Farnborough looms large

23 May 2014 – You either love it or hate it. Some see it as a great networking opportunity and a genuine place to do business; other perceive it to be a complete waste of time and resources. However, regardless of your opinion of the Farnborough International Airshow I guarantee that if you are professionally engaged in the UK aerospace and defence industry you will be there in July!

In a couple of months (the show opens to trade and professional visitors on July 14th and to the public on July 19th) the Farnborough International will be well under way. Be in no doubt that from the perspective of trade, political and visiting military delegations the event is of crucial import. This year, as yet, I know of no plan for David Cameron to attend and I hope that this is merely a lack of insight on my part; it would be an egregious error for the PM not to attend.

Alternating with the Paris Airshow, Farnborough has been a biennial event since 1968. There is still an element of the old flying spirit left in the air displays of today but unfortunately – for the romantics among us – the test pilots who graced the early displays have long since departed.

These days both Farnborough and Paris are, in essence, trade and networking events designed to attract not only aircraft manufacturers, specialist technology and avionics equipment suppliers but also those right across the various supply chains associated with aerospace and defence. Thankfully military delegations still visit the event; a significant boon this year given that the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be on display.

In the massive commercial aerospace segment I suspect that the new Airbus A350 will be there too along with its somewhat larger cousin, the A380. I would also be very surprised if Boeing’s 787 and 777 jets were not in attendance. No doubt as always press and media will concentrate on new order announcements from the big plane makers. You name it, from Airbus to Boeing, from Bombardier to Embraer, from BAE Systems to Rolls-Royce, from Lockheed Martin to Raytheon, from Thales to Finmeccanica and from L-3 to Northrop Grumman all the big boys in the aerospace and defence industry will be there.

For years the suggestion that Farnborough was perhaps losing its attraction has been trailed and yet this year I suspect that the show will be busier than ever before. Not so long ago Paris and Farnborough were alone in terms of international aerospace and defence trade – no longer! Today there are dozens of shows competing for the same exhibitors, visitors and VIPs and yet Paris and Farnborough (along with DSEI) still stand out from the crowd as the ‘must do’ events.

To survive Farnborough has needed to be flexible and whilst it is true that in recently it has rightly stood accused of looking slightly dilapidated, this years’ event will – as a result of new investment – witness some interesting new developments. In the still fast growing world of the aerospace industry, emerging events in Dubai and Singapore have demanded this investment to ensure that Farnborough remains an undisputed first division event.

In what is a busy month for conferences and air show events one notes that Farnborough International is immediately preceded by the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford.  With far less restriction on airspace RIAT has established itself as an excellent event in which military aircraft can be displayed and flown without disturbance (the weather being the only occasional restriction!). Consequently the future for Farnborough is, in my opinion, increasingly in the highly successful commercial and business jet air sectors.

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
Email: hwheeldon@wheedostrategic.com
Tel: 07710 779785

Typhoon edging closer to multi-role capability but combat air capacity problems remain

15 May 2014 – Covering fast jet, Unmanned Air Systems and military flying training the £18.8bn that the MOD plans to spend on combat air programmes over the next ten years will (despite the potential of cuts in SDSR 2015) ensure that the UK has one of the most modern and sophisticated air forces in Europe. Whilst SDSR 2010 contained many questionable elements, there can be little doubt that the combination of the Typhoon and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been designed to effectively provide the critical elements of high-end power projection.

However the Combat Air element of ‘Future Force 2020’ only envisages 48 F-35B STOVL aircraft by 2018/19, together with 107 Typhoon (Tranche 2 and Tranche 3) aircraft;  a force structure which seems dangerously short if it is to adequately fulfill the demands of the UK’ s national defence requirements, its NATO contribution and its defence of dependent territories whilst simultaneously providing a carrier strike capability. Whilst I acknowledge that the growth in remotely piloted air systems does provide a capability uplift, the planned level of manned fast jet aircraft capability is – in my opinion – dangerously low. (The strength of this hypothesis grows when one considers that the out of service date for Tornado GR4 is 2019 and that existing plans currently envisage retirement of all Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft by 2018 – the process begins in 2016).

Typhoon has already proved itself to be a brilliant in terms of combat air capability and by the time the aircraft is fully multi-role capable by 2019/20 Britain will be able to claim one of the most efficient combat air capabilities in the world. Already carrying AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile), ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile), Enhanced Paveway 2 and 1,000lb freefall bombs, the Typhoon is already capable of a very broad range of combat missions.

To achieve full multi-role capability the current MOD plan provides for Typhoon to eventually be fitted with an additional suite of complex weapons that will include MBDA’s brilliant Beyond Visual Range Active Radar Guided Meteor air-to-air missile (due in 2017/18), the MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missile (this is already fitted to Tornado GR4 and is due for integration on Typhoon in 2015), the Brimstone air-to-ground missile (this is likely to be added in 2020), Raytheon’s superb Paveway 1V precision guided bomb (integration on Typhoon is currently under way) and finally, the Small Diameter Bomb. Additional complex weapons should, on current plans, all be operational on the aircraft by 2020.

Nevertheless given that it will be some time yet before the politically delayed Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is fitted to Typhoon, the reality is that Typhoon’s multi-role capability may not be operational until 2021.

I have previously expressed considerable concern over my fear that a premature run down of Tornado GR4 would leave a very serious gap in full multi-role combat airpower capability and that this could have very serious consequences for UK defence. High-end fighter capability is as Air Marshall ‘Timo’ Anderson said three years ago; “An essential component of any fighting force that aspires to operate in anything other than benign environments”. There can be little doubt that the recent developments in the Ukraine, have underlined the importance of Timo’s comments as they threaten to change NATO’s defence paradigm. Given that there is already little bandwidth left in the UK’s underlying force structure it is therefore crucial that Tornado GR4 capability is fully maintained at least until the F-35 and Typhoon multi-role operational capability is established. We cannot afford yet another capability gap within our defence posture.

Another concern that I have recently expressed is the planned out-of-service date for the various Typhoon aircraft tranches. In the air-to-air combat role the Tranche 1 version of the Typhoon has proven its worth and yet, with combat air capacity clearly stretched, the 53 aircraft that make up this part of the air force have a planned out of service date of 2018 – why?!

Give that the fatigue life of the Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft is way beyond 2018 it seems rather odd that an aircraft designed to play the air-to-air role (which also enjoys a limited air-to-ground capability) and has proven itself as an interceptor via the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) role should be removed before an appropriate replacement is operational or even required.

The same argument is equally true for both the Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoon which currently has a quite ridiculous out-of-service date of 2030; meaning that some aircraft would be less than thirteen years old when they are retired! (As a comparable like-for-like example, it may be useful to note that Panavia Tornado GR4 aircraft remaining in service with the Royal Air Force are in the region of 28-30 years old.)

Clearly, the out-of-service date for both Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoon aircraft should be 2040 at the earliest. Failing to remove this rather artificial date could have consequences in terms of decisions that relate to Typhoon upgrade and it may also damage the export programme. On this matter it may also be worth mentioning that the original out-of-service date for Tornado GR4 was 2025.

It seems to me that a force comprising just 48 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft (planned to be used mainly for carrier strike), together with a force of 67 Tranche 2 and 40 Tranche 3 Typhoon aircraft will provide nowhere near sufficient capacity for the Royal Air Force in 2020. Whilst it is true that the MOD is looking at fast jet requirement beyond 2030 through its Future Combat Air System (FCAS) component, which is presumably designed to look at the full variety of enablers that the MOD considers to be required, great care should be taken to ensure that sufficient levels of capacity for combat air capability are maintained.

The good news is that eleven years after Typhoon first entered operational service with the Royal Air Force in 2003 the first Tranche 3 aircraft are now being delivered to the Royal Air Force. Currently deployed in the UK QRA role, in the Falklands Islands as the principle air power component, Typhoon aircraft have recently also been deployed in Cyprus and Libya and will soon be deployed to support the NATO Baltic air policing mission covering Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

While it is true that changing attitudes toward defence, political disagreements among the four government partners and various other issues have slowed the progress of Typhoon over the years, what the partner governments and export customers have in their hands today is a fantastic aircraft. Typhoon should have a brilliant future in the RAF – just as long as Whitehall’s denizens do not clip it wings early!

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
Email: hwheeldon@wheedostrategic.com
Tel: 07710 779785

Military SATCOM technology, a brilliant UK capability

7 May 2014 – Of all the military capability required or demanded by UK armed forces none has greater significance than the ability to communicate information. Access to a constant stream of available intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data is crucial to troops on the ground in any theatre of war and Satellite Communications (SATCOM) provide the only fast, reliable and efficient conduit which transmits this data to front-line commanders.

Modern warfare is ‘bandwidth hungry’ and we can expect the insatiable demand for this resource to increase exponentially in the years ahead as the battlespace becomes an evermore connected, ‘smart’ environment. Thankfully SATCOM offers a positive story in terms of the UK’s sovereign capability; the hardended and protected Skynet 5 system is keeping us well ahead of the game in this regard. However the future will demand greater, and more complex, systems; Britain cannot afford to throw away its competitive advantage in this arena, perpetual R&D is the only answer.

Operation Herrick has shown that military SATCOM technology is able to handle ever-increasing rates of usage and growth. That growth will continue as the need to supply troops, ships, aircraft and drones with ever increasing amounts of data continues to escalate.  “We are still scratching the surface in terms of the amount of data that we will be expected to create and supply to those deployed in future wars compared to what we are doing now” was a very interesting remark made to me by a senior army officer very recently.

While Skynet 5 still has ample capacity, those charged with responsibility for the next generation of this crucial capability must realise that the appetite for new ISR and logistics-based data applications will rapidly grow apace. Conservative estimates suggest that within the next decade the requirement for SATCOM military data transmission could well be three times higher than it is today.

Skynet 5 is the world’s first, and to date, most successful military SATCOM service. It also provides an exemplar model of just how a PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contract partnership between the military and industry really can work for the benefit of all parties involved.

Accurate, timely delivery of secured information through a protected SATCOM system together with the ability to provide on-demand data communication to and from virtually all parts of the globe has come a long way since the first SATCOM systems became available to the MOD twenty-five years ago. Used with great effect during the first Gulf War, the Skynet 4 military satellite system provided a giant leap forward in MOD satellite communication capability and significantly increased the number of available options for military commanders and personnel on the ground.

A great deal has changed since the first of four Skynet 4 satellites were sent into orbit and the first ground systems were delivered and used in theatre back in 1988. Skynet 5 has shown not only that the UK is extremely capable of building sovereign space assets but also the best wideband military satellite available in the world. It will continue to provide the MOD – plus a number of other NATO member states – with military satellite communications capacity through to 2022, at which point a third generation of satellite technology will need to come into play.

Given that the existing PFI arrangement continues until 2022, while it may appear premature to be talking about a successor programme to Skynet 5, I believe that the rapid growth in secure military data requirement means that the UK government should prioritise future SATCOM capability intentions now. Clearly, replacement of the existing programme will pose a crucially important question for the UK in terms of retention of sovereign capability. With thousands of highly skilled UK jobs involved it is essential that the government recognises the importance of this project.

Seamless and secure transmission of data – be it relatively unclassified or highly sensitive – is something that can’t be left to chance or piggy backed onto a standard commercial communications satellite. The average commercial satellite does not have the protection or anti-jamming capability required to guarantee the security of government information, be this military or diplomatic.

Be in no doubt that potential enemies recognises NATO’s relies on SATCOM. If we as a nation fail to provide fast rates of ISR data transmission to what we may regard as low tech forces on the ground, our military will be seriously disadvantaged.

Sadly, as we have seen in other defence related issues since SDSR 2010, the UK has an increasing tendency to ignore the virtues of skills retention and sovereign capability. We must reverse this dangerous trend and protect critical technology.

In drawing this piece to a close we should note that with manufacturing sites at Portsmouth, Stevenage and Corsham there is a lot at stake for the future of UK SATCOM development. The partnership model between industry and the MOD has, as I have said, undoubtedly worked well and future decisions must reflect all the many aspects of what went right with Skynet 5. We must also realise that societal change will also see a vast increase in the amount of data being thrown around. The bottom line is that whatever follows on from Skynet 5 must be flexible and adaptable in order to cope with a world that will continue to change and exact new demands on the military.

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
Email: hwheeldon@wheedostrategic.com
Tel: 07710 779785

Whatever Happened to Western Diplomacy?

1 May 2014 – I know all too well that the Obama administration has failed to live up to expectations; many believe there is very little to show (with the possible exception of ‘Obamacare’) for the six years the incumbent’s administration has been in office. True, there has been some effort to ensure that one day the nation lives within its means but one can hardly ignore the fact that America looks weary and increasingly weak.

This situation is in great part down to a lack of leadership from the executive office but it is also a reflection of US politics. Admittedly the Republicans have not exactly covered themselves in glory recently either: their record over the last six years is even more desolate than the miserable eight years that they spent occupying the White House previously.It is tragic, with so many geopolitical issues currently causing consternation throughout the world, that the only US voice in terms of international diplomacy that commands any respect is John Kerry.

The efforts of Mr Kerry (and possibly William Hague) apart, one is forced to wonder; what is going on in the west!? Have we lost sight of the strategies, objectives and threats which define us? Where is the voice of NATO and the United Nations? Have diplomatic norms, foreign policy objectives and our moral principles all been sacrificed at the high altar of fiscal austerity?Whatever happened to the once excellent voice of strength that America offered in terms of world events, which was frequently shared by it allies? Indeed, whatever happened to the European diplomatic community?

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
Email: hwheeldon@wheedostrategic.com
Tel: 07710 779785