A Clever Lightbulb and the Increasing Cost of Military Equipment

Oxley lights

Whilst Chris has raised an issue about defence economics a couple of news items today struck me as pretty indicative of why the West is pricing itself out of military conflict.

First up was from ADS and covered the internal lighting arrangements for the Foxhound Light protected Vehicle

The article describes the light

Foxhound (above) is equipped with intelligent internal lights – intelligent by design and intelligent in application. In physical terms the LED technology means they are very low profile – giving more headroom for the soldiers travelling in the vehicle. As back door opens the light goes from white down to red – NVIS friendly capability in a single compact unit.

The DC Combi light has a rugged design which provides excellent resistance to shock and vibration and provides high reliability in the field. The light is a ‘fit and forget solution’ as there is no requirement to replace bulbs or tubes and it has a MTBF of over 50,000 hours

We have already seen how stuffed full of kit Foxhound is, situational awareness, communications, counter IED and power management equipment has contributed to what is an outstanding vehicle but one that costs a million quid each.

British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior

Simple it aint.

Oxley, the company who make the lights are an old British company innovating and doing well in their field, who can argue with the MoD working with British SME’s to provide a smart solution, a light that switches between white and red and doesn’t need maintenance.

Anyone remember those old penthouse lights, red was achieved by colouring in the lens cover with a felt pen!

When you look at this you cannot argue with the intent, but somewhere somehow the requirements process has resulted in a custom designed light fitting with all manner of clever stuff where before a felt tip pen and/or a manual switch might have done.

The article also goes on to describe how Oxley are also developing (i.e. a bespoke design) the prototype for FRES Scout

Oxley is also developing prototype lighting solutions for the General Dynamics Scout SV. This includes interior DC Combi dual mode crew lighting and the Gooseneck LED task light designed and manufactured to meet LED Defence Standard 59-411, and Land Class A and B EMC benchmark for UK military equipment

DEF STAN 59-411 is all about electromagnetic compatibility which is designed, for example, to stop an electrical piece of equipment messing with another, say a fuse mechanism, so all well and good. Do a spot of Googling on 59-411 and you will find a minefield (no pun intended) of information about comparisons with US standards, EU standards, product marking and technical documentation.

No wonder a light fitting is so expensive.

A wise chap from the USA said this a while ago

If we keep designing ever more exotic, ever more expensive ships, we’re going to unilaterally disarm

Given the USN’s track record it might surprise you to see who said it but the point is well made and applies across the board.

Whilst we are over in the USA the second story that caught my eye was about the unmanned K-Max.

I have followed this project since it started, posts here, here, here and here

What appealed was the simple and rugged helicopter starting point joined with relatively simple technology to make it remotely piloted. The K-Max was never going to be a utility helicopter or a multi role gunship, it was designed specifically for heavy lift and operating in harsh conditions without the constant support, almost Russian you might say.

The unmanned K-Max’s have been doing sterling work in Afghanistan, confounding the critics and astounding its supporters in equal measure.

The reason, a simple requirement.

OK, so one crashed a few weeks ago but the cost benefit equation is still in its favour.

But the temptation to improve, tweak and ‘add value’ was too much to resist.

So now we have more development work.

This includes;

A Wescam MX-10 hi-def EO/IR sensor was installed and a Ku-band satcom antenna mounted below the K-Max’s intermeshing rotors. A waveform was developed that avoided blockage by the rotating blades by “shooting the signal between rotor cycles, to go between the blades,” the company says.

The dynamic mission replanning demo involved uploading a no-fly zone direct to the air vehicle in flight. The aircraft sensed the obstacle directly ahead, and automatically replanned around it.

Also demonstrated was obstacle avoidance and landing-zone selection using a Fairchild Controls Hellas lidar to autonomously check the landing-zone slope, detect obstacles and select a safe area to drop the cargo.

Simple now becomes complex, newly developed waveforms to shoot EO signals between the rotor blades to a satellite for example.

I don’t have the answer, I am not saying Foxhound should not have a light that automatically switches from white to red or that the K-Max shouldn’t have an MX10 turret but just that it is easy to see why defence equipment costs so much and why we are only able to afford so little of it.

Again, think about what Ray Mabus said (bugger, given the game away)

Don’t fixate on these two examples, they are just illustrations but answer me this;

Can the West design and bring into service any major military equipment that is as simple as what precedes it or have we institutionalised complexity and the inevitable up escalator of costs and down stairway of quantity?


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