A week or two ago, the MoD released a news story that described how an RAF C-17 from 99 Squadron had deployed to Hungary to conduct training in Hungary.
UK Ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay, said:
No. 99 Squadron pilot Flight Lieutenant Ben Mountfield, said:
Although the deployment was ostensibly a training one, there was a valuable defence engagement opportunity to be exploited. A flight and assault landing with VIP’s from the Hungarian Ministry of Defence was carried out.
This is the theme of this post, the value of using ‘air’ capabilities in the defence engagement role.
- Defence Engagement, Capacity Building and Conflict Prevention
- The Air Component
- Roles and Requirements
- Developing the Capability
- A Proposal
Defence Engagement, Capacity Building and Conflict Prevention
Chatham House held a workshop in 2014 to explore the role of the British Army in Conflict prevention with General Sir Peter Wall and Allan Mallinson, click here to read the transcript. The Army’s Adaptable Force as part of Army 2020 continues to evolve, the August 2015 Joint Doctrine Note 1/15 describes the MoD’s defence engagement approach and the International Defence Engagement Strategy provides additional information.
Defence engagement is therefore designed to build understanding and develop capacity with the objective of preventing conflict.
The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and MOD strategy for conflict prevention. BSOS also outlines three main mutually-supporting pillars of the Government’s stability strategy;
- Early warning
- Rapid crisis prevention and response
- Upstream conflict prevention.
Defence engagement supports all three of these pillars.
Defence Engagement creates effects through four broad ways; security and non-combat operations; Defence diplomacy, defence and security exports; and regional stability, conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation.
Upstream conflict prevention, is a simple concept that at its core seeks to make the UK safer by providing help to unstable nations such that they can help themselves to stabilise. The theory is that an Ounce of prevention saves a Pound of cure. Getting in early, de-escalating early stage conflict and supporting overseas development efforts are all seen, quite rightly, as effective means of preventing wider and much more expensive conflict.
The British Army and Royal Navy conduct upstream conflict prevention missions all the time and can range from a training on an opportunity basis to more involved and lengthy engagements. Some no doubt are successes, others less so, that of course being the nature of the beast.
Short Term Training Teams and enduring deployments like the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), together with regionally aligned Adaptable Force brigades, demonstrate how the British Army devotes considerable resource to the task, especially in Africa.
There has been a couple of posts on defence engagement over the years on Think Defence, including this from David Hulme Footsoldier;
DHF concluded that capacity building to prevent conflict must be integrated with Security Sector Reform (SRR) and share three characteristics;
- Focused, prolonged engagement,
- Train, Advise, Assist and Accompany,
- Nested within an SSR context.
Phil also wrote another post, highlighting risks and urging some degree of caution with upstream engagement;
What does this mean in practice?
From these two posts, it is apparent that upstream engagement and capacity building are connected, have risks and must be seen in a wider context to be successful.
The Air Component
Joint Doctrine Publication 0-30 defines UK Air and Space Doctrine, particularly the three core air power attributes;
On preventing conflict…
JCN 3/12 described the future UK Air and Space Doctrine and whilst it provides some additional context for capability building and conflict prevent as part of the Adaptable Britain posture.
One of the issues of using the RAF for upstream conflict prevention is nothing at all to do with them, it is the other guys. Whilst the British Army can train an infantry solder from Sierra Leone in first aid or section attacks without needing Challenger 2 tanks it is more difficult (although not impossible) to exploit the many advantages of air power without aircraft.
Although the RAF conducts defence engagement activity with many nations and like the other services, has many nations wanting to come to the UK for training, the complexity of the RAF’s basic equipment does have a limiting effect on the types of defence engagement activity it can carry out.
For many years the gulf between modern Western combat aircraft and those of less developed nations has grown ever wider.
Aircraft like the Typhoon or even F-16 are enormously expensive to purchase and operate and need a developed engineering and training infrastructure that is simply unattainable for most, especially those likely to benefit most from even basic air power components such as logistics and ISTAR.
One of our guest authors has previously chronicled the complete waste of money and almost total failure of ISAF’s efforts to create an Afghanistan air force but in Iraq, the US had much more success. In Iraq, they started with simple equipment and worked up to the F-16’s they are now flying. The Iraqi forces had the advantage that they could read and write and that they had used complex aircraft before, but by starting with aircraft like the Cessna Combat Caravan they achieved a workable, sustainable and effective capability without breaking the bank or it collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.
Accepting the extensive and excellent work carried out by the RAF with NATO partners and other advanced air forces this is a proposal to extend that down the technology ladder for less advanced air forces, especially those in Africa and some parts of the Middle East.
Building on the activities that are currently carried out.
If as a nation we are at all serious about preventing conflict then we must include the benefits of ‘air-power’ and invest in capabilities accordingly.
Roles and Requirements
When it comes to roles and requirements the ‘fightiness’ diagram is useful, again.
Small, relatively low tech air forces in Africa may well require all of them but at a level significantly lower than more advanced forces.
A more detailed view of potential roles is described below;
Is the Royal Jordanian Air Force going to be conducting airborne early warning or the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (Air Component) going to be conducting deep attack, unlikely.
Both still would aspire to mobility, situational awareness, and control of the air and attack at a lower level though.
In addition, roles in the ‘safety and security’ areas would contribute significantly to security and stability, counter poaching and illegal fishing for example, both of which have major implications for national and regional stability and security.
Typical roles might include;
- Training and logistic support,
- Air transport and despatch,
- Surveillance and reconnaissance,
- Air interdiction and close air support.
I have left out missions such as airspace battle management, air superiority and counter air defence missions because of their inherent complexity. This assumes that those nations in receipt of such support from the UK would use it for counter piracy, poaching and fisheries protection, counter insurgency and humanitarian support in an environment where Mig 29’s were not the principle threat.
We have to be realistic.
Neither is this a proposal to create a neatly boxed off self-contained unit, it is about a collection of people and equipment that can be tailored for the needs of sustaining a deployed training and mentoring capability with varying levels of support, a modular capability of you will.
The RAF has no spare cash or spare personnel.
This means, if we are to expand the conflict prevention activities conducted by the RAF and/or Army Air Corps, there has to be new sources of both funding and personnel.
The use of ex RAF and AAC personnel, sponsored reserves, contractors, other government department personnel and RN/Army/RAF reserves should all be considered as part of any personnel matrix. Given that the objective is build host nation capacity, the fundamental principle of using host nation personnel is central to success.
In cash terms, the Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) provides an obvious route to funding.
The overall conflict pool settlement was £683 million in financial year 2014-15, with peacekeeping at £444 million and the Conflict Pool at £329 million. The conflict pool allocations are shown in the below.
|Conflict Pool Allocations|
|Programme||Financial Year 2013-14 Allocation(£m)||Financial Year Allocation 2014-15 (£m)|
|Middle East and North Africa (MENA)||39||60*|
|Strengthening Alliances and Partnerships (SAP)||10||12|
|Early Action Facility (EAF)||20||20*|
|*£5 million has been pre-committed from the £20 million EAF to the MENA programme ** Includes over commitment of available resources by £3.3 million|
The Middle East and North Africa programme (MENA) included additional resources for the crises in Syria and Libya as well as their regional consequences. Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq also received funding. The Africa programme included funding for Somalia, Nigeria, the Sahel region, North and South Sudan, Zimbabwe, East and Central Africa, and with the African Union.
The 2015 SDSR included provision for the £1.5 Billion Joint Security Fund and other changes to overseas development assistance parameters.
From the Commons Library a description of the funding landscape for confict prevention, Changing parameters of Overseas Development Assistance
In a significant move, ODA was now to be used to serve the national interest.
The Conflict, Security and Stability Fund starts up…
It s clear that the UK sees conflict prevention as a significant part of the remit of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and that funding will follow.
What does this tell us?
There is cash available for conflict prevention, serious cash, and that priorities or delivery mechanisms can be changed.
Developing the Capability
The good news is that in seeking to develop a capability to develop other nations air forces to support the conflict prevention agenda is that between the RAF, RN and British Army, the know how already exists. As above, additional capacity can be evolved from a changing view of the use of contractors, sponsored reserves, former service personnel and commercial organisations.
Developing an airborne capability starts on the ground; airfield facilities constructions, engineering support, logistics, operations planning, escape and evasion, air traffic control, fuel management and other support functions.
On the Ground
Each nation will start from a different point, Sierra Leone and Nigeria may be close geographically but some distance apart in terms of air forces. It would make sense to have a regionally focussed core capability that is supplemented with country specific groups.
And so the first area to consider is the ‘ground components’, everything from whiteboards to remote airstrip fuel storage and dispensing. A composite field engineering and airfield construction squadron, together with and air operations wing would be the core onto which individual country operations would be attached.
The overall capability and capacity building programme would be tailored for each country and this core capability supplemented with contractors and other organisations as the programme develops. Again, the intent is to develop national capability, not do everything for them, so not only would knowledge transfer but also equipment and facilities.
This latter point is an important one, assets would be transferred to the country in question, and new ones purchased going forward. There is also an opportunity for defence exports, some of the equipment may be manufactured in the UK.
Defence engagement has a stated role in supporting the UK prosperity agenda.
Some of the ground elements could be housed in demountable and rapidly constructed equipment such as Rubb Shelters and the Deployable Engineering Workshop for example. The Deployable Engineer Workshop (DEW), supplied by G3 Systems, supports Royal Engineer artisan trades such as carpenters, fabricators, welders, fitter machinist’s, builders, structural finishers, electricians , utilities engineers and petroleum engineers. All the containers and shelters are supplied by Ably Shelters (Denholm Defence), the RACU and EXTENDA being specific examples.
Of course, these trades would need to change, instead of a carpenter, an avionics technician for example. The principle is sound though, deployable self contained systems that can be used whilst more permanent infrastructure is being developed.
The MoD has a well-established relationship with Rubb UK, fabric building specialists.
Rubb produce a number of different products for port warehousing and their specialist military range, the EFASS (Expeditionary Forces Aircraft Shelter System). EFASS can be used for storage, as a hangar for aircraft or temperature controlled maintenance space. It is available in 11.1m, 20.4m and 25 m spans with typical lengths up to 100m. Power, heating and cooling options are available, as are a range of doors, double skin fabrics and other ancillaries. They are quick to erect, with a 25m x 100m shelter built in 13 days, and not overly expensive.
Fuel storage and dispensing (Fluid Transfer Ltd), navigation aids and control facilities are also available in containerised and/or vehicular form
Operational planning, developing air navigation and survey information, personnel management and logistics will all need space, power and computing facilities.
As an example, the Nigerian Air Force has recently established a helicopter maintenance capability as part of its Aeronautical Engineering and Technical Services (AETS) capability, it is exactly this kind of development we could support with a combination of second user equipment, expertise and finance.
So even before we can consider aircraft, there are a huge variety of other things to sort out.
There might be a desire to move quickly past these essential ‘back office’ functions and go straight to F-16’s but developing air power has to be seen as a multi-year effort that starts on the ground.
In the Air
For nations that have little or no existing capability, air transport and surveillance and reconnaissance are likely to offer the greatest and most cost effective means of improving security and stability. Working in conjunction with land and maritime forces, a single aircraft type may be all that is needed.
Countering illegal fishing, counter poaching, medical evacuation, light transport and surveillance are all easily delivered by simple aircraft like the Britten Norman Defender or Cessna Caravan. These can also be used for national geomatics, surveying, agriculture and flood prevention.
Where the current capability is next to nothing, even something we might ordinarily consider rudimentary can make a significant difference.
General Purpose Single Engined
Widely used for basic light cargo and passenger transport in wilderness locations, a number of manufacturers have also adapted them to surveillance ad other specialist roles. What characterises these is there very low cost, rugged construction, simplicity and low running costs. These results in a sustainable capability for an emerging air force.
We do have to be realistic about capability though, they are unsuited for anything but the most permissive of environments, generally unarmed and certainly limited in speed, carrying capacity and general sophistication.
Mahindra Airvan 8
Manufactured in Australia the Gippsland Aeronautics (Mahindra Aerospace) GA8 Airvan is a simple single engine utility aircraft with a payload of approximately 600kg or 7 passengers.
The Airvan 8 has a very low operating cost and can be fitted with a cargo pod, a pod that can carry a retractable EO sensor. Maximum endurance is 8 hours and it can take off (50ft obstacle) in 480m and land in 490m.
If extreme short take-off and landing are key performance requirements there are a couple of other options, the Pilatus Porter and the Pacific Aerospace P-750.
Pacific Aerospace P-750
From New Zealand, the P-750 has incredible short take-off and landing performance. With a payload of 1.8 tonnes is can carry more than the Airvan 8, although like the Airvan 8, can carry an under fuselage cargo pod. At maximum weight, take off distance is less than 250m, or 30m less than the length of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier (just sayin!). Landing distance is 160m.
The undercarriage is designed for semi prepared airstrips with simple maintenance requirements, endurance is 8 hours and the basic design has been used for a wide variety of roles, 10 seat passenger carrying or fire fighting and aerial survey for example.
The well known Pilatus PC-6 Porter has a long track record in utility and special mission roles, carrying up to 10 passengers or a large electro optical payload with downlink and onboard processing systems.
The PC-6 has a maximum payload of 1,000kg and is an extremely rugged aircraft. Because it is a mature design there are many options and role fits available, everything from skis and floats to a extensive medical evacuation systems. Take off distance is 200m or 440m with a 50ft obstacle, landing is 130m or 315m with a 50ft obstacle.
Specialist Surveillance Aircraft
With a highly evolved systems architecture, a number of specialist surveillance only designs are available. They lack the general utility and austere operating capabilities of the those described above, but extended endurance, power management and multiple sensor locations means they have greater utility where surveillance is the prime requirement.
Again, they are not intended for hostile environments but provide much lower operating costs than helicopters, or likely, unmanned systems.
How cheap to you want to go, how about a second hand Seabird Seeker for less than £90k?
The Seeker started out in Australia, the product of Seabird Aviation, Queensland Australia.
The owners (Don and Peter Adams) noted an upcoming niche for a low cost airborne observation aircraft and the first SB7L-360 Seeker flew in 1993, just over ten years after the Seabird Rousabout flew (a similar but smaller aircraft). Seabird also recognised that despite many light observation tasks being fulfilled by helicopters those helicopters flew from conventional airfields and did not use vertical flight or hovering, instead, low speed safe operation was the most important factor. With operating costs at least a third lower than for even the cheapest of helicopters the Seeker was a modest commercial success in the pipeline and power cable monitoring markets, environmental protection and security sectors.
A number of improvements were made in 2003 and the Seeker 2 bought into production. This coincided with a joint venture in Jordan being formed with the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB). Trials were carried out focussing on border patrol and road surveillance including operations from austere location, as can be seen from the image below, refuelling does not need much in the way of specialist equipment!
A couple of them were supplied to the Iraqi Air Force, equipped with FLIR 8600 surveillance systems. Flight costs were claimed to sub $100 per hour
It can take off in just over 250m and land in under 200m, endurance between 4 and 7 hours (depending on speed) and be fitted with a range of mission equipment and sensors, including the Thales iMaster SAR system as used on Watchkeeper. The cockpit is NVG compatible and a down link can transmit imagery to receivers up to 100km away. In 2013 the USA supplied a dozen Seekers to the Yemeni Border Guard. Manned aircraft like the Seeker look nothing like a Predator and in some circumstances, that is a very good thing. They are cheap to operate and capable of being used by less advanced forces without the technical and logistic depth enjoyed by others.
New aircraft, fitted with all the military bells and whistles, came in at less than a million pounds in 2003 but for the Yemeni purchase of 12 aircraft, the US DoD paid $27m including pilot and sensor operator training, a maintainer and Field Service Representatives (FSRs) and an initial provisioning of spares, detailed in the request.
The Seabird Seeker reminds me of the Edgley Optica trialled by the Army in Northern Ireland.
As a starter aircraft for use in totally permissive environments and to provide surveillance and reconnaissance at an extremely low cost (capital and running), there is not much wrong with the Seeker.
In 2009 it was announced that the MoD would be operating a couple of Diamond DA42MPP aircraft in the UK and overseas. The MoD had earlier contracted with DO Systems in 2008 for a surveillance capability in Iraq whilst other aircraft were bought into service. A pair of DA 42’s flew over 2,000 hours in support of UK operations whilst another was used for training. They were equipped with the FLIR Systems Star Safire III.
The DA42 is a lightweight twin turboprop designed for aerial sensing which has a long endurance and extremely low capital/operating costs. Operated by civilian contractors on a lease they reportedly performed well although their small size and lack of crew facilities made extended duration missions not particularly comfortable in the hot weather conditions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
For the British Army in Kenya, 3DSL have provided Diamond DA42’s in the role of surrogate unmanned air vehicles.
Originally designed as a light utility and training aircraft its key features were low operating costs and its use of diesel engines.
A number of third party integrators have modified the DA42 to meet requirements as diverse as aerial cinematography, mapping and radar sensing. The basic model is the DA-42 NG, capable of operating with a payload of 470kg at 5,500m altitude and range of 2,00 km. A couple of special mission variants use the basic NG as a base platform, the DA42 MPP Guardian and DA42 MPP Geostar. The Geostar is optimised for mapping and survey missions whilst the Guardian has a more general purpose role that can accept a variety of sensors in the nose pod and under fuselage belly pod.
Both special mission have similar performance to the NG, 12 hours endurance although typical missions are between 6 and 8 hours.
Niger operate a pair of DA-42 MPP’s in support of counter narcotics operations and border security that utilise the Zeiss Goshawk 350 mission system with a range of the usual suspect sensors and data links. Read the brochure here
In 2013 Thales and Diamond integrated the I Master Synthetic Aperture Radar with the DA-42. The 32Kg 620W Thales I-Master / Viper (Ku-band 12.5 to 18 GHz) synthetic aperture radar / ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) was eventually selected for Watchkeeper. I-Master was developed from the Racal POD SAR and includes technology from the Searchwater radar. It can rotate trough 360 degrees operate up to 20km in strip mode and 15km in spot mode, able to detect slow moving targets such as vehicles or people out to 20km.
There are four GMTI operating modes (sector, 360 degree, tracking and spotlight) and two for SAR (strip and spotlight). GMTI is extremely useful for change detection, showing patterns of life and tracks for example, the same kind of capability as delivered by the RAF’s Reaper and Sentinel (and RN Crowsnest) systems. I Master also has a number of new maritime modes.
The Airborne Sensing website shows the range of payloads that have been proven on the DA-42, shamelessly lifted and shown below, just to demonstrate the wide variety of already integrated systems available.
|EO/IR Cameras||Airbus DS Optronics||LEO II
|General Dynamics||V-Series (e.g. V9 MS, V14 HD, V14 MSII)|
|FLIR Systems||Star SAFIRE 380-HD
Star SAFIRE 380-HDi
Star SAFIRE HD
Star SAFIRE III
Corona 350 II
|EXELIS (a HARRIS company)||CorvusEye 1500|
|Broadcasting Cameras||General Dynamics||Cineflex V14|
|GSS Gyro-Stabilized Systems||C516|
|Leonardo (a Finmecanica company)||Picosar
|COMINT Systems||Ability Computer & Software Systems||IBIS Airborne|
|Rohde & Schwarz||Airborne COMINT|
|Airborne Laser Scanners||RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems||LMS-Q680
|Photogrammetry||Optimare||VIS Line Scanner|
|SPECIM Spectral Imaging||aisaFENIX|
|VEXCEL Imaging (a Microsoft company)||UltraCam Series|
PAV80 gyro-stabilized mount
|Flight Inspection Systems||Airfield Technology||AT-940|
|Data Transmission LOS
(Line of Sight)
|Wood & Douglas||DVMO|
|Silvus Technologies||Stream Caster MIMO|
|Data Transmission BLOS
(Beyond Line of Sight)
|Diamond Aircraft Industries||Kopernikus “Internet in the Sky”|
|Scotty Group||Scotty Aero System|
|Gilat Satellite Networks||BlackRay 71|
|Radio Communication||Rohde & Schwarz||R&S®M3AR Software Defined Radios|
|BendixKing by Honeywell||KTR 909 UHF Communication|
|Barrett Communications||2050 HF SSB|
|Moving Map & Task Management Systems||Euroavionics||EuroNav 7
|Churchill Navigation||ARS Augmented Reality System|
|Network, Recording & HID||Diamond Aircraft Industries||ABACUS 2.0 Mission Computer|
|AVALEX Technologies||Rugged displays and recorders|
|roda Computer||Rugged networking and computers|
|Rosen Aviation||High-definition airborne displays|
|Customized Equipment||PIDSO||Customized antennas|
In addition the the I Master and Elbit CoMPASS (as Watchkeeper) there is the Seaspray 500E for maritime patrol applications and the Rohde & Schwarz COMINT system.
The Rohde & Schwarz COMINT system;
DO Systems have recently integrated the Satlink Hawkeye Beyond Line of Sight Datalink with the Thrane and Thrane (now Cobham) Aviator 300 satelite antenna which is claimed to transmit video transmission at speeds as low as 6Kbs
It is this flexibility and low cost that has seen the DA42 achieve such widespread adoption, even in niche areas like RPAS and fast jet training surrogate for land forces.
The Tecnam P2006 might be on the small side with a modest payload of just less than 150kg but capital and operating costs are very low, it is claimed they have the lowest operating costs of any similar aircraft. Tecnam have developed two variants, the maritime patrol MRI and more general purpose SMP
Tecnam have partnered with Airborne Technologies to develop a number of role fits for the P2006.
The slightly larger Vulcanair Aviator. The National Police Aviation Service awarded a contract to deliver a Vulcanair P86R fixed surveillance aircraft to the Austrian company, Airborne Technologies. The standard airframe costs less than £750k. NPAS had previously trialled the Tecnam MMA aircraft, another of the new breed of advanced low-cost twins.
These do not have the short field and austere location performance of the Seeker or the single engined utility types but as a trade off, running costs are low and the sensor fits are much more sophisticated. Typical missions include maritime safety, fisheries protection, maritime oil fields protection, marine environmental protection, drugs interdiction, Illegal immigration interdiction and search and rescue.
Britten Norman Defender
The Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force operate a number of light turboprop aircraft, the oldest of these are the Britten Norman Islander and Defenders. Although they might not be considered the most modern of designs they have an excellent track record of service throughout the world and all conditions. Cheap, versatile, stable and easy to maintain, their defining characteristic is ruggedness.
In September 2016, Janes reported that the Army Air Corps fleet of Islanders and Defenders would be transferred to the RAF as part of cost saving measures.
In UK service, the BN Defenders have an out of service date of 2035.
This means they are supported until then and Britten Norman funded, improving their export opportunities can only mean good things for those aircraft in servuce with the MoD.
Beechcraft King Air 350
The Beechcraft King Air 350 hits the sweet spot for payload, speed, endurance, cost, ease of systems integration and deployability. It is widely used in the surveillance, communications/signals intelligence and reconnaissance roles by many nations. The latest customer is France, committing to a pair in the SIGINT and IMINT roles, replacing their C-160 Transall ‘Gabriel’ aircraft.
The RAF Shadow R.1 is based on King Air 350 platform, an aircraft that has seen widespread use since introduced a few years ago for service in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The basic aircraft has a massive user base (over 6,000 aircraft), is safe and reliable with proven performance and great adaptability. It has a high top speed, plenty of endurance and payload (for sensors, DAS and Comms) and pressurised cabin, perfectly suited to the role.
If a sensor is available, chances are there is a King Air flying with one.
The USAF first used King Air’s in the mid 70’s and designated them RC-12’s. Since then the aircraft has evolved and a number of integrators have taken the basic aircraft and stuffed them full of all manner of sensors, mission equipment and communications gear. This image below from Northrop Grumman shows the evolution of the US Army Guardrail aircraft from the RU-21E in 1971 to the RC-12 Super X (Multi Intel) in 2014.
There are thought to be over 25 different King Air ISTAR variants in service with the most recent version (in US service) called the EMARSS.
Although endurance at 8 hours is lower than many unmanned systems they can haul over a tonne of payload at high altitudes and higher speeds.
Some of the more exotic systems found on various King Air 350’s include WAAS equipment, Hyper Spectral Imaging Systems, Wide Area Motion Imaging (WAMI), LIDAR systems; FOLiage PENetrating (FOPEN) radar, GMTI/SAR, hyper-spectral sensors, ELINT/SIGINT systems, communications systems, and datalinks.
The Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS-M) is from L-3 Mission Integration is a conversion of the MC-12W project Liberty configured aircraft and includes;
Like Shadow R1, the EMARSS-M includes an extensive self-protection system that enables it to operate in much more dangerous airspace than the types described above. The M variant will join a further three types, each equipped with different combinations of sensors and signals exploitation equipment.
The sophistication of the mission systems combined with this self-protection capability pushes the price of these aircraft up significantly but they are still affordable for emerging nations.
Leonardo-Finmeccanica announced at FIA2016 it had been selected to supply a pair of King Air 350 based surveillance aircraft for an unnamed African customer.
Click HERE to read more about the ATOS mission system.
L-3 also have a King Air platform called SPYDR-II
The foliage penetrating radar is especially useful for tracking personnel.
What characterises all the aircraft described above is they are unarmed. If an offensive capability is required, they can be used to cue other aircraft or land fires, but if an organic offensive capability is needed, an armed aircraft is needed, obviously.
Arming an aircraft does not necessarily mean the aircraft only becomes affordable for the most technologically advanced force but is does drive the price up.
Cessna Grand Caravan
In Iraq, the US and Iraqi forces made great use of the Cessna 208 Combat Caravan.
The Combat Caravan is a modified variant of the 1980’s vintage Cessna Grand Caravan, an aircraft in widespread use throughout the world.
The Combat Caravan was designed and built by ATK and includes an AAR-47/ALE-47 Defensive Aids System with composite armour panels for key areas. The ATK STAR mission system is integrated with a Wescam MX15D EO/IR sensor and a range of communication systems.
The icing on the cake is a pair of hardpoints used to mount Hellfire II missiles.
- AC-208 Combat Caravan 1
- AC-208 Combat Caravan 2
- AC-208 Combat Caravan 3
- AC-208 Combat Caravan 4
- AC-208 Combat Caravan Video
Iraq has 3 in service and Jordan, 2 with the UAE also purchasing a handful. Lebanon also has 3 in service
Costs are reportedly sub $15m per aircraft
Armed Turboprop Trainer and Converted Agricultural Aircraft
In January 2016, the first of 20 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft arrived in Afghanistan for their Air Force. The competition against the AT-6 was widely reported and repeating it would be superfluous but both aircraft are broadly similar, although the Super Tucano is already in service with a number of nations.
A lower cost approach has been pioneered by Air Tractor and Iomax, taking what are agricultural aircraft used for crop dusting and converting them for combat aviation roles.
The 802U has a payload of 3.6 tonnes and can operate from austere locations, much like the Archangel. With a variety of sensors and weapons, both are claimed to be able to cover a multitude of armed and unarmed missions.
These converted agricultural aircraft have only seen limited success in the defence role.
Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Attack (AHRLAC) aircraft
In Africa, the Paramount Group and Aerosud have taken a different approach and created the Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Attack (AHRLAC) aircraft to a new design. What sets the AHRLAC apart is the simple fact it has been designed in Africa for low-cost operations from austere locations, it should also be noted that Paramount is developing the aircraft with its own money.
It has a sophisticated sensor and mission system and is clearly aimed at the combat end of the combat ISTAR spectrum. The design is reminiscent of the OV-10 Bronco or Cessna 337, a pusher propeller configuration and tandem cockpit. It has 7 hours plus mission endurance with 800kg payload and full fuel. Take off distance is 550m with a full payload. The high wing and pusher propeller configuration help with operation from austere locations it can self-deploy with tools and equipment stored in the lower pod.
This lower pod takes up the majority of the lower half of the fuselage and can be configured for different payloads from SAR, EO to EW and Cargo. Each wing has 3 hardpoints, 1 of which is plumbed for fuel.
It is still at a relatively early stage of development but it has many advantages over trainer derived light attack aircraft like the Super Tucano or re-purposed crop dusters like the Iomax Archangel, it has been purpose designed for the mission, whether that mission is anti-poaching or close air support. Another key point is the options list that can take the basic platform and add a range of sensors, weapons, engine upgrades, avionics and weapons.
Work continues on bringing AHRLAC to market and it has been reported that it has at least two launch customers. The second development aircraft is likely to take its first flight towards the end of 2016. This second development aircraft will have a number of enhancements; conformal fuel tanks on the tail booms, larger displays screens and a lighter fuselage.
Although these would probably be at the top end of capability for this application they are an obvious choice for the more developed nations. The evergreen BAE Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer has orders out to 2018 and a recent story from AIN confirmed that BAE and HAL are working on a further developed version with a new wing that would improve performance, particularly in short field operations.
Also discussed were armament options including precision guided bombs and Brimstone missiles, additional sensors and digital cockpit improvements.
Perhaps the Hawk could go on beyond 2018?
There is also the Textron Scorpion to consider, although both are probably beyond the scope of this proposal.
One to watch.
Larger Transport Aircraft
An essential element of air power is transport.
For a developing air force, air transportation is essential, and probably much more achievable in the early stages. Although the light utility types described above can provide light transport facilities, larger aircraft offer much more.
Viking Twin Otter
Viking of Canada recently resurrected production of the venerable DHC Twin Otter and have been getting some serious orders from customers as diverse as the Vietnamese Navy and Zimex Aviation in Switzerland. The Series 400 has many improvements over the old model and its versatility is obvious; wheels floats or skis and the environmental hardening to operate in these diverse environments mean its legendary toughness has been retained.
Viking also proposed the Guardian 400 specifically for the surveillance, security, sovereignty and search and rescue market that has an extended range fuel tank (10 hour operations) and an electro-optical and infrared imaging turret which can be displayed on either the flight deck Honeywell Primus Apex Multi Function Display, or on a separate cabin console. The Guardian 400 will be equipped with 4 crew observation stations, rescue equipment drop hatch, air operable cargo door, search light, and a galley with adjacent lavatory and not forgetting, 4 wing hard points for additional stores are also fitted.
Back to the basic model, it is as cheap as chips.
The Vietnamese Navy order works out at about $5 million Canadian each and that includes initial training and logistics. The target airframe cost is less than $4 million Canadian. Doing some rounding, that’s about £3.5 million pounds including training. The latest float version is called the 400S and is being marketed at US$6 million.
In passenger configuration it has 19 seats and carrying only cargo, just under 2 tonnes payload with cargo rollers and a large door. Fuselage life is 66,000 hours and short field performance is legendary.
Airbus CASA C212
Like the Twin Otter, the CASA C212 has a long heritage and many hundreds in service. The Series 400 is now produced by Indonesian Aerospace as the NC212
With a payload of just under 3 tonnes, it has greater lift capacity than the Twin Otter and features a rear cargo ramp for ease of loading and unloading. Take off distance is 390m and landing, 270m.
Higher up the chain is the obvious C-235 and even C-27J, the Polish M28 might also be considered.
Although they are no longer produced, there are still plenty available on the second hand market and given they were designed for relatively austere locations (the mining industry in Australia is currently a large user), might be an interesting addition to the catalogue.
A 2012 press release from the MoD and BAE announced the Release to Service of the two former TNT BAE 146 regional transport aircraft to 32 (The Royal) Squadron, RAF, after being modified by Hawker Beechcraft Services in Broughton under contract from BAE Systems in Prestwick under a £15.5 million deal.
The 146 is actually an impressive aircraft and still in widespread service, including with the RAF. BAE has continually tried to interest buyers in more military oriented versions equipped with inflight refuelling probes and rear ramps with the latest effort called the 146M.
The BAE 146-200QC aircraft is the QC variant, or Quick Change (or Quiet Conversion depending on who you talk to). This means they had a cargo door and cargo floor system in addition to windows which means they can be used in either the passenger or cargo role, providing exactly the kind of flexibility needed.
The 3.33m x1.93m cargo door allows easy loading of pallets and containers. Pallets can be either for cargo or palletised seating which means the entire cargo floor can be used in a mixed configuration, either 94 seats with galley and toilets, 6 pallets or a mix of the two to a maximum cargo payload of just over 10 tonnes. The C3’s can use palletised luggage container from VRR in the Netherlands. These forklift-able palletised cargo containers will allow the 54 personnel seated on palletised seating to self-load their equipment and luggage, it being carried on the same deck.
In addition to a new paint job the aircraft have been modified to include appropriate military communications equipment (HF, UHF and SATCOM), Raytheon Successor Identification Friend or Foe (SIFF), an armoured flight deck, fuel tank inerting, upgrades to the air conditioning and significantly, a full Defensive Aids System or DAS to Theatre Entry Specification. The DAS fit comprises a Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) turret under the nose and tail and countermeasure flare launchers similar, one would assume, to those found on the other pair of 146’s in service with the RAF, the CC2’s.
Two transport aircraft with all the trimmings (including DAS) for £15 million seems like excellent value for money.
The BAE 146 is a rugged and flexible aircraft, quiet with a good short field performance and low noise level designed for small regional airports and decent range for the class. As mentioned above, Cobham Aviation are making extensive use of BAE 146’s in unpaved operations, servicing the Australian mining industry. The aircraft have been modified with gravel protection kits and other modifications.
The aircraft is clearly versatile and still highly valued.
In August 2016, it was reported that BAE were considering a possible launch of a Passenger to Freight conversion for civilian Avro RJ’s
Other transport aircraft types are available, mostly ex-Russian types or newer Chinese models.
This is a proposal based on the following beliefs;
ONE; That the UK Government has a wholly sensible and integrated strategy for Building Stability Overseas that uses resources from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.
TWO; That this strategy is backed with cash and a not inconsiderable amount of cash.
THREE; Air Power, in all its forms, can magnify activities conducted on the ground and offer unique advantages that exploit the key attributes of air power; height, speed and reach.
FOUR; For a number of reasons, the RAF currently focus on Defence Engagement on a non-enduring basis and with overseas nations that are generally more technologically advanced than those the British Army (and to extent the Royal Navy) work with.
So, this is a proposal for SDSR 2020
That proposal is to establish an enduring and air focussed defence engagement capability with the objective of building stability overseas and crucially, can work at the lower end of the capability spectrum on an enduring basis to build a SUSTAINABLE national capability.
It is this last sentence that lies at the core of this proposal, the ability to apply the undoubted advantageous of air power but at a lower cost on an enduring basis.
A central core would consist of regular personnel from the RAF, FAA and AAC but this would be relatively small. Grafted onto this would be personnel from NGO’s, other nations, DFiD, FCO and former service personnel on a contractor or sponsored reserve basis.
By having a flexible and creative approach to manning, the capability can be delivered on a sustainable and economical basis without placing more stress on organisations that are already under severe manning stress.
Once the core staff have been established, each country would have a dedicated team that in conjunction with the overseas government/ministries defines a long term plan to establish and/or improve their air power capability. This plan would be based on an assessment of current capabilities and aspirations. It does have to be realistic though, and this may well be a significant and delicate challenge but that is why we have diplomats!
Moving forward in partnership, underpinned by guaranteed funding through ODA, gifting and long-term loans, each nation plan would have a different start and end point.
The start point will probably begin on the ground in all the boring but essential subjects of logistics, operations planning, engineering, communications, airfield construction, instrumentation, documentation, intelligence and of course, training. Much of this training and development can be carried out in the UK.
Creating appropriate facilities and infrastructure is then the next step, again, we can carry this out in conjunction with local construction companies and resources, supplemented with selected equipment and expertise from the UK public and private sector.
One the building blocks are in place, aircraft and operations come next.
The diagrams above show a range of roles that exist on a spectrum; safety, security and combat. In lower threat environments, the safety and security areas encompass everything from search and rescue to mapping, counter poaching and illegal fishing interdiction, medical evacuation and light transport. As threats increase, more combat oriented roles emerge as being of importance.
I have specifically excluded unmanned and rotary from this proposal because of a combination of complexity and cost issues but both would have a role, even a role that makes more sense than fixed wing, perhaps a Part 2 post!
As I have shown above, there are many aircraft choices that reflect differing roles and capabilities, each having a different support burden. Some of these aircraft are very cheap, some less so, but look at the numbers involved with ODA projects from DFiD’s tracker, click here, £266m for Nigeria, £75m for Sierra Leone, £160m for DRC, £184m for Tanzania, £40m for Lebanon and £300m for Ethiopia.
My point is a simple one, we can use joint ODA and Security Assistance funding to establish and maintain air capabilities that contribute to safety, security and stability disproportionate to the costs involved, especially if we have a modest outlook and pick appropriate equipment.
Is that a Good ThingTM