13 August 2019

US Army confirms Iron Dome air defence system purchase

The US Army has finalised a contract to purchase two Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system batteries to shore up its interim missile defence capabilities, potentially paving the way for a permanent solution.

The deal was revealed at the Space and Missile Defence Symposium in Alabama as reported by Defense News. The US Army first began looking into buying the platform in early 2019.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have used Iron Dome, jointly built by Raytheon, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, since 2011 to protect Israel from rocket attacks with a near 90% success rate.

International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) senior fellow for military aerospace Douglas Barrie told Army Technology: “The procurement is likely aimed at evaluation of the system as a force protection asset for the army to counter rocket and mortar fire as well as some classes of missiles.”

GDT reached out to Rafael, however, the company said it was unable to comment on the purchase.

The move comes in response to a congressional mandate for the US Army to deploy two new anti-air batteries by 2020. The Iron Dome system will provide interim defence capabilities to the US Army after it identified a capability gap in defence against cruise missile, rocket and artillery attacks.

The US Army will assess the system to see whether to include Iron Dome in future defence planning for its Indirect Fires Protection programme.

US Army Air Missile Defence Cross-Functional Team deputy director Daryl Youngman told Defense News: “We’re conducting analysis and experimentation for enduring IFPC. So that includes some engineering-level analysis and simulations to determine the performance of multiple options, including Iron Dome — or pieces of Iron Dome — and then how we integrate all of that into the [integrated air and missile defence] system.”

The US as part of its ongoing military partnership with Israel has spent $1.4bn on the Iron Dome programme over its lifetime. Raytheon joined the programme in 2014 as part of a co-production deal moving some assembly of the system to the US.

Barrie added: “In terms of its operational use in Israel the system has been designed to be able to deal with salvo fires of rockets, prioritising which represent a threat to the defended area and which to ignore given the rocket’s trajectory.”

The Iron Dome short-range air defence system can neutralise targets at a range of 2.5 to 45 miles (4-70km). The system in Israel uses ten batteries, each including three of four Iron Dome launchers. Each launcher in the system can carry up to 20 Tamir missiles and houses its own radar. For efficiency, the system will not engage incoming projectiles expected to land in uninhabited areas.

Due to the success of Iron Dome and increasing interest from other countries, Raytheon has developed a US-built version of the system called SkyHunter.

Iron Dome is currently used by Israel, India, Romania and Azerbaijan. The UK Ministry of Defence expressed an interest in buying the system in 2011 for use in Afghanistan and Iraq.

13 August 2019

Australia unveils vision to create STEM workforce for defence needs

The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) has unveiled its science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) Workforce Strategic Vision 2019-2030 to create a skilled workforce for the defence industry.

The vision document was released in Canberra as part of National Science Week celebrations.

The DoD is looking to partner with industry and academia to create the skilled workforce required to meet the country’s future defence and national security needs.

Chief Defence Scientist Professor Tanya Monro said: “These are the careers of the future and competition for people with these qualifications is fierce. It is estimated that 75% of the fastest-growing occupations in the world today require people with STEM skills. In Australia, there is a growing requirement for a workforce with the necessary skills to drive innovation and ensure we remain competitive in a tough global economy. Defence aims to shape the national agenda in science, technology, engineering and maths studies and inspire future generations of Australians to pursue careers within defence.”

Monro added that a larger and more specialised STEM workforce of both uniformed and civilian personnel is key for building a high-tech force. In addition, the department needs to maintain a continuous pipeline of STEM graduates to attract and retain the best minds in their fields, he noted.

As part of the initiative, the Australian DoD intends to expand its STEM cadetship programme from 50 interns to 200 cadets. The expansion will encourage students to pursue career development in defence whilst undertaking their studies. The high-tech workforce is intended to deliver and support critical Australian Defence Force capability.

Australia wants to invest in developing the required workforce with skills in various disciplines, including engineering, design, manufacturing, programme management, logistics and support services.

13 August 2019

ULA offers Vulcan Centaur rocket for USAF Launch Services competition

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has proposed its Vulcan Centaur rocket for the second phase of the US Air Force’s (USAF) Launch Services competition.

The alliance is developing the first Vulcan Centaur rocket at its factory in Decatur, Alabama.

The rocket is on schedule for delivery to the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida next year and a planned first launch in 2021, ULA said.

ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno said: “Atlas and Delta rockets have been the backbone of national security space launch for decades, building on a progressive history of technology development and advancement, Vulcan Centaur will advance this rich heritage.

“Following the successful launch of our 134th mission just last week on our Atlas rocket, we submitted our purpose-built Vulcan Centaur rocket for the US Air Force’s Phase 2 Launch Services competition. It is so exciting to see the first flight vehicle coming together at our factory.”

Last year, the USAF awarded three Launch Services agreements to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and ULA to develop launch vehicles.

The contract awarded to Blue Origin was for the development of the New Glenn launch system, while the one to Northrop Grumman was for the OmegA launch system. The service will select two launch service providers for future procurements. Phase 2 is the next stage of the competition.

In May this year, a request for proposals was released for the Phase 2 launch service contract.

Bruno added: “The nation is facing a contested space environment, and we are unleashing the energy of American ingenuity by developing Vulcan Centaur to meet our nation’s need for expanding space missions. Vulcan Centaur’s flight-proven design, coupled with innovative technology, is transforming the future of space launch and will advance America’s superiority in space.”

13 August 2019

US Air Force F-35A aircraft and personnel practise adaptive basing

The F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft and personnel from the US Air Force’s (USAF) 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) practised adaptive basing methodology.

USAF 4th EFS is assigned to Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE, and is on temporary deployment to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing in south-west Asia.

The adaptive basing methodology was practised during Exercise Agile Lightning, which was conducted between 4 and 7 August.

USAF 4th EFS commander lieutenant colonel Joshua Arki said: “Exercise Agile Lightning is a demonstration of the agile basing concepts practised by airforce fighter squadrons from their home bases. The ‘Fightin’ Fuujins’ of the 4th EFS successfully deployed a small detachment of aircraft and personnel to a forward location, supporting combat operations from that location for a given period of time and then re-deployed back to our primary operating location.”

Adaptive basing exercises involve small teams of airmen and aircraft from all levels of the squadron.

Exercise Agile Lightning marked the first adaptive basing methodology exercise for the F-35A aircraft in the US Central Command area of responsibility.

Arki added: “By executing the adaptive basing concepts we have only practised at home until now, we increased the readiness, survivability and lethality of the F-35A in a combat theatre. The Agile Lightning team worked hard to coordinate with multiple bases and across US Air Force core disciplines such as logistics, munitions, force support, communications, air mobility, Combined Air Operations Center staff, etc to ensure mission success.”

Adaptive basing allows aircraft to adapt and respond to the unpredictable operational environment during untethered operations. The airforce stated that the methodology is still in its early stage. The approach will allow the service to defend US and partner interests from almost anywhere in the world within a short span of time.

12 August 2019

UK DASA seeks proposals for metasurface technology competition

The UK Government’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), along with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), is inviting proposals for phase two of the metasurface technology competition.

The competition is looking for companies that can harness advances in metasurface technology to maintain an electromagnetic tactical advantage for the front-line.

DASA intends to integrate the innovative solutions into devices and onto platforms to maintain ‘effectiveness in the increasingly congested electromagnetic environment’.

In a statement, DASA said: “Advantage may be realised by sensing and communication superiority over an adversary. This applies equally to enhancing your own capabilities, degrading those of your adversaries, or being better able to differentiate your own signals from those in the congested environment.”

The advanced metasurfaces technology is expected to provide an improved understanding of the battlefield and facilitate secure communication by allowing better control of electromagnetic waves. In addition, the solution will cut costs and reduce device footprint.

The competition seeks to invite experts in the private sector and academia to help develop the innovations. Under the first phase of the competition, DASA awarded contracts to nine companies.

Companies looking to participate in phase two will have to submit proposals incorporating metasurface science for applications in defence and security. The final round of the phase will require companies to make a practical demonstration of the work to defence and security end users.

DASA added: “We are keen to promote teaming between organisations from across industry, academia, and broader supply chains to develop the role of metasurfaces in relevant applications.”

The metasurfaces competition phase two is set to be launched at a demonstration day for phase one next month. The organisation will provide at least £500,000 in funding for the second phase. Contracts are expected to be awarded by February / March next year.

12 August 2019

UK RAF scrambles Typhoon jets to intercept Russian military aircraft

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) has scrambled Typhoon fighter jets twice in a single day to intercept Russian military aircraft.

The service sent Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth located in north-east Scotland in response to two Russian Bear maritime patrol aircraft approaching UK airspace.

In a statement, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated that an RAF Voyager from RAF Brize Norton assisted the Typhoon aircraft in monitoring the Russian Bear jets and escorting them from the UK’s area of interest.

The Russian patrol aircraft were said to be flying near the international airspace of the UK’s fellow Nato allies.

In another incident, the RAF also scrambled Typhoons from Amari airbase to intercept a Russian Bear bomber and two Flanker fighter jets flying near Estonian airspace.

The QRA Typhoons are deployed on Operation AZOTIZE in Estonia in support of the Nato Baltic Air Policing mission.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Every day certain states are determined to push international norms and to test the UK’s resolve. The threats to the international rules-based system are on many fronts. The RAF is well equipped to stand sentry alongside our allies on the UK’s and Europe’s borders. I am grateful they are there 24/7 to uphold the UK’s commitment to our security.”

The MoD stated that the UK QRA intercept and monitoring was performed ‘in a safe and professional manner’.

In a statement, the MoD said: “Russian aircraft frequently attempt to test Nato’s level of readiness, as well as conduct intelligence-gathering missions.”

The incidents come after RAF Typhoons intercepted five Russian military aircraft within two days.

The latest QRA launch from Amari airbase is the 17th QRA scramble resulting in an intercept since the RAF assumed charge of enhanced air policing in May as part of Nato’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

12 August 2019

US Marine becomes first female to be assigned to fly F-35C

US Marine first lieutenant Catherine Stark has become the first female marine to be selected to fly the US Marine Corps’ F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft.

On 2 August, Stark earned her Marine Corps aviator Wings of Gold at a ceremony in Kingsville.

Stark has been assigned to the ‘Rough Raiders’ of VFA-125 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. She will soon begin training with the squadron.

Stark said: “It has been a long process to get to where I am today. During my time in flight training, I have met so many hardworking Marine and Navy pilots who have shared my experience. Every single one of them has worked hard to earn the Wings of Gold we pinned on.”

She completed flight training in the T-6B Texan II primary flight training aircraft and the T-45C Goshawk advanced jet training aircraft.

The Lockheed Martin-built F-35 aircraft is used by the US Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and nine other nations. The advanced aircraft is available in three variants of F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C. F-35B is designated for the US Marine Corps (USMC) and has short takeoff and vertical takeoff capabilities. The service will also operate the F-35C, which offers greater range and stealth capabilities and a larger payload capacity. The F-35C can also land on aircraft carriers.

The F-35C is expected to expand USMC’s mission capabilities.

VT-21 Executive Officer commander Christopher Glandon said: “Advanced jet training is very demanding and our instructors take extreme pride in training future naval aviators. Navy and Marine Corps aviators who complete this programme develop a diverse array of skills to execute the multiple missions in Naval Aviation. All who earn the Wings of Gold are prepared to continue learning the capabilities and tactics of the respective fleet jet communities for which they are selected.”

Earlier this year, USNI News reported that the USMC is accelerating the procurement of the F-35C. The service does not yet have an operational F-35C squadron.

12 August 2019

US Navy to replace touchscreens with mechanical controls

The US Navy is to replace touchscreen controls on destroyers with physical systems in 2020 after a report into the fatal 2017 USS John S McCain collision branded the controls ‘unnecessarily complex’.

The investigation into the accident that resulted in the deaths of 10 sailors said that the complexity of the control system and a lack of training led to the collision.

Bridge design on US naval vessels is largely uncontrolled by the military, with a lack of specific requirements leaving design decisions to shipbuilders.

The step-back in technology will give sailors more tactile feedback and remove the ambiguity and uncertainty that played a role in the collision.

The navy will retrofit mechanical controls on all DDG-51 (Arleigh Burke) class destroyers that currently use the Northrop Grumman Integrated Bridge and Navigation System (IBNS).

Northrop Grumman told GDT: “We continue to work closely with the navy on its navigation modernisation program by providing advanced capabilities to support the fleet.”

After incidents with the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald, the US Navy surveyed the crews of its ships and found a majority of sailors wanted to see a return to more intuitive mechanical controls.

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that: “Training on the operation of the Integrated Bridge and Navigation System for John S McCain watchstanders was inadequate, because it did not ensure that the crew could perform the basic functions of the watch, such as the transfer of steering and thrust control between bridge stations.”

The report also found that “the design of the John S McCain’s touch-screen steering and thrust control system increased the likelihood of the operator errors that led to the collision”.

The report did not place sole blame on the IBNS, however, adding that the sailors’ lack of training and fatigue also played a key role in the incident.

The incident was caused when sailors attempted to pass control of the throttle from one console to another, resulting in the belief that they had lost control of the ship. The system on board the ship allows throttle and steering to be controlled from multiple stations on the USS McCain’s bridge. The ship’s crew enabled the “backup manual mode” to get more intuitive control of the ship, however, this meant it could be controlled from multiple stations. As a result crew members on all three stations could steer the ship when they tried to regain control of the vessel steering swapped between the three stations.

As a result, the report recommended that the US Navy “issue permanent guidance directing destroyers equipped with the Integrated Bridge and Navigation System to operate in computer-assisted steering modes, except during an emergency”.

The report added: “Mechanical throttles provide complementary information to an operator: direction, force, and the ability to confirm either visually or by touch whether the throttles are ganged and working in unison. Mechanical throttles are used in aviation and on most vessels still operating in the Navy. They are often preferred over touch-screen displays as they provide both immediate and tactile feedback to the operator.”

The report concluded that the US Navy should revise the way it trains sailors to use the IBNS system and provide clearer technical manuals on how to correctly transfer controls between the systems consoles.