19 July 2019

UK DASA to launch ‘Don’t Blow It’ competition Phase II

The UK Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) is set to launch the second phase of the ‘Don’t Blow It’ competition.

DASA has called on organisations to submit expressions of interest for the competition’s launch event on 1 October this year. The ‘Don’t Blow It’ competition seeks to safely eliminate chemical and biological munitions on the battlefield.

The UK Ministry of Defence-backed government organisation is looking for proposals for novel technological solutions and approaches to access, disable and / or permanently destroy munitions. The competition will cover chemical and biological munitions, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) containing chemical and biological agents, and containers of bulk agents.

DASA completed Phase I of the competition and a Collaboration Day was conducted in May.

Under Phase II, the organisation will provide up to £1.5m to fund emerging innovations at technology readiness level (TRL) 3 upwards to enable the development of full-scale prototypes.
In a statement, DASA said: “Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, all member states are obligated to destroy any chemical weapons they own or possess, or that they abandoned on the territory of another member state.

“Whilst destruction technologies exist for this purpose, they are not appropriate for use in all circumstances. Recent events have increased focus on developing a toolkit to enable rapid and effective disablement or irreversible destruction of smaller caches discovered in resource-limited environments.”

The solutions should be able to ultimately enable rapid, effective and flexible destruction methods, and reduce logistical support requirements.

Furthermore, the solutions are required to deliver other enhancements such as optimising ease of operation, transportability and ruggedness of the equipment.

Participants in the second phase of the competition should focus on a system solution. To achieve this, companies are welcome to collaborate with other partners.

‘Don’t Blow It’ is jointly funded by the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense.

18 July 2019

US expels Turkey from F-35 programme after S-400 purchase

The US has expelled Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme in retaliation for the country accepting delivery of the Russian S-400 missile system, as reported by Air Force Technology.

The move will have severe effects on the F-35 supply chain as currently around 900 parts for the fighter are made in Turkey. The Pentagon said that relocating the manufacture of those components from Turkey to the US and other states could cost upwards of $600m, which could lead to a near 10% rise in the overall cost of the project.

The US insisted it still values Turkey as a strategic partner despite the country’s ejection from the F-35 programme.

US under-secretary of defence Ellen Lord said: “Since early 2017, when Turkey began publicly discussing its interests in the Russian-made S-400 system, all levels of the US government have consistently communicated that the F-35 and the S-400 are incompatible. As other US officials and I have clearly said, Turkey cannot field a Russian intelligence-collection platform in proximity to where the F-35 programme makes, repairs and houses the F-35.”

An official from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded: “We invite the US to return from this mistake which would open irreparable wounds in strategic relations.”

On Wednesday a White House spokesperson said Turkey’s purchase and integration of the S-400 “renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible”. The spokesperson added: “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities”.

Manufactured by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is the largest and most expensive weapons programme in history, leaving Turkey’s economy set to take an economic hit due to its defence industries heavy investment in the fighter jet.

Turkey says it purchased the S-400 as the US was too slow to offer alternative anti-air defence systems, despite the US repeatedly pushing for the country to buy the Patriot missile system.

The White House said: “This administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the US Patriot air defence system”.

The US has yet to say whether or not it will apply further sanctions on Turkey as is expected under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

18 July 2019

RAF seeks hypersonic weapons and propulsions systems

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) has announced a £10m contract to develop hypersonic weapons and propulsion systems that would make the RAF the world’s fastest air force.

The systems are set to be integrated with current and future aircraft and would make them capable of flying at more than Mach 5, five times the speed of sound. They are being developed by Rolls-Royce, Reaction Engines and BAE Systems under the direction of the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO).

The plans were revealed by senior RAF officials at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air & Space Power Conference (ASPC). The RAF wants the systems to be used with 4th, 5th and 6th generation fighters.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) chief of staff for capability and force development Air Vice-Marshal Simon Rochelle said: “In 2030, more than 80% of the NATO ORBAT [Order of Battle] will be made up of 4th Generation aircraft. Now, imagine all those aircraft firing thousands of Mach 5 missiles into the fight.”

The hypersonic weaponry will allow ageing 4th generation fighters like the British Aerospace Hawk 200 and Eurofighter Typhoon to keep pace with advanced surface-to-air and air-to-air systems. The weapons will also enhance the capabilities of the RAF’s newly operational F-35B fleet.

Chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: “These will be designed and tested over the next two years, paving the way for the UK to become a centre of excellence in this technology and contribute to meeting future UK defence needs. This is not an idea, a lot of this technology now exists. What we are doing is providing additional investment and additional focus for that project so that we can deliver a military utility out of it.”

Mach 5, around 4,000 mph, is the lower threshold for hypersonic speeds. The new systems would allow the RAF to outpace other countries’ munitions. The current fastest missile in use is the Indian and Russian made BrahMos which travels at between Mach 2 and Mach 3, or2,200 mph.

Hillier said: “They [Russia and China] are able to move forward in generations of capability much more quickly. If we are going to maintain our competitive advantage, we are going to have to move faster.”

Rolls-Royce director of business development and future programmes Alex Zino said: “Rolls-Royce will work closely with the UK MOD and our partners BAE Systems and Reaction Engines to conduct and coordinate research into high Mach advanced propulsion systems. Going forward, this collaboration will allow us to focus on enabling innovative technologies for increased aircraft performance and capability.”

Sharing a joint-statement Rolls-Royce, Reaction Engines and BAE Systems said: “By bringing together acknowledged aerospace innovation capability from British companies, Rolls-Royce, Reaction Engines and BAE Systems, critical high Mach propulsion technology elements will be developed over the next 2 years, paving the way for a UK centre of excellence in this technology and contributing to meeting UK MOD future defence needs.

“This work highlights the importance of collaboration with our partners and will allow us to focus on developing innovative technologies for increased aircraft performance and capability.”

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is also looking into hypersonic weaponry, recently awarding a $930m contract to Lockheed Martin to develop the systems. Russia and China are also looking to develop hypersonic systems.

18 July 2019

US Navy seeks bids for medium unmanned surface vehicle

The US Navy has requested proposals from interested companies for the development of the medium unmanned surface vehicle (MUSV).

Through the request for proposals (RFP), the navy seeks to procure a new class of pier-launched, self-deploying modular, open architecture surface vehicles. The MUSV should be able to conduct autonomous navigation and mission execution. In a release, the service stated that the development RFP also includes options for additional USVs.

The US Navy intends to conduct a full and open competitive procurement process in the fiscal year (FY) 2019. A contract for the development of a single MUSV prototype is expected to be awarded in the first quarter of FY20.

In a statement, the US Navy said: “Accelerating unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and payload development and warfighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy.”

The RFP comes after the release of a draft MUSV performance specification, which was followed by an MUSV Industry Day in February. The US Navy has been in discussions with industry to gather inputs and then incorporated the feedback in the RFP.

According to USNI News, the MUSV will ‘function as a sensor and communications relay as part of a family of unmanned surface systems being developed by the service’.

Developers need to build an up to 50m long vehicle that can carry a payload equivalent to a 40ft shipping container. In addition, the craft should be able to operate on its own for at least 60 days. Other specifications include refuelling at sea capability, and ability to achieve a speed of around 16k with a range of more than 4,500nm.

17 July 2019

US Army looks at adapting the navy’s laser technology for ground systems

The US Army wants to employ laser technology developed by the US Navy on ground systems, according to a senior army official.

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare breakfast on Tuesday, the principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics and technology and director of the Army Acquisition Corps Lieutenant General Paul Ostrowski said: “The intent is to work with the navy, and we are doing that right now, in order to increase the power of that laser system from beyond 100kW up to maybe the 250k mark.”

The US Army is pushing for upgraded laser systems as part of its modernisation programme, in particular for systems designed to deal with aerial attacks from enemy aircraft and drone swarms without the need for expensive munitions.

Current army laser systems use a Dynetics 100kW high energy laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL TVD) developed with Lockheed Martin. The systems are fitted on medium-sized vehicles for manoeuvrability but more powerful lasers could be fitted on larger systems.

Ostrowski added: “This is the… system that is meant to guard and provide air missile support to our operating bases… and airfields”

The HEL TVD is limited by its size which allows it to be movable but not easily ‘manoeuvrable’, making it better suited to defending fixed sites.

The army is also developing lower-powered lasers for deployment on the General Dynamics Stryker armoured vehicle platform. The vehicles will carry a 50kW multi-mission high energy laser (MMHEL) system for short-range air defence. Ostrowski said: “The intent is to field a platoon of four vehicles by 2022”.

One of the advantages of using laser systems is that ammunition is only limited by the power source, not the size and cost of munitions. Current air defence missiles are often far more expensive than their targets. The army is also looking to use lasers for other purposes, including explosive ordnance disposal (EOD); this would see laser systems fitted onto tanks to allow them to counter a wider range of threats.

Ostrowski added: Rocket artillery, mortar and UAS [unmanned aerial systems] is just the beginning of where we see lasers going in the future.”

The army intends to integrate the navy’s laser systems around 2023, however it may not be possible to fully utilise it. Before it can use a system with double the power of those currently in development, the army will need to develop support systems capable of operating these higher-powered naval lasers.

“If you don’t have the power, you don’t have that unlimited magazine,” Ostrowski explained. “And that unlimited magazine makes a difference in this swarm environment where you have multiple targets. You have to be able to recharge quickly and be able to shoot them all down.”

Ostrowski also discussed modernisation efforts across the US military, saying the armed forces had prioritised ‘readiness’ due to being involved in active combat for the past 18 years. He added: “The fact that we have not been able to modernize has been detrimental across the board, and especially with respect to being able to maintain over-match [be stronger].”

The US Navy is planning to deploy Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS laser on destroyers by 2021 after a testing period where the weapon was successfully used to target and take down drones.

17 July 2019

USAF opens cyber defence facility to protect weapon systems

The US Air Force (USAF) has opened a cyber defence facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Bombers Directorate. The $1.5m facility is intended to ensure the protection of weapon systems from cyber threats and mitigation of vulnerabilities across the USAF’s fighters and bombers fleet.

The USAF seeks to build processes, infrastructure and capabilities to counter threats to its weapon systems. According to USAF, organisations are considering innovative means to form partnerships to advance the cyber resiliency of weapon systems.

The new facility was built by the USAF in collaboration with the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems (CROWS). In addition to funding, CROWS provided its specialist experience for the facility.

CROWS director Joseph Bradley said: “Construction of this facility is a key component of the CROWS mission to increase the cyber resiliency of Air Force weapon systems and maintain mission effective capability. It will improve communication, collaboration and allow us to better resolve problems.”

The centre will serve as the platform for acquisition professionals to enhance their understanding of current and emerging threats and how to counter them.

Fighters and bombers programme executive officer brigadier general Heath Collins said: “We are in an age where we have a very sophisticated threat and an adversary that is really trying to get into all of our systems. This facility is absolutely going to be at the core of how we protect our systems moving forward.”

The organisation intends to establish similar facilities across development, acquisition and sustainment centres over the coming five years.

The USAF recently completed a cybersecurity and defence programme named Exercise Quantum to evaluate the capacity to establish a scalable taskforce that integrates local and enterprise specialists to address cyber threats.

16 July 2019

DARPA demos AI-powered Squad X Experimentation programme

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has demonstrated Squad X Experimentation programme that will see ground forces work in tandem with artificial intelligence (AI) for battlefield dominance.

During a recent field test, the Squad X programme worked in coordination with US Marines at the Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. The objective of the demonstration was to track the progress of the two complementary systems that facilitate teaming between infantry squads and AI and unmanned systems. The teaming is intended to facilitate better decision-making in complex, time-critical combat situations.

DARPA Tactical Technology Office Squad X programme manager lieutenant colonel Phil Root said: “We are in a race with potential adversaries to operationalise autonomy, and we have the opportunity to demonstrate autonomy in a way that we don’t believe any nation in the world has demonstrated to date. Developing hardware and tactics that allow us to operate seamlessly within a close combat ground environment is extremely challenging, but provides incredible value.”

Last year, DARPA performed experiments with CACI’s BITS Electronic Attack Module (BEAM) Squad System (BSS) and Lockheed Martin’s Augmented Spectral Situational Awareness and Unaided Localization for Transformative Squads (ASSAULTS) system.

The two systems focus on teaming between manned and unmanned systems and are designed to provide battalion-level insights and intelligence to small squads.

The latest experiment on the Lockheed Martin system saw a distributed common world model featured in scenarios transiting between natural desert and mock city blocks. Squads wore vests that were fitted with sensors. Unmanned ground and aerial systems that participated in the experiment featured live and simulated electronic surveillance tools, ground radar, and camera-based sensing.

DARPA noted that the systems provided reconnaissance of areas ahead of the unit. Other key functions included flank security, surveying the perimeter and reporting to squad members.
Squad members received alerts on their handheld Android tactical assault kits (ATAKs). The devices provided options to act on the findings made by the autonomous systems or adjust the search areas.

Completion of the third experiment allows CACI to move into phase II. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is expected to perform its next experiment later this year. The army expects to start concurrent development of the Lockheed Martin ASSAULTS system in FY19 and FY20.

16 July 2019

Thales tests FASGW(L) weapon system for Royal Navy

Thales has performed firing trials for the Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (Light) (FASGW[L]) programme for the British Royal Navy.

Conducted at Royal Artillery Air Defence Range at Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, the trials are part of the FASGW(L) programme’s integration testing phase. The programme includes testing of all parts of the FASGW(L) weapon system, including Thales’ lightweight multirole missile (LMM), the launcher system and all key equipment of the Royal Navy’s Agusta Westland AW159 Wildcat helicopter.

In June 2014, Thales won a contract to develop, qualify and integrate the FASGW(L) system for the Navy’s Wildcat helicopter. The system consists of a five-barrel launcher and a laser guidance system.

Set to enter service in 2020, LMM is a precision strike missile capable of being fired from a variety of land, sea and airborne tactical platforms. The missile will be called Martlet in the Royal Navy. It is designed to defeat mobile maritime threats such as small ships and inshore attack craft. LMM will offer improved protection for Royal Navy personnel and important sea assets, such as the Queen Elizabeth Carrier.

During trials, Thales fired six LMMs at a small boat target at sea at a distance of 4.5km.

The missiles feature telemetry software to facilitate collection of test data. Information will be used to analyse the performance of the Thales-designed launcher, the guidance system and missile.

In a statement, Thales said: “The FASGW(L) system accurately guided all missiles to the targets and provided extensive data on the excellent performance of all elements of the ground set-up and inflight performance of the missile. The successful achievement of the ground firings is a major milestone and key to progressing to future testing including air firing trials later in 2019 and culminating in qualification and verification in 2020.”

The Royal Navy is also fielding Sea Venom/ANL helicopter-launched anti-ship missile to address its FASGW(H) requirements. MBDA is delivering the Sea Venom/ANL missile under a contract jointly awarded by the UK and France.