Auvergne commissioned

According to, on February 14, 2018, the Chief of the Naval Staff admitted to active service D654 Auvergne, the 4th multi-mission frigate (FREMM). Now declared fit for combat by the Navy, she joins D650 Aquitaine, D652 Provence and D653 Languedoc, her three sister-ships in the FREMM class.

The D654 Auvergne after its commissioning. Under current plans, the French navy will have received six FREMM frigates in anti-submarine configuration by 2019. Another three will follow by 2022, two of them with enhanced anti-air capabilities (French navy photo)
The D654 Auvergne after its commissioning. Under current plans, the French navy will have received six FREMM frigates in anti-submarine configuration by 2019. Another three will follow by 2022, two of them with enhanced anti-air capabilities (French navy photo)

This admission is the culmination of a process of verification of the ship’s military capabilities. In 2017, D654 Auvergne was deployed for more than four months in diversified areas of operations: the Mediterranean Sea, the China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Pacific Ocean.

This deployment was marked by its integration into Task Force 50, formed around the US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68), and the Combined Task Force 150, the multinational naval force fighting against illicit trafficking. D654 Auvergne also helped show France’s commitment to respect for international law and the freedom of navigation, particularly in the China Sea.

D654 Auvergne confirmed the already recognized qualities of the FREMM-class as modern, versatile, enduring and flexible vessels. They meet the needs of maritime rescue missions, the gathering of information in all three dimensions, and the requirements of high-intensity conflicts: control of a zone of air-sea operations, anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-air missions, and support of projection operations, command of a national or combined naval air force, etc.

Two major assets are worth highlighting: the ability that France now has to strike accurately from the sea and in depth, with the MdCN naval cruise missile, and its unequaled performance in anti-submarine warfare, thanks to the alliance of the ship’s hull-mounted sonars and her embarked (NH90) Cayman helicopter.

With this fourth FREMM frigate, the French Navy reinforces its ability to ensure France’s security, both in its own waters and on the high seas.

The future LPM multi-year funding law confirms the importance of first-rank frigates that contribute to all strategic functions. Thus, to reach the target of 15 frigates of first rank, four intermediate-size frigates (FTI) will be ordered and two delivered by 2025.

The last four FREMMs will have been delivered in 2025, the final two with enhanced air defense capabilities.



Total length 466 feet/142 m
Width 65.6 feet/20 m
Displacement 6,000 tonnes
Maximum speed 27 knots/31 mph/50 km/h
Operation 108 persons (including helicopter detachment)
Accommodation capacity 145 men and women
Cruising range at 15 knots/17 mph/28 km/h 6,000 nautical miles/6,905 miles/11,112 km


7th Astute-class

According to In Cumbria Magazine, the Ministry of Defence has announced it will sign a contract for Astute boat seven less than 24 hours after ministers told Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock he would not have to wait long for «good news».

Having already ordered six Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, the United Kingdom has finally decided to order a seventh boat, and the contract with BAE will be formalized this year, according to the Ministry of Defence (BAE photo)
Having already ordered six Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, the United Kingdom has finally decided to order a seventh boat, and the contract with BAE will be formalized this year, according to the Ministry of Defence (BAE photo)

John hailed the announcement, made in a written statement from new defence procurement minister Guto Bebb, as a «huge relief for the workforce and UK naval security».

The breakthrough comes after several fraught months in which Ministry of Defence officials and BAE management were put under pressure to scrap the seventh boat to alleviate the defence equipment funding crisis.

In the formal statement, Mr. Bebb informed MPs: «The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has received approval in principle from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) to recognise new contingent liabilities associated with the Astute Boat 7 ‘Whole Boat’ Contract».

The announcement paves the way for the formal contract to be signed before the end of the financial years.

Responding after meeting Mr. Bebb about the submarine programme last night, John said: «Thank goodness the government has listened to the arguments and is pressing ahead with Astute boat seven after all. This is a huge relief for the workforce and naval security which would have been gravely undermined if this vital boat had been withdrawn while Russia is modernising its submarine fleet and targeting UK interests. This announcement is a big feather in the cap for the new managing director of Barrow shipyard Cliff Robson who has successfully made the case that scrapping the boat at this late stage would waste hundreds of millions of pounds and send the build programme into disarray. Defence ministers still need to win the argument with their Treasury counterparts on releasing more money for Dreadnought early on in the build programme, but they will go into that battle with renewed confidence after this win».

Last month a leaked navy document showed the scrapping of boat seven was being actively considered.

Mr. Woodcock raised fears for the future of the defence programme, which has already seen Astute-class submarines launched from the town’s shipyard.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr. Woodcock claimed it would be «unthinkable» not to build the full order of submarines, given the country’s continued commitment to NATO.

Surface Combatant

The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) Ships and associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of $11.25 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on October 19, 2015.

The MMSC is basically an up-gunned variant of Lockheed’s Littoral Combat Ship design, integrating the latter’s mission modules into the basic ship. The Saudi program will cost upwards of $11 billion for four MMSC ships, spares and support (LM image)
The MMSC is basically an up-gunned variant of Lockheed’s Littoral Combat Ship design, integrating the latter’s mission modules into the basic ship. The Saudi program will cost upwards of $11 billion for four MMSC ships, spares and support (LM image)

The Government of Saudi Arabia has requested a naval modernization program to include the sale of Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) ships and program office support. The Multi-Mission Surface Combatant program will consist of:

  • Four (4) MMSC ships (a derivative of the Freedom Variant of the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Class) that incorporate five (5) COMBATSS-21 Combat Management Systems (four (4) installed, one (1) spare) with five (5) TRS-4D Radars (four (4) installed, one (1) spare);
  • Five (5) Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) (Mode 4- and Mode 5-capable) UPX-29 (four (4) installed, one (1) spare);
  • Five (5) Compact Low Frequency Active Passive Variable Depth Sonar (four (4) installed, one (1) spare);
  • Eight (8) MK-41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) (two (2) eight-cell assemblies per ship for 16 cells per hull);
  • Five-hundred thirty-two (532) tactical RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) (one hundred twenty-eight (128) installed, twenty (20) test and training rounds, three hundred eighty-four (384) spares);
  • Five (5) AN/SWG-l (V) Harpoon Ship Command Launch Control Systems (four (4) installed (one (1) per ship), one (1) spare);
  • Eight (8) Harpoon Shipboard Launchers (two (2) installed four-tube assemblies per ship)
  • Forty-eight (48) RGM-84 Harpoon Block II Missiles (thirty-two (32) installed, sixteen (16) test and training rounds);
  • Five (5) MK-15 Mod 31 SeaRAM Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) (four (4) installed, one (1) spare);
  • One-hundred eighty-eight (188) RIM 116C Block II Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) (forty-four (44) installed, twelve (12) test and training rounds, one hundred thirty-two (132) spares);
  • Five (5) MK-75 76-mm OTO Melara Gun Systems (four (4) installed, one (1) spare);
  • Forty-eight (48) 50-caliber machine guns (forty (40) installed (ten (10) per ship), eight (8) spares); ordnance; and Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) Global Positioning System/Precise Positioning Service (GPS/PPS) navigation equipment.

Also included in this sale in support of the MMSC are: study, design and construction of operations; support and training facilities; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; communications equipment employing Link 16 equipment; Fire Control System/Ceros 200 Sensor and Illuminator; 20-mm Narwhal Gun; Nixie AN/SLQ-25A Surface Ship Torpedo Defense System; MK-32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes; WBR-2000 Electronic Support Measure and Threat Warning System; Automatic Launch of Expendables (ALEX) Chaff and Decoy-Launching System; ARC-210 Radios; Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS); Automated Digital Network System; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.

In addition, this case will provide overarching program office support for the SNEP II to include: U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support, and other related elements of program support to meet necessities for program execution. The estimated value of MDE is $4.3 billion. The total estimated cost is $11.25 billion.

This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security goals of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner, which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East. This acquisition will enhance the stability and maritime security in the sea areas around the Arabian Peninsula and support strategic objectives of the United States.

The proposed sale will provide Saudi Arabia with an increased ability to meet current and future maritime threats from enemy weapon systems. The Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships will provide protection-in-depth for critical industrial infrastructure and for the sea lines of communication. Saudi Arabia will use the enhanced capability to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology and to remain a viable U.S. coalition partner in the region.

The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The principal contractor for the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant will be Lockheed Martin Corporation of Bethesda, Maryland. There are no known offset agreements in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of additional U.S. Government and/or contractor representatives to Saudi Arabia.

There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.

This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

Advance Railgun

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced that it has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Army through the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium (DOTC) to evaluate and mature electromagnetic railgun weapon system capabilities to support the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Command (ARDEC). The three year period of performance contract will team GA-EMS with ARDEC to advance railgun technologies, deliver a series of prototypes, and perform system integration and testing for mission effectiveness and possible integration with existing and future Army vehicles.

General Atomics Awarded Army Contract to Advance Railgun Weapon System Technology
General Atomics Awarded Army Contract to Advance Railgun Weapon System Technology

«This contract allows the ARDEC to leverage our on-going research, development, and testing to advance railgun technologies and further develop railgun weapon systems for Army applications enhancing their effectiveness against multiple types of threats», stated Nick Bucci, vice president of Missile Defense and Space Systems at GA-EMS. «The railgun weapon system is intended to integrate with existing Army systems and complement conventional capabilities, providing an effective counter to aircraft, rocket and cruise missile raids as well as other threats».

«Using hypersonic projectiles, railgun provides the soldier with shorter time to target, achieves effectiveness at longer range, and provides a lower cost per engagement than conventional interceptors», added Mike Rucker, director of Programs for Missile Defense Systems.

GA-EMS has successfully designed and built multi-mission railgun systems ranging from an integrated 3 Mega Joule (MJ) test asset and a larger 32MJ system, to a new mobile 10MJ railgun system. GA-EMS’ unique approach to packaging and distribution of pulsed power reduces the system footprint required to launch guided hypersonic projectiles. This contract award will leverage over four years of engineering, development and testing of railgun launched hypersonic projectiles to advance and mature the railgun system to meet future Army mission requirements.

InSight Spacecraft

NASA’s latest mission to Mars took its first trip on its long journey to the Red Planet. On February 28, Lockheed Martin delivered NASA’s InSight Mars lander to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The lander will now undergo final processing in preparation for a May 5 launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket.

Lockheed Martin delivered NASA’s InSight spacecraft to its California launch site on February 28, 2018. The Mars lander was shipped aboard a U.S. Air Force transport plane from Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado to Vandenberg Air Force Base where it will undergo final processing in preparation for a May launch
Lockheed Martin delivered NASA’s InSight spacecraft to its California launch site on February 28, 2018. The Mars lander was shipped aboard a U.S. Air Force transport plane from Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado to Vandenberg Air Force Base where it will undergo final processing in preparation for a May launch

The InSight lander will study the deep interior of Mars and will address one of the most fundamental questions of planetary and solar system science: how do terrestrial planets form? By mapping the basic structure of the planet, the mission will help scientists understand the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system more than four billion years ago. Lockheed Martin designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for testing, launch processing and spacecraft flight operations.

«InSight is an amazing spacecraft and we can’t wait to see it on the surface of Mars later this year», said Stu Spath, InSight program manager and director of Deep Space Exploration Systems at Lockheed Martin Space. «We’ve worked closely with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to design and build this spacecraft. Its environmental testing is complete, and now the launch team is moving to California to perform final preparations for a May launch».

The 1,380-pound/626-kg spacecraft, consisting of the lander, aeroshell and cruise stage, was shipped aboard a U.S. Air Force transport plane, courtesy of the Air Force Air Mobility Command, in an environmentally controlled container. The plane, spacecraft and support personnel took off from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado and touched down at Vandenberg Air Force Base. While at Vandenberg at the Astrotech Space Operations facility, the spacecraft will undergo final processing including system-level checkout, propellant loading and a final spin balance test.

The InSight mission’s principal investigator is JPL’s Bruce Banerdt. The Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), France’s space agency, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are each contributing a science instrument to the two-year scientific mission. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Official transfer

The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of the future USS Manchester (LCS-14) during a ceremony in Mobile, Alabama, February 28.

U.S. Navy accepts delivery of future USS Manchester (LCS-14)
U.S. Navy accepts delivery of future USS Manchester (LCS-14)

Delivery marks the official transfer of USS Manchester (LCS-14) from the shipbuilder, an Austal USA-led team, to the U.S. Navy. It is the final milestone prior to commissioning, which is planned for May in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

«Delivery marks a major milestone in the life of the future USS Manchester (LCS-14), as she is transferred to the U.S. Navy and her in-service counter begins», said Captain Mike Taylor, LCS program manager. «Manchester is an exceptional ship which will take her crew around the globe as they sail to protect our country. I look forward to celebrating her upcoming commissioning in Portsmouth».

Manchester is the 12th Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to be delivered to the U.S. Navy and the seventh of the Independence variant to join the fleet. The Independence variant is noted for its unique trimaran hull, ability to operate at high speeds and its large flight deck size.

«The future USS Manchester (LCS-14) is joining the fleet at a thrilling time in LCS history; LCSs are operationally proven and continue to be in high demand by combatant commanders around the globe», said Captain Jordy Harrison, commander, LCS Squadron-1 (COMLCSRON-1). «We enthusiastically welcome the future USS Manchester (LCS-14) to LCSRON-1 and I both admire and envy the work the crew has undertaken to make this important milestone in the ship’s history possible».

COMLCSRON-1 supports the operational commanders with warships ready for tasking by manning, training, equipping and maintaining littoral combat ships on the west coast. Manchester will be homeported in San Diego with her fellow ships USS Freedom (LCS-1), USS Independence (LCS-2), USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Coronado (LCS-4), USS Jackson (LCS-6), USS Montgomery (LCS-8), USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) and USS Omaha (LCS-12).

«To see the crew come together with Austal, Supervisor of Shipbuilding and the Program Office to celebrate this milestone is an awesome reminder of the team effort that is shipbuilding and warfighting», said Commander Emily Bassett, Manchester’s commanding officer. «LABOR VINCIT! Work Conquers! That’s our ship’s motto. The delivery gives the work of the ship over to her Sailors, and we are ready to conquer».

The LCS is a modular, reconfigurable ship designed to meet validated fleet requirements for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasures missions in the littoral region. An interchangeable mission package is embarked on each LCS and provides the primary mission systems in one of these warfare areas. Using an open architecture design, modular weapons, sensor systems and a variety of manned and unmanned vehicles to gain, sustain, and exploit littoral maritime supremacy, LCS provides U.S. joint force access to critical theaters.

Program Executive Office (PEO) Littoral Combat Ships is responsible for delivering and sustaining littoral mission capabilities to the fleet.


The Independence Variant of the LCS Class

Construction Hull and superstructure – aluminium alloy
Length overall 421 feet/128.3 m
Beam overall 103 feet/31.4 m
Hull draft (maximum) 14.8 feet/4.5 m
Complement Core Crew – 40
Mission crew – 36
Berthing 76 in a mix of single, double & quad berthing compartments
Maximum mission load 210 tonnes
Mission Bay Volume 118,403 feet3/11,000 m3
Mission packages Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
Surface Warfare (SUW)
Mine Warfare (MIW)
Main engines 2 × GE LM2500
2 × MTU 20V 8000
Waterjets 4 × Wartsila steerable
Bow thruster Retractable azimuthing
Speed 40 knots/46 mph/74 km/h
Range 3,500 NM/4,028 miles/6,482 km
Operational limitation Survival in Sea State 8
Deck area >21,527.8 feet2/2,000 m2
Launch and recovery Twin boom extending crane
Loading Side ramp
Internal elevator to hanger
Launch/Recover Watercraft Sea State 4
Flight deck dimensions 2 × SH-60 or 1 × CH-53 or multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/Vertical Take-off and Land Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs/VTUAVs)
Hanger Aircraft stowage & maintenance for 2 × SH-60
Launch/Recover Aircraft Sea State 5
Standard 1 × 57-mm gun
4 × 12.7-mm/.50 caliber guns
1 × Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) launcher
3 × weapons modules



Ship Laid down Launched Commissioned Homeport
USS Independence (LCS-2) 01-19-2006 04-26-2008 01-16-2010 San Diego, California
USS Coronado (LCS-4) 12-17-2009 01-14-2012 04-05-2014 San Diego, California
USS Jackson (LCS-6) 08-01-2011 12-14-2013 12-05-2015 San Diego, California
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) 06-25-2013 08-06-2014 09-10-2016 San Diego, California
USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) 04-16-2014 02-25-2015 06-10-2017 San Diego, California
USS Omaha (LCS-12) 02-18-2015 11-20-2015 02-03-2018 San Diego, California
USS Manchester (LCS-14) 06-29-2015 05-12-2016 San Diego, California
USS Tulsa (LCS-16) 01-11-2016
USS Charleston (LCS-18) 06-28-2016
USS Cincinnati (LCS-20) 04-10-2017
USS Kansas City (LCS-22) 11-15-2017
USS Oakland (LCS-24)
USS Mobile (LCS-26)
USS Savannah (LCS-28)
USS Canberra (LCS-30)


HELIOS program

The U.S. Navy awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract, with options worth up to $942.8 million, for the development, manufacture and delivery of two high power laser weapon systems, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and counter-Unmanned Aerial System (counter-UAS) capabilities, by fiscal year 2020. With the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system, Lockheed Martin will help the Navy take a major step forward in its goal to field laser weapon systems aboard surface ships.

Artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS system (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
Artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS system (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

«The HELIOS program is the first of its kind, and brings together laser weapon, long-range ISR and counter-UAS capabilities, dramatically increasing the situational awareness and layered defense options available to the U.S. Navy», said Michele Evans, vice president and general manager of Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors. «This is a true system of capabilities, and we’re honored the Navy trusted Lockheed Martin to be a part of fielding these robust systems to the fleet».

HELIOS combines three key capabilities, brought together for the first time in one weapon system:

  • A high-energy laser system: The high-energy fiber laser will be designed to counter unmanned aerial systems and small boats. The energy and thermal management system will leverage Lockheed Martin experience on Department of Defense programs, and the cooling system will be designed for maximum adaptability onboard ships. In addition, Lockheed Martin will bring decades of shipboard integration experience, reducing risk and increasing reliability.
  • A long-range ISR capability: HELIOS sensors will be part of an integrated weapon system, designed to provide decision-makers with maximum access to information. HELIOS data will be available on the Lockheed Martin-led Aegis Combat System.
  • A counter-UAS dazzler capability: The HELIOS dazzler will be designed to obscure adversarial UAS-based ISR capabilities.

In this first increment of the U.S. Navy’s Surface Navy Laser Weapon System program, Lockheed Martin will deliver two units for test by fiscal year 2020. One unit will be delivered for shipboard integration on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and one unit will be used for land testing at White Sands Missile Range.

«Lockheed Martin’s spectral beam combined fiber lasers bring flexibility and adaptability to defensive and offensive missions», said Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems. «Our design is scalable, and we can optimize it to meet requirements for future increments».

Lockheed Martin has more than 40 years of experience developing laser weapon systems. The HELIOS award leverages technology building blocks from internal research and development projects, including the ATHENA system and ALADIN laser, as well as contract experience gained from programs such as the U.S. Army/Directed Energy Joint Technology Office RELI program, the U.S. Air Force LANCE program and the U.S. Navy HEFL program.

Third Arm

Soldiers may be asked to carry heavier, more lethal weapons in the near future, but they soon might have a «third arm» to improve their accuracy and reduce fatigue.

Army Research Lab engineer Dan Baechle demonstrates how to strap on the «Third Arm», a mechanical device designed to improve Soldiers' accuracy and reduce fatigue (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Joe Lacdan)
Army Research Lab engineer Dan Baechle demonstrates how to strap on the «Third Arm», a mechanical device designed to improve Soldiers’ accuracy and reduce fatigue (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Joe Lacdan)

Using a mechanical apparatus that resembles something out of a sci-fi movie, the lightweight device will help redistribute some of the burden Soldiers carry in their arms and shoulders to their abdomen. Engineers at the Army Research Lab (ARL) here have been developing a mechanical «third arm» that attaches to a user’s back hip.

The project, unveiled last year at a conference, is scheduled to be tested again sometime this spring with a minimum of 15 Soldiers.

«Right now we have a prototype that’s essentially a research platform that we’re using to investigate different types of materials – how materials and structures can stabilize a weapon or a shield, reduce fatigue on the Soldiers’ arms, but also improve accuracy», said mechanical engineer Dan Baechle.

The project is currently on its second prototype model with improvements based on Soldier feedback. Some of the improvements include an extendable hinge plate so that a single plate can fit Soldiers of different sizes and body types. Baechle said further research must be completed before the device can be fielded. The current prototype at 3.5 pounds/1.6 kg can now support weapons such as the M249 light machine gun that weighs about 27 pounds/12.2 kg.

The project not only helps stabilize weapons, but can aid Soldiers for defensive purposes while carrying 20-pound/9-kg shields. The project team developed a custom mount that connects from the arm to the shield so Soldiers can use the Third Arm to help alleviate muscle fatigue.

Concept development began in late 2015 when ARL engineers brainstormed ideas on how to make a dismounted Soldier more lethal. Engineers began building the first prototypes in 2016. The focus of the project centered on providing stability for dismounted Soldier. ARL engineers are examining different types of spring materials to further balance the weapon against gravity. Baechle said they used a carbon fiber material in the current prototype because of its light weight and density.

«We started out with just trying to think of a way to help improve the lethality for the dismounted Soldier», Baechle said. «Generally, that means stabilizing the weapon or giving the Soldier a more powerful weapon. Can we stabilize that weapon to improve accuracy? But also, if we’re stabilizing the weapon and taking the load off of the Soldiers’ arms, does that improve the Soldier’s readiness? Does it also improve the Soldier’s accuracy with the weapon»?

Last summer, six Soldiers volunteered to take part in a pilot study, where researchers placed electromyography sensors to measure muscle activity. In particular, when holding a weapon or shield for extended periods of time, the arm begins to shake, impacting shooter accuracy. The six-person research team tested Soldiers firing weapons with and without the apparatus.

«We found that it reduced the fatigue and reduced the muscle activation for some Soldiers», Baechle said, explaining that data is being used to motivate a larger trial this year with more Soldiers. This year he also plans to get more feedback on what Soldiers think about the device and what should be changed.

Last year researchers collected data on how much muscles were firing with the use of the third arm compared to without it.

«There are studies showing that, if you hold a weight out at arm’s length, eventually your arm starts shaking», Baechle said. «And that shaking is going to reduce your accuracy with the weapon … and if you’re holding a shield, it’s going to reduce the amount of time that you can hold that shield. So, we’re taking that weight of the weapon or the shield off of the arms and transferring it back to the torso».

While the test yielded positive results, Baechle said some of the Soldiers had problems with the device. Improvements made this year include changing the mounting location from the front of the Soldier’s vest to the back.

Researchers hope to further improve the device to make it more comfortable and reduce fatigue even more. They are continually attempting to make adjustments to the device to boost a shooter’s accuracy.

Baechle demonstrated how ARL researchers use a motion capture system, using monitors and infra-red targeting to track a Soldier’s weapon and target.

«We use this system to evaluate both how subjects or Soldiers move the weapon and with and without the third arm», Baechle said. «But also, how the arm improves the accuracy or changes the aim point while they’re using the weapon».

Finally, researchers hope the project can reduce some of the recoil force after firing a weapon.

«You have a lighter weight weapon but potentially a higher caliber weapon which normally would increase the recoil on your shoulder», Baechle said. «Could you use Third Arm and some clever materials on the arm to redirect that recoil back toward the body and thus allow the Soldier to wield a higher energy weapon without necessarily burdening the Soldier more»?

Underwater vehicle

On 16th February ECA Group presented its latest mid-size AUV A18-M dedicated to mine counter measures. With its compactness and its unequaled high-quality imagery this new generation underwater drone becomes the reference in the category of autonomous underwater vehicles dedicated to mine hunting. A live demonstration in Toulon area has been conducted in order to show some of the amazing performances of this new maritime drone that is completing ECA Group’s AUV family.

ECA Group unveils its new generation mid-size AUV A18-M for underwater mine warfare
ECA Group unveils its new generation mid-size AUV A18-M for underwater mine warfare


AUV A18-M: compact, modular, connected and enduring

A18-M is the new generation of autonomous underwater vehicle developed by ECA Group for efficient mine detection and classification in all water depths up to 300 m/984 feet. Like the A9-M and A27-M, the AUV A18-M is specifically designed to operate in the close vicinity of the smartest mines without triggering them.

«This mid-size AUV is the top trade-off between, size, weight and long endurance. Its payload capacity makes it able to host high performance sonar, such as Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS) providing unprecedented detection and classification performances», says Léonie Delacou, AUVs product manager at ECA Group.

More compact than previous generation of MCM AUV, A18-M is easy to deploy even from small naval platforms such as new generation of Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV). Thanks to its high stability, and the fact that it is less affected by waves than a surface ship or a towed system, a very high image quality is obtained.

In addition, the AUV A18-M can also adapt its operating depth to the environmental conditions, avoiding blind zones due to sound speed stratification.

Advanced embedded processing allows to process in real time the sonar image raw data and extract a list of contacts which are relayed back to the command center using an advanced communication network, with an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) or an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) acting as gateway. These contacts are then reviewed by sonar operators onboard a mothership or onshore, in order to launch identification and disposal.


An unequaled performance gains with a Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS) onboard A18-M

More generally, the AUV is able also to detect any kind of hazard such as improvised explosive devices (IED), pollutants, as well as to provide very accurate maps of the seabed which allow the environment to be assessed with high fidelity.

The AUV A18-M integrates the Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS) and has very high area coverage rate, of the order of 2 km2/hr which represents between 5 and 10 times more than that of a conventional side-looking sonar on an AUV. This optimal configuration enables to cover very large areas – of the order 20-40 km2 (depending on transit distance) in a fraction of the time of legacy assets, with far superior image quality, and with reduced risk to personnel.

«The performance gain is due to the very high resolution in both range and cross-range offered by a wideband SAS, of the order of 2.5 cm × 3 cm constant up to the edges of the swath, which is unachievable, at any practical range, by any other type of sonar on any type of platform. With the only possible exception of buried or concealed mines, all known mines can be detected and high quality classification cues can be extracted from the highlight and shadow structure», says Doctor Marc Pinto Program Director for Systems of Robots and sonar expert at ECA Group.


A18-M joins the UMIS team: simultaneity & interoperability optimize operations at sea

AUV A18-M can be integrated within a larger unmanned system, such as ECA Group’s UMIS (Unmanned Maritime Integrated System) and benefit from common interfaces, communication network as well as data processing system.

«The A18-M joins now the ECA Group MCM robotic ‘team’ which is composed of the Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) INSPECTOR MK2, the identification ROV SEASCAN and the expendable mine disposal vehicle, also called minekiller, the K-STER C. All of these robots can work together in order to accomplish tasks simultaneously or for INSPECTOR USV, to be used a communication relay to send gathered a preprocessed information (ATD – Automatic Target Detection) to a command and control system on a mothership or on shore to deploy the identification and disposal vehicle. This is the first comprehensive unmanned maritime system that includes all types of naval robots: USVs, AUVs, ROVs and EMDS», says Daniel Scourzic, UMIS (Unmanned Maritime Integrated Systems) Marketing Manager at ECA Group.

Operating in parallel several unmanned devices, the UMIS system allows the user to have higher efficiency and clearance rate, enabling to achieve typical operations in at least 3 times shorter period compared to conventional systems without any risks for the ship and the operators who stay out of danger zones.

UK’s amphibious forces

A troop of Royal Marines from 42 Commando in Plymouth has embarked in the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier to prove the process of launching them by helicopter to conduct operations ashore.

Royal Marines launch 'assault' from HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)
Royal Marines launch ‘assault’ from HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)

Marines from Lima Company and supporting elements from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Ship’s Company have been called to ‘Assault Stations’ for the very first time, on exercise.

The troops were processed from their accommodation, through the ship, collecting kit, including weapons and ammunition in a carefully orchestrated process, in through the massive hangar and onto the flight deck to simulate being launched ashore by helicopter.

The Royal Navy’s amphibious assault capability has to now been provided by assault ships HMS Bulwark (L15) and HMS Albion (L14) and the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH), HMS Ocean (L12).

Whilst HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) does not have the surface assault capability with landing craft of the specialist ships, her four-acre flight deck provides plenty of scope from which to project manpower and equipment ashore using the variety of helicopters she will be able to host.

The ship is currently at sea conducting trials which will determine the operating parameters of several different helicopters, including Merlin Mk2, Mk3 and Mk4, Merlin Crowsnest, Chinook, Apache and Wildcat.

Speaking as Assault Stations were successfully completed for the first time, the Ship’s Amphibious Operations Officer (AOO), Lieutenant Colonel Mark Searight Royal Marines, explained the importance of this capability: «HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) will maintain the United Kingdom’s ability to have a forward-based strategic conventional deterrent which has the ability not only to conduct strike operations with the F-35B Lightning II, which is its primary role, but also to have an Embarked Military Force that is fully trained and ready to be projected ashore to conduct tasks that might arise. That might be soft power for defence engagement, all the way through to humanitarian and disaster relief and war fighting. This training is part of the initial work-up to achieve that».

He added: «The training has gone really well. It’s been an education to the Ship’s Company on what the LPH role will entail, and there has also been education to those who assist me to achieve aviation assault operations: Assault guides, FLYCO, the Logistics department who make sure they can sustain the operation and troops sufficiently; the ammunition personnel in the Air Engineering Department who make sure we have got the right ammunition. It’s a complex process».

Having previously served as the Area of Operations (AOO) in HMS Ark Royal (91) 10 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Searight says the training today is as relevant as it ever was: «We are mirroring exactly what we did in our previous carriers and HMS Ocean (L12); our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are almost identical. But there has been a degree of the Marines having to relearn some of the skills that we took for granted before our most recent land campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines are an adaptable force; that’s our USP as the UK’s amphibious forces. So, to ask them to spend time at sea is not a surprise or a task too far for any of them. But we’ve taken some time away from conducting major sea campaigns so this sort of training is extremely valuable».

In order for the ship to demonstrate an initial capability to operate in the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) role, it should be able to project Royal Marines and their equipment ashore by aviation, prove ship to shore communications, sustain the troops for the period they are ashore and recover them back to the ship on completion.

This recent ’Assault Station’ training is a step on the road towards achieving an initial LPH capability and paves the way for more complex LPH evolutions this autumn.