Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Defence Takes National Approach in Asia

The shape of the Asia-Pacific defence landscape continues to evolve as the ongoing moves to reorganise and re-equip armed forces in the region steadily gather momentum against the backdrop of recent economic growth – the credit crunch notwithstanding.

Although publicly the talk is of enhanced peace and stability, in private, a number of analysts point to the development of a burgeoning 'hidden' arms race. In particular, tactical weaponry and the enhancement of conventional warfare capabilities is the order of the day. Peaceful it may be, but no one it seems is taking too many chances.

Inevitably, the strategic importance of the region predicates a certain conflict of national interests and influence. After all, it is where the purview of four of the world's largest military machines – China, Japan, Russia and the US – overlap. With the addition of North and South Korea, these six countries account for some 65% of the global military expenditure.

In general, as a nation becomes more prosperous, it increases the proportion of GDP it allocates to its defence budget and the newly-successful Asian economies are proving to be no exception. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), total military spending in Asia and Oceania was worth $219bn in 2007 – an increase of more than 50% on the funding allocated ten years ago.

Clearly, such unprecedented spending levels represent a major potential opportunity for technology vendors. For international firms the attraction is that much brighter as high initial R&D costs for many of the sought-after systems effectively rule out domestic development programmes, leaving countries reliant on foreign procurement. As a result, business forum Asia-Pacific Defence and Security (APDS) predicts that the region will head the list for defence imports well into the next decade, with contracts estimated at some $104bn expected to be fulfilled.

Multilateral alliances

The security architecture within Asia-Pacific essentially comprises a distinctly mixed bag of overlapping arrangements, typified by a series of bilateral agreements and multilateral accords. As the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) points out in Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World – published in November 2008 – an increasing wave of regionalisation within the area as a whole has been lacking in the issue of defence.

The NIC analysis further suggests that the region's long-standing security issues are gradually becoming less important. At the same time, however, new concerns are replacing them – not least the spectre of competition and conflict over resources.

"Total military spending in Asia and Oceania was worth $219bn in 2007."

Nevertheless, alliances are being made and regional collaboration features in the national security policies of many constituent states. Some of these pacts are historic while others are new – or evolving – and though closer cooperation between the Indonesian and Thai Air Forces, for example, raises few eyebrows, developments in other relationships have fuelled concerns in different quarters.

For instance, the bilateral arrangement between Japan and the US has been expanding apace over the past ten years – culminating in their recent treaty on ballistic missile defence integration. These nations view this as an essential safeguard in the region but unsurprisingly it plays rather differently to a Chinese audience. This was a point emphasised in 2007 by China's deputy chief of general staff, Zhang Qinsheng, when speaking at a conference on Asia-Pacific security in Singapore. He noted that his country was, "worried this kind of deployment would destabilise Asia and create uncertainty in terms of regional stability and peace."

However, the growing military might, economic power and political influence of China itself is a source of disquiet to neighbouring states, not least because Beijing is already involved with territorial disputes of one sort or another with most of them. China's increased defence spending, particularly focused on naval expansion, has not gone unnoticed by its maritime neighbours. As a number of analysts have commented, it is precisely this fear of a significantly extended Chinese military sphere of influence that has, at least in part, helped precipitate some of the recent trends in regionalisation.

The role of Australia is also shaping up to be an interesting and potentially pivotal one, largely because its unique historical and geo-political position naturally places it astride many of the traditional old world / new world divides. In September, the country's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd warned of the need to prepare for, the 'increased militarisation' of the region and the likely importance that food, water and energy resources will assume as the Asia-Pacific population grows. Yet, despite pledging increased military spending to 2017-18 to meet this goal, he is also looking to extend the existing political links with Australia's neighbours to the north.

Although Rudd has described the country's long-standing alliance with the US as, "the bedrock of our strategic policy," – and something which is set to remain – he has also signalled an intent to engage with the rest of Asia-Pacific to establish a comprehensive approach to defence. There is already a consensus of method and Rudd's Australia, like the other countries of the region, will be looking to acquire appropriate military technology to help ensure future security.

Technology shopping spree

"Australia will be looking to acquire appropriate military technology to help ensure future security."

It is an obvious truism that the Pacific is as much the defining feature of regional challenges as it is of the region itself. The littoral states of Southeast Asia have a collective surface area which is less than a third that of the continental US – but a combined coastal perimeter some six times larger.

From the perspective of national security, such long coastlines equate to serious operational challenges. This, coupled with the inherent difficulties which surround despatching conventional ground forces to remote and inaccessible reaches of the seaboard, make border integrity difficult – if not impossible – to maintain.

Add the vital economic importance of sea-lanes to the burgeoning economies of the region and a focus on enhanced naval power is the inevitable corollary.

But the technology shopping spree has already begun. In 2007, Singapore commissioned its first Formidable Class frigate and at the same time Indonesia entered into a loan agreement to purchase Russian equipment including Kilo Class submarines and is now investigating possible Chinese help to acquire or develop their own cruise missiles.

China's own naval expansion over the period has seen investment in a new fleet of submarines and the procurement of advanced naval mines. However, no matter how effective a navy, ultimately territorial security depends on the ability to occupy ground. In a region widely beset with militant separatist factions, jihadist terrorists and pirates, this task asks much of respective national armies.

Situational awareness

As the region's nation-states have continued to update and extend their conventional war-fighting capabilities, a greater understanding of the importance of situational awareness on the modern battlefield has increasingly been developed. Consequently, with military thinking shifting towards networked defence strategies, network-centric warfare (NCW) systems have become one of the major growth areas on the procurement wish list.

Geospatial mapping technologies in particular seem to hold particular promise in meeting some of the region's military challenges by maximising the opportunity for tactical and operational use of data within an evolving battle space. Additionally, for the relatively smaller regional players it holds the key to improving the collaboration and interoperability between individual ground force units and with air or sea forces, so facilitating their integration into a seamless response.

"Network-centric warfare (NCW) systems have become one of the major growth areas on the procurement wish list."

These NCW developments on the ground are also being matched with better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability in the air, with airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft and improved radar systems in particular being prioritised. In 2007 alone, the Asia Pacific ISR radar market was worth $381m and is expected to rise to $432m by 2014, according to analysts at Frost & Sullivan.

With the long-term strategic role of China remaining unclear and future US involvement in the region widely expected to be scaled down over the coming decades, defence remains a key issue, which is good news for the defence exporters of the world, particularly in the current economic downturn.

There may not yet be a full-blown Asia-Pacific arms race but it is clear that many of the nations are keeping a careful eye on what their neighbours are doing and responding appropriately. Despite the reassuring evidence of rising levels of cooperation it seems they have learnt the lessons of history; the interdependence of nations is no guarantor of peace.

Antibodies for Biological Warfare : biotechnology

Since the days of antiquity, biological warfare has been part of many conflicts between states and nations. It is thought that the ancient Anatolian Hittites were the first to make use of biological warfare by driving the victims of plague into the lands of their enemies with the aim of inflicting deathly illnesses on them during the 18th century.

Centuries later, biological warfare was prohibited by the Geneva Accord of 1925 and following its use by both Germany and Japan during World War Two, it came into greater disrepute.

However, even during this time, work at Porton Down, UK and at Fort Detrick, Maryland, US, meant that by 1941 a number of diseases such as tularemia, anthrax, brucellosis and botulism toxin had been developed as potential weapons. Work continued on such arsenal during the Cold War period but it has only been Agent Orange – a herbicidal spray used to destroy crops – that has since been used on a wide scale by a government military when it was exploited in Vietnam between 1961 and 1971.

Porton Down research

Although the development and production of biological weapons is banned by international treaty, research has continued due to the justified fear that either a rogue state or a terrorist group might make use of such agents. The use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein's forces in Halabja in 1988 and the release of Sarin Gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyo cult highlight this fear all too well. These events resulted in a strong emphasis on the development of countermeasures and antidotes to respond to biological warfare threats by technologically advanced states, including the UK.

The Porton Down centre focuses on research into chemical, biological, radiological as well as nuclear warfare and is known as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The Dstl is an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence and is situated in a 7,000-acre site that also houses Ploughshares Innovations, a subsidiary of the Dstl, which develops civilian applications for military biotechnology.

The Dstl conducts research into all aspects of biotechnology that might have a military application and does not confine itself to the so called weaponisation of existing diseases or other potential biological threats. A spokesperson for the Dstl says it views biotechnology as: "A broad term that encompasses a very wide range of procedures for modifying biological organisms to aid humanity - perhaps to improve human and animal health, increase food production or to manage the environment." Put another way, the Dstl develops countermeasures to potential threats due to biological warfare.

"Biological warfare was prohibited by the Geneva Accord of 1925."

The Dstl's work is very varied as potential threats are complex and multifarious in their nature. What all have in common is that they demand a high degree of scientific rigour that often leads to a civilian application at a later date.

"Across the world there are significant areas of land contaminated by explosives and/or chemical warfare agents.

"Dstl, in collaboration with UK universities, develops strains of micro-organisms able to degrade these contaminates. This type of bioremediation is gaining popularity as the old way of 'dig and dump' becomes increasingly unacceptable," says a spokesperson for the centre.

Exploiting biotechnology's commercial potential

In 2005 Ploughshare Innovations was established to bridge the gap between the military-focused applications of the work the Dstl was undertaking and its possible potential in civilian life. It was founded with the mission statement, 'To actively pursue the commercial exploitation of publicly funded research for the benefit of all'. In practice it takes intellectual properties developed by the Dstl and develops them for the civilian market.

Ploughshare is owned by the MoD and has access to the outputs of MoD-funded research carried out by the Dstl. "It also runs its own proof of concept fund, financed through its balance sheet, to de-risk the Dstl outputs for commercial exploitation outside of MoD defence procurement. Often the military objectives and data are not wholly suited to the wider commercial world and the fund can make the difference to convince industry to take on the technology," says a Ploughshare spokesperson.

Although Ploughshare Innovations can commercialise many of the developments made by the Dtsl, the core of the parent body's work remains firmly linked to military defence in the field of biotechnology. A spokesperson for Dtsl says: "Our scientists created the key components in vaccines to protect frontline troops against anthrax and plague and this work could not have been done without biotechnology. Also, there are many biological detection systems that rely on components created by biotechnology – without these we would not know that a threat is present."

Biotechnology typically provides the only route to a solution for a complex problem and these solutions can reduce the risks for troops. For example, Dstl is working on a vaccine for Tularemia that was first weaponised decades ago. "Very few bacteria are needed to cause serious disease," says Dstl Professor Petra Oyston. "Because of this and the fact that tularemia can be contracted by inhalation, Francisella tularensis has been designated a potential biological weapon. Since the events of September 2001 and the subsequent anthrax attacks on the US, concern about the potential misuse of dangerous pathogens including F tularensis has increased. As a result, more funding has been made available for research on these organisms and has accelerated progress on developing medical countermeasures."

"Concern about the potential misuse of dangerous pathogens including F tularensis has increased."

If inhaled tularemia can have a mortality rate of up to 30%, this necessitates the development of effective countermeasures that Dtsl can produce. "Progress is being made. Since the genome of F tularensis was sequenced, researchers have taken great strides in understanding the molecular basis for its pathogenesis," says Oyston.

"This is essential information for developing a vaccine and getting it licensed. Recently genes needed by F tularensis for growth and survival have been identified. These could be targets for novel antimicrobial development or could be used in the production of a vaccine."

All of this points to the development of a vaccine that would protect not only soldiers in combat zones but also civilian populations exposed to the disease due to the actions of rogue states or terrorists.

The succession of spin-offs that have been achieved by Ploughshare Innovations hints at successful commercialisation. Vaccines developed for one disease can often lead to research breakthroughs that can more effectively combat other diseases. Humanity has come a long way since the days when the unfortunate victims of the Hittites had no defence against plague. It can be expected that further defences and countermeasures will be developed in the near future and that eventually biological warfare will be a thing long forgotten.

India's Missiles Fly Up the Learning Curve : strategic missile capability

A truism in many sports holds that offence gets headlines, but defence wins championships. Although it is only roughly analogous to sport, war and military technology exhibits the same skew in media coverage, as the evolution of India's strategic missile capability shows. Judging by recent test results, the second half of the equation may hold as well.

The defence doesn't rest: programmatic outperformance

Sandwiched between successful 2009 trials of the BrahMos cruise missile on 5 March and the Prithvi II nuclear-capable SRBM in mid-April, the 7 March test of an indigenous ABM missile was equally successful in terms of test objectives (although it received a fraction of the coverage, judging from Google hit statistics). Taken in programmatic context, however, the ABM test is much more impressive in three ways: success rate, development speed and technical challenge.

Success rate

So far India has gone three for three in ABM interceptor flight trials, each of which had a different test profile. In the first trial, a two-stage interceptor missile later named the Pradyumna incapacitated the target, an incoming Prithvi-II missile, at the upper edge of the stratosphere, 48km up. A year later, a single-stage missile developed under the advanced air defence (AAD) programme defeated another Prithvi-II 15km up (the altitude of many transcontinental plane flights). In the most recent test, another Pradyumna sporting improvements such as a gimballed directional warhead achieved an explosive kill of its target at an altitude of 75km, well into the mesosphere.

"India's ABM test is impressive in three ways: success rate, development speed and technical challenge."

In contrast, the Prithvi SRBM itself failed three of its first six trials, and the newer Agni-III MRBM failed its first test. Failure rates of 50% in the first few tests of new weapons are neither unusual nor portents of ultimate futility, but this makes the Indian BMD track record even more impressive.

Development speed

India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) publicly revealed its BMD programme right after the first test in November 2006, less than three years ago.

At that time, Indian programme managers conceded that BMD research had been underway 'for years', but given that DRDO had tried diligently to make the Trishul SAM work in ABM mode for years, as well, the Pradyumna programme couldn't have been DRDO's primary initiative. In any event, ABM weapon testing could be completed by 2010 given current rates of progress, according to VK Saraswat, head of missile development at DRDO.

In contrast, DRDO has pursued offensive ballistic missile development since 1983, when it initiated the integrated guided missile development programme (IGMDP). Even now, according to one Indian commentator, the Agni-I is the only fully operational nuclear-capable ballistic missile in India's arsenal. Most of this protracted development cycle has consisted of post-testing production and field integration delays, which should quell undue optimism about the young BMD programme, but even so, both ABM interceptors are ahead of all previous IGMDP timetables.

Technical challenge

Judging technical difficulty of a mission by the number of nations that can execute it, BMD is the most challenging military task, as only the US and Russia have independently fielded fully indigenous BMD systems (the Israeli Arrow is a US-Israel joint venture). The anti-satellite task is actually second (US, Russia, and China), and long-range ballistic missiles currently run third, although this club seems to be in the process of doubling.

If any nation can benefit from BMD, it's India

Indeed, ballistic missile proliferation in Asia makes India's BMD programme even more significant in the long term than its offensive nuclear ballistic missile programmes.

"So far India has gone three for three in anti-ballistic missile interceptor flight trials, each of which had a different test profile."

First and foremost, the November 2008 Mumbai attack and the current spread of Taliban influence in Pakistan have raised the spectre of Pakistani missiles and/or nuclear warheads falling into the hands of terrorists, against whom traditional deterrence is at best uncertain.

Beyond the Pakistani threat, whether national or subnational, India's offensive ballistic missile programme lags behind that of its main regional rival, China. Although DRDO has improved its success rate for offensive tests recently, China has just as much momentum and occupies a more advanced position, especially in terms of long-range ICBMs either operational or in the pipeline.

BMD is therefore India's most likely countervailing asset in the foreseeable future. China's high-altitude SAMs can engage some ballistic missiles, but only to a 30km ceiling, and evidently China has no R&D effort comparable to India's BMD programme at this time. In this respect, China's ASAT capability doesn't really count, as ballistic missiles are to satellites as fighter aircraft are to armoured personnel carriers. Last but not least, India is significantly better than China at software development and programming, which are critical to BMD system effectiveness.

Finally, India itself lags in deploying submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad. Should India's naval missile programme follow the same timetable as India's other strategic naval and missile programmes, a BMD capability could add significant survivability to India's nuclear deterrent.

Can failure breed success?

To be fair, India's offensive ballistic missiles don't deserve direct managerial comparison to the BMD programme. As noted previously, the BMD programme hasn't yet reached the point where Indian R&D usually derails; as Saraswat himself cautioned, deployment rates are 'not in [DRDO's] hands'.

"Failure rates of 50% in the first few tests of new weapons are neither unusual nor portents of ultimate futility."

More important, early failures pave the way to ultimate success: as Thomas Edison said in response to derision at the thousandth failure of the prototype light bulb: 'now we know a thousand ways that it won't work'. Current BMD development benefits from the advances and setbacks of IGMDP, which included the Akash and Prithul SAM projects as well as the Agni and Prithvi. In fact, the Pradyumna ABM was originally called the Prithvi air defence (PAD) missile because it used the generic Prithvi missile design. Conversely, the DRDO strenuously attempted to give the Prithul ABM capability before ultimately admitting failure.

However, other factors may underpin programmatic BMD outperformance. In no particular order:

  • The one way in which interceptor missiles are less complex than offensive ballistic missiles is that modern versions of the former don't carry nuclear warheads.
  • The BMD was not developed under the auspices of IGMPD, suggesting that the latter may have been (or would become) too bureaucratic.
  • The BMD programme not only post-dated the IGMPD, but also probably started during, and quite possibly because of, the ramping up of Pakistan's missile capability. In this regard, the 1999 Kargil conflict occurred just a year after Pakistan detonated its first nuclear munition.

Is true danger the mother of efficiency?

There is in fact an exact historical precedent for the correlation of serious perceived threat and speedy weapons development: the first generation of US strategic nuclear missiles.

By 1952, nuclear warheads had become small enough to put on missiles, but the US missile programmes did not really kick into high gear until 1957, when the Sputnik launch, along with faster-than-expected Soviet development of its first ICBM (the SS-6), created fears of a Soviet-US 'missile gap'. Consequently, the USAF and USN made development of ICBM and SLBM systems their top priority, creating all-star teams of scientists and engineers with essentially unlimited resources.

The effect of concentrating talent, subordinating bureaucratic processes to a tight deadline, enabled by top-level political support and underpinned by strong psychological fear, produced results. A 1958 US catch-up plan called for full operational deployment of nine Atlas squadrons and four Titan squadrons by March 1963. By October 1961, the Strategic Air Command subsequently activated 13 Atlas and six Titan squadrons – 18 months early. The Polaris SLBM project was similarly successful: the first successful test launch was in 1960, just four years from project initiation, and IOC occurred in 1961.

"India's ballistic missile programme lags behind that of its main regional rival – China."

In contrast, the second generation of US strategic nuclear weapons systems came in behind schedule, over budget, and arguably under promised capability – at a time when nuclear weapons had become much more survivable and effective in their deterrent role.

If past is prologue, then India's long record of military procurement frustration might be ending – at least in the strategic nuclear weapons space. Indeed, the DRDO is on a roll with its recent tests of offensive missiles; even the January 2009 BrahMos test failure was rectified within weeks.

In the end, the best military procurement principle may have come from essayist Samuel Johnson: 'nothing so wonderfully concentrates the mind as the prospect of hanging in the morning'.

India Joins the Star Wars : ballistic missile defence

India announced in January 2008 that it has developed a two-layered ballistic missile defence (BMD) system to counter enemy missiles. The system, comprising 'exo' and 'endo' atmospheric interceptors, destroys incoming ballistic missiles at altitudes above 40km and below 25km, respectively.

This followed a surprise announcement by the Indian Ministry of Defence in November 2006 that it had successfully destroyed a simulated incoming enemy ballistic missile while it was 78km above the Bay of Bengal, still outside the earth's atmosphere, which was greeted with scepticism.

Most analysts did not believe that India's missile defence programme was that far advanced.

However, another 'exo-atmospheric' interception was successfully completed in November 2007, and a further trial demonstrating the interception of a live ballistic missile was held in December last year. It now seems clear that India does indeed have the military capabilities to join an elite club of countries – the US, Russia and Israel – that have the technology to destroy incoming missiles.


It is now apparent that India began developing a BMD capability in 1995, after New Delhi learned that Pakistan had obtained the M9 and M11 ballistic missiles from China. The missile trials will continue for two years and commercial production will start after three years. The long-range tracking radar and the multifunction fire-control radars were developed in collaboration with Israel and France.

Following the December 2007 interception, India's top military scientist, Dr VK Saraswat of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation, said that within three years major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai would be under a protective shield.

India is also building up its offensive capabilities. It has unveiled a nuclear-capable missile (the Agni-III) with a range of 3,700 miles – far enough to hit Beijing or Rome. When deployed, the missile will boost India's second-strike capability as it can be launched from anywhere using a mobile launcher. India is also designing Agni-IV, which will carry a nuclear warhead and will have the capability to hit targets more than 5,000km away.

These developments have sparked concerns that a new arms race will get under way in the region. India's traditional foe, Pakistan, has already reacted with alarm. Following the announcement of India's plan to have a missile defence system in place by 2010, Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst, said that "the first impulse is to ask how does Pakistan get [such a missile defence system]" and "the next will be to increase the number of missiles to make sure it [Pakistan] has enough to evade the shield."

China, too, is concerned. Beijing believes that the US is trying to 'encircle' China by using India and allies such as Japan and Australia as proxies, and thereby contain China's increasing military might.

"Japan has developed a two-layered ballistic missile defence (BMD) system to counter enemy missiles."

China can legitimately point out that its fears are underpinned by growing military ties between the Washington and New Delhi in a number of areas, including missile defence.

India had shunned US defence equipment in general until recently, buying Soviet weapons during the Cold War, for example. However, in a watershed deal, India agreed to buy six C130J transport planes for around $1bn in January 2008 – a shift from its previous reliance on Russian transport aircraft.

The US is also involved in the race to win an $11bn deal for multi-role combat aircraft. New Delhi is expected to award the contract within the next two years.


In January 2008, India entered talks with Lockheed Martin, apparently with the aim of seeking collaboration in developing a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. Furthermore, in February, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that the US and India would discuss the possibility of a joint missile defence system.

India had previously said it would develop its missile shield domestically, closing off a potentially lucrative market to American manufacturers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman – the biggest players in the emerging ground, air, sea and space-based US missile defence system.

Dennis D Cavin, vice president of international air and missile defence strategic initiatives (IAMDSI) at Lockheed Martin, said that India could be looking for US help in developing 'hit-to-kill' technology for its interceptor missiles. But In his press briefings, Dr Saraswat said that India had used 'proximity fragmentation' in missile interception already.

The US, by contrast, uses a direct 'hit-to-kill' method to destroy incoming missiles. Lockheed has developed the PAC 'hit-to-kill' anti-missile system for the US. PAC missile systems have been delivered and deployed around the world with US forces and US allies.

Lockheed is also the prime contractor for the terminal high-altitude area defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. The THAAD missile system is an easily transportable defensive weapon system, whose function is to protect against hostile incoming threats such as tactical and theatre ballistic missiles at ranges of 200km and at altitudes of up to 150km. PAC-II, III and THAAD will form essential components of the multi-layered missile defence system that the US is developing.

While the PAC-II and III systems are being deployed to tackle the threat from air-breathing cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the THAAD system is developed to take care of threats from 'exo' and 'endo' atmospheric ballistic missiles. The Americans are likely to deploy the THAAD system between 2009 and 2010 to give cover to US troops operating overseas. Washington has offered to sell PAC-II and III BMD systems to India, but it hasn't commented on whether THAAD could also be made available to the nation.

"India has unveiled a nuclear-capable missile (the Agni-III) with a range of 3,700 miles."


However, political obstacles will have to be overcome if any such collaborative venture is to proceed smoothly. Indian defence deals are characterised by delays, political interference, a lack of transparency and allegations of corruption. Most importantly, there is still a substantial body of political opinion in India that is opposed to what is seen as the US's global 'hegemony'.

A civil nuclear agreement, seen by many as the centrepiece of India's strategic relationship with Washington, has hit obstacles in New Delhi, where it is opposed by the Indian government's communist allies. The agreement would allow New Delhi to access US nuclear fuel and reactors by overturning a three-decade ban imposed after India conducted a nuclear test while staying out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Either way, given that the US leads the world in BMD technology, the lack of alternative suppliers and the growing threat posed by Pakistan and China as they pursue ambitious missile programmes, it seems likely that India will indeed seek to develop a BMD shield in collaboration with the US.

Laser Weapon: Could the Military Soon be Equipped with Laser Weaponry?

The idea of armies equipped with solid-state high-energy laser weapons immediately conjures images of stormtroopers firing red beams at a lightsaber-wielding Luke Skywalker. It is an image research specialists have tried for decades to turn into real life as they struggled to create a level of mobile technology capable of sustaining a high-energy laser system.

While the possibility of a transportable, durable and affordable ultra-precision energy weapon system is still a long-term vision, several recent demonstrations by leading industry players signify considerable progress in the field.

Setting new records

In March 2009, aerospace and defence technology giant Northrop Grumman, in partnership with the US military, produced the most powerful light ray yet created by an electric laser. Measuring at more than 105kW, the new record also included a turn-on time of under a second and a continuous operating time of five minutes. Throughout this period, the beam reportedly operated with good levels of efficiency and quality.

"High-energy laser research at Northrop Grumman first began in 1970."

For Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems media relations manager Bob Bishop the milestone test results have been a long time coming.

"High-energy laser research at Northrop Grumman first began in 1970. We have been developing and demonstrating high-energy lasers continuously since then. We are the only company that has provided the US military services with all of their high-energy laser systems in existence today," Bishop says.

"In particular Northrop Grumman has made great progress on solid-state lasers during the last six years under the joint high-power solid state laser [JHPSSL] programme, which is managed by the US military services."

A number of advances in various technologies have made the latest breakthrough possible. Of these, developments to the high-energy laser's power source or 'engine' has proved pivotal. Typically, the systems are either powered by chemical or electrical engines, but Northrop Grumman's tactical high-energy laser (THEL) test bed at White Sands missile range in New Mexico proved that chemical lasers were fastest – reaching the necessary power levels required to shoot down rockets, artillery and mortar rounds. The laser, which has been developed in conjunction with the US army and Israel's Ministry of Defence, has so far destroyed 46 such targets in-flight.

Reductions to the laser's size and weight combined with enhanced levels of mobility and ruggedisation have also proved instrumental to the technology's overall advancement. The miniaturisation of components and subsystems has allowed for smaller and lighter high-energy laser systems, which Northrop Grumman believes portends for even greater reductions in the near future.

Furthermore, it has allowed Northrop Grumman to apply a greater degree of durability or ruggedisation to the laser systems – to the extent that integrating the systems onto tactical military ground vehicles will come sooner rather then later.

Evidence of this is found with the company's participation in the US Army's high-energy laser technology demonstrator that aims to integrate a high-energy solid-state laser capable of defeating rockets, artillery and mortars onto an army ground combat vehicle.

"Transportable, durable and affordable ultra-precision energy weapon system is still a long-term vision."

"To put this all in context," Bishop says, "we see the 100kW threshold as part of a much larger accomplishment of delivering on the promise to the US military services of solid-state lasers that enable revolutionary, robust, speed-of-light defences."

"Our approach leverages compact 15kW 'building blocks' that can be readily combined in the appropriate number to enable the performance needed for a specific mission. This therefore allows us to provide lasers of various powers without the need to design a new laser – we simply add more building blocks.

Furthermore this approach also offers – if units should fail in the field – graceful degradation and straightforward repair. Should one block fail, the others will continue to operate."

Having already delivered on the promise of solid-state lasers with speed-of-light defence capabilities, the next stage for Northrop Grumman is to allow the US government to determine the timeline for integrating laser weapons into the battlefield. The laser's capability could potentially be implemented on a wide range of missions for deployed forces – namely for self defence from threats as diverse as rockets, artillery, mortar, swarming boats, unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft and cruise missiles.

"We have seen a great amount of increased military interest as a result of our recent achievement. Ultimately though, the US government will decide the pace at which it will introduce laser weapons onto the battlefield," Bishops says. "We believe it is important to move forward to give US forces a distinct advantage in this technology and to maintain that critical edge in the years to come."

Mobilising power

Similar historic developments have also been happening at one of the world's largest space and defence businesses – Boeing Defence Systems. In March, the company successfully demonstrated its redeployable high-energy laser system (RHELS). The prototype weapon system was quickly relocated from its Albuquerque development site in New Mexico to a test range, where it tracked ground and airborne targets and fired at a ground target.

For Lee Gutheinz, Boeing's programmme director for high-energy laser / electro-optical systems, the breakthrough is particularly important in highlighting the increasingly mobile nature of laser technology.

"Solid-state lasers would enable revolutionary, robust, speed-of-light defences."

"The demonstration shows that a solid-state, high-energy laser weapon system can be made to be transportable, rugged, supportable and affordable. RHELS is the initial step at driving mobile, tactical directed energy laser systems out of the laboratory and into the hands of the warfighter," Gutheinz says.

"Its transportability also means developers and warfighters will have the opportunity to test this transformational, ultra-precision directed energy weapon system demonstrator at a number of ranges under varying conditions and against a diverse set of targets."

Development of laser technology at Boeing Defence Systems can be traced back as far as the 1960s to its heritage companies such as Rockwell and Rocketdyne. Like Northrop Grumman, Boeing points to electronic component miniaturisation and greatly increased computing power as a strong factor behind recent developments. It also believes the manufacturing industry has been a strong driver behind recent laser achievements.

"We did something that's never been done before. We took a number of components – a solid-state, thin-disk laser and its power and thermal management systems; an acquisition, pointing and tracking capability; beam and fire control; and a weapons operator station – and integrated all of them into a modified 40ft-long shipping container transportable on a semi-trailer," Gutheinz says.

"Doing something like that for the first time is always challenging but we didn't encounter any challenges we couldn't overcome and in the process we learned a great deal that will make subsequent developments easier and more productive."

While Boeing Defence Systems will continue to test RHELS against moving ground and airborne targets throughout the summer, it is also developing several other directed energy systems with speed-of-light capability. The airborne laser (ABL) hopes to provide a boost-phase capability for missile defence, the advanced tactical laser (ATL) aims to enable ultra-precision engagements of ground targets from the air, and the high-energy laser technology demonstrator (HEL TD) intends to give warfighters the ability to counter difficult threats posed by rocket, artillery and mortar projectiles.

"Solid-state, high-energy laser weapon system can be made to be transportable, rugged, supportable and affordable."

Later this year, Boeing Defence Systems hopes ABL will be conducted in a ballistic missile shoot-down demonstration while ATL will engage ground targets from the air. It also plans to begin testing of HEL TD's beam control system next year. From these demonstrations, Boeing hopes to go on to use internal investments to examine the laser's potential uses in other critical missions, including defending against cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles.

"We want to get these systems into the hands of warfighters, who are in the best position to test and critique laser weapons. That would facilitate the continued development and fielding of such weapons," Gutheinz says.

"It is safe to say that industry interest in laser weapons is growing and that you will see more industry activity and announcements in the coming months and years. The industry recognises that laser weapons are the future."

Future Warfare: Light Utility Vehicles of the Future

A modern fighting force needs good land transport, whether it is for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering; routine patrols; or transportation of troops, small or large fighting forces, or vehicles. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the theatre of warfare is forever changing and allied troops continue to fight a deadly insurgent and guerrilla war where roadside bombs and mines form a large part of the attacks made on allied vehicles.

The rules have changed and vehicles need to change with them to guarantee the safety of troops. As international forces continue active service, their organisations are beginning to step-up to protect them with a number of new vehicle systems in development.

Against attack

The most important factor to consider during R&D is the vehicle's purpose.

Mike Sweeney of BAE Systems Land Systems says that if the vehicle is to go into a combat situation it needs to be armoured to protect troops against small arms attack as well as the possibility of mine attack. But with this additional armour the vehicle becomes heavier, cumbersome and difficult to manoeuvre.

To make a vehicle resistant to roadside bombs and mines side armour is needed for defence against lateral attack, while an armoured hull can resist mine attack from beneath. Shaped hulls and chassis underneath the vehicle can direct the blast away from the cabin but injuries can still occur if the shock of the blast is transferred to the personnel inside the vehicle. The only way to reduce this is for the armour to be thick and heavy – again making the vehicle weightier.

Increasing the mobility of the machine to ensure optimum safety also needs to be considered. Many light utility vehicles are based on four wheels but an attack might make the vehicle immobile and a sitting duck by virtue of losing a wheel. Therefore, newer vehicles are now adopting six and eight-wheel drive systems.

Weapons systems for these types of vehicles also have to be relatively light – 7.62mm and 12mm heavy machine guns or light recoil-less cannon weapons offer a good rate of fire and effective stopping power. For patrols conducted by forces in recent conflicts, lower-echelon vehicles have been subject to substantial attack and so measures need to be adopted for these protected mobility vehicles to secure the survival of the troops being carried.

In conjunction with the actual body of the vehicle, electronic countermeasures against roadside bombs, shock-mounted seating, inner spall liners against small arms attack and run-flat tyres, all offer additional safety.

Two-pronged approach

Light utility vehicles are now becoming much more specialised and the days of the modified, all-purpose vehicles like the Snatch Land Rover could be almost over. To ensure that troops are protected to the best level that technology can offer there are two ways to go: either make a vehicle very light, fast and manoeuvrable, or produce a highly armoured heavy vehicle for maximum protection of forces on patrol.

For both of those extremes there are light vehicles in use. On the one hand is the BvS 10 Viking which runs on rubber tracks and has a low ground pressure (to avoid mine detonation) but still has armour and is commonly used by the Royal Marines.

In addition there is the Mastiff, which was introduced into the Iraq theatre at the end of 2006. It has substantial blast and ballistic protection being based on the 6x6 Cougar platform used by the US Marines (a similar vehicle in this vein is the BAE Systems Land Systems RG-33). This 23.5t vehicle can proceed at 90km/h and provides the highest level of protection, but is not highly manoeuvrable.

"Roadside bombs and mines form a large part of the attacks made on allied vehicles."

At the other end of the scale are the quad bikes being used by some special forces which have no protection but are highly mobile and very light. In support of this second approach is the fact that the lighter a vehicle is, the less likely it will give the pressure required to set off larger mines. However, the latest Afghan Taliban tactics favour using a lighter anti-personnel mine on top of a heavier mine because much less weight and pressure is required to detonate the smaller mine.

An important development in vehicle development is the US joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) programme, which will produce a range of four or more vehicle types based on the same platform but for different duty levels that will replace today's models. The scheme has set a number of design demands for the vehicles including a 30kW generator to support operations, a trailer, a standard spare ammunition carrying capacity, jam-resistant doors, automated fire-extinguishing system, extra spall liner to give further protection to troops and multiple additive armour kits for different duties.

Fit for purpose

An example of a range of armoured vehicles designed for varying operational and combat situations is that from Force Protection Inc. The range includes the Cheetah, the Cougar 4×4, the Cougar 6×6 and the Buffalo (mine handler).

The Cheetah is a light utility vehicle for urban operations and reconnaissance of just 16,000lb but with a capability of being able to go over 80mph. It is lightly armoured but still with the good design of the V-shaped monocoque hull. The more highly armoured, thus heavier, Cougar is available in two basic variants – 6×6 or 4×4 – and these have been designed with mine-resistant armoured protection in mind. More importantly they can be easily modified to fit the electronics and armour specification required by a range of different armed forces.

The Cougar 6×6 has already been very successful, as the Mastiff for the British Army, the Badger ILAV for the Iraqi Army and of course in several variants for US forces such as the HEV (hardened engineer vehicle) and the JERRV (joint EOD rapid response vehicle). Other variants have also been sold to the Italian and Canadian Armies.

"An important development in vehicle development is the US joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) programme."

In many ways the range of vehicles from manufacturers like Force Protection Inc has provided a good base for the JLTV programme because of the extensive vehicle range and the customisability of these vehicles.

Other refinements are now being introduced to light utility vehicles to increase their operational usefulness. These can include additional power units that can be used in case of engine failure to get the vehicle out of trouble or allow the vehicle to be used as a remote control drone for unmanned reconnaissance, as is the case with the spider light strike vehicle.

Remote control is also becoming popular with weapons systems, whereby the troops have the ability to operate them from the inside of the vehicle – this is possible in both the Cougar and Ridgback. In addition, weapons active protection systems such as the 'Quick Kill' from Raytheon are being introduced to intercept and destroy attacking anti-tank missiles, rockets and grenades.

As individual vehicles become more specialised to fit varying purposes so the cost implications of the build and the training needed to handle the machines rise. But critically, so does the safety of the troops and their ability to tackle enemy forces. As active service continues for troops across the globe, this has to be a priority and a critical spend for international militaries.

Latest Warfare Updates: China Investing In Information Warfare Technology, Doctrine

China appears to be taking a page from U.S. doctrine and working to improve its information warfare capabilities, according to a comprehensive DoD report on Chinese military power released July 19.

In 2004, China introduced a new term in the country's military doctrine: "local wars under conditions of informationalization."

In DoD's 2005 report to Congress on China's military power, defense officials explain this term refers to the People's Liberation Army's "emphasis on information technology as a force multiplier."

A senior defense official, speaking on background, said the Chinese watch advances in U.S. doctrine carefully. "Every time we're involved in a campaign, there's a spate of articles (in China) analyzing it," the official said. "Sometimes they put themselves in the shoes of our opponent; sometimes they try to see, 'What can we emulate that the Americans have done?'"

The official said the Chinese military has a long way to go in C4ISR -- command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance -- but they're clearly doing research and development into such capabilities.

China is also using advances in C4ISR to project military power farther from its own borders. Over the long term, the report states, China's advances in these areas "could enable Beijing to identify, target, and track foreign military activities deep into the western Pacific and provide, potentially, hemispheric coverage."

China introduced the term "local wars under conditions of informationalization" in its December 2004 Defense White Paper to describe the type of war the PLA must be prepared to fight and win.

U.S. defense officials are still working to understand the implications of the new concept. But the July 19 DoD report on China power states the term appears to sum up "China's experiences and assessments of the implications of the revolution in military affairs -- primarily the impact of information technology and knowledge-based warfare on the battlefield."

Through studying U.S. and other allied operations in the past decade, the PLA is beginning to understand the importance of joint development in C4ISR capabilities. The report states that such ambitions can be traced to lessons learned from U.S. and allied operations since the Persian Gulf War. Still, China is working to overcome an overall lack of joint operations and operational experience in general.

China's 2004 White Paper shows that Chinese officials understand they're on the short end of an expanding technology gap, according to the U.S. defense report. China's leaders, including President Hu Jintao, have ordered the PLA to pursue "leap ahead" technologies and "informationalized" capabilities to increase weapons' mobility, firepower and precision, the U.S. report states.

The report quotes from a May 2003 article by PLA Deputy Chief of the General Staff Xiong Guangkai, stating that the PLA should push forward "military reform with Chinese characteristics."

"We should study and draw on the experiences and lessons of various countries in making military changes, including all the local wars fought under high-tech conditions," Xiong reportedly wrote, "but we should not mechanically copy other countries' patterns of military changes."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Airborne Infrared and Supersonic Stealth

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

Interestingly, an airborne ‘SOFIA-class” Infrared (IR) threat model against a supersonic stealth platform (for which the F-117 and B-2 are not) is totally absent from seemingly comprehensive analysis of F-22 Raptor capability?

When one moves the Infrared Search and Track (IRST) discussion out of military circles and into a different scientific discipline, in this case airborne infrared astronomy - then the entire subject matter shifts with respect to what is possible. If the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, (SOFIA) is flown altitudes of over 41,000 feet, nearly the entire infrared spectrum will reach it’s telescope and measurement sensors.

Combat aircraft like Typhoon (PIRATE), Advanced Flanker Series, (OLS) and F-35, (DAS/ EOTS) infrared search and track (IRST) sensitivity will also be more akin to an airborne SOFIA.

The higher an IR sensor is flown, the lower transmittance %, (Y-axis) reaches the sensor.

The higher an IR sensor is flown, the more (lower) transmittance %, (Y-axis) can reach the sensor.

Stealthy F-22 may have little defense against detection (from a high altitude IRST) if she is flown at high speeds, and altitudes due to frictional heating of her airframe & jet exhaust plums in air temperatures of -30F, -40F, -50F, -60F degrees.

Some in the DoD would be quick to point out that the F-14A Tomcat IRST (the AN/ALR-23) was of limited range, limited quality and misidentified source of IR emissions. A much improved system was fitted to the USN F-14D, the Northrop AN/AXX-1 Television Camera Set (TCS). The TCS was “slaved” to the radar to follow whatever the radar was tracking, and the radar could be slaved to the TCS to track whatever the camera “sees.”

Typhoon (PIRATE),

Typhoon (PIRATE)

Keep in mind that fighters like Flanker could employ their IR-version of the R-77 ‘Adder’ medium range missile; regardless of what happening (or not happening) in the radio spectrum, read: with less regard to RCS.
Also Flanker does not use radar to track an aggressively maneuvering dogfight target for it’s gun firing solution. Only its IRST w/laser rangefinder is needed. So it’s a fair statement to say Flanker’s IRST has a robust air-to-air capability.

Some might argue that SOFIA looks-up into space while an IRST must look-out across the airspace for a stealth target in atmosphere. The problem is distance. SOFIA targets are celestial objects millions or more miles away, while IRST targets need only be 50-100mi away.

Whether supersonic Raptor can close and maneuver into firing position unseen by an IRST system will be a source of debate and secrecy for some time. Suffice it to say that IR sensor improvements & design-cycles will certainly - outpace - possible stealth airframe changes.

This discussion is in a way, a mute point. The Russians have already identified two main areas to exploit supersonic Raptor. They revolve around, and loop back into these two issues:

a) F-22 Primary weapon
b) F-22 Thermal signature

F-14 Tomcat Northrop AN/AXX-1-TCS.

F-14 Tomcat w/the Northrop AN/AXX-1-TCS.

The F-14 Tomcat had been slated to stay in service until 2008. However was retired from USN service in mid-2006 under former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Tomcat aircraft (and the manufacturing dies) were summarily shredded-destroyed for reasons allegedly involving Iran. However, the Iranians had already been producing their own F-14 spares & electronics for their F-14A-GR fleet, since the mid-1980s with US assistance via The Iran Contra Scandal.

The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Virginia, declared their F-22 Raptors operational on 12-Dec, 2007.

Depleted Uranium Munitions - Rounds, Armor | 120mm | 30mm

Depleted Uranium is a relatively recent development in military weapons and technology. Depleted Uranium is one of the heaviest elements on earth giving it tremendous power when coupled with ammunition. Depleted Uranium rounds are usually of a higher caliber such as the 120mm rounds fired out of the Abrams Tank, although 30mm rounds are also made for engaging light armored vehicles. DU is even being used in sniper ammunition for long range applications. Depleted Uranium technology allows ammunition to be shot much further than conventional munitions, and delivers a much more devastating payload. Tanks equipped with depleted uranium shells can easily compromise conventional armor from 3-5 K/m out. Due to its extreme density, depleted uranium is being used in Tank armor, as well as some other military vehicle’s armor including aircraft.

The side effects of Depleted Uranium are being studied, but some research has shown signs of depleted uranium contributing to cancer rates in Iraq. After a DU shell is fired from a tank the radioactivity can spread for up to 190 miles in the wind. and has been found in water sources in Iraq.

Japan’s Type 90 Main Battle Tank - Latest Japanese Self-Defense Forces Tank

The Japanese Type 90 tank rivals any other main battle tank on the modern battlefield. The Type 90 incorporates several newer technologies, some that are even lacking in other nation’s tanks. For example, the Japanese employed an auto-loading cannon, which reduces the crew requirement and also increases the tanks rate of fire. Likewise, the electro optic thermal sighting system has a passive viewing mode, which enables them to target the infrared signals emitted from enemy vehicles rather than the type 90 having to target the enemy on its own. The type 90 employs the Japanese Self-Defense Forces own version of armor incorporating layers of ceramic and steel. The type 90 is definitely a contender for the top spot of the greatest modern tank.

The Japanese Type 90 tank rivals any other main battle tank on the modern battlefield. The Type 90 incorporates several newer technologies, some that are even lacking in other nation’s tanks. For example, the Japanese employed an auto-loading cannon, which reduces the crew requirement and also increases the tanks rate of fire. Likewise, the electro optic thermal sighting system has a passive viewing mode, which enables them to target the infrared signals emitted from enemy vehicles rather than the type 90 having to target the enemy on its own. The type 90 employs the Japanese Self-Defense Forces own version of armor incorporating layers of ceramic and steel. The type 90 is definitely a contender for the top spot of the greatest modern tank.

Israeli Defense Forces Merkava 4 Main Battle Tank - Merkava 4 Tank

The Israeli Defence Forces recently implemented a modernization drive on their main battle tank program. Their newest design, uveiled in 2002, features some technological advances forged from the fire of the battlefields of the Middle East. This video of the Merkava 4 main battle tank displays the blast-proof ammunition container, and the ability to target and track multiple targets while on the move, even helicopters. Likely the best features of the Merkava 4 are that it has one of the smallest profiles on the battlefield, the sloped turret angles allow for this advantage. Additionally, the Merkava 4 actually has a rear hatch and extra rear space that can accomodate several fully-armed combat troops or can be used to protect the wounded in battle.

The Main Battle Tank of America - The M1-A1 and M1-A2 Abrams Tank

Manufacturer: General Dynamics

Some countries excel in the creation of different things. It just so happens that the US excels in the creation of the machines of war. Aside from being the richest country in the world and having the Cold War spurring the development of said military technology, the Abrams tank was truly a revolutionary design when unveiled in the 80s. Despite whatever claims that certain tank exporting countries have about their newly designed next-generation tanks, none of them, aside from a distant second with the British Challenger 2 main battle tank, have been tested as extensively in battle as the M1 Abrams tank. The Abrams tank has constantly been upgraded to withstand the stresses of battle, and when it comes to a main battle tank, you actually want it to last…in battle. Support systems and facilities, repair and maintenance technicians, and myriads of other factors contribute to determining what tank could win against another. Sure other modern MBT tanks have bells and whistles, but none have the serious capability to survive and be retrofitted like the M1-Abrams tank. The M1-A2 MBT is the greatest tank in existence.

The French Leclerc Main Battle Tank "innovative and solid armored vehicle design"

Manufacturer: GIAT Industries
The French, their military history aside, actually are widely known in Europe for their innovative and solid armored vehicle designs. In the mid 1980’s, Britain introduced its Challenger 2 main battle tank, Germany rolled out the impressive Leopard 2, and the US unveiled its M1A1 Abrams tank. The world was being introduced to battle machinery that combined decades of design research and cutting edge electronics systems. Not wanting to be left behind, the French decided to join the party. They had initially planned on simply importing the German Leopard 2 tank, but after some cost forecasting and design speculation, these plans were rejected. Thus the French decided to design their own tank, and they specialized in different aspects of design from other Western tanks. In steps the GIAT industries Leclerc French Main Battle Tank.

Indeed, it only bodes well for Western civilization to have diversity amongst tank designs, especially among allies. The most notable specializations of the Leclerc are its propulsion and driving capabilities. The Leclerc is not only the fastest western tank, but it is also the quickest to stop, having a hydro pneumatic retarder built into the gearbox that can utilize the tanks engine to aide in slowing the vehicle. Likewise, these capabilities are also made possible because the Leclerc is the lightest main battle tank, which also helps it to be transported easily and cost-effectively. All in all, the Leclerc Main Battle Tank is an impressive design that adds value to the militaries of NATO.