15 September 2020

Exercise Rapid Trident 20 begins in Ukraine

Exercise Rapid Trident 20, an annual Ukrainian-hosted and US Army Europe-led multinational training exercise, is kicking off this week.

The exercise is scheduled to take place at the International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv from 16-25 September.

Around 4,100 personnel from nine allied and partner nations are expected to participate in this annual drill.

In a statement, US Army Europe said: “Approximately 4,100 service members from nine allied and partner nations will participate in the exercise, including approximately 160 US soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, serving at Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U) since July 2020.

“Participation also includes an estimated 15 US military and civilian personnel from the US Army Reserves, US Army Europe, 7th Army Training Command, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, and US Special Operations Command Europe.”

Exercise Rapid Trident 20 seeks to improve battle-readiness among the forces and develop interoperability through a brigade-level computer-assisted exercise with platoon-level manoeuvre training.

Additionally, the forces will take part in security and stability operations.

The drill was rescheduled in September due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The size, scope and scenario of the exercise were also modified to ensure the safety of the participating forces.

Ukraine has confirmed more than 163,000 Covid-19 cases as of 15 September. The death toll has crossed 3,300.

15 September 2020

GA‑ASI trials SeaGuardian RPAS over southern California coast

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA‑ASI) has flight-tested the MQ-9B SeaGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) over the sea-lanes off the coast of southern California.

This marks the first MQ-9B configured for surveillance operations over open-water. It was used to showcase the capabilities of MQ-9B in a maritime environment.

GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue said: “The SeaGuardian’s debut demonstrated persistent situational awareness in the maritime domain for our customers.”

The test flights showed that SeaGuardian can be used for different naval missions, including surface search, subsurface search, littoral surveillance, anti-piracy, and search and rescue.

MQ-9B can work in all weather types and adheres to Nato Airworthiness type-certification standards for UAS STANAG 4671. This feature and its collision-avoidance radar can offer flexible performance in civil (including ICAO) airspace.

The sensors on the aircraft include the GA-ASI Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and a Raytheon Intelligence & Space SeaVue Expanded Mission Capability (XMC) radar and a Multi-Spectral Targeting System.

A Leonardo Electronic Support Measure (ESM)/Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) SAGE 750, a Shine Micro Automatic Identification System (AIS), an Ultra sonobuoy receiver, and a General Dynamics Mission Systems-Canada sonobuoy processor are also installed on the aircraft.

14 September 2020

UK Defence Secretary dismisses reports of axing battle tanks

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has dismissed earlier reports that the British Army is planning to mothball its tanks.

Last month, it was reported that the British Army is planning to axe Challenger 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) and Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) as part of its efforts to focus on evolving technologies such as cyber and space warfare.

Denying the speculation, Wallace told the BBC: “The idea that tanks won’t be there for the army, upgraded and modernised, is wrong.”

However, he added that investing in new technologies will also involve scrapping antiquated equipment.

The Times’ report, published last month, said that the government is considering axing ageing 227 Challenger tanks as part of its integrated defence and security review.

Wallace confirmed the review and said that it will involve equipping the three branches of the military with new armaments. This may lead to a reduction in the number of tanks but axing the whole fleet is not part of the intention.

Wallace further told the BBC: “We’re going to make sure we have an armed forces fit for the 21st century and meets our obligations to Nato and elsewhere. We are not scrapping all the British army’s tanks and we will make sure the ones we maintain are up to date, lethal and defendable.”

14 September 2020

Large explosions seen near military facility in Jordan

A series of large explosions were seen near a military ammunition depot in Zarqa, one of the largest cities in Jordan.

Initial investigations indicate that an intense heatwave in the country caused thermal expansion of the mortar shells stored in the facility triggering the blasts, Reuters reported citing local Jordanian Army spokesman Brigadier General Talal al Ghobain.

Images circulating social media showed that large flames engulfing the night sky followed by multiple explosions. However, there are no reports of fatalities or injuries.

This month, temperatures soared to 45°C in Jordan, breaking decades of records.

The blast site is located within a high-security zone, which hosts major US-equipped army bases.

A local resident Nabila Issa was quoted by Reuters as saying: “We felt like an earthquake had struck. Our windows shook and glass shattered. My kids started crying.”

Following the blast, security forces sealed the city to control the situation.

State media quoted Jordan Army chief of staff major general Yusef al Huneiti as saying that the swift response in dealing with the explosions had reduced losses.

Several bases and depots are located in Zarqa, a city located around 25km from the capital of Amman with a population of around 1.5 million.

14 September 2020

Indian Air Force proposes Air Defence Radars in three border districts

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has reportedly proposed plans to establish Air Defence Radars in three border districts.

The plan comes at a time when the country is locked in an ongoing standoff with Chinese forces on the line of actual control (LAC) in Ladakh.

The districts are in Uttarakhand and include Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi.

Additionally, IAF has planned to develop a new advance landing ground to execute the activities in the state’s mountainous areas.

Indian Express reported that Central Air-Command AOC-in-C Air Marshal Rajesh Kumar held discussions with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat regarding the proposals and requirement of land.

The government and IAF will select respective nodal officers who will work together to select the land.

A senior official was quoted by local media sources as saying: “IAF has given a proposal to set up airforce radars in three districts and are looking for a suitable site for that. They want land for advance landing ground, which can be used for refuelling, as well as uploading and downloading of ammunition. The state government is working in coordination with them to do the needful.”

14 September 2020

UK to expand port facilities in Oman

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) will spend £23.8m to triple the size of its logistic hub at the Omani port of Duqm which could be used to support the UK’s two new aircraft carriers when they operate East of Suez.

The move was announced during a visit by UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to the country and fits into plans for more forward basing described by the First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin as DSEI 2019.

The MOD said the investment would help facilitate future Royal Navy deployments to the Indian Ocean.

Duqm Port in Oman is home to a large drydock big enough to host Queen-Elizabeth-class carriers and is strategically important due to its position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The Royal Navy maintains a heavy presence in the region protecting shipping traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.

The expansion of the port facilities will also support British Army training in Oman. The UK and Oman hold close security ties with the Middle Eastern country purchasing a number of military systems from the UK including the Eurofighter Typhoon and Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank.

Omani and UK forces also often hold joint-exercises. 

Commenting on the plans, Defence Select committee chair and MP Tobias Ellwood said: “Whilst it is encouraging to see the MoD invest in bolstering the UK’s logistic hubs abroad, questions remain as to how this cash injection fits into the Government’s broader, strategic spending plan. 

“It is vital that both the upcoming Integrated Review and Spending Review set out a coherent strategy, outlining how the Government intends to strengthen our global presence. Patchy, piecemeal investment will do little to establish the our global presence and realise our ambitions.”

The expansion of port facilities was announced during Wallace’s tour of the Middle East where he also visited Qatar.

Wallace said: “The long-standing friendships between the UK and the Gulf states are more important than ever. With shared defence and security interests, it is vital we work together for both regional and global stability. Our trade links are just as strong, too – from cotton to aerospace.

“Whether tackling Daesh or making our streets in the UK safer thanks to our intelligence networks, these are hugely valuable relationships that I am pleased to be able to renew this week.”

14 September 2020

‘Industrially illiterate’ to not build Fleet Solid Support ships in the UK, says union leader

Prospect Union Deputy General Secretary Garry Graham warned that it would be ‘economically and industrially illiterate’ to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s (RFA) new fleet solid support ships abroad.

The union leader made the comments during a Defence Select committee hearing on the UK’s defence industrial policy, which focused on the much-debated procurement of new fleet solid support (FSS) ships worth an expected £1.5bn.

During the hearing, Graham said: “The issue of FSS has become – quite rightly – totemic in people’s eyes. Certainly, I cannot imagine other European nations and other major defence nations around the world making a similar decision. The potential decision to send FSS construction abroad is economically and industrially illiterate.”

The ships were not classified as warships as they will be operated by the RFA and only carry defensive weapons. The vessels are seen as vital to the UK’s plans for Carrier Strike groups and will keep the UK’s two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers stocked with stores while at sea.

Graham added that ‘European competitors’ as a result of Covid-19 have been bringing forward defence contracts to be ‘fulfilled in their domestic markets’ in a bid to boost their economies.

During the same session, Plymouth City Council Leader Councillor Tudor Evans OBE said the local council were ‘surprised’ at the decision not to classify the vessels as warships. Evans added: “Had they been, they could already have been finding their way to UK yards. We find that puzzling. We would be happy to see those FSS ships done here.”

Plymouth is home to HMNB Devonport, the largest naval base in Western Europe, the base of the UK’s Amphibious Assault Ship fleet, and half of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Frigates. Evans added that FSS work would provide the local area with ‘well-paid’ design jobs.

GMB Shipbuilding national officer Ross Murdoch told the committee that work on the three FSS ships was ‘the only game in town at the moment’ for UK shipbuilding outside of work on Type 26 and Type 31 Frigates.

Murdoch added: “We have heard talk about hospital ships, fishery protection vessels and littoral strike support ships, but they are all at some point in the future. The orders themselves are uncertain, and it appears that no one is planning on the assumption that they will definitely be required, so FSS really is the big-ticket item for the members we represent.”

Murdoch said that the FSS vessels had the potential to be built in a modular style similar to the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers which would allow work to be split across a number of shipyards in the UK. Murdoch said that taking this approach would ‘spread the prosperity impact across a number of yards and secure their medium-term future.’

MPs were also warned that international bidders had an advantage over UK shipbuilders on cost due to subsidies from their governments.

Unite Aerospace and Shipbuilding national officer Rhys McCarthy said: “One of the favoured international bidders is a Spanish state-owned company receiving Spanish state aid, and it has an unfair advantage.

“We have seen this previously with other shipbuilding that has gone on, with South Korea for example. I think it is not a fair playing field. It is something that must change, and we have really got to have a situation where the prosperity dividend is in contracts.”

South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo manufactured the RFA’s Tide-class tankers following an order in 2012. A number of British companies participated in the competition for the ships, but ultimately none submitted a final bid for vessel’s tender.

In August the UK Labour Party renewed a plea for the ships to built in the UK by a British shipbuilding consortium, the party called for a “Built in Britain” test for defence and security spending in a bid to ensure work on the vessels stays in the UK.

At the time, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey told Naval Technology in a statement: “For five years, Defence ministers have dithered over this decision when it’s a no-brainer to build these vital new ships in Britain.

10 September 2020

Human pilots to face off against AI in real-world fighter trials

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is to pit real-world fighters controlled by human pilots against aircraft flown by artificial intelligence in 2024, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at the DoD Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition.

Speaking at the event, Esper said: “As an example of the tectonic impact of machine learning on the future of warfighting, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently conducted its third and final F-16 combat simulation between an AI-controlled system and an experienced Air Force fighter pilot.”

The real-world dogfights will be the culmination of work by DARPA which recently saw an AI-controlled F-16 beat an experienced US Air Force (USAF) pilot in a series of simulated dogfights.

Esper added: “The AI agent’s resounding victory demonstrated the ability of advanced algorithms to out-perform humans in virtual dogfights. These simulations will culminate in a real-world competition involving full-scale tactical aircraft in 2024.”

In DARPA’s AlphaDogfight, an AI built by Heron Systems beat a human F-16 pilot 5-0 following a number of AI vs AI simulated dogfights.

AlphaDogfight was conducted as part of DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) designed to increase trust in combat autonomy, and demonstrate the utility of AI and autonomous systems as the US envisions a future where crewed aircraft are supported autonomous systems.

Explaining ACE, DARPA said: “In a future air domain contested by adversaries, a single human pilot can increase lethality by effectively orchestrating multiple autonomous unmanned platforms from within a manned aircraft.

“This shifts the human role from single platform operator to mission commander. In particular, ACE aims to deliver a capability that enables a pilot to attend to a broader, more global air command mission while their aircraft and teamed unmanned systems are engaged in individual tactics.”

Although the simulated dogfight presented a limited guns-only scenario more akin to a WWII dogfight, DARPA’s Justin ‘Glock’ Mock said the trial showed the agency had ‘AI that works’.

At the time of the trial, DARPA’s ACE programme manager USAF Lieutenant Colonel Dan “Animal” Javorsek said: “Just because the outcome went the way it did today, it does not mean that the AI wasn’t latching onto some weird digital artefact that we weren’t thinking about or considering, and that’s what was giving them an advantage.

“There were certainly some peculiar behaviours in the engagement.”