≡ Menu

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

In the past three months VFP have conducted silent protests against two of the largest military trade and hierarchy gatherings in Europe. Both were in London. Naturally VFP were only by the entrances as ‘Personae non gratae ’. Herewith, as reported by the arms companies and their media themselves, verbatim almost unredacted, is some of what VFP were against. (see sources)

A notable finding of our research indicated that in the combined seven days of both events, involving literally many hundreds of speakers, presentations and papers, not one comment was made on the environmental impact of these developments either in terms of ‘footprint’ carbon or otherwise; use of diminishing rare resources to make them ‘state-of-the-art’, or their contribution to emissions in manufacture (intensive) or testing. (for more on this issue, see the previous post by David Collins)

DESI 2019: The Sales Shop

Part 1 is from the military news highlights from this year’s DSEI “defence” exhibition, held on 9-13 of September in East London.

1. £100m Protector will be able to fly for up to 40hrs. (RAF)

DSEI saw the UK MoD announce a £100m contract to US General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) to complete, just, testing and evaluation activities for the RAF’s next gen Protector RG1 armed UAV. Protector, a variant of the GA-ASI MQ-9B SkyGuardian, is set to be delivered to the RAF from 2021, with 16 air vehicles to be acquired. Unlike the current Reaper, it will be certificated to fly routinely in controlled civil airspace; meaning where airliners climb, descend and cruise.

2. Protector ground control station (GCS) source VFP

Unexpected news in the air sector from this year’s DSEI exhibition saw Italy sign up to become a partner on the UK’s Team Tempest future combat aircraft programme. Signing a government-to-government statement of intent (SoI) on the 10th September, Italy became the second nation (after Sweden in July) to agree to co-operate on the UK Tempest ‘sixth generation’ combat aircraft project. The agreement followed on from a joint government feasibility study launched last year in the wake of the release of the UK’s future Combat Air Strategy.

3. MBDA shows off potential Tempest weapons (MBDA)

On display alongside the Tempest fighter full-scale mock-up were potential weapon concepts from MBDA. While some of these, including the supersonic and stealth cruise missiles had appeared at the Paris Air Show in June; new at DSEI were tandem within-visual range air-to-air missiles, ‘increased calibre’ WVR AAM, hard-kill self-defence and ground attack micro-missiles and the SPEAR EW – appearing for the first time at a defence trade show. The tandem WVR AAM missiles are based on ASRAAM, but aerodynamically cleaned up and shortened to fit inside a Tempest internal weapons bay. Meanwhile the ‘last-ditch’ hard-kill self-defence micromissile, revealed in June, was accompanied by a new ground-attack micromissile. In further news about the SPEAR EW mini cruise missile, MBDA and Leonardo were been awarded a £10m contract for development of the SPEAR EW.
(MBDA feature again in DSEI below)

Dragonfire: Skirting The Grey Area, An Illegal Weapon?

4. Source VfP

As first reported by VFP two years ago at DESI 2017, last month saw a full-scale Dragonfire beam director on display in the DSEI Naval Zone (ND4) with a half-scale model on the Leonardo stand. According to the MoD the programme will develop technologies for a high energy ‘defensive’ laser weapon system in the 50 kilowatt category. The prototype is being delivered and live tested by late this year.

Dragonfire, a directed-energy weapon (DEW) damages its target with highly focused energy, including laser. DEWs are future weapon systems that emit such energy for target destruction. The potential applications of this advanced technology include: as a missile defence system, the disabling of lightly armoured vehicles, counter artillery / mortar rounds and even as anti-personnel weapons. The use of DEW systems is (only theoretically) much more cost effective than the cost associated with a single missile launch.

If successful, the first deployed-in-quantity laser weapons would come into service by the mid-2020s. Energy weapons are an increasing focus for defence firms and crucially for export. Notably they are lethal if not tuned properly; they are silent and offer plausible deniability of their use.

There is growing pressure in the USA to amend the Convention (signed ten years ago) on laser weapons so they can be used against personnel: “development was stalled because of international laws prohibiting the use of directed-energy weapons against personnel. It is crucial the defence industry find ways to harness the power of a discriminate laser weapon. If the Law of Armed Conflict is adjusted to permit directed-energy weapons use against personnel, which could minimize suffering to the most extent possible, using aerial lasers with the power to target personnel on the ground can redefine the way the U.S. Air Force utilizes airpower within the close air support, counterinsurgency, and counter terror attack missions.”

5. The cover page of a recent market study: “Directed energy weapons market worth $5.8 billion in 2019” says new Visiongain report.

Quo Vadis DEW Laser?

The idea of using high energy lasers (HELs) as weapons has been around almost as long as the laser itself invented in 1960. Initially, the systems were chemical lasers, which got their power from a chemical reaction. They are very large pieces of equipment and are very fuel hungry, requiring a significant quantity of chemicals to drive them. The fuel is frequently toxic, requiring operators to don protective clothing.

Solid state lasers, in contrast, consist of a glass or ceramic material to generate a laser beam. They are smaller, more compact but still require a large energy input to generate the beam. Although the energy required remains significant, however until recently, solid state lasers were not able to reach the same power levels as chemical lasers and so were not deemed suitable for military use. They first came to public attention when Ronald Regan proposed the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) program “Star Wars”, in the early ‘80s DEWs were deployed on various USN and RN ships in the nineties, especially those deployed to the Gulf of Arabia.

6. Impression of DEW onboard a RN ship (MBDA)

Microwave DEW and laser DEW both operate in the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, however, laser wavelengths are about 10,000 times smaller than microwaves, which mean high-energy lasers direct more focused beams of lower-powered energy using the preferred mechanism of electric power to radiate energy and focusing it on a target, resulting in physical damage. On a ship, the power generator can be mounted inside and the beam fed up through fibre cables. It is the weight and size of the power source for the laser that for the foreseeable future limit them to Battleships and large wheeled trucks. They will not be seen on fighters or on the larger drones. Unless there is a quantum breakthrough, outsize military transports or heavy duty helicopters would be more likely.

7. (MBDA)
In this artwork a MIG is circled in red. Under battle conditions it will be near impossible from a ship to avoid the cockpit and pilots eyes or igniting his helmet sensors

Dragonfire, UK Arms Industry Who’s Who

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and UK arms industry are developing the weapon and the government announced that GKN and DSTL have developed an energy storage system for it. Again enormous amount of power is needed for it to fire.

8. Land based vehicle from Rheinmetall-MAN for MBDA

Likewise as above, a panicking crew or just plain indifferent, can easy re-direct at opposing personnel, especially if sold overseas

Led by MBDA of Stevenage & Filton, under contract to Dstl, is UK’s Dragonfire. MBDA is bringing weapon system- i. delivery experience and ii. advanced command and control (C2) plus image processing capability to UK Dragonfire, in addition to coordinating the overall effort. A key benefit according to MBDA is that the base system is highly adaptable and its effects are highly scalable. As such it offers a range of different engagement solutions depending on the tactical scenario, these include tracking, deterring, dazzling the sensors of a potential threat, up to damaging or destroying it.

Although led by MBDA as prime, this consortium has brought together the ‘elite’ of GB arms industry expertise to deliver the complex Laser. According to MBDA in a press release:

“UK DRAGONFIRE will achieve, through the Laser Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) Capability Demonstrator, a significant step change in the UK’s capability in High Energy Laser Weapon Systems and will provide the basis for technology-driven operational advantage. The programme will mature the key technologies for a high energy defensive laser weapon system and will include the engagement of representative targets in land and maritime environments in 2019. The programme will also provide the body of evidence for future procurement decisions. UK DRAGONFIRE is a collaborative consortium led MBDA with QinetiQ and Leonardo-Finmeccanica that has brought together the best of relevant UK industry expertise to deliver the highly challenging and complex programme. The team also capitalises on the strengths of the individual companies involved, which includes GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall ADG. This proposal builds on the significant MoD and Industry investment in the areas of laser coherent beam combining, weapon systems command and control, advanced pointing systems and high power storage.”

9. Slide Source Dstl / MoD

Welcoming the announcement, Dave Armstrong Executive Group Director Technical and UK Managing Director of MBDA said: “Under MBDA lead, UK DRAGONFIRE will put the UK at the forefront of high energy laser systems, capitalising on the experience of joint MoD/Industry working in the complex weapons environment. Furthermore it advances the UK towards a future product with significant export potential.”

The Design of the Turret known as a “beam director”, that will be used to trial this new technology, requires a large, very precise fragile mirror, mounted somewhat like a searchlight, requiring bulky machinery to slew the mirror to aim the laser. This beam director, will be provided by Leonardo, as well as electro-optics for target identification and tracking. Norman Bone, Managing Director of Leonardo Air and Space Systems said, “Leonardo will contribute the electro-optic beam director to the programme and support the trials and evaluation.”

QinetiQ is providing the powerful laser emitter. QinetiQ’s role is to provide the high-power laser technology for the programme and, using their testing and evaluation expertise (MoD Boscombe Down), will conduct trials over land and water at various trials sites that they operate for UK MOD. QinetiQ has completed building the weapon’s laser source in its purpose-built clean room. The laser source has undergone a process of evaluation before being integrated with Leonardo’s beam director.

QinetiQ are the only UK company to successfully operate a high energy laser weapon in the UK. Their team has direct experience of high power fibre lasers and therefore a clear understanding of the requirements that will be placed upon the fundamental optical sources for the Laser Directed Energy Weapon. Using their design for a coherently combined fibre laser and the associated phase control system, QinetiQ will provide this precision laser source that can be directed onto a dynamic target and achieve an enhanced power density on a target even in the presence of turbulence.

QinetiQ’s solution for the high-power laser has a scalable architecture that supports increasing the number of laser channels, offering a route map towards systems suitable for maritime, land and air use.

Dragonfire is now ready to deploy for testing on MoD Ranges this year. The project will culminate in operation at full-power under test conditions inside the facility “soon”, before it is transported to MoD Shoeburyness for long-range outdoor trials before the end of 2019; enabling the engagement of representative targets on land and at sea before 2020. These will provide the body of evidence developing UK industrial capability and know-how, so that collectively the UK can respond more effectively to both threats and the emerging business opportunities in the UK and overseas.

Dragonfire is basically “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses”, this news will see Britain join the laser weapons arms race after America has already extensively tested DEWs and deployed a DEW laser to the Persian Gulf on one of its own warships.

Air Power Conference July: The Doctrine

Part 2 is from this year’s RAF Chief of the Air Staff’s Air and Space Power Conference (ASPC) held on 17-18 July in central London. Attended by senior UK Government Ministers, international air and space power chiefs, business leaders and professionals from across the spectrum of the air and space industries.

The theme of this 2019 Air and Space Power Conference was: ‘Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) for the Next Generation Air Force’. As such the Conference revealed emerging technologies and opportunities for innovation in the air, space, cyber and artificial intelligence spheres and examined the potential for multi-domain operations to address the complex challenges posed by (their words) “competitor” states / “peer rivals”, above and below the threshold of war.

If last year’s Air Power Conference saw 100 years of the RAF as a major theme, this year’s event shifted into high gear, and was firmly focused on future threats, operations, technology and personnel. The two days of the conference attracted over 550 delegates, including 46 heads of air forces, including the USAF Chief of Staff, who told press at the event: “This is probably the best forum where I get access to fellow air chiefs, industry and thinktanks.” Organised by the Air and Space Power association, the conference has changed its name this year – adding ‘Space’ into its title – a tweak that will become obvious later in this report.

The two days of the event saw delegates hear from high-level speakers, with the packed event featured a range of presentations from the strategic context, to front-line operations, to personnel with speakers from MoD, coalition partners, industry and academia. This conference was regarded as a ‘timely’ one, as the UK and its partners face (they believe) hybrid threats, ‘sub-threshold’ conflict, rapidly changing technology and the erosion of the West’s traditional (perceived) qualitative advantage in military power.

Space As A Battleground

10. “Is a hostile satellite attempting to move into the orbital equivalent of your vulnerable ‘six o’clock’?”

In his presentation, the RAF’s Chief of Staff Capability, AVM Simon ‘Rocky’ Rochelle, also highlighted space as key a domain for the RAF. He noted that the threats to critical space assets ranged from attacks on ground infrastructure, to cyber, to kinetic strikes on friendly satellites. Holding ‘dogfight’ briefing sticks with satellites instead of fighters aloft as a visual aid, Rochelle told the air power audience that they “have to stop thinking about space as just collection.” Traditional air force fighter pilots make arguments about turn rates, climb performance and missile engagement zones will need a new generation of future ‘starfighter’ professionals who understand the basics of ‘space power’ such as orbital decay, DeltaV (changes in rocket velocity) and power ratings of satellites. This already a fact with the long established “Five Eyes” Anglophone intelligence alliance.

Grey Zone: Hypersonics And Fake News

As Rochelle had hinted at in an earlier presentation at the conference, in 2030 more than 80% of NATO’s fighter fleet will still be ‘fourth generation’ combat aircraft, but what if they could all fire Mach 5 missiles on Day 1 of the war? Rochelle has tasked the RAF’s innovation RCO with a very ambitious deadline – to see whether they can generate a Mach 5 weapon capability within four years.

Integrating hypersonic weapons into an air force, the challenges are not just ones of propulsion and thermodynamics, but of command and control, especially against peer nations armed with similar technology where decision times may be in the range of three seconds. Closing speeds of Mach 10 mean that targeting and C2 will be a major challenge and may have to be highly automated, much as ship defences are now computer-controlled against high-speed sea-skimming missiles.

“Sub-threshold hybrid warfare” is their euphemism that see the traditional three (air, sea, land) having been joined by space, cyber and the newest domain, information. Though the last domain might also be argued to be nothing new (previously being called propaganda). The emergence of a social media ‘landscape’ means that this art of persuasion can be weaponised having expanded exponentially (from dropping leaflets over enemy cities). Hybrid threats or conflicts, whether they are viral ‘fake news’, pseudo-legal challenges to freedom of navigation, can thus happen across multiple domains simultaneously, paralysing decision-makers.
A second difference is that AI and machine-to-machine communication now offer the possibilities of increasingly compressed and faster sensor-to-shooter ‘kill-chains’, already having been developed by the US to be staggeringly quick in the realm of close air support for COIN. MDO would like to see this expand into other missions and become even faster – with a digitised C2 able to understand the overall campaign plan, spot opportunities and re-task sensors, assets and weapons (“Skynet” type). Giving an example of this, USAF Chief Gen Goldfein revealed that recent USAF demonstration saw a machine-to-machine kill-chain against a naval target reduced to ‘minutes’ with information passed from satellite, to ISR, to C2 nodes – before being handed off to a human ‘shooter’.

11. Co-operation just some of the 46 heads of air force at ASPC19. (RAF)

Meanwhile, in personnel, it was claimed the last year had seen the best RAF recruiting figures in a decade. The service has raised its max recruitment age in some trades, encouraging re-joiners. ASPC itself is hyped as a global must-attend forum for air chiefs, air and space power professionals, industry, academics and the media. This year’s conference sought to answer perhaps their biggest question facing the ‘western’ allies: with the qualitative gap in military equipment between them and ‘competitor’ nations closing rapidly, how can they keep their air power edge in age of sub-threshold hybrid warfare?

ASPC will return next year 15-16 July 2020

BAE Systems Saudi Arabia Ltd

Apart from being a prime sponsor/partner of both DESI and ASPC, this month also saw the ongoing active marketing of BAE in specific recruitment for a specific customer. In the absence of rejoining the RAF (above), BAE Systems Saudi Arabia provides job opportunities through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Resourcing Team (KSAR) and are actively recruiting a number of positions in the following areas: Aircrew; Instructors/Teachers; Technical Specialists; Engineering and Maintenance; Project Management; Aircraft Maintenance; Finance/Commercial/Procurement; Legal; Supply Chain; HR; Quality Assurance; Strategy and Planning.

Many of BAE Systems Saudi Arabia contracts are within the Military and Technical Services area. They include the provision of contracted manpower for the support of, Hawk, Tornado and Typhoon aircraft. This activity covers flying instructors for training Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) aircrew, ground instructors for training RSAF technicians and a spares and repair service for Hawk and Tornado aircraft.

12. Cover of recruitment brochure

13. RSAF Airbase (AB) locations of BAE

1. AB Riyadh BAESA HQ
2. AB Dhahran Wings 3 & 11, Tornado
3. AB Tabuk Wing 7, Hawk
4. AB Khamis Mushayt Wing 5, closest to Yemen border
5. Jubail naval airbase and harbour
6. AB Ta’if Wing 2, Typhoon
7. AB Jeddah Wing 8

Wing nrs. according to RSAF. Most of these ABs also host US Military Training Mission (USMTM) and USAF specialists who likewise support American built aircraft.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia now has the world’s fifth largest military budget, ahead of both Russia and France. Without ‘contractors’ (mercenaries?) from both the UK and USA, the RSAF could not function.


Produced by VFP Working Group

VFP joined the protests at DESI last month and were the sole presence outside ASPC in July.

All publically sourced from open arms industry PR with sources including editorial features in the monthly magazine of The Royal Aeronautical Society.

If any VFP member wishes to assist this working group on the UKs own military-industrial complex or place articles according to VFP handbook code of practice, please contact Admin or the Policy Group.

  • Gerry Osborne 21/10/2019, 14:33

    The minor issue of cost is carefully understated, at these prices the economy cannot sustain war.
    A gazzillion pound plane gets destroyed, it can’t be claimed on the insurance and a replacement ordered from the local weapons dealer.
    “Oh but we must have advanced weapons”
    Why so, if those weapons will destroy the economy?

  • David Lawrence 23/10/2019, 04:56

    How far up this endless spiral do we go? The cost is horrendous, it is in the realms of fantasy. We sell these disgusting weapons to disgusting regimes like Saudi Arabia who are, along with USA, are picking a fight with Iran. We are profiting from the misery inflicted on Yemeni children by the Saudis using weapons we have sold to them. Some people use the old “If we don’t sell them the weapons, someone else will”. We have children going hungry during school holidays yet we are spending £200 billion on Trident which, if we ever used it would wipe us all out.

    BAE are our largest manufacturer, why? Are we so immoral that our biggest maker of things makes things that kill? The excellent article shows the moral bankruptcy of the military industrial cabal in its racking up the ante so that we spend an ever greater proportion of our national income on death.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.