now/https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/)
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