In February 2010 Defense News reported that Saudi Arabia’s fleet of Tornado low-level, medium-range strike fighters would soon be receiving a pair of significant enhancements: MBDA’s stealthy Storm Shadow medium range cruise missiles, and the MBDA/Boeing Brimstone anti-armor missile. The Storm Shadow would give the Saudis a potent long range strike capability against even heavily-defended targets, while the Brimstone missiles will allow Saudi fast jets to serve in an assault-breaker role, or offer reliable close air support for ground forces.
These developments were actually Phase 2 of an ongoing effort to keep the RSAF’s Tornado strike fleet relevant until at least 2020, under BAE Systems’ Saudi Tornado Sustainment Programme (TSP).
Vietnam’s growing economy, and China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea, are pushing the country to begin a long-delayed military modernization program. Most of the equipment comes from Vietnam’s traditional Russian sources, but a purchase of Next-Gen DHC-6 Twin Otter maritime patrol aircraft from Canada showed the country’s willingness to consider other suppliers. Now comes word that Vietnam’s new Russian Gepard Class corvettes may be joined by another Western entry: 4 SIGMA ships from the Dutch Schelde shipyard.
SIGMA actually stands for Ship Integrated Geometrical Modularity Approach. Block construction has become almost routine for ships, but block design at this level is unique…
Singapore’s Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen has confirmed that they’ve picked MBDA’s SAMP/T Aster-30 missile system as their upper-tier air defense system on land. Singapore already uses the missiles at sea, aboard its Formidable Class frigates, so the land-based buy will draw on an existing support network. It isn’t entirely clear whether or not a contract has been signed, which isn’t unusual for Singapore.
MBDA’s Aster-30s will replace Raytheon’s MIM-23 I-Hawk missiles as Singapore’s upper tier air defense on land, offering Singapore the ability to intercept short range ballistic missiles as well as aircraft, cruise missiles, etc. It’s the latest step in a series of interlocking improvements. One tier down, SAMP/T will be complemented by new RAFAEL Spyder mobile air defense systems, whose short to medium range coverage will supplement older Rapier missile systems from Britain. In the air, Singapore’s new IAI Gulfstream G550 CAEW jets offer Singapore greater endurance and warning distance than the RSAF’s retired E-2C Hawkeyes, and can coordinate responses from ground systems and RSAF fighters. Sources: Singapore MINDEF, “Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base”.
In 2007, Finland wanted Lockheed Martin’s stealthy AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles, in order to arm its F/A-18C/D Hornet fighters. Despite a history of good relations, in 2007, the US State Department said no.
Fast forward to 2008. The Russian invasion of Georgia, and Germany’s response, upset more than a few calculations in the region. As NATO weakens, the Nordic nations appear to be moving toward an informal defense compact of their own. Finland, whose memories of Russian invasion are still vivid, repeated its request for stealthy cruise missiles – with 2 alternative buys waiting in the wings. In 2011, Finland finally got what it wanted: approval to buy Lockheed Martin’s JASSM. Now the missiles have to be bought, and integrated with Finland’s Hornet fleet.
In mid-May 2013, MBDA signed an MoU with Lockheed Martin that has the potential to shake up the naval missile industry. It sounds innocuous: both companies agree to jointly explore the market for the integration of MBDA naval missile systems into Lockheed Martin’s MK-41 Vertical Launch System, and ExLS VLS/cell insert. They’ll begin with a late 2013 demonstration involving Britain’s new CAMM-M Sea Ceptor missile, but the implications reach far beyond.
Right now, the naval missile market is divided by launcher type, and many of MBDA’s missiles sit in a DCNS banlieue.
The Viper Strike began life as the BAT – a canceled munition option for ground-fired ATACMS missiles. After USAF Predator UAVs armed with Hellfire missiles began to show promise in the Global War on Terror, however, US Army planners began to examine their options. Could they place a similar capability in the hands of Army ground commanders? In July 2002, these examinations led to the award of a 90-day contract to demonstrate the possibility of BAT deployment on a modified U.S. Army RQ-5 Hunter UAV.
Those tests went well, and Viper Strikes are currently carried by MQ-5B Hunter UAVs – see this video [MPG, 13.2 MB] of a Viper Strike in testing. The weapon’s small size (3 feet long, 44 pounds) and special advantages in urban fights, mountainous terrain, etc. give it a chance of spreading to other platforms. Special Operations Command has shown interest, but front-line deployment has been limited. Is the Viper Strike a case of “the right weapon at the right time”? Or a case of “caught betwixt and between”? That’s now an important question for Europe’s MBDA, who bought the weapon and manufacturing from Northrop Grumman.
At the opening of the Farnborough 2012 defense exhibition, British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the Eurofighter’s future:
“Typhoon’s growth potential is huge and the four partner nations, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK have agreed the next steps required to further exploit this. The integration of the METEOR missile, an Electronically Scanned Radar, enhancements of the Defensive Aids System, further development of the air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities and integration of new weapons.”
All of these capabilities will be welcome. Indeed, all are necessary, in order to address key platform weaknesses, and keep the plane competitive in the international marketplace as a multi-role fighter. A short synopsis of each aspect follows.
As 2011 begins, the French DGA made France the 4th customer nation to place production orders for MBDA’s ramjet-powered Meteor missile, after Britain, Spain, and Sweden. The 200 missile order was placed through the multinational program lead, Britain’s MoD Defence Equipment & Services (DE&S), to MBDA-UK. Price was not mentioned. The first French Meteor missile deliveries are expected in 2018.
MBDA’s Meteor missile was conceived as a longer-range competitor to popular weapons like the Russian R77/AA-12, and American AIM-120 AMRAAM. Its ramjet propulsion is intended to offer the missile a head-on closing range of 120 km, with a 2-way datalink and full powered performance at Mach 4+ throughout its flight, instead of the standard “burn and coast” approach use by rocket-powered counterparts. The intent is to give the Meteor both longer reach, and a wider “no escape” profile.
June 9/10: Finmeccanica subsidiary SELEX Sistemi Integrati announces [PDF] a 5-year, EUR 238 million contract from the Italian Ministry of Defence’s Land Armaments General Directorate, for a digitized system known as Forza NEC (Network Enabled Capability). The contract covers the manufacture and integration of command posts in shelters and vehicles; communication, command and control devices for soldiers under the Soldato Futuro program; unmanned vehicles equipped with sensors; and systems offering full interoperability between the Italian armed forces and the forces of other countries. A test laboratory consisting of numerous military centers connected in a network will also be delivered.
SELEX Sistemi Integrati is the main supplier and system integrator, but they will work with a very broad alliance of Italian firms. Other Finmeccanica companies such as SELEX Communications, SELEX Galileo, Elsag Datamat, Oto Melara, AgustaWestland, and MBDA Italia are included. So are independent firms like Elettronica, Iveco, Engineering Ingegneria Informatica, the Iveco-Oto Melara consortium, and the Soldato Futuro consortium.
Battlefield command systems are becoming the backbone of any modern land force…