On the Horizon
ROBERT DAY
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 1)

Maritime Forces
Additional Corvettes for Swedes
The next two Visby-class corvettes were delivered on 16 December. HMS Helsingborg and HMS Härnösand are the second and third in a series of five corvettes ordered by the Swedish Navy. The ultra-modern vessels, made of a combination of plastic laminate and carbon fibre, have very low radar, magnetic and hydro-acoustic signatures. The two ships are said to have already passed certification tests and are soon ready for operational deployment.

Dutch Navy to purchase new JSS
The Royal Netherlands Navy has signed a contract for the construction of a new Joint Support Ship (JSS) with Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS). It will replace the aging 34-year-old HNLMS Zuiderkruis. The new vessel’s hull will be built at the Damen shipyard in Galati, Romania, while the rest of the ship’s construction and fitment will be carried out in the Netherlands.  With a displacement of over 28,000 tons, the vessel can be used for a wide variety of missions, including replenishment-at-sea, transport of materiel and personnel, medical, technical and logistic support, and for strategic sea-lift and sea-basing missions. The target delivery date is summer 2014.

US sale of military hardware to Egypt
Reflecting an effort by the Egyptian Navy to keep up with other Middle Eastern states’ on-going naval modernization programs, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of a possible foreign military sale of Fast Missile Craft (FMC) and Harpoon Block II anti-ship cruise missiles to the Egyptian military. Under the proposed terms of the deal, the four FMCs would be equipped with a variety of defensive systems such as Oto Melara 76mm cannons and rolling airframe missiles. Additionally, Harpoons would be installed on Cairo’s fleet of newly upgraded S-148 Tiger-class patrol boats.

Russia to Decide on Mistral Soon
Russia continues to show interest in France’s Mistral ships. Reports indicate that Russia may be in the market for four ships from French shipbuilder DCNS. A decision may be as early as March. Also being considered are the Juan Carlos I / L61-class LHD from Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, and to a lesser degree the Enforcer-class LPD from Dutch shipbuilder Damen. The Mistral is capable of handling 16 helicopters, accommodating 450 troops and landing craft. The ship also has a fully equipped hospital and can serve as a command headquarters for combined forces. With Russia’s shipbuilding industry experiencing difficulties, it is expected that construction arrangements would be up for negotiation.

Sea Gripen for India and Brazil
Saab is responding to an Indian Navy request for information (RfI) regarding future carrier-capable fighters with a new development of the Gripen NG, dubbed the Sea Gripen. India’s RfI, selectively released to bidders over recent weeks, seeks detailed information on a common aircraft design for conventional aircraft carrier operations and short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) operations.

Indian Gov’t Takes Over Shipyard
Following complaints from its military that shipbuilding projects were progressing too slowly, the government is transferring control of the nation’s second-largest shipbuilder to the military for the foreseeable future. Hindustan Shipbuilding Yard is now under military control to hasten delivery of the six submarines being constructed under “P75-India” project. The move has been clearly aimed at bolstering naval ship production to achieve the stated goal of a modern 134-ship navy. The move will also speed up construction on six Scorpene-class diesel-electric subs to be built under a USD $3 billion deal with Navantia and DCNS.

Chinese Navy seeks foreign base
Rear-Admiral Yin Zhou of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), says that the PLAN should establish a permanent base in the Gulf of Aden to support anti-piracy operations. Conducting such operations for over a year now, China did not have any overseas naval bases although it has been cooperating with EU and NATO naval vessels in anti-piracy operations. The US and France have bases in the region. RAdm Zhou took great pains to note that China’s creation of a base would not have any malevolent intent, however, there has been some doubt because China has established a series of bases and listening posts from the South China Sea through the Indian Ocean to the Middle East along crucial oil transport sea lanes. A PLAN base in Aden would cause some concern, especially in New Delhi, which views Chinese competition in the Indian Ocean warily.

RAM Block 2 completes CTV test flights
Raytheon Missile Systems revealed that the next generation Block 2 variant of the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) has completed three successful instrumented control test vehicle flights to demonstrate the system’s newly acquired upgraded kinematic capabilities. Co-developed by the U.S. and Germany, RAM is a supersonic, lightweight, quick reaction, fire-and-forget missile providing defence against anti-ship cruise missiles, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and surface craft.

Sixth submarine in record time
Northrop Grumman delivered the sixth Virginia-class submarine to the US Navy in December, four months ahead of schedule. Despite a number of serious problems with the torpedo-handling gear, the new submarine, the New Mexico (SSN 779), was completed at the shipbuilder’s Newport News facility in 70 months, the shortest overall construction time of any Virginia-class boat so far.

Japan ends at-sea replenishment
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ends its nine-year at-sea replenishment mission in support of NATO’s Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ on 15 January. The Democratic Party of Japan, which recently took over the reins of government following a general election in August, stated that it will not renew the Replenishment Support Special Measures Law that allowed the JMSDF to deploy tankers and escort ships to the Indian Ocean to refuel allied warships. The JMSDF dispatched its first replenishment group to the Indian Ocean a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. US Central Command says the capability will now be provided by replenishment vessels currently assigned to the US Navy’s CTF 53 (Commander, Task Force 53), which co-ordinates naval logistics in the US Fifth Fleet area of operations.

UK Probes Missile Test Failures
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Royal Navy (RN) are currently examining the impact of the two recent successive test failures of the Sea Viper air-defence system which was destined for the service’s new Type 45 destroyers. The MoD is now working with prime contractor MBDA UK to review range and telemetry data after the latest failure to achieve an intercept in order to discover the cause of these failures.
Sea Viper qualification testing was ­performed using the UK’s guided-weapon trials platform: the Longbow, and has been under way at a range in the south of France since early 2008.

Air Forces
Russian Passenger Plane Public Debut
The factory in Voronezh in the southwest of Russia is pinning its hopes on the new Sukhoi super passenger/cargo jet becoming a fly-away success. Designed for short haul domestic flights, the new AN-148’s technological advances equip it for life at the coalface. It was created with a view to gruelling flight schedules at small hub airports with limited facilities. They are also producing a growing number of IL-96-400 transport planes which are designed to carry up to 436 passengers with up to 10,000 km between fuel stops.

Russia’s Fifth Generation Profile
There had been nothing to convey details about the new 5th generation jet fighter’s looks. However, images on new lapel pins depict widely spaced engines and two outward-canted fins, reports Vedomosti Daily; adding that it seems the jet fighter has been designed to use advanced stealth technology. A source within the Sukhoi construction bureau has hurriedly dismissed the label pins as “cheap fakes,” but another source in the Russian aviation industry says the images carry a very strong resemblance to the new T-50 jet fighter that is currently under development.
The fifth-generation jet fighter project was started in Russia in the 90s and is currently being developed by the Sukhoi construction bureau and the scientific development and production center “Saturn.” It was earlier reported that the T-50 flight tests could start as soon as November this year. The Chief Commander of the Russian Air Force, Aleksandr Zelin, has stated that there three prototype T-50s are under development.
While attending the MAKS 2009 ­Aviation & Space Salon, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that production of the fifth-generation jet fighter is a priority of the Russian aircraft industry.

Female pilot leads Patrouille de France
The French Air Force’s crack demonstration team, the Patrouille de France, recently performed at the annual MAKS air show held outside Moscow. It was the first time that a female pilot (mother of a 3 year-old child) flew with the aerobatic team during a visit to a Russian air show.
 
Land Forces
Russia Deploys Armoured Trains
Russia’s Defense Ministry may once again deploy the two armoured trains which were withdrawn from Chechnya two years ago. This anticipated deployment is linked to escalations of aggressive acts that have aggravated the fragile security situation in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, Interfax reports, citing sources in law-enforcement bodies. These armoured trains are equipped with special devices for the removal of landmines, and heavy weapons capable of countering an attack by armed militants along the railways. Armoured trains have been in the Russian Army’s arsenal since the days of the Tsars.

The Alligator: More Bite than The Black Shark?
One of the most powerful and agile fighting helicopters in the world, the armour-plated beast KA-52, aka The Alligator, wowed crowds at the MAKS International Air Show near Moscow. The Defence Ministry has said the new helicopter, and other aircraft, are urgently needed to modernize the Russian military.  Armed with weapons more advanced and superior than existing combat helicopters, the Alligator carries a dozen anti-tank missiles which can hit a target eight kilometres away, a powerful 30 mm cannon and a huge battery of rockets work as a defence and aid in ground assaults.

Like its predecessor, KA-50 (The Black Shark), it has no tail rotor which is sets it apart from other flying predators. The KA-52’s opposite-spinning blades make it immune to strong winds from all directions, facilitating operation in almost any weather. Its unique tail design requires less space to land – handy for working in the mountains, the forest, or even in the city. Its simple handling could be crucial in combat. Pilots say operating The Alligator is like driving an automatic after driving a manual. Twin rotor blades are the trademark of the whole family of Kamov (KA) helicopters. They add to the chopper’s manoeuvrability, safety, and make it easier for pilots to handle. Kamov is the only brand in the world producing fighting helicopters without tail rotors. The Alligator is equipped with highly-advanced lasers and sophisticated data ­systems designed to make locating and targeting much easier. One more unique characteristic of The Alligator is its twin-seat cockpit. Sitting side by side, the pilots can co-ordinate their actions better – and each can take control. “The KA-52 is going through its final tests. If successful, The Alligator can then be released into the wild – and become the powerhouse of Russia’s airborne special units within the next 12 to 18 months.

Radar Exposes Hidden IEDs
Just as the first generation of air defence radars once showcased reliable target detection at night and in bad weather, today’s new Foliage Penetration (FOPEN) and Ground Penetrating Radars (GPR) offer the potential for the effective detection of underground and naturally camouflaged asymmetric warfare threats in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Clearly, the reliable identification of buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been a key driver in the development of such technology and led to successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. These new radars, which are being jointly produced for the US Air Force and Army, will be fielded to major combatant units in the very new future.

UK Selects Weapon for Afghan Ops
After a series of studies noted a requirement for an integrated “Battle Rifle,” UK forces are poised to receive a semi-automatic 7.62 mm x 51 mm ‘sharpshooter’ weapon to combat Taliban forces engaging beyond the maximum effective range of the 5.56 mm L85A2 assault rifle. In a US$2.5 million contract, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has contracted Law Enforcement International (LEI) to supply 440 LM7 semi-automatic rifles. The urgency assigned to this operational requirement follows calls from UK troops on the ground for a weapon that can be comfortably carried and can be rapidly employed to provide an a credible weapon to meet the increased range for enemy contacts out to 800 m.

Designated the L129A1, the ­gas-operated weapon carries a standard 20-round magazine and weighs 5 kg. It will be manufactured by the Lewis Machine & Tool Company in the United States. Deliveries are expected to begin in early 2010.

Features include a single-piece upper receiver, and free-floating, quick-change barrels available in 305, 406 and 508 mm. It has four Picatinny rails with a 540 mm top rail for night vision, thermal and image intensifying optics. Stock options include fixed or retractable versions.

Industry insiders say this rifle beat such competition as the Heckler & Koch’s HK417 (already supplied to specialist units within the MoD), FN Herstal’s SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle), and a proposed new weapon from Sabre Defence Industries.

Currently, UK soldiers must complete a comprehensive marksmanship course to become qualified as ‘sharpshooters’ (just a grade below that of a sniper). Following the previous introduction of Accuracy International’s (AI’s) .338-cal L115A3 sniper rifle, unit sharpshooters have been armed with the outdated AI’s 7.62 mm L96 rifle. However, the bolt-action rifle is not a suitable option for a patrolling soldier, given the majority of contacts occurring at either very close range or at ranges to between 500 m and 900 m, the “only organic asset” currently available to responding UK forces is the 7.62 mm General-Purpose Machine Gun. MoD sources have acknowledged the deficiencies of the 5.56, saying they lack the reach to engage the enemy at those ranges and that the troops need 7.62 mm for the longer ranges. They are also looking at new higher performance rounds with higher lethality at longer range.

US Army’s GCV effort takes shape
The US Army’s much-anticipated Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) effort is beginning to take shape. The Army’s Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Integration says they believe that the first production GCV – which will be an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) – will be complete in seven years.
The GCV effort is on its way to becoming a formal procurement program less than a year after the Department of Defense terminate the family of Manned Ground Vehicles which was being developed under the former Future Combat Systems program. The new group of vehicles must maximize “protection, system survivability and mobility,” and also allow for significant vehicle growth potential to incorporate additional technology in the future. Much of the new GCV’s attributes and technical specifications are being left for industry to develop based on what is technologically achievable within the near future.
 
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Rob Day is a former Air Force Logistics Officer.
© FrontLine Defence 2010

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