Latest updates[?]: France selected MBDA’s MHT/MLP missile as its Future Tactical Air-to-Surface Missile (MAST-F) for the Tiger attack helicopter. The MHT/MLP (Missile Haut de Trame / Missile Longue Portée – high tier missile / long-range mobile missile) itself is based on the Missile Moyenne Portée, a man-portable anti-tank guided missile. The MHT/MLP is characterized by its high operational effectiveness. Weighing 20% less than other missiles in its category provides a weight saving of nearly 100 kg for the Tiger helicopter, which can carry up to eight missiles in combat configuration. Exploiting this weight saving increases the Tiger’s fuel capacity and so its combat endurance, with a significant gain in “playtime”.
Tiger HAP & HAC
Eurocopter’s Tiger had always had a very odd setup in that it came in two seemingly incomplete versions (HAP scout and HAC/UHT anti-tank), whose respective deficiencies severely limited multi-role flexibility and hence exports. The new Tiger HAD (Helicoptere Appui Destruction) variant fixes those deficiencies, and looks set to become the default version for new-build EC665 Tiger exports.
The HAD project began in December 2005, as the EU’s OCCAR organization for armament cooperation signed a formal contract in Bonn, Germany and set out initial procurement numbers for Spain. This was followed by the French DGA’s announcing the restructuring of its own 80-helicopter order, and each customer has made its own choices as the new variant has gone from concept to initial delivery.
Latest updates[?]: South Africa’s Defense Minister announced plans to update the country’s indigenous Rooivalk attack helicopter. Speaking at this year's African Aerospace & Defence Show, Nosiviwe Masipa-Nqakula said the helicopter has "blooded" itself having carried out a series of successful operations as part of the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Manufacturer Denel is also working on marketing the helicopter to other African governments who are fighting insurgencies, namely Nigeria and Egypt, and further afield governments like India and Brazil.
Base, Bleeding Out?
Back in July 2005 it was apparent India’s sanctions against Denel and possible disqualification from a $2 billion artillery contract could have a major effect on the South African defense firm as a whole. In August 2005, those sanctions came to pass, barring Denel from a contract it was likely to win and accelerating efforts already underway to radically restructure the firm.
CEO Shaun Liebenberg launched that shift in late 2005 with some frank discussion of the global defense market, and the position of small-medium players like Denel in it. At DSEI 2005 in London, UK, the outline of this new strategy was already apparent. Many of the products Denel is known for will no longer define the firm. But could it find a way to stanch the bleeding and survive in a globalized market?
It’s easy to forget that the original rationale for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class centered around naval gunfire support for troops ashore, as the ship’s estimated costs have risen and its missions have proliferated. Heavily armored US battleships with massive 16-inch (406 mm) guns once performed extremely well in this role, as their volkswagen-weight shells gave enemies pause. USS Iowa was brought back into service during the Reagan era, but she was decommissioned again in 1990. That left America with a floating museum in Los Angeles, and a gap in its options.
While European manufacturers are fielding guided, long range adaptations of existing 127mm/54 and 76mm shells, the Zumwalt Class will be getting an entirely new Advanced Gun System that fires the same 155mm shells used by field artillery ashore. The goal was to combine the wide range of available 155mm shell options with extra-long range, GPS precision guidance, and rapid fire.
A single plant, dating from World War 2, still provides almost all of the US military’s small arms ammunition (up to 12.7mm). The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri has been operated by ATK for a long time, and was the USA’s only facility until recently. Ammunition shortages forced the Army to add General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in St Petersburg, FL as a limited 2nd supplier in 2005. That effort went hand-in-hand with modernization at Lake City, however, and even if orders escalated to 2 billion rounds per year, GD-OTS would provide only 300-500 million of those rounds.
In 2012, the US Army competed the management contract for Lake City, and Alliant Techsystem Operations LLC in Independence, MO won the contract again. The totals really add up.
In June 2012, the US DSCA announced Morocco’s formal request for upgrades and refurbishment of 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks, which are being provided as Excess Defense Articles from US stocks. Used tanks have become very popular around the world, and Germany’s Leopard 2 has become ubiquitous as a direct result of sell-offs by Germany and the Netherlands. American M1s haven’t been part of that dynamic so far, but the US Army does have a significant backlog of armored vehicles needing reset and repairs after hard use in theater.
Having allies pay for that work, in exchange for the tanks, does 3 important things. It removes some of that maintenance overhang from American budgets. Second, it helps keep the Lima, OH busy until American M1 modernization work is set to begin in 2017. Finally, it keeps the tanks “useful” to the USA in a geo-strategic sense. This proposed sale is a classic example.
Morocco’s M1s: Benefits All Around
Was the Chinese Tank Rumor an Information Op? [NEW]
Readers may recall “AEY’s Ammunition: Ain’t An April Fools, Alas“, which detailed a $300 million contract to a Miami company, who delivered ammunition that was not up to standard and is charged with sourcing its stock illegally. Now, more established firms like ATK and General Dynamics are stepping into the breach.
They are not the only firm receiving contracts for “non-standard” ammunition. By “nonstandard,” the military means non-NATO standard, such as the 7.62 x 39mm caliber used by rifles like the AK-47 and its copies around the world. Other common options include the 7.62 x 54mm (used in Dragunov sniper rifles and PKM machine guns), and 12.7 x 108mm (as opposed to NATO’s .50 BMG 12.7 x 99mm). Even RPG-7 panzerfaust rounds and aviation rockets have been specified in these contracts, which include:
ATK recently announced a $77 million, 3-year contract, exercising an option to develop and qualify the USA’s new 120mm tank-killing round for use in the U.S. Army’s M1A2 SEP Abrams tanks. The M829E4 is called the Advanced Kinetic Energy round, and belongs to a class known as APFSDS-T: Armor Piercing, Fin Stabilized, Discarding Sabot with Tracer. As the picture shows, the shell casing releases a penetrator sabot dart, which flies at extreme velocity to punch through enemy tank armor. The tracer element makes it easy to see the round in flight.
While manufacturers like Rheinmetall use tungsten alloys for the APFSDS dart, American rounds use alloys of similarly-dense depleted uranium (DU)…
By August 2010, however, the acquisition had shifted to a targeted buy of several Mikal properties. The move will consolidate Elbit’s position in a number of sectors, offering the prospect of close links between its sensors, targeting systems, UAVs, and front-line battlefield platforms.
Although single base propellants have been around for over 100 years, production of this type of propellant only began in Australia during World War 2, when appropriate equipment and know-how were provided under the USA’s Lend Lease Scheme. Prior to this date, all propellants had been of the British double base type. The Mulwala gun propellant facility in New South Wales was set up to produce these commodities, and remains the sole supplier of military-grade propellants and high explosives to the Benalla ammunition plant in northern Victoria. These plants are deemed to be strategic national assets, and produce ammunition for Australia’s Defence Forces; Mulwala also produces low-grade explosives and propellants for a few other customers, including America’s NASA.
Australia isn’t the only country looking to modernize single-source ammunition facilities from World War 2 or earlier. The USA is in the same boat. The Mulwala redevelopment project has finally received full approval, and work is underway – with the assistance of the same firm that owns the USA’s prime (and until recently, only) small caliber military ammunition production facility. Now, Thales will have the assistance of America’s 2nd supplier as well.
Latest updates: Improved 5.56mm; New production facility opening.
81mm mortar (click to view larger)
A weapon without ammunition is useless, which is why ammunition is almost always a strategic national capability whose production must remain in-country. On the other hand, government demand has a tendency to swing up and down within narrow limits, and the demands of efficiency usually lead to a single supplier situation – often using equipment that dates back to World War 2. The USA has run into problems because of its reliance on a single small arms ammunition plant, for instance, and has moved to modernize and diversify its base. Its ally Australia is modernizing key ammunition facilities, and trying to modernize its industrial approach as well.
Then there’s Britain, whose long-term defense contracting practices are establishing world-class benchmarks. The UK MoD had been working on an arrangement that secures national supply needs from British sources, and ensures that modernization investments continues to improve industrial efficiency. Hence the new 15-year, GBP 2+ billion “Munitions Acquisition Supply Solution” (MASS) program, inaugurated in August 2008.