9 March 2020

UK appoints three-star general to lead climate review

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) has appointed former Chief of Defence People, Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, to lead a review into the British Armed Forces’ climate change policy.

The review is set to spearhead initiatives within the MOD to help it tackle climate change. Nugee will examine how the Ministry can ‘better incorporate climate change and sustainability considerations into defence’s processes and policy decisions’.

A key focus of the review will be helping the MOD work towards the UK Government’s goal of having net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Announcing the review, Nugee said: “The effect of climate change will challenge how our Armed Forces operate today and will need to operate in the future; we need to act now to understand and prepare for the changes that have to be made. At the same time, we must reduce our own emissions to help the nation reach its net-zero 50 commitment.”

All areas of the MOD are looking at measures to reduce their carbon footprint. Last week, DASA announced an initiative to mitigate the effects of wind farms on air defence radar to help the UK reach another goal of expanding renewable energy output.

Nugee added: “I will be looking at all elements of defence, from equipment to infrastructure, our processes, functions and behaviours to ensure that we develop a response that is built on much of the good work that we are already doing.”

Announcing the move, the MOD said that climate change was rapidly altering the environments the UK operates in. The MOD said: “Our Armed Forces, for example, need to be prepared to operate more often in the Arctic region as ice sheets recede and Russian submarine activity increases. Our forces are increasingly called upon to assist with natural disasters across the globe and they need to be able to operate in environments that will and are experiencing more extreme weather patterns.”

The MOD is one of the UK Government’s largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, stemming from the operation of large fleets of ships, vehicles and aircraft as well as its estate of housing and bases.

Nugee said: “Much of the success of our response will rest on our ability to motivate and harness the passion and enthusiasm of our people and the capabilities of our allies and industrial partners.”

9 March 2020

RAF Typhoons intercept Russian aircraft heading for UK airspace

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) has scrambled six of its Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighter jets to intercept Russian military aircraft heading towards UK airspace.

According to an RAF Lossiemouth tweet, two Russian aircraft were identified as Tupolev Tu-142 Bears, the F and J variants of the strategic bomber and long-range maritime patrol aircraft.

The aircraft were heading towards the north-west coast of Scotland. The total number of Russian jets involved in the incident was not disclosed. The RAF deployed two pairs of Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Typhoon for the intercept mission from RAF Lossiemouth near Moray in Scotland and one from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The Typhoons intercepted the Russian aircraft and forced them to change course and remain outside of the UK’s area of interest.

An RAF spokesman said in a statement: “This was a routine response to Russian aircraft approaching UK airspace and was coordinated with several other NATO allies.”

RAF Lossiemouth tweeted: “At no point did these aircraft enter UK sovereign airspace. The Russian aircraft were shadowed by our Typhoons, along with Quick Reaction Alert aircraft from our NATO partners in Norway and France. We are ready to respond to any unidentified aircraft and potential airborne threats, 24/7/365.”

The mission was also backed by a Voyager tanker air-to-air refuelling aircraft, which was located at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Last month, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced at the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting that four RAF Typhoons will deploy to Lithuania this summer as part of the NATO Air Policing mission.

9 March 2020

Royal Navy tests unmanned equipment in operational setting

The British Royal Navy has tested a set of unmanned equipment in an operational environment for the first time in Norway.

The four-day Exercise Autonomous Advance Force saw the equipment undergo trials in harsh arctic conditions. Vehicles tested include unmanned boat Mast 13, heavy-lift drone from Malloy, remotely-piloted air system Puma and the Remus unmanned sub-surface drone.

The exercise was conducted with support from Royal Marines small boat specialists 47 Commando, HMS Albion, the Royal Navy’s autonomous accelerator NavyX, and the office for the Chief Technology Officer.

Plymouth-based 47 Commando commanding officer colonel Chris Haw said: “We wanted to operationalise the technology, both in an operational environment and as part of a Nato deployment. This exercise also enabled us to also integrate technology as far as possible into a Royal Navy warship.

“Integration of autonomy equipment is a key strand in the development of Future Commando Force and the Littoral Strike concept. The future vision is of this type of system being used to control multiple assets in different domains. This technology has the potential to be revolutionary within the naval service.”

During testing, HMS Albion was fitted with an artificial intelligence system to control the unmanned vehicles.

Autonomous Advance Force trials commenced in Cornwall in 2019.

Last year, British Royal Marines used autonomous vehicles as part of Exercise Commando Warrior.

Haw added: “This series of trials has been ground-breaking. It is at the leading edge of technology and integrating multiple systems in the uniquely challenging physical environment that Norway presents, is a significant step forward.

"In November, after the second in the series of the trials, we were challenged to make this work in Norway in an operational environment and, in a relatively short amount of time we have made that happen.

“The speed with which we have managed to develop this system in conjunction with industry partners and the multiple stakeholders involved has been impressive.”

9 March 2020

USAF to analyse Dyess and Ellsworth AFBs as B-21 basing alternatives

The US Air Force (USAF) is set to analyse two airforce bases (AFB) as basing alternatives for the department’s new B-21 bomber aircraft.

The two AFBs are located in the US in Dyess, Texas, and Ellsworth, South Dakota.

The service has issued a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the B-21 Main Operating Base 1 (Mob 1) bed down proposal. It includes two B-21 operational squadrons, a B-21 formal training unit (FTU), and a weapons generation facility (WGF).

The EIS will be prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. It will evaluate the proposal’s potential environmental consequences to bed down the aircraft.

According to the USAF, MOB 1, MOB 2, and MOB 3 will be conducted for the B-21 bed down.

Six scoping meetings will be held in local communities surrounding Dyess and Ellsworth AFBs. They will involve informing the public about the proposal, as well as soliciting comments and concerns from interested locals, state, and federal agencies and the public.

The EIS could focus on examining the land use impact, airspace, safety, noise, hazardous materials and solid waste, as well as physical, cultural and biological resources. Furthermore, it could include investigating the impact on air quality, transportation, socioeconomics, and environmental justice.

Once selected, MOB 1 will support training on how to operate and maintain the B-21 aircraft. MOB 2 and 3 locations will be selected once MOB 1 is finalised.

The Air Force Global Strike Command will operate the B-21, also known as Raider. Designed to perform conventional and nuclear roles, the aircraft is expected to commence operational service in the 2020s.

The service has plans to acquire approximately 100 B-21 aircraft, which are being built by Northrop Grumman. In April 2019, the USAF selected Ellsworth AFB as the first location for B-21 Raider bomber and to serve as the formal training unit.

9 March 2020

US Navy commissions expeditionary sea base in Virginia

The US Navy has commissioned its newest expeditionary sea base, USS Hershel Woody Williams (ESB 4), in Norfolk, Virginia. The vessel bears the name of Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Four Hershel Woodrow Williams and is optimised to support various maritime-based missions.

It has been designed around the core capabilities of aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control assets.

US Navy acting secretary Thomas Modly said: “This ship honours a man who dedicated his life to service, heroic service as a marine, and continued service to his fellow veterans. This dedication will live on in USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams as the ship is deployed around the world, bringing additional capability to our growing fleet.”

The Montford Point-class mobile base is built by General Dynamics Nassco and comprises five ships across Expeditionary Transfer Docks and Expeditionary Sea Bases variants.

The aviation hangar and flight deck of the platform include four operating spots that can land V-22 and MH-53E equivalent helicopters, accommodations, work spaces, and ordnance storage for an embarked force.

Additionally, the platform will support mission planning and execution by providing unmanned aviation vehicle operations, improved command and control, communications, computers, and intelligence capabilities. The reconfigurable mission deck area is capable of storing embarked force equipment, including mine sleds and rigid hull inflatable boats.

ESBs act as a mobile sea base and are part of the critical access infrastructure that supports the deployment of forces and supplies. They can be improved to meet special operations force missions through increased communications, aviation and unmanned aircraft system support.

6 March 2020

DASA seeks system to mitigate wind farm effects on air defence

The UK Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has launched a £2m competition to ‘reduce and remove’ the impact of wind farms on air defence systems.

New technology developed as part of the competition will ensure the UK can expand green energy growth while ensuring future wind farms do not affect the UK’s air defence radar system.

As part of the competition, DASA and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) will seek proposals for innovative solutions and advances in technology that alleviates the impact off-shore wind turbines have on both civilian and military radar.

The competition is being led by DASA with the support of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said: “Defence technologies have a huge amount to offer the demands of the 21st-century UK – including addressing the challenge of climate change. We have an incredible skills base in the UK and this initiative will harness the power of wind turbines whilst ensuring our air defence standards.”

RAF Air Command air capability development group engineer Wing Commander Helena Ramsden said: “We are investing in cutting-edge innovation and harnessing the best technology from the brightest minds in the country.”

Ramsden added that the technology would help the RAF keep the skies above the UK safe while accelerating crucial work in combatting climate change.

The competition is part of a wider cross-government push to generate 30GW – around 30% of the UK’s electricity requirements – from offshore wind by the year 2030

DASA delivery manager Adam Moore said: “Crucial innovation like this is vital if we are to meet our renewable energy targets. This competition will not only help us meet our green energy needs but it will help boost UK prosperity, entrepreneurs and innovators, by investing in their game-changing technology.”

Wind turbines affect radar systems through reflections from the static and moving components. Although filters can remove the static components, the spinning blades cause a Doppler shift on the radar making the reflections hard to remove. This Doppler shift on ground radar mimics the signal of fast-moving, low flying threats making it harder for the RAF to discern between possible threats.

The competition involved four challenges, one to look at alternatives to radar, two for technology that can be applied to the wind turbine itself, three for systems that are applied to the radar itself. The fourth challenge is for systems that achieve the same goals but do not fit the above requirements.

Contracts resulting from the competition will be awarded in March 2021.

5 March 2020

Coronavirus spread pauses work at F-35 plants

The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the globe has led Lockheed Martin to pause work on the F-35 at plants in Japan and Italy.

US undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord said that she had learnt of the closure of a plant in Japan operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and that staff in Italy had been asked to work from home.

The majority of the aircraft’s production is conducted at Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth Texas, which the company confirmed to Air Force Technology was so far unaffected by the coronavirus.

A number of components for the aircraft, however, are manufactured overseas, with some airframes destined for programme allies finishing their production at final assembly and check out facilities (FACO) in Japan and Italy.

In a statement, Lockheed Martin told Air Force Technology: “F-35 production in Fort Worth, where the majority of F-35 aircraft are produced, remains unaffected at this time by the coronavirus. We are working with our customers and partners to mitigate any impacts to F-35 international FACO operations in Italy and Japan.

“The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority. We advised employees to avoid travel to, through and from northern Italy in alignment with US State Department guidance. Employees in Italy may telecommute as required.”

It is not expected that deliveries of the jet will be delayed by the decision to halt work at the two factories. The US Department of Defence (DoD) also confirmed to Air Force Technology that a Pratt and Whitney resident engine team in Cameri, Italy, had also been advised to telework.

Despite this, the Pentagon said that there had been "no impacts to the production line".

In a statement, the DoD told Air Force Technology: “Combatting the Coronavirus remains a top priority for the department, and Secretary Esper meets weekly with senior leaders to discuss how we’re taking care of our men and women in uniform around the world. The department remains fully engaged with the defence industrial base on all programs, including the F-35, and stands ready to respond when needed.”

Only F-35s destined for use by Japanese Armed Forces are manufactured at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries FACO facility in Japan. In compliance with Japanese government directives aimed at capping the spread of the Coronavirus, the facility will remain closed for a week.

4 March 2020

Boeing lifts the lid on future attack reconnaissance helicopter

Boeing has revealed details of its entrant into the US Army Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) prototype competition.

The helicopter, also named FARA after the programme it was developed for, has been unveiled in detail after a secretive campaign by Boeing to replace the Bell OH-58 scout helicopter. Boeing is competing for the contract against Bell, Sikorsky, Karem and AVX/L3 for the contract.

The US Army is expected to decide this month on which of the five designs to take forward into the prototyping phase. The chosen aircraft is expected to replace around half of the US Army’s AH-60 Apache fleet. Two companies are expected to go into the prototype phase, after which the army will select a winning helicopter.

The winning helicopter will be chosen through a “government-sponsored fly off” in 2023 before progressing from a competition to a programme of record.

Boeing says its FARA helicopter is ‘an agile, fully-integrated’ platform designed expressly for the US Army’s purposes and requirements.

Boeing Phantom Works vice president and general manager Mark Cherry said: “We’re offering more than a helicopter – we’re offering an affordable and fully-integrated system for the army, the mission and the future. We’ve blended innovation, ingenuity and proven rotorcraft experience with extensive testing and advanced analysis to offer a very compelling solution.”

Boeing’s FARA features tandem seating for two pilots, a single main rotor and a ‘state-of-the-art cockpit with a reconfigurable large area display’. The aircraft also offers autonomous capabilities.

Boeing said in a press release that the system leverages the company’s 65 years of rotorcraft experience and provides ‘seamless capability’ to operate within the wider US Army ecosystem. These factors, the company says, make FARA a low-risk, more affordable option to fill the capability gap left by the retirement of the OH-58.

Boeing FARA programme manager Shane Openshaw said: “We listened to the army, assessed all alternatives, and optimised our design to provide the right aircraft to meet the requirements. We are offering a very reliable, sustainable and flexible aircraft with a focus on safety and the future fight.”