Roll on Roll Off in the Sky

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In our many conversations about utilising one airframe or the other to cover a broader mission set the subject of roll on roll off systems has often been raised.

There are many possibilities but the ones we have discussed most are airborne armed reconnaissance, some form of long range bomb truck and maritime patrol. The donor aircraft on top of most lists are the A400 and C130J. There are other possibilities also, SIGINT and electronic warfare/PSYOPS for example.

Why Bother?

That is actually the most relevant question, before we even start.

The argument goes something like this;

Take a utility airframe (usually tactical transport) and use it for more than its original role, thus increasing fleet utilisation and reducing costs overall.

We live in a multi purpose world;

multi purpose

Arguments can be made that a dedicated device is always better than the master of none multi purpose devices.

A digital SLR camera will take much better images than the camera on a smartphone which is why professional photographers still use them but the professional photographer represents a tiny percentage of the number of people that want to take a photograph.

What you get with the smartphone is convenience and ease of use but above all, you get a reduction of cost.

It is the 80/20 dilemma, the professional needs the 20% so pays the dividend but for the vast majority of people, 20% of the cost with 80% of the functionality is a compelling proposition.

The question therefore, is a very simple one.

Can the military afford to be in that 20% 100% of the time, or, can a reduction in capability be accepted for the allure of those big savings.

I don’t have the answer and neither do I have the answer on the question of whether utilising the A400M as a Nimrod replacement would actually be cheaper but it is an intriguing question nonetheless.

Senior Scout and Harvest Hawk

This concept of roll on roll off modular system is not revolutionary, it has been done before;

In 1991, as U.S. forces prepared for Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force was busy preparing to debut a new airborne intelligence system. Aircrew operators rolled a giant gray metal box – one that looked like a railroad freight car or a shipping container – out onto a runway, where a specially-modified C-130 was waiting. The container fit snugly into the Hercules’ cargo deck and quietly came to life.

Inside that plain-looking metal box was one of the most sophisticated tactical intelligence command centers on the planet. Holding a small team of analysts and packed to the gills with special computers, antenna, sensors and processors, the box turned a C-130 into an airborne intelligence cell, capable of harvesting an ocean of critical information about the adversary, and then sharing that information with allied troops across the battlefield.

Senior Scout, as the container was called, started as a research project in Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics division in 1986. Just five years later, it would be called into service during Operation Desert Storm. A suite of signals intelligence (SIGINT) technology built into a trailer-like unit and loaded onto a C-130 aircraft, Senior Scout allowed the United States Air Force to collect information on enemy tactical forces and quickly disseminate that information to allies in the field. Data that once took weeks to reach soldiers, marines and sailors was now available in a matter of hours.

Another quote on its performance;

On 8th June 2008 a SENIOR SCOUT crew departed Karshi-Khanaba Air Base, Uzbekistan, en route to Zabul and Uruzgan provinces located in south central Afghanistan. When they arrived they discovered the 22nd MEU surrounded by 120 insurgents. SCOUT operators quickly and efficiently passed critical intelligence to the marines. Within 90 seconds of being made aware of the danger they pinpointed three targets for tactical strikes and identified escape routes. When the battle subsided more than 80 insurgents were dead with only minor injuries sustained by the marines.

This isn’t some exotic aircraft, it is a C130 truck.

The basic concept of roll on roll off systems has been developed by Lockheed Martin with their Vigilant Hawk proposal which expands on the Harvest Hawk and secret squirrel hyper spectral imaging Shadow Harvest programmes.

There is also the Senior Scout product.

From the Senior Scout product page

Senior Scout is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system built into a trailer-like container that can be rolled on and off C-130 aircraft. This ISR suite of equipment rapidly configures standard C-130 aircraft for tactical signals intelligence, providing capabilities that exploit, geo-locate and report communications intelligence and signals of interest to air and ground component commanders

Senior Scout has COMINT, SIGINT and ELINT operators and as the description above, the cabin simply plugs in with the antennas already having been fitted

Senior Scout Signal Intelligence C130 Hercules
Senior Scout Signal Intelligence C130 Hercules
Senior Scout Signal Intelligence C130 Hercules
Senior Scout Signal Intelligence C130 Hercules
Senior Scout Loading
Senior Scout Loading
Senior Scout Loading
Senior Scout Loading

The USMC has also been exploring how they can use the Harvest Hawk in different ways and their MAPS/SABIR concept is creating a Direct Airborne Air Support centre by using palletised work stations.

Direct Air Support onboard a C130 Hercules
Direct Air Support onboard a C130 Hercules

Both Harvest Hawk and Senior Scout continue to evolve.

Crew and Systems Accommodation

Any operator consoles, computing, storage and communication equipment would need to be housed in a suitable enclosure.

Although this is not especially technically demanding it does require specialist knowledge owned by a small number of manufacturers.

Knight Aerospace in California is one such company, there are a number of others. The images below show interiors of their modules, from the luxurious to the utilitarian.

Electrical Cabinets and Racks
Electrical Cabinets and Racks
Operator station
Operator station

 

Seating
Seating
VIP
VIP
VIP
VIP
VIP
VIP

There are also a number of manufacturers of crew rest accommodation, a number of them based on palletised solutions.

Crew Rest Module Interior
Crew Rest Module Interior
Crew rest
Crew rest
Crew rest interior
Crew rest interior

Clearly, accommodating personnel (flight crew and mission specialists) in relative comfort is not be a problem, long endurance missions with multiple onboard crews would be possible with galley, toilets and crew rest facilities all within the ‘pod’

With airborne refuelling, record breaking mission endurance would enable serious persistence over an area of interest.

In smaller aircraft, cooling power hungry electronic mission equipment usually creates a significant problems, with a larger aircraft that have much greater internal volume into which to dissipate heat, this could potentially be less of an issue.

As long as the aircraft has sufficient power for electrical and cooling there should be no practical limitations to the kind of systems or mission equipment that can be carried.

Time taken to convert to role, at least for the accommodation module should take no longer than rolling in, securing in, plugging in and conduction checks.

Sensors and Antennas

It is at this point that many start sucking their teeth on the assumption that poking holes into or adding bits onto aircraft is eye wateringly expensive.

I think they have a point but there are options others have explored, doors and pods.

This is genius lateral thinking, instead of changing the aircraft skin, you just change a door.

Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna

The Senior Scout aircraft, being SIGINT focussed, has a plethora of antennae to worry about but as can be seen from the image above, the designers have managed to keep them clustered onto components that can be changed relatively quickly.

More images

Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna
Senior Scout Antenna

Changing the undercarriage and paratroop doors is said to take no longer than 15 hours.

In previous posts both Martin and I have looked at the demountable options provided by Airdyne, as a recap.

The LC-130 ‘Skidbirds’ from the 109th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard have been providing transport facilities to Antarctic stations for decades. There had been a number of aircraft losses due to undetected crevasse formations in the landing and take off areas so in 2006 the New York Air National Guard funded a programme by Sandia Labs to study an X-Band ice penetrating radar that could be mounted on its aircraft, principally the LC-130’s and Twin Otters then used for airborne ice field landing site reconnaissance, prior to landing.

C130 Crevasse Damage
C130 Crevasse Damage
C130 Crevasse Landing
C130 Crevasse Landing

Airdyne created a system that replaced the door with a pylon and integrated operator console.

What this project did (that is related to this post) is prove that a payload pod could be carried on a door mounted arm or stub wing. The benefit of using the paratrooper door is that if the aircraft is unlikely to be recreating the Arnhem landings then the door is somewhat surplus to requirements and represents a decent attachment point because it negates the need for complex airframe integration and can be easily swapped in and out as needs dictate.

It was, and is, is an ingenious solution.

Airdyne Aerospace of Canada and their USA marketing partner (HISShave continued to evolve the basic concept.

Their main product is called SABIR (Special Airborne Mission Installation and Response) and it has a number of components, mounting solutions, integral operator seats, workstations, tube ejectors and the pods themselves.

These choices allows the user to mix and match depending on requirements and because there is no airframe modification they can be tested/integrated off board at a low cost. Various workstations, observer/operator seats and equipment racks can be fitted to the pallet. The pods themselves are attached to the swing arm with it being raised for take-off and landing and lowered when airborne.

Airdyne have a good description for the pods

In essence, SABIR pods are similar to smart phones – all you have to do is select a pod and add your sensor application. Because the pod form factor is already flight rated, customers save cost and schedule by only having to focus on what goes into the pod.

Multiple SABIR systems can be deployed on the same aircraft to maximise sensor variety or ability to observe multiple locations.

The A400M paratrooper door was subject of a great deal of test and modification during the aircraft design phase so this approach would probably not work as well and looking at the A400M door below it is immediately apparent integration would be more complex.

A400M Paratroop Door
A400M Paratroop Door

The basic point remains, door mounted solutions are possible, although perhaps not for complex or bulky sensors on the A400M.

If a side door pod option is less viable for these larger sensors (as opposed to antennas) the aircraft does have two, very large weight capable, plumbed in wing hardpoints.

Which brings us on to the subject of pods.

Putting sensors in pods is pretty much common or garden run of the mill stuff these days, any number are available off the shelves of a number of different manufacturers.

It is not even new.

The SAMPSON pod, amusingly called the Special Avionics Mission Strap On Now, was developed in the mid-eighties and flown on the High Technology Test Bed (HTTB) aircraft.

SAMPSON Pod
SAMPSON Pod
SAMPSON Pod receiving equipment
SAMPSON Pod receiving equipment

SAMPSON was based on a 1,360 gallon external fuel tank modified to take a range of avionics and sensor equipment with a ram air turbine providing the power. Instead of copper cabling the data link used an infra-red transmitter on the side of the pod and a receiver inside the aircraft looking through a passenger window.

It was much like a TV remote control although as the picture below shows, rather larger

The SAMPSON pod was used for many years by to support the Open Skies initiative, click here for a good read on this fascinating subject.

What does this trip down memory lane show, nothing really, apart from the simple fact that mid eighties engineering and systems integration found a way.

Designing and manufacturing sensor pods is not a trivial task but it is not rocket science either and there are organisations out there with the experience and skills to do it.

The US Harvest Hawk programme has demonstrated podded sensors on a large transport aircraft.

Harvest Hawk is an eminently sensible programme driven by the USMC, started in 2008/9, that seeks to squeeze maximum benefit from a common platform, using roll on roll off kits  including podded sensors and weapons that extends the capability of the C130 tanker to include gunship and surveillance.

Defence Industry Daily has maintained a very comprehensive page on the US Marines Harvest Hawk, click here, well worth a read, plenty of great information and images.

Lockheed Martin are proposing a step forward from Harvest Hawk with Vigilant Watch and Vigilant Stare, all variations on the SABIR/SAMPSON podded sensor theme.

Muli Mission Pods
Muli Mission Pods

Lockheed Martin and Airdyne are joined by a number of other manufacturers with sensor pods, everything from the complex Gorgon Stare to the relatively simple Moog ProtectIR pod are available somewhere one someone’s shelf.

Moog ProtectIR Pod
Moog ProtectIR Pod

In fact, when you think about the size and weight of modern sensor systems it is hard to imagine anything that you couldn’t put in one, the very large radar systems perhaps, but beyond that, not sure.

The radar planned to be fitted on the A400M is the Northrop Grumman AN/APN-241 Tactical Transport Radar, the same as fitted to the C130J and C295. This might not be best suited to the maritime patrol role where something like the Selex Seaspray 7500 or Elta EL/M 220 would be more appropriate. This radar was selected by the US Coast Guard for their Hercules HC-130H upgrade programme, it would not be an insurmountable challenge to swap out the APN 241 should it be required and we already have in service members of the Seaspray family of radars.

An Elta EL/M 220 radar as fitted to numerous maritime patrol aircraft, again less than 100kg

Click here to read an Airbus presentation on SAR radar

An airborne AIS transponder and display would allow the crew to take advantage of ships identification transponder information. Even pod mounted searchlights are available off the shelf (we could always reuse those off the Nimrods) and an observer window in the paratroop door might also be possible at very little cost.

Into a standard pod architecture you could snap in combinations to suit, an overland pod might major on multiple electro optical turrets and extensive communications. Instead of the usual single EO turret, a podded solution could easily have 3 or 4 and with something like the BACN communications node.

I like the idea of evolving the capabilities of the aircraft through off-board pods because it allows them to be developed, tested and delivered at its own pace, minimising aircraft downtime and maximising efficiency.

Think of the possibilities.

What was that about payloads not platforms!

Releasable Stores

Weapons and sonobuoys…

If sensors were a tricky problem then releasing weapons and other stores is even more so, especially at higher altitudes.

Weapons designed for essentially, firing straight off a fighter pylon, might easily be adapted to be thrown off a ramp.

For sonobuoys, doors may again be the answer.

Our friends Airdyne has an adapter for releasing single sonobuoys throgh a specially adapted paratroop door.

SABIR Sonobuoy Ejector
SABIR Sonobuoy Ejector

Sonobouys are launched at low and high altitude but the same basic system from Airdyne would be suitable for both.

Nimrod had two rotary dispensers and two single compartment pressurised launchers with storage racks for extra. A door mounted sonobouy dispenser with additional storage elsewhere in the aircraft would at least on face value offer a solution. Telemetry and receiving systems, from Ultra Flightline, would need to be fitted as well.

The problem with this is the accurate dropping of multiple sonobuoys in a pattern, a single tube may not provide the density needed.

A rotary ejector may be adapted for use with such a door mounted arrangement or use could be made of already engineered solutions like the airborne refuelling centreline system.

A400M Centreline AAR Kit
A400M Centreline AAR Kit

If this is not possible a  pod could be used.

A typical A size sonobuoy weighs approximately 15kg, with a payload of 400kg, a pod would be able to carry many.

Weapons provide similar challenges but are generally larger and more sensitive to release configuration. Brimstone missiles for example, need to be fired from the pylon, they do not drop and then fire their motor, as can be seen in this image.

Brimstone Missile Test launch
Brimstone Missile Test launch

Using Brimstone would therefore require open carriage on a pylon, not a problem in itself of course but worth noting.

Other systems such as the MBDA Viper Strike have been launched from ramp adapters and the Harvest Hawk Derringer Door

Harvest Hawk Derringer Door KC 130J
Harvest Hawk Derringer Door KC 130J

There are a number of emerging low weight freefall munitions such as the STM, MBDA Sabre and even a freefall LMM might fit the bill.

Thales Unpowered Glide LMM
Thales Unpowered Glide LMM

SPEAR Cap 3 is designed to be freefall launched from the F35 bomb bay, another future possibility.

MBDA SPEAR on F35
MBDA SPEAR on F35

An interesting development is the use of decoys and decoy jammers as part of an attack plan against complex integrated air defences.

Raytheon are currently marketing their MALD and MALD-J, both evolved from the earlier Air Launched Decoy ADM-160A.

Miniature Air Launched Decoy MALD
Miniature Air Launched Decoy MALD

The Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) is used to lure enemy air defence systems into revealing themselves or attacking aircraft or ISTAR systems that can provide targeting information for stand off weapons. With a range of 500nm, endurance of 45 minutes, operating altitude of 40,000 feet plus, speed of Mach 0.91, modular electronics fit and emissions signature that is designed to mimic allied aircraft it can also be used to simply overwhelm air defences with targets, if they attack MALD they are depleting their finite missile stocks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZyL-zEoMfM

My friends over at Defense Industry Daily have another great write up on the history and contract aspects of MALD, click here to view.

They report that costs have risen to $120k each, which seems like excellent value for money to me, compare that with the £70m plus cost of a Typhoon and the likely £100m plus cost of an F-35M and the economics become very attractive. After some initial reliability issues it is now entering service with the USAF.

MALD and MALD-J have also been designed for carriage on aircraft carriers and unlike many complex systems was developed and delivered under budget.

As can be seen from the video above, MALD and MALD-J can be launched in significant quantities using transport aircraft like the C17 and C130. This is called the M-CALS or MALD Cargo Aircraft Launch System

It is an elegant and cheap way of launching decoys in quantity and at low cost.

MALD Cargo Air Launch System MCALS
MALD Cargo Air Launch System MCALS

M-CALS can be stacked so that on a single pallet, 8 decoys can be carried and launched. If more are required the MCALS launch pallet is simply discarded and the next in line positioned. In aircraft like the C17 that can carry two pallets wide, more can be launched without ditching the launch pallet.

It was also reported in 2009 that the UK had shown an interest in MALD but this self evidently went nowhere.

I quite like the concept of using expendable decoys and if the UK is ever to go against, as the phrase goes, anyone armed with slightly more effective weapons than a sharpened mango, they may well be essential.

Traditionally, anti aircraft missiles are much cheaper than the aircraft they are designed to destroy, the economics are in favour of missiles. Although it is a mono syllabic simplistic argument, if a missile costs a million each and an aircraft costs a hundred million, the exchange rate favours the missile. Reverse that, where the aircrafts surrogate costs less than the missile, the economics of the exchange becomes interesting. Enemy forces will always have a finite stock of anti aircraft missiles at the point of attack and the more expensive long range varieties will also not be available in large quantities. Luring enemies into expending those scarce and expensive missiles at decoys is  a cheap way of degrading their capabilities relatively safely.

The numbers favour the attacker.

It is of course not as simple as that but decoys are an interesting alternative to the relentless cost increases of stealthy aircraft, or at least a means of complimenting their survivability.

If it is demonstrably possible to launch the 120kg MALD-J the smaller SPEAR CAP 3 should be possible.

In addition to pylon mounted Hellfire missiles the USMC Harvest Hawk has had considerable success with the Griffin missile, again using a door or ramp mounted launch mechanism.

The video below shows both Hellfire and Griffin in action

The ramp mounted mechanism is much like MCALS, from Plasan

The latest AC-130W has also been cleared for GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb carriage.

AC130W SDB
AC130W SDB

Whether launching a 250Kg Stingray torpedo would be possible using something like the Gunslinger of MCALS system is unknown, it is only physics after all and we seem to manage ejecting torpedoes from frigates using compressed air.

A Stingray Training Variant Torpedo is fired from Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster during an exercise. After spending much of her 7 month deployment in the Gulf and Indian Ocean region conducting maritime security operations in support of the UK's long standing commitment in the area, Royal Navy warship HMS Westminster took some time out to undertake valuable training. During this training period, the ship undertook her keyrole training in the form of Anti Submarine Warfare and tested her torpedo firing skills. The TVT (training variant torpedo) as it is commonly known was fired to test the launching capabilities and also to test the sonar capablilites and training of the operators. Within minutes of the training finishing, HMS Westminster undertook a spot of gunnery training.
A Stingray Training Variant Torpedo is fired from Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster during an exercise.
After spending much of her 7 month deployment in the Gulf and Indian Ocean region conducting maritime security operations in support of the UK’s long standing commitment in the area, Royal Navy warship HMS Westminster took some time out to undertake valuable training.
During this training period, the ship undertook her keyrole training in the form of Anti Submarine Warfare and tested her torpedo firing skills. The TVT (training variant torpedo) as it is commonly known was fired to test the launching capabilities and also to test the sonar capablilites and training of the operators. Within minutes of the training finishing, HMS Westminster undertook a spot of gunnery training.

Other payloads could include unmanned aircraft, Boeing have proposed an air launched unmanned aircraft, the Dominator, for example.

And another option for launching unmanned systems

Perhaps we might even see a use for Fire Shadow in this role, now that would make an interesting concept, an unmanned loitering munition being launched and controlled by a loitering manned aircraft.

Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition

Going up in weight we might also consider launching Storm Shadow stand off cruise missiles.

Currently, Tornado (and soon to be Typhoon) is used to launch these sophisticated 1,300 kg missiles, two per aircraft.

Consider this for a moment.

With a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet and cruise speed up to Mach 0.72 the A400M Atlas can fly in regular civilian airspace.

Airbus A400M Atlas Altitude and Speed Comparison
Airbus A400M Atlas Altitude and Speed Comparison

Testing is confirming that the aircraft has excellent aerodynamic performance and very stable in normal flight but extremely agile for such a large aircraft. It has been noted that this aerodynamic stability and clean air flow over the rear of the aircraft will allow some interesting thoughts on payload delivery to develop, launching UAV’s and cruise missiles looks less like a load of nonsense now!

In addition to the excellent handling characteristics and speed its range is quite impressive.

Airbus A400M Atlas Payload Range Graph
Airbus A400M Atlas Payload Range Graph

As a thought experiment, assume that having the missiles on the same platform does not seriously impede the fire plan (target separation etc), the threat profile is such that it can approach the launch point without escort and that the A400M is carrying 8 Storm Shadow missiles, roughly 10 tonnes.

Now those are some reasonably large assumptions, which is why I am not advocating this as a replacement for Storm Shadow Typhoon integration but…

10 tonnes provides about 4,500nm range or 2,250nm radius (divert locations and other factors all being equal)

The map below shows a crude 2,250nm and 4,500nm radius around Brize Norton e.g an unrefuelled round trip and a refuelled round trip

A400 Range Map at 10 tonnes Payload
A400 Range Map at 10 tonnes Payload

Interesting, non?

So how could you launch Storm Shadow from an A400M?

Te FOAS study from a while ago looked at options for launching from a pallet from a C17

FOAS CALM
FOAS CALM

MBDA have actually proven the concept with the Taurus cruise missile

Skip forward to the 1:59 mark on this video and watch the Taurus T being launched off the ramp of what looks like a Transall

MBDA state that a C130 can carry 12 missiles.

With a ramp loading capacity of 6 tonnes, the A400m should have no problems with any of these stores combinations.

The simplest form of releasable payload are things like liferafts or medical supplies, two examples below from the Irish Army Air Corps and US Coastguard

Manufacturers include Life Support International and Airborne Systems.

Pretty simple integration, they are thrown off the ramp :)

Just to prove that there is nothing new in this world, a handful of videos showing air launched missiles and unmanned aircraft.

Summary

I have defended the RAF’s long range strikes against Libya because they demonstrated perfectly a prompt strike response capability against difficult targets and when Tornado retires that capability might well pass to Typhoon or maybe (an outside chance) the F35B.

But imagine a repeat scenario in the mid 2020’s with an A400M Atlas based delivery option, no airborne refuelling, multiple launches, loitering for hours in response to changing target conditions or post-strike assessments and a fraction of delivery cost in comparison.

What makes this interesting, in comparison with C130 options, is the A400M’s speed, space and range, it makes the arguments against a little more tenuous.

I don’t want to get too carried away with notions of hoofing Storm Shadow off the ramp of an A400M but food for thought nevertheless!

For other missions there are endless combinations of sensor, crew and weapon, most of them already proven in practice, if not principle. Then combine with an aircraft with the speed, payload and reach of the A400M Atlas.

Maritime patrol, PSYOPS, SIGINT, persistent and armed ISTAR, SF support, area denial, airborne communications relay and command post

Back to the original question of why bother.

Tough one, simply because the answer would come out of a very large spreadsheet that none of us have the first clue about, i.e. it is all about the cost. The cost benefits of reducing types in the fleet (training, simulators, spares etc) against the cost disadvantages of developing this stuff and putting it into an already too small fleet of aircraft like A400M. No one is suggesting that you could be air dropping supplies one day and doing a spot of sub hunting in the North Atlantic the next, semi dedicated aircraft would still be the order of the day. But by operating out of a larger pool of aircraft with conversions times of a couple of days you mitigate against lower availability caused by all manner of incidents when you have a small fleet.

Large fleets of fewer numbers of aircraft is relatively speaking, the optimal way forward for a cash strapped nation.

You might have to accept some performance compromise, am not saying an MPA A400M would be as good as a P8, but can we accept a reduction on individual capability for benefits across the wider force.

It boils down to exquisite platforms built to exacting standards but available in diminishing numbers versus something not quite as good but available.

That 80/20 question.

The options are there.

Imagine the possibilities.

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Ace Rimmer

TD: “It is at this point that many start sucking their teeth on the assumption that poking holes into or adding bits onto aircraft is eye wateringly expensive.”

Its true and it is, but its cheaper to adapt the role of an existing airframe than to buy a new one dedicated to the task. But then, apart from shrinking defence budgets, many of the senior decision makers are now from the ‘Star Wars’ generation, a film where any craft large or small carried an effective weapon system. Given the advances in technology and new lightweight weapon systems I can see this coming to the fore in greater numbers, unfortunately the downside being that any force with a decent cargo fleet now has the potential to create a squadron of long range bombers!

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

A good well researched post TD, I enjoyed reading it.

I doubt we will adopt anything like this though, looks to ‘Heath Robinson’ for our tastes.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli

Best not let HMG see this, they will have another reason to do away with whats left of our Fast Jets!

Leadslug
Leadslug

Interesting article.
Question if going down the mpa/bomber route is it possible to poke holes in the tail door which can then link up with the ro-ro launch system? That way you keep the inside pressurised & keeping the aerodynamics correct even when launching the required payload. Similar to the rear refueling point.

The Other Chris

Worth considering the equipment you see here with the HAV304 Airlander due to begin MOD trials next year?

http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/selex-es-and-hav-to-team-up-for-mod-airship-testing-405022/

IXION

DM

I think TDs point is that if it worked out financially we would not want or need the fast Jets.

Simon
Simon

the a400m pylons don’t have a capacity of 650kg, the aar pod for a400m is around 400kg and is a derivative not direct relation.

The integration could i theory support electrical services, how ever the Avionic is a low bandwidth CAB derivative over fibre.

I think the best point (and in line with current LOSA thinking) is that open standards are required on all platforms to allow MODE to integrate new systems and to re purpose platforms at short notice.

simon
simon

sorry CAN not CAB! iPhone typing.

The Other Chris

AC-130 picture above features the Small Diameter Bomb in a quad-pack.

UK equivalent could be the Common Rail Launcher triple-rail being designed for Typhoon to carry either the SPEAR 2 (Brimstone II) and SPEAR 3 (e.g. MBDA Spear, though SDB-II supposedly still in the running):

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonygartshore/14395392978/in/pool-aircraft_ordinance/lightbox/

stephen duckworth

@TD
I can hear the sharpening of pitchforks (obviously Rhodium/platinum plated unobtainium pitchforks ) and the strike of gold plated Ronson’s igniting torches (made from the fat of baby seals and virgins hair of course) and the growing wailing howl from the Light Blue as they approach TD towers to burn the witch who dare speak such heresy against the great God that is the fast jet specialist airframe. It just wont do, you hear, it just wont do!

On a more serious note “But by operating out of a larger pool of aircraft with conversions times of a couple of days you mitigate against lower availability caused by all manner of incidents when you have a small fleet.” The big driver behind most of your obviously CGI/Photo-shopped illustrations (it cant be done don’t you know! ) is the US who still feel the need to develop the flexibility and utility of their 500+ C-130’s .
Excellent post TD !

The Other Chris

Cobham Triple-Rail launcher: 90kg

Brimstone II: <50Kg.

SPEAR Capability 3 requirement: ~100kg.

By comparison SDB-II is 250lbs/113kg I believe.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

Would it be worthwhile to buy an mpa kit for the c130 down south to test out the concept and gain some knowledge to nail down our requirements?

The Other Chris

On the Sea Herc, also note an optional airframe modification to carry stores in a heated bay, with Lockheed-Martin pitching the Ro-Ro kind of kit described above for MSA/SAR aircraft and rolling the equipment onto a more permanently modified airframe for MPA duty (1m03s mark in case the below video doesn’t auto-mark for you):

Jeremy M H

I don’t think the question is really can such things be done so much as it is if the UK will have a large enough fleet to make it worth while. As Monkey points out the US spends lots of time and money tinkering with its C-130 fleet into specialized variants. But it has nearly 700 active (and many many more sitting around) to work with. The USAF operates many of those variants in larger numbers than the UK will possess A400M’s unless that changes.

I think that the electronic warfare and intel roles are something that should be looked at very carefully as in many ways this is a major weakness for European Air Forces at the moment. Those roles also preserve airframe life pretty good as the aircraft don’t have to do a lot of flying for the most part.

The MPA role I still remain dubious about. Those aircraft do rack up a fair amount of time flying and once something is converted I don’t see it being converted back. One could just buy an A400M for MPA I suppose but I see that as a roll on and leave on solution more than anything.

The strike role is interesting. I think for COIN operation there is a lot of value in hanging some light, quick strike weapons on the assets gathering information in the sky. With things like Storm Shadow I can see the appeal of doing it but its honestly not something I would want to spend a lot of money on.

What is interesting is that there don’t seem to be a lot of foreign produced variants of the C-130 or Transall. I wonder if you are looking at a bit of a chicken and the egg type issue. Is a C-130 electronic warfare aircraft an affordable alternative to say a Rivet Joint or EA-18 or is the C-130 variant affordable because you already have developed the technology for those specialized platforms and are simply moving it over in a box?

Would be really curious what the economics were if you were not able to take off the shelf electronics and put them into the airframe. Might still work out great or it might look like a very expensive box you are rolling onto the aircraft all the sudden.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@Jeremy M H
‘something is converted I don’t see it being converted back’

It’s not converted in the true sense of the word though, it’s just the basic airframe with modules added. We could purchase 10 extra A400 fro an MPA Sqn (just a number) but we would only require 7 MPA mission kits. When an aircraft is in deep service you just swap out the modules. We would still need to keep the crews specific to that role due to expertise, so we would not just grab an airframe and crew from a transport sqn, but we could have a pool of aircraft that could be used for various roles rather than individual airframes that can only do specific roles.

The actual fuel costs may be higher in certain roles and the initial mission kits might be slightly more expensive? but you are saving overall in maintenance, training and parts etc. plus when your airframes are fatigued or some of your mission systems need upgrading the conversion is cheaper as you just purchase a suitable airframe and roll your old module in and replace equipment within the module rather than on the airframe.

And I would definitely look at something like Stormshadow to be integrated on the airframe considering the types of strike missions we will be doing in the future, against enemies in a permissive environment and the launching of decoys for strike missions against a peer enemy. Plus I doubt it would be hugely expensive to do.

The Ginge
The Ginge

I think the problem here is one of mind-set. We could provide a very effective MPa as good as Nimrod using this plug and play set up on the A400. The problem is the RAF and the Navy have it stuck in their heads that the only way to have an effective MPa solution is to buy the P8. They are obsessed with the SeedCorn initiative which was set up to maintain the skill base, not to train on any specific aircraft.
The fact is even the most wildly optimistic growth in the Defence budget really does not leave enough room to put a Second Aircraft Carrier in to service and buy the 9 P8’s you would need to provide 3 aircraft availability 24/7/365. In view of both Labour and Conservatives both stating that significant savings in Government spending are going to have to be made between 2015 and 2020 if the MOD managers a flat budget or flat budget adjustered for inflation they will be doing very well. The likelihood of obtaining an equipment budget at 1% above inflation I think is cloud cooker land. There is no way any party or the public will put up with Defence spending going up whilst there is a £30bn black hole in the NHS.
I do not think a podded solution based on an A400 would be only 80% of the aircraft a P8 would be. Why because 1. Can it deliver the same sensor suite as the P8 to the same location, check. 2. Can it deliver Sonar buoys/torpedoes to the same location, check. 3. Does it have the range, check.
The solution would only require the purchase of 3 sets of flying equipment which would be changed from aircraft to aircraft as they came up for maintenance and one set as a static training unit with the possibility to load the 4th set on a plane if needed. As the equipment would just be transferred from A400 number 12 to A400 number 15 so that 12 could have the extensive maintenance it might need. The only items to change are the 2 parachute doors, the pods transferred and if you really need to use the space the different undercarriage doors with antennas etc. In all honesty having seen the flat radar antenna being trialled on the P8 I can see no reason not to fit this to the undercarriage doors. With a secure infrared data link to the pod from the aircraft even solves the data transfer from the wing. All external items could easily have small generators fitted to be self-powered.
This solution was shown to be effective. Look at how quickly industry provided a solution for the Sea King Baggies replacement. I think going to smaller defence players to build each element of the system linked to a central pod shows how expensive and slow the major defence suppliers are.
As shown by the events over Syria, the RAF just has enough Fast jets to do the bare minimum. FJ’s will always be needed in the initial phases of a conflict in a contested airspace. However most of the airspace that the RAF has operated in the last 10 to 15yrs has been uncontested, eg Libya / Afghanistan etc, the hourly flying costs of an A400 pales in to insignificant compared to flying a Typhoon let alone an F35. Once the initial neutralisation mission has been flown, long distant, long loiter, heavy lift bomb capacity (we are not getting a B1 or equivalent ever again, but just look at the effect that sort of size load of munitions has on an enemy in Syria) has its place. Since most modern munitions do not need complicated low level flight profiles to be flown by the host aircraft, they need transporting to the general area to be launched at sufficient height to allow their own on board sensor correct the weapons flight path for delivery.
The benefit of the A400 option is 1. You can buy P8 sensors of the shelf and put them in Container Pods and Computers/Processes in a set of 4 in an internal container, no need to buy 9 versions of everything. 2 The growth potential in the long term is easier and cheaper than the P8. 3. The planes are already being bought and the flight training and logistics are all in place. 4. The growth potential is huge as the same planes can be upgraded with other overland sensor pods or the 4c communication capacity shown above in the Hercules etc to in the long-term replace joint Rivet and Sentinel. 5. If we need more planes as the roles expand, we can either take slots of the French/Germans who are desperate to divulge themselves of planes at a discount or the production line will still be going in the 2020 if we wish to order more new planes. 6. If we need to provide a massive heavy surge of airlift capacity and the position around UK waters is benign then taking out the MPa pods etc might take 3 or 4 days but it can revert back to a trash hauler for 3 or 4 months if the Army needs to get somewhere. 7. It can be refuelled by existing UK assets. 8. It can get to the Falklands because of the refuelling without relying on the USAF.9. We’ve already committed to buying the planes the only extra cost is the sensors/processes and we may even be able to reuse some of the old Nimrod stuff that went in to the P8 if it was saved from the scrappers. The list of benefits goes on.
I read far too many blogs and commentators articles where they talk of using certain asset types as if they are the Holy Grail but the fact is we haven’t got the money. I fear because the RAF sees the MPa budget of a way of increasing their share of the defence budget in the long-term we may be spending £2bn on 9 P8’s and I cannot believe that 4 sets of sensors and Container Pods are going to cost £2bn as long as you don’t put holes in the plane it’ll fly.
The final nail in the coffin might also be that the A400 isn’t very glamorous and it ain’t got Jet Engines. We need to think outside the box, to make the money stretch otherwise we’ll have little bits of this excellent gold plated kit here and a little bit there but not enough to be meaningful or useful.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom

Since the new Iraq campaign started the idea of an A400M bomb truck has seemed sensible to me. We seem to have been dropping mainly Paveway IV’s, which should be able to be dropped using a bigger version of the sonarbouy dispenser integrated into the ramp. Combine that with a couple of targeting pods and work stations for operators and a crew rest area, so you could operate with two crews. I think you could have an asset on station for 24 hours with plenty of munitions.

The idea of using missiles from the A400M is good, but if you are trying to drive down cost surely using cheaper munitions should also be considered alongside what is dropping them.

The Other Chris

I can’t help imagining an Atlas/Grizzly bumbling around Northern Iraq pooping Paveway’s from the hole in it’s arse…

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth

Jeremy M H said: “The strike role is interesting. I think for COIN operation there is a lot of value in hanging some light, quick strike weapons on the assets gathering information in the sky. With things like Storm Shadow I can see the appeal of doing it but its honestly not something I would want to spend a lot of money on.”

Hercules can be made to carry bombs where external fuel tanks go.(Argentinians did it I think) The inner hard points are claimed here and there to be good for up to 9000lbs each. A Hercules with a Senior Scout style outfit and loads of externally carried small, guided weapons might be useful.

With that in mind it is perhaps unfortunate that the a400m has just the two hardpoints for air to air refueling and no provision for carrying fuel externally. If it had then you would have, like the Hercules, two very high capacity hardpoints.

stephen duckworth

I loved the video of the Minuteman missile being dropped out of the back of a C-5 , dropping a 35t 65ft ICBM out the back of a plane , only in America :-)
I know they are taking a bashing at the moment over the F35 but behind an awful lot of what was on TD’s post is Lockheed who seem to be there trying to maximise the versatility of their products, often I suspect internally funded or done by them on a tight budget from some specific branch of the US uniformed services that wanted the option but knew that Washington would either turn them down or blow it up into some vast project that would be finally cancelled due to huge budget overruns.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers

Good top line graphic TD: in the last ten years I have gradually divested myself of all sorts of electronics. I’m pretty much down to a ipad, iPhone and an Android, with a laptop for emergencies. Never thought that would happen as a (once) passionate Hasselblad user, as the image quality was so much better. But about 5 years ago, it wasn’t, and I thought WTF, it’s more than good enough on digital, and about 17 million times less hassle.

A random thought. King Airs are cheaper to run than C130s, Tucanos can drop small bombs. There’s never a need to put several full mission crews up in the air when datalinks will reliably connect an air platform to a ground station. While I salute the general concept of the bomb truck, I think that it may be undercut itself.

Mark
Mark

While this is an interesting concept that could have the potential to relieve pressure on an extremely stretched UK fastjet force I think it would be of limited cost value to the UK and a step in the wrong direction.

These large multi engine aircraft are as, if not more expensive to buy than the Fastjets we have and require more crew to be on them. The UK will have limited spare capacity on its transport fleet because we will procure so few examples. If you want to look at doing something I suggest we go smaller. In aviation size and weight costs an awful lot of money.

A classic example in this country is the RAF Shadow R1 a highly capable istar aircraft introduced with minimal fuss and delivering on complex operations. Theres no way hawker Beechcraft would have gotten a look in 15 years ago if a requirement had been released for an aircraft with an EO turret, ground radar and sigint package until robert gates brow beat the USAF into accepting this solution. Now its a global best seller.

None of this is new to militarys outside those that do not talk about being division 1 global leaders. Sweden and Saab, Israel with elta systems and iai have developed extremely gd sensors and weapons and gone about installing them onto all manner of in production aircraft using mission operating systems that remain separate from the aircrafts flight safety avionics less access to power and cooling systems. Very capable useful platforms have been sold around the world with minimum of fuss doing a job while we talk about how wonderful our system that can do everything will be in 7 years time when we’ve spent an extra billion or two to meet our requirements.

The tragedy is we have company’s in this country who make excellent airborne sensors too and they sell them to other country’s and on occasion to the UK when we’re in the crap because our gold plated solution hasn’t turned up or doesn’t work. I think while ideas like the one TD puts fwd are possible it’s not a path to follow I’d take the route Sweden has shown technology allows gd sensors on smaller aircraft that can combine to offer real capability with data process and decisions off boarded as and when required to achieve mission objectives, it might not be how we’ve done it in the past but things move on and budgets continue to shrink.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

‘The UK will have limited spare capacity on its transport fleet because we will procure so few examples.’

Would you not use the money you are going to spend on an MPA to procure more transport aircraft and mission modules so you are not dipping into the transport fleet on a regular basis?

If the A400 is too large, what about the KC-390? it has near enough the same dimensions as the C130 and can be used as an airborne tanker and can be AAR, maybe get SAAB to put in the same mission equipment they use on SAAB 2000 aircraft.

Mark
Mark

DN

I’d say why not save the money on buying the more expensive additional transport plane and just buy the saab2000.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

Mark

By using mission modules and transport aircraft you get more utility from a single airframe as you can surge/ramp down specific requirements without losing the utility of an airframe or overworking others, plus the economies of single fleets.

The KC-390 is expected to cost around $50m.

Hannay
Hannay

@Mark

The example of Sweden is an interesting one, for example their Saab AEW aircraft with an AESA mounted dorsally. This looks like an attractive AEW alternative to something like Sentry, until you start to ask questions about capability, at which point you realise it has such low performance to be completely useless for the UK’s needs.

This point can be extended to other areas as well. Is it worthwhile buying and training people to use a specific roll-on SIGINT package for A400M? Or is it cheaper to buy another Airseeker platform that is massively more capable?

We’ve also got to think about future proofing as well as threats evolve. e.g. Saab AEW is lower capability than Sentry at the moment, and (our) Sentry aircraft are getting less and less useful against developing threats. Then think about how useful the Saab AEW platform will be in with another 20 years of threat evolution.

Air-Launched stand-off weapons from transport aircraft sounds attractive, but fundamentally we’ll always have fast jet FE@R available to do this, whilst the air transport fleet will be maxed out on their primary mission. e.g. do you waste C-130/A400Ms stooging around off the coast of Libya, or do you use those air transport assets to deploy your fast jets to the FOB?

Jed

TD nice post on this subject, again……

I support it wholeheartedly. I would rather see money invested in StormShadow and MALD launch from A400 and full integration of shiny toys on Typhoon (AESA, conformal tanks etc) than a purchase of F35.

The utility element of a fleet with the same flight deck and thus same basic training, same spare parts and maintenance procedures, same ground handling procedures etc etc should not be discounted from a ongoing operational cost reduction point of view. Yes 8 in MPA mode would be semi-permanent, as would be say 4 in int gathering role; but the ability to cycle through the whole fleet as maintenance periods come around is indeed golden ! Now if we could break that stupid contract and have some as tactical tankers too…… All in all, buy up every A400 every other country does not want, if you have to ditch the F35 to do it, then do so !

Of course this leaves my beloved RN with 2 frakk-off big helo carriers, but I m sure we could buy some suitable armed helicopters for them……

El Sid
El Sid

A400M is costing the French €152.4m/plane excluding R&D in FY 2013:
http://www.senat.fr/rap/a13-158-8/a13-158-813.html#toc174

That’s £120m or US$193m. For comparison a P-8A cost US$199m in FY2013 :
http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/documents/defbudget/fy2015/fy2015_Weapons.pdf#page=24

So it’s all very well if your airframes haven’t got anything better to do, but it’s less attractive if you have to buy new A400M.

If you’re going all FOAS on us, I’ve always fancied a few second-hand Galaxies – huge capacity and the wing’s in the right place to allow you to cut out a bomb bay. Or a couple of second-hand cargo A330s with rotary launchers hooked up to the cargo door?

Opinion3
Opinion3

I like to split this general idea into three streams

Development and Deployment of the Technology
Training and Provision of this capability to our Forces
Providing our Forces with the best Value for Money / Capability for Money, and ensuring our Forces remain at the forefront of capabilities.

Is there an issue with using Plug & Play technology for the armed forces? Looking at the commercial world I think granted USB / HDMI all progress from time to time, but the days of Serial and Parallel cables with driver issues have long gone. I believe developing podded, adaptable capabilities shouldn’t be expensive. I rather feel the slow integration of our weapons on our platforms is a result of many more things than just lack of money. It really just needs someone with the vision and drive to make it happen.

Quite rightly HMG has decided we need certain domestic industrial defence capabilities. We should be expanding this principle by encouraging more private investment in developing technologies. The above ideas seem ‘cheap’ and feasible and need to be encouraged with grants. Maybe DARPA style.

We certainly won’t be able to afford to roll out all technologies, but operation after operation, rarely do we have the right kit at hand. We often make mistakes/have gaps, but having the technology (or a boneyard) makes for quick and easy rectification.

The final thought is on VFM, considering the limited budget, the deficit and not to forget the now massive debt. I would go for P8s, they are the right asset for the task, however for the FI I would use a development of the A400M. The need for two types of assets when a single A400M would suffice has already been questioned. Adding the ASW feather to the cap should be done via plug and play. The A400M as a platform is many potential uses.

Mark
Mark

Hannay

UK needs have brought us such success story’s as nimrod aew, nimrod mpa and chinook mk3 to name but a few. When we get to a sqn of barely serviceable planes costing 100s of million each, a couple of ships and a squadron of tanks will it be time to start asking why UK requirements have lead us here or will its be its all the nasty men from the treasury’s fault. Saab, elta thales or the like don’t make poor low performance systems.

DN i would question the more utility it’s unlikely they would be re-roled that often and what you would end up with is fleets within fleets which makes managing that in aircraft more difficult and complex. Added to that you a paying upfront for a more expensive airframe and servicing cost than smaller dedicated aircraft regional/business style platforms.

S O
S O

The principal problem with a modular approach is that usually such approaches end up having little more useful modules than platforms. This way the top brass can still show off their smart concept AND get many platforms (=many personnel slots for pilots and other officers) with the given budget. Secrecy or at least selective publication of facts hides the drawback (works with fancy munitions as well).

The one notable exception I know of is a Danish module family which uses obsolete legacy naval subsystems, repackaged into standardised modules.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

Mark
‘you would end up with is fleets within fleets which makes managing that in aircraft more difficult and complex.’

I understand why you would as you are not altering the or changing any components on the basic airframes the fllets within fleets would come from the mission kits if anywhere which would easier to manage. If we used a transport airframe as a multi mission aircraft it would be easier to manage the fleet.

We simply buy a job lot of say 30 pool them in a maintenance depot and have a requirement that we require X amount available for transport and X amount for MPA work with X amount for SIGINT. With a pool of common aircraft we can balance airframe hours and cover deep maintenance of the entire fleet without any gaps in capability. In addition it will allow us to surge capabilities with a few extra airframes in times of need such as Libya or now over Iraq.

The mission modules are the capability the airframe is just the transit van.

The Other Chris

To give you an idea of available UK technology, the Bombardier Q400 offering for MPA includes a Selex Eagle AESA with a 4m-5m array.

The pitch suggested that as well as providing the MSA level surveillance required in the MPA mission platform, that radar could also perform 80% of the missions of E-3D. (Note: Not that the radar is 80% as capable as the AN/APY-2, that it would enable the MPA aircraft to also perform 80% of the missions of the Sentry AEW.1 package).

Whether or not it comes to fruition, or if that kind of combination is even desirable or effective, it’s an indication that the UK can definitely churn out the technology we need. What seems to be missing are the consortia and process to put together the packages added to an MOD willing to listen to them and take a chance.

It’s not as if a lot of the individual technologies are risky, they’ve been de-risked and rolled out internationally already, just not necessarily in the combinations or applications being discussed.

The Sentinel and Shadow R1’s are glowing examples (the USAF is now facing a battle over bizjet JSTARS replacement!).

Consider the possibilities of a UK Reaper with both Seaspray and SPEAR 3. Doesn’t sound particularly risky or bank account breaking to me.

This doesn’t just apply to aircraft technology, we have plenty of commenters here who can attest to varying ground and sea technologies as well.

The Ginge
The Ginge

Can we just clarify a few items ;
1. I would not see any airframe being dedicated or semi-dedicated to the MPA role, the whole idea would be that all 22 airframes and crews could undertake any mission that the A400 was tasked to do. I do not see the difference of dropping Trucks/Paratroopers in an ultra-accurate fashion to dropping a torpedo or rack to launch a missile. It’s fly the plane and drop the load out the back. What that load then does once out of the plane is entirely different.
2. I would not advocate any form of change to the airframe and that includes changing the radar used by the aircraft (unlike TD’s Comments above), unless that change is made to all 22 airframes.
3. All sensors should either be deployable in pods on the 2 wing hard points, or via interchangeable doors or landing wheel covers (as per the C130 mods) that way the developments can be done off the aeroplane, then flight tested on one plane, limiting cost and development time. The fact is as shown above everything you need to do MPa or Elint can go in essence in a container in the back.
4. The comments about not wanting to see A400’s trolling around Iraq looking for business misses the point and in my view is old fashioned thinking. The fact is we have Tornados trolling around Iraq looking for business that when replaced will be replaced by planes such as the F35 which will significantly increase the cost of operating Fast jets in this role. The cost as in Libya of refuelling flights, transporting weapons and the logistics tail to fly out of Italy (Libya) and Cyprus (Iraq) is immense. Since we seem to operate in permissive environments in most cases I cannot see the need for FJ’s. I would point out I see no logical argument to cut the FJ fleet as it is at its bare minimum and the A400 idea just increases the options.
5. Using the rule of 3, if you buy 9 P8’s you have 3 operational at any one time. As most of the electronics etc used are nowhere near as maintenance intensive as aircraft especially jet engine aircraft So have 4 sets of Sensors, Pods and Container Control Units gives you 3 in the air and 1 in maintenance. Plus maybe 1 other Container Control Unit for training (a Training cost you would have with P8’s anyway.) so out of 22 airframes which I would expect higher availability rates than FJ’s so a ratio of 1 to 2 for operational units would give you 11 airframes flying at any one time. Of which 3 would have MPA suites in them. When those 2 planes needed offline maintenance then 3 are taken out of the 22 to replace them with the gear swapped over. IE you don’t have as in the P8’s case 9 sets of MPA sensors and equipment of which 6 permanently sit on the tarmac as the aircraft is maintained. By rotating the 3 used for MPA you would also lesson the fatigue on any 1 aircraft.
Yes there are issues over Top Brass using it as a sop but never fitting the equipment to anything, that attitude has to stop. As to costs, you have to be very careful just on exchange rates. My understanding having read numerous items is that the P8 when purchased by the UK will cost north of $200 million each, but the fact is we are buying 22 A400 now, the only extra cost being the sensors etc and you are back in the MPA role. European partners are looking to sell on at least 13 of their airframes, you could expect a 25% discount so that is $193m x 75% = $144,775,000 over 9 airframes as per the P8 purchase it would give you $55,225,000 per airframe x 9 = $497,025,000 to buy 4 sets of sensors and pods. I cannot believe that 4 MPA systems are going to cost $1/2bn since most of the technology and pods exist. In fact I would go even a step further and try and use the Merlin’s ASW system since by all accounts it is world class and then operators could be crossed trained with Navy personnel increasing your operator pool.
The above saving is not even accounting for the saving on maintenance/logistics/training on a completely new aircraft when the A400 systems will be all in place.
The fact is the A400 idea is similar to the Navy stating that only a front line Destroy can only patrol in the Caribbean or support Mine Hunters in the Gulf, when RFA ships have been doing those roles very well for years. The fact is the RAF and ex RAF members need to get away from the idea that the only thing that matters is that it looks cool and can go Mach 2, most of the time that’s not needed. Just use what you’ve got, otherwise with the budget pressures coming I can see another 5 year gapped capability.

Mark
Mark

DN

You will absolutely be changing airframe structure, serialised parts at a min and most likely software for power/ cooling management. If you wanted sensors radar/eo ect you will most like being doing that thru fuselague mountings, yes the mission console’s can be roled out and in the back but if you want decent sensor performance those will need to be perminant mountings such as the US coast guard herc or hc-144 as an example.

TOC

The dash 8 mpa radar and eo sensors being offered are selex 7500 and the mx20 the eagle aesa would be added for an aew mission if desired by a customer.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

Mark

‘You will absolutely be changing airframe structure’

Did you read the ‘Sensors and Antennas’ section?

Topman
Topman

It’s not just outside it’s inside, you need to change the internal to connect everything up. You’ll have to add allsorts of bits and bobs inside to supply power lighting, water (clean and dirty), a way to secure the role equipement etc. Of course none of this impossible, but doing all of this and making them truely one single fleet is impossible we struggle even the a/c are near the same, on fleet with widely differing roles and tasks it would be very difficult.

Mark
Mark

DN

Yep and none alter the statement I’ve made. podded sensors in wing locations suffer significantly from airframe and engine masking as well as stability issues particularly for sensor cross cueing. That is why if you look at a/c such as the HC-144 you will see the primary sensors in fixed positions mounted on the under side of the fuselague for ground sensors and above or conformal for airborne or sat com ones.

Jeremy M H

DN

I think that while the article makes good points about how the USAF has modified its C-130’s for all sorts of uses it doesn’t really address just how often they change something back from its specialized role to a more general one.

While the modifications that add those sensors may be simplified by putting them in a door or on a pylon I highly doubt the US is installing and uninstalling those kits from one aircraft and moving them to the next. Likely they are just modifying a stock C-130 and leaving it modified from that point forward. It is just not worth the time and complexity to take the stuff on and off when you have several hundred of those aircraft around and more are still showing up all the time.

The A400m is just a different case. Not enough numbers that it works nearly as well.

The idea of modifying a reliable airframe to do other task makes a lot of sense. The idea of moving those modification in and out of various airframes isn’t so clear cut.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

Topman
‘lighting, water (clean and dirty)’

Would they not come with the pod, if not it defeats the object. Changes to the wiring, as you said not an impossible task.

‘fleet with widely differing roles and tasks it would be very difficult.’

We buy a few extra transport aircraft for the multimission role with minor changes, power and plug and play etc and still have fleet commonality.

Mark

‘HC-144 you will see the primary sensors in fixed positions mounted on the under side of the fuselague for ground sensors and above or conformal for airborne or sat com ones.’

There is no reason you cannot have the sensors hanging below the airframe such as EO turrets or the Radar using a modular system, you could hang the radar dome and EO turret down in the same manner as the Seaking ASaC7.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

Jeremy M H

‘I highly doubt the US is installing and uninstalling those kits from one aircraft and moving them to the next.’

And neither will we on a regular basis. Modularisation allows us to have a common fleet and training stream and the ability to buy less mission equipment as we can swap mission modules when either them or the airframe requires either fixing or a major service. We would purchase a few extra A400 and some mission modules to supply a pool of equipment for use in the MPA/SIGINT role etc.

Topman
Topman

@DN
Would they not come with the pod

They would but it has to connect to a/c in the right place, is there enough of everything ? does it need software updates? Are the connections there, do you need extra gennys etc?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN
We would purchase a few extra A400 and some mission modules to supply a pool of equipment for use in the MPA/SIGINT role etc.”

You would however have to pay the entire R&D budget as these pretty pictures are of C130s that the US with a fleet of hundreds have already paid for the R&D. In order to gain the advantages you talk about you would also have to pay for the entire fleet to be altered to allow them to be used for multirole tasks. then you have to purchase the actual equipment and modules and integrate them onto the A400.
So you buy a £130 million pound airframe, add on the cost of doing the R&D into allowing modules to be fitted. Pay for every single airframe to be altered to allow the modules to be fitted and then buy enough equipment and modules. All to get an 80% solution?
Would require far more airframes and spread of initial costs before it makes any financial sense and nobody has even asked if they would meet requirements.
If the whole A400M user market was prepared to buy in then I could see it working, otherwise it is way too risky and probably too expensive as you are incurring a whole host of unknown costs.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@Topman

‘They would but it has to connect to a/c in the right place, is there enough of everything ? does it need software updates? Are the connections there, do you need extra gennys etc?’

But is that not the minutia of the actual design? I think TD was arguing for the concept, which has been proven with the C130 and not necessarily the actual C130 mission modules. We would have to design our own for our needs and chosen airframe.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS

Where are you getting all this R&D from? the systems are all ready in production and use, so testing and certification yes not R&D.

‘Pay for every single airframe to be altered to allow the modules to be fitted’

Why? we don’t have a requirement for a large fleet of MPA, you would only need to modify the amount of airframes you require to cover your tasking and even then they would still be at least 90% the same as the other airframes. It would not be much different in concept to the Harvest Hawk programme.

Topman
Topman

@ DN

Well of course we’d have to design it all ! :) Just pointing out extra costs within the airframe and that they wouldn’t just be a case of a modified box inside it. the a/c will needs mods, I’m not poo pooping it, clearly it can be done, merely the faff and cost.

I wonder for the cost how much all these bombs off the back end actually get used? One thing that AT a/c have is range the one thing they don’t have is speed, from my experience* that is highly in demand more than say range.**

* I don’t pretend wearing a uniform gives me the only insight there is.

** Overall clearly it’s a complex issue with pros and cons for both.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN

As someone used to working with complex systems I can only tell you that being in production and in use with a totally different airframe does not make them in production or in use on an A400. So every single system would need to be tested and modified to meet UK requirements and to ensure they were compatible with an A400. Then the airframes would have to be altered to allow the equipment to be fitted. Then we would have to integrate weapons etc, £90 million to integrate the new missiles on Wildcat, £150 million to integrate Storm shadow on Typhoon. £120 million to integrate JSM on F35.
They are all pretty standard airframe and missile type combos yet we are meant to believe that it would be simpler and cheaper to integrate complex weapons on a modified cargo truck?
Now you are talking about only modifying a few so I am not actually getting the benefit of spreading the costs or the risks. what you are actually talking about is a lot of R&D to make the kits compatible with an A400, a lot of money to modify the A400, a huge whack to integrate the weapons systems and we have not even bought the kits yet and the vanilla airframe was £120 million, god knows how much the finished product would be and even then we get an 80% solution.

@TD

yes defence budgets are declining but budgeting for in service off the shelf solutions tends to get us kit, especially when we are looking at 10 or less. Crazy single country uncosted, unproven and not in service solutions tends to get us cancelled programs.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@Topman

‘I don’t pretend wearing a uniform gives me the only insight there is’

Well there’s a relief ;-) Yeah it is a complex issue the proof would be in the costing calcs.

@APATS

‘So every single system would need to be tested and modified to meet UK requirements and to ensure they were compatible with an A400’

Really? so you would not just manufacture the equipment out of compnenets that already comply with the power loading and relvant safety?

‘Then the airframes would have to be altered to allow the equipment to be fitted.’

Once again what would be altering on the airframe? more wiring yes, physical alterations to the airframe
structure should be very small if needed at all.

‘Then we would have to integrate weapons’

We would need to integrate weapons on whatever MPA we purchased, I don’t think the P8 (which seems to be the contender) uses Stingray.

AAHHHH TD beat me to it!

‘As someone used to working with complex systems’

Are we getting to a point where TD has verify our CV’s. :-)

Mark
Mark

A number of cobhams aar pods have onboard ram air turbines for power generation.

Defence budgets are declining but we effectively replaced a nimrod in an overland survallience role with a hawker Beechcraft. You could buy and maintain an extra 5 of those for the cost of a single a400m. That’s the way I would be looking to maximising cost and capability.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@TD

“If we buy P8 we are going to have to add Stingray integration costs. One of the cost drivers for those costs in making sure the weapon releases safely at different altitudes, attitudes and speeds, it has to clear the bomb bay cleanly, so this means loads of testing. Now if you are lobbing off the back of a ramp, it is in effect, already tested because lobbing pallets off the ramp is done as part of the in service costs of the A400M”

Why would we need to integrate Stingray? Why not just buy Mk54 off the shelf for P8? We operate multiple missile systems so why not 2 light weight ASW torpedoes? Also go and have a look at the dimensions of a MK54 and a stingray, torps are pretty much designed to be launched for certain set systems diameter dependent, which means the same classes are the virtually identical in dimension. However Mk54 would be an obvious and easy solution especially given the high altitude kit the US are working on. It amuses me no end that people who support this sort of modular kit talk about all sorts of not in service weapons whilst ruling out something as simple as buying Mk54 with P8.

You are really grasping if you believe your statement about chucking a pallet off the ramp vs clearing a bomb bay. The offset would be that the missile needs to be fed info when not an integral part of the aircraft and the example that it is not going to save much is the £120 million pounds the French are spending to integrate their version of FASGW(H) on 2 helos with not a bomb bay in site.
yes there are examples of modularised C130s flying which the US split the R&D cost between there fleet of hundreds and indeed 4 services. the interesting bit is that where they are first line pieces of kit we generally have no equivalent.

The pros would have to be that it would be cheaper, would meet requirements and be deliverable. With a £120 million basic airframe, the UK having to front up all R&D, testing, conversion and purchase costs on our own and when there are already in service and costed alternatives available I would stick with crazy.

Jeremy M H

@TD

If you buy the P-8 why bother integrating the Stingray at all? Why not use that inventory on existing assets and just by the already integrated MK-54’s for the P-8’s? It seems silly to spend money to integrate a more expensive weapon onto a platform that already has a weapon that does the exact same job and is cheaper. Just looking at it you would be about $500k to the good for each MK-54 you buy in lieu of a Stingray based on what Australia paid for a full up package that included training torpedoes and logistical support.

The Other Chris

I thought Mk 54 was developed by combining Mk 48 and Mk 50 because they didn’t have a Stingray?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@TD

yes 2 weapons virtually identical in size and weight that do the same thing from different platforms. Never tried buying 2 different brands of coffee?

Your do know that MK46 and Mk54 are both torpedoes so actually an argument against cost that would be incurred were we daft enough to integrate Stingray instead of buying Mk 54 :) All these other weapons will have cost money to integrate and we would foot that bill ourselves as well as the bill to bring them into service and the money to modify an A400m to fire them.

“our assertion that development costs for the US examples were spread across a large fleet are simply wrong, development costs are what they are, regardless of how many are ultimately purchased or used. Spread across the services, Harvest hawk is a USMC only, Senior Scout, USAF only etc.”

So there was no cross pollination about how to run extra power, wires etc, the details of wind tunnel and flight testing with loads on pylons was not discussed or re utilised between the different modifications. even the USMC have 5 or 6 C130 squadrons, let alone the USAF we are talking about total funding of different variants for about 30 aircraft.

Nothing you have posted makes me think you can deliver anything like the same performance for the same price as in service solutions and certainly not without a huge risk factor. We are also still getting over the Nimrod debacle.

Mk54 came about because the Mk50 was just too expensive given the threat, it combines components from Mk48 and Mk50.

@TD

Harvest hawk costs for a c130 that was an already in service and well used airframe they knew everything about. Your own post identifies the doors as an issue on an A400.

The Other Chris

*Typo: Mk 46. Sorry.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@TOC

That is because the MK48 is a seriously bigger beast and in my hurry to edit my post to reply to you I never even thought about it.

@TD

TBH something like a Harvest Hawk kit deliver a different affect and if it was cheap enough then yes it could well be a goer. When you start to get into roles such as ISTAR and MPA where you really do need the correct radars, sensors, comms and weapons then I am far less convinced.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS

‘When you start to get into roles such as ISTAR and MPA where you really do need the correct radars, sensors, comms and weapons’

Wasn’t the Nimrod MRA4 going to have a search water radar? a derivative of such that is/was being offered in a palletised form for Crowsnest. If we were talking about a Tonka replacement I would understand.

If the A400 is too pricey why not use the KC390 as a multimission airframe? has an inflight refueling probe as standard and has wing pylons for AAR pods like the A400 to hang pods from.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN

“Why not use KC390?” It has never even flown yet, the first prototype emerged from the factory last week, we have no idea what it can really do or what it will really cost and when it will really be in service. The pictures show 2 pylons though 1 looks very close to the engine, what they can actually fit on them is another matter.
The MRA4 was going to have a searchwater 2000 variant yes, look where they put it though, not a pallet was it?

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS

‘The MRA4 was going to have a searchwater 2000 variant yes, look where they put it though, not a pallet was it?’

Where’s the Searchwater radar on the Seaking above the mast? what is the difference from putting consoles and seats in a cabin as opposed to putting them in a module?

Do you know what, I’m starting to get a better understanding as to why Iraq and Afghan were such a Grizz.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN

Was the Seaking a purpose built AEW solution, no it was not. do MPA have radars in their nose when built as dedicated platforms, yes they do. coincidence, no it is not. Very little difference between where people sit once you get everything connected, what makes the difference is where the sensors they get their feeds from and the weapons they control are integrated. Now it may be coincidence that the 3 people who point out the difficulties are the 2 RAF posters and the RN poster with experience of ASW and airframes or it may not.

“Do you know what, I’m starting to get a better understanding as to why Iraq and Afghan were such a Grizz.”?

Really why? if you have something to say, have the fing guts to say it.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS

‘Was the Seaking a purpose built AEW solution’

Are we seeking a purpose built MPA solution with a modular A400?

That is what I’m saying, you either do not understand a simple concept, hence Telic and Herrick or like Ginge alluded to earlier you want your shinney toys and throw superficial arguments or references to quals as an ‘I know best’ answer.

All the evidence shows it can be done to a acceptable capability.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN

Is a modular A400M an acceptable MPA solution based on cost, capability and risk, from what we have seen here the answer is a resounding no.
I understand the concept but I also understand what it takes to make the concept work, in terms of requirements, capabilities and a little about airframes. The 2 guys on here who really do airframes also tell you it is not so simple, coincidence. That still has little to do with your Telic or Herrick comment, so please do expand.

I read the Ginges post and did not bother replying. With comments such as “I do not see the difference of dropping Trucks/Paratroopers in an ultra-accurate fashion to dropping a torpedo or rack to launch a missile. It’s fly the plane and drop the load out the back. What that load then does once out of the plane is entirely different.” or “I would not advocate any form of change to the airframe and that includes changing the radar” or yet another rule of 3 miscomprehension told me all I needed to know.

There is zero evidence it can be done on the number of airframes we want to modify at all, never mind on time, meeting capability or within any sort of budget.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS

‘Is a modular A400M an acceptable MPA solution based on cost, capability and risk, from what we have seen here the answer is a resounding no.’

And how do know that? you have no more information on cost than anyone else.

‘There is zero evidence it can be done on the number of airframes we want to modify at all’

In what sense? and what is the evidence against?

‘That still has little to do with your Telic or Herrick comment, so please do expand.’

I get the feeling you seem to think you are the cleverest bloke in every room you walk into. Which seems to have been the problem with both of those campaigns, and as you are a product of the system one can only assume that that was one of the factors.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN

“Is a modular A400M an acceptable MPA solution based on cost, capability and risk, from what we have seen here the answer is a resounding no.’

And how do know that? you have no more information on cost than anyone else”

Well I look at a bog standard A400 which costs only slightly less than a P8, then I think about all that R&D to make sure the modules are compatible and fit, then the alterations to the airframe to put the radar in the correct place, alter all the wiring, put in the correct plumbing, integrate all the weapons systems(take into account all the good experiences we have had with modifications) and I come out with a pretty bloody educated estimate that it will cost more!

“I get the feeling you seem to think you are the cleverest bloke in every room you walk into. Which seems to have been the problem with both of those campaigns, and as you are a product of the system one can only assume that that was one of the factors.”

Meoww, I had nothing to do with the planning of either campaign, I served in both Theatres, outside of both my specialisation and comfort zone. Your almost shy but quite snide attack on me is actually an attack on pretty much anyone that served in Iraq or Afghanistan. must make you proud!

As for being the cleverest person in the room, not by any means but at the same time some of us have spent fucking years learning what we are talking about in terms of naval warfare and really do actually understand the capabilities, requirements and the realities behind them.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS
‘Your almost shy’

In what sense was it shy?

‘attack on me is actually an attack on pretty much anyone that served in Iraq or Afghanistan’

No it is’nt, it’s an attack on linear and arrogant leadership.

‘learning what we are talking about in terms of naval warfare’

Well there it is then, we are not talking about naval warfare we are talking about hanging modular systems from an airframe.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@DN

“No it is’nt, it’s an attack on linear and arrogant leadership.”

That you assume I represent and that existed in Afghanistan and Iraq. A huge assumption based on what, the fact i dare disagree with you?
Well there it is then, we are not talking about naval warfare we are talking about hanging modular systems from an airframe, the fact that it is not your chosen toy is irrelevant.”

Nothing to do with my chosen toy, all to do with a grasp of capability requirements, costs and risks. In terms of an MPA version they do not add up, they may do over 50-75 air frames but not over the amount we want. That is pretty simple and well within the realm of naval warfare.

mickp
mickp

My view is no to anything that involves any major development. MPA – a dedicated fleet of C295s covering UK EEZ and a flight in FI, with additional variants replacing C130s for SF and anything else it can. Establish a core capability with sufficient airframes to provide proper coverage in multiple areas. If we must have a ‘high end variant’ then go for say 5 or 6 P8s to provide a deployable force. 737 airframe then goes on to replaced E3 and Airseeker in due course (and possibly Sentinel).

Long range bomb truck, if (and only if) our global strategic priorities demand one – a couple of squadrons or so of GR4s retained for overseas deployment and down the line choice F35 / UAV or P8 derivative with some sort of rotating internal weapons bay.

More immediate priority, let’s have at least up to date 140 T2/T3 Typhoons with beefed up QRA in UK and FI and an alert squadron for overseas work

I really think long range overseas bombing is pretty near the bottom of our list of priorities

A400m – transport, and AAR capability (notwithstanding PFI on Voyager). A few more than 22 please

NG
NG

” USAF National Guard” usually its (state) Air Guard or (state) Air National Guard or just Air Guard. also i will agree that development cost for MPA for a400m is likely to offset the cost of just buying P-8. After you get the P-8 why not intergrate new systems and make it more flexible like with the old nimrod. But i am an amatuer

Rocket Banana

With regard to the “strike” capability of A400M: why use a $190m aircraft when you can get an entire squadron of MQ9 for the same price?

That’s a lot more loiter for your money.

Rapid response = tankered Typhoon (currently Tornado)
Follow up persistence = MQ9 with P4 and Brimstone

Peter Elliott

Have to agree with much of the cold water above I’m afraid. Despite the attractions of A400 for range and payload the following are show-stoppers:

1. The cost of the basic airframe is as high as the specialist platforms. So _any_ adddtional cost for pimping it will kill the business case. If we were talking about a cheap tactical transport that would be cool. But sadly we aren’t. All that range and payload doesn’t come for free.

2. We will be ordering a tiny run. If all of European Nato got together and decided to develop modular A400 varients for a variety of roles that might work. But they won’t and even if they did they would find a political way to cock the project up.

3. There really will be integration / development costs. Just because the C130 programme started a long time ago, sunk those costs over many airframes, or hid them in black budget, doesn’t mean they weren’t there. See point 1 above.

4. Why bother when there are MOTS solutions? Mark is right about the success of Shadow R1 over land. I’m not sure about C-295 for MPA becuase of its range and payload limitations. But P8 is not a bad path to embark on, especially if its done in a co-ordinated way with the eventual replacements for Sentry and Sentinel.

Peter Elliott

The calculus might change if we get to the point where we can pick up ‘nearly new’ A400M from bankrupt European partners for fire-sale prices. But we aren’t there yet and may not ever be.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@APATS
‘A huge assumption based on what, the fact i dare disagree with you?’

Not at all, it’s based on the way you disagree. You over inflate certain aspects of arguments with no proof so as to deter further discussion because you have made up your mind. This is probably a personality trait and not something that arises just on Internet forums and as you are in a position of authority ergo, ‘linear and arrogant leadership’ don’t worry you wont be the first or the last.

‘costs and risks’

Of which you have no information to make the assertion that it would be financially nonviable or that it would be an 80% solution. The P8 does not have the range of the Nimrod and we lack the capability to refuel it in the air, is that an 80% solution?

@TD

Maybe we should just buy some C130’s and American kits?

stephen duckworth

EADS developed the C295 MPA as a ro ro and also the dedicated C295 AEW , I cannot find any specifics anywhere in googleland that they are again unilaterally developing a much longer legs versions of the same for the A400M but I can imagine it has crossed their minds. There is a potential market for 50+ long legged MPA in Europe alone , the Atlantiques alone for example or the P3’s and we are missing a dozen or so. As TD says in these times of austerity using a platform for multiple uses, especially one you are commited to buying anyway, could broaden the market place and cost load.
A dedicated platform for MPA/SIGINT would obviously best in terms of functionality and also management of asset( if cant be a transport aswell there will be no one fighting over the airframe) but beggars cant be choosers and each service needs to make allowances. Either 22 A400M and 8 P8( and all the P8 support kit/training/facilities required at a cost of?) or 30 A400M and 8 C295MPA style ro ro kits? (ps 8 is an arbitury number insert as required) The additional 8 airframes may come in at a discount from those countries wanting to offload their commitment to the A400M programme but maybe not. How many anti-sub torpedoes does an MPA need? 4? Can these not be mounted on the wing pylons so off setting the need for the need to ‘poop’ them through the rear ramp. On power requirements the A400M provides enough to supply the requirements for medivac icu fit out I would of thought that could feed the C295 MPA pallet .

The Other Chris

Or, if we’re going American, just go for a purpose designed MPA and buy some P-8’s.

Right. Now that’s settled. Supplemental MSA capability next? Can we co-opt the entire fleet of Sentinel’s or do we need some more?

;)

The Other Chris

@monkey

Torpedo’s normally require a heated bay to transit at high altitude.

Topman
Topman

I think it’s correct no-one knows how much it would cost, but I don’t think you can beret one person for suggesting it will cost a large sum of money and then at the same time support the program for being cost effective based on the same (none) information.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@Topman

I agree no-one does know the cost, but you just have to look around the world at various industries (including aerospace) to see that modularity is common practice due to cost and flexibility/utility.

I understand that nothing in this world is cheap or as simple as first appears but it’s slightly over egging the pudding a bit to suggest massive amounts of R&D money to produce a module that has been done hundreds of times before, we throw sensors on airframes that were not designed for them all the time without having to rebuild them from scratch.

I know we don’t like the Hi-Low mix so maybe we need to look at the medium’ish solutions from now on, after all there is no point in taking a capability holiday somewhere else to pay for expensive kit. In the height of the coldwar when we had an active threat the civilian population could see, and a larger defence budget we still tried to get the most out of our platforms.

Topman
Topman

Oh I agree, more needs to be found out about costs before anyone can say one way or the other. My post was in reply to DN.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@Topman

Sorry that last post was’nt really a satisfactory reply. I do not mind people disagreeing, far from it very good ideas and compromises come from disagreement. What I do not like is the ‘As someone used to working with complex systems’ style reply which are basically ‘because I said so’ and are used to shut down arguments, I like to think that non of us on here are 8 years old and we generally do seem to be intelligent enough to understand most arguments, so such comments are not warranted.

The Ginge
The Ginge

Well at least my post triggered some debate. And I will admitt I am no technician or qualified Aircraft Engineer. I am a good old interested member of the public. But the point I was trying to get across is two fold.
1. There is no money. With the figures comming out of Westminster especialy concerning the NHS, defence is not going to get it’s inflation +1% increase in the equipment budget. I am politicaly active in my area, I talk to politicians and there is no apertite for increasing the MOD budget at all. Especialy if we have to find £30bn for the NHS ( I accept this is a negotiating stance and it’ll probably be £20bn) but nobody is going to give you more money, in fact you will probably face more budget cuts. That £2 or £4bn tucked in “reserves” is probably going to be taken by the Treasury, shock horror the politicians lied to you.
This leads on to my second point;
2. Were is the inovation and the can do attitiude in the expert/engineering community. All I hear is I want my big toys and if I can’t have them I’ll sulk. I am no expert but TD has made a well reasoned case for an alternative to try and save money. If it can not be done, tell me why, show me why and come up with a solution. Where is the thinkers that produced the first Harrier design ?
The fact is TD have put forward a well researched piece showing everything that has already been done, built and used. All that needs to be done is making them work together.
As an example please as a layman tell me what the differance is between dropping 2 tonne of unaerodynamic Land Rover within 5 feet of a landing zone, whilst going xxxmph over land compared to dropping a 500kg torpedo in to the sea within 5 feet of some GPS co-ordinates. Yes the computer needs to known the aerodynamics of the load, I get that, but since the A400 will drop 100’s if not 1,000’s of differant loads over its lifetime I presume there is someway of programming the computer ? I am sure there are lots of pieces in the processes but fundamentaly I can’t see the differance, its a load of metal droped by parachute as accuralty as possible in a nutshell. Once landed the Land Rover and the Torpedo do differant things, but their systems sort that out not the aircrafts. Or why you need differant training to fly to GPS Cordinate at X Height at X Speed over Land compared to Sea. At least at Sea there are no Mountains/Hills to hit as you go in or out of the Drop Zone, again the general public who you have to convince to pay for 9 P8’s are going to need some convincing.
So what I ask is for the nay sayers to come up with other Cheap solutions, remembering that we are buying 22 A400’s already so the cost of the airframe can to a degree be discounted, because if we need extra airframes they can be picked up in 5yrs or 10yrs or 15yrs time when we have the money. But at lest your back in the game flying something.
I am not an expert, but can the experts on this board explain why it can not be done cheaper, because to be honest guys after Nimrod, Fres etc etc the public don’t trust the defence sector when it says its going to cost x billions when others do it for a lot less.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@ The Ginge

“So what I ask is for the nay sayers to come up with other Cheap solutions, remembering that we are buying 22 A400’s already so the cost of the airframe can to a degree be discounted”

Those 22 airframes are probably not enough to fulfill their transport role. They are going to be worked very hard doing what they have been purchased to do so no you cannot discount the cost of the airframes.
it is not about “my big toys” it is about capabilities, there is a difference. Something either meets the capabilities or it does not. As has been pointed out several times an A400 is bloody expensive before you do anything to it. You get (hopefully) what you pay for and strategic load, range and speed combined with tactical access is not a cheap package.

“As an example please as a layman tell me what the differance is between dropping 2 tonne of unaerodynamic Land Rover within 5 feet of a landing zone, whilst going xxxmph over land compared to dropping a 500kg torpedo in to the sea within 5 feet of some GPS co-ordinates. Yes the computer needs to known the aerodynamics of the load, I get that, but since the A400 will drop 100’s if not 1,000’s of differant loads over its lifetime I presume there is someway of programming the computer ? I am sure there are lots of pieces in the processes but fundamentaly I can’t see the differance, its a load of metal droped by parachute as accuralty as possible in a nutshell. Once landed the Land Rover and the Torpedo do differant things, but their systems sort that out not the aircrafts. Or why you need differant training to fly to GPS Cordinate at X Height at X Speed over Land compared to Sea. At least at Sea there are no Mountains/Hills to hit as you go in or out of the Drop Zone, again the general public who you have to convince to pay for 9 P8’s are going to need some convincing.”

The torpedo other than needing very careful storage and handling needs to be linked to a system which does not exist in an A400. By the time you have put the correct radar in, modified the power and wiring systems, fitted the other sensors, cut a few holes to drop the sonobuoys, fitted the mission suite and sensors you have an aircraft more expensive than a P8. I am a huge fan of the top end potential of an A400 MPA but it would have to be done properly and in sufficient numbers.
The simple fact is that it is not 1960 or 1939 and high end capability is not cheap, when you say others do it cheaper, they do something cheaper but you really need to examine the capabilities to see what they do. FRES excepted :)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers

I’ve often thought that a hybrid air vehicle would make a fine MPA. A 40tonne payload version should be adequate. Loads of endurance. You could have a crew rest area, double crew and get 48 hours out of it.

wf
wf

@RT: only problem with it would be transit time. Unless you were out there a lot longer than 48 hours :-)

The Other Chris

@RT and @wf

I also think the Airlander plans are are very exciting, but you probably guessed that. If they can demonstrate the adverse weather performance, they’re smiling. Endurance of three weeks would be cracking for a variety of roles, some oddball (Sentinel GCS station in the payload bay anyone?).

Speed to target to drop a torpedo would definitely be a question (are high altitude torpedo glider kits enough?). Can definitely see it in the MSA role mind.

Maybe HAV304 is the “cheap platform” we should be talking about modifying with these kinds of multi-role modules ahead of next years Trials rather than the established-as-expensive-but-cracking-transporter A400M?

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@ The Ginge

Here is some stuff to help you make your mind up either way.

‘By the time you have put the correct radar in, modified the power and wiring systems, fitted the other sensors, cut a few holes to drop the sonobuoys, fitted the mission suite and sensors you have an aircraft more expensive than a P8’

http://www.airdyne.org/technologies-sabir-product-line.php
http://www.airdyne.org/technologies-communication.php

Modification, Derivatives, Upgrades, Integration

‘Airdyne engineering is uniquely suited to modifying and integrating changes to SABIR components and payloads due to their expertise used in the original design and build. Airdyne can perform these actions up to the limits of aerodynamic envelope of SABIR mounting systems, loads/stress limitations and potential electrical limitations of the aircraft.’

http://www.lockheedmartin.co.uk/content/dam/lockheed/data/aero/documents/global-sustainment/product-support/2011HOC-Presentations/Wed_1400-Vigilant_Watch.pdf

http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/singapore-air-show/2012-02-10/lockheed-martin-and-northrop-grumman-offer-airborne-vigilance-lower-cost

Price/Unit Cost:

‘The unit cost of a P-8A Poseidon is $179.81 million (flyaway cost in FY 2014). Of this amount, the airframe – including the two CFM56-7B engines – makes up $139.46 million while the avionics package costs $33.23 million.’

http://www.bga-aeroweb.com/Defense/P-8-Poseidon.html

‘This figure excludes military construction (MILCON) costs in support of the program in the amount of $400 million.’

http://militaryaircraft-airbusds.com/InnovationAndTechnology/FITS.aspx

http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/ain-defense-perspective/2011-10-10/brazil-introduces-first-p-3-upgraded-airbus-military

stephen duckworth

The A400M fleet will be hard worked as it replaces a greater number of C130’s but it is much more capable than them which could leave an opportunity for some airframes to have joint tasking capability.
“Thanks to its superior performance and capabilities, a fleet of eight A400Ms offers the same productivity (measured in tonnes per nm each year) as a fleet of eighteen previous generation tactical airlifters.The Life Cycle Cost of these eighteen previous generation tactical airlifters is 55% higher than the one of the eight A400M fleet.”froms EADS home website. The additional crew console bays would be lost in the cavernerous cargo bay of the A400M and any mods to the parachute doors could be left alone unless they parachutists needed to exit them rather than the rear ramp.In terms of the Stingrays they are/were hung from the sides of the ASW helicopters in all weathers and temperatures during a mission so they could survive in side the hold of a cargo tactical transport? The ASW Merlins will be used in other roles I beleive with maybe the sonar/flare dispensers removed and at a push the two person sonar/oberver console to make a bit more room on occasion. All in all it could be done as the colonialist have shown on the C130 but would we ? I think a multirole platform development for the A400M is the way it will go as EADS have done for the C295 with the Gunship, AEW, MPA, SAR versions following in the US footsteps but will we follow I doubt it as the lure of a 737 series of MPA, AEW, SIGINT etc beckons.

stephen duckworth

On buying into the P8 a big drawback I see would be cost , I doubt Boeing will treat us any different to Australia who are buying 8 with a support package.http://www.airforce.gov.au/Boeing-P8-A-Poseidon/?RAAF-Z4PUOpGXH/eLtWmc6qxYl9xYycb+rKng
Thats $US 437m per plane !

Red Trousers
Red Trousers

Wf,

Transit time certainly could be a bit of an issue, but 80 knots is the design speed of the HAV. 800 NM in ten hours, 28 hours on task and ten hours back home is not too bad. It’s a matter of crew endurance really, not fuel.

Pick an operating location suitably far west and east (Londonderry, Kinloss?) And you could well have a very flexible platform for seeing CASD safely in and out of port, and MPA in the North Sea. Add a third in Cornwall and we begin to address our SOLAS obligations.

The late Roger Munk (designer of the HAV) once told me that the modular philosophy was central to his design. His company would specify the dimensions of the payload bay, ask how much weight and power requirements were needed, and let a systems integration company do the rest. There were plans for a special payload docking area (basically a long trench, the payload would be prepositioned, the HAV come along, marry up and be off in less than an hour).

Quite a cute concept.

Jeremy M H

@Ginge

I think APATS point is that on the higher end task it does not seem at all likely that using the A400M would save you money. It might save a bit, it might not. But in doing that there are certain fairly large elements of development and design risk that you are taking that you are not with the alternative which I think is what APATS and others in that field are trying to point out. I don’t really see how it saves you money, at least not a significant amount, unless you are suggesting that you basically cut the transport fleet by 6-9 aircraft on a pretty much full time basis.

@TD

I get that the Stingray is the UK light torpedo now but isn’t that part of the problem in some way? I think that seeing some sort of large additional cost in fielding an already integrated torpedo if one were to buy the P-8 is a bit silly. Australia and India have accepted doing so without much problem. The rounds are pretty much all up rounds anyway and as I pointed out before they are substantially cheaper than the Stingray to begin with just in terms of produced cost, let alone if you start to consider the fortune the UK spent doing the development work on the Stingray and its subsequent updates.

I think the risk reward balance there doesn’t make much sense. You are pursuing a relatively small gain (basically whatever the marginal cost with maintaining two types of light weight torpedoes rather than one is) by looking to incur an open ended (likely small but who knows) risk with integrating the Stingray. That risk grows if you start talking about putting it with a high altitude delivery system. Again I think that risk is small but all of that for a weapon that is moving towards the end of its service life (2025 I think) seems silly.

Particularly with the Royal Navy I think that far too much the UK is trying to maintain a broad based defense industry AND meet real global commitments when it isn’t willing to expend the money necessary to do so. It could probably do one or the other but not really both and one needs to be the priority (I don’t really care which it is honestly). Because for the cost simply of developing Stingray (granted this was done in the Cold War environment) you could buy 6 P-8’s and a couple hundred torpedoes to go with them.

Modularity and cleverness is all well and good. I am a huge fan. But when talked about as it relates to a budget crunch this is addressing the type of window coverings you are choosing while the foundation is creaking away underneath you.

The declining budget, more than anything, means the UK needs to make tough choices. This kind of stuff makes for a nice talking point but in the end isn’t all that important. Defining key capabilities and industrial priorities is what needs to happen.

wf
wf

@Jeremy M H: Stingray is an old platform. If memory serves, development alone was 920M back in 1981, which is a lot of money even then. Buy some Mk54 and Mk50 off the shelf methinks….

Jeremy M H

@WF

Stingray has been upgraded at least once and I think it is at least getting life extended again. I have not seen anything that say it can go beyond 2025 though either. My argument is not so much against Stingray or any one development program. It is just that with resources limited you can only do so much development on your own if you are the UK. The Royal Navy has ships that use basically all British equipment (at least the major sensors and weapons systems). Take a look around Europe and see how unique that really is. It is a source of pride I am sure. But its also something that is pretty expensive to do.

Jed
Jed

APATS said:

“The torpedo other than needing very careful storage and handling needs to be linked to a system which does not exist in an A400.”

So as noted, if dropped over the arse end, of the opened ramp, that connection is from the acoustic processing / mission control system in the ro-ro “pod” – so that’s a cable to the cradle / apparatus hodling the Stingray. Engineering level of difficulty = “easy peasy, squeeze the lemon”

“By the time you have put the correct radar in,”

Podded, as discussed. Or phased array side looking antennas on new undercarriage doors, but lets just stick with the POD on the existing underwing pylon. It’s all in the article.

“modified the power and wiring systems,”

why ?

“fitted the other sensors, cut a few holes to drop the sonobuoys”

Pods. Oh and maybe new paratroop doors with sonar bouy dispensers and MAYBE a new tail ramp with holes in (which has already been developed for tanker variant) – all discussed in the article.

“fitted the mission suite and sensors you have an aircraft more expensive than a P8.”

As TD noted non of us have the real figures, nor ever will, but all your reasons above for it being more expensive to mod an A400 are dealt with in the article, in fact they are the whole point of the article !

“I am a huge fan of the top end potential of an A400 MPA but it would have to be done properly and in sufficient numbers.”

Well doh….. but why does that automatically make it more expensive than a P8 if your NOT introducing a new airframe, a new engine type, new sub-systems, with new training and support elements. New pilot training initiatives for a new type, new tyres…. blah blah blah….. even without the numbers to play with I cannot conceive how a common airframe does not achieve savings. Now the question is are those savings enough to enable a modest increment to the fleet 4 to 8 additional airframes for this additional tasking – that I suspect we will never be able to answer but “blah blah blah it will be more expensive” while trotting out arguments that have largely already been dealt with in the source article is just lazy.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

The article presents one side of a case Jed, that is it. In case you have not noticed every single one off those pods etc is fitted to a C130. Not an A400m.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers

I’m a bit baffled as to why dropping sonobuoys seems so complex. Having seen the news reports on the search for MH 370 it seemed to be mostly shoving them out of a tube manually. Surely a hole in the tail ramp would do? Gravity will take care of getting them into water, and if launched downwards at 45 degrees through the tail ramp should ensure adequate clearance of the tail. A simple red/green light system should be able to tell the Kevin when to let go.

Am I missing something? Not an unknown situation for me, but I really don’t see the issue. Am I being thick?

Mark
Mark

Well it’s easy to see if these systems really do require zero airframe modifications and would offer increased flexibility to a standard fleet without creating fleets within fleets. Simple ask the U.S. marines to let us borrow a harvest hawk kit and we will fit it to one of our hercules in a day at brize norton if they cant do it then fleets within fleets it is and your large fleet utility is out the window.

Once proved on our hercs contact Airbus defence and space and ask them to fit it on our a400m with its composite wing and flyby wire systems not found on the herc and see what envelope restrictions and fuel burn issues are involved and if it can be fitted without modifying the a400m airframe.

El Sid
El Sid

@RT
Speed was one of the reasons why Nimrod was better than P-3 or S-3. 80kts is fine for the surveillance stuff but just doesn’t really cut it for ASW work where you need to respond quickly to a fleeting signal. Imagine you get a SOSUS contact or a Sentinel or balloon picks up a periscope on radar. These days they won’t be up for long – enough for a sweep of the EO/IR, quick burst of transmission over radio and then it’s back down again. Then the clock is ticking. Say you’re 100nm away and the target is a SSN that can travel at 30kts. At 500kts you get there in 12 minutes and the target can’t be more than 6nm away, at 80kts it takes you 75 minutes to get there and the target could be 37.5nm away – in any direction. So your search area goes from 113nm2 to 4418nm2. Airspeed is really important for Awfully Slow Warfare.

The other thing is the weather. Life expectancy of PTDS and PGSS has been less than 12 months in Afghanistan – they succumb to wind, rain and lightning. Does the North Atlantic have more or less of these than a desert?
http://www.defensenews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013305070027

That’s not to say that some aerostats wouldn’t be a good idea on the Scillies, Shetland, Lowestoft etc – I think PTDS and PGSS are now up to a million hours in Afghanistan so it’s proven tech, but they’re no panacea.

On sonobuoys – sounds like the ?Aussies ?Kiwis were using the occasional old-school passive buoy to detect a stationary airliner that was deliberately emitting pings. Against a submarine you could be laying a specific pattern of dozens, of a mixture of emitters and receivers, whilst travelling 1nm every 15 seconds – a smart launcher makes it a lot easier.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers

El Sid,

I am always willing to be educated on ASW, and thank you.

Perhaps I am arguing for a “prosecuting” type of ASW, where some other platform establishes a contact, and then the HAV vectors in (slightly slowly), but can then take on the contact for dozens and dozens of hours? It might work. Perhaps some element of the modular solution is something fast but limited endurance, plus something slow but very enduring, with a digital data link in between?

It’s not my bag, maritime surveillance. But one of the few things that I have learned in life is that the old school ways and not innovating rarely lead to great breakthroughs. And also to never trust a hierarchy schooled in the old ways of doing anything. There is nothing in it for them to challenge orthodoxy.

(And also that those who rise into establishment ranks from non-establishment origins are the most slavish of those venerating the establishment. To wit, most Warrant Officers in the Army, and I suspect the same is true for Kevin and Andrew Warrant Officers. There’s no mileage in it for them to be thorns in the side)

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

‘The article presents one side of a case Jed, that is it. In case you have not noticed every single one off those pods etc is fitted to a C130. Not an A400m.’

The article highlights what can be done with a transport airframe (lots of room and payload to play with) and modular equipment to give you a fairly decent capability with moderate cost. The fact that the pictures show a C130 is irrelevant, it’s the concept that is being highlighted and how a bit of ingenuity such as using doors that could be replaced rather than cutting chunks out of airframes has allowed it to happen.

It’s the concept not the airframe.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven

@TD

The more I think about it would we not be better off buying the Sea Herc and then a few SIGINT modules?

We could lose the Shadows (if we wanted) and have an airframe that could be rerolled into SIGINT/Bomb truck etc. We have crews and maintainers already trained with a vast amount of institutional experience on the airframe, and the sneaky blokes could use it as well.

El Sid
El Sid

@RT
Trouble is that if you’re only going to have a small fleet of ASW assets, and you need some of them to be complicated to do the initial detection, the laws of small fleets militates against having a separate design as your followup fleet. Particularly if you reckon you’re mostly going to be worrying about littoral waters where range is less important.

The other problem is how your followup vehicle keeps in contact with the sub once you’ve detected it. Your airship has a fundamental disadvantage like all aircraft doing ASW, there’s a massive boundary between it and the sub namely the sea surface (and possibly thermal layers in the sea). So you have to work out how you’re going to track the sub through that boundary – it’s no good having a persistent airship without persistent sensors. You could use sonobuoys but expending a finite supply of things that cost several grand a pop is not really the orthodoxy-breaking you’re looking for. You could hang a sonar off your airship, but that means it has to go down to where the weather is. You could float it on the surface like a jellyfish, but then you lose your speed. So then you turn your jellyfish into a boat capable of keeping up with the sub – unmanned, with a sonar and other sensors – and you have something that’s very like the USN’s ACTUV project. We’ll see how it turns out, but ACTUV is pretty much a real-world version of your “slow and very enduring”, a cheap ($30m from memory), persistent submarine tracker.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth

I didn’t realise there was a little step available for standing on at the parachute door. I thought it was just a slope. Does this change any roll on, roll off ideas? You could stick quite a lot of kit there if the weight of it was supported by the platform.

Likewise the camera mounting. Perhaps stubby wing could be added in the same place for carrying weapons and sensors.

stephen duckworth

@TD
On your ‘fictitious’ post from Twitter on Tom Cruises new film, again all CGI/photoshop ‘ it can’t possibly be done etc etc. You ‘can’t just cut holes in an airframe and stick things on you know!
If civvie street can manage it and the Military ‘can’t’ we are hiring the wrong people.

Mark
Mark

That’s not for a film its a test for Ryanairs new economy class fare.

WiseApe

Is he that desperate for our benefits?

Edit: I hadn’t realised that door was so big :D

The Other Chris

I’ve contacted the A400M press team to ask what the rig was connected to.

Mark
Mark

Toc

Looks to me like they’ve maybe mounted it thru the windows.

The Other Chris

Aye, it’s mounting method on the reverse that I’ve asked for specifics on.

stephen duckworth

@ToC
I suspect its a frame mounted of the floor fixing rails through the windows.

Mark
Mark

TOC

There maybe something unique in there as this is a test aircraft but most likely positions are the seat mounting positions similar to that shown in this pdf

http://www.autoflug.de/files/downloads/file_1364311129.pdf

AndyC

If we’re looking at modular designs for the A400M why stop with MPA?

Why not have a series of different containers to plug into the cargo hold such as one for the MPA role, one for land ISTAR to replace Sentinel and Shadow, one for electronic eavesdropping to replace Rivet Joint, one for AEW to replace Sentry and one for EW training to replace the Falcon DA-20?

Thus we have five variants plus the basic transport version and you end up with Air Chief Marshal Pulford’s Multi Mission Aircraft.

If you ordered 18 additional aircraft and boosted the whole fleet to 40 you could have a lot of flexibility between all six variants and design the fleet as you needed it.

The only catch: the way industry works I doubt you’d see much change from £7 billion (and it’ll take 15 years to do the work so make it £10 billion!) So there goes the F-35 budget!

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@Andy C

“The only catch:” The amount of different radars, sensors, aerials, receivers, weapons etc that you would have to modify the airframe to carry.

trackback

[…] gun pod etc., on the other wing. Think Defence have a couple good articles on this approach, here and here. This is where I have obtained the above sensor material from. They also have a link to a […]

The Other Chris

Adding here for future reference.

Ramp-launching with roll-on, roll-off equipment progressing on MV-22 platform:

http://www.janes.com/article/50793/mv-22-deploys-tube-launched-weapons-during-gunship-tests

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