11 February 2020

US cuts European defence funding in FY2021 budget request

The US Department of Defence (DoD) has requested $4.5bn for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) in its FY2021 budget request. This represents a £1.5bn cut compared with the enacted FY2020 budget and a $2bn drop from the enacted FY2019 budget of £6.5bn.

The EDI, funded through the US DoD’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, was set up in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea by the White House to bolster US presence on the European continent and deter further Russian aggression.

Previous funding for the EDI had been used by the US to pay for sections of the border wall with Mexico.

The fund supports the deployment of US personnel in Europe, several international exercises, and operations in Eastern European nations designed to counter Russia. The funding also provides defence equipment to the Armed Forces of the Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).

In the budget request, the DoD is looking to set aside $250m for the USAI. Budget documents say this funding will be used “to provide assistance and support to the military and national security forces of Ukraine, and for replacement of any weapons or defensive articles provided to the Government of Ukraine from the inventory of the United States.”

US Military funding to Ukraine has been in the spotlight in recent months with US support to Ukraine becoming a central topic during the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The cut follows a wider downturn in the amount of the DoD budget set aside for OCO, from the enacted FY2020 budget of $71.3bn down to a requested $69bn for FY2021.

The requested budget will see funding for classified programmes, the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF), the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF), the Counter and Deter Threat Network / DTRA among others decrease.

According to the budget documents, the US is still committed to achieving the EDI objectives of increasing the presence of the US military in Europe, conducting additional exercises and training with European allies, the ‘enhanced prepositioning of US equipment in Europe, developing military infrastructure on the continent, and ‘building allied and partner capacity’.

11 February 2020

US Space Force receives first GPS III satellite from Lockheed Martin

The US Space Force has received its first global positioning system (GPS) III satellite in Florida from Lockheed Martin ahead of an expected launch in April.

Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin shipped the third next-generation GPS III space vehicle (GPS III SV03) to Cape Canaveral from its GPS III Processing Facility located near Denver.

The satellite was shipped on board a US Air Force C-17 aircraft travelling from Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado.

GPS III SV03 (Columbus) is the latest of up to 32 next-generation GPS III/GPS III Follow-On (GPS IIIF) satellites designed by Lockheed Martin.

The satellites will help the US Space Force upgrade existing GPS constellation with new technology and capabilities.

Lockheed Martin GPS III programme manager Tonya Ladwig said: “Every day, more than four billion civil, commercial and military users rely on the Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services provided by 31 GPS satellites launched since 1997. We are excited to help the space force refresh the constellation to ensure US and allied forces always have the best technology and that the US Global Positioning System remains the gold standard for PNT.”

Developed with a completely new design for the US and allied forces, GPS III has greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

Its modular design will allow new GPS IIIF capabilities to start being added at the 11th satellite. Capabilities will include a fully digital navigation payload, a regional military protection capability, a laser retroreflector array, and a search and rescue payload.

The first GPS III satellite, GPS III SV01 (Vespucci), built by Lockheed Martin was set ‘healthy and active’ by the 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2 SOPS) at Schriever Air Force Base last month. GPS III SV02 (Magellan) was delivered by the company in March last year and launched the following August. At present, GPS III SV05-09 satellites are in various stages of assembly and test at Lockheed Martin’s production line near Denver.

Critical design review with the space force is expected to complete soon, which will be followed by the production on the first two GPS IIIF satellites under contract.

10 February 2020

Rafael unveils Microlite EO/IR sensor

Israeli defence technology company Rafael Advanced Defence Systems is showcasing a new lightweight airborne EO/IR sensor for wide-area persistent surveillance (WAPS) operations at Singapore Air Show.

The MicroLite sensor can be mounted on small airborne platforms including unmanned aerial vehicles, balloons, and manned aircraft to complete EO/IR intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions.

At the show, Rafael said it would showcase the system mounted on an Orbiter-4 UAV made by Rafael-owned Aeronautics.

Rafael says the system uses high-resolution mid-wavelength infrared (MWIR) and visual HD colour sensors to enable persistent wide-area surveillance and can work in tandem with a laser designator to locate and designate possible targets.

The MicroLite sensor is mounted on a gimballed turret allowing it to scan a wider area and features a self-contained onboard processing system.

In a press release, Rafael said that the system offers armed forces the capability to simultaneously track multiple targets. Video captured by the system can be tied to geographical data and sent to multiple users enabling personnel on the ground to know the exact location of a threat.

The system weighs 11kg and has several scanning modes, from strip scanning, where an area is mapped in rows, to a ‘gatekeeping’ mode where the sensor maps and area and then repeatedly watches over fixed points at the UAV orbits a given area.

7 February 2020

UK to trial drones for coastal search and rescue

The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) plans to conduct demonstration flights using Elbit Systems UK’s Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The MCA will use the Elbit UAVs among others in trials to demonstrate how unmanned systems can be deployed effectively in civilian airspace using a range of sensors.

The Hermes 900 UAV is designed for operations along coastlines or in open water and features a maritime radar, electro-optic payload, satellite communication, automatic identification system receiver and an emergency position-indicating radio beacon receiver allowing it to detect and locate a number of systems in the water.

In a press release, Elbit said that the UAV would enable the UK to perform persistent monitoring of large stretches of the UK coastline and support other operations such as locating potentially hazardous environments and search and rescue missions.

The trials will also see the MCA test the smaller, person-launched, Skylark I-LEX UAV, which is designed to provide ‘beyond the next hill’ reconnaissance.

Elbit Systems UK CEO Martin Fausset said: “We are proud to partner with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency on this valuable demonstration of the wide range of unmanned capabilities Elbit Systems UK can offer.

“We look forward to providing the best possible support for the lifesaving work of the MCA. This is the latest example of how Elbit Systems UK is delivering proven technologies to support operational needs of UK customers.”

Ultimately the UAVS are designed to help the MCA its HM Coastguard section provide a 24-hour maritime search and rescue capability within UK waters.

UK Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Drone technology has enormous potential for our search and rescue teams, who save lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This ground-breaking project will not only hope to boost the capabilities of our already fantastic teams but will also boost our ability to spot pollution hazards and protect our precious marine environment.”

6 February 2020

WFEL to manufacture British Army Boxer MIVs

WFEL is set to manufacture a portion of the British Army’s 500 new Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicles (MIVs) as part of a £2.3bn vehicle procurement deal signed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) last year.

Under the agreement, up to 60% of the vehicles by value will be sourced in the UK with work split between WFEL, a UK subsidiary of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), and Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL).

The UK manufacturers were handed the work after the MOD confirmed the contract to buy the vehicles with Artec – a Rheinmetall – KMW joint venture last year.

The British Army’s initial purchase of Boxers covers four variants of the modular vehicle, including the armoured personnel carrier, field ambulance, command vehicle and specialist carrier variants.

UK Defence Minister James Heappey said: “Investing in the Boxer programme is a prime example of Defence doing more than ever to level-up the UK economy through employment. By developing our relationship with WFEL, we are also supporting high-skilled jobs across the UK supply chain. This partnership ensures we engage with our people from the very beginning, connecting talented apprentices with the valuable roles Defence has to offer.”

WFEL said its involvement in the Boxer programme would create a number of jobs at the company and for its wider UK supply chain.

WFEL managing director Ian Anderton said, “Our substantial involvement in the Boxer programme allows us to further develop our UK supply chain, in turn creating and protecting valuable UK engineering jobs and developing new skills for our staff and those of our supply chain partners. Working in close partnership with our KMW colleagues, we are both delighted and proud to be part of this transformational project for the British Army, with whom we have worked for many years.”

Delivery of the Boxers to the British Army is set to begin in 2023, with the vehicles set to work alongside the General Dynamics AJAX as part of newly formed Strike Brigades modelled on the US Army’s Stryker Brigades.

The British Army has faced a long journey in the procurement of the Boxer MIV having initially joined the programme at its inception in the 1990s but later withdrawing after the onset of the Iraq war. The UK then formally rejoined the Boxer programme in 2018 ahead of signing off on the purchase of the first 500 vehicles late last year.

The British Army will join Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Australia in operating the vehicle.

The vehicle has a service life of around 30 years and features a double V hull for better blast protection. Its modular design means the vehicle is effectively built in two sections, a drive module and a payload module.

The payload module can be lifted off the vehicle and replaced in around an hour using a crane, allowing commanders more flexibility and the ability to quickly field different capabilities depending on the situation.

5 February 2020

UK Fleet Solid Support Ships strategy sparks debate

The UK Government has remained quiet on how the contract to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s new Fleet Solid Support Ships will proceed after having paused the programme last year, while MPs have questioned the ability of the Royal Navy to field full carrier strike groups.

During parliamentary questions on defence, when pushed on whether the contract would be awarded to a UK firm, Defence Minister James Heappey said that the contract had not yet been restarted.

Responding to a question on the issue, Heappey said: “In November, the Secretary of State agreed that the Fleet Solid Support Ship competition should be stopped as it had become clear that a value-for-money solution could not be reached. The Department is now considering the most appropriate way forward.”

The competition to build the ships was thrown open to international tender after the Ministry of Defence chose not to classify the ships as warships, meaning they could be built overseas. In that case, overseas-built would have had sensitive equipment installed by British shipyards after delivery.

The £1bn tender for the construction of three ships was brought up in last year’s general election, with opposition parties committing in their manifestos to build these ships in the UK. The competition was put on ice a day after the MOD published Sir John Parker’s review of the National Shipbuilding Strategy where he expressed concern at the decision to possibly build the ships abroad.

At the time Parker wrote: “There is significant parliamentary, industry and public interest in increasing the number of categories of ships eligible for UK only competition. While I do not wish to delay or damage the procurement of the Fleet Solid Support ships. I recommend that UK-only competition should be considered for future defence-funded vessels including amphibious vessels and mine countermeasure vessels.”

Responding to a question on the ships earlier in January, Heappey said: “The decision to stop the Fleet Solid Support ship competition was taken because it had become clear that a value for money solution could not be reached.

“The Ministry of Defence is currently assessing the options, and as part of this process will review the requirement and any procurement strategy. It is not possible to provide any further details until this work has been completed.”

The Fleet Solid Support Ships are designed to support the UK’s two new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers while they are on deployment resupplying them with food, ammunition and other supplies.

Is the fleet big enough?

During the debate, the topic also turned to the size of the Royal Navy, with some MPs questioning whether the current surface fleet was sizable enough to support the effective deployment of the new carriers.

Speaking in the debate on frigates and destroyers, Conservative MP Andrew Bowie said: “May I raise concerns that many are bringing to me—that at the minute we simply do not have enough ships to protect our two new aircraft carriers should they ever have to go to sea at the same time?

“Is it still the commitment of the Government to have two wholly UK sovereign deployable carrier groups to deploy at the same time, should we ever have to, while maintaining our other commitments overseas?”

In response, Heappey said: “Although that has never been the policy of the government, both aircraft carriers have been brought into service to ensure that one is always available 100% of the time.

“Although the precise number and mix of vessels deployed within a maritime task group would depend on operational circumstances, we will be able to draw from a range of highly capable vessels, such as Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates, and the Astute class submarines—and, in the near future, Type 26 frigates as well.”

Heappey said earlier in the debate that the UK Government remains “committed to ensuring that the Royal Navy will have the ships required to fulfil its defence commitments.”

Other MPs also voiced their concerns about the standing surface fleet’s ability to protect the new carriers. MP Kevan Jones raised the issue that the problem might not lie solely with the size of the fleet but also the number of vessels laid up in yards undergoing maintenance.

Jones said: “The issue is not just about the number of ships that the Royal Navy possesses, but whether they are operationally effective or not. From July 2018 to July 2019, two of the six Type 45 destroyers did not put to sea, and a third spent fewer than 100 days at sea. What will the Minister be doing to ensure that the existing ships are operationally ready?”

In response, Heappey said that as a defence minister he was ‘concerned’ by the number of ships ‘tied up against walls’ than by the number of vessels currently at sea. He added: “The Secretary of State has made the delivery of more ships for the fleet his priority for the Navy.”

5 February 2020

US Navy fields new submarine-launched nuclear weapon

The US Navy has fielded a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), first requested in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The new nuclear weapon is designed to fill a capability gap that the US sees it faces against adversaries like Russia and others, and delivers on a US promise to strengthen its deterrent force.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said: “The US Navy has fielded the W76-2 low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead.

“In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners."

The low-yield W76-2 is a modified version of the existing warhead used on the widely-deployed Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile. Modifying an existing warhead enabled the US to develop and deploy the new nuclear weapon quickly.

Neither the US DoD nor the US Navy has commented on what vessels the low-yield device has been deployed on, however, only the Ohio-Class submarines carry the Trident missile capable of carrying the warhead. Some reports have said that the warhead was first deployed on the USS Tennessee late last year.

The weapon is seen as a means of bolstering the US nuclear arsenal with a tactical weapon, similar to the gravity bombs carried by the US Air Force which are less destructive than conventional nuclear weapons.

The fielding of W76-2 does not mark an expansion of the US nuclear arsenal as existing warheads were modified to develop the new device. Naval Technology earlier reported that as many as 50 of the new warheads had been produced, with the first production warhead finished in February of last year.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review said: “Expanding flexible US nuclear options now, to include low-yield options, is important for the preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression. It will raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear employment less likely.”

Rood added: “This supplemental capability strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon, supports our commitment to extended deterrence, and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

4 February 2020

Strategic Defence and Security Review must be “based in financial reality”: UK Defence Secretary

The Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace has said that the UK’s upcoming integrated Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) must be rooted in financial reality while answering defence questions in Parliament.

Wallace said that the UK Government’s upcoming SDSR must be properly funded and that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) must be honest with what it can afford and what kit can be supplied to personnel, as he answered questions on defence from members of parliament on Monday.

The upcoming quinquennial review is set to analyse the UK’s military place in the world as it leaves the European Union, and looks at how defence and foreign policy can be better carried out.

Responding to a question from the newly-elected chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood, Wallace said: “If these reviews are to be worth anything they have to be properly funded. That means it requires honesty both from the department [MOD], from wider government, from the Treasury and indeed for the ambitions of what we want our country to do and be around the world. If we match our appetite to our stomachs, then I think it will have a long-lasting legacy.”

Planning for the defence review is underway, with publication details to be clarified as it progresses; however, Army Technology understands the government plans to have the review concluded by the end of the year, most likely in the autumn.

Labour MP Meg Hillier challenged Wallace saying that the UK has had several defence reviews with defence ministers promising their review ‘would be different’, adding that there is often a mismatch between the funds made available and the plans outlined in the review.

Responding, Wallace said: “The first thing we can do is to be honest to our men and women in our armed forces about what we can afford and what we are going to give them, and at the same time to be honest to the public about what are ambitions are globally. And make that honesty not hankered in sentimentality, but make it based in financial reality. And make sure that the whole of government buys into that.”

Wallace’s words in the Commons echoed Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter’s speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) late last year, where he called for the upcoming SDSR to take an ‘honest’ account of the armed forces’ needs and wants as it looks to develop a plan for facing a range of new and often hybrid threats.

Also during the parliamentary questions, a number of MPs pushed defence ministers to commit to building the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries’ new Fleet Solid Support Ships in the UK. The process to build the ships was scrapped late last year over concerns that bidders may not deliver value for money.

The move was praised by MPs and UK industry as a step towards having the ships reclassified as warships so that they must be built in the UK, Responding to the questions today, Minister for Defence Procurement James Heappey said that the competition to build the ships has yet to be restarted.

The MOD is understood to still be evaluating the best way to proceed with the contract and acquisition of the vessels, which will support the UK’s new aircraft carriers.

Heappey also said that the MOD is “committed to supporting the UK defence manufacturing industry and since 2015 has published the National Shipbuilding Strategy, launched the Combat Air Strategy and refreshed the Defence Industrial Policy.”

These earlier publications are likely to inform the upcoming SDSR.