Rotor & Wing’s
Military Insider Blog
by Andrew Drwiega
Farnborough Airshow, Monday 19 July: AgustaWestland could have pulled off a political masterstroke at the first day of Farnborough during the surprise launch of their new helicopter, the AW169.
The AW169 is billed as “a multi-purpose twin engine light transport utility helicopter” of around 4.5 tons and was launched with numerous declarations about its worth to the UK in terms of industrial commitment. Giuseppi Orsi, CEO, AgustaWestland described it as “a real and exciting potential”, emphasising that “the company commitment to the industrial base in the UK is real.”
Graham Cole, Managing Director, AgustaWestland added that the AW169 represented a new opportunity for a civil programme in the UK – which has previously only been a focus of the military production side of AgustaWestland’s business. The promise of keeping valuable engineering jobs in the UK was underlined as the design and production of certain parts – especially the transmission and rotor blades.
“I am delighted that AgustaWestland in Yeovil is to play an important role in the design, development and production of the AW169. We see a large market for the AW169 [1,000 over 20 years was cited] and the real prospect of a production line for an AgustaWestland commercial helicopter in Yeovil.”
He added that “we have already formed a UK parapabulic team which will vigorously pursue with the AW169 and our other products, all UK parapublic opportunities. AW169s which are acquired within the UK will be built and supported in the UK and will be key to opening the production line early.”
This news must have seemed like sweet music to the guest VIP. It was a shrewd move to invite Dr Vince Cable MP (Liberal Democrat), Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, to be the honoured guest at the opening, and he bravely consenting to be draped all over the new machine for photos. An AgustaWestland corporate release quoted him thus: “The Government recognises and appreciates the significant investments Finmeccanica have made into the aerospace and defence industries in the UK in recent years and is delighted that this continues with the launch of the AW169. The AW169 is indeed an exciting project that typifies the type of project which will sustain and grow our domestic high technology engineering and manufacturing base into the future.”
No coincidence either that the Member of Parliament for Yeovil is David Laws – also a Liberal Democrat.
Cue the arrival of Defence Secretary Liam Fox (Conservative), expected Tuesday. He is the man charged with reducing the defence budget by 10% from its current total of around £36 billion. With government currently talking to all industry about where cuts could be made, and looking at all potential programmes to see which could be cut, the much previously debated AW159 Wildcat must be one of those being considered.
The relationship between AgustaWestland and the British Government has been one that has been envied by other OEMs and the position that the company has in the government’s manufacturing portfolio should not be underestimated. What better way then, where a coalition government is charged with making difficult policy decisions in cutting the defence budget, to have one side of that coalition firmly and publically on your side.
By Andrew Drwiega
London, UK: Phil Dunford, Vice President and General Manager, Boeing Rotorcraft Systems yesterday called once again for greater collaboration among OEMs in the helicopter business and said that joint industry / government partnerships were the way forward for the good of the industry sector.
Dunford was speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, UK, where he gave a lecture on Global Rotorcraft at the Crossroads – What does the Future Hold?
This is a theme that Dunford has been evangelising since he briefed this writer on at the Le Bourget Airshow in Paris last summer. Dunford is acutely aware that Boeing’s rotorcraft production rate drops of significantly after 2018. This contrasts drastically with the company’s short term construction programme which will see the CH-47 Chinook factory being rebuilt as the company ramps up to producing six of the aircraft per month – the highest output of these heavy lifters since the Vietnam War.
The fact that worries Dunford is that the CH-47 first flew in 1961 (making it a 50 year veteran). Sure the performance has increased and the company designers have done a sterling job in continually modernising the aircraft (the newest is the CH-47F) keeping it in position as one of the most sought after aircraft on the battlefield, along with its little cousin the AH-64 Apache. But that attack helicopter also first flew35 years ago, even though its Block III development cycle again makes it one of the most complex and effective flying weapons systems.
Dunford comes back to the fact that there have only been nine new build military programmes in the last 50 years in the United States – and only two in the last 36 years (the V-22 and the RAH-66 Comanche – the latter of which was cancelled).
There are numerous difficulties that helicopter OEMs have got to overcome he states, not least the fact that although helicopters are now more widely used in the military and in the civil sector, they still do not draw funding anywhere near as much as the fixed wing sector. Research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) for rotorcraft is virtually at a 50 year low he said, contrasting this with a statement that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II (Joint Strike Fighter) development costs alone would exceed the total of the last 50 years of rotorcraft development in the USA.
Having played a central role in the development of the V-22 (itself a complex platform) Dunford highlighted the off again, on again commitment of the US government towards the programme which resulted in a 14+ year development run. As in that case, Dunford feels that the complexities of rotorcraft development are often not fully understood by the client. “We really didn’t have enough test aircraft and we should have done more up front” in development, he said. However, the programme was suffering as tens of millions of dollars of cuts and savings had to be made – with (as it turned out) tragic consequences.
Dunford considers that one of the solutions is closer collaboration between the world’s OEMs, and between this group and government. He says that the Vertical Lift Consortium that has been established in the USA is a good way in that it will encourage industry and the user to jointly talk and debate what will be important in terms of capability a decade into the future. But he still cites a number of factors where industry needs to come together more in collaborating over common problems: the gap needs to be closed on fixed wing productivity; programme requirements need to be solidified early by customers and funding profiles optimised; and investment in RDT&E needs to be found, not only from government but also from within each OEM; and there needs to be a return to prototyping.
By Andrew Drwiega
Military Editor, Rotor and Wing
Rotor and Wing military editor Andrew Drwiega, embedded with 3rd Marine Aviation Wing, is briefed by Group Captain Nick Laird, Commander Task Force Jaguar (COMJAG), Royal Air Force, about the impending change to the structure of how rotary wing forces will be organised in southern Afghanistan
Monday 17th May – Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan: In the next few weeks the British helicopter force in Afghanistan will complete its integration into 3rd Marine Aviation Wing, part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based alongside British forces at Camp Bastion, Helmand Province.
This is not an integration of ground forces. It is the practical pooling of rotary wing assets within the new region of RC South West (which covers Helmand). The old RC South is being divided along two Provincial lines: RC South West (Helmand Province) and RC South East (Kandahar Province).
“The Joint Helicopter Command (Afghanistan) will conduct joint operations with the 3rd Marine Air Wing,” said Laird. “We are optimising intelligent tasking at the coal face.” In its most simple terms, those responsible within the ISAF/MEF command structure responsible for daily tasking will be able to match the right type of aircraft to the requirement sought. This will ensure calls by ground troops for rotary wing support will be met quicker and with an appropriately sized aircraft. It is a waste of resource to send a British Chinook to lift four soldiers when an USMC Huey or Osprey could be closer and able to do the job. Likewise a British Apache Longbow might be closer than a USMC Cobra to US Marines who suddenly make a Troops in Contact (TiC) call.
The commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is Maj Gen Richard Mills, with Brigadier George Norton (UK) in the role of deputy commander. The overall commander or the rotary forces in RC South West will be USMC Brig Gen Andrew W.O’Donnell Jr, with Group Captain Nick Laird as his deputy commander. This integration does not apply to fixed wing aircraft – either fast jets, UAVs or transports – although the MAW’s assets will still contribute into the capability.
Such a move does seem to make sense. The British have years of operational experience in the Helmand region and now have around 40 aircraft providing a wide range of capability across light (Lynx, Sea King), medium (AW101 Merlin) and heavy lift (CH-47 Chinooks), together with their attack helicopter force (WAH AH-64D Apaches). Likewise, the 3rd MAW have a similar profile but with a much large force of aircraft: the Light Attack squadron with its Cobra Whiskys and Huey Yankees, the medium lift MV-22 Ospreys and the heavy lift CH-53D/E Super Stallions.
Also, as the fighting season is now breaking and with the intensity of conflict already escalating, different aircraft may be more able to respond at certain times of the day. “The level of sustainment we can offer by doing this will be key to the ongoing campaign by providing more capacity for air manoeuvre,” said Laird. “It will bring a significant step change in deliberate operations.”
By Andrew Drwiega
Rotor & Wing’s military editor Andrew Drwiega reports from Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where he is embedded with 3rd Marine Aviation Wing
Sunday 16 May, 2010: The contrast between the last time I was in Camp Bastion in spring 2008 and being here now in May 2010 is that the US Marines have – without a shadow of a doubt – arrived!
Two years ago it was a relatively small and functional British forward base. There were a couple of Apache AH-64Ds here and there, a handful of Chinooks and the odd Sea King depending on the time of year. Now the collection of Marine aviation along the new runway is a wonder to behold.
Two squadrons of heavy CH-53D/Es, a mixed Light Attack squadron of Cobra Whiskys and new Huey Yankees, a full squadron of medium lift MV-22 Ospreys. Nearly everything that makes up a Marine Air Wing. The other elements are here too, but located elsewhere. The fast jet Harrier force, soon to be replaced by Hornets, is located at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) and the Unmanned Aerial Systems are deployed out nearer the Marines’ forward bases – yes, Camp Bastion is less forward than it used to be.
The British too have expanded their presence over those couple of years with CH-47 Chinooks, AW101 Merlins, Sea Kings (S-61s), Lynx Mk9s and Apache AH-64Ds now side by side on the opposite side of the runway to the line of American airpower.
There are also Russian Mi-8/17s on private contract occasionally clattering in and out. The US Army Pedros have also co-located two of their Black Hawk ‘dustoff’ helicopters alongside the British Immediate Response team (IRT) – a move that has already proven invaluable in at least one major incident with a joint call-out.
Then there is the fixed wing element, with C-130 Hercules, C-17s and a plethora of Russian aircraft bringing in supplies and material goods around the clock. The base too is growing its infrastructure, with numerous new permanent buildings under construction. In fact, you can almost feel it growing under your feet.
By Andrew Drwiega
While many presentations are given by senior military commanders during the Professional Sessions at Quad-A, sometimes one phrase, or couple, jump out during each individual’s speech almost demanding to be repeated to a much wider audience.
Here is a selection taken from all days that you might find interesting (the comments in brackets represent my additional notes):
“The Army currently supports us [Aviation] in a way that I have not seen bettered in my 32 years of service.” MG James Barclay III, Aviation Branch Chief
“We are in a never ending aviation study…we have got to continue to attack the targets.” (Aviation Studies I and II have been designed to chart the future of the Aviation Branch). MG Barclay
“The UAS Roadmap 2010-2035 is a truly remarkable document. It provides us with a broad vision on how the Army will deploy UAS in the near, mid and far terms.” General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, US Army
“The evolution of UAS is not complete. They must not only see, but shape the battlefield. UAS allows us to enhance the ability of ground operations.” MG Barclay
“In terms of UAS…its 1914 and we have just reached fixed wing aviation.” (You ain’t seen nothin’ yet). MG Jeffrey Schloesser, Director, Army Aviation, G3/5/7
“If people want something moved, found or killed, they look for aviation.” MG Perry Wiggins, DCG, Firth US Army North
“We are increasing to three Combat Aviation Brigades in Afghanistan. This will be challenging, especially in the air-ground integration of fires…We are working on joint firepower courses but still need to make it a more persistent capability.” (The integration of all fires, not only from the CABs, but from all other national and international forces can prove a major challenge). MG Schloesser
“Over the last eight to nine years of war, some leaders thought we had moved away from the manoeuvre fight. Aviation is still an integral part of manoeuvre.” (European forces have also been relearning some air manoeuvre skills) MG Barcaly
“Did we do enough manned / unmanned training? No we did not. If they [UAS] are forward in the fight they can’t be back training.” Col Ron Lewis, Commander, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade
“We can’t use Wright Brothers goggles to predict the future.” (Perhaps a hint to the detractors of the rapid growth of UAS) Col Christopher Carlile, Director, UAS Centre of Excellence
“Manned advantages / disadvantages layered with unmanned advantages / disadvantages gives us a synergy we did not have before.” Col Carlile
“The whole idea is to have the bad guys engaged before you have troops in contact.” (One of the sound reasons behind the proliferation of a variety of UAS as far down as small unit level) Col Carlile
“We will flex the force [UAS] forward to a medium level. As we go into the future, this new amount of situational awareness will allow the combat commander to pick the right tool to deal with it.” [the type and size of threat he is facing].” Col Carlile
“There is concern about Army Aviation dwell time. There is a tough time ahead from the summer of 2010 for a year.” (The pace will not slacken for Aviation any time soon). MG Schloesser
“The night of the long knives is coming. We have been given an awful lot [finance] with the expectation that it has now been spent wisely.” (The Comanche boom era has ended). MG Schloesser
“The UAS Roadmap has been vetted and approved by every branch chief in the Army.” (…so all you aviators better get used to the idea quick). BG William Crosby, PEO Aviation
By Andrew Drwiega
When someone such as BG Raymond Palumbo, Deputy Commander, Army Special Operations Command speaks in public, we should probably listen – even just to get the snippets of wisdom.
Being special operations of course, means he isn’t actually going to tell you how to do it, rather than an outline of how they organise to go about the task. Palumbo kicked off the Professional Sessions on Day 2 Quad-A with a few general observations:
1) You see the world from where you sit – but you must understand where you fit into the big picture.
2) You are benefited and limited by your experiences.
3) No bucks – no Buck Rogers.
He later qualified the last point by saying he believed that the Army had sufficient budget to do what it was being tasked with: “we will have to do better with what we have got.” (Incidentally, this comment is being repeated ad nauseam in Europe as well). He then ran a clip from the film Apollo 13, the extract where the Mission Command team is trying to decide what they have on board the spacecraft to help resolve the crisis: “I don’t care what anything was designed to do, I care about what it can do.” That, said Palumbo, will refer more and more to the attitude people are going to have to adopt towards the equipment they will have in the budget tightening times ahead.
In terms of the 160th SOAR, the dedicated aviation element of Special Aviation Command, he gave a review of the current fleet strength: 51 x AH/MH-6, 72 x MH-60 (going for an all MH-60M fleet); 69 x MH-47 (trying to go to all MH-60G fleet); and 24 x ER/MP (Warrior).
Warfighter lessons learned
In the following Integrated Warfighting Forum, MG Jeoffrey Schloesser, Director of Army Aviation, said that there is still a challenge on air-ground integration, and especially coordinating fires between elements such as aviation and artillery. “We are working on joint firepower courses but need to make it a more persistent capability.” He also mentioned the need to cascade training in air assaults further down to junior grade officers on a more frequent basis: “Air assaults (in Afghanistan) are mainly conducted at the platoon level and usually commanded by a Lieutenant.”
MG Perry Wiggins, DCG, 5th Army North commented that out in the field “if people want something moved, found or killed, they look for aviation first.” But he continued, “the current demand for aviation exceeds logistics” and that the modernisation process for units resetting for the next fight is pressurised – ‘people have only ten months (to get done what they need) from boat to boat.’
Commenting further on operations and command challenges therein, he said that distributed operations add complexity and demands planning and strong leaders. Maintenance also demands a centralised plan which can operate in a decentralised way. He added that it was vital to place a good organiser from the command group in charge of rear detachment organisation: “we tend to overlook rear detachments but it is the soldier’s most treasured possession. You get the benefits through to the end of the deployment.”
BG Ray Palumbo was also a Forum panellist and remarked on the ‘fantastic job’ that industry had been doing across the whole spectrum of ISR equipment – from rubber rocks that can listen to cameras in bricks – and upwards to the airborne ISR platforms in the world the rest of the Army operates in. “It is sometimes difficult to comprehend what to buy to do our job,” he concluded.
By Andrew Drwiega
The keynote address at the opening morning at the Army Aviation Association’s annual gather, presented by General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, was hugely significant in one very obvious factor – the excitement and wholehearted enthusiasm he exuded for the Army’s just released Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Roadmap 2010-2035.
Although praise was heaped on the existing dedication and achievements of Army Aviation, it is clear that UAS is considered ‘the way ahead.’ Chiarelli described the roadmap as ‘a truly remarkable document’ that gives a broad vision as to how the army will deploy UAS in the near (2010-2015), mid (2016-2025) and far (2026-2035) timeframes.
The impact of the UAS success (US Army operators have now flown over 1 million UAS flight hours) is leading to the reorganisation of Combat Aviation Brigades (CABs) [Kiowa Warrior units are currently being transformed - whittled down in size from 10 aircraft to seven - with Shadows being added]. Chiarelli described the UAS as disruptive technology: “they are a game changer and have forever changed the way in which the army operates.”
“UAS offers an enhanced sense and detect capability not found in current manned capabilities.” However, the manned helicopter community need not yet hand in their papers to join the dole queues. “The evolution is not complete,” said Chiarelli, adding that it was not sufficient simply to see the battlefield, but to shape it as well.
But the march of the UAS is real. In 2001 there were 54 Hunter and Shadow systems in the army reported Chiarelli. Today there are over 4,000 platforms spread between 1,400 systems. “They are agile, lighter and carry an impressive range of payloads. They are also above ISR – they provide security, attack and command & control.”
Despite UAS being recognised Chiarelli took great pains to underline that “UAS is not, NOT a budgetary document – it is a long range vision.” However, UAS do deliver savings in operating costs and force structure – something not lost on those who ultimately decide on budgets.
By Andrew Drwiega
A company founded by an ex-VP of Research and Engineering at Bell Helicopter Textron believes it has a cheap and practical solution to the US Army’s quest for a new Armed Scout Helicopter – by converting its old OH-58Ds into helicopters with co-axial counter-rotating rotors and ducted fans instead of a tail rotor.
Troy Gaffey, President and chief engineer at AVX Aircraft (founded 2005) told Aviationtoday.com that designers have been looking to either increase power available in new designs, or decrease the power required. “The co-axial rotor needs less power, with net savings of around 120hp.” AVX’s solution involves removing the existing rotor head, mast and transmission on an OH-58D and replacing it with a co-axial rotorhead. The tail boom and rotor is also replaced by twin ducted fans.
AVX Aircraft used Continuum Dynamics (CDI) to model the performance of the proposed OH-58D/AVX against the existing US Army OH-58D. CDI’s computer modelling software Computer Hierarchical Aeromechanics Rotorcraft Model (CHARM) was used with AVX making the following claims at the 6,000ft/95°F benchmark : HOGE at 5,500lb; 120kt cruise speed at IRP; 445km range; 3.1 hrs endurance; acceptable autorotation capability and improvements in ‘brown-out’ landings and noise generation.
AVX spokesman Mike Cox said that the company was looking for $31 million in funding to develop a concept demonstrator aircraft which, he claimed, could be flying within 18 months. However, he said that the company did not want to begin a manufacturing line and was talking to a number of potential partners, including Bell Helicopter, although all talks were at a very early stage. The company has responded to the US Army’s Request for Information for its Armed Scout Helicopter.
By Andrew Drwiega
The eagles are gathering again in Fort Worth, Tx, for the Army Aviation Association’s annual convention. This yearly US Army aviation catch-up and road-mapping is invaluable not only to those within the military, but to the industrialists who get a fantastic opportunity to hear the word of the moment from the Aviation Branch Chief MG James Barclay down through his team: MG James Myles (AMCOM); MG Jeffrey Schlosesser, Director, Army Aviation; BG William Crosby, PEO Aviation and others.
What really steals the show as far as this reporter is concerned are the reports from Combat Aviation Brigade commanders who, often having just returned ‘fresh from the fight’ give first-hand accounts of what is really happening at the spear tip: the good and the bad. At a time when it is not politically correct to report what is going wrong – when we have to describe problems as challenges – and language is being used to disguise difficulties rather than bring them into the light, it is so important that strength and success is reported back in equal measure with the ‘short rounds’ – the ambitions that were not reached, the doctrines that need revision, the equipment stuff that did not work as advertised and the times when success was not achieved. We all need to be aware of how it can be done better next time; how pre-deployment training can be improved, how industry can improve its offering – even if it means partnering with rivals to produce a better product for those whose lives depend on it. The army constantly reviews lessons learned – and so must industry. And industry has improved overall – a commitment that has been publically recognised by previous Quad-A leaderships. But the fight is ongoing and there is still room, lots of room, for yet more to be done.
My guess on themes to look out for during the next few days will be the inexorable growth of UAS systems, the swirl around the Armed Scout Helicopter and advances in better communications, hostile fire indicators and more ideas to improve situational awareness.
There is an acquisition round-table discussion planned for Saturday 17 April entitled The Industrial Base – It’s Not Just the Big Boys. Doesn’t the phrase go: ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow!’
By Andrew Drwiega
The European Defence Agency (EDA) is about to begin assessing submissions made by organisations wishing to manage a two-year Interim Synthetic helicopter Tactics course. The overall contract will be worth €3-4 million with the location to be located at single fixed venue within a contributing member state. Proposals were to have been received by 31 March 2010 and a decision expected by the end of the autumn.
With several of the EDA’s member states having committed to deployed operations over the next two years, there is a requirement among some to have their training and effectiveness increased above their existing national standards. This would be provided through a series of courses over two years delivering dedicated tuition from operationally experience qualified helicopter instructors (QHIs).
The EDA’s objective is for 10 courses to run per annum, with four helicopter crews per four week course. Each crew would comprise up to four people (depending on the type of helicopter). Training would be synthetic based with no ‘live’ elements, but the course and training media would have to be reconfigurable depending on the helicopter type familiar to each crew.
It is expected that the synthetic training will be reconfigurable between Mi-17/171 aircraft, Super Puma/Cougars and perhaps even A109s. To date, member nations involved in the course include the UK, Luxemburg, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovenia and Estonia.
Training hot & high as well as TTPs
Planning for an EDA sponsored exercise that will take place in Spain from 9-26 June 2010 is gathering pace. The exercise will involve helicopter forces from the following member states: UK, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and the host, Spain.
Initial planning has been led by Andrew Gray, the EDA’s Helicopter Project Officer. The EDA is looking to run two types of ‘live’ training per year. The first Spanish exercise will focus on operating in environmental ‘hot and high’ conditions and will test multinational operating capabilities in day/night scenarios. A second exercise to be held later in the year will focus on developing interoperability through common and understandable Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs).
“Multinational training is valuable to all member nations,” says Gray, who goes on to illustrate his point with just one example of helicopter operations in theatre. “Performance differences between three types of attack helicopter operating in Afghanistan for example – the Italian A129 Mangusta, the British Apache Longbow and the French Tiger – will all have different escort and ground support methods. Support helicopter crews when operating in coalition should be aware of the differences.”
Gray also intends for a tactical symposium to be run over two days, again bringing different multinational levels of experienced operators together to develop best practise as well as short cuts to learning. Luxembourg, while light on actual force commitment into NATO tasks, has been a particularly good financial supporter of the aims of the European Defence Agency’s helicopter development plans. The UK has also contributed English language courses for foreign nationals.
The EDA was founded on 12 July 2004 to assist member states in improving their European defence capabilities.