The easiest way to clear mines is to trigger them. Heavy armored vehicles often use mine ploughs to clear the way. Lighter wheeled vehicles tend to use mine rollers instead, pushing the weighted devices in front of their vehicle so that any pressure mines detonate under the roller instead.
In January 2006, a DefendAmerica.MIL article noted that the US Army’s 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment mechanics serving in Afghanistan have created a mine roller system from scavenged parts, and verified its effectiveness. As an additional safety measure, a cable to the Humvee frame becomes taut if their roller triggers an explosion, in order to keep the roller from flipping back and crushing the drivers inside the vehicle.
Subsequent orders for similar equipment by the US Marine Corps haven’t been as cheap…
Ever since anti-tank missiles proved their lethality on the battlefield, designers and officers have wanted to create tank rounds that could act like guided missiles. The pursuit hasn’t always gone well. The force created by a tank gun’s firing isn’t very hospitable to delicate electronics, which has resulted in some prominent failures. The M551 Sheridan light tank and its MGM-51 Shillelagh missile, for instance, became a negative example to the industry as a whole during its brief career in the 1960/70s.
Electronics have moved on since then, however, and advances in electronics’ size and composition are beginning to make the concept thinkable once more. Israel’s laser-homing Lahat missile equips some Merkava tanks, will reportedly equip India’s new Arjun tanks, and has been qualified for use with the Leopard 2 tank family. It can be fired from missile launchers, and also offers 105mm or 120mm tank guns a range boost to 8km, the ability to kill heavily protected tanks from the top, and effectiveness against slow flying aerial targets like helicopters and UAVs. Russia’s shorter-range 9M119M Refleks (NATO designation AT-11 Sniper) round is also available on the market, to equip late-model Russian and Chinese tanks.
The USA’s 160+ billion Future Combat Systems program aims to revive the light tank with its Mounted Combat System variant of its MGS tracked vehicle family. It won’t have the M1 Abrams’ armor protection, and its light 120mm gun won’t have that tank’s firepower punch, either – unless a guided round can even the odds, and give it beyond line-of-sight capabilities. Enter the XM1111 Mid-Range Munition.
Cyber-security is an ongoing issue for any enterprise these days, but the defense sector is more of a target than most. Britain’s Ministry of Defence has been finding this out the hard way lately, as a string of announcements have placed its security under a spotlight. The recent use of cyber-attacks as part of conventional warfare has even prodded the USA into both a National Cybersecurity Initiative related to government IT operations, and a Trust in Integrated Circuits initiative that may be even more challenging.
The first bit of bad news was confirmation that just 27% of UK MoD computer systems meet current data security standards for holding classified information and personal data, another 31% meet some standards, and the rest are still being evaluated. A January 2008 scandal, wherein a stolen laptop held unencrypted personal data related to 600,000 people who had either expressed an interest in, or joined, the armed services, drives home the risks.
This was followed by news that the Royal Navy would be relying on Windows XP as the basis of its new Submarine Command System Next Generation. SMCS-NG is being retrofitted to British submarines, including the nuclear missile armed Vanguard Class. BAE Systems was reported as saying that elements of Windows that were prone to security flaws “were tended to during the modification.” Microsoft’s own ability to perform this task has often been a problem.
The final punch came when the Ministry of Defense acknowledged that problems with computer viruses had affected email systems and internet access to Royal Navy ships, which are handled by Navystar/ N
As Sukhoi’s SU-30 family of large, multi-role fighters has come to dominate Russian aircraft exports over the past decade, the positions of Sukhoi and MiG have reversed. Now MiG is the deeply secondary design bureau, and Sukhoi is the firm designing Russia’s flagship fighters. Russian weapons exports have risen sharply over the past 5 years, but the overall volume of orders for Russian manufacturers has plunged without the Soviet empire’s vast arms budget, network of dependent clients, and the global military tensions and warfare that accompanied its drive for expansion.
That has created serious trouble for RAC MiG. Their MiG 1.44 design lost to Sukhoi’s PAK-FA in the competition to become Russia’s future fighter, their MiG-AT lost the future trainer market to the Yakolev/Aermacchi Yak-130, and their flagship MiG-29 now struggles to find buyers on the international market, despite multi-role upgrades. India is buying about 45 MiG-29K aircraft for its aircraft carriers, and the omnidirectional thrust-vectoring MiG-29OVT/MiG-35 variant is a candidate in India’s 126-plane MMRCA competition, but sales elsewhere have been slow. Algeria’s cancellation of its $1.3 – 1.5 billion, 34 plane MiG-29 buy has hit the company hard on multiple fronts. Even Russia’s recent $615 million purchase of the 28 MiG-29SMT multi-role fighters from that deal will not solve the firm’s $1.5 billion in reported debts…
In 2009, the Ottawa Citizen’s defense reporter David Pugliese reported that the US military was about to spend $100 million to upgrade the facilities at Kandahar, Afghanistan, in order to accommodate up to 26 aircraft for a local “Task Force ODIN”. At first glance, this might seem like just another infrastructure play – unless one realizes that Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify & Neutralize) may be the second-most underrated fusion of technology and operating tactics in America’s counter-insurgency arsenal.
Task Force ODIN was created on orders of Gen. Richard A. Cody, the US Army’s outgoing vice chief of staff. Its initial goal involved better ways of finding IED land mines, a need triggered by the limited numbers of USAF Predator UAVs in Iraq, and the consequent refusal of many Army surveillance requests. Despite its small size (about 25 aircraft and 250 personnel) and cobbled-together nature, Task Force ODIN quickly became a huge success. Operating from Camp Speicher near Tikrit, it expanded its focus to become a full surveillance/ strike effort in Iraq – one that ground commanders came to see as more precise than conventional air strikes, hence less likely to create the kind of collateral damage that would damage their campaigns. From its inception in July 2007 to June 2008, the effort reportedly killed more than 3,000 adversaries, and led to the capture of almost 150 insurgent leaders.
With Secretary of Defense Gates paying particular attention to improving ISR(Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capabilities, replication in Afghanistan was inevitable. The coming construction at Kandahar marks the beginning of that effort.
Fresh from brinksmanship around the go-forward plan for Europe’s multi-national A400M military transport, EADS has dived into another spat with European governments. The firm is reportedly threatening to suspend production of its 4+ generation Eurofighter Typhoon if the 4 consortium governments can’t firm up their promised 236 Tranche 3 orders by the end of Q1 2009.
Tranche 3 Eurofighters will be the most capable aircraft in the 3-stage program, with full strike capabilities built in, and desired additions that include an AESA radar. In 2008, EADS submitted a range of procurement options to the aircraft’s launch customers (Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain), with the intention of offering them flexibility by dividing promised Tranche 3 orders over time, adding new technologies in faster, smaller stages instead of in large chunks, and other options. Nevertheless, the member countries have yet to commit, and are now late. This situation is actually somewhat familiar, as EADS halted production for about 6 months between the Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 orders…
While France plans to use its economic stimulus spending to accelerate key defense buys and add another Mistral Class amphibious operations ship, the USA appears to be taking a different approach. Congressional Quarterly magazine’s “Defense Firms Seek Insulation From Cutbacks Associated With Stimulus” observes that the $800 billion economic recovery package now under construction in Washington appears to have something for nearly everyone – except defense contractors:
“To be sure, some defense companies had sought to obtain weapons funding in the stimulus bill… “In December, defense lobbyists went nuts,” one said. But it became clear that weapons projects were not what the Obama team was looking for… [Fearing cuts,] the Aerospace Industries Association [AIA] has spent nearly $2 million on ads to convince decision makers that the defense sector plays an important role in the economy. The group is under no illusions that the rate of growth in defense spending since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks can be sustained, but it hopes to limit the cutbacks.”
The AIA has also has asked congressional leaders to include $4 billion in upgrades for civilian aviation infrastructure, and are lobbying for policy changes that include lower corporate tax rates and making a tax credit for research spending permanent. Lower corporate tax rates clash with Democrats’ ideology, but tax credits for research dovetail with similar needs in sectors like alternative energy, which makes them more likely to be adopted.
Around the world, buyers of light military transport aircraft face 3 main choices: Alenia’s C-27J Spartan, EADS-CASA’s C-295M, or Russia’s AN-32. EADS-CASA began with notable leads in orders and customers over its C-27J rival. Spain, Algeria, Brazil, Finland, Jordan, Poland, and Portugal picked the C-295M, which offers better range, more cost-efficient operation, and more standard cargo pallets in its longer fuselage. Then the USA’s Joint Cargo Aircraft program made Alenia a winner, and will order at least 78 C-27Js. That tipped the production balance, and appears to be adjusting decision calculations as well. The C-27J’s customers now include Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Morocco, Romania, and the USA. Its larger fuselage diameter and reinforced floor let it carry tactical loads like vehicles and small helicopters as well as pallets, and its design gives it both a higher top speed and commonalities with the global C-130J Hercules medium transport fleet. If US Special Operations Command has its way, an AC-27J “Baby Spooky” gunship variant may be next.
The lessons of Objective Peach, the pivotal Thunder Run, and the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq proved that modern tanks still have a key role to play as the battlefield’s mobile behemoths – vehicles that can take surprise punches, and dish them out, too. After the dust of the classic armored thrusts dies down, however, tanks spend a lot of time in a very different role. Their protection levels are still valued on the treacherous urban battlefield, but their advanced array of sensors that can scan for long distances through darkness, rain, or worse are equally valuable. Instead of performing classic cavalry roles, modern tanks spend a lot of time sitting in position and performing armed overwatch.
There’s only one small problem with that role, and it’s spelled “MPG”. A tank’s advanced sensors require a lot of power to run. That kind of consistent power means keeping the engine running, just as it would in your car. With 2 problematic results: (1) forget about providing silent or unobtrusive overwatch; and (2) tanks aren’t exactly fuel-efficient, and fuel supply lines are a prime target for guerrillas or terrorists with IED land mines. This makes the tanks’ fuel much more costly to provide on the front lines, while expanding the number of targets presented to the enemy.
The USA’s M1 Abrams tank is unusual, in that it’s equipped with a jet-like turbine instead of a diesel engine. The good news, the 70-ton tanks can move fast enough to risk speeding tickets, were they on America’s highways instead of a battlefield. The bad news is that their fuel consumption is terrible, even by the low standards of main battle tanks.
This may help to explain why early January 2009 saw Walker Power Systems, Inc. in Phoenix, AZ win a $6.6 million fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite quantity contract to deliver upgraded external auxiliary power units (APUs) for the US Marines’ M1A1 tank fleet. The APU is like an independent generator, providing quieter power for multiple systems while the tank’s main engine remains off. The contract also contains 3 one-year options, which could boost its value to a maximum of $17.3 million. Work will be performed in Phoenix, AZ and work is expected to be complete in December 2009. This contract was competitively procured through full and open competition via the Navy Electronic Commerce Office, with 4 offers received by the US Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA (M67854-09-D-6005).