Friday, May 18, 2018

Tales from a hundred years of Royal Air Force - The Centenary Collection

The Royal Air Force turned 100 on 1st April this year, and carries its age in great fashion. It was the first air service to become independent of the other two, and was born out of the hard-won experience built up over the battlefields of the Great War by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. The achievements of those two corps and of the air force that emerged from their unification are certainly worthy of celebration, and Penguin is doing so by publishing a collection of books that tell some of the countless great stories of the RAF.

The Centenary Collection is a series of six paperback books, united by same style of cover and by the same agile format, which bring together a good selection of tales of that human courage that has seen the RAF through the great challenges of its century.

Naturally, the skies of the Second World War get most of the attention, but of the many stories out there, Penguin has selected an interesting few:

The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary is not only the story of a Spitfire pilot in the terrible hours of the Battle of Britain, but also the extraordinary tale of a man who was shot down and survived through months in the hospital, becoming a member of the “Guinea Pig Club” that Archibald McIndoe created by pioneering plastic surgery.

Every so often, Richard writes the name of a comrade, of a friend, noting “from that flight, he did not return”. It hits home hard, every time. Not much else needs to be added.
There is no attempt on Richard’s part to reconstruct how he was shot down: just falling into darkness and pain, with hands and face burned, eyesight lost. Weeks of suffering, followed by the return of eyesight and a long struggle to get back in control of his hands and have his face rebuilt. It is a tale of courage and also a story of evolving medical practice. The strength of character that emerges from the pages is hard to describe: Richard is direct, sincere and concise in his memories: the intensity comes from what he sees and goes through, there is no need for tinsels.  
Richard decided to write his story, and that of his lost comrades, when he was in the hospital, slowly recovering. He said he wrote for humanity whole, to let at least some of the stories of those men be known, to show what they were ready to do for their ideals.
Richard Hillary was not tamed by what he went through. He helped rescue a mother and her children from a bombed house, and that ensured that he would never rest. He managed to get back to a flying unit.
The Last Enemy was first published in 1941. It is an open ended book, because Richard died 7 months later in a second crash.
Few stories could better underline the value of the men who made the RAF what it is.

Tumult in the Clouds by James Goodson is another inspired choice. Anglo-American, James survived the sinking of the SS Athenia off the Hebrides and distinguished himself by helping other survivors. He decided to become a fighter pilot in the RAF and served in 43 Squadron and for a stint in 416 Squadron, Canadian, before being posted to fly Spitfires with 133 Squadron, one of three Eagle Squadrons set up for American volunteers.  

Eventually, those Squadrons would become the core of Fourth Fighter Group, Eight Air Force when the United States declared war, and the Spitfires were hesitantly handed over to be replaced by P-47s. Including this particular story is a tribute to the long lasting and key relationship between the UK and the US, between the RAF and what wasn’t yet, at the time, the USAF, but the USAAF, with the extra A for “Army”. It is amusing to read of how an impudent Texan joyously asked King George VI permission to wear Texan boots with the RAF uniform, and touching that the original Eagle squadrons asked to continue wearing RAF wings on their uniforms after becoming USAAF units.
The book is rich of action, and recalls combat actions and rivalry with the great Luftwaffe units, and even the meetings with the Me-262, the first combat jet. One of the best stories to experience what it was like to fly fighters in the Second World War, and a great story of long range bomber escort flights and daring strafing through hellish barrages of Flak.

Going Solo by Roald Dahl brings us to Africa, where Roald is caught by the war. He trains in Nairobi, on Tiger Moths, then out to the huge base at Habbaniya, before joining 80 Squadron with its Gloster Gladiators. But Roald crashes in the desert and has to go through a slow and painful recovery in Alexandria, before ferrying a Hurricane out to Greece and staying there to fight alongside the remaining few, and they were really few at that point, trying to carry through a doomed campaign.

The book is full of photos that appear on many of the pages, and original letters sent at the time are also reproduced inside. It is another deserving story: the battles over Greece are not the most famous, so it is great to include them in this collection.

First Light by Geoffrey Wellum contains one of the most impressive recollections of training to become a fighter pilot. The pages transmit all the burning desire and all the fears and hesitations. The night flying, with its challenges. The difficulties in mastering navigation. The entry, with very little in terms of flying hours, in newly formed 92 Squadron. There is everything, and Geoffrey really transmits his emotions from the page. His account of his first flight in a Spitfire is particularly delightful.

The pages that follow are intense: the Battle of Britain, then fighter sweeps and escort missions over occupied France. All of them gripping, and culminating with Geoffrey taking part in Operation Pedestal, the desperate bid to resupply Malta.

Tornado Down by John Nicol and John Peters brings us to the RAF of our times. RAF Flight lieutenants John Peters and John Nichol were captured in the desert of Iraq in 1991 when their Tornado was hit by Saddam’s air defences. They were prisoners for seven terrible weeks of torture, abuse and interrogations.

The narration alternates between one protagonist and the other, telling the story of those days in vivid detail. The book contains multiple good photos and a cutaway of the Tornado, and gives us the chance to discover what it was like to go through that infernal experience and return to normality after it, which is a formidable feat in itself.

Immediate Response by Mark Hammond is the last book of the collection but, I will admit, the first one I began reading. Its great merit is to bring Kandahar and Bastion to life on the page and tell the story of operations that are very close in time, yet already distant. The key turning point in the Afghan campaign was in 2006 and the book shoves the reader into a Chinook flying in support of British troops holed up in the infamous platoon houses.
Major Mark Hammond is a Royal Marine, a bootneck with experience on Lynx and on USMC Cobra attack helicopters that refused to “fly a desk” and went on to serve in the Chinook force. In his story there is the joinery of modern day operations, and the intricacy of dealing with rules of engagement, political implications, media considerations that are a cornerstone of modern operations.

The most vibrant pages of the book are about a casualty extraction from an incandescent landing zone in Musa Qala, which required a major combined effort to be carried out and which resulted in the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. This personal, direct, bootneck-speak story – truly hoofing, if you know what I mean – gives an insight of what Afghanistan was truly like, and shows the hard work of the MERT teams as well.
I want to include this extract from the book, which introduces another powerful part of the book, when Chinooks are instrumental to the first large scale Relief in Place between PARAs and Royal Marines, because it shows the complexity of modern operations and the variety of considerations involved.

The book is rich with images from the campaign and is opened by a cutaway of the Chinook.

Immediate Reaction is certainly recommended reading for everyone who wants to better understand operations in Afghanistan. A multitude of good books have been published, and I haven’t read them all so any list I can offer you wouldn’t be complete, but I can certainly recommend Ed Macy’s Apache and Hellfire for the Attack Helicopter side; Aviation Assault Battle Group – The 2009 Afghanistan tour of the Black Watch (3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland) might be less known, and is a chronicle more than a novel, but is highly recommended. Rich of photos, maps, data contributed by multiple members of the battle group, this is a great summary of one of the most interesting roles covered by British troops in Helmand, written directly by those who were there. I also suggest picking up Company Commander by Major Russell Lewis and Joint Force Harrier by commander Ade Orchard with James Barrington. For me, Immediate Response was another step in a travel that began with those books and which is by no means finished.

The Centenary Collection is a perfect way to celebrate the RAF’s birthday in this special occasion. The stories that have been chosen show in full the kind of human values and of characters that have made the RAF what it is today. It sheds light to lesser known battles; it shows modern day joint force approaches and shows how the special relationship with the US truly went in force.

It is a collection of tales that I think anyone with an interest in the RAF’s story should possess. I’m certainly glad to add them to my own collection, right by my many aircraft models, because Spitfires and Hurricanes and Typhoons will make a good contour for these books.

These days I often stand accused of being a navy type, while my interest is the health of the UK’s military capabilities as a whole. Those that accuse me of an anti-RAF bias clearly do not know me, and misinterpret my comments. They can’t know, and some might not believe even if told, that it was the Spitfire that started my interest in the military. They can’t imagine that I was reading The Great Circus, the memories of Pierre Henri Clostermann, when I was just a boy; nor that the Dambusters Raid and the “thousand bombers” attacks were arguments of my readings and studies at an age when they probably should not have been. I grew up with pilots such as Guy Gibson as an ideal hero and with a great interest in the Pathfinders and in the agile, fast “wooden wonder” Mosquito which managed to improve the picture for Bomber Command while it was paying such a bloody price to get past German defences. The friends who have lived up with me ranting on about the RAF’s exploits could definitely shoot down any accusation of me having anything other than love for the Light Blue.
That doesn’t mean that I always have to agree with its decisions and their impacts on wider Defence, but that’s a story for another time.

The Centenary Collection is an ideal addition to my vast library, and a source of new inspiration. While I’m writing, though, let me also again recommend that you get your hands on The Great Circus (or The Big Show, in other editions) as well, if you get a chance to do so. Clostermann, Free French ace in the RAF, first on Spitfire and then on his beloved Tempest nicknamed “Grand Charles”, has another great story to tell.
It might have also been responsible, at least in part, for my special, (not) secret love for the Hawker Tempest and Fury... 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Towards unmanned, stand-off maritime mine counter measures

The MOD has announced that the first unmanned minesweeping system has been accepted by the Royal Navy. This welcome development comes after years of tests, experiments and also delays. It is the result of 3 years of work following a contract announced in march 2015 and is just a step, however important, within a much larger enterprise.

RNMB Hussar in action, towing the Combined Influence Sweep package 

UK-only development; Combined Influence Sweep replacement

12 October 2005 was an historic day for the Royal Navy, because the Hunt class minesweepers HMS Middleton and HMS Ledbury conducted the last evolution at sea involving sweep gear, both the Oropesa mechanical wire system and the combined influence sweep equipment. The Royal Navy at that point had already operated unmanned, remotely controlled sweep systems in 2003 during waterway clearance work in Iraq, notably the opening of Umm Qasr. Under a UOR, a number of Combat Support Boats with remote controls were used to tow the Mini Dyad System (MDS) produced by Australian Defence Industries (ADI) and Pipe Noise Makers. Called Shallow Water Influence Minesweeping System (SWIMS), they were sent ahead of the RN minehunters as precursor sweeps against ground influence mines. The future of MCM was taking the path of stand-off action through unmanned systems and it was felt that the more than 100 years of manned ships sweeping were at an end.

The replacement for the sweep equipment was to come through the Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology, or FAST. The idea was to put two unmanned surface vehicles on the Hunt class vessels by modifying their open, capacious stern area. FAST, however, proved anything but fast, and even though a contract was signed in 2007 by the MOD with the Atlas-QED consortium, comprising Atlas Elektronik UK, QinetiQ and EDO Corporation, the resulting Technology Readiness Demonstrator never made it on the Hunt class. FAST became a test platform that spent the following years doing all sort of trials and demonstrations. Initially intended only for towing sweep kit, it ended up testing remote deployment and recovery of Sea Fox unmanned underwater vehicles, demonstrating that stand off clearance of minefields was possible.

The above photo, from Mer et, show FAST during tests involving the launch and recovery of Sea Fox at range. The Sea Fox UUV is visible on the launch arm to the right. 

Atlas Elektronik UK continued to work with the MOD and on its own, and eventually developed in-house the ARCIMS (ATLAS Remote Combined Influence Minesweeping System) system, which has enjoyed a first export success in an unnamed Middle East navy and has gone on to become the much delayed replacement for the Hunt’s sweeping capability within the Royal Navy.
An ARCIMS seaframe, but manned, was delivered to the Royal Navy in 2014 for trials and development purposes, and remains in service with the Maritime Autonomous System Trials Team (MASTT) of the Royal Navy as RNMB Hazard.    
On 6 march 2015, Atlas received a 12.6 million pounds order from the MOD for a first ARCIMS-derived system, in the unmanned configuration, configured to tow sweeping equipment. The system has now been accepted, and according to MASTT, which has already trialed it extensively, the new boat is called RNMB Hussar.

The RNMB Hazard, manned precursor to Hussar, is used in tests since 2014 
Redeployability directly from the shore after being transported by air, land or sea is a major advantage of the unmanned, stand-off MCM solutions. Here, Hazard is being moved.  

The 2015 contract for this system included the groundwork for two further “Blocks” of work, to be confirmed and funded later. Block 2 covers the integration with the Hunt class vessel: a refit will be necessary to clear the stern and add an A frame for launch and recovery of the 11-meters unmanned surface vehicle. A dedicate Reconnaissance Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Hangar is also envisaged. Block 2 is not yet under contract, nor is Block 3, which would consist of the acquisition of further systems. In 2015, four were envisaged.

This old image from the early phases of FAST shows the look of a modified Hunt turned into FAST mothership. The general arrangement is unlikely to change much with Hussar and MMCM, but the modifications to the Hunt class are not yet under contract, at least as far as i know

In late 2017 the First Sea Lord gave a speech in which he announced that the unmanned MCM project would be “speeded up” to deliver a workable system for “routine mine clearance” in UK waters within 2 years. The 2015 contract was always meant to last 3 years, so there is not an evident schedule change for the better; nor there is any evidence of rapid progress on Block 2 and 3. The unmanned system can be launched directly from the shore, so its use in UK waters probably does not require the modification of a Hunt. In other words, I’m not sure the 1SL speech is something to be happy about, or really a cut worded nicely.
In light of the coming of MMCM next year, Block 2 and Block 3 might never take place as originally envisaged.

MMCM; working with France

The Royal Navy is working on a second and much more ambitious programme, which is the Maritime MCM (MMCM) system jointly funded and developed alongside France. The contract for the manufacture of two full prototype systems, one for each country, was signed at Euronaval in October 2016, and next year the system should be delivered for trials.
The MMCM system-of-systems consists of multiple unmanned / remotely operated elements that will enable stand-off detection and disposal of mines up to 30 miles away from the mothership. The system is centered on a 11-meters Unmanned Surface Vehicle which will be used to tow a Synthetic Aperture Sonar and to deliver a Remotely Operated Vehicle for mine disposal. A large, autonomous underwater vehicle is also included, for reconnaissance of minefields.

Thales is tasked with delivery of the integrated Portable Operations Centre (POC), which will use a command & control solution jointly developed by Thales and BAE Systems. BAE Systems will provide the Mission Management System, the virtual visualization and experimentation suite. The BAE NAUTIS command and control system is expected to be at the core of the MMCM solution. NAUTIS is already operational on the RN minesweepers and in service in several other countries, from Turkey to Australia.

The Royal Navy in the meanwhile has been repeatedly using the Autonomous Control Exploitation Realisation (ACER), a containerized command post, complete with sensors, able to receive and fuse data streams from multiple unmanned air, surface and underwater systems. The ACER was successfully demonstrated at the Unmanned Warrior 2016 event, where it integrated data from 25 different unmanned systems supplied by 12 different organizations. For the occasion, it was embarked on the SD Northern River. It has also been used from the shore at the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC) range, and it was well visible on the flight deck of RFA Tidespring during exercise Joint Warrior 2018.
Whatever command system the MMCM employs, it will be important to integrate lessons from the ACER experience to ensure that integration of new unmanned vehicles, including eventually the rotary wing UAS that the Royal Navy hopes to put in service in the 2020s, is smooth.

ACER on the cargo deck of SD Northern River during Unmanned Warrior 2016 
ACER seen on the flight deck of RFA Tidespring during the recent Joint Warrior (thanks to RFANostalgia on twitter) 
Another ACER node seen again on SD Northern River while she plays prey to HMS Montrose's boarding team in recent exercises

ASV Ltd was selected to deliver the Unmanned Surface Vehicle, which will be a development of their Halcyon USV, an exemplar of which has already been used by the Royal Navy during various trials and experiments. The ASV will be similar in size to the ARCIMS / Hussar, and in theory a modified Hunt could carry two in tandem.
One interesting question going ahead is whether the RN buys further ARCIMS hulls in addition to the ASV Halcyon Mk2, or if it standardizes on one of the two. It is unfortunate that two virtually identical USVs are being procured, as having a single fleet would no doubt ease logistic considerations.

Halcyon is visible to the right, ahead of RNMB Hazard, during Unmanned Warrior 
Halcyon deploying a ROV 

The Halcyon USV that the Royal Navy has already employed has a displacement of over 8 tons and is capable of carrying a 2,5 tons payload at ranges in excess of 300 nautical miles. The vessel is 11.5 m long, has a beam of 3.5 m, is 2.9 m high, and can achieve a top speed of 29 kt (25 kt when fully loaded). It features a full navigation suite comprising GPS, radar, AIS, compass, and chart plotter; forward-looking EO cameras; a pan, tilt, and zoom camera; mission planning and mission management system; and a payload management system. The MMCM USV derivative will not dramatically depart from these dimensions, meaning that deployment from a Type 26’s mission bay will be another possibility.

The Hussar is similarly sized: 11 meters long, with a beam of 3.2m and a draft of 0.5m and a payload of around 3 tons. Propulsion is on two engines with water jet, giving an unladen max speed of some 40 knots and a speed of up to 15 knots while towing the sweep gear.
Atlas Electroniks and Rolls Royce have recently completed a demonstration campaign with an ARCIMS fitted with an autonomous collision avoidance system.
It will be interesting to see how the Royal Navy moves in the future in regards to the unmanned surface vehicle element.

The autonomous underwater vehicle will be a derivative of the French ECA A-27M.  With a speed of 6 knots and an endurance of 40 hours, the A-27 can dive down to 300 meters while carrying a suite of sensors which will include the Thales SAMDIS advanced syntheric aperture sonar, first demonstrated during 2014.
The SAMDIS, but in towed form, will also be streamed by the Halcyon-derivative USV, and will be the primary mine detection sensor.


The mines will be destroyed thanks to a multi-shot, reusable Remotely Operated Vehicle provided by SAAB. The Multi-Shot Mine Neutralisation System (MuMNS) could, in other words, replace the current Sea Fox, which was born as a one-shot system. There are two drones under the Sea Fox name: one, reusable, is used for reconnaissance, while the disposal system is sacrificed in the explosion that removes the mine. In more recent times, an add-on mask known as “COBRA” has made Sea Fox reusable by introducing the possibility of detaching the disposal charge and sail away, but the MuMNS is born with this concept of operation already in mind. The ROV can be operated down to 300 meters depth, and thanks to its “storm” magazine can actually carry other payloads in alternative to the mine disposal system.


Wood & Douglas is responsible for the communications between the elements of the MMCM system.

Currently, the main unmanned underwater vehicles employed by the survey and MCM flotilla are the REMUS 100 and 600 by Hydroid. Recently, the MOD has contracted an extension of support arrangements to ensure that these systems remain operational at least out to September this year, while a replacement contract is negotiated.
The REMUS 100 is used for Very Shallow Waters reconnaissance and its capability has been expanded in 2012 with the addition of extra sensors. A dozen systems should be in operation.
REMUS 600 can dive down to 600 meters for reconnaissance, lasting up to 70 hours. It can be reconfigured to dive down to 1500 and even 3000 meters. Additional sensor modules are added at the front. The basic payload suite consists of dual frequency Side Scan Sonar, CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) and pressure sensor.
Obviously, these systems are very important to the MCM mission and their extension in service and / or replacement will have to operate alongside the sweep and MMCM modules, and eventually possibly “become one” with said systems. The sweep payload itself would become just a component of the wider MCM system of systems.  

REMUS 100 
Deploying REMUS 600 

Both Hunt and Sandown are being life-extended and upgraded. The Hunt class is receiving new Caterpillar C32 diesel engines that replace her old Napier Deltics; and the Sandown class underwent the the Sandown Volvo Generator Programme (SVGP) that replaces the ageing Perkins CV8 diesel generators with more efficient Volvo Penta D13 Marine diesel generators. The first vessel to receive this upgrade was HMS Bangor, during a dry dock support period at Rosyth undertaken by Babcock in 2014.

Hunt class engine replacement 

Hunt class: the open stern is reconfigurable with relative ease, unlike on Sandown vessels. Note the white dome of the Satcom, added in the last few years, and the minigun positions, standard op Kipion fit 

The sonars fitted to the two classes have received significant updates: the Hunt class, with the hull-mounted Type 2193 sonar, are extremely good at detecting mines in shallow waters, down to 80 meters. The Sandown, with the multifrequency variable depth sonar system Type 2093, can hunt mines down to 200 meters depth. Both sonars have been improved with wideband pulse compression technology which allows for long-range detection and classification of low target echo strength mines by optimising performance against reverberation and noise simultaneously.
The capability of these sonars will have to be replaced though unmanned vehicles as part of the future solution going into the post-MCM ship era.

US Navy unmanned assets are often found in the Gulf on board RFA Cardigan Bay 

With the coming of MMCM, where do Block 2 and 3 of the Sweep technology contract sit?
Block 2 is arguably more necessary than ever, but the Unmanned Vehicles Hangar and launch and recovery equipment should not be just Sweep-focused, but more widely focused on the whole package.

Going ahead with a single USV type would be desirable, so the Sweep module should go on as a payload to be towed by whichever of the two USVs prove more successful.
As a consequence, Block 3 could have to include the migration effort and the delivery of more sweep modules but perhaps not more ARCIMS boats.

HMS Echo, a survey ship, has spent months as NATO MCM Squadron flagship. Here she is in La Spezia, Italy, in September 2017, embarking unmanned vehicles, training mines and other equipment. A sign of things to come. 

There is no telling what the Royal Navy is currently planning to do. Information is extremely scarce, but already in 2014, in the Naval Engineer magazine, the Sweep module was indicated as a component in the wider solution. Both Hussar and the incoming MMCM are, once more, prototypes, and it will be important to bring them together and harmonize the two programmes into one.

Motherships, not minehunters
The successful delivery of the whole future MCM package will transform the way mine clearance operations are carried out. If all goes well, in the new year the Royal Navy will finally be able to abandon its last reservations about the viability of stand-off mine clearance and begin crafting the course for the post-dedicate minehunter hull era.

France has already decided that it will no longer build dedicate, expensive, amagnetic hulls for the MCM mission. The latest Military Planning Law included funding to procure the first twonew-generation motherships by 2025, with two more to follow. The mothership will be large, steel-hulled, and flexible enough to cover other roles as well as MCM. Two designs are being considered: the NS 04 is a SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) complete of flight deck and hangar for medium helicopters as well as a large cargo / mission space in the stern for storage, launch and recovery of the unmanned vehicles.
The second design is a catamaran, with the same base characteristics. Other vessel designs, including more traditional monohulls, have been proposed. BMT in the UK has recently put forward the Venari, and years ago had proposed the Venator. These vessels all bring capabilities commonly found in OPVs, making them suitable for constabulary tasks as well as specialized MCM and hydrographic missions.
France’s future MCM programme (SLAMF, in French) intends to replace the current flotilla of Tripartite MCM vessels with 4 motherships, with another four vessels for Divers support, replacing four existing ships. Numerically, the contraction from 11 Eridan-class minehunters to four motherships is quite impressive, but the new vessels will be multi-role, and more easily deployable. Further units could be built if the same hull is selected for the new survey vessels to be ordered in the early 2020s.


The designs being considered for the french mothership 
BMT Venator 90 proposal 

Above, the BMT Venari proposal for a future mothership

Their pre-MMCM demonstration project, the ESPADON, launched in 2009, delivered an impressive optionally manned catamaran, the Sterenn-Du, displacing 25 tons, 17 meters long and 7.5 meters wide. Launched in 2010 and then employed in a vast range of tests, the Sterenn-Du is equipped with a launch and recovery “cage” between its two hulls. When the unmanned underwater vehicles return to the cage, they plug into connections that enable to downloading of the data collected. The Sterenn-Du was remotely operated in sea state up to 4, successfully carrying out launches and recoveries at range. The French navy does not exclude the possibility of using such large USVs again in the future, even if for the MMCM programme they have adopted the british approach of using a smaller platform.
For France, the ESPADON project removed all hesitations about the future of MCM being unmanned and stand-off.

The impressive Sterenn-Du, head on (above) and from the stern (bottom), seen with the launch and recovery cage lowered in the water, in this photo by mer et 

Despite years of work with FAST, the Royal Navy has instead not formally closed the door to the possibility of building a novel class of MCM-specific hulls, but this is looking more and more unlikely. According to current timelines, in any case, there will be plenty of time not just to evaluate MMCM and put it into service, but also to see the first French motherships enter service. The Royal Navy does not expect new vessels for the MCM mission before 2028, although a decision on the design will have to happen quite a lot earlier than that, considering how horrendously slow the british procurement and shipbuilding efforts can be. If ten years for delivering a Type 26 are any indication, the 2028 date for the first next generation mothership might actually end up proving to be hopelessly optimistic.

The programme that will deliver the future capability is known as MHC, MCM & Hydrographic Capability and deliberately envisages the replacement of not just Hunt and Sandown but of the survey ships Echo and Enterprise as well. Until late 2013 it was MHPC, with the P standing for “patrol”, but this was dropped after the order for the River Batch 2 vessels had been signed.
It would be extremely shortsighted to not take note of the multi-role capability of these new motherships and make sure they can adequately cover the “patrol” function as well. The removal of the P from the programme acronym is a most unwelcome development which is to be hoped will be reversed, because to not grasp the full range of advantages of having a new class of deployable ships would be criminal.
The unpleasant sensation, common to many other areas across the MOD, is that planning is so constrained by short-termism that the relationship between programmes is regularly misunderstood or deliberately ignored. From the small to the huge things, it seems like project offices are unable to talk to each other and ensure that the overlap, where it exists, is of the good rather than of the bad kind. Was it truly impossible to avoid developing two USVs for the same role? Was it intentional as a form of “parachute” in case of issues with one of them?
At a far greater scale, why is the relationship between River Batch 2, Type 31 and MHC so confused? The Royal Navy risks to move from a fleet of virtually only “ships of the line” escorts to a fleet with no less than 3 low-end, constabulary capable classes more or less overlapping each other. Worse, it might deliberately handicap the MHC mothership to artificially eliminate the overlap with River B2.
The Royal Navy needs to put order in its ideas, and ensure that the three programmes work together, not one against the other.

Earlier french designs for the mothership as shown by Mer et Marine

Until the new motherships arrive, the unmanned systems (both the Sweep and the MMCM kits) will be used initially in home waters, probably directly from the shore. Deployment at sea can happen from a multitude of different vessels, and we can reasonably expect to see SD Northern River’s capacious deck filled up with these systems in a future Joint Warrior.  
The interim mothership, however, should still eventually be the Hunt. It will be extremely interesting now to see if, when and how the first Hunt vessel is modified for the new era. The Hunt class, unlike the Sandown, has an essentially open stern where the sweep equipment used to be carried and operated from. For over a decade the RN has planned to modify this open space, but the project has been constantly delayed and, in a surprise move, in December last year two Hunt vessels had their refit and life extension cut short by early decommissioning as part of budget cuts.
The SDSR 2015 mandates that a third vessel will eventually bow out before 2025, leaving 12 between Hunt and Sandowns, and further cuts could reduce this number even further.
From the outside, the early decommissioning of HMS Quorn and HMS Atherstone looks symptomatic of the gravity of the crisis the MOD is constantly drowning into. The loss of two of the “reconfigurable” ships is in antithesis with over 10 years of work, plans and experimentations. I can’t know what the exact reasoning was behind the closed curtains of the MOD, but their hasty cut smells of pure desperation.

Is the unmanned future of MCM “speeded up” as the MOD claims? It doesn’t look like it at all. The delivery of the first sweep system is a major step in the right direction, but Hussar alone is just a beginning, 13 years after the legacy sweep capability was lost.
The modification of the first Hunt isn’t yet in sight; the procurement of other sweep systems might or might not happen. More information is needed on what the plan is, and we all know how helpful the MOD is when it comes to explaining itself.
It is really a bittersweet picture. A step has been moved, but it is extremely hard to share the triumphalism of the MOD press release.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Infantry modernisation: the british army situation and the Allies - UPDATED

The British Army has gone through a three years Platoon Combat Experiment (PCE), started in 2013, that has looked at the weapons employed, the structure of the platoon and section, and at alternative solutions with a particular focus on weight reduction.

The PCE, in turn, was closely connected to the findings of Project HERCULES, a DSTL-led series of qualitative studies into load carriage, examining the impact of weight of equipment on agility, lethality, survivability and cognitive ability. The studies determined that in order to avoid physical and cognitive impairment, the load on the dismounted close combat soldier should not exceed 30% of body weight in fighting order and 45% in marching order.
In Afghanistan, the british soldier routinely carried a 58 kg load, amounting to more than 80% of body weight. Survivability (personal protection, C-IED equipment) amounted to almost 21 kg by itself, with 19% for lethality (weapon, ammunition, grenades etc).
The load in marching order should be reduced to as little as 25 kg, and 20 in assault order or in function of climate challenges and cumulative fatigue.
It is immediately evident that in order to more than halve the carried weight, compromises are inevitable. A series of projects were initiated to try and deliver to the values emerged from HERCULES:

Project PAYNE, named after fusilier Tom Payne of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Normandy in 1944, was created to come up with training, tactics and procedures to try and emulate the relatively lightweight assault load that would have been familiar to the original Payne. In practice, this was the origin of the “Fight Light” tactical direction.

Project ATLAS was born out of the acute awareness that there are limits to the compromises that can be accepted in order to fight light. Timely access to ammunition, weapon systems and other equipment remains essential and so a load-carrying mobility platform is indispensable. A mobility platform is needed to ensure the platoon carries what it needs and can rapidly get back to higher-level Combat Service Support for resupply. In theory, project ATLAS was meant to be open to every kind of solution, including a return to pack animals. In practice, the Army is looking for some kind of vehicle and, ideally, unmanned.

Project SPARTA  can be summarized in “eat your rations, damn you”. It was started to counter the habit of throwing away ration packs and looking for more tasty alternatives. Contingency operations require proper alimentation to ensure the soldier is fit for his mission and “other options”, namely fresh food prepared in FOBs, won’t be available.  

With the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, the army has been busy trying to craft the way forwards for the infantry platoons and navigating the way between UORs, UORs taken into core and long-term solutions.
A major change is now about to take place.

Goodbye LMG

After numerous reports in the last few years, it seems that the time has truly come for the British Army sections to say goodbye to the L110A2/3 LMG, based on the ubiquitous Minimi used in many countries. The decision to drop it from the Section, which has been and is likely to be subject of much discussion and criticism, is due to a perceived ineffectiveness of the weapon in her role of suppressing the enemy.

During the tests of PCE Year 1, the LMG performed poorly: it was determined that 70% of the rounds fired not only missed but did so by such a distance that they did not suppress the adversary. This has adverse consequences on weight efficiency within the section, as it means that each gunner is carrying many kilograms of ineffective ammunition during a period of fighting.

Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU) gave the LMG a second chance in Year 2 (2014) by refitting a number of machine guns with a longer barrel. The British Army employs the short-barreled “para” configuration and it was thought that an upgrade might significantly improve the results. However, ITDU assessed that the change of barrel did not help the LMG. The final recommendation was to remove it from the Section.

The recommendation must not have been entirely well received because the LMG continued to be used for a further three years. On 14 March 2016, speaking at the Soldier Equipment and Technology Advancement Forum (SETAF) in London, Lt.Col. Iain Moodie, SO1, Dismounted Close Combat, Capability Directorate Combat, went on record saying that the “options” for the future of the platoon included losing the LMG but also the GPMG Light Role and the 60mm “commando” Mortar.
The GPMG and Mortar “options” were particularly surprising because, for what little has emerged about the PCE, nothing seems to suggest either  decision would be wise.
Again, someone within the army evidently said “no, thanks”, because all three weapons remained in use. They have since been spotted repeatedly in training exercises.

The first image shows the "legacy" L110, while the three images above show the "LMG FIST" with the FIST 1 STA sights, new forened with rails and grip pod and new buttstock

On 13 March 2018, at the Future Soldier Technology conference in London, it was the turn of Lt.Col. Nick Serle, Commanding Officer of ITDU, to announce (again) the death of the LMG. It seems to have been dropped for real this time, but Serle added that the final confirmation from Army HQ is still pending. The final decision is expected later this year.
Gone is the idea of also removing the GPMG: Serle confirmed that it will be held at platoon level. Obviously we are talking of a GPMG in Light Role configuration. At least one per platoon: there was a time when the British Army platoon included a Maneuver Support element of 4 men armed with two GPMG LRs, commanded by an NCO, but there is no way for now to tell whether a return to such organization is a possibility.

The LMG is swapped out in favor of another L85A2 rifle, but the L129A1 Sharpshooter is also confirmed and the Army plans to order more rifles to ensure the Sections can receive it.
The USMC is at least considering adopting Magpul drum magazines holding 60 or even 100 rounds for use with the M27 IAR, which would help in sustaining the rate of fire. There are no suggestions about the British Army considering an equal move, and it might not even be feasible anyway considering where the magazine of the L85 sits. A drum there might prove uncomfortable. It would be great to at least experiment with them, though. 


The Army has begun the transition from L85A2 TES to newly refurbished L85A3, slightly lighter and more accurate.

The L85A2 “Theatre Entry Standard” was born through an Operation Herrick UOR. The handguard was replaced with a Picatinny Quad-rail assembly developed and produced by Daniel Defense, accompanied by widespread adoption of the vertical foregrip with extendable bipod (Grip Pod). An interim weapon sight adapter system was installed, as well as a Vortex flash eliminator. In 2011, the Magpul Industries polymer-made EMAG magazine was introduced to replace the previous, heavier steel one, achieving a considerable weight saving (from 249 grams to 130), with a million magazines on order over a 4-year period. On a typical load of 12 magazines, a soldier ends up carrying 1.56 kg less than before: definitely not bad.
For a while, the SA80 had the SUSAT sight replaced with the ACOG 4x, but eventually received the ELCAN Specter 4x, selected as part of the Future Integrated Soldier Technology – Surveillance and Target Acquisition (FIST - STA).

The evolution of L85A2 (bottom) to L85A2 TES

The Grip Pod

The quad-rail handguard that is the key component of TES

The A3 modification again replaces the fore grip (Quad rail), which is now attached to the main body only, leaving the barrel free to vibrate naturally, improving accuracy. The other great change is that there now is a full length picatinny rail on top which enables the clipping in-line of different sights. In practice, the day sight should become a permanent fixture, never removed, while night vision aids, digital sights or other tools will be installed in line with the day sight, ahead of it, and used in combination. This development has been on the cards for probably close to a decade, which makes it a source of mixed feelings. Great to finally be there, but embarrassing that it took so long. The A3 also brings a weight saving of 0.150 kg from the TES, which had already driven down the (way too great) weight of the L85 to 5,29 kg (loaded and with sight fitted).

The L85A3 with new quad-rail front end and full lenght picatinny rail at the top for future-proofing the adoption of new sights. Note in the last image the In Line mounting of a night II sight ahead of the day sight. 

Cranfield University had worked alongside the MOD to further modify the L85 and drive down weight. In January 2011, they had delivered prototype P1, complete with picatinny rails at the front, grip pod and ELCAN, weighting just 4829g, a reduction of 461g in weight. The P1A with L123A3 (H&K AG36) grenade launcher, without sights, came at 4629g. Unfortunately it does not seem to have been continued in any way, probably in no small part because the army was planning on a replacement rifle selection beginning in 2014, with deliveries in 2020.

In some ways it is better, for once, to have pushed the L85 replacement programme to the right because the US Army has just launched (again, we should add) a competition for its own new rifle and the adoption of a new, intermediate caliber currently looks almost assured. Considering the effects on NATO of a US decision to abandon the 5.66x45, the British Army is not wrong in waiting out and see what the latest American technological developments will bring.

The Sharpshooter

Produced by Lewis Machine & Tool, the “Sharpshooter” has a 16 inches barrel, a lightweight polymer magazine for 20 rounds, an Harris bipod and fires 7.62 x 51 mm NATO rounds with high accuracy easily out to 800 meters. In Afghanistan it is issued at least on the basis of one per Section.
The initial order, placed in August 2009, was for 440 guns for 1.5 million pounds, but several sources indicate that consistent follow on orders might have already been placed. While the number of weapons procured remains unknown, this August 2012 article suggests LMT had handed over some 1500 L129A1s. Other sources suggest 3000 might already be in service. 

In Afghanistan the L129A1 was also used in response to another UOR, that for a Sniper Support Weapon for the No2 in sniper pairs. The main difference between the Sharpshooter and Sniper No.2 is made up by the sights: the Sharpshooter is fitted with a Trijicon ACOG 6X sight, compensated for bullet drop out to 1200 meters and fitted with a secondary Close Quarter Combat CQB sight on top, the Trijicon Ruggerized Miniature Reflex RMR. The Sniper No. 2 is used with a more powerful scope sight Schmidt & Bender (possibly migrated from the L96/L118 rifles being progressively retired) for day engagement and with OSTI MUNS night sight for nocturnal use. The MUNS (Magnum Universal Night Sight) is an image intensifying night sight that is installed ahead of the day scope and allows engagements out to 700 or more meters at night. The MUNS would appear to be used as night-sight solution for the rifles in Sharpshooter role as well. It can be seen mounted on a L129A1 at minute 4:03 of this Army video.

The L129A1 as Sniper No 2 weapon, with suppressor and appropriate sight. Whether the army is going ahead with this or has changed its mind is not quite clear. 
L129A1 in Sharpshooter configuration, with the ACOG 6x sight. The quest for a fully satisfactory suppressor for the Sharpshooter role isn't over yet. 

Sharpshooter dusk firing, wiht In Line mounting of night sight ahead of the ACOG 

During the post-Afghanistan experiments, however, the good reputation of the L129A1 on operations clashed with unsatisfactory results in tests meant to determine its future role within the army.
The weapon was initially rejected as Sniper No2 solution, but that decision might have been reversed: the L129A1 has appeared in numerous photographs of sniper pairs in training since then. On the other hand, in many other photos the No2s can be seen armed with L85s.
In 2015 the L86 Light Support Weapon made a brief appearance in sniper No2 role in photos from the Sniper Platoon of 1 PWRR. It was a temporary solution on the way to having enough L129A1 in the armory, I was told at the time, but the Sniper Support Weapon solution remains elusive to this day.

The Sharpshooter was assessed as unsatisfactory in its Section role as well. The army found that the 7.62x51 round wasn’t actually that much better than the 5.56 over the same 600 meters distance, while the rifle was assessed more or less incapable to do what it had been procured for: reaching out to 800 meters.
At one point, the Army considered dropping it and resurrecting the L86 in its place: that was roughly the period when it appeared in use with 1 PWRR.

In the middle, "pimp my L86 LSW" edition. For a while, the return of the L86 as the core Sharpshooter solution was on the cards, up to sometime in 2015. 

Eventually, the tests proved that the marginal advantages given by the L86’s longer barrel and bipod were not enough to suggest its return to widespread use due to it being more complex to bring to bear in close combat than the L85.
Fortunately, the problems with the L129A1 have since been solved by modifying the ACOG sight with a new reticle: the previous wasn’t properly ballistically matched to the weapon and ammunition. As of 2016, Sharpshooter is now to be employed with the new L59 High Performance ammunition, which gives it the reach needed.

Standard and HP munitions as produced by BAE for the British armed forces 

As said earlier, the Army is now looking to procure more L129A1. It might already be doing so: on 31 August 2017 the MOD published a contract for 3 years of support, with options for another 2 years, which included arrangements for procuring new batches of rifles.


Initial trials with suppressors were primarily inspired by the need to reduce the number of soldiers suffering noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), but substantial other tactical advantages can be obtained by applying suppressors to the whole range of platoon weapons. PCE Year 2 was, again, a key year. Suppressors for every weapon including LMG and GPMG were issued for trials to Burma Coy, 1 LANCS.
Some comments on the experiment were contained in the regimental yearbook, and from them it appears that the results were good on the L85, Sharpshooter and LSW, while LMG and GPMG suppressors resulted in much increased recoils and severe heat-related problems in the suppressors after sustained firing.

GPMG with suppressor during trials

Suppressors have not yet appeared in widespread use in the British Army but are likely to still be part of ITDU’s priorities. Elsewhere, the US Marines intend to adopt suppressors on every weapon across a battalion, which means giving suppressors even to the .50 HMG. The USMC had already kitted out three full companies in 2016 and deployed one fully-suppressor equipped company in Norway in May 2017, leaving the British Army behind. 

The platoon mortar

The 60mm platoon mortar is not mentioned in the news report coming out of the March 13 conference. The 2016 speech by Lt. Col. Moodie in 2016, instead, had touched the issue: Moodie was quoted describing it as woeful in capacity”, apparently due to a lack of accuracy which prevented a first round hit most of the time. The Lt. Col. Went on record suggesting that a multi-role, reusable shoulder-fired weapon such as the venerable Carl Gustav could replace the mortar giving “first round hit capability” out to 1000 meters, with a multitude of possible effects.

Going back to the PCE Year 2 experiments, however, it is interesting to read in the regimental yearbook of the LANCS how the platoon commanders carrying out the experimental attacks actually sing out the platoon mortar as the best item in their arsenal. 

The mortar and the sharpshooter were the professional killers within the platoon, destroying the enemy at ranges of 600 meters. A result that more or less confirms after-action studies and reports from Afghanistan, where precision weapons and HE did most of the killing. The MOD Operation Herrick study, released (in heavily redacted form) after the end of the combat operations, mentions in the “Combat” chapter that on Herrick 18 a record 90% of all enemy killed were due to snipers and sharpshooters.

The 60mm mortar was procured as a UOR. Indeed, two variants of 60mm mortar were procured, both from Hirtenberger: the M6-640 is used at Platoon level, and is an Hand-Held (HH) ‘Commando’ weapon. In Commando mode it weights around 4.6 kg and is 726 mm long with a 1921 meters maximum range at Charge 3, although the army assesses it as effective out to around 1300 meters.

1 RIFLES training with handheld platoon mortar, September 2017. Reports of the 60mm mortar death were, fortunately, exaggerated. It might still have a short service life, however. 

The M6-895, with longer barrel ( 984 mm, 5.5 kg ) and bipod, is a lighter alternative to the L16 81mm mortar, and as such offered more flexibility in Afghanistan. Mounted with baseplate and bipod, it has a maximum range of 3610 meters, is 977mm long and weights 19,5 kg. The M6-895 can also be used in Hand-Held mode after undergoing a simple 2-minutes conversion. In Hand-Held mode it can be used to maximum Charge 3, with a range of 2100 meters.

The 60mm ammunition is the same, and there is a huge assortment of rounds available: the 1.4 kg HE bomb generates 590 splinters, and there is a Practice round, a Smoke-White Phosphorous with a 90 seconds burnt time, a 90-seconds Red Smoke round, an IR illuminating round capable to provide 35 seconds of illumination over a 1200 meters radius area, and others.   
The M6-640 can be fitted with the same bipod and plate as the M6-895. For both mortars, the maximum rate of fire is 30 rounds per minute.  

The M6-895 was rapidly removed from active use after the end of operations in Afghanistan but the M6-640 for now goes on.
However, keep in mind Moodie’s suggestion about possibly replacing it with Carl Gustav…

Reusable Multi-Role Medium Range Shoulder Launchers (MRSLs)

It hasn’t made the news so far, but the MOD is looking for a new rocket system and has been moving pretty rapidly. Back in January it invited two tenders to make their bids. According to the dates on the document, both bids should have been filed in by march 8. The proposed contract award date was 31 August 2018. The contract would conclude in 2023.

The race is between Saab Dynamics AB and Instalaza S.A, which practically means Carl Gustav M4 versus C90 Reusable. And while the MOD is specialized in weird decisions, it is pretty hard to imagine the Carl Gustav not winning this race after having just been selected by both US Army and US Marine Corps for issue to every platoon.

While there is no certainty that a contract will materialize and there are no numbers given in public about this programme, the contract notice put the contract value in a range going from 24 to 30 million pounds, which suggests a high number of launchers.

If the latest Carl Gustav M4 ends up replacing the 60mm mortar it will not make the Platoon lighter. Even after shaving off a lot of weight (the M4 at around 7 kg effectively halves the weight of the old M2) and length, it is still longer and heavier than the mortar. Ammunition especially is large and heavy and probably represents the real challenge connected with introducing Carl Gustav to the platoon.

Carl Gustav
C90 Reusable 

What the M4 brings is precision and multi-role capability. There is a very wide range of rounds on offer, delivering a multitude of effects. The ADM401 (Area Defence Munition) is a deadly anti-personnel solution containing 1100 flechettes. It was used by the US forces in Afghanistan and was part of the reason why Carl Gustav became popular again. HE and HEAT options exist, as do airburst capability for hitting enemies behind cover, plus illumination and smoke rounds. The HEDP Dual Purpose is particularly suited for use against fortifications and a dedicate anti-structure munition, the ASM 509, is also available.
The US Army has even funded initial studies for guided munitions for the Carl Gustav under the project name Massive Overmatch Assault Round (MOAR).
With the right munition at hand, the Carl Gustav can do everything the mortar can, including reaching out to 1300 meters or even beyond, potentially, with rocket-assisted ammunition (in some case already available). It can also do things the mortar cannot do. But ammunition variety is both a blessing and a curse, since it means having more stuff to carry. And each round is more effective but also larger and heavier than a 60mm mortar bomb.

In reality, the introduction of Carl Gustav will be an exercise in restraint as well as an upgrade. The CG is very unlikely to be used for everything it could potentially do. The US Army has adopted only a few munitions, and the British Army can be expected, for obvious reasons, to do as much.
With the army well equipped with thousands of NLAW missiles which can be distributed as necessary, the Carl Gustav is unlikely to focus on anti-armor tasks. A basic munition with the highest possible multi-purpose effect will be the base round. The flechette roud for anti-infantry capability could also be very interesting. The Carl Gustav would probably become the Platoon’s primary breaching and bunker-busting weapon, replacing the Matador Anti-Structure Munition which is heavy, bulky, single-role and, I dare saying, probably a purchase the army regrets.
Illumination is probably better left to ROCKET HAND-FIRED PARA ILLUM MK3, much smaller and lighter to carry around.
The ability to put up large smoke screens at range, instead, might be important enough to require the relevant CG munition. This kind of decisions will be the complex part of a Carl Gustav re-introduction, in my opinion. The 40mm grenade launcher has a role to play as well, obviously, and the two systems will have to complete each other.

In my opinion, the adoption of Carl Gustav can do a lot of good to the Platoon, although I’m not convinced that losing the indirect fire capability of the mortar is a smart choice. I don’t see a lot of armies rushing towards withdrawal of the 60mm mortar, although in the US Army and US Marines case said mortar is not hand-held but base-plate and bipod mounted and is concentrated within the Weapons Platoon within a Rifle Company. The British Army, unfortunately, does not enjoy the “luxury” of having a permanent, dedicate maneuver support element within the Rifle Companies, and this is a major issue that would need fixing.

The downside of Carl Gustav is weight and bulk, particularly through ammunition supply needs. I believe it will only be truly successful if the decade-old Light Mobility Platform requirement finally gets a proper answer beyond the Quad-Bike and trailer as gap-filler.

The grenade launcher

Moodie was also quoted saying that a standalone multiple grenade launcher was a possible replacement for the current underslung grenade launcher (UGL) capability. For now, no decisions have been taken on this, but the option remains on the table. ITDU is looking into possibly introducing an airburst capability to deal with enemies behind cover. Another attractive option on the table is stepping up to Medium Velocity 40mm grades that would reach out potentially all the way to 800 meters from 300, 400 at a stretch now.
Going with an alternative multi-shot weapon and abandoning the underslung launcher remains an option.

The underslung grenade launcher (H&K AG36, adopted by the Army as L17A1 for use on the L119A1 carbine and as L123A1, A2, A3 for use on SA80) was at first seen also as a replacement of the ancient 81mm platoon mortar, despite reaching only half as far at most. Naturally it didn’t work out satisfactorily and the 60mm mortar was procured under UOR.
The UGL employs Low Velocity 40mm grenades. The High Velocity grenades (40x53) are those used by the GMG, and are obviously unsuitable for the UGL, but several types of Medium Velocity rounds (in 40x46 or 40x51 mm calibers) are available and/or in development. These add quite a lot of recoil force the Grenadier has to deal with, but carry more explosive and double the range out to 800 meters or more.

Differently from the older US M203 grenade launcher, the UK-adopted, H&K AG36 UGL is readily capable to take the longer 40x51 mm grenade, eventually, as its breech does not slide forwards for reload, but swings open sideways. The US forces for once lagged behind the british army in this respect and have since adopted the H&K AG36 as the M320, which the USMC are only putting into service now.
Needless to say, despite having an appropriate launcher the army has failed to make any substantial progress on medium velocity rounds despite them having been around, again, for around a decade.

What the soldiers really do not like is the current sight and Rapid Aiming Module for the underslung grenade launcher, which was procured as part of FIST 1A together with the currently used rifle sights.
It is amazing how often the British Army discovers that the kit that it has literally just procured is not actually good, but we’d better not expand too much on this. It might get rude quickly.
The current UGL sight was provided as a UOR by Istec Services of Hertfordshire, coupled with the FIST-specific Rapid Acquisition Aiming Module fire control system jointly developed by Vectronix of Switzerland and Wilcox Industries. RAAM calculates the distance, angle of declination or inclination, and adjusts the point of aim accordingly thanks to an in-built laser range finder. The problem is that said LRF is slow and keeps the gunner exposed for too long a time. It also makes the whole module bulky and heavy. It can be clipped on and off very quickly, but it is just not proving popular. When everything works it reduces the Circular Error Probable to 5 meters over a 300 meters range, but there is a clear wish for something smaller, lighter and better in general.

In terms of multi-shot stand-alone grenade launchers the most obvious candidate would be the American M32A1. The US Marines, despite being in the process of acquiring the M320 underslung grenade launcher (which can also be configured as a stand-alone system and accept non-lethal baton rounds), might be evaluating the possibility of foregoing the UGL in favor of the M32A1. Recent photos from the so-called “ Über Squad” experiment show no UGLs on any of the M27 rifles in sight, while a M32A1 is present. Über Squad is introducing a wholesale modernization of the USMC Rifle squad with adoption of suppressors on all weapons, M27 IARs for every soldier with the exception of the Sharpshooters who get the M38 (a M27 with the appropriate sight for the new role), new helmets and body armour and hearing protection and night vision comparable to those found normally within Special Forces only.
The M32A1 is already in use, but its distribution varies according to the mission. It is compatible with Medium Velocity munitions.

Uber Squad on the move. Suppressors, M27s, no UGLs. But looking to the left, you can see the barrel of an M32A1 poking out from behind the back of the first Marine in the picture. 

It is easy to see where US Army, USMC and British Army “touch” each other. The British Army is heading from an ideas point of view, having begun tests and reflections earlier than the others in several cases, but it lags terribly when it comes to moving from experiment to widespread adoption.

Light Mobility Platform and whatever it is called this week

Light Mobility Platform has been a thing for many, many years. The idea of having an unmanned load carrier in support of the infantry is just as old. But the repeated attempts to fix a problem partially self-inflicted by withdrawing the Supacat ATMP have generated only failures. And Quad-Bikes, the only system that has stuck around.

The Springer UOR was a complete, utter failure. Purchased in April 2009 and sent in Afghanistan to replace the Supacat ATMP, it was removed from service in March 2011, setting a new record in poor procurement that will probably (and hopefully) last a long time.

The Springer UOR: a complete failure. 

The ATMP was in many ways an absolutely brilliant vehicle. It was fully airportable, partially amphibious, it could easily carry 1 ton and more than 1 and a half ton accepting reduced performance. It had a series of smart add-on modules that enabled it to self-load and move pallets. It could tow L118 Light Gun. It could tow and carry the Air Portable Fuel Containers MK 5.
The ATMP was reportedly suffering from extremely poor reliability in Afghanistan, however, eating up a lot of spares that had to be transported at great cost and risk. Parts of its automotive system were no longer compliant with EU regulations either, and so the decision was taken to remove it from service and sell it some 147 units.

Unmanned ATMP experiments 
In 2005 another load carrier had been procured, in very small numbers, the Roush LAS 100 RE Balter, but it too ended up withdrawn from service and sold off.

The Yamaha 450 Quad Bike with trailer is the only UOR which stuck around. On the sides of the trailer you can see the elements of the short gap crossing equipment.

Polaris MV850 and tactical trailer. A possible upgrade from the current solution. 

The Supacat offer to develop an ATMP 2 was never taken up as the MOD felt that it would have no automotive points of contact with the original ATMP. Somehow, this was seen as a negation of potential logistical advantages (commonality) that were never to be realized anyway with the Springer or Balter. Army logic walks weird and mysterious paths.
Supacat did not give up on the brilliant ATMP and in 2014 it was marketing a “MK IV” derivative. The solution to the army problems is in easy reach, but instead the Army is continuing to trial platform after platform after platform, never getting any into service.

The only UOR that stuck around is the Yamaha Grizzly 450 Quad Bike with trailer, procured for use in Afghanistan and confirmed into service. A November 2016 Written Answer disclosed that the Army had 688 quad bikes. These have also become the mobility platform for Sniper Pairs.

Quad Bike showcased on its Short Gap Crossing solution 

In more recent times the Army has been trialing the Polaris MV850 quad-bike as potential upgrade, along with a high-mobility trailer with 1000 lbs of payload.
DAGOR light 4x4, 6x6 bikes, unmanned vehicles have all been tested and trialed. Lately the focus seems to have been on the Pardus Defence & Security HIPPO X, an impressive fully amphibious load carrier with trailer which can carry a lot of stuff: used in support to a Rifles platoon it can carry 29 daysacks, 54 x 60mm Bombs, 2400 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, 1600 rounds of 5.56, 3 NLAW, 3 ASM, 2 water jerry cans, and the batteries and rechargers for radios and other equipment.
With the addition of a trailer it can support a mortar section by carrying 3 L16 mortars, 312 bombs, 12 daysacks, 1 Jerry can and batteries, for a complete load exceeding 2 tons.
One HIPPO with trailer can carry a Javelin section with 8 reloads or a fire support group with two .50 HMGs complete of 6000 rounds plus a Grenade Machine Gun with 320 rounds.
The HIPPO can generate 5 KW of power which enables it to recharge batteries or provide power for other systems, such as surveillance cameras or, perhaps, a tethered drone for surveillance.
The Army would really like to put into service an unmanned platform for this load carrying role, and at the Army Warfighting Experiment 2018 british soldiers are getting to play with a HIPPO converted for remote control and unmanned navigation.
The Director of Pardus Defence & Security, Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Rob O'Connor,  was commander of ITDU until 2016 and before that Dismounted Close Combat (DCC) Programme Manager within Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), so he should have a good idea of what the British Army likes and dislikes. If the HIPPO X can reliably do everything it says on the tin, it could give a huge helping hand to the infantry platoon.

HIPPO X trials 

Unmanned HIPPO X at AWE 2018 

Incidentally, the MOD is looking to procure 14 tethered UAS systems, and if the HIPPO X could truly deploy them and feed them with enough power, it could become, among other things, a movable “observation tower” for battlefield surveillance. Carrying the required munitions, it could enable the Carl Gustav to open up an entire world of possibilities for the infantry platoon. 

Naturally, although Guto Bebb, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence said in a written answer that the MOD is not currently considering following the US Army’s own Squad Manoeuvre Equipment Transport (SMET), the eventual US Army decision will no doubt be noted.

Weapon sights

The British Army’s best weapon sights remain the ones delivered under the now defunct FIST, Future Integrated Soldier Technology, programme. The initial order, signed in September 2009, was for delivery and in-service support of 95 Infantry Company ‘packs’, but in December 2010 a follow-on order of 51 further packs brought the total to 146 Companies.
From that contract come the army received:

The Lightweight Day Sight ELCAN Specter OS4X each man in the Section gets one. It is the intended replacement for the SUSAT, and the plan predicted a gradual retirement of the SUSAT, to be complete by 2025. The draconian reductions to the size of the armed forces in 2010 and 2011 probably accelerated the transition by removing a sizeable part of the requirement. The ELCAN is a 4x sight, and is fitted as backup for close range engagement with the Shield-produced Mini Sight Reflex Red-Dot, said to be the smallest and most compact red-dot sight in the world.

The Fist Thermal Sight (FTS) is a high performance un-cooled Thermal Weapon Sight enabling detection, acquisition & engagement capabilities out to extended ranges, in every weather conditions and even in total absence of any external light source. The FTS is equipped with a 640x480 format un-cooled thermal core, and is powered from AA batteries.
The FTS has an integrated Infra Red Laser Aimer (IRLA) for enhanced target identification, along with the integrated fall-back Close Quarter Battlesight (CQB) red dot sight from Shield, as we said earlier.

The FTS also has the ability to be controlled remotely via the weapon hand guard, again demonstrating an enhancement in the wider integration context.
In each 4-man Fire Team, the FTS was meant to be assigned to the Leader and to the LMG Gunner.

The Common Weapon Sight the Pilkington Kite night sight is a Generation III Image Intensification (II) night sight capable to use starlight or moonlight to provide night vision. In the Army is known as Common Weapon Sight, and has been around for some time. Under FIST STA, the sight was upgraded and fitted with the Shield red dot, and then re-issued. It is used by the Grenadier.

The MaxiKite 2 is the big brother of the CWS, and just as CWS it was already in service prior to FIST STA contract. Like the CWS, it was upgraded and fitted with the red-dot before being re-issued. The Maxikite allows targeting at night over long range (600 meters plus).

The already mentioned Grenadier UGL Fire Control System.

The MOSKITO Commander’s Target Locator: a binocular day/night target acquisition system, weighting less than 1.2 kg and offering 5x daylight and 3x night magnification with a 24 hours of night vision observation duration with a set of batteries. MOSKITO measures range, azimuth and vertical angle, locating NATO standard targets up to 4 km away. In 2014 the MOSKITO was also selected for use by Mortar Fire Controllers, replacing the old LH40C.

The Ruggerized Digital Camera is a sturdy, highly resistant digital camera to take photos or short videos valuable for intelligence examination. Issued one per Section. This commercial off-the-shelf camera produced by Olympus was specified for FIST due to its ability to transmit and receive images from patrols. Weighing only 200 grams (6.4 oz.), it is designed for harsh conditions. The camera reportedly operates even after being immersed in 10 meters (33 ft.) of water or dropped 2 meters.

The Lightweight Infantry Periscope. Produced by Uniscope, Israel, this foldable periscope is issued one per Section and enables soldier to look past a corner without exposing themselves. It is seen as an interim solution: cameras integrated in the rifle sight relaying imagery to a head mounted display were trialed, but judged not yet mature enough. Such capability remains a dream and will likely not be realized before digital weapon sights enter service. The LIP offers a 12-deg. field of view and 3X magnification.

A key complement for the weapon sights is the Laser Light Module MK3, procured in 2014 with a 28 million framework contract with Rheinmetall for 7000 systems in the first production batch. It can accurately point to targets 800 metres away, and weights just 244 grams. Compared to the earlier LLM, it retains its zero more effectively, has a more powerful visible and IR laser and adds strobe effect on the torch for a 'less than lethal' effect option when conducting room clearances.


For the future, the Army looks to in-line sighting night sights that will be slotted ahead of the Elcan on the new full-length rail on L85A3. New sights fusing Imagine Intensification and Infra Red plus the ability to share data should be acquired by 2025; while for 2030 the army hopes to get all the way up to augmented reality to provide the soldier with improved identification and targeting capabilities.
The British Army already supported, funded and trialed a variety of advanced sights, including the Qioptiq SAKER fused II-IR sight and the Digital optical Weapons Sight (DOWS) plus the Support Weapon remote View optic, or SWrVo, developed by Qioptiq and istec. Such digital sight projects, dating back to 2013, exploited technology borrowed from Smartphones in order to provide the soldier with a clearer image of the target through techniques such as contrast enhancement and image sharpening.

This was the aspiration back in 2011. The dates have changed, the general direction of travel has not. "FIST 2" no longer exists. FIST 1, which delivered the sights seen earlier, will remain the only FIST to deliver something. The MOD now talks of Integrated Soldier System, and the monolithic, "soldier of the future" programme as originally envisaged under FIST is now a more flexible collection of projects and studies. 

During 2016, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has been working with industry partners, Roke Manor Research, QinetiQ and Systems Engineering and Assessment (SEA) successfully demonstrated the integration of multiple sensor and navigation aids for the benefit of the dismounted soldier:

The Dismounted Close Combat Sensors (DCCS) system uses inertial and visual navigation sensors when GPS signals are not available. Taking the last known GPS location, DCCS combines information from visually tracked features captured by a helmet camera and inertial sensors, accurately calculating where an individual is, allowing people to be tracked in buildings and tunnels.DCCS can also help to prevent so-called ‘blue on blue’ incidents where friendly forces are mistaken for the enemy. The system allows commanders to track not only the location of personnel, but GPS, inertial and magnetic sensors on the weapon also accurately track where it is pointing. Reliable knowledge of both the location and the weapons direction instantly identifies if friendly troops are being targeted.A combination of camera, laser and orientation sensors mounted on the personal weapon will allow them to highlight targets to other troops, unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft at the press of a button. This will be quicker, easier and less confusing than giving verbal instructions; it is also extremely accurate. The system has many other uses such as identifying wounded colleagues, the location of civilians and potential helicopter landing sites.In addition, acoustic and camera technology automatically identifies where enemy weapons are being fired from, even if the individual hasn’t seen or heard it being discharged. This information is provided to the wearer and to commanders, allowing them to take appropriate steps to deal with the threat.


The L115 designation in British Service indicates the Accuracy International AWSM (Arctic Warfare Suprt Magnum) rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum caliber. The first rifles purchased were known as L115A1 LRR (Long Range Rifle) and saw extended usage in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, fitted with a Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50 PM II optics.

The L115A2 followed, and introduced several improvements, such as Tan colored body, Harris bipod, fluted barrel and suppressor. It was effectively a prototype for the further enhanced L115A3.   

In 2007 the Sniper System Improvement Program kicked in, and in November the MOD announced the selection of a new standard sniper rifle for Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment, with the placement of a 11 million pounds  order in March 2008 to Accuracy International for 580 of the new, improved AWSM variant, the L115A3.
The new rifle came with a more powerful optic (with twice the magnification, at x25 against x12), the Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56 PM II. Other improvements include a suppressor to reduce the flash and noise signature, a folding stocks for improved ease of carriage, an adjustable cheek pieces assembly for more comfort and better eye alignment with the telescopic sight, a Butt spike or ‘monopod’ to enable the shooter to observe the target area for extended periods with minimal fatigue, a new adjustable bipod and 5 round box magazine.
The L115A3 would finally entirely replace the L96 family (L96A1, L96A2, L118A1) in 7.62x51 mm, increasing range and lethality with the adoption of the more powerful Lapua Magnum round.
L115A2 rifles are similar enough to the final A3 configuration that they were converted to A3 standard, but the legacy L115A1 LRR (Long Range Rifle) was not modified.


The purchase of the new rifle was followed by the Sniper Thermal Imaging Capability program, for the purchase of suitable night sights. Two products of Qioptiq were selected: the SVIPIR2+ as Thermal Sniper Sight, which is mounted ahead of the scope. The VIPIR2S+ is issued as night sight for the Spotter (also known as No.2) and can be handheld or mounted on a tripod.
The SVIPIR2+ is designed to operate in total darkness, being a Thermal camera and not an Intensifier sight (which needs at least a little external light source) and enables engagements out to 1200 meters at night and/or in foul weather, fog or dust cover. It is also fairly light and small compared to other comparable systems, but with the defect that it needs 4 AA batteries at a time, and empty them in as little as 6 hours.

SSIP also covered other elements of the sniper’s equipment, from special tripods to other bits of kit: one is the Vectronix PLRF 15C Pocket Laser Range Finders, ordered in 2007. PLRF15C can lase a target out to around 5 km, and it includes a DMC Digital Magnetic Compass feature. This small addition provides a wealth of additional data: azimuth or bearing, inclination or elevation; horizontal distance and height difference – not only between the observer and an object, but also between two remote objects A and B.

Most armies also field snipers with heavy and anti-material capable rifles, such as the french Hécate II FR-12.7 or the american Barrett. .50 Sniper rifles are used by Canada, US, Italy, France and many others.
In the Italian “medium-weight” brigades, the Infantry Company is given a sniper team of two men (same model used by most countries, UK included), with the sniper equipped. The plan is to give the “sniper” a .50 Barrett, while the “spotter” gets a SAKO TRG 42 in the same .338 Lapua Magnum caliber of the L115A3.  

The british army does not normally field this capability in its infantry battalions. A number of rifles in .50 caliber are used by British Forces, but only in niche roles: EOD, Special Forces and Royal Marines have access to this kind of firepower. A number of Barrett rifles are available as L82A1 Infantry Support Weapon. The Accuracy International AW50F .50 with folding stock was also procured, and put in service as L121A1. It used by Royal Marines in counter-smuggling, as it can disable a boat with a shot well placed, but it is also use to shot at IEDs from the distance.  

The modernisation of this capability was to come through a second chapter for the Sniper System Improvement Program. A requirement was published for an Anti-Material capability provided by a semi-automatic 12.7 mm rifle to complement or replace the existing arsenal. In 2009, this requirement was estimated in around 50 rifles. Deliveries had to be made in 2010, and the selection was down to two competitors: the Accuracy International AS50 and a modified M82A1 Barrett variant. The requirement was specifically for a .50, semi-automatic, accurate enough to enable the sniper to engage sequentially 5 targets in 10 seconds. The rifle would have to immobilise a vehicle engine and penetrate laminate and toughened glass by day, out to a minimum requested range of 1800m, with a desired range of 2000m.  
AS50 and M82A1 were selected for final trials, with 8 rifles of each type requested for appropriate evaluation. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find further information, and I don’t know if this branch of the Sniper System Improvement has ever progressed in any way, or if it fell victim to budget cuts.

A wider adoption of Anti-Structure Precision Rifles is worth considering, as such heavy caliber weapons have gained a lot of recognition during operations. The US Army and Marines identified the .50 sniper rifle as one of the most important capabilities they had available in Iraq, where the sniper war was incredibly complex and ferocious.

Fixed Directional Fragmentation Weapon (FDFW)

Externally very similar to the Claymore, and pretty much identical in concept, it has been put into service as replacement for the M18A1, which is no longer manufactured.

The new weapon comes from Finland. Procurement began in 2014.


The VIRTUS (Formerly Personal Equipment and Common Operational Clothing or PECOC) programme is ongoing. Much visibility has been given to the new helmet and load carriage system in delivery, but we should always keep in mind that the programme is meant to deliver a lot more. VIRTUS is meant to be completed and evolved through three “pulses”.

Pulse 1 is what we have seen so far. Head and Torso sub systems, from helmet to tactical vest and load carriage. Overall, VIRTUS includes 50 items consisting of Head Subsystem, Load Carriage Subsystem, Hydration Subsystem, Extremities Subsystem, Torso Protection Subsystem, Chassis Subsystem and Pouches Subsystem. The Scalable Tactical Vest and the new helmet by Revision are the most notable items. The helmet is 350 g lighter than the previous MK7 and comes with a universal mounting shroud for the mounting of night vision devices. A counter-weight makes it more comfortable. 

Pulse 2 (also known as Project SAKER) is (or at least was) meant to improve tactical agility. It is about delivering new and improved ballistic plates which maintain or improve protection levels while significantly reducing weight. Female-specific plating is also expected. SAKER should deliver in 2019. The MOD has put out the request, which names an initial requirement for 21000 operational plates and 21000 training plates plus a 5% margin as spares. Options are included to reach a total of 86.245 plates which represent the full requirement.

An option for the refurbishment of up to 107.000 existing Osprey 2 plates was also included. This is unlikely to generate the kind of weight reduction that was the point of Pulse 2 but might be a cost-effective way to provide high protection levels to personnel other than dismounted close combat soldiers.

Pulse 3 of VIRTUS is the most ambitious and complex, as it is meant to introduce Man-Worn Power and Data. The integration of a power and data infrastructure in combat clothing has been the subject of much talk and study in the past few years. The idea is that MWPD will improve situational awareness and lethality while reducing weight by removing the need for multiple batteries to be carried for everything from radio to weapon sights.
In 2011 the British Army was thinking of adopting “powered rails” on the rifle, which would connect to the MWPD to enable weapon sights to receive power and data without having to integrate their own battery at all. Pulse 3 is expected to deliver in the early 2020s, but having doubts about it is more than legitimate.
During 2016, SEA its team partners conducted a series of demonstrations as part of the Delivering Dismounted Effect (DDE) DSTL Research project. In particular, they investigated the technical feasibility, benefits and costs associated with integrating power and data onto the weapon and helmet.

Experimenting with power and data solutions installed directly on the rifle 

Connected to VIRTUS is also Project PETREL, which is about procuring new protective and safety clothing specifically meant to be worn together with VIRTUS body armour and load carriage system. This would include shirts, pants, protective underwear, footwear, and other articles and accessories.
An invite to tender was issued in November 2017 with a proposed contract award date of October 2019.  

Tactical Hearing Protection

INVISIO, in partnership with Marlborough Communications, won the THPS (Tactical Hearing Protection Systems) contract in August 2015. The S10 Tactical Hearing Protection Systems for the Dismounted Close Combat User (THPS DCCU) is an in-ear hearing protection and communication system for use on a single radio and consists of an in-ear hearing protection headset with control unit housing the electronics for situational awareness and impulse noise protection.

The system achieved IOC in 2016, 5 months ahead of schedule, and follow-on orders have been placed to progressively outfit personnel from all three services.

A Freedom of Information answer explained that the requirement for hearing protection is for 280,666 units, broken down in Basic User (BU) - 250,000; Specialist User (SU) -9,800; and Dismounted Close Combat User (DCCU) -20,866 systems. The contracts for the BU and DCCU are for 4 years from 2015 to 2019, with an option to extend at the end of this period, (3x1 year extensions), if required, potentially taking the contracts to 2022.
 The SU contract should have ended in Autumn 2017, as the Armed Forces have enough inventory to cover them for two years. The contract will be reviewed at that point.

Dismounted Situational Awareness

DSA is intimately connected to the (much wider) MORPHEUS project which is about evolving the army’s ability to communicate on the battlefield. MORPHEUS is a 3.2 billion, long-term project brought forwards by Army HQ in conjunction with Joint Forces Command and is intended to evolve the current BOWMAN capability. In itself, MORPHEUS is part of the even wider Land Environment Tactical Communication and Information Systems (LETacCIS) programme.

MORPHEUS is not trying to replace everything at once. That was BOWMAN’s approach and, for a series of reasons, it encountered great difficulties. BOWMAN currently comprises:

The Common Battlefield Applications Toolset (ComBAT) provides the C2 interfaces, enabling messaging, reports and returns. It supports planning and situational awareness, but has not been met with any real enthusiasm due its complexity and unfriendly interface.

Special to role Battlefield Information System Applications, enabled by the BOWMAN infrastructure, exist to manage the communication needs of the various elements of a fighting force. There are a GBAD (Ground Based Air Defence) BISA, there is Makefast (Combat Engineering), FC (Fire Control for the Artillery) and a CBRN BISA.

Bowman and ComBAT and Information and Platform BISA (CIP) collectively form BCIP to provide a secure digital voice and data communications service and infrastructure from individual platforms to headquarters.
There have been several successive evolutions of BCIP, with the latest release being the 5.6, which is being fielded beginning this year. General Dynamics received the 23 million development contract in March 2016. It is enabled by some 12.000 new data terminals procured in a 75 million contract also announced in March 2016. It introduces a new Battle Management System and a ComBAT mod based on Windows 8.1 with a much more intuitive user interface.

BCIP 5.6 is the base for MORPHEUS. The first element of the MORPHEUS programme is EvO: Evolve to Open. In April 2017 the MOD signed a 330 million contract with General Dynamics to take BCIP 5.6 and evolve it to an open, modular system architecture that will enable all future evolutions, both of the software and of the hardware. Under MORPHEUS, the MOD becomes the design authority, the true owner of BCIP. Under TRINITY, which should achieve Initial Gate definition this year, will do the same for the FALCON system by BAE, to ensure the army can modernize its high bandwidth backbone network.
The two systems will no longer by tied to the original vendor. In the MOD words:

this allows individual components to be commercially competed separately and gives complete ownership of the capability to the MOD. MORPHEUS will then deliver Defence-driven (rather than industry-driven) rapid spiral development of applications and regular technology updates to incrementally improve capability.

With the EvO partnership in place, the MOD has published in August 2017 an invite to tender for industrial partners for the development of a new Battlefield Management Application.

On the hardware side, the Tactical Internet Backbone Radio is the key project which will deliver the
Replacement for the current High Capacity Data Radio HCDR.

DSA slots in this whole process. Through the ruggerized touch pad, the dismounted user can share information much faster, plan, and achieve much greater situational awareness of both own forces and enemy forces position.

Meanwhile, L3 has been selected to deliver the new Joint Common Remote Viewing Terminal, using ROVER handheld transceivers and ROVER 6i transceivers. The handheld device enables the dismounted soldiers to receive and re-transmit Full Motion Video (FMV) and Real Time Motion Imagery (RTMI). 

The system has replaced the earlier ROVER 4-based solution, including the StrikeHawk capabilities which had been procured with a UOR to enable the direction of air support fires in Afghanistan. Fire Support Teams, JTACs, special forces users are receiving the new system.


The British Army briefly led the way in terms of UAV capability for the infantry with the UOR procurement of the micro-helicopter PD100 Black Hornet. Unfortunately, during the year 2016/2017 the MOD decided to withdraw the Black Hornet from service. This is a decision that remains hard to explain and that goes in the exact opposite direction compared to what is happening elsewhere. The USMC is outfitting every infantry squad with its own drone; the US Army is going much in the same direction. By the end of 2017 the Australian Army purchased the second generation Black Hornet 2 with the aim of giving it to every infantry platoon.

Black Hornet training before the MOD withdrew it from service 

The British Army, conversely, took a retrograde step and risks taking another as well since to this day there is no strategy for the replacement of Desert Hawk III, the battlegroup-level UAS capability. 32 Royal Artillery regiment is already planned to disband in 2021 when the UAS is expected to go.
Plans for its replacement are very much up in the air. The Royal Marines tried to get a Joint Mini UAS programme off the ground early, back in 2016, because the Desert Hawk III struggles in rainy days and in the littoral environment. The Royal Marines clearly need something that can operate even when it’s wet, but in absence of a budget, the Joint Mini UAS did not take off. The Army expects that, eventually, something will take the place of the DHIII but time passes and no programme takes shape. Different Corps are positioning to secure control of such a new UAS capability, with the Artillery and the RAC (namely the recce cavalry part) both interested.

Desert Hawk III detachments in action. The Royal Artillery had for a while hoped to roll Warthog into service as a carrier for UAV detachments, MAMBA radar and other roles. When that failed to secure funding, the FV432 got yet another role piled on its shoulders. Post 2021 Coy and Battlegroup level UAS capability remains a question mark. 

Meanwhile, British Army soldiers at AWE 2018 have been qualifying on the Instant Eye quadcopter, selected by the USMC for its squads. Black Hornet itself, despite being out of service, continues to appear in photographs whenever the MOD talks of innovation and was observed in the last few days being tested by Royal Armoured Corps, specifically Ajax Sqn, RTR. It is gone, but not forgotten, and we might still end up surprised by a new MOD U-turn.

4 SCOTS gets to work with Instant Eye at Fort Benning for AWE 2018. The USMC squads are all receiving their own Instant Eye. 

The MOD is working to procure up to 14 tethered UAV systems with a minimum endurance of 12 hours, but this is more likely tied to Base-ISTAR considerations, aka the security and defence of bases and fixed installations. Tethered UAVs should provide a less conspicuous option compared to the large aerostats.

The Sentinel MP-4T is a tethered UAS being experimented during AWE. The british army is looking for up to 14 tethered UAS. 

Platoon structure  

It appears more and more necessary to think about how to reorganize platoons for the future. The introduction of Carl Gustav and the desire to retain at least one GPMG LR in each platoon might require the beefing up of the “command” element, even if CG comes at the expense of the 60mm mortar. The addition of drones, including for load carrying, will exacerbate the need for more personnel.

PCE Year 2 experimented with a return to the principle of 4 which was so familiar to the army during world war two. The experiment, however, was strictly “manpower neutral”: rifle platoons from Burma Coy, 1 LANCS, merely moved from a structure on 3 sections of 8 to one on 4 sections of 6.
The results were mixed: the platoon commanders liked a lot the extra flexibility given by having a fourth section, but on the other hand felt that 6 man sections tend to become combat ineffective too quickly when, for whatever reason, there are losses in personnel.
Naturally, the original principle of four in the British Army was founded on 4 squads of 10 men each.

Where the British Army will be forced to adopt dismounted sections of six is in the armoured infantry. Warrior, especially after CSP, cannot realistically carry more than 6 dismounts. Having intimate support from the vehicle means that redistributing the load when there is a casualty is less of a concern, but does the section stay combat effective? The risk is having platoons of 3 sections of 6 each, not even platoons of 4x6, unless a new organization is adopted and reflected by the number of vehicles to be upgraded. Novel solutions might be pursued by mixing within the platoon one or two “turret-less” ABSV APC, ideally obtained from “surplus” Warriors. Such an APC would probably carry 8 dismounts, helping to keep up the strength of the dismounted combat element.
But is the army able and willing to consider this kind of adjustments?

British Army infantry needs to rethink its structures more radically. Not just at platoon level but also at company level. Doctrinally it is accepted that training and capability at sub-unit level is becoming more important, not less, but the only way to achieve more is to restructure much more radically.

Of course, in order to truly modernize the infantry, in absence of a big uplift in manpower (not just funded but realized, something simply impossible with the current state of recruitment and retention), the only way the British Army can evolve is by cutting a few infantry battalions to make those that remain more realistic and fit for role. You can already see where the problem is.

L16 mortar

All the way back in 2013, Jane’s reported that the British Army was contending with noise: the L16A2 was no longer compliant with EU regulation, and although waivers were contemplated, the army was looking into perhaps adopting the Blast Attenuation Device, a “baffle” similar to a flash hider, which the Americans installed when they adopted the L16 as M252 back in the 80s.
The work was to be carried out in conjunction with a large scale replacement of L16A2 barrels, approaching the end of their useful life, with new barrels, ideally longer, offering greater range.

Unfortunately, 5 years later, no progress is apparent on either front.

What happens elsewhere?

The USMC is changing its structures in significant ways: as it introduces the Carl Gustav it is withdrawing the SMAW rocket launcher from the rifle platoon, and indeed cancelling the assault infantryman course and role. The assaulters with the SMAW used to be part of the Weapons Platoon found in every company, but will now be removed, leaving “only” the M240 7.62mm machine guns and the 60mm mortars. Every platoon will have its own Carl Gustav, while the SMAW and the “assault” mission will go to reinforced engineer units, which will support infantry companies with detached sub-units.
The USMC is introducing an unmanned system operator as well, and considering changes to the make up of its 13-man squad (section equivalent). It could potentially shrink to 11 or 12, but it might also grow to 14.
A 12-man squad would transition from from three fire teams of four Marines to two of five, plus systems operator and squad leader.
The 11-man option would maintain three fire teams, but made up of three soldiers each, plus a system operator and squad leader.
The 14-man option would maintain the current configuration unchanged, adding the systems operator on top.

USMC Instant Eye system

The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle is the new workhorse for the USMC 
The M38 is the USMC's current Sharpshooter solution. Being essentially an M27 with a different sight, it is in 5.56mm. 

The USMC is also adding an extra 8 men to the scout-sniper platoon, increasing the number of elite marksmen and reconnaissance specialists. This is a rational response to the already mentioned finding that snipers and sharpshooters have been responsible for most kills of enemy combatants. The British Army has been working to more closely associate the Recce and Sniper platoons and had at one point begun a programme to train all recce soldiers on the L129A1. It is not known whether this is ongoing or if budget cuts have prevented it from progressing.

The French Army, during 2015, had come up with an interesting “Next Generation Infantry Regiment” ORBAT before the whole exercise was overtaken by budget uplifts which authorized the recruitment of thousands more soldiers, leading to Europe’s largest infantry regiments.
Their Next Generation infantry battalion would have still been far larger than even the largest infantry battalion the British Army has (the armoured ones, at around 730 personnel all-ranks, all-trades). With four combat companies each, the NG regiment was founded upon Companies of 156 personnel each, of which 17 in the Command element, 99 in three platoons of 33 men each, plus a Weapons group of 40.

Next Generation Infantry in french sauce 

This would have seen platoons with a 3 personnel command element plus three sections of 10 each, well supported by the company level weapons element composed of command element of 3; an anti-tank element of 7 (in the French case armed with the newly procured AT4CS. The British Army in contrast would distribute the NLAW directly to the soldiers within each platoon and section); a mortar element of 14; a sniper element of 9 and a machine gun element of 7.
The regiment / battalion weapons company was 92 strong, armed with a further machine gun element and an anti-tank group with longer range missiles (MMP in the French case), plus a 30-strong platoon that the French call the Section d’Aide a L’Engagement Debarquè, which is not only a reconnaissance element but a quasi-special forces element for complex interventions such as hostage rescue. They can be trained as commando parachutists or commando mountain specialists.

The French conclusions are not necessarily the correct one, but the absence of a fire support element within the british infantry companies is, in my opinion, a major weakness.
Similarly, the firepower that can be expressed by a company of Marines, intimately supported by its own weapons platoon with M240 machine guns and 60mm mortars, is a completely different world when compared to the british army ever smaller rifle coys.

It must also be noted that the US Army simply no longer trusts the 5.56 to be lethal enough against the more advanced body armour being fielded by Russia. Last year it had launched a tender for an interim buy of a combat rifle in 7.62mm, and although it didn’t eventually progress it can be seen as a confirmation that whatever comes after the M4 will not fire the 5.56 round.

The US Army has since released a Prototype Opportunity Notice (PON) for its Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (NGSAR). Technically, the requirement is for replacement of the M249 SAW, the American variant of the Minimi. Up to five prototypes will be funded, and the requirement wants to combine the firepower and range of a machine gun with the precision and ergonomics of a rifle.
It is the first element within the Next-Generation Weapons System programme which would also eventually include Next Generation Squad Carbine (NGSC), and a squad designated marksman rifle. It is expected that a new intermediate munition, either 6.5mm or 6.8mm, will feature.

In the meanwhile, the US Army is procuring thousands of M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS) in 7.62x51 to serve as alternative to heavier, larger sniper rifles and to serve as marksman rifle within infantry sections.


Sniper capabilities 

LRPAS spares: Babcock DSG Ltd, acting as agent on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence, intends to place a framework agreement for the supply of spares and accessories for the Long Range Precision Anti-Structure rifle, indirectly confirming the relative health of this niche capability area.
The Royal Marines are sometimes seen with the AW50 heavy rifle, while the M82 Barrett also seems to be available. Unfortunately there is no detail available on the distribution of either weapon and the exact status of the inventories.

New chassis rebuilt onto the more modern chassis of the Accuracy International model AX, which was unveiled in 2010 in response the USSOCOM's Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) solicitation. The main advantage of the new chassis is the number of standardized rails available for easy installation of advanced sights and accessories, correcting the L115A3’s main weakness, which is the need for bespoke, add-on mounting systems for sights and accessories. The new design of the folding stock makes the rifle more compact in folded configuration and introduces a pure pistol grip.

The AX chassis and stock are very distinctive. If the A4 upgrade goes ahead, future photos will make it obvious. 

The AX series (the base chassis design is highly modular and can be adapted to all calibers, up to .50) has supplanted the AW series in production. The MOD’s interest for the new chassis was immediate and already in 2015 it had been reported that the arsenal of L115A3s would be upgraded, despite being just 6 years old. So far, the L115A3 continues to appear, unchanged, in all the pictures published by the MOD, but the “A4” refurbishment is reportedly going ahead, so we could begin to see the “new” rifle over the coming months.

Photo of a Royal Welsh sniper pair from Estonia during recent deployments. The L129A1 is used as Sniper Support Weapon, but the S&B sight seems to have been abandoned in favor of the fixed ACOG sight. The lack of a suppressor (selection still ongoing) is all too evident. The L115 is still in A3 configuration. 

The existing AW50s in 12.7x99 mm caliber, part of the LRPAS solution, are reportedly destined to receive their own AX chassis.  

Army 2020 Refine and the rebuilding of Light Role infantry battalions 

Army 2020 notoriously had to dramatically downsize all light role infantry battalions in order to limit the number of battalions being disbanded. Light Role establishments went down to just 560 personnel, all ranks, all trades (around 501 from the Corps of Infantry), with the paired Reserve battalions expected to fill the gaps not just on deployment but, as much as possible, during training as well.
Needless to say, the arrangement proved next to unworkable. The battalions, so dramatically downsized, have at first attempted to shave one rifle platoon from each Rifle Company, with the reserves supplying the missing platoons. When this proved unsatisfactory, the Machine Gun Platoon from the Support coy was broken down into support platoons with 6 GPMGs each, assigned directly to the rifles companies, to make up somewhat for the lack of the tactically indispensable third element of maneuver.
Eventually, the battalions surrendered and concentrated the surviving platoons into two rather than three infantry companies. The third rifle company has become the “ISR company”, integrating the Recce platoon, Sniper Platoon, Anti-Tank platoon, intelligence and signals elements.
The six battalions of “Light Protected Mobility” infantry, mounted on Foxhound, followed much the same path: they had just 20 personnel more than the Light Role units. Parachute battalions were around 660 strong.
Armoured infantry battalions were around 730 strong, while Heavy Protected Mobility battalions were a bit smaller, at 709. Gurkha battalions were roughly in line with the other light role units, at 567.

Army 2020 Refine introduces substantial changes: the Light Protected Mobility role ceases to exist as a permanent specialty, with Foxhound held centrally and assigned prior to deployment. Part of the Foxhound fleet has been absorbed by the RAF Regiment, which is converting two of its six field squadrons, 1 and 34, into Light Armour (Wheeled) formations.

The “Heavy Protected Mobility” infantry is due to become mechanized infantry as Mastiff is replaced by the as-yet unselected Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV); armoured infantry battalions go down from 6 to 4, although supported by four reserve infantry battalions training, for the first time ever, in the armoured role, on Warrior.

Four battalions become “Specialised Infantry Battalions (SiBs)”, permanently tasked with defence engagement, primarily through Advise and Assist approach. These four battalions shrink to an establishment of just 267 as part of the process.

Light Role infantry battalions benefit from the manpower released by the SiBs, rebuilding the platoons lost under the earlier iteration of Army 2020.

Unit Liabilities as of March 2018 are as follows:

1st Battalion Grenadier Guards
Keogh Barracks, Aldershot
1st Battalion Coldstream Guards
Victoria Barracks, Windsor
1st Battalion Scots Guards
Mons Barracks, Aldershot
1st Battalion Irish Guards
Mons Barracks, Aldershot (actually Hounslow since 2015) 
1st Battalion Welsh Guards
Elizabeth Barracks, Pirbright
The Royal Scots Borderers 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland
Palace Barracks, Holywood
The Royal Highland Fusiliers 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland
Glencorse Barracks, Penicuik
The Black Watch 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland
Fort George Barracks, Inverness
The Highlanders 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland
Bourlon Barracks, Catterick Garrison

52nd Lowland 6th Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland
Walcheren Barracks ARC, Glasgow
51st Highland 7th Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland
Queens Barracks ARC, Perth
1st Battalion The Princess Of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's And Royal Hampshires)
Barker Barracks, Paderborn
2nd Battalion The Princess Of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's And Royal Hampshires)
Alexander Barracks, Dhekelia Garrison, Cyprus (actually Cottersmore, returned during 2017)
3rd Battalion The Princess Of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's And Royal Hampshires)
Canterbury ARC
4th Battalion The Princess Of Wales’s Royal Regiment
Redhill ARC
1st Battalion The Duke Of Lancaster's Regiment (King's, Lancashire And Border)
Salamanca Barracks, Episkopi Garrison
2nd Battalion The Duke Of Lancaster's Regiment (King's, Lancashire And Border)
Weeton Barracks, Preston
4th Battalion The Duke Of Lancaster's Regiment (King's, Lancashire And Border)
Preston ARC
1st Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Fusiliers
Mooltan Barracks, Tidworth
5th Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Fusiliers
Anzio House, Newcastle Upon Tyne
1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment
Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich
2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment
Kendrew Barracks, Cottesmore (actually in Dhekelia, replaced 2 PWRR during 2017) 
3rd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment
Bury St Edmunds ARC
1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th, 33rd/76th Of Foot)
Battlesbury Barracks, Warminster
2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment
Somme Barracks, Catterick Garrison
4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th And 33rd/76th Foot)
Worsley Barracks, York
1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment
Picton Barracks, Bulford
2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters And Foresters)
Dale Barracks, Chester
4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment
Wolverhampton ARC
1st Battalion The Royal Welsh
Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth
3rd Battalion The Royal Welsh
Maindy Barracks, Cardiff
1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (27th [Inniskilling], 83rd, 87th And The Ulster Defence Regiment)
Clive Barracks, Tern Hill
2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (27th [Inniskilling], 83rd, 87th And The Ulster Defence Regiment)
Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn
2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment
Merville Barracks, Colchester
3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment
Merville Barracks, Colchester
4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment
Thornbury Barracks ARC, Pudsey
1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles
Sir John Moore Barracks, Shorncliffe
2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles
Tuker Lines, Brunei
The London Regiment
St Johns Hill ARC, Battersea

1st Battalion The Rifles
Beachley Barracks, Chepstow
2nd Battalion The Rifles
Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn
3rd Battalion The Rifles
Redford Infantry Barracks, Edinburgh
4th Battalion The Rifles
Lille Barracks, Aldershot
5th Battalion The Rifles
Ward Barracks, Bulford
6th Battalion The Rifles
Wyvern Barracks, Exeter
7th Battalion The Rifles
Reading ARC
8th Battalion The Rifles
Eden Armoury, Bishop Auckland

CORRECTIONS added to the list: the MOD, as frequently happens, has made a poor job of keeping track of unit moves. Corrections have been added to show the true basing of battalions. Thanks to Graham Watson for bringing my attention to the incongruences.

Observation of the list shows a number of battalions that have already received their manpower uplift,  going up to an establishment of 628 which is the new Army 2020 Refine for Light Role formations. Reserve battalions, with some exceptions such as 4 PARA which is a particularly well recruited unit and has been allowed to expand further, are organized for an establishment aiming at around 400 to 470 personnel. 

1 PWRR and 1 Yorks for now remain on Warrior and in armoured role, but the first is planned to eventually revert to Light Role while the second will become a mechanised infantry formation within STRIKE. 
Armoured infantry battalions, mechanized battalions and Specialised Infantry Battalions are easily recognizable by virtue of their establishment figure in the list. As the restructuring progresses, 2 PWRR and 2 LANCS are due to become specialized units, shrinking to 267 personnel each, and other infantry battalions, beginning with 1 LANCS, will receive their uplift towards 628 / 630. 

The Gurkha battalions in the Air Mobile role within 16 Air Assault brigade has received a significant uplift, up to 640. In 2016 it was revealed that the brigade of Gurkhas would stand up a number of new sub-units in all its different units, reverting earlier cuts. 

Mechanised Infantry battalions are expected to grow up to around 740 as part of the new army plan, and 3 Rifles reflects this. In December 2017 a Written Answer disclosed a change of plans within the STRIKE project: 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade will now become the first Strike Brigade by 2020 and will comprise the Household Cavalry Regiment, the Royal Dragoon Guards, 1st Battalion Scots Guards, and 3rd Battalion The Rifles.

Earlier plans had instead been centered on the creation of a separate “Strike Experimentation Group” that was to stand up during 2017 with the Scots Guards and the Household Cavalry. In 2019 they were due to be joined by King's Royal Hussars and 4 SCOTS, and at that point the Group was to become a brigade, picking a badge. 1st Brigade, converting from the armoured role, was to be the second Strike Brigade.  
The two formations as originally envisaged would have included:

First Strike Brigade - Household Cavalry, the King’s Royal Hussars (converting in 2019 from Challenger 2 and becoming the first “medium armour” roled Ajax formation), the Scots Guards and 4 SCOTS.
The second strike brigade would have comprised the Royal Dragoon Guards, the Royal Lancers, 3 Rifles and 1 Yorks (converting from Warrior).

The plan was changed during 2017 with the decision to use the whole 1st Brigade as Strike Experimentation Group and, consequently, as first Strike Brigade.
The second strike brigade, which does not have an identity yet, would include the Royal Lancers, King’s Royal Hussars, 4 SCOTS and 1 Yorks unless further changes follow.