Upgraded Bradley

Soldiers are slated to fire at targets next year using a platoon of robotic combat vehicles they will control from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

An upgraded Bradley Fighting Vehicle, called a Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrator, (left) and a robotic M113 surrogate platform. Soldiers are slated to test two MET-Ds and four RCVs for the first time next year (U.S. Army photo)

The monthlong operational test is scheduled to begin in March at Fort Carson, Colorado, and will provide input to the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center on where to go next with autonomous vehicles.

The upgraded Bradleys, called Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, have cutting-edge features such as a remote turret for the 25-mm main gun, 360-degree situational awareness cameras and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens.

Initial testing will include two MET-Ds and four robotic combat vehicles on M113 surrogate platforms. Each MET-D will have a driver and gunner as well as four Soldiers in its rear, who will conduct platoon-level maneuvers with two surrogate vehicles that fire 7.62-mm machine guns.

«We’ve never had Soldiers operate MET-Ds before», said David Centeno Jr., chief of the center’s Emerging Capabilities Office. «We’re asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that’s never been done before».

After the tests, the center and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT), both part of Army Futures Command, will then use Soldier feedback to improve the vehicles for future test phases.

«You learn a lot», Centeno said at the International Armored Vehicles USA conference on June 26. «You learn how they use it. They may end up using it in ways we never even thought of».

The vehicles are experimental prototypes and are not meant to be fielded, but could influence other programs of record by demonstrating technology derived from ongoing development efforts.

«This technology is not only to remain in the Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) portfolio, but also legacy efforts as well», said Major Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle lead for the NGCV CFT.

One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to discover how to penetrate an adversary’s anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting Soldiers in danger.

The vehicles, Centeno said, will eventually have third-generation forward-looking infrared kits with a target range of at least 14 kilometers/8.7 miles.

«You’re exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire», he said. «So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, attrite their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff».

 

PHASE II, III

In late fiscal year 2021, Soldiers will again play a role in Phase II testing as the vehicles conduct company-level maneuvers.

This time, experiments are slated to incorporate six MET-Ds and the same four M113 surrogates, in addition to four light and four medium surrogate robotic combat vehicles, which industry will provide.

Before these tests, a light infantry unit plans to experiment with the RCV light surrogate vehicles in Eastern Europe next May.

«The intent of this is to see how an RCV light integrates into a light infantry formation and performs reconnaissance and security tasks as well as supports dismounted infantry operations», Wallace said at the conference.

Soldier testing for Phase III is slated to take place mid-fiscal 2023 with the same number of MET-Ds and M113 surrogate vehicles, but will instead have four medium and four heavy purpose-built RCVs.

«This is the first demonstration which we will be out of the surrogate realm and fielding purpose builts», Wallace said, adding the vehicles will conduct a combined arms breach.

The major said he was impressed with how quickly Soldiers learned to control the RCVs during the Robotic Combined Arms Breach Demonstration in May at the Yakima Training Center in Washington.

«Soldiers have demonstrated an intuitive ability to master controlling RCVs much faster than what we thought», he said. «The feedback from the Soldiers was that after two days they felt comfortable operating the system».

There are still ongoing efforts to offload some tasks in operating RVCs to artificial intelligence in order to reduce the cognitive burden on Soldiers.

«This is not how we’re used to fighting», Centeno said. «We’re asking a lot. We’re putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of Soldiers. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance».

The family of RCVs include three variants. Army officials envision the light version to be transportable by rotary wing. The medium variant would be able to fit onto a C-130 Hercules aircraft, and the heavy variant would fit onto a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Both future and legacy armored platforms, such as the forthcoming Mobile Protected Firepower «light tank», could influence the development of the RCV heavy.

With no human operators inside it, the heavy RCV can provide the lethality associated with armored combat vehicles in a much smaller form. Plainly speaking, without a crew, the RCV heavy requires less armor and can dedicate space and power to support modular mission payloads or hybrid electric drive batteries, Wallace said.

Ultimately, the autonomous vehicles will aim to keep Soldiers safe.

«An RCV reduces risk», Wallace said. «It does so by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots. That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions».

Wind Tunnel 9

Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Maryland, is on the verge of delivering an unprecedented capability.

Rob Hale, engineering technician, left, Parth Kathrotiya, system engineer, center, and Zack Russo, engineering technician, pose with the Mach 18 nozzle at AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Maryland. The team at Tunnel 9 recently completed an initial shakeout of the Mach 18 system, and the calibration to bring Mach 18 to full operating capability is set to occur later this year (U.S. Air Force photo by A.J. Spicer)

In late April, the team at Tunnel 9 completed an initial shakeout of the Mach 18 system and, later this year, facility engineers are set to begin a full calibration on Mach 18. If successful, this would allow for testing at Mach Numbers never before realized in an AEDC facility.

«For years, important programs have asked for a validated capability in this Mach range to reduce risk in vehicle designs», said Tunnel 9 Site Director Dan Marren. «With this accomplishment, the team has added something new to the fight and quite possibly cemented continued battlespace dominance by the USA».

 

Early Research

Researchers have been working for decades to achieve a higher Mach capability, and the desire to attain such Mach Numbers dates back to the inception of Tunnel 9.

Tunnel 9, which became operational in 1976, was originally conceptualized to achieve Mach Numbers of 10, 15 and 20.

Initially, Tunnel 9 was only able to deploy Mach 10 and Mach 14 capabilities. It would be some time before the significant leaps in technology needed to eclipse Mach 14 would come around due to a lack of understanding of the physics required to operate at that level.

During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the National Aerospace Plane Program was seeking data above Mach 14 and, believing the technology was ready, provided some funding to Tunnel 9 to develop Mach 18.

However, the nozzle design methodology and the diagnostics that would be used to examine the physics of the flow were immature. The flow quality of the nozzle was deemed poor, and the design was scrapped.

Around 30 years ago, Marren and current Tunnel 9 Technical Director John Lafferty were beginning their careers at what was then known as Naval Surface Warfare Center Tunnel 9. The young engineers worked with Doctor Wayland Griffith from North Carolina State University, who was a visiting summer professor at Tunnel 9. The trio researched a phenomenon called supercooling, which they believed could be used to relax the need to have the facility heater operate up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit/2,760 degrees Celsius to achieve higher Mach Numbers.

Marren, Lafferty and Griffith found that the supercooling method worked, though they did not yet have access to the advanced diagnostics needed to verify the flow physics. Although their tests were not completely conclusive, the trio published their conclusions anyway. This data would later become the foundation of the Mach 18 capability, as researchers at NASA read the report and began their own research into the supercooling phenomenon.

As NASA continued to study that process, those at Tunnel 9 moved on to missile defense projects and other sub-Mach 20 priorities.

In the mid-2000’s, higher Mach Number hypersonics once again became a priority. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, turned to AEDC to push the boundaries of hypersonic test capabilities.

 

Advancements in technology and equipment

Fortunately for those at AEDC, computer-based Modeling and Simulation and diagnostic technologies had greatly advanced in the more than two decades since the capability was first sought, and many of those at Tunnel 9 who had worked the original request for the National Aerospace Program were still employed at the facility. A team was assembled and a program was designed.

Initial risk reduction efforts began in 2014 and focused on the development of three state-of-the-art efforts: a new material for the nozzle, new laser diagnostics to verify the understanding of the flow physics, and a new nozzle contour based on that understanding. This three-year effort leveraged two Small Business Innovation Research programs and investment funds from AEDC to successfully achieve its goals.

Following this risk reduction effort, Lafferty convinced Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to construct the new capability for $6.5 million. With that, the team at Tunnel 9 set out in 2017 to achieve Mach 18 capability. Their goal was to accomplish this in three years.

Prior to Lafferty proposing the Mach 18 program to the OSD, Lafferty and Tunnel 9 Chief Facility Engineer Nick Fredrick had proposed a low-level technology effort, funded with an approximately $200,000 fallout from the AEDC budget, to investigate and demonstrate the feasibility of all the technologies required for Mach 18. The project received around $3 million in additional funding through the Small Business Innovation Research program. Half of this funding came from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Commercialization Readiness Program to investigate new throat materials, and the remaining $1.5 million was to be used to develop new advanced laser-based diagnostics to probe non-intrusively into the flowfield.

«Early in the Mach 18 nozzle design process, we at Tunnel 9 quickly realized that the existing technologies used in our facility would be inadequate to develop a Mach 18 capability with the flow quality that we required», Fredrick said. «The work with SBIR allowed us to bring the experts that would eventually work with us to achieve our goals. Their work was critical to the success of the Tunnel 9 Mach 18 capability».

In the years since Marren and Lafferty had first worked with Griffith, what Marren had referred to as «three miracles of science» had occurred. First, materials technology had progressed significantly. To accomplish testing at higher Mach Numbers, the team at Tunnel 9 needed a high-temperature nozzle throat material four times stronger than anything that had previously existed. That material, developed as part of this program, is now available.

The second «miracle» was advancements in diagnostics. Available non-intrusive laser diagnostics had become fast enough and with sufficient signal to noise to verify the understanding of the flow during supercooling. Two efforts converged to provide this understanding. First, Jeff Balla, a researcher at NASA Langley, had completed the research started by Lafferty and Marren more than two decades prior using modern tools and diagnostics. Balla delivered that information to Tunnel 9 personnel that verified the flow density. Second, an SBIR with PlasmaTec was completed that allowed measurements of the flow velocity and temperature. The data from all three of these measurements verified the understanding of the flow physics including its required chemical makeup.

«The recent development of ultra-short pulse-width laser systems has made low-density velocity and temperature measurements possible», said Michael Smith, Tunnel 9 advanced diagnostician and physicist. «These diagnostics provide the verification that the Mach 18 facility is truly providing the flow quality for which it was designed».

The third miracle was the advancement of nozzle design tools. Working with Ken Tatum and Derik Daniel, AEDC counterparts at Arnold Air Force Base, and John Korte, a subject matter expert in high Mach nozzle design who had recently retired from NASA Langley and now works for Analytical Mechanics Associates, the Tunnel 9 team was able to include this new understanding of the flow physics into the design of a new high Mach Number wind tunnel nozzle contour for the first time.

«This promises to produce the best possible flow quality for any nozzle at these Mach Numbers», Lafferty said.

 

Team’s efforts pay off

Those at Tunnel 9 scoped out the construction of the Mach 18 undertaking that began in 2017.

With the funding and the assistance Tunnel 9 engineers were receiving on nozzle design, the Mach 18 project looked feasible. The OSD pushed for completion and implementation of the capability as quickly as possible.

Eventually, Tunnel 9 would receive $6.5 million in additional funding from the Hypersonic Test Capability Improvement Project, an OSD investment program that aims to improve capabilities for hypersonic weapon systems development, to move the Mach 18 project forward.

The nozzle design and build, the successful incorporation of the new nozzle throat material, and the diagnostic demonstration all occurred within the three-year timeframe and were completed within budget and on-schedule.

The shakeout of the Tunnel 9 capability has occurred in phases. Around two years ago, diagnostic and supercooling checkouts were done by applying to the Tunnel 9 Mach 14 nozzle the pressure and temperature conditions similar to those of Mach 18.

A full checkout of the throat technologies using the Mach 14 nozzle occurred last year.

In April, Tunnel 9 took advantage of an opportunity to accelerate a portion of the Mach 18 calibration. Those at the facility are in the process of repairing one of the four compressor motors used to create a vacuum source and proper pressure ratio required to maintain fully operationally test capability.

While that motor is out for repair, the facility can still perform a subset of conditions. For example, the validation of Mach 18 design condition, the highest part of the simulation envelope for the Mach 18 test capability is possible without the fourth motor.

The Tunnel 9 team performed the initial calibration using the final Mach 18 hardware. To accomplish this, they aligned the facility to ready it for a test, validated the survival and performance of the new throat design, verified the thermodynamic quality of the test medium, and confirmed the facility flow is of a high quality for future acquisition customers.

«To date, there have been four test entries at Tunnel 9 to demonstrate the feasibility of the Mach 18 capability», Fredrick said. «The first three of these tests were performed in the existing Mach 14 nozzle and were used to validate the assumptions that the flow would be condensation-free at the proposed Mach 18 freestream conditions and that the new nozzle throat material can survive and is shape-stable at both Mach 14 and Mach 18 nozzle supply conditions. The most recent test entry validated the new Mach 18 nozzle with the new nozzle throats at the design condition. This validation included measurements of the flow uniformity for comparison to computational fluid dynamics results, measurements of the nozzle freestream velocity and temperature, and measurements to detect condensation. Only one test remains – the calibration of the nozzle at all of the desired test conditions».

The full calibration to bring Mach 18 to full operating capability is set to occur in the fall.

«Mach 18 is a long time coming and will fill a real gap», Lafferty said. «However, I never thought we would have multiple test customers lined up to collect data even before we had finished the shakeout and calibration. It is satisfying to know it will be used once complete».

Barracuda

On July 12 2019, during a ceremony presided over by the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, Naval Group launched the Suffren, the first of six nuclear submarines of the latest generation in Cherbourg. This event is a key step for the Barracuda program for the benefit of the French Navy.

In the presence of the President of the French Republic, Naval Group launches the Suffren, the latest generation of nuclear submarines (SSN)

Hervé Guillou, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Naval Group, said: «We are proud to have presented to the President of the French Republic the first submarine of the Barracuda-class, a symbol of our exceptional know-how and our ability to master the most advanced technologies and the most complex products. The construction of the Suffren is a collective success, the result of a strong cooperation with our long-standing partners: the French Navy and the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), but also the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), TechnicAtome and all the manufacturers of the sector. Now, we are all focused on finalising the Suffren tests at the shipyard, with the start-up of the nuclear boiler room in the coming weeks, but also on producing the complete series. Maintaining our knowledge and adapting to new technologies are among our main priorities».

Vincent Martinot-Lagarde, Director of the Barracuda program at Naval Group, also commented: «To successfully complete this extraordinary project, several thousand women and men worked together, driven by the same values of team spirit and technical excellence. Today, on the occasion of this exceptional ceremony, we are very proud to present our work, which is the result of the extraordinary diversity of our skills».

 

Naval Group’s know-how and technological expertise

The Suffren is the first of the Barracuda-class series, designed to replace the Rubis-class generation. Naval Group is in charge of the construction of this submarines series, including the design and construction of the ship and information systems as well as the manufacturing of the main components of nuclear boiler rooms.

Naval Group is the overall prime contractor of the ship’s architecture (2 500 people) and TechnicAtome is the prime contractor for the nuclear reactor. The French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) is in charge of the overall program, with the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA) for the nuclear reactor.

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, meets with submarine crew members after the official launch ceremony of the new French nuclear submarine Suffren in Cherbourg, northwestern France, on July 12, 2019 (Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

 

With this program, Naval Group irrigates the French industry with more than 10,000 people and 800 companies involved

All the skills within the group are called upon to design and produce the Suffren and the following of the Barracuda series. All Naval Group sites are simultaneously mobilised. Nantes-Indret, Angoulême-Ruelle, Brest and Lorient design and produce different systems and modules. The Ollioules site is responsible for the design and production of the combat system. The entire program is managed from Cherbourg, where the submarines are assembled and tested.

The Toulon site will be in charge of the maintenance of the Suffren and gradually that of the entire series. The in-service support was taken into account from the submarine’s design stage to limit the number and duration of interventions, thus optimising the availability of the Barracuda-class at sea.

 

The Suffren: a technology and capacity leap

The Suffren is one of the stealthiest submarines over the world. This discretion, combined with its advanced detection capabilities, guarantees its acoustic superiority.

For the first time thanks to the Suffren-class submarines, the French Navy will have a deep strike capability with MBDA’s naval cruise missiles (MdCN). The latest generation of SSN also allows the discreet deployment of special forces underwater, in particular thanks to its «divers hatch» and the optional carrying of a dry deck shelter allowing for the deployment of underwater vehicles.

More discreet, manoeuvrable and mobile, the Suffren has the latest generation of systems, including a centralised and more automated driving.

France launches first Barracuda-class nuclear attack sub

 

The technical characteristics of the Suffren-class submarines

Surface displacement 4,700 tonnes
Diving displacement 5,300 tonnes
Length 99 metres/324.8 feet
Diameter 8.8 metres/28.9 feet
Armament naval cruise missiles, F21 heavy-weight wire-guided torpedoes, modernised Exocet SM39 anti-ship missiles
Hybrid propulsion pressurised water reactor derived from the reactors on board the Triomphant-type SSBN and Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier, two propulsion turbines, two turbo generators and two electric motors
Speed 25 knots/29 mph/46 km/h
Crew 65 crew members + commandos
Availability 270 days per year

 

Signals Intelligence

BAE Systems has been awarded funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to integrate Machine-Learning (ML) technology into platforms that decipher radio frequency signals. Its Controllable Hardware Integration for Machine-learning Enabled Real-time Adaptivity (CHIMERA) solution provides a reconfigurable hardware platform for ML algorithm developers to make sense of Radio Frequency (RF) signals in increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum environments.

The solution provides a reconfigurable hardware platform for developers to make sense of radio frequency signals in increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum environments

The up to $4.7 million contract, dependent on successful completion of milestones, includes hardware delivery along with integration and demonstration support. CHIMERA’s hardware platform will enable algorithm developers to decipher the ever-growing number of RF signals, providing commercial or military users with greater automated situational awareness of their operating environment. This contract is adjacent to the previously announced award for the development of data-driven ML algorithms under the same DARPA program (Radio Frequency Machine Learning Systems, or RFMLS).

RFMLS requires a robust, adaptable hardware solution with a multitude of control surfaces to enable improved discrimination of signals in the evolving dense spectrum environments of the future.

«CHIMERA brings the flexibility of a software solution to hardware», said Dave Logan, vice president and general manager of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Systems at BAE Systems. «Machine-learning is on the verge of revolutionizing signals intelligence technology, just as it has in other industries».

In an evolving threat environment, CHIMERA will enable ML software development to adapt the hardware’s RF configuration in real time to optimize mission performance. This capability has never before been available in a hardware solution. The system provides multiple control surfaces for the user, enabling on-the-fly performance trade-offs that can maximize its sensitivity, selectivity, and scalability depending on mission need. The system’s open architecture interfaces allow for third party algorithm development, making the system future-proof and easily upgradable upon deployment.

Other RF functions, including communications, radar, and electronic warfare, also can benefit from this agile hardware platform, which has a reconfigurable array, front-end, full transceiver and digital pre-processing stage. Work on these phases of the program will take place at BAE Systems’ sites in Hudson and Merrimack, New Hampshire, and Dallas, Texas.

Fire Scout

The U.S. Navy declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter June 28 clearing the way for fleet operations and training.

Navair says that the MQ-8C Fire Scout has flown over 1,500 hours in more than 700 sorties to date. Northrop Grumman is under contract to produce 38 MQ-8C aircraft for the U.S. Navy (Navair photo)

The MQ-8 C Fire Scout is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

«This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team», said Captain Eric Soderberg, MQ-8C Fire Scout program manager. «We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet».

The MQ-8C Fire Scout variant is an endurance and payload upgrade to its predecessor, the MQ-8B, offering up to twelve hours on station depending on payload, and incorporates the commercial Bell 407 airframe.

The Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout complements the manned MH-60 helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations. It provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the U.S. Navy.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout has flown over 1,500 hours with more than 700 sorties to date. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue MQ-8C Fire Scout production deliveries to the U.S. Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout will be equipped with an upgraded radar that allows for a larger field of view and a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI). It will deploy with Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in fiscal year 2021 while the MQ-8B conducts operations aboard LCS in 5th and 7th Fleets.

Maiden flight

The first Airbus C295, purchased by the Government of Canada for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Aircraft Replacement (FWSAR) program, has completed its maiden flight, marking a key milestone towards delivery by the end of 2019 to begin operational testing by the RCAF. The aircraft, designated CC-295 for the Canadian customer, took off from Seville, Spain, on 4 July at 20:20 local time (GMT+1) and landed back on site one hour and 27 minutes later.

The photo above shows the first RCAF C295 during its maiden flight

 

FWSAR program facts and figures

The contract, awarded in December 2016, includes 16 C295 aircraft and all In-Service Support elements including, training and engineering services, the construction of a new Training Centre in Comox, British Columbia, and maintenance and support services.

The aircraft will be based where search and rescue squadrons are currently located: Comox, British Columbia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Trenton, Ontario; and Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

Considerable progress has been made since the FWSAR program was announced two and a half years ago: the first aircraft will now begin flight testing; another five aircraft are in various stages of assembly; and seven simulator and training devices are in various testing stages.

In addition, the first RCAF crews will begin training in late summer 2019 at Airbus’ International Training Centre in Seville, Spain.

The FWSAR program is supporting some $2.5 billion (CAD) in Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) to Canada, through high-value, long-term partnerships with Canadian industry.

As of January 2019, 86 percent of key Canadian In-Service Support (ISS) tasks have been performed in-country by Canadian companies in relation to establishing the FWSAR ISS system. Airbus is thus on track in providing high value work to Canadian industry and has demonstrated a successful start to the development and transfer of capability to Canadian enterprises for the support of the FWSAR aircraft.

Beyond direct program participation, Airbus is generating indirect business across Canadian military, aeronautical and space industry including Small and Medium Businesses in support of the ITB program.

Support Vessels

On July 04, 2019, the Directorate-General for Armaments (DGA) took delivery of the «Garonne» (A605), the fourth and final vessel in the Metropolitan Support and Assistance Vessels (BSAM) program, ordered from the Kership group of companies (Chantiers Piriou and Naval Group). This new Navy vessel will be based in Brest.

France will base two of its new BSAM rescue and assistance vessels at its two major naval bases, Brest in Brittany and Toulon on the Mediterranean (FR Navy photo)

This new ship reinforces and modernizes the capabilities of the French Navy. An extremely versatile ship design, the BSAM is designed to carry out three types of missions: the support of naval forces (towing of large-tonnage ships; accompaniment and support of submarines; and training of the forces), maritime security (rescue at sea, assistance to ships in distress, fight against maritime pollution, etc.) and regional support activities (towing machinery, anchoring and maintenance of mooring boxes, lifting of wrecks …).

The first BSAM, the «Loire» (A602), operates from Toulon and the second one in the series, «Rhone» (A603), operates from Brest. The third ship, the «Seine» (A604), which will be admitted to active service in July, after its long-term shakedown cruise that ran from March 25 to June 25, will be based in Toulon.

Multirole Tanker

On 2 July 2019, the Directorate General of Armament (DGA) received the second A330-MRTT Phénix multi-role tanker aircraft (MultiRole Tanker Transport) at Air Base 125 in Istres. This aircraft was delivered to the Air Force three months early and with a first MedEvac (Medical Evacuation) capability, so as to reach full operational capability in the fall.

The French Air Force’s second A330 tanker/transport aircraft at Istres air base. Visible in the background are two of the aircraft it will replace: the upgraded C-135F Stratotanker (right) and the Airbus A310 transport (FR AF photo)

It will allow medicalized transport of a dozen very seriously injured patients, or the medical transport of 40 lightly-injured patients requiring less medical assistance.

The MRTT Phénix is based on the airframe of the Airbus A330 airliner, militarized to allow it to meet its specific mission requirements: support of the air component of the nuclear deterrent; contribution to the permanent security posture; projection of forces and medicalized transport in case of emergency medical evacuation.

Thanks to its versatility, the MRTT Phoenix replaces two distinct fleets for this entire range of missions: the current in-flight refueling fleet of C135-FR and KC135R, and the strategic personnel and freight transport fleet of A310 and A340.

The military programming law 2019-2025 provides for the acceleration of the modernization of the equipment of the forces, and in particular of the tanker aircraft fleet. It will bring forward to 2023, two years earlier than planned, the delivery of the first twelve aircraft, and creating the conditions allowing a subsequent increase of the fleet to fifteen aircraft in following years.

Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, welcomes this early delivery: «The Phoenix is an essential aircraft for the French forces, and for and our deterrence. It will replace aircraft, some of which are 60 years old, and represents a real revolution for the Air Force. Its versatility makes it a technological marvel, and it is an undeniable industrial success and an example of what a great European company – Airbus – knows how to build».

Networked vehicles

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on Thursday, July 4 attended the first handover of Griffon multi-role armored vehicles (Véhicule Blindé Multi-Rôle, or VBMR) on the site of Nexter in Satory (Yvelines), to the General Directorate of Armaments (DGA), which pronounced the vehicle’s technical qualification, and in turn delivered them to the Army.

With the delivery of the first six Griffon 6×6 armored vehicles, the French Army has begun to implement its Scorpion program, which will provide new and improved networked vehicles and unprecedented levels of communication (FR Army photo)

The Griffon is the new VBMR of the Scorpion program, developed to modernize the medium combat capabilities of the Combat Arms Tactical Group (GTIA). Griffon will replace the Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB). A robust and versatile vehicle, the Griffon will notably improve the protection of soldiers engaged in combat thanks to more efficient armor protection, a remotely-operated turret and latest generation sensors. It will also take part in digitally-enhanced networked combat for which the French Army is preparing.

Commenting the event, the Minister spoke of the Griffon as a «new face of the Army: an exceptional program by its ambition, its coherence and its magnitude […] a true technological and operational leap […] the fruit of nearly 15 years of work» conducted jointly with industry.

These new vehicles, recalled Florence Parly, will allow «our soldiers to keep the advantage on the ground» by offering «unprecedented protection against ballistic threats, mines and improvised explosive devices, one of the main weapons of our opponents in the Sahel».

The Minister also emphasized the interest of the international partners in the Griffon, and noted that together with the Jaguar armored reconnaissance and combat vehicle (Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat, EBRC) it also attracted Belgium, which has adopted the French system on which it has based the Belgian Army’s CaMo (motorized capability) next-generation equipment.

Finally, she took advantage of her visit to announce that an additional 150 vehicles will be ordered, bringing the total to 1,872 units by 2030; in parallel, delivery rates will be increased so that fully 50% of the vehicles of the program are delivered to the Army by 2025.

In accordance with the Military Planning Law (LPM) for 2019-2025, a total of 92 vehicles are to be delivered to the Army in 2019. The first deliveries of the Army Griffon vehicles are scheduled for the summer, with the aim of being able to project a Griffon-equipped GTIA as early as 2021.

Air Defense

The Army is now standing up SHOrt-Range Air Defense units, known as SHORAD battalions, and offering a five-week pilot Stinger course for Soldiers in maneuver units.

Two soldiers load Stinger missiles into an Avenger pod on top of a modified Humvee. 72 Avengers were pulled out of mothballs last year to equip two new short-range air defense battalions until the new M-SHORAD Strykers are fielded (U.S. Army photo)

It’s part of a critical effort to defend maneuver units against the threat of aircraft, drones and cruise missiles, said Colonel Mark A. Holler, commandant of the Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Sill.

Most of the SHORAD battalions in the active component were deactivated a decade ago because the U.S. Army needed this force structure to grow maneuver brigade combat teams for counter-insurgency operations, Holler said.

The Army is now reshaping its capability and capacity to conduct large-scale combat operations against a near-peer adversary like Russia or China, he said, so SHORAD units are once again needed. He added the Army was given a «wake-up call» when it observed the conflict in Ukraine.

 

BRINGING BACK AVENGERS

In the 1990s, every Army division had a SHORAD battalion to protect it. In 2017, none of the 10 active divisions had one.

Last year, the Army re-established an active SHORAD battalion in Germany. The 5th Battalion of the 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment was stood up with Avengers – modified Humvees with a turret on top and two pods of Stinger missiles.

The Avengers were first used by the Army in 1990, but in recent years most had been relegated to the National Guard or stored in depots.

A total of 72 Avengers were pulled out of mothballs last year from Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania, Holler said. Half are now with the 5-4 ADA and the others are ready for issue at a pre-positioned equipment depot in Germany.

 

GROWING THE FORCE

The plan is to eventually have 10 SHORAD battalions again to defend maneuver units and other critical assets within each of the Army’s divisions, Holler said. These will be stood up incrementally over time, he explained, with the next four between now and 2024.

Eventually these battalions will upgrade from Avengers to the new Maneuver SHORADs on a Stryker platform with two hellfire missiles, a 30-mm chain gun, a 7.62-mm machine gun and four Stinger missiles. The first M-SHORAD prototypes are expected to roll off the assembly line in late July.

The Army is also planning to stand up Indirect Fire Protection Capability, or IFPC units, in both the active component and National Guard to defend fixed and semi-fixed assets at corps and division-level, Holler said.

These battalions, currently fielded with the Land-based Phalanx Weapons System, or LPWS, used to counter rockets, artillery and mortars – also known as the C-RAM system – will eventually transition to a new IFPC capability as well, he said.

 

SOLDIERS QUADRUPLING

The Army currently has 519 positions for Soldiers with the 14P air and missile defense crewmember military occupational specialty. That number is expected to quadruple over the next five years, said Sergeant 1st Class Arianna Cook, senior career advisor for 14Ps at the ADA School.

«We will have one of the fastest-growing MOSs in the Army», Cook said.

Two years ago, the ADA School had only one 14P instructor and most of the students were National Guard Soldiers, as the Guard kept seven Avenger battalions, she said. Now there’s eight 14P instructors at the school just for the new Man-Portable Air Defense System or MANPADS Stinger course.

«We’re making a comeback», Cook said. «That’s kind of where we’re at with our MOS».

 

MANPADS COURSE

Maneuver forces had not seen short-range air defense in a long time, Cook said. So, the first goal of the new course was to show Infantry and Cavalry troops what SHORAD looks like, she explained.

«I spent two years at Fort Benning with 19 kilos, with tankers … none of them had ever heard of short-range air defense», Cook said. «All they knew was Patriot launchers».

So, a MANPADS pilot course was developed in late 2017. The focus was on creating two-man Stinger teams for units rotating into Germany or Korea as an interim solution to provide short-range air defense.

«You can’t flip the switch overnight and fill a critical gap», Cook said.

But since the Army has determined that SHORAD is a critical gap, the ADA School is attempting to fix it as soon as possible with the five-week course.

So far, six brigades have sent 156 Soldiers through the course and the graduates have been awarded the A5 Additional Skill Identifier, or ASI. This means they are certified to operate the Stinger MANPADS missile launcher in two-man teams to defend their unit against enemy aircraft.

The course includes practice in the Stinger Dome where the teams simulate firing at enemy helicopters that fly across terrain on the circular walls. It also includes Identifying Friend or Foe aircraft, or IFF programming with the Sentinel radar that maneuver units have. And it includes instruction on visual aircraft recognition. The course concludes with a tactical employment practical exercise.

Soldiers have completed the course so far from the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division and 210th Fires Brigade.

What maneuver troops learn at the five-week course is termed «degraded» Stinger operations, Cook said, because firing the missiles from an Avenger system is more accurate.

 

UPGRADED AVENGERS

The Avengers have multiple optics, range-finders and a Forward-Looking Infrared Receiver or FLIR monitor. It’s difficult to see some of the smaller drones with the naked eye, Cook said, whereas radars can pick them up and direct the Avenger turret to lock onto them.

When the Avengers were pulled out of depot storage last year, some were modified with a new «Slew-to-Cue» Avenger Targeting Console. This enables the turret to automatically turn and lock onto targets provided by remote radars, Cook said.

«A Soldier still needs to pull the trigger though», she said.

The remainder of the Avengers that didn’t get Slew-to-Cue last year will receive it as part of an ongoing two-phase Modification Service Life Extension Program known as SLEP, said Holler. All Avenger consoles should be upgraded by the end of September 2020, he said.

The second phase of the SLEP upgrade includes installation of a Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe, a new fire-control computer, and converting analog communications equipment in the Avengers to digital communications. It also includes a new air-conditioning and heating unit and a new .50-caliber/12.7-mm machine gun. The Phase II upgrades are scheduled to begin in the 4th quarter of FY 2020 and continue through FY 2023, Holler said.

Along with the battalion of Avengers that stood up last year in Germany, the active Army also has four separate Avenger batteries: one in Korea, one at Fort Sill, one at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and one with the Global Response Force at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

In addition to Avenger upgrades, proximity fuses are being installed in some of the Stinger missiles, Holler said. Stingers with proximity-fuse warheads will have greater lethality against small drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, he explained.

Cook said Soldiers who hold the 14P MOS actually need to know how to operate three different systems: Avengers, Stinger shoulder launchers and the C-RAM system that shoots up to 90 rounds per second at incoming rockets and mortars.

«We’re one of the only MOS’s in the Army that has to understand and operate three platforms», Cook said.

When the new M-SHORADs come off the assembly line, 14P Soldiers will need to know four platforms, she said.

«It’s a massively-growing MOS», she added.